Monday, June 18, 2018

The United States of Child Abuse

At this point it doesn't matter what might be the self-interested motives of the politicians who staged Father's Day protests at the immigration prison in New Jersey and at the pediatric gulags in Texas. They're shining the national spotlight on the latest example of state-sanctioned cruelty.

As much as we might like to turn away, we cannot. When even Laura Bush, wife of war criminal Dubya, is compelled to speak out against the Trump policy of forcibly removing an estimated 2,000 children from their asylum-seeking parents, the teflon coating of the president who once boasted he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it is starting to lose its nonstick sheen, even among some of his erstwhile tacit supporters in the Grand Guignol Party.

Whether Donald Trump diverts from type and bows to public pressure for one of the few times in his life remains to be seen. But ominously, his base of supporters which agrees with everything he does is growing, and  emboldened by the rhetoric of their leader. Trump's approval rating has now reached the 40 percent danger zone.

So just because the lead human rights official at the United Nations is condemning Trump's actions in no uncertain terms as state-sanctioned child abuse doesn't mean he will have any influence on the regime's draconian policy. After all, Congress refused only a couple of years ago, and not for the first time, to ratify the International Rights of the Child treaty.  The United States is the only country which has officially given the giant middle finger to children, now that even the autocratic regimes of South Sudan and Somalia have become signatories to the treaty.

Trump is no outlier. He is only the latest and the loudest manifestation of the right wing core of Exceptional America.

Children as young as five or six years old were already getting hauled out of their American classrooms in handcuffs long before Trump decided that jailing the "illegal" ones should be the next logical step in the march of cruelty. As the American Civil Liberties Union reports, children are treated as adults in the criminal courts of 14 states. 
 The United States remains the only country in the world to sentence children to life in prison without the possibility of parole, a severe punishment that is categorically prohibited under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. While in recent years the U.S. Supreme Court has limited the application of this life and death sentence to children, around 2,500 people are currently serving this sentence for crimes they were involved in years ago as children.
So that the corporate media are now focused, en masse, on the abuses and deadly antics of the aptly named ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is really quite remarkable after years of relative avoidance of the issue during the Bush and Obama administrations. Trump, for his part, is no doubt cynically using the child arrests to pressure Congress into allocating him the funds for his precious Wall. And given that this is a midterms election year, he might well succeed in forcing the wishy-washy congress critters to finally pass an immigration reform package, including making permanent the Dream Act.

Meanwhile, here's my New York Times comment to Charles Blow's column
about the individual human beings who are being tragically swept up by the Icemen of Trumpistan: 
Only a few weeks elapsed between Trump calling them "animals" and treating them like animals, yanking kids from parents and jailing them. He literally views refugees as less than human.

His flacks' pleading that they're only following the law hearkens back to the fascist regimes of the last century.

That excuse didn't fly at the Nuremberg trials and it shouldn't fly here, either... although the US has carefully exempted itself from international human rights statutes.

US leaders have never held the family in highest regard. While the entire nation is rightly aghast at what's happening in our own back yard, should we really be shocked?

The Trump regime is also now assisting Saudi Arabia in a genocide in Yemen, attacking and isolating the only port of entry for food shipments.

Here at home, one in three black American males is imprisoned at some point in his life, a de facto policy which also serves to rip families apart. We have more prisons and lock up more people than any country on earth.
We have more guns than any other place on earth.
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have certainly learned the hard way that US leaders don't care a whit about families - unless they're dynasties and billionaires.
It's the all-American norm of state-sanctioned violence with cynical thoughts and prayers, blame and excuses, whenever cruel policies have "shocking" consequences.
So little time, so much to protest against. Let's all wake up, and stay awake this time.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Pre-Existing Conditions

As pathological as it is, the current Trump administration is not operating in a vacuum. Its policies on war, institutional racism, and robbing the poor to reward the rich are part of the grand old capitalistic traditions of slavery, neocolonialism, neoconservatism and neoliberalism.

As I've written many times before, Trump and his cronies are just more upfront about braying out the hatred that the ruling class harbors against the rest of us. They take bad pre-existing things and they make them much, more worse.

Take their latest stunt of ripping immigrant children away from their parents at the border and incarcerating them in an abandoned South Texas Walmart warehouse. Since this facility is already overcrowded to bursting thanks to Attorney General Jeff Sessions's unilateral decision that domestic and gang violence are no longer grounds for getting refugee status, the Trumpies are busily planning tent cities to house the children as they await their unilateral deportation orders from overworked immigration rubber-stampers judges.

Don't get me wrong. It's great that liberals and even conservatives from both corporate parties are raising a ruckus about this cruelty. But where were they a couple of years ago when the Obama administration threatened to seize the children incarcerated at the Berks (Pennsylvania) Family Detention Center because their mothers were staging a hunger strike to protest the abysmal living conditions and the lack of due process? Either the women ate or they would lose their kids. So they chose to eat. Thus was the last ounce of personal agency they possessed to fight the system taken away from them. The system crushed them.

