Saturday, February 25, 2017

Weekend Open Thread

Since there's been a quite sizeable increase in this blog's readership over the past couple of months, I'm again offering the open forum feature.  I'd discontinued it some time ago due to lack of interest, so we'll see what happens this weekend. If more than a few people contribute, then it will again become a permanent part of the blog.

The sky's the limit. And there's certainly plenty going on. Talk about the slow-mo Deep State coup, the weather, the climate, the Oscars, your favorite recipe, what you're reading, the undemocratic Democratic Party chairperson selection.... whatever strikes your fancy.

Just a few rules about commenting. If you wish to post anonymously, please select the "name/url" option and use any handle you wish if you prefer not to use your real name. More than one "Anonymous" contributor leads to needless confusion.

Comments are again being moderated, due to some recurring problems I've been having with spam. Submissions will be published in a timely fashion during the day, but overnight offerings usually won't see the light of day until the light of day.

Ad hominem attacks won't be tolerated unless they are directed at the wealthy and powerful. Express your disagreements with me and with each other, but please treat your fellow readers in a respectful manner. One of the aspects of this blog's commenting section that I've always found particularly valuable is the variety of views expressed. "Regulars" have ranged from conservatives to libertarians to liberals to leftists, and the discussions have remained largely civil.

I'd also like to re-extend my invitation to anyone interested in writing a guest post for placement in this slot. I used to publish a couple of these every month, and will be happy to do so again. If you've gone to a town hall during the congressional recess or have participated in other direct actions, I'd also love to hear from you.

You can contact me by email with queries, tips, suggestions, complaints or anything else at kmgarcia2000@yahoo.com.

That's about it. Happy commenting, and happy weekend!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Trump Admits Military Runs the Place, Deep State Panic Ensues

Donald Trump's minions are once again in damage control mode, forced to rush out some alternative facts and excuses to squelch the inconvenient truths that have an increasing tendency to escape from his big fat mouth.

Trump on Thursday made the big gaffe of claiming that his threatened crackdown on migrants and refugees will be a militarized operation, even though we have laws against that sort of thing in America. On the books, anyway.

"We’re getting really bad dudes out of this country and at a rate that nobody has ever seen before,” Trump boasted to a gaggle of multinational CEOs meeting with him at the White House. "And it’s a military operation because what has been allowed to come into our country—when you see gang violence that you’ve read about like never before and all of the things—much of that is people that are here illegally. And they’re rough and they’re tough, but they’re not tough like our people. So we’re getting them out.”

He couldn't have picked a better time for his bluster, given how the military dude in charge of domestic Homeland Security is just fresh off his stint of running American military operations in huge chunks of Central and South America. Even more awkward, Gen. John Kelly was physically present in Mexico at the exact moment that Trump was thumping his chest. Accompanied by Rex Tillerson, Exxon-Mobil's new Secretary of State, Kelly already was ineffectually trying to convince his Mexican counterparts that America really loves Mexico. He was already trying to do damage control over the Wall business as well as over Trump's threat to send armed troops over the border to "fight the drug war" in a more public fashion than has been heretofore deemed proper by the Deep State/military-industrial complex.

"There will be no use of military forces in immigration,” Kelly insisted in a direct rebuttal of his putative boss. “There will be no—repeat, no—mass deportations.”

There's also the matter of the administration "dumping" immigrants into Mexico who are not even Mexican citizens. Most of those coming across the southern border are refugees from the drug and gang violence in Central American countries.

And that, as the Intercept's Lee Fang puts it, has the private prison industry salivating. If the Mexican government refuses to accept the deportees, they'll have to be locked up somewhere. And there is a shortage of "facilities" to deal with the millions of human beings whom the Trump administration apparently has in mind.

Meanwhile, the corporate mainstream media has chosen to freak out not so much about the deportations per se, but about Trump's semantics on the militarization of the crackdown. Press Secretary Sean Spicer, for his own part, ineffectually tried to explain that his boss was only using the military term as an adjective to describe how "precise" and streamlined the roundups are going to be.

But the alternative reality is that Trump was only speaking the truth in his own usual disjointed, context-free way. 

US law enforcement - and that very much includes the Border Patrol and Immigration enforcement - has been highly militarized for at least the past decade. As Nafeez Ahmed writes in Alternet,
  Under the controversial "1033" program, the Department of Defense (DoD) is able to provide "surplus" military-grade equipment to law-enforcement agencies.
The program, legislated for in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), provided local police forces access to billions of dollars worth of high-tech military equipment, including armoured tanks, rocket launchers, automatic weapons, night-vision goggles, and other supplies traditionally used by the U.S. Army in foreign war theaters.
The DHS often provided multimillion-dollar grants to law-enforcement agencies to purchase the military equipment.
After criticism of the program in the wake of militarized police force during protests in Ferguson and Baltimore, the Obama administration made some feeble P.R. efforts to rein in the foisting of excess war hardware upon minimally trained local law enforcement agencies.

The truth, though, is that domestic militarization is easier than ever. The only requirement is for the agencies to convince the feds -- specifically, the Pentagon - that such high tech weaponry is needed to control any number of vaguely-defined situations and "threats."

Despite what Obama's public relations offensive claimed at the time, Ahmed continues
 The 1033 program’s open-ended carte blanche for domestic law-enforcement agencies to access military-grade equipment has not been repealed, but integrated deeper into the Pentagon bureaucracy.
The new amendments dramatically increase the Pentagon’s powers to scrutinize and supervise the use of military equipment in the homeland. Among their implications, they make DoD-supervised military training mandatory for domestic agencies who receive these weapons.
In effect, this places all domestic law enforcement operations using Pentagon-supplied military equipment under the partial jurisdictional authority of the Secretary of Defense. By making domestic agencies more accountable to the DoD, the revamped 1033 program in effect extends the Pentagon’s jurisdictional authority into the homeland by bureaucratic fiat.
 Trump's military "adjective" is boosted by the fact that the Pentagon is now run not by the traditional civilian, but by an active military man -- Gen. James "Mad Dog" Mattis, who has absolute legal carte blanche to militarize whatever domestic agency he feels like.

