Friday, December 15, 2017

Democrophobia Strikes Deep

One of the more common explanations offered by the pundit class for the elevation of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land is that there is an excess of "democracy" in this country. Even though the majority of Americans are stupid, they were tragically still functional enough to tear themselves away from Fox News to shamble forth, like the extras in Night of the Living Dead, to commit mass suffrage.

Fear and loathing of the mob is even extending to the storied Big Tent of the Democratic Party. Having lost about a thousand state and national seats in the last decade, the party remains riven by its own factions of populism and elitism. Its much-touted Unity Tour proved to be a big flop, possibly because DNC Chairman Tom Perez's idea of unity was to purge the leadership of the populist Bernie Sanders supporters.

Since that purging did not automatically convince the populist faction to fall on their knees and beg for mercy, the next step is to publicly shame them for merely existing. "Is the Democratic Party Becoming Too Democratic?" archly asked the New York Times this week in an editorial written by two credentialed academics:
Part of the problem for parties is our insistence that they be run democratically. That turns out not to be a very realistic concept. Yes, we can hold elections within parties, but party leaders will always have vastly more information about candidates — their strengths and flaws, their ability to govern and work with Congress, their backing among various interest groups and coalitions — than voters and caucusgoers do. That information is useful, even vital, to the task of picking a good nominee. As the political scientist E. E. Schattschneider once said, democracy is to be found between the parties, not within them.
Casting doubts about a party’s legitimacy — in particular picking a presidential nominee — can have real electoral consequences. In 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders highlighted Hillary Clinton’s contributions from well-heeled donors, and particularly her strong support among the party’s superdelegates, as signals that the nomination contest had been fixed for her and that the only way for the Democratic Party to be a truly democratic party would be to nominate Mr. Sanders.
(Come on, proles! You knew just from reading the title of this piece that it would be the latest in the Times' timeless series, "A Thousand and One Ways to Blame Bernie, Bash Trump, and Beatify Hillary.")

But the authors do have a point. As the late political philosopher Simone Weil observed, a political party exists in the interests of itself rather than in the interests of its members. And since the main goals are "to generate collective passions," to attract money and members, and to win and maintain power, it is always necessary to lie by employing the egalitarian language of democracy. Therefore, the very name "Democratic Party" is a lie unto itself.

  Weil wrote that political parties by their nature are misanthropic:

 "Political parties are organizations that are publicly and officially designed for the purpose of killing in all souls the sense of truth and of justice. Collective pressure is exerted upon a wide public by the means of propaganda. The avowed purpose of propaganda is not to impart light, but to persuade. Hitler saw very clearly that the aim of propaganda must always be to enslave minds. All political parties make propaganda. A party that would not do so would disappear, since all its competitors practice it... Political parties do profess, it is true, to educate those who come to them: supporters, young people, new members. But this is a lie: it is not an education, it is a conditioning, a preparation for the far more rigorous ideological control imposed by the party upon its members."
Another French philosopher, Jacques Rancière, writes that the Hatred of Democracy now being openly displayed by the political "centrists" of the Democratic Party is as old as the de facto oligarchies which have controlled civilizations throughout history:
Double discourse on democracy is nothing new... we're used to hearing that democracy is the worst of government with the exception of all the others"... (but) the new antidemocratic sentiment gives the general formula a more troubling expression. Democratic government, it says, is bad when it is allowed to be corrupted by democratic society, which wants for everyone to be equal and for all differences to be respected.... The thesis of this new hatred of democracy can be succinctly put: there is only one good democracy, the one that represses the catastrophe of democratic civilization."
The current crisis in American democratic propaganda has its roots in the most severe wealth inequality in modern times.

In good times, leaders can more or less successfully urge people to consume - both material goods and entertainment - as a substitute for direct civil engagement. But with the hollowing out of the middle class comes the inevitable backlash. The financialized economy, or rule by the bankers, is virtually destroying the ability of most people to consume. Resulting dissent and unrest are threatening the confidence of the same elites who allowed deregulated capitalism to destroy the very consumerism which has nurtured it so well. Thus the haste with which they are now ramming through the repeal of Net Neutrality, the highway robbery known as Tax Reform, the ultra-consolidation of the already-consolidated mass media, revving up the war machine to epic suicidal as well as homicidal proportions, and making their emergency plans to privatize Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. They don't want too many healthy people getting in their way.

In a brand new report, Thomas Piketty and 100 other researchers have concluded that with extreme wealth inequality only growing worse with every passing year, all over the world, a whole panoply of social, economic and political catastrophes are inevitable. Worldwide, the top one percent of income "earners" have captured twice as much of the capital growth as the bottom half of the global population. Since 1980, with the rise of finance-controlled neoliberal forms of government, the massive transfer of public to private wealth has occurred in nearly all countries - so much so that public wealth is zero or in negative territory. While actual countries, like the US, have become richer, their governments have become poorer - by design. It gives them a perfect excuse to punish the poor in the name of "fiscal responsibility."

The Republicans, of course, have long stopped pretending to be on the "side" of the people who elect them in safe, gerrymandered districts. And increasingly, so have the establishment Democrats, with their own refusal to even acknowledge the wishes of the "Demos" for such nice but "impossible" things as universal health care, debt-free public education, a living wage and guaranteed incomes for those who cannot work or cannot find work. All they offer to the base is fear of Russia, with a concurrent redirection of populist anger at sexual harassment in Hollywood, corporate broadcast and print news, and to a much lesser extent, the Beltway and Silicon Valley. The financiers of Wall Street have so far been curiously exempt from the scandals, despite their many other serial predations and crimes against the body politic.