The White House press corps certainly did not appeal to Obama flack Josh Earnest's parental status to express their outrage over that particular atrocity.  Then again, Earnest didn't pull a grotesque Sarah Sanders and fall back on the Bible to explain how any cruelty can be legalized. (see: torture, capital punishment, forced feeding and solitary confinement.)

Now, to be fair, it's not that the public or the press never cared about the plight of "illegal" immigrants in this country. As recently as Memorial Day 2014, the residents of Murrieta, California turned out en mass to protest the housing of refugees in a warehouse. But there was a catch: they weren't angry because the newcomers were about to be locked up in a pre-deportation "processing center". The townsfolk were mad because they didn't want the immigrants in their town, period. They forced the Homeland Security buses filled with refugees to turn back at the town line.

Plus, in that particular well-publicized incident, the ensuing national liberal backlash was aimed not so much at Obama's cruel immigration policies, but against the conservative residents of Murrieta -- who, Trump-like, distastefully wore their xenophobia right on their sleeves.

To their credit, the corporate media are now in the forefront of protesting the Trump version of cruelty toward immigrants and refugees. The New York Times published a righteous editorial instructing readers how to "fight back" -- by calling their congress critters and joining protest marches and writing a check. Oh, and by the way, be sure to vote in those righteous Democrats in November. Because unlike the Republicans, they suddenly care so very, very deeply about refugees and immigrants. 

Meanwhile, the editorial offered absolutely no exploration of the root causes of this exodus from Central America: the poverty engendered by NAFTA; the predatory loans from Wall Street banks and the IMF to corrupt governments, often installed after CIA coups against democratic ones; the DEA-ATF-assisted drug and gang wars.

Still, the coverage is a refreshing departure from a 2012 puff piece about Obama's public relations initiative to make jails for migrants charged with minor civil offenses, like traffic tickets, resemble Holiday Inn Expresses. It was a gesture of his punitive good will. Immigration officials gave the media a guided tour of a prototypical complex in South Texas:
 Detainees will be free to move through much of the center 24 hours a day. Unarmed staff members, dressed in blue polo shirts and khaki trousers, are known as “resident advisers,” not guards....

 The 608-bed center, in Karnes County, Tex., will house male detainees who present minimal safety concerns or flight risk, officials said. The first detainees are expected to arrive in about three weeks.
Spread across 29 acres, the center is designed according to the Obama administration’s new mandates calling for greater unescorted movement and recreational opportunities in a less penal setting.
The gentler approach is immediately evident in the center’s modernist facade, which is painted in bright primary colors — a far cry from the dreary bunkerlike structures that have characterized the system.
This article is a prime example of how even a cruel policy can be effectively masked with just the right amount of pretty liberal window-dressing and sugar-coating. It also helps the cause of making punishment look benign when Republicans then turn around and complain that immigrants imprisoned for jaywalking or speeding are just getting it too good. “The administration goes beyond common sense to accommodate illegal immigrants and treats them better than citizens in federal custody,” Sen. Lamar Alexander fumed at the time.


Speaking of pre-existing conditions, Republicans are again making the Affordable Care Act look better than it is by threatening to remove the requirement that private insurers give coverage to chronically sick paying customers as well as healthy subscribers.

It's another made-to-order campaign talking point for corporate Democrats desperately seeking midterm votes. So naturally, neoliberal Times pundit Paul Krugman is happy to carry their outraged water for them. He fumes: 
What may seem puzzling about all this is the cruelty. O.K., Donald Trump is obviously a man utterly lacking in empathy. But don’t other Republicans feel a bit bad about the prospect of taking health care away from millions of Americans who have done nothing wrong besides having past medical problems?
Actually, no. Consider Rick Scott, the governor of Florida (and current Senate candidate), whose attorney general has joined the lawsuit to eliminate protection for pre-existing conditions. While refusing to say whether he supports the suit, Scott declared, “We’ve got to reward people for caring for themselves.” Right, because if you get cancer, or arthritis, or multiple sclerosis — all among the pre-existing conditions for which people used to be denied coverage — it must be your own fault.
It's all according to how the cruelty is marketed. Republicans sell it to their base in the form of resentment against both internal interlopers and enemies at the gate, while Democrats market it as the lesser evil. Things are of necessity unpleasant now, but be patient and all will miraculously morph into the Greater Good at some fuzzy unspecified time but certainly not right this very minute. At least 30 million Americans will have to remain grossly underinsured or completely uninsured, while nearly half the population who literally can't afford to live should write a check to candidates and tide themselves over by hating Russia.

 To expect timely change or relief is to be unhealthily fixated on puppies and unicorns. So give Dems your vote!