Trump's deportation directives are only the culmination of decades of institutional xenophobia and greed.  According to Princeton University sociologists Douglas Massey and Karen Pren, "(...) border enforcement emerged as a policy response to a moral panic about the perceived threat of Latino immigration to the United States propounded by self-interested bureaucrats, politicians, and pundits who sought to mobilize political and material resources for their own benefit. The end result was a self-perpetuating cycle of rising enforcement and increased apprehensions that resulted in the militarization of the border in a way that was disconnected from the actual size of the undocumented flow."

Translation: follow the money.

After 9/11 and the founding of the Homeland Security state, the militarization of the Mexico border took off like a shot. And the very definition of "border" has increased exponentially. For greed and fear purposes, the border is the entire contiguous United States. This is not a new Trump invention, according to the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights:
The border has become an imagined war zone, where the war on drugs, crime, and aliens are fought. Such arrangements make the border an area where the U.S. constitution has little to no value, a post-constitutional territory that expands across the country. Although there are many ways to assess just how militarized the border has become, one of the clearest ones is looking at the colossal spike in funds funnelled into border security.
And Trump's Wall is also a highly unoriginal concept, given that there is already a huge fence spanning much of the border. In 2006,  the Bush-era Congress (and that included an enthusiastic Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) approved the construction of the multibillion-dollar Secure Fence, which turned 700 miles of the southern border into a virtual war zone. 

Then during the Obama presidency came the draconian enforcement and expansion of 2008's Secure Communities initiative. It tore apart millions of families whose members were arrested and deported for even very minor traffic infractions, such as an unpaid parking ticket. 

This is the exact same program which Trump now wants to revive, after Obama scaled it back somewhat in 2014, due to legal challenges and electoral pressure from immigration rights activists and Latinos, whose votes the Democratic Party so desperately needs for its continued survival.

And Sarah Lazare explains,
Meanwhile, Obama expanded the 287(g) program, which was authorized in 1996 by former President Bill Clinton. According to ICE, the program “allows a state or local law enforcement entity to enter into a partnership with ICE, under a joint Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), in order to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions.” The program expanded immigration enforcement powers to local police, giving them the authority target undocumented people in the streets and in jails, leading to an escalation in racial profiling. While the Obama administration later partially scaled back 287(g), Trump has referenced this initiative and Secure Communities as models to emulate and “revitalize.”
Still, Obama always kept up his big propaganda show of supporting immigrants, even as ICE continued its cruel - and racist - raids and roundups throughout his tenure. In 2013, for example, under the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative in New Orleans, ICE stalked and arrested people in their Bible Study groups, in laundromats, in apartment complexes with the aid of the same high-tech mobile biometric devices first designed for military use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

McClatchey's James Rosen reported in November that the very authoritarian Obama has actually been unfairly castigated by Trump and other Republicans as a weak little pussycat, given how cruel and right-wing his administration actually was in its accomplishment of more than 2.5 million deported human beings. The record proves it:
David Burnham, co-founder of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, said the increase represents a joint crackdown by lawmakers and the Justice Department under Obama.
“This outcome is a combination of policies and actions by a very aggressive Congress and a very aggressive Obama administration both wanting to work the borders – keep people out, as Mr. Trump says,” Burnham told McClatchy.
Obama has long been described as the “deporter in chief” by immigration advocates who dispute President-elect Donald Trump’s characterization of Obama as soft on immigration.
But the new numbers provide the first concrete evidence of how Obama’s record compares with his predecessors’.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/nationalrticle118022043.html#storylink=cpy
Therefore, if and when he does succeed in revitalizing Obama's cruel agenda, Trump is absolutely right in characterizing this long-standing weaponized American policy of stalking, harassing, terrorizing, fingerprinting, arresting, incarcerating, deporting, wounding, and yes, even killing people as a military operation.

It's a domestic war in every brutal, racist, demeaning and profit-motivated sense of the word. It is what Barack Obama so cloyingly called a "norm" in that self-protective and self-serving farewell speech that he gave to the nation right before jetting off to canoodle with billionaires and raise a billion and half dollars for a museum celebrating his life. 

Trump is simply the first high-ranking American official to call it exactly what it is. His big lie is that more immigrants kill native-born Americans than are injured or killed by American immigration policies.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Today's Corporate News Agenda

His name is Milo Yiannopoulos, and he ran Breitbart News until the other day. Then something outrageous he once said about pedophilia lost him his job, ruined his book deal and rescinded his invitation to the annual CPAC confab. Bill Maher had just had him on his show to display what an open-minded liberal Bill Maher is, and what wusses other liberals are.

Maher is, of course, taking full credit for Milo's stunning downfall.
But following the show, Mr. Maher came under attack for the chummy and conciliatory vibe of his conversation with Mr. Yiannopoulos and for a panel segment, broadcast online, in which his guest made more inflammatory remarks that seemed to go unchallenged.
Speaking on Tuesday night, Mr. Maher, who counts himself as a liberal, did not sound particularly chastened by these assessments. He said he knew his interview with Mr. Yiannopoulos would never be satisfactory to some viewers. “No matter what I did,” he said, “it was never going to be enough for that slice of liberalism that would much rather judge a friend than engage an enemy, because it’s easier.”
 I suspect that Maher would much rather book an inflammatory right-winger than a boring right-winger, because outrage sells. The more that you can profit off divisiveness, the more that you can encourage hatred, the better it is for ratings and audience share and corporate profits. You have to supplement those standard and obligatory Moments of Hate with countering Moments of Outrage and Sanctimony. It's the duopolistic American way. It distracts the audience of consumers who used to be quaintly known as citizens. You are hereby divided between the Deplorables and the Enlightenees.