We do not even enjoy "representative democracy" in this country. Rather, as Jacques Rancière observes, we live under a system of Representative Oligarchy, "a representation of minorities who are entitled to take charge of public affairs either directly or though consultation."

 Everything is presented in terms of the economy and the Market, with the only "reality" offered to us, and to which we should aspire, being the unlimited power and glory of wealth. This is why centrist Democrats like Barack Obama constantly talked up a "balanced approach" to allow the co-existence of unlimited oligarchic greed with society's Left Behinds. The "losers" are urged to hone their skills, work hard, compete against your fellows, share the sacrifice, aspire to riches, and instead of complaining, get out there and vote!

Meanwhile, the rulers euphemize the slashing of the safety net with such weasel words as "modernization" in order to help the masses adapt to their ever more harsh realities. It's propaganda designed to give our oligarchy a renewed legitimacy. It follows, therefore, that the main reason that the wealthy liberal class hates Trump so much is because he foments the "divisiveness" making it so hard to keep the population sedated and under oligarchic control. 

The true definition of democracy is the struggles of ordinary people, both individuals and groups, for social and economic justice. These include struggles against the electoral system and the parties themselves.

Democracy has nothing to do with money-driven political parties and their agendas. It has everything to do with Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Count Your Damned Blessings

It's a testament to how low we've sunk as a country that the defeat in Alabama Tuesday of a homophobic xenophobic white supremacist fundamentalist fanatic pedophile came as such a huge shock to most pundits and prognosticators.

Much to our wondering eye does appear the reality that yes, Virginia, there is a limit to the awfulness that voters will accept in the politicians they choose to faithfully serve the oligarchs under the pretense of representative democracy.

The Democratic victor, Doug Jones, is still too much of an ideological "blank slate" for us to predict whether he'll try anything radical to improve the lives of the poor and Black Alabama voters who turned out in record numbers in an off-year special election to push him over the finish line. He'll actually get one more year (until 2021!) than a mere House representative would get to master juggling his good legislative stuff with the need to work the phones for campaign donations. So I'll give him the benefit of my many doubts in the hope that he proves my ingrained cynicism to be totally misplaced.

Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress are taking no chances in getting their massive gift to the rich passed just in time for Christmas, before Doug Jones is sworn in to potentially jam even the tiniest wad of gum in their nasty works.  It bodes ill for them that despite his blank slate politics, Jones is very popular among black voters, not least because he successfully prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan terrorists who bombed a Baptist church in 1963 and killed four little girls.

New York Times pundit Paul Krugman drearily ponders the tasteless haste with which the robber barons are cramming coal into the stockings of 330 million Americans, or at least the bottom 90-99% of Americans. We still don't know exactly how severely the lesser millionaires and multimillionaires may be punished, especially those residing on the Blue State coasts. For example, although the mortgage deduction has been raised from $100.000 to $750,000, the tax bill will not allow a similar deduction for state and local taxes if the merely well-to-do choose the former option. This, from first appearances anyway, is a big slap to people who own luxury homes in New York's Hamptons enclaves.

  It might all seem moot to ordinary people when Congress reconvenes in January to begin its attack on the great social insurance programs of the New Deal and the Great Society. That's when real democracy should rear its righteous head and show that representative democracy is nothing but an oxymoron. It's nothing but a feel-good story that media and political propagandists have been telling us for more than two centuries now. So with any luck and lots of organization, the watershed #MeToo movement will quickly evolve from outraged protests against sexual assault and harassment to outraged protests against the social and economic assaults committed against us every single day by a tiny cabal of oligarchic predators.

These predatory rulers do, despite all their greed and venality, still require "the consent of the governed" in order to operate. It's why the oligarchs didn't fight back too hard against FDR's agenda during the First Great Depression. The continued existence of capitalism depended on him saving them from themselves, as well as from the sit-down strikes and rent riots.

So to Krugman's smug conclusion that the tax bill is just so horrible that it will send a delicious thrill right up the osteoporotic spine of the Democratic Party, I responded: 
  Those Democratic strategists might be gleefully thinking "Make My Day", but I suspect that those of us not making six figures a year as consultants are thinking more in terms of "Our Days Are Numbered."
Sorry, but the realization that the GOP mobsters are shooting themselves, and that the Dems look good in comparison doesn't put food on our tables, pay the rent, make doctor visits feasible even with "affordable" coverage, or ease whole lifetimes' worth of crushing student debt.

With the election of a monumentally incompetent criminal to the White House, the Republicans are newly emboldened to act out the darkest fantasies of the malignant Donor Class, a/k/a the Owner Class. The defeat of good ole boy pedophile Roy Moore does indeed spell the eventual doom of Trumpism and possibly the GOP majority. So they'll grab while the grabbing's good.
Plus, all the really nasty bad stuff is traditionally rushed through during the joyful winter holiday season. They count on most of us being either too busy consuming, or too depressed about our already-strapped existences, to make much of a stink. Furthermore, since we don't know exactly what is in this piece of malignant legislation, and the entire media-political complex will have made their quick holiday getaways, by the time we find out it'll be a done deal.

Then we'll be told to "adapt" and to practice "resilience" as we wait to vote the good guys back in to, at best. only partially undo what the Sadism Party has wrought.

Representative Democracy: The Fluff That Hides the Bad Stuff

Saturday, December 9, 2017

My Al Franken Mind-Split

I am uncomfortably on the fence regarding the Al Franken resignation.

The feminist part of me applauds his forcing-out at the hands of female senators. Maybe he posed for that dumb picture with a fellow entertainer for what he sincerely thought were harmless entertainment reasons. Nonetheless, the image did send a harmful message to immature males everywhere. That message is that women are objects of harmless fun, particularly women who are unconscious and helpless. So perhaps Franken's forced ouster will send its own message to immature men of all ages: Better think twice before playfully thrusting your tongue into an unwilling mouth, or affectionately pinching a bottom during a routine photo op.