But unhealthy obsessive ingrate that I am, I published this response to Krugman:  
The trouble with the GOP opposition to the inaptly named "Affordable" Care Act is that they're opposing a plan originally devised by the conservative Heritage Foundation. In order to distance themselves from anything with the word "Obama" in it, therefore, they have to distance themselves from themselves and move ever farther to the right.

It's the Democratic Party that is now the party of the center-right. The wealthy donors funding it wouldn't have it any other way. With more than half of the US population now favoring single payer health care, what does the DCCC do? They direct midterm candidates to refrain from using the term "single payer" in their campaign ads. They are instead tiptoeing around bait-and-switches, like Medicare buy-ins for a chosen lucky few, or a public "option" - just more opportunity for the GOP to punish the sickest and for private insurers to rake it in.

With friends like the predatory insurance cartel, who needs the GOP? Maybe that's why Nancy "Pay-Go" Pelosi posed with a Blue Cross executive this week, tweeting out: "We're fighting for you!"

Yes, the GOP is every Dickens villain rolled into one. But cathartic as it may feel to rail against the Blob from hell, doing so absent a new New Deal will not win liberals many majorities. I'm even starting to wonder if the corporate Dems are having too much fun being virtue-signaling neoliberal #Resistance fighters to care.

So I'll say it loud, say it proud, say it often: Single Payer Or Bust.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Gush Vs. Bore In Singapore

I am certainly no fan of Donald Trump, but he actually comes across as a lot more reasonable than some of the media-political complex minions who are throwing cold war on this whole precious thing called peace.

The neocon and liberal interventionists of Cold War 2.0 are variously calling the Trump-Kim public relations effort to at least give peace a chance a sham, too lacking in "details," and an open door to Chinese dominance in Asia.

The New York Times editorial board, among most others in consolidated corporate media world, complains that Trump offered Kim the unthinkable "concession" of ending the annual US-South Korea "war games" spectacle without getting anything in return.... as though the North Korean dictator's gesture of stopping nuclear testing and provocative launches was not itself the concession which paved the way for the historic Singapore summit.

The Times was mightily offended about how gauchely Trump "gushed" over Kim, who has been miraculously transformed from Rocket Man into a great guy, if not Donald's new BFF. It was also miffed that Trump made nice with such a violent oppressive leader, ignoring the fact that Trump (and all his immediate predecessors) just recently made nice with the Saudis, who are engaged in outright genocide of Yemenis via another port blockade of food shipments.
Mr. Kim’s wins were obvious. He got what his father and grandfather never did — a meeting with an American president, the legitimacy of being treated as an equal as a nuclear power on the world stage, country flags standing side by side. And while American sanctions remain in place, Mr. Trump has delayed imposing new ones and other countries are expected to begin easing theirs.
Mr. Trump insisted he secured concessions from Mr. Kim, including a nuclear and missile test suspension that is already in its seventh month, and the destruction of a missile test site and an engine test site. The latter two will have to be independently verified. But what about the main goal, denuclearization? “We’re starting that process very quickly — very, very quickly — absolutely,” Mr. Trump said.
The latest litmus test for bipartisans of the extreme center is how vociferously they can ridicule the Singapore Summit - from its weird tasting menu, all the way to the weird travel propaganda video with which Trump regaled Kim. Liberals are desperately trying to bore into the public mind the same message that they used to denigrate the Occupy movement: there are not details and no specific demands! 

This messaging promises to get even more boring as mega-mergers among already consolidated media content and delivery providers become the new normal in how we citizen-consumers get the preferred misinformation drilled into our heads.

My published comment to the Times editorial:
Only time will tell who is the better con artist: the dictator or the wannabe dictator.

Trump assumes that his self-proclaimed business savvy ( his "touch and feel"), which veers between making threats and making nice as a means of reeling in his prey will work in the case of diplomacy, with which he has zero experience.

Only time will determine the outcome. Nobody should be rooting for his attempt, or pretense at one, to fail. There's always the serendipity factor, when even the most bumbling operators can do the right thing by sheer accident and for all the wrong reasons (re-election campaign for him, midterms for the cult which still insists upon calling itself the Republican Party.)

As for Trump discontinuing the war games, which he views as a wasteful romp rather than training exercises, he does have a habit of announcing grandiose initiatives on Twitter without first notifying the people who are actually in charge. This is similar, to name just one example, to his unilateral banning of gay people from the military, which has since been walked back.

He's all about saving his own face and getting whatever booty he can for his personal empire.. Maybe he'll simply rename the war games something else, like the Trump Air Show for the high-ratings entertainment of the people of the Korean peninsula.

Besides saving face, it's also all about the marketing.

But with any luck, peace on earth will have a chance despite us being stuck with the most venal president in US history.

(On second thought, I'd better revise that to "perhaps the most venal," or even more accurately, "one of the most venal" presidents. They've all been doozies and liars and cheats in their own unique ways. It is, after all, part of the job description.)