 I have to admit that I'd never heard of Milo, except for vaguely remembering the name from something I'd skimmed in Salon about some two-bit provocateur getting disinvited from a Berkeley speech and inspiring a small riot. But there is no avoiding him now. Today, he is all the outrageous mainstream rage. He is the distraction du jour.

Just quickly glancing at today's New York Times homepage, I counted four prominent articles (including the one quoting Maher above) about this provocative little creep of a guy. Unlike the Kardashians, though, he is not famous for just being a famous attention addict. He is famous because he is vaguely associated with Donald J. Trump.

And since the Powers That Be desperately want to get rid of Trump by any means possible, they will smear him with all the means at their disposal. If the tape about assaulting women didn't bring him down, then maybe his vague association with a guy who thinks pedophilia is O.K. will at least speed up the process. You see, the Deep State campaign is to gin up the liberal outrage to such a sustained fever pitch that Donald Trump will be history sooner rather than later. And then finally, the world can again be made safe for American hegemony and global capitalism on crack.

"Milo is the Mini-Donald!" dutifully shrills the ever-reliable Frank Bruni:
If you halved Donald Trump’s age, changed his sexual orientation, gave him a British accent and fussed with his hair only a little, you’d end up with a creature much like Milo Yiannopoulos.
He could be Trump’s lost gay child. In fact, Yiannopoulos, 33, has a habit of referring to Trump, 70, as “Daddy.”
Trump the father and Yiannopoulos the son are both provocateurs who realize that in this day and age especially, the currency of celebrity isn’t demeaned by the outrageousness and offensiveness through which a person achieves it.
The currency of celebrity wouldn't be half as valuable without the likes of Frank Bruni to keep it center-stage in his bi-weekly columns, which only pretend to be offended at such titillating outrageousness. (No, I didn't submit a comment to this crap. The liberal choir was dutifully outraged, with one of the most popular and prolific respondents lifting his own outrage directly from the Wikipedia entry on Narcissism.)

Meanwhile, resident Catholic conservative young fogey Ross Douthat not only couldn't help being titillated by the Milo distraction, he dutifully and artificially deepened the shallow discourse by purporting to ponder "The Meaning of Milo."

Douthat's lede is pure offended boilerplate topped off with a generous dollop of his trademark bigotry (not to be confused with the more lowbrow Trumpian xenophobia), describing Milo as
...a gay cross-dressing Catholic part-Jewish Brit who likes to boast about his sexual appetite, favors “ironic” racial and misogynist humor, and not occasionally describes the president of the United States as “Daddy.”
The only reason I still read the New York Times is because it's kind of amusing to see what kind of creative anti-Trump propaganda they'll cook up next. How many anonymous Deep State sources can be crammed into any one story? Which supposedly unrelated stories actually are part of the same predigested narrative?

Last week, for example, Andrew Ross Sorkin had a piece about plutocrat Steve Schwarzman's excessive birthday bash no longer being such a big deal now that we have a wealth of Trumpian excesses to sneer at. And lo and behold, this week the Times is running a special "wealth section" on the plight of the poor billionaires. The gist of these stories is that there really are a lot of virtuous tycoons out there who are not Trumpian grifters, but who "pledge" to give some of their money away to good causes, such as one another's charities. Or at the very least they park it in a tax shelter or hedge fund so that it has the potential to do a little good one of these centuries.

Better to be one of the eight benevolent billionaires now owning as much wealth as the bottom half of the whole global population than to be creeps like Malevolent Milo or Daddy Donald. The Times is only too happy to pick out your enemies for you.

The paper now as much as admits that it has an agenda to maintain the pre-Trump ruling order and to get rid of Trump in the bargain. One blurb on the homepage asks the moneyed class to "support a student subscription and inspire the future generation of readers." Suggested amounts in the click-boxes go up to $1,000, but larger donations are more than welcome.

"Supporting The Times is my way of fighting back against fake news and alternative facts. I wanted to give till it hurt," one alleged benefactor liberally gushed in the promo.

Another front page message which has begun appearing daily blatantly invites anonymous disgruntled anti-Trump whistle-blowers to write in and dish some dirt. Maybe this is where they got that big scoop about Trump hanging around the White House in his old bathrobe and how he can't even find the light switches as he roams the premises in all his demented ignominy.

In order to anonymously tip off the Times, though, you are ironically required to relinquish some of your privacy through the use a Facebook app:
WhatsApp is a free messaging app owned by Facebook that allows full end-to-end encryption for its service. Only the sender and recipient can read messages, photos, videos, voice messages, documents and calls. Though you can limit some account information shared to Facebook, WhatsApp still keeps records of the phone numbers involved in the exchange and the users’ metadata, including timestamps on messages.
 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, one of the world's eight top billionaires, is meanwhile doing his own dubious part to combat "Fake News" as his organization stays in the business of scooping up the personal information of all its participants for the sole purpose of marketing and profiting off as many of the world's human beings as is plutocratically possible.

He recently wrote a "manifesto" to his serfs subscribers asking them to ponder how they can support global institutions that he doesn't bother to name, but which, he says, will to serve to "bring humanity together." (If I had to make a wild guess about his meaning, I'd pick the International Monetary Fund, seeing how it brings humanity together by saddling poor countries with such onerous debt that they stay permanently tethered to the Lords of Finance, whether they like it or not.)

 
The plutocratic manifesto is a paradoxical feel-good study in innocuousness. It even has echoes of a more polite version of Bill Maher. For example,
Research shows that some of the most obvious ideas, like showing people an article from the opposite perspective, actually deepen polarization by framing other perspectives as foreign. A more effective approach is to show a range of perspectives, let people see where their views are on a spectrum and come to a conclusion on what they think is right. Over time, our community will identify which sources provide a complete range of perspectives so that content will naturally surface more.
If it reads like a political campaign document, it's a political campaign document. He's all "for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all.”