The traditional (small d) democrat in me abhors his forced resignation by a handful of female senators. The voters of Minnesota put Al Franken into office, and they should be the ones to take him out, by recall, if they wanted to. Franken was railroaded out of The Swamp even before the ethically challenged Senate ethics committee got the chance to drag out another investigation. Franken absolutely does have a right to feel very bitter about the whole thing. The last thing a powerful man expects is to made an example of by a bunch of women. He must have felt like the hog-tied boss in Nine to Five as he delivered his bitter farewell speech.

Our Cathartic Moment of Zen

Meanwhile, the traditional democrat part of me also finds it very hard to be sympathetic to Al Franken, given my previous longstanding disenchantment with him. Despite the fact that his Minnesota constituents overwhelmingly chose Bernie Sanders in last year's Democratic Party caucuses, Franken, as a committed Hillary Clinton super-delegate, refused to change his own support. He explained that, since those same caucus voters had also elected him to the Senate, they "trusted" him to be the ultimate decider.

As a sort of precursor to his not remembering his well-meaning attacks on women the same way the women remembered them, Franken stressed that he didn't actually mean to imply that he thinks he is smarter than his constituents. He simply ignored them for their own good.

Meanwhile, both the democratic and feminist sides of me absolutely believe that my senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, railroaded Al Franken out of office for her own self-serving political purposes. Still something of a starlet among the overcrowded roster of rising Democratic stars, she knew a wedge issue opportunity when she saw it. Since the party slogan, "A Better Deal" was going nowhere fast, ambitious Democrats are hastily co-opting the #MeToo movement to differentiate themselves from the slimy Republicans, particularly alleged pedophile Roy Moore of Alabama and the admitted serial abuser in the White House. If the Democrats can't and won't run a campaign of economic justice for all, they'll grasp at any convenient straw they can. It'll be a war against the men who wage war against women.

Although the socialist part of me thinks that selective Me-Tooism is deeply reactionary as well as threatening to devolve into another McCarthyite cult, there's that other part of me who, still feeling the sting of my own prior victimization, is absolutely thrilled by the Fall of the Great Hogs as well as some of the lesser oinkers. 

True, Gillibrand was a conservative upstate New York Blue Dog long before she became an overnight opportunistic New York City-style progressive. But she has been known to buck bellicose male tradition from time to time. She dared to criticize Barack Obama for refusing to take sex assaults outside the chain of military command. And although she eventually tried to walk back her heretical disownment of the Clintons after suggesting that Bill should have resigned the presidency for his own sexual sleaze, she was the first member of her party in the Age of Hillary to do so. Regardless of ulterior motives, you have to admit that took some chutzpah.

So I'm ambivalent about Gillibrand too. Would it be better for her and other female lawmakers to just shut up about congressional predators? Of course not. But then I get hung up on due process, and I also can't help thinking about The Scarlet Letter with Kirsten Gillibrand starring as Roger Chillingworth. And then I think about how stone-cold silent she and her fellow legislators have been about the still-pending corruption charges against Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. His first trial ended in a hung jury last month, but he's calling it an acquittal, and he's still sitting pretty in his own legislative seat.

Of course, the other problem with the #MeToo movement is that, thus far anyway, the media coverage has been largely confined to men in high places abusing women (and men) in somewhat less-high places, or at least those who ambitiously aspire to high places. For the most part, the Narrative is about  elites vs. elite wannabes. We haven't heard too many stories of working class women and men getting abused and/or fired, without the cushion of lucrative "settlement" deals to soften the blow of their low-wage job losses. There is no  corporate or taxpayer-funded hush money slush fund set aside for waitresses and office temps and Uber drivers.

And with so many liberals now turning on Gillibrand for ruining Al Franken's life for the good of a weak and corrupt Democratic Party, the dreaded backlash has already begun. The #MeToo movement, which so quickly advanced to a cult-like status thanks to the crusading journalism of the New York Times, threatens to go the way of the pink pussy-hat: into the discontinued yarn bin of history.

The irony is that the movement started out as a proxy fight against Donald Trump. The destruction of Harvey Weinstein, a vile proxy for the ages, got the whole bandwagon morphing into a runaway freight train. There are new accusations against new men every day, and the media prints them as hastily as their routine vetting procedures permit. Actual time, though, is not of the essence; some of the stories, such as those involving famed conductor James Levine, go back half a century.

And Donald Trump is not only still sitting pretty, he even champions his fellow predators with absolute impunity. In endorsing Alabama's Ray Moore, he's outed himself as a pedophile-phile, and proud of it. So, apparently, are a slim polled majority of Alabama's voters.

Also ironic is the possibility that, had Al Franken not gone against the wishes of voters and clung to the flawed and fatal campaign of Hillary Clinton, he might still be sitting pretty in his own Senate seat. It is now a truth universally acknowledged (at least by Donna Brazile and the leaked Podesta and DNC emails) that the primary process was rigged against Bernie Sanders. If he had secured the nomination, many believe that his left-wing populism could easily have trounced Trump's right-wing populism.