The Korean War, which was never approved by Congress, has never officially ended. Think of the Singapore Summit as a continuation of the truce, with the added incentive of North Korea now having nuclear capability.

It is ironic, meanwhile, that Trump was the protégé of Roy Cohn, the ultra-right attorney who successfully prosecuted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. 
On top of espionage for the Russians, they were also widely blamed for starting the Korean War. While they sat in prison awaiting their executions, the United States went on its mad spree of killing millions of North Koreans. At a  few points, Harry Truman seriously contemplated the nuclear annihilation of  the entire population, as a sort of follow-up act to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. See what I mean about a ratings system for presidential dooziness? For example, Trump threw paper towels at Puerto Ricans and Truman threw bombs at them, not long before he considered nuking North Koreans.

It's certainly been a long  -- but far from winding -- road from Sing Sing, where the Rosenbergs were killed in the electric chair in June 1953, to Singapore in June 2018.

Never mind Trump. America has always been a tad on the insane side.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Touchy Tetchy Tweety Trump

Donald Trump at the G-7 summit in Quebec reminded me of the scene in "A Christmas Story" (the original movie, not the lousy musical remake) right before juvenile neighborhood terrorist Scut Farkus finally gets the crap beaten out of him by one of his victims as the other victim-kids look on in awe and disbelief and barely-contained schadenfreude.

The scowl on Donald's face and the arms folded defensively across his flabby chest was the public relations equivalent of German Chancellor Angela Merkel beating him to a pulp, as toady John Bolton just stood there helplessly, even his grotesque mustache unable to hide his idiotically gaping mouth.

Sadly, before he could get pummeled into a complete mess, Donald managed to scut out of Canada on his safe space, Air Force One, so he could nurse his psychic wounds and call neoliberal prime minister Justin Trudeau names from 35,000 feet up in the air, which made him very much taller and stronger than Trudeau. Trump was very mad because Justin rudely refused to accept his bullying graciously. The victims are all being very, very mean to him. They were even making fake smiley faces at him for the cameras.

 “The European Union is brutal to the United States,” Trump blubber-tweeted. (bleated) “And they understand that. They know it. When I’m telling them, they’re smiling at me. You know, it’s like the gig is up.”

(I think he might have been suspecting that his own gig in the Oval Office may soon be up and that he could very well be dancing a jig all the way to the federal pen. Oh, I forgot: rich felons don't go to prison, they might pay a fine and retire permanently to their scores of properties until such time as the oligarchic imperium which spawned them pays them off, arranges for their comebacks, or both. Think of Ferdinand Marcos luxuriously exiled in Hawaii or Charlie Rose getting invited to that annual mogul retreat in Idaho.)

 So anyway, Trump has touched down in Singapore for his meeting with Kim Jung Un, who is a lot shorter than him and therefore prime bullying fodder. Or so Trump seems to think. That even a couple of Trump's toadies admitted that  he left the G-7 early and scuttled the whole joint agreement just so he could save face as he faced the North Korean dictator doesn't bode well for whatever propaganda value he thinks he can suck up in Asia.

Meanwhile, all that the establishment corporate media can do is moan and groan about the demise of the United States as the great Western power holding all its NATO client-states in thrall for the past seventy-odd years.

Trump's Republican party-cult and its Democratic toady offshoot will take decisive action against him if and only if the richest people and corporations on the planet start losing too much money from his trade war and other shenanigans. They will not take action against him for seizing children from their parents at the Mexican border, or for dropping bombs on civilians in Syria, or other things which adversely affect the relatively powerless people in this world.

As long as Wall Street continues to boom, the lords of capital will at least tacitly cheer on Trump's chaos, both controlled and uncontrolled. And if this chaos leads to more wars, all the better for their bottom lines and military investment portfolios. These people have private security guards, yachts, jets and even private islands to retreat to if things get more violent than they are already are.

Still, there's that positive aspect of Trump. He is hastening the demise of American Exceptionalism by making the whole world healthily creeped out and emboldened at the same time.

What sane person would not experience the adrenaline rush of fight/flight listening to Trump boast:
 “How long will it take to figure out if they’re serious? … Maybe in the first minute. You know, the way they say you know if you’re going to like somebody in the first five seconds, you ever hear that one? I think very quickly I’ll know whether or not something good is going to happen. And if I think it won’t happen, I’m not going to waste my time. I don’t want to waste his time."
 Asked how he would read Kim so swiftly, Trump said: “My touch, my feel, that’s what I do.”
So Kim, remembering that notorious Access Hollywood tape, had better guard his crotch right along with his real estate holdings and his offshore bank accounts and his marching slave girl cheerleaders.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Austerity Addicts of the Democratic Party

Billionaire deficit hawk and Catfood Commission funder Pete Peterson may be dead, but that hasn't stopped House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi from continuing to gorge herself like a zombie on his ideological corpus.