And you thought Donald Trump was a scary dude? Mark Zuckerberg doesn't just want to be president, it sounds like he wants to be dictator of the whole world. He wants to Make the Globe Great Again.

Not only must we learn to love Big Brother, we must learn to love the worldwide neoliberalism designed to keep us numb as it extracts our dwindling money and directs the bulk of our wrath toward cartoon villains like Malevolent Milo.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Deep State, Shallow Swamp

Since the election of The Donald, you've probably noticed a sudden uptick in that erstwhile arcane term "Deep State". It's become so ubiquitous that it may well end up in one of those lists of the most overused phrases and words of the year.

My own habitual usage of the term in these pages derives from Mike Lofgren's original thesis:
There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power....
 Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude.
The New York Times, which itself might be considered part of the Deep State, describes the term quite differently: an authoritarianism that hasn't happened here yet, but very well might. According to the "explainer piece" by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, the recent torrent of leaks from spy agencies in the chaotic regime of Donald Trump has only led to "fears" of an American Deep State:
Though leaks can be a normal and healthy check on a president’s power, what’s happening now extends much further. The United States, those experts warn, risks developing an entrenched culture of conflict between the president and his own bureaucracy.
Issandr El Amrani, an analyst who has written on Egypt’s deep state, said he was concerned by the parallels, though the United States has not reached authoritarian extremes....
Though the deep state is sometimes discussed as a shadowy conspiracy, it helps to think of it instead as a political conflict between a nation’s leader and its governing institutions.
That can be deeply destabilizing, leading both sides to wield state powers like the security services or courts against one another, corrupting those institutions in the process.
One person's Deep State is a loose existing consensus, another person's Deep State is a potential corrupt conflict.

And that is leading to the suggestion that we just stop talking about the Deep State already. Rafael Khachaturian writes in Jacobin:
 According to critics — and until recently, references to the “deep state” were rarely positive — these subterranean networks exercise disproportionate influence over public policy. While parts of the Left have long been concerned about the deep state, lately the Right has taken up the term, using it to decry a purported fifth column of Obama loyalists. From Glenn Greenwald to Bill Kristol, Breitbart to Foreign Policy, it seems everyone now accepts the reality of the deep state, even if they disagree about its role in the present controversy.

The term’s surge in popularity is understandable. The “deep state” appears to be an appropriate way to describe the complex networks tying together the various state apparatuses. In particular, it can easily be invoked to explain the seemingly invisible, drawn out, and arcane processes by which public policy is actually negotiated and made.
Yet for the same reason, references to the deep state obscure more than they clarify. They shed hardly any light on the nature of the power struggle currently roiling the federal government. If we want to fight Trump, we’ll need conceptual and theoretical frameworks with more explanatory power than the “deep state” can provide.
The danger of using the term Deep State, according to Khachaturian, is that it implies a monolithic entity acting in total accord with itself. This makes sense, given that the two legacy political parties actually do seem to be collapsing before our very eyes, riven as they are by internal power struggles.

However, the Duopoly does still exist.The food fighters of what we call the "state" are still nourished by the same teat of big corporate money. And with only their self-interest and their greed in common, they are vulnerable. We can chip away at them one by one, because they are neither united nor are they especially deep. They are simply used to being held unaccountable as they rise to the level of their own incompetence.

Other terms for them are the Washington Consensus (or the "Consensuals"), the Neoliberal Thought Collective, the Ruling Class, and what I have dubbed the Media-Political Complex: a loose consortium of think tanks, multinational corporations, politicians, lobbyists, and media conglomerates who set the parameters of The Possible and agree to disagree only around the margins for purposes of lively sham debate. For example, there is never any discussion of disassembling the Pentagon and ending all the wars; they merely disagree over "boots on the ground" versus no-fly zones versus unmanned drones as the preferred killing methods.

But with Donald Trump roiling the waters and riling up at least half the population, this comfortable order of narrowly conflicted consensus might be about to change. His clownish splashy spectacle is exposing not so much a deep state, but a loosely connected series of shallow contaminated ponds. As an example, see the previous post about placid corporate media celebrities getting their puckered thumbs yanked right out of their mouths and throwing a group tantrum for all the world to see.

All of a sudden, everyday people are waking up to the stench emanating from the rancid pond(s), and are joining together in resistance and solidarity. They're rebelling against the same deportations, the same attacks on public education, the same assaults on the environment, the same financial corruption that had only recently enjoyed a modicum of protection under more public relations-savvy administrations run by more photogenic and literate people.

With his cabinet full of villainous oligarchs and bloodthirsty generals, you might think that Trump is simply making a mockery of his campaign promise to "drain the swamp."

But he may be more fact-based and inadvertently truthful than he's given credit for. He's not so much draining the swamp as he is behaving like a whale in a goldfish pond. In his need and greed for space and attention, he is leaving exposed a whole ecosystem of wriggling, oxygen-starved lifeforms desperate not to be exposed to the sun and become part of a massive pile of stinking dead fish.

Thanks to blowhard Trump and his spoutings, we are fighting back against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's crusade against public schools, right after we gave a pass to Obama's Arne Duncan and his own charter school agenda of privatization. We're howling about the cruel round-ups of immigrants even as we stayed mum on sleek Obama's record deportations and imprisonments of refugee families. We're gathering in public spaces to declare that "we are all Muslims now" -- while it seems like only yesterday when we turned a blind eye to Muslims being illegally stalked by police acting in cahoots with the CIA. We're mad as hell that Trump has filled the White House with Goldman Sachs banksters, but chose to play dead when the more personable Obama did likewise.

 
So in the long term, we might just be better off with a clumsy breaching whale in the pond instead of the usual stealthy sharks giving their discreet free ride to corporate Remoras and shelter to all manner of bottom-feeding rentiers. 

(As you can probably tell, it's one my glass half-full days. I'll take them wherever I find them.)