But don't tell that to the Democratic Party's elite faction. Pundit Paul Krugman, among others, is still artificially and uselessly confining his angst to the far-right wing of the reactionary Uniparty. His latest op-ed oh so originally points out that "Facts Have a Well-Known Liberal Bias." In other words, if the GOP says the moon is made of green cheese, and the Democrats say it is made of moon rocks, it therefore follows that the Democrats own the moral high ground, even as they gleefully appropriate three quarters of a trillion dollars to the war machine of their predatory faux-nemesis, Donald Trump. Krugman righteously writes in the New York Times:
Surveys done by the University of Minnesota and George Mason University have shown that the supposedly impartial “fact checking” news organization rates Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims and twice as much, respectively.
Notice the implicit assumption here – namely, that impartial fact-checking would find an equal number of false claims from each party. But what if – bear with me a minute – Republicans actually make more false claims than Democrats?....
....Whatever the deep explanation, however, the parties are not the same. And trying to pretend that they are the same isn’t just foolish, it’s deeply destructive. Indeed, it’s one important reason Donald Trump sits in the White House.
My published response: 
The relentlessness of the GOP's lies has a "gaslighting" effect, serving to block normal minds from perceiving the actual truth. Since it's human nature to search for the "middle ground" between the truth and its opposite, too many of us end up settling for a counterfeit compromise. And this is precisely the intent of the liars and their media enablers.
They serve up their "news" not to keep us informed, but to ensure that we remain comfortable consumers in a very pathological situation.
It's like trying to find a magical healthy spot between stage 4 cancer and a benign tumor. Rather than calling the terminal disease a terminal disease, and rather than admit that a cancer-free body is the ideal, they settle for the stage 2 disease and pronounce it as healthy as can be expected.
Of course the Republicans and the Democrats aren't the same. But the Dems have to do more than indignantly moralize against the GOP pathocrats. They have to do more than point to "Russia" as the root of our divisiveness. They have to do more than brag about getting rid of their own in-house predators while pointing their virtue-signaling fingers at Trump and Roy Moore.
 They have to prescribe an actual cure to what ails this sick society. They have to champion Medicare for All, college debt relief, strong public education and housing policies, and living wage legislation. Maybe then they can start winning back some of the thousand seats they've lost to the GOP liars over the past decade.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Bill Clinton's Ruling Class Lament

As part of the great national wokeness serving to expose and shame the predators in the highest echelons of media and political power, the New York Times has graciously allowed former President Bill Clinton to perform his own reckoning, in his own words.

Clinton reckons that the biggest problem America faces is not that the powerful and the rich and the criminal are exploiting and assaulting the poor and the defenseless. It's that defenseless Americans like you and me just can't seem to get along with one another. Forget about coming clean about his own sordid past as an accused rapist. This man won't even come clean about how his administration's neoliberal, wealth-serving policies have directly created some of the worst human misery in the history of our young republic.

Regular readers of this blog might remember that one of my regular features was the deconstruction of Barack Obama's weekly addresses to the nation. Unlike Donald Trump's self-centered bombast, Obama's messages sounded,  on the surface, very reasonable and eloquent  and even empathetic - until you carefully read between the lines, and realized that they were largely dog-whistles of support to Wall Street and jingoistic drumbeats for the perpetual war machine.

So, when I read Clinton's op-ed in the New York Times, it was like deja vu all over again. Let the deconstruction begin!

Americans Must Decide Who We Really Are, by Bill Clinton.
America has a lot going for it.
We are in the second year of rising incomes across all income groups. Our work force is relatively young, hardworking and productive. America’s universities and other research institutions are strong in areas like materials science, software development, nanotechnology, biotechnology, genomics and many other fields that are important to our future economic growth and employment. We continue to move toward more energy independence and cleaner energy, with advances in battery storage for solar and wind power and a vast untapped capacity to generate electricity from both.
This sounds like a subtle dig at Obama, who oversaw the greatest transfer of wealth from the working classes to the rich in all of American history, as well as a subtle compliment to Trump's second year in office coinciding with the second year of allegedly rising incomes. If any low-income workers have gotten slight raises in the past few years, it's been largely the result of their own Fight for 15 movement and not the result of any beneficence of employers like the Walton family. This retail dynasty now owns as much wealth as the entire bottom half of the population combined, but their workers rely on government-funded programs like Medicaid and SNAP to barely survive. Of course, it helps that the Walton clan have been big funders of the Clinton clan over the past several decades.

Bill Clinton fails to mention that the technological research being conducted in public universities is for the ultimate benefit of private corporations, which, thanks to patent laws written by their lobbyists, will continue to milk the public for generations to come. Meanwhile, the skilled but onerously indebted graduates of such institutions will work until they drop.

And that's the good news. Clinton now proceeds to give lip service to his neoliberal version of the dark side:
 We also face serious economic challenges: severe inequalities in income and wealth; low work force participation by adults without college degrees, especially white men; dramatic differences in growth between prosperous urban and suburban regions and counties full of small towns and rural areas; gaping shortfalls in our national infrastructure, from inadequate roads and bridges, to rusty, dangerous water pipes, to an electrical grid incapable of moving the cleanest, cheapest energy from where it can be produced most efficiently to where it is most needed, to the absence of affordable, rapid broadband internet in areas that desperately need to be included in the national economy.
Whenever neoliberals want to avoid a true reckoning, they employ the weasel word "challenges." This allows them to avoid the reality that it has been their own policies (deregulation of the financial sector; privatization of public spaces, and housing stock, and public schools; the deliberate creation of a carceral state in which one out of every three black men now spends part of his life locked up in prison; the bipartisan whittling away of social insurance benefits) which have created the "challenge" of so many millions of people now needlessly suffering. These "challenges" have come about precisely because of leaders like him. Rather than admit this, Clinton blames the victims by pointing to the convenient "skills gap" canard.  This malarkey suggests that only a costly college education can ever bring neoliberalism's victims out of their own doldrums. Oh, and maybe a little broadband rural Internet. That should keep the "folks" hoping against all hope and against all reason. Maybe they'll vote Democrat next time, instead of for Republican demagogues like Donald Trump. Right?
There are human resource challenges, too. Our K-12 education system includes some of the world’s best schools, but that excellence has been hard to replicate across districts and states with widely varying conditions.
Bill Clinton would not be the loyal neoliberal ideologue he is if he didn't define human beings in purely market-based terms. We are not people - we are "human resources"  who must be ready, willing and able to be mined to our very depths. Never mind that these "challenges" will get even worse with the new tax legislation. Among its other atrocities, the GOP plan is expressly designed to destroy public education as we know it, by limiting the local and state property tax deduction to a measly $10,000, and thereby depriving neighborhood schools of most of their revenue for infrastructure and teacher salaries.