Pelosi, who once infamously urged her fellow Democrats to "embrace the suck" and abolish long-term federal unemployment benefits during the height of the Wall Street-manufactured recession, now vows to re-implement noxious "pay-go" rules if her party wins back the majority in November.

In light of the revelation just published by Politico, that the campaign arm of the House minority party has expressly forbidden candidates to utter the words "single payer" in midterm campaign ads, her twisted logic actually starts to make some grotesque sense. She could have and should have come right out and admitted that the wealthy corporations and plutocrats who run the party don't want true universal health care. "We" can't afford it actually means that "they" don't want to help pay for it. Never mind that the government is not like a family, and can never run out of money. After all, there's always plenty of money to maintain the trillion dollar-plus war machine.

The reanimation of Pay-Go deficit hawkery is a dog whistle to donors: although Pelosi's Democrats will "look at" Medicare For All, it will never make it out of committee on her continuing watch.

That the erstwhile "party of the people" is fully owned and operated by what Bernie Sanders castigates as "the billionaire class" is more glaringly obvious than ever. These party leaders, despite all their happy talk of a Blue Wave in November, really don't seem to care whether they win or lose. The rich, after all, already got their grotesque tax cuts under Trump, and there is no way they're going to break out of their mold and agree to part with even a small portion of their windfalls to ensure that their fellow citizens get health care, from the cradle to the grave.

No deficit spending in the public interest will be a top negative 2019 priority if her party wins, bragged Pelosi, whose own net worth ranges upwards of $29 million.

But, as The Hill reports,
The idea is already prompting howls from some liberals in the caucus, who want to pursue an ambitious legislative agenda next year — including costly, big-ticket items such as expanding health-care access, subsidizing education opportunities and boosting infrastructure projects — and fear pay-go might be too confining.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), said the Democrats would be foolish to adopt the fiscal restraints, especially in light of the Republicans’ newly adopted tax-reform law, which is estimated to add almost $2 trillion to the debt over the next decade. 
“The pay-go thing is an absurd idea now given the times and given what’s already been done to curry favor with corporate America,” Grijalva said.
Nevertheless, centrist Democrats like Pelosi are persisting, insisting that being the "party of fiscal responsibility" is a sure winner, guaranteed to drag at least the richest 10 percent of liberals and recovering Republicans away from MSNBC and RussiaGate and #TheResistance long enough to cast their ballots for moderate, heavily bankrolled Democrats.

So what if it was this same insane reasoning that propelled Donald Trump to victory in 2016? Remember - this is not about winning elections. This is about a certain segment of career politicians and consultants staying in business as "loyal opposition" apparatchiks, and increasingly, fellow travelers in neoconservatism and proponents of endless violent wars for democracy.
We all have responsibility for reducing the debt for our children,” Pelosi said last month at a forum hosted by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which advocates for reducing the national debt. 
“Democrats believe that you must pay as you go. Whatever you want to invest in, you must offset.” 
The Democrats have a long history of supporting pay-go, which was first adopted as a platform item at their 1982 convention. In 2007, after Democrats took control of the House, they adopted a pay-go rule, which governed legislation moving through the lower chamber while Pelosi held the Speaker’s gavel. Two years later, with more Democrats in the Senate and President Obama in the White House, the Democrats went even further, enacting a statutory pay-go rule applying to both chambers.
Translation: if you want to invest in Pre-K, you must reduce college aid and ax loan forgiveness for adults. If you want to invest in infrastructure, you have to make cuts in food assistance programs. And if you don't like eating those shriveled peas, you can always watch Obama's upcoming inspirational Netflix series about people hoisting themselves up by their bootstraps. These inspirational people won't get rich, but the Obamas themselves will haul in an estimated $50 million to ensure that the lesser inspirationals at least get their 15 minutes of fame.

Even Rep. Barbara Lee, considered one of the most liberal members of Congress, is drinking the koolaid when she says Democrats can still "pursue a progressive agenda" without eating into the Trump-generated, oligarch-enriching deficit.
  “This government has the resources to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to move into the middle class,” Lee said. “It’s the priorities and who we believe should have access to the American dream is the question.”
(The neoliberal buzzwords are in my bold.)  Maybe you can't eat three meals or see the dentist today, but they'll fight to get you that opportunity someday, in the future. So stop complaining that you don't earn enough money or have even $200 in savings to pay for an emergency car repair. Go to sleep, and if you are really, really lucky and really, really optimistic, you might even get access to pleasant dreams as an antidote to your hunger, joblessness and despair.

As the late George Carlin said of that amorphous American Dream, "They call it that, because you have to be asleep to believe in it."

Speaking of despair, the American suicide rate has shot up in nearly every state. As revealed in a new report by the Centers for Disease Control, it has increased by a whopping 30 percent in the last 16 years. People began taking their own lives in these increasing numbers in 1999, just after the Clinton administration colluded with Republicans to slash welfare and deregulate finance capital.