Donald Trump is just not all that into the symbiotic relationships that have traditionally made America so exceptional, and its oligarchy so well-protected, and its citizens so apathetic and demoralized.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Corporate Media Goes Full Frankenweenie

The elite media sewing circle of neoliberalism, having spent years assembling the Trump monster, now faces the daunting task of trying to rip their creation apart at the seams. Much to their chagrin, however, the creature is poking them right back in their tender little eyeballs with their own sharp needles.

Donald Trump has had the absolute gall to call them a monstrous Enemy of the People in one of those endless Tweets that always seem to convulse them in such painful stitches.

The actual people, whose trust in the mainstream media was already at a record low before the election of Trump, are not exactly taking the side of the six major news conglomerates controlling 90% of everything we are allowed to see, hear, and read in this tawdry little turnabout.

Therefore, it's time for unraveling pundits and media stars across the centrist spectrum to gin up some outrage on behalf of themselves, to cast themselves as the latest and most important victims of Trumpism. If you listen to them talk about Trump's recent press conference instead of just watching it for yourself,  you might be under the impression that The Donald is maniacally shutting down all the networks and newspapers, rounding up all the journalistic suspects, burning a whole bunch of books, and otherwise destroying the First Amendment.

 You might forget all about the root cause of Trump's rage, which is the torrent of leaks about his chaotic administration coming out of the Intelligence Community and other government bureaucracies. You might forget that the media has aligned itself with the Deep State in order to bring Trump down in the interest of their own self-interest -- which is the continuing militarized dominance of the Exceptional USA.

You might also forget that even before Trump's dogged "war" on the media, the majority of American writers for years have reported self-censoring out of fear of Deep State government surveillance.

Although the manufactured outrage of the churnalistic class runs as wide and as deep as its characteristic shallowness allows, for now I'll just comment on two of the self-pitying screeds emanating from the august pages of the New York Times.

Frank Bruni has gone way beyond pain. The needle in his eyeballs apparently has been tipped with Novocaine, because Trump has left him feeling absolutely numb.
 He forces you to process and react to so many different outrages at such a dizzying velocity that no one of them has the staying power that it ought to or gets the scrutiny it deserves.

They blend together under the numbing banner of what a freak show he can be, of Trump being Trump. And so the show screams on.
Part of this excess is his nature. Part of it is design. Not by accident did he put on that 77-minute performance for the media — hurling insults, flinging lies, marinating in self-pity, luxuriating in self-love — just three days after the resignation of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and amid intensifying questions about collusion between Team Trump and the Russians.
Bruni should perhaps ponder whether the media "intensification" of the Russia "questions" could be the real cause of his debilitating condition. It is so tiring to make stuff up, especially after you've already spent over a year helping to stitch together a $5 billion free advertising campaign for the monster. 

Here's my published comment:
Day after day, week after week, month after month, the media has been giving Trump exactly what he wants: nonstop attention.

He's a master provocateur and the media is an easy mark. Trump acts, media reacts, Trump counter-reacts, ad infinitum. You think you're exhausted, Mr. Bruni? Just for once, I'd love to read a column of yours that didn't have Trump or one of his fascist pals at its quaking epicenter.

He didn't have a "meltdown" at his presser - the press did. He was in absolute control of his own theater. I'm even starting to wonder whether his "mental illness" is also feigned, to keep us hopping in search of the latest diagnosis. There's a method to his alleged madness. After all, many a CEO and professional actor and politician has similar, albeit more muted, characteristics on "the spectrum."
 What if he gave a press conference or delivered a speech that media refused to broadcast or live-blog? What if only two pool reporters clambered aboard Air Force One for the weekly jaunts to his Florida club? What if Trump burped out a Tweet and we failed to get insulted, gradually weaning ourselves from the constant contest to outdo each other with the cleverest riposte?

Trump is nothing but constant belches of fetid hot air. The courts are thus far thwarting his directives. So are the people. So instead of simply reacting to him, let's be proactive and demand of the whole system the social and economic justice we deserve.

Treat Trump as a symptom, not as the disease.
Now we come to Maureen Dowd, who claims to have been so well acquainted with Trump over the past several decades that she practically had him on speed dial throughout the campaign, even dishing about the private luncheon she enjoyed with him in his Tower. The tone throughout the electoral season was that he was such a narcissistic goof, who could possibly take him seriously.

Now she's been forced to change her tune to save her own credibility. But far from being as numbed and enervated as Bruni, she finds herself melodramatically Trapped in Trump's Brain.
 It’s a very cluttered place to be, a fine-tuned machine spewing a torrent of chaos, cruelty, confusion, farce and transfixing craziness. Of course, this is merely the observation of someone who is “the enemy of the American people,” according to our president....

Like all narcissists, he doesn’t like to be told if he’s screwing up, so he surrounds himself with people who don’t tell him.
The president is still oblivious about the shudder that went through the land, beyond the base that likes seeing the press jackals flayed, during his gobsmacking 77-minute masterpiece of performance art in the White House Thursday.
It was more Norma Desmond than Norman Vincent Peale, the Trump family pastor who wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking” and influenced Donald’s thinking as a child.
There must be something wrong with me, because I didn't shudder once during his presser, despite being as far away in left field from his "base" as you can probably get. I admit that I guffawed at some parts, cringed at many parts, and gasped at other parts. But for some reason, I failed to totally freak out. I also have to admit that I enjoyed seeing some of the self-important hacks getting told off for futilely needling and "fact-checking" the guy who just can't seem to help his mendacious self. Trump knows full well that most people don't care which president got the most electoral votes in all of history.

 Dowd's attempt at wicked needlepoint, complete with the decorative Sunset Boulevard edging, fails for once to mention Hillary Clinton's role in all this drama. It just so happens, though, that Hillary met Norma Desmond in person at about the same time that Trump was delivering his own garish bravura performance.



  My published response to Maureen:
 Of course Ms. Dowd is not an "enemy of the American people." But neither has she consistently performed journalism in the public interest this past campaign season, what with her throbbing Trump soap opera disguised as an ever so clickable series of columns.