Clinton goes on to complain that although the Affordable Care Act has brought a modicum of medical coverage to a select and lucky portion of the population,  
... we have wasted too much time fighting over efforts to repeal that progress when we should be fixing the problems that remain and preparing for the aging of our population. 
 He studiously avoids any mention of Medicare for All, the true government-sponsored single payer health care being touted by progressives like Bernie Sanders, and which is widely supported by the public. On the contrary: what Clinton vaguely calls preparing for those old folks sounds ominously like a willingness to wheel and deal with the GOP on just how much funding it might be feasible to cut from Medicare for the Few.
 The future of undocumented immigrants — including the “Dreamers” and millions of people who are working hard and paying taxes — is uncertain at a time when our work force cannot grow without them; the birthrate among native-born Americans is barely at replacement levels.
Again, Clinton simply cannot resist couching social policies and problems in strictly economic terms. Only those immigrants who "work hard and pay taxes" are deserving immigrants. He does not mention the global refugee humanitarian crisis at all, probably because by doing so he would have to admit that American wars, both direct and proxy, are responsible for it.  He complains about the declining American birthrate without mentioning that people who do not make a living wage at a steady job simply cannot afford to have children  - especially when they are burdened by lifelong college debt. He also doesn't mention that the highly skilled foreign workers he wants to enter the country usually earn much lower salaries than native-born workers.
From Charleston to Charlottesville, we are reminded that the racial divide remains a curse that can be revived with devastating consequences. And the opioid crisis and its progeny, heroin and fentanyl, are killing and disabling Americans at a staggering rate. For several years we’ve known it’s a huge public health challenge, yet almost nowhere do we have the resources and organization necessary to turn the tide.
That was a very Obamesque alliteration - Charleston to Charlottesille. Its glibness masks the reality that our "racial divide" was actually just the ticket for Clinton's victory in 1992. He ran on a racist platform of "ending welfare as we know it," and he also championed the Crime Bill, which has sent record numbers of black men to prison on minor drug charges. Hillary Clinton's own "super predator" rhetoric did its own racist, ultra-right, placatory part.

As economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case have established, the opioid epidemic and worsening death rate are largely the result of working class despair - a despair partly engendered by the offshoring of jobs and the closing of factories brought about by Clinton's North American Free Trade Agreement. (NAFTA) But to Clinton, it's just one more "challenge." And as a sop to the centrist deficit hawk crowd, "almost nowhere do we have the resources to turn the tide."  If he were honest, he would acknowledge that the "resources" are there, but they've been earmarked for providing billionaires and corporations with more tax reductions, more art collections, more luxury homes, more private jets, and more super-yachts.
Finally, we have a serious set of security challenges, from nuclear proliferation, to terrorism, to climate change, to cybersecurity, the last of which may prove the most daunting because it puts all the systems we need to deal with the other problems, and our very democracy, at risk.
This, unbelievably, is how Bill Clinton ends his op-ed. It's as if by glossing over nukes and terrorism and climate change, he is deliberately avoiding the fact that the US itself has committed a trillion dollars' worth of our allegedly dwindling "resources" into modernizing our nukes. It's as if he can't bear to admit that the US has deliberately exempted itself not only from accountability before international war crimes tribunals, but exempted the military from environmental standards meant to reduce America's giant carbon footprint all over the world. The Pentagon is a major contributor to man-made climate change.

Clinton hilariously complains that breaches in our cybersecurity system put our  "democracy" at risk. If he were truly honest, he'd just complain that an upstart billionaire named Donald Trump has put Clinton's faction of the oligarchy at risk. If he were being extra, extra honest, he'd just cut to the chase and say that he's still mad as hell that Hillary lost, and that there has been no Clinton Restoration.

This is the same guy Donna Brazile thinks can help save the Democratic Party by going around the country and campaigning for all the challengers to Republican seats.

Maybe if the Democrats could refrain for a minute from calling people and all kinds of deliberately manufactured human misery mere "challenges," then they might actually start to claw back a few of those thousand seats they've lost in the past decade. Otherwise, they'll end up not with a bang, but with the same kind of whimper with which Bill Clinton concluded his insipidly awful Times op-ed.

Reading it to completion was like a depressing slog through mental quicksand. It was a real challenge.

Party On

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Clinging To the Guns and Religion of RussiaGate

The Democrats are not so incensed about the biggest tax increase in American history that their whole raison d'être isn't still the alleged Russian meddling in our already-tainted electoral process.

Just as Barack Obama once derided generic Heartland voters for "clinging to their guns and religion," the affluent and willfully ignorant liberal class are still clinging to #RussiaGate while they also half-heartedly exert themselves to jump on the #MeToo bandwagon.

I say half-heartedly, because Al Franken is still sitting in the Senate despite that sophomoric photo of his 55-year-old self pretending to grope the breasts of a sleeping fellow entertainer, and despite several other complaints about his Russian rushin' hands and roamin' fingers doing their slimy work at more mundane photo-ops.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did a Party-serving 180 last week, pivoting from praising reputed predator Rep. John Conyers as a Democratic "icon" into demanding his resignation just days later. Perhaps the ease of her about-face had something to do with him being the creator of H.R. 676, the original Medicare for All legislation. His proposed bill, which had been moldering in the House for many years, had recently gotten new life and sponsorship on the resurgent wave of left-wing populism. What better way to kill a bill than for its author to be exposed as a creep?