And as a rejoinder to all those duopolistic politicians who murmur platitudes and call for "more mental health treatment" to prevent these suicides, the CDC points out that only about half of the people who took their own lives in 2015 were known to be suffering from mental illness. The other half were having relationship problems, job problems, money problems and unspecified "impending crises" in their lives.

In other words, half the people who died from suicide took the only logical step they thought was left open to them. They were not deranged.

Suicide is not just a mental health crisis. It's a public health crisis. It's indicative of the extreme wealth disparity that has been increasing in America for the past four decades.

But to hear Nancy Pelosi and her Republican co-conspirators tell it, if you can't pay, then you just might as well go.

And if you want to live, don't pin your hopes and dreams on either right wing of the Money Party - unless, of course, you're in the top 10 percent of earners or heirs, and have plenty of money to burn.

Since we're in the midst of a perpetual class war, and our two-party system keeps denying that there is even such a thing, what we obviously need is a new working class party in this country. 

Although Donald Trump may be the most irresistible -and oh so convenient - outrage magnet ever presented to us by the media-political complex, he really should be the least of our worries. As much as he loves to distract, he himself is the major distraction in a dying American empire.  

Here's to life.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Culture War Cats Edition

Just in case you still had any doubts, Donald Trump's official job description is our self-proclaimed culture warrior-in-chief. His latest act was to disinvite Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles from a White House celebration. He instead used the occasion to outdo embattled Culture Warrior Princess Roseanne Barr in belting out one of our great national hymns. Donald didn't have to take a knee to disrespect the flag. He kneed the sensibilities of the entire nation with his botched lip-synced rendition of God Bless America. The god in question, of course, being himself.

Vying for attention with the latest rendering of Great American Culture Wars is the new game show sensation, "Where In the World is Melania Trump?" Except for a blurred glimpse at a different, closed military-themed White House affair this week, she hadn't been seen in public for nearly a month, ever since undergoing a minor kidney procedure in May. My own catty theory is that she had a little cosmetic surgery - a facelift, an eyelift, a whatever-lift - along with, or even instead of, the alleged kidney embolization. This is what extremely wealthy, famous women do after plastic surgery. They go on an extended vacation to a secret location, or they stayed holed up in their mega-mansions until the scars and bruising fade, a process which can take many weeks. So when I read a report that Melania had been spotted wearing dark glasses indoors as she strolled through the West Wing, my cat-sense went into high alert.

If my theory is true, then my recommendation to Melania would be to go the iconoclastic Betty Ford route and become a national spokesperson for the benefits of cosmetic surgery. Betty was the trailblazer, having had the first ever public First Lady Facelift, frankly admitting at the time that she had an eye job and neck tightening because "I wanted a fresh new face to go with my beautiful new life." 

Betty Ford was also forthcoming about her mastectomy during her husband Jerry's truncated White House tenure, an announcement that encouraged many women to seek out mammograms and detect early cancers. She was later famously honest with revelations about her drug addiction.

  Again, assuming that I'm right about Melania, she could even out-do Betty and become an advocate for making cosmetic surgery available under Medicare and Medicaid --  or, to make her hubby and his party really pissed off, Obamacare silver and bronze plans.

Of course,Donald (who decades ago underwent his own scalp reduction surgery) would probably nix the idea, given how he'd so cattily Twitter-mocked former friend Mika Brzesinki's "bleeding face" last year at Mar-a-Lago (she later staunchly denied having had had a facelift) as well as mean-spirited remarks from Trump supporters about Hillary Clinton's own rumored work and reputed Botox injections.


Speaking of cattiness, Paul Krugman has been having a field day lambasting fellow Ivy League academic Niall Ferguson for urging his conservative Stanford students to do "oppo research" on the life of a liberal student activist on campus.  This act of unseemly cattiness, the New York Time's chief Bernie Bro-bashing intellectual writes, is emblematic of the "bad faith" of conservative intellectuals in general:
And yes, I do mean “conservative.” There are dishonest individuals of every political persuasion, but if you’re looking for systematic gaslighting, insistence that up is down and black is white, you’ll find it disproportionately on one side of the political spectrum. And the trouble many have in accepting that asymmetry is an important reason for the mess we’re in.
But how can I say that the media refuses to acknowledge conservative bad faith? While some journalists remain squeamish about actually using the word “lie,” and there’s still a tendency for headlines to repeat false talking points (which are only revealed to be false in the body of the article), readers do get a generally accurate picture of the extent to which dishonesty prevails within the Trump administration.
True, Trumpism is infectious -- but the anti-Trump oligarchic resistance antidote of more austerity and more corporate Democrats in Congress and more allegiance to the authorities of the "intelligence community" is an equally addicting and dangerous off-label regimen. Manufactured "divisiveness" sells, and both sides of the corporate Duopoly profit, whether they be electoral winners or losers.