So now she's joining the pack of corporate newshounds in a ravening quest to bring down the same fox they so recently went out of their way to feed and pamper.
Oh My Poor Eyeball (Plush Frankenweenie Takes Shelter in Protective Plastic)

Speaking of Norma Desmond, there's a whole media chorus line of them, both in and out of drag, wearing identical virtue-signaling masks as they position themselves in the center of the stage.

But you know what's a real drag? For a frightened public to be so ill-served by a pack of churnalists vying for top prize in the media aggrievement sweepstakes. It's like they're lost without the cozy sycophancy they used to mistake for reportage in the pre-Trump days.

Therefore, my nomination for the Norma Desmond award goes to CNN's Chris Cuomo, who grotesquely likened Trump's "fake news" insult to being called the N word.

I watched the same presser as the pundits, but somehow missed Trump's epic "meltdown." What I saw was vintage Donald, playing the press corps like they were cardboard fiddles.

They've been out of tune and out of touch with regular people for way too long.

My Rx: cancel the annual White House Correspondents' incest-fest, wean yourselves from Trump tweets, and cover some town halls.

Maybe if the media were a little less reactionary....




Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Deep State Speaketh

 *2/16 Update Below.

The first Deep State leg of the punishing journey that Senator Chuck Schumer called "six ways from Sunday" is now complete. The Intelligence Community has officially begun its vendetta against Donald J. Trump. 

Not that we should mourn the newly deposed General Mike Flynn, of course. The man was not just a loose cannon in a whole cabinet full of them, he was a human cluster bomb. A ground war with Iran on his watch was never a question of if, but of when. Flynn was practically salivating blood in his hateful haste to kill as many Muslims as possible. So good riddance to him.

 I have just a few thoughts on what could possibly be going on with the Consensuals of the Washington establishment.

1. They just really, viscerally hate Donald Trump's guts, as well as his unfiltered Queens-accented voice speaking uncomfortable truths about the Military Industrial Complex and American imperialism. Above all, they just hate that he is ruining their long-held plans for at least a warming of the cold war with Russia. They don't want all those troops in Norway and Estonia and Poland just going to waste. If there is a true peace with Putin, the American-based oil cartels might have to negotiate nicely with Russia over all that oil lurking in the Bering Sea. And they don't want to share.

2. The Establishment needs a Crisis in order to push through more bipartisan cuts to the social safety net. That crisis is Donald Trump himself. The Democrats, especially, are desperate for a platform to attract voters to their party. Since they are unwilling to suggest such nice things as universal health care, a guaranteed national income or living wage, a federal jobs program, progressive tax rates, a tax on high-speed trades, student loan forgiveness and free public college tuition, they'll go into default mode. They'll conduct multiple investigations into the Trump-Putin connection to redirect our attention into the more desirable realm of fear and trembling. We'll hear day after day that Trump is a traitor. We may never get to see proof in the way of his easily obtainable income tax returns. The Consensuals will never direct their friends in the Intelligence Community to hack into the IRS database, of course, because that would be as illegal as eavesdropping on Mike Flynn's phone calls with the Russkies.

3. The timing of Flynn's fall, on Valentine's Day, is heart-breakingly exquisite. It (perhaps inadvertently) makes us recall mob wars and massacres past. Still, it deflects public attention from the nearly simultaneous confirmation of Robber Baron Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary, and the fact that a Democratic administration never prosecuted his fraudclosure scheme when it had the opportunity. It had something to do with campaign contributions.

4. If the Establishment is so concerned about the possible infiltration of Russia into our precious democratic system, why then was Putin pal Rex Tillerson so readily confirmed as Secretary of State? Could it be that the Senate loves Exxon-Mobil more than it hates Trump?

5. If the Obama administration was so fully aware of Trump's dangerous treachery, at least since last summer, why then did it complacently sit on its hands? They are either cynical self-dealers, or just plain stupid and inept.

 I have no way of knowing whether Trump is actually a Russian stooge or a Trojan horse or a traitor. But what is obvious is that mainstream media outlets are acting as Deep State mouthpieces. Reading the New York Times story linking Trump and his minions to Russia, I could almost envision a CIA agent or two dictating the copy to reporters as they typed feverishly away.


As in all previous churnalism which has sought to drum up Russophobia (which they now seek to integrate into #Resistance, Inc. the propaganda and the weasel-wording are blatant. The "current and past" government sources are all anonymous.

The Times article, for example, takes a sarcastic off-the-cuff remark about Hillary's emails made by Trump last summer and then clumsily links it to concurrent conversations that some of his associates were having with some unnamed Russians:
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.
But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.
The dismissal of Mike Flynn is all of a piece with the shocking "news" that a bunch of American plutocrats were doing business with a bunch of Russian plutocrats, as if this were a new state of affairs and not the decades-long result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the US welcome mat being put out for the new Russian oligarchy to invest in everything from New York luxury real estate to oil pipelines to uranium mines in the American west.

 The Times piece smarmily concludes:
 The officials would not disclose many details, including what was discussed on the calls, the identity of the Russian intelligence officials who participated, and how many of Mr. Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians. It is also unclear whether the conversations had anything to do with Mr. Trump himself.
The Washington establishment doing battle with Satan himself still wouldn't negate the fact that they are using the slimy McCarthyite (and Stalinesque) tactic of guilt by association.

We the people must not be sucked in to this elite war as unwitting co-propagandists. We should be asking them "where's the meat?" at the same time that we relentlessly question why they are so hell-bent on permanent war, unconstitutional surveillance on ordinary citizens as well as powerful generals, and what, exactly, their power struggle has got to do with the rest of us.

Their struggle is not our struggle. Their prize is not our prize. Not by a long shot.