Professional victim Hillary Clinton, seeing an opening, is also co-opting #MeToo in her perpetual Blame Game Tour. Thank goodness, there are now so many more creeps to pretend to kick around besides just her good pal Harvey Weinstein and her hubby Bill Clinton. It has finally become safe for her to take a stand. Of course, she is making this brave stand all about herself.  

Jill Filopovic, who's run loyal feminist interference for Hillary Clinton in the past, has a new piece up in Sunday's New York Times asserting that, besides the mythical BernieBros, it was Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer and other male journalists who actually cost Clinton the election by constantly bringing up that whole trustworthiness and likeability thing. It makes you wonder: had Hillary been victorious, would Filopovic have written a similar column congratulating Rose and Lauer for carrying Hillary over the finish line?

It also makes you wonder why Barack Obama, who'd demeaned Hillary in a 2008 primary debate by snidely calling her "likeable enough," is not also being called to task for his own sexism. Oh, I forgot -  as the spiritual leader of a soul-less party which lost nearly a thousand seats during his White House tenure, he is immune. As a matter of fact, the liberal class maintains an absolute hunger for him. They're so smitten, they've even been sadly reduced to fawning over fawning coffee table books about him.

The most valuable aspect of #RussiaGate, and selective Me-Tooism, and #HillaryWuzRobbed, and #BarackHunger for the establishment Democrats is that they deflect the public's attention from the recent clamoring, by the majority of US citizens, for true universal health care and other socialist things like free college tuition and debt jubilees. The party elders aim to take the public's attention away from Bernie Sanders and his railing against the same "billionaire class"  which continues to enrich the party while it robs the rest of us blind. Sanders, the most popular politician in America, is already threatening  to usurp the presidential nomination from their preferred roster of "rising stars," including centrists Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.

  Other than opportunistic fund-raising appeals from party veal pen clicktivist organizations, you aren't seeing an inordinate number of Tweets from the usual outraged liberal suspects about the GOP's blatant theft of the public purse in the dead of night. And that's for a very good and pragmatic reason. The millionaires and billionaires who run the Democratic Party will themselves benefit very nicely from the package, and thus they'll have more spare cash to donate to the liberal politicians who give them such cozy, discreet cover. These politicians, if they do win back power next year, will likely claw back only a portion of the GOP's tax cuts for the rich, just as Obama delayed letting the Bush tax cuts expire for his own re-election purposes. And they'll call it a victory.

 It's so much more lucrative to confine one's outrage to Donald Trump's misogyny, to slimy sex predators, and to Vladimir Putin's reputed personal placement of $100,000 worth of cheesy ads on Facebook. Heaven forbid that Democrats speak out against their own wealth-serving neoliberal policies, which have so graciously ushered in a de facto oligarchy.

Of course, they would have preferred to cut Medicare and Social Security and other people-friendly programs under their own smokescreen of "fiscal responsibility" and "shared sacrifice" rather than having the whole rotten can of worms exposed by the ultra-right wing of the Uniparty for all of us to see. They would have preferred a more gradual immersion of the frogs into the slowly boiling water rather than tossing hundreds of millions of lesser critters off the gangplank in one fell swoop. They need the bad things they allow to happen to good people to be gradual, because that is the only thing that keeps their false, futuristic message of hope alive, and most importantly, keeps some people still  fooled enough to vote an ever-dwindling number of them into political office.

So, look over there, voters! - it's Michael Flynn, pleading guilty to lying to the federal cops about talking to "the Russians" as if they were space aliens fixing to blow us all up in our beds. In case you'd forgotten, it is as much a crime to lie to G-men in America as it is to lie to the police in a totalitarian society. You are considered to be under oath in a federal police interrogation as much as you are under oath in an official court proceeding. And if you happen to lie to the inquisitors, either by commission or by omission, the FBI always has surveillance data furnished by other branches of the Intelligence Community and the secret FISA court to catch you out.

So let what happened to Michael Flynn be a lesson to us all.

Naturally, the powers-that-be try to cover themselves by inventing a few sacrificial lambs to show the public just how above-board their ongoing palace coup is. One "highly regarded" FBI agent was yanked off the RussiaGate investigation after some of his personal emails criticizing Donald Trump were exposed. ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross was suspended for four weeks without pay for falsely reporting that Trump had ordered Flynn to contact the Russians while still only a candidate. He was, in fact, the president-elect when he issued the order. That's quite a difference. Oops. But since Trump obliged his critics by unleashing his usual tweet-storm in defense of Flynn and railing against "fake news", that's all the proof you should need that Trump is a traitor to his country as well as a financial swindler who serendipitously wound up in the White House.

And lest Democrats still be accused of clinging as insanely to their Russophobia  as the right-wing yahoos cling to their guns and religion, the New York Times has even published a gossipy piece about how the NRA itself might be involved in Russian collusion.
A conservative operative trumpeting his close ties to the National Rifle Association and Russia told a Trump campaign adviser last year that he could arrange a back-channel meeting between Donald J. Trump and Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, according to an email sent to the Trump campaign.
A May 2016 email to the campaign adviser, Rick Dearborn, bore the subject line “Kremlin Connection.” In it, the N.R.A. member said he wanted the advice of Mr. Dearborn and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, then a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump and Mr. Dearborn’s longtime boss, about how to proceed in connecting the two leaders.
This might sound like an disingenuous question, but what conservative operative doesn't have close ties to the money provided by the National Rifle Association? The fact that such an email even bears the title "Kremlin Connection" sounds suspiciously... oh, I don't know - suspicious? 