My two-part published response focuses on the suppression of free speech and dissent:
 "Registered Republican professional historian" is an oxymoron.

Phony intellectuals like Ferguson are, in fact, really nothing more than the "snowflakes" they love to accuse liberals of being.

Meanwhile, a recent survey by the PEN press rights group shows that more journalists are actually self-censoring out of fear of government reprisals.

With no real ideology other than Greed is Good, the right wing's m.o. is the stifling of the very First Amendment rights they purport to champion.

Take the case of Cal State writing professor Randa Jarrar, who sent the phony moralizing hordes to the fainting couch this spring when she tweeted that the late Barbara Bush "was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal."

Although the college initially seemed to bow to demands from reactionary media for her firing, she kept her job.

These same reactionaries are now having conniption fits because Samantha Bee got away with calling Ivanka Trump a bad name for her insensitivity to Daddy's ripping tots way from their mothers' arms at the border, while complaining that Trump Show prima donna Roseanne Barr got unfairly fired for her louder, crasser racism.

Ferguson is simply a bully and a coward for "punching down" on a student from his position of power. He might as well declare himself Roseanne's replacement as best supporting actor in the Trump Show, which is what the GOP might actually rename itself.

If it were honest, that is. Which it most definitely is not.

(And following up with a reader pointing out that renowned war critic and historian Andrew Bacevich is a registered Republican) --

Notice that I used the term "reactionary" -- not conservative -- to describe the modern Republican Party.

Not all conservatives are alike, and of course they should not be painted with the same broad brush. Maybe Ferguson is a smart guy, but he was very stupid to buy into the divisive tactics perfected by Trump.

I hadn't realized that Andrew Bacevich, whose work I admire, was still a registered Republican. He writes for, besides outlets like TomDispatch, The American Conservative. While I strongly disagree with much of this site's sexist and even "colorblind" racist content (Pat Buchanan is a regular), it is also reliably critical of American imperialism, endless war and especially neoconservatism. They publish a variety of viewpoints.

Here, for example, is an article on the US drone war, which has gotten especially vicious and unaccountable under Trump:
 To his great credit, centrist Times columnist Frank Bruni is not taking Bill Clinton's appearance on the Today show (see my Monday post) kindly. In a scathing piece aptly called "the Sultans of Self-Pity," he writes:
Move over, Alec Baldwin. Bill Clinton does a much better impersonation of Donald Trump.
The hair is wrong but the air is right — self-righteous, self-pitying and suffused with anger that anyone would peddle a version of events less heroic than the one that he prefers. We’re shaming him about ancient groping when we should be showering him with eternal gratitude. And what about his pain?
“I left the White House $16 million in debt,” Clinton said, in an interview that NBC’s “Today” aired on Monday, batting back questions about whether he had demonstrated sufficient contrition for converting a 22-year-old’s romantic idolization of him into sexual favors and setting off a sequence of events that savaged her. I don’t know what legal bills have to do with a moral ledger. But I can see that his fixations on money and martyrdom are intact.
The Clinton team is now in full damage control mode. The Times swiftly disappeared Bruni's column from the top right corner of the digital home page, and Stephen Colbert invited Bill on his Tuesday show not for a comb-over gag, but for a moral makeover - or as Colbert termed it, a "do-over." Now that Bill has summoned up enough moral courage to finally utter Monica's name right out loud, maybe he hopes he can get on with his book tour without further ado. Let us hope that he cannot. (Hiss, scratch.)

My published response to the Bruni column:

One common theme in the MeToo movement is that the perpetrators aren't getting called to account until relatively late in their lives,often decades after their predatory behavior was an "open secret" within the overlapping spheres of power they inhabit.

Better late than never, of course, but oh what damage these men have done, not only to their female victims, but to the country and society at large.

During the Lewinsky episode, leading feminists, most notably Gloria Steinem, came to Bill's defense. His abuse of power was cast as a purely partisan issue, with blame deflected from him onto the much nastier and hypocritical Republicans. At the same time he was castigating Bill, Newt Gingrich was cheating on his own wife.

Meanwhile, Bill had connived with Newt to "end welfare as we know it" with the ensuing cruel reform package condemning millions of women to whole lifetimes of poverty.

 It's not surprising that Trump and Clinton, who were both once considered "outsiders" in New York high society, golfed together at Trump's club. It's not surprising that the Clintons attended Trump's third wedding. Not because they liked Trump, of course, but because these "transactional" things are what rich and famous people have to do to maintain their lifestyles and images and status and power.

How ironic that Bill is now promoting pulp called "The President Is Missing."

In reality it's the presidency that's missing, since Trump's organized crime cartel has effectively hijacked it.

(photo credit: Bob's Blog)

Monday, June 4, 2018

A President Pardons Himself

I'm not talking about Donald Trump's latest tweet.

I'm talking about Bill Clinton's latest interview, which aired on NBC Monday morning.