Update, 2/16: The Democratic Party's veal pen organizations are already asking for money for #TheResistance based primarily on the Trump administration's alleged Russia connection. The goal is for impeachment; social and economic justice issues are taking a back seat. In other words, we are supposed to put all our cash and our hopes into Congressional investigations rather than taking matters into our own hands by getting out on the streets. After all, the Consensuals don't want us to get too much of a taste for direct action, lest we start demanding pie in the sky like single payer, universal health coverage. And the worst part is that the Democratic Party wants us to align ourselves with the unaccountable right-wing Deep State to achieve "progressive" goals.
 
Concomitant with the New York Times "scoop" referenced above, these appeals began flying in to my inbox.

MoveOn.Org --  "What did the president know, and when did he know it?"
That's what we all need to ask—and what Congress must investigate—in the wake of revelations that Trump knew for weeks about Michael Flynn's secret and likely illegal conversations with Russian officials.

People's Action (describes itself as a consortium of "grassroots" organizing groups headquartered in Chicago) --  "Until an investigation is completed, Trump's mandate is suspect.... We will not let a potentially illegitimate president cut Medicare, privatize Social Security, repeal the Affordable Care Act and deport millions of our neighbors without a fight.

(The wording of this is clumsy, if not itself a bit suspect. So, it would be O.K. with them for a "legitimate" president to cut the social safety net and deport millions of our neighbors, as Obama has already done?)

Color of Change --  "While Trump is lying about millions of voter fraud cases, the real threat to our democracy is  Putin's involvement in our election and Russia's illicit ties to Trump and his administration. But even more threatening is Congress' refusal to do anything about it. Black people have fought to make our democracy real and we won't stand for any threats, foreign or domestic, to our ability to participate in free and fair elections."

A further indication that Democratic Party leaders are scared that the rabble will go beyond its appointed duties and attack them as well as Republicans at town halls is Chuck Schumer's appeal for help from Bernie Sanders. It is now Sanders's duty to make all the activists sit down and shut up.

According to the Washington Post, the Wall Street-friendly senator was shaken when protesters had the gall to demonstrate outside his own private residence recently. What gives? This was supposed to be a resistance against Trump and nothing but Trump, and now the agitators are converging on blue states. Oh, the horror.
They basically explained to Bernie, it looks like you could be the person that could calm down and make sure their energy and all this enthusiasm is directed in all the right proper channels,” (West Virginia Senator Joe) Manchin said. “Bernie has a voice, and if [protesters] want to be active, then direct them to where the problem may be or where they anticipate a problem.”
While Sanders is staying mum on the request, he has not, thus far, formally requested that his supporters stay mum about anything.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Normalizing Greed In the Age of Trump

The New York Times has a piece up on private equity mogul Steve Schwarzman's latest hedonistic birthday party. Andrew Ross Sorkin, scribe to the leisure class, marvels that ever since Donald Trump stampeded into the public sphere and began sucking up all the media oxygen, there hasn't been the usual outpouring of public disgust at conspicuous displays of consumption. Sorkin credits the alleged ennui to that master of excess himself, our newly elected president. 

Donald J. Trump has suddenly made the world of performance greed safe for the rest of the plutocracy. Or, so the plutocrats and their media sycophants are aiming to convince both themselves and us, the newly-awakened protesting rabble.

As I've written before, Trump is both a blessing and a curse to the neoliberal order, which has turbocharged wealth inequality and more than doubled the number of billionaires since the 2008 financial collapse. The economic "recovery," such as it is, has allowed the new oligarchy to suck up more than 90% of the gains, while condemning the bottom 90% of the population to an ever more precarious existence in what has become hideously known as "the sharing economy."

At the same time that Trump makes the ruling class's hair curl with his serial truth-telling about how corrupt the system is, and how the corrupt system has made him and them what they are today, his antics conveniently deflect attention from the pathologies of such heretofore loathed financial villains as Steve Schwarzman. 

The man just can't contain his excessiveness. This flaw might have mattered back in 2009, when progressive (cough) hero Barack Obama arrived in the White House to vanquish the greedsters by protecting their bonuses and extending their Bush-era tax cuts while imposing austerity on the rest of us and helping to foment the rise of the Tea Party and later, Trump himself.

So according to the latest neoliberal narrative, run-of-the-mill conspicuous consumption shouldn't matter as much to us, now that we have Donald Trump and his gene pool to kick around. Who really cares anymore that Schwarzman once spent $3,000 for a dinner of imported stone crabs with an old crab like The Donald presented to the masses for their sneering pleasure?

The fact that Schwarzman damaged his horrible image even further by hilariously casting himself as a victim of Nazi-style atrocities because of the toothless Dodd-Frank legislation also pales in comparison to the spectacle of President Trump charging admission to attend his Florida White House weekend bashes with heads of state.

So it's all the more awesome, enthuses Sorkin from his perch at the Times's wealth-serving DealBook section, that protests against Trump, the whole Trump and nothing but the Trump might also signal that other rich people are safe, that the public just doesn't care about generalized wealth inequality any more:
Mr. Trump’s election and the nominations of his cabinet of billionaires may draw ire from his critics, but the people who elected him — who draw largely from the middle and lower classes — appear nonplused by his, and other people’s, showy displays of wealth. Indeed, judging by various polls, much of the country aspires to live like Mr. Schwarzman and Mr. Trump.
While Mr. Trump himself did not attend the party, his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, did. So did others from the administration, including Elaine L. Chao, the transportation secretary; Steven T. Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary; and Wilbur Ross, the nominee for commerce secretary. Other guests included everyone from the prominent financier Henry R. Kravis of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and the fashion designer Donatella Versace to Susan George, executive director of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund in New York.
But let's not give too much credit to Donald Trump for improving Schwarzman's reputation enough to make his greed and excess more palatable to the consuming public -- who according to Sorkin's polls, aspire to luxury as greedily as Trump, rather than, say, modestly aspiring to a job with a living wage, a secure retirement and a safe roof over one's head. Knowing how the polls commissioned by the ruling class work, I would hazard a guess that the only choice given to people was who'd they rather be: Ivanka, or a bag lady?