Also suspicious is that the Times doesn't even possess this alleged email; rather, its "contents" were merely described to the newspaper by an anonymous source "close to the investigation." To further cement the Narrative, it seems that the email was also forwarded to certain evangelical leaders. Thus are guns and religion so neatly tied up into one propaganda package.

Only at the very end of the piece, written by Nicholas Fandos, do we off-handedly learn that the Russian mafia might have ties to the NRA. And why not, given the impunity with which the international weapons cartel has long operated? There is truly nothing like burying the lede when one has a specific agenda. In other words, this whole #RussiaGate brouhaha is really nothing more than a mob war among a bunch of crime families vying for power.

The modern-day mobs euphemistically call themselves "public-private partnerships" and "Congress." And they essentially run the world. Donald Trump is too much of a loudmouth Tweety Bird for the tastes of the more discreet Dons, whose own political prestige and protection rackets and front organizations he so seriously endangers with his big, fat, unfiltered mouth. A pretender to the Godfather throne, he threatens to ruin the whole Racket. The neoliberal fat cats are desperate to swallow this demented, off-key canary. Not for the greater public good, of course, but to save their own feral skins.

Eat Me

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Just Fascists Being Fascists

Just when you thought that Donald Trump had really gone too far, that his latest projectile belch was so loud and so toxic that even Congress would finally put its foot down, you were bound to be sorely disappointed. The man who bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still be elected president could probably shoot someone in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and still remain in office.

"Oh, it's just Donald being Donald," they'd yawn, as they eagerly rushed their latest anti-social legislation to his desk for his pudgy-fingered signature.

I don't exaggerate. Because if Trump could re-tweet inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda videos originating from a notorious Britain-based hate group whose leader is under criminal indictment, and all that GOP connivers like Jeff Flake and Lindsay Graham can do is shrug their shoulders and sigh "that's not helpful," then I think that yes, he probably could actually get away with a lot worse than simply instigating violence on an epic domestic and global scale.

 He is, of course, no outlier. Although his drone assassinations and the civilian death tolls of his bombing campaigns already threaten to overtake those of his immediate predecessors, he is only using the lethal and normal unitary executive powers bequeathed to him. His emotional and monetary embrace of the despotic Saudi government, with its mass extermination campaign against Yemenis now vying with Rwanda and the Balkans in genocidal horror, is met with complicit silence from both major political parties. Congress loves war, Congress loves arms sales to authoritarian regimes,  and Congress especially loves the campaign donations and the bases and the Homeland Security fusion centers and the nuclear and "conventional" weapons factories which keep military and civilian constituents alike employed and supportive.

So when the New York Times first published the story of Trump's anti-Muslim tweets and his boosterism of a marginalized far-right British hate group on Wednesday, the media world was still busy reeling from news that NBC superstar Matt Lauer had been fired. The Trump article was initially and discreetly placed about a third of the way down the digital home page.

Only days after publishing a much-maligned puff piece serving to "normalize" an Ohio neo-Nazi, the Times drawled in its initial story: "It is unusual (my bold) to see an American president push out this type of content on such a powerful social media platform."

Is it merely "unusual" for the leader of the free world to spread blatantly fake videos which purport to show a Muslim man attacking a child on crutches, and another Muslim man desecrating a statue of the Virgin Mary, and a Muslim mob pushing a man off a rooftop?

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president's unhinged outburst with the usual disclaimer that facts don't matter as long as effective lies can serve to bolster his regime's fascist message. "Whether it's a real video, the threat is real," she insisted in true Goebbelsian fashion. "The threat is real, the threat needs to be addressed, and the threat needs to be talked about, and that's what the president is doing in bringing it up."

Look, I've been as sanguine as anybody about the sad reality that this president's Twitter habit serves mainly as a diversionary smokescreen from his own legal troubles and the kleptomaniacal attacks which pose as a White House administration. But this one goes way, way beyond the usual quotidian mischief.

My published comment on the original ho-hum Times article:
"It is unusual to see an American president push out this type of content on such a powerful social media platform."

No it's not. It's unprecedented, it's pathological, and it's dangerous. It might even border on the criminal, should it lead directly to someone, or many people, getting killed. It is an incitement to violence.

Trump is breathtaking in his irresponsibility. He knows, deep down within whatever rational part of his brain might still exist, that his presidency is a monumental failure. His solution, therefore, is to bring the rest of the world right down with him.

Thanks, but no thanks. Congress can either impeach this pathocrat, or they can be complicit with his antics. They don't get to have it both ways, not when so many lives are at stake.
Only when British Prime Minister Theresa May and other European politicians expressed shock and outrage did the Times advance the story to the top of the home page, and later completely rewrite it. The paper removed the banal "it is unusual to see an America president" characterization of the Tweet in favor of the more compelling "no modern American president has promoted inflammatory content of this sort from an extremist organization. Mr. Trump’s two most recent predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both made a point of avoiding public messages that were likely to be seen as anti-Muslim and could exacerbate racial and religious animosities, arguing that the war against terrorism was not a war against Islam."

Not that Bush and Obama are exactly friends of Muslims either, given the illegal invasion of Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan, the military-corporatist re-colonization of Africa, the cluster bombings and drone attacks on Yemeni civilians, the drone strikes in the "tribal areas" of AfPac, and the CIA's illegal program of domestic spying against Muslim Americans. Bush and Obama committed their own foul deeds with pretty and false words, while Trump commits his foul deeds with equally foul words. His bloodthirstiness and racist venom are unacceptably outside the "norms" of American bloodthirstiness and venomous exceptionalism.

But not that unacceptably. Because Trump is a very useful idiot indeed, able to convince his fans and fellow xenophobes that the oligarchic plot to financially ruin the lives of hundreds of millions of ordinary Americans under the auspices of "tax reform" is actually manna from heaven for them.

About a third of the voting population which continues to enable him will go happily to their doom, safe in the knowledge that their president feels not their pain, but their hatred.

Trump is a master of the politics of resentment. And if Congress has anything to say about it, he won't be going anywhere for a very long time.  Unless the KFC and the McDonald's fries do him in first, of course.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Enemies R Us

If Congress and its oligarchic masters get their way with their tax reform package, the ultra-rich will attach themselves like leeches on steroids to the body politic. They'll suck the poor and middle class as dry as it is possible to suck them without actually killing off too many their hosts.

There will, sadly, be collateral damage resulting as the Winter Solstice darkness approaches and gives the racketeering revelers necessary cover for their annual orgy of sacrificing the poor as an offering to the rich. But like the Democratic Party enablers always say, "we" must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good...  for the robber barons who already have way more than their share of the public goods. To say otherwise is to be unpatriotic and possibly Russian.

The ruling class racketeers simultaneously care and don't care what the poor and middle classes think of them and their greed. Therefore, regular people have been simultaneously and unwillingly cast in the dual roles of victim and enemy. Measures must be taken by the pathocrats to protect themselves from the annoying rabble.

 To that end, Congress-critters have tacked on some very sneaky companion legislation to their annual fiscal Saturnalia. Every single one of us would be subject to a new provision in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which would explicitly allow the US government to drastically expand its warrantless spying powers against its own citizens. We would lose all rights to appeal if and when we are ever accused of a crime in a secret FISA court proceeding. Suspicion would, potentially, be tantamount to conviction without benefit of a judge and jury of our peers.

Jason Pye and Sean Vitka write in The Hill:
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has marked up the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, S. 2010. The bill, sponsored by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is actually worse than existing law. It explicitly allows the attorney general to use information collected under Section 702 for domestic crimes that have nothing to do with national security and forbids judicial review of that decision.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee has marked up the USA Liberty Act, which, despite or because of painstaking deliberations, does not sufficiently protect innocent Americans from surveillance. The House version of the USA Liberty Act, for instance, has a weak warrant requirement, which would allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct backdoor searches of electronic communications collected by the NSA for domestic, non-terrorism investigations. Additionally, the proposed end of “about” collection, in which the government collects information that is neither to nor from a target, would sunset after six years.
All indications are that the expanded FISA reauthorization bill will pass Congress with little to no debate. And why not, since the media is doing its own complicit part and redirecting the alarm bells to the admittedly heinous sexual harassment scandals and cover-ups in that august body, for whom oversight and accountability are but quaint relics of some misty past.

Meanwhile, the lucrative paranoia stemming from the 9/11 attacks keeps right on growing, and our civil, constitutional rights keep right on shrinking. Net Neutrality looks to be dead in the water on the say-so of a cabal of unelected overseers in the Federal Communications Commission. 

If American journalists employed by RT, a Russia-owned TV station, can now be forced to register as foreign agents, so, potentially, can any writer or broadcaster or activist be decreed an enemy of the state for daring to criticize its leaders and institutions and endless wars. All the proof that the neo-McCarthyites need is to point the finger of "fake news" at anyone they deem to be a threat to their power.

The fog of totalitarianism in America isn't creeping around on little cat feet any more. It's breaking right out into the harsh light of day. It's snarling and it's slobbering like a primeval sabre-toothed tiger.

If that metaphor is too grisly for you, and because it's that most wonderful Saturnalian time of the year, maybe you'd prefer the image of Saturn eating his own children lest they grow up to be lazy poor peaceniks lolling about in their hammocks of dependency.

Hypercapitalist Holiday Greetings From Paul Ryan (graphic by Kat Garcia)

The old excuse that we must give up our rights to privacy and free speech in order to protect some nonexistent entity called "national security" doesn't hold up once we realize that we're under attack by our own leaders. The two-party system and the bicameral legislature and the corporatized media and the "intelligence community" are revealed as nothing but a smokescreen to hide rule of, by, and for the ultra-rich and their profitable wars against humanity, and the earth itself.

 "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" loses all meaning when "the good" entails tens or hundreds of millions of people losing their their health, their jobs, their very lives, just to satisfy the voracious appetites of a very tiny group of sociopathic billionaires.

In order to literally survive, it is incumbent on us to start rejecting, en masse, the limited false choices being offered to us, including but not limited to: We can either be free, or we can be safe, but we can't be both. We must support the troops and cheer for war and plunder and state aggression as the necessary price for our future peace and prosperity. The Lessers must "share the sacrifice" and barely scrape by on the empty promise of some vague, future, trickle-down leftovers from the Masters of the Universe table.

 As Hannah Arendt wrote in the last published collection of her essays, such choices are dangerously fallacious.
 "Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.... If we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of 'the lesser evil' -- far from being raised only from the outside by those who do not belong to the ruling elite -- is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such."
Therefore, what more convenient time than this season of Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men for our rulers to ram through legislation which officially buries our civil rights deep within a terroristic spending package which will literally destroy the lives and livelihoods of the very people who, under the pretense of representative democracy, voted them into power? They rely, correctly, on the inability of many people to think for themselves. The media fog machine keeps belching, and American consumers keep consuming as the unhealthy alternative to active citizenship. And the fat cats keep baring their fangs.

They call it the Omnibus Bill for a very good reason. It aims to throw us right under a runaway killer bus. It aims to render us into roadkill for the voracious billionaire omnivores running the place.

Get Well Soon, America! (photo by Tom Garcia)