He was on TV to plug his new book, a "thriller" co-written with James Patterson, when the questions veered off into the Me Too movement and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Needless to say, Clinton was not too thrilled when past episodes of his sexual predations came back to haunt him.

Borrowing a page from the playbook of long-suffering wife Hillary, who once complained that she and Bill were "dead broke" from legal bills by the time they left the White House, necessitating a new career of extreme money-grubbing just to make ends meet, the former president portrayed himself as the real victim of his tryst with a White House intern.

As such, he's never felt the need to apologize to Lewinsky, whose own public profile and "wokeness" to the lopsided power dynamics of the affair has risen as much as Clinton's has fallen in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein crime spree and other revelations of bad behavior in the highest places. His relationship with Monica Lewinsky, plus the accusations of outright sexual assault have, as Hillary parsed it during her latest political campaign, already been "litigated" and are therefore not open to further serious discussion -- MeToo movement, or no MeToo movement.

Even if he were president today, Clinton insisted, the movement would do nothing to change how he viewed the Lewinsky episode.

“I don’t think it would be an issue because people would be using the facts instead of the imagined facts,” he whined in his best legal parsing fashion, bringing back memories of "it depends on what the definition of 'is' is" and "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." (So much for his jab at Trump and the previously unheard-of phenomenon of "fake news" emanating from the mouths of government officials.)

He said he has never spoken to her let alone apologized to her in the decades following. Why should he? He already took the initiative, made his generic proxy apology once to the whole globe, for crying out loud. This unforced apology apparently inspired him so much that he then went on to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars from the Clinton Global Initiative branch of his family foundation. 

In exonerating himself yet again on Monday, Clinton gave the feeblest possible compliment to the MeToo movement, parsing his approval with the disclaimer that he "disagree(s) with some of the decisions that have been made." He didn't say if he was referring to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance's belated decision to charge Democratic mega-donor Harvey Weinstein even after Vance had accepted campaign donations from him, albeit carefully and legally funneled through the disgraced mogul's lawyer.

Vance said he has since returned Weinstein's cash. The Clintons, though, carefully parsing to the end, dodged the issue by claiming all Weinstein's donations to their Initiative and Foundation had already been given away to charity anyway, so they cannot possibly return the money. As far as her political campaign chest goes, since Weinstein was largely a "bundler" of millions of dollars from his fellow oligarchs, she won't be returning that money, either. Her running mate, Tim Kaine, has falsely claimed that since the campaign was over anyway, they couldn't possibly even return Weinstein's own personal donation. (The campaign is over, of course, but as notes, the excess cash was deftly funneled right into her super-pac, Onward Together.)


Meanwhile, Barack Obama has apparently pardoned himself for his own role in giving us Donald Trump by promoting Hillary Clinton, not to mention rewarding Wall Street over Main Street during his eight-year tenure, ensuring that the richest  Americans clawed back 94% of all the trillions of household wealth "lost" in the wake of the 2007-08 financial meltdown.

 The D.C. Bubble is full to bursting about of the latest blame-game book, this one from one of his former flacks, one-time aspirational novelist and national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes. Since I don't have my barf bucket close to hand at the moment, I'll just refer you to one nauseating positive review from the New York Times's resident palace stenographer, and to another much more palatable one from the New York Times's resident style maven.

Long story short: Obama was shaken, if not stirred, by Trump's victory. He confided to his flacks that the ingrates of America were just not ready for his awesomeness. The legend in his own time turns out to have been about ten or twenty years ahead of his time. So it's our bad, Bottom 90% of America.

But just in case you're concerned that Obama is wallowing in a dysfunctional depression like tens of millions of bad and unready Americans, you'll be happy to learn that fresh off inking his reputed $50 million production deal with Netflix, he'll be the headline act at a major Hollywood bash later this month. He will sell intimate access to his cool self for a cool $100,000 a pop. (the flashbulb kind, not the unwanted and odious Clinton/Weinstein kind.)
 “I am very excited to announce that President Barack Obama will be joining DNC Chair Tom Perez in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 28 to headline his first fundraising event for the DNC on the West Coast this year,” said the invite to the $2,700 to $100,000 priced event. “This will be a rare opportunity to spend an evening with President Obama,” the pitch added. “While at the event, President Obama and Chair Perez will discuss the strategy of the Democratic Party for winning elections in 2018 and beyond.”
And the Democratic functionaries still wonder why the party lost a thousand seats during the Obama years, not to mention a huge hunk of the working class vote to Donald Trump's paranoid-style populism. 

Meanwhile, former President Jimmy Carter took a much-needed break from building Habitat for Humanity houses last week, and visited a North Carolina McDonald's restaurant for an egg biscuit and a "senior" cup of coffee with his wife Rosalynn. And he isn't even running for anything.

He also isn't getting invited to headline Hollywood fundraisers or to appear on the Today show.