  In any event, the public relations campaign to normalize and even celebrate the greed of the oligarch class had already reached something of a milestone a little over a year ago. The anti-Melania, First Lady Michelle Obama herself, appeared at a gala Washington event for the express purpose of heaping outlandish praise upon Schwarzman and a whole cabal of blood-sucking private equity rentiers. All that these tax-avoiding tycoons had to do in return was to make a meaningless pledge to hire more veterans of the endless wars which have brought them such endless profits.

"Kill and make a killing" trumped (sorry) the tired old Gordon Gekko motto "Greed is Good" way back when Donald Trump was still considered nothing but a media clown candidate.

Michelle Obama did her friendly fascism part of normalizing war profiteers and wealth extractors simply by lending her carefully manufactured "Mom in Chief" brand to their plunder. According to the press release put out by Schwarzman's Blackstone Group, the actual hiring of veterans was never an integral part of the public relations package. The initiative was pure, platitudinous "camo-washing."
The Veterans Initiative Summit is designed to support the recruitment, hiring, retention, and promotion of American veterans across private equity portfolio companies, and will bring together private equity firms and their portfolio companies to promote the sharing of best practices, to identify gaps and opportunities in veteran hiring processes, and to energize leaders as they continue to focus on these important issues. The two-day summit will be held on October 7thand 8th at the Grand Hyatt Washington, located at 1000 H Street NW.
Camo-washing doesn't, of course, mean giving the camels at Steve Schwarzman's latest Asia-themed birthday bash a spa treatment. Rather, it is a term coined by journalist Dave Dayen to describe the gifting of public money via either tax credits or direct grants or sweetheart prosecutorial deals to any too big to fail private corporation willing to give lip service to "the troops" and thereby drumming up both commercial and public support for all the tycoons in the Military-Industrial Complex Family.

Depending on what day of the week it is, the bad corporate actors of America are getting either a pat on the back or a slap on the wrist.

 
And in October 2015, Michelle Obama was only too happy to give them all a big fat sloppy kiss on whatever cheek you might care to imagine. She thanked them for deflecting public attention away from the unemployed and very suicide-prone veterans of endless wars and from the Obama administration's own adamant refusal to push for an FDR-style government jobs program for them. Instead, Michelle Obama led the cloyingly-named and defense/private equity-funded "Joining Forces" camo-washing crusade.


She not only helped to normalize Trump-style greed, she put a patriotic sheen on it. And she made pathological violence in all its myriad forms so charmingly hilarious in the process:
I mean, private equity is one of the most competitive industries in this country; probably the closest thing you can come to hand-to-hand combat on a daily basis.  (Laughter.)  But Steve and Blackstone and all of you are doing this because you know that something bigger is at stake.  And you also know that while we’ve made important progress, we still have a lot of work to do on behalf of our veterans’ employment.
Now, it’s true that over the past four years, the unemployment rate for 9/11 veterans has dropped from the 12 percent in 2011 to 7.2 percent in 2014.  And since May of this year, it’s been around 5 percent.  That is a significant accomplishment, and it didn’t just happen by itself.  (Applause.)  It happened because folks like you stepped up, learned about what our vets and military spouses have to offer, and then you worked hard to set goals, and recruit and hire them.
I mention that Michelle's image was a very carefully manufactured brand only because her successors - Melania and Ivanka Trump - are coming under such outraged media fire for their own, not-dissimilar branding of their public positions. Establishment churnalists have no qualms about trashing their brand, even to the extent of one of their clique getting a mere slap on the wrist from bosses at New York Times for calling Melania a "hooker" at a public-private society event.

Michelle, you might remember, had her own branding problem in the early days of her husband's administration. It came in the person of her attention-addicted, social-climbing social secretary friend, one Desiree Rogers.

Rogers soon got the proverbial boot for acting too much like Ivanka Trump in public, preening for the cameras in her designer clothing and jewelry, and boastfully exposing the Obama mystique for what it truly was: nothing more than an advertising campaign. From the New York Times: 
Ms. Rogers had appeared in another glossy magazine, posing in a White House garden in a borrowed $3,495 silk pleated dress and $110,000 diamond earrings. But if the image was jarring in a time of recession, Mr. Axelrod was as bothered by the words and her discussion of “the Obama brand” and her role in promoting it, according to people informed about the conversation.
“The president is a person, not a product,” he was said to tell her. “We shouldn’t be referring to him as a brand.”
(snip)
  The White House eventually clamped down on her public profile. She was ordered to stop attending splashy events and showing up in fancy clothes on magazine covers. When Michelle Obama learned one day that Ms. Rogers was on a train heading to New York to attend an MTV dinner, the first lady told her longtime friend to cancel, associates said.
In other words, there has been a precedent for White House branding, Trump-style. Desiree Rogers might have lasted much longer in the White House were it not for those Trumpian reality show party-crashers known as the Salahis.

When the Obamas did their own excessive thing in the People's House, they at least made the effort to commit it far, far away from the People's view. It was during the recession after all, and rich and powerful leaders were forced to inconspicuously consume for reasons of optics. News and photos of the Obamas' secret and opulent 2009 Tim Burton-produced hedonistic Halloween party didn't come to light until nearly two years after the fact.

The party, which also served as a private focus group screening of the still-unreleased movie Alice in Wonderland, featured the stars of the film, including Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. A smattering of military families invited for camo-washing purposes were served refreshments that included vials of fake blood. And they say the Trumps have no taste! 

In her book about "The Obamas," Jodi Kantor wrote that "White House officials were so nervous about how a splashy, Hollywood-esque party would look to jobless Americans — or their representatives in Congress, who would soon vote on health care — that the event was not discussed publicly and Burton’s and Depp’s contributions went unacknowledged."













A Theory of the Ruling Class: Plus Ca Change, Plus C'Est La Meme Chose
"Nothing exceeds like excess" -- Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey.