Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Impeachment Show As War Propaganda

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff represents Hollywood. And as such, he was initially and very generously bankrolled by the likes of mega-director Steven Spielberg and former Disney honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg. He still enjoys one of the fattest campaign war chests of any member of Congress.

But politics is not by any means his first career choice. Schiff is a failed Hollywood screenwriter who, despite his current job, is still working on another script in hopes of finally making it as big in hometown Tinseltown as he's making it big in Washington. 

The impeachment report that he wrote and just released to glowing mainstream media reviews has all the trappings of the spy thriller which he admits to crafting in his spare time.  I predict that Tom Hanks will be tapped to play the part of the intrepid screenwriter-turned-prosecutor-turned congressman who, with the help of a few unaccountable and unelected patriots of the CIA and the State Department, saved the Permanent War State from Donald Trump's oafish transactional diplomacy and tepid and phony gestures toward world peace.

Schiff himself can do the off-screen sonorous voice-over of himself reading from his jingoistic, overblown Impeachment Report as the opening credits roll on the big screen, or more likely, on the small Netflix screen after the star-studded premiere at Constitution Hall or the Kennedy Center. Hear him now as you read the script:
America remains the beacon of democracy and opportunity for freedom-loving people around the world. From their homes and their jail cells, from their public squares and their refugee camps, from their waking hours till their last breath, individuals fighting for human rights, journalists uncovering and exposing corruption, persecuted minorities struggling to survive and preserve their faith, and countless others around the globe just hoping for a better life look to America. What we do will determine what they see, and whether America remains a nation committed to the rule of law.
Now, if the impeachment movie about the impeachment movie that is currently playing out in real, or actually unreal time, is a documentary rather than a fan-fic of the right-wing Neocon Democratic/CIA/ War Party in a pretend-battle against the ultra-right Neocon Republican/CIA/ War Party, among the images we should see on our screens are:

--The half million homeless people living in America on any given night. The situation is especially dire in Schiff's home state of California, due in large part to the mortgage foreclosures of the last decade, unaffordable rents charged by private equity landlords like Blackstone, job losses, lousy wages and other miseries orchestrated by and for the Oligarchy with the help of the corrupt political duopoly.An average of three homeless people die on the streets of Los Angeles County every single day. The death toll is expected to rise to a thousand in 2020. 

--Record numbers of mainly black and brown people locked up in America's for-profit privatized prisons, while white collar criminals like WeWork's Adam Neumann are not only going free, they're collecting billions of dollars in exit packages. And yes, there is already a Hollywood movie about this massive fraud in the works to give us a sense of theatrical justice in lieu of a televised perp walk or another true-life prison documentary.

--Increasing numbers of refugees and migrants arriving at our borders and Europe's to escape the crime and poverty engendered by US-led regime change coups and wars to advance corporate interests - what Adam Schiff and the Impeachers euphemize as "national security." Above all, the refugee crisis is engendered by the Capitalocene Epoch's destruction of the environment through forcing monoculture upon global populations at the very same time they imprison them with debt and austerity through International Monetary Fund loans. Border concentration camps for kids, with imprisoned refugees crying for freedom but mostly crying for their parents would be a top impeachable offense if it weren't so inconveniently bipartisan.

--As Schiff intones the words "to their last breath," we might see footage of Americans dying prematurely in record numbers because they can't afford to see a doctor. We might see child refugees drowning in bodies of water as disparate as the Rio Grande and the Mediterranean Sea in a futile attempt to escape the wars and famines directly caused by the same American foreign policy apparatus that Donald Trump is so seriously offending by using it for his own selfish political purposes.

--Schiff's introductory voice-over would conclude with the victims of America's drone wars. As he bloviates about how "persecuted minorities struggling to survive" look to America for hope, we will see terrorized Yemeni, Pakistani and Afghan children unable to sleep at night as they listen for the tell-tale signs of drone activity above their heads.

They need not wonder whether the removal or defeat of Trump will protect them. With the Obama Justice Department secretly drafting a "rule of law" which allows any president to act as their judge, jury and executioner, with no oversight and no accountability for "collateral damage," nobody is safe. The bodies are not even being counted.

They need not wonder whether America will protect them when Adam Schiff himself was among the Impeachers who just voted to renew the Patriot Act, granting the despised and feared Donald Trump the continuing  power to conduct unfettered mass surveillance. This is on top of most Democrats gifting him with more than $700 billion this year for more drones, bombs and such military hardware as a Hellfire missiles equipped with razor-sharp blades designed to slice people to death. Described as a 100-pound flying switchblade or "The Flying Ginsu." the  CIA and Pentagon developed this horrific weapon in secret, and justify its use by claiming that it spares "innocent civilians." So perhaps the Schiff movie could end with pictures of responsible slicing and dicing of humanity as a way to preserve the faith of the whole world in America's beneficence. After all, if the Guillotine could have been so successfully marketed as a humane death machine during the Reign of Terror, why not a guillotine that actually flies and kills by remote control?

 As a matter of fact, the Trump war machine just deployed another Flying Ginsu near the Turkey- Syria on Monday - the very same day that Adam Schiff released his impeachment recommendations. The razor blade bomb also reportedly was the weapon that took out ISIS leader Abu Khayr Al Masr two years ago.

The Impeachment Movie itself is a Grade Z slasher dud with some truly terrible and trite dialogue. And Adam Schiff and his supporting cast of complicit media and political enablers are reactionary box office poison. 

Personally, I could barely get past that one blood-curdling introductory paragraph of his report, which is nothing more than a propaganda broadside to gin up popular support of more endless wars for profit, the most deadly of which is currently waged by Ukraine proxy between two nuclear powers.  That potential apocalypse makes the Flying Ginsu look like a preschool Nerf sword set. 

But look over there! A corrupt president on one side of the US oligarchy tried to use an American-controlled corrupt foreign leader to investigate a corrupt domestic political rival on the other side of the US oligarchy. It's the only crime or scandal in the world that they're willing to talk about as they struggle to sell their competing narratives to a public that is either riled up out of all reason, or just plain bored.  

They want to deflect your attention from the real horrors, small or large, that afflict you and your fellow human beings every single day. If the corporate media doesn't cover them, they do not even exist.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Obama's Magical Thumb

Just as Barack Obama once bragged that he was the only thing standing between the criminal financial class and millions of angry "pitchforks," he's now posing as the only thing standing between  panic-stricken oligarchs and Bernie Sanders. Or so says the group-think media narrative in a rather blatant test of liberal loyalties. You can worship Obama, or you can agitate for a new New Deal, but you cannot possibly do both. Because that would be disloyal to Obama, beloved elder statesman and most admired man on earth according to a Gallup poll of about a thousand people.

As we have come to expect from the historically fawning media coverage of Obama, there's a lot of doublespeak involved in this narrative, which has the former president publicly vowing to support any Democratic nominee, but privately vowing to put a stop to Bernie if he threatens to run away with the nomination and thus prevents the brokered convention that could very well usher in the artificially reanimated corpse of Hillary Clinton.

There's even been some talk of Michelle Obama coming in to save the Neoliberal Project from Bernie Sanders. But if this were the case, she wouldn't be traveling to Singapore this month to schmooze with The Growth Faculty, a group of wealthy tax-avoiding American expatriates and multinational CEOs. To be fair, she won't actually be physically mingling with her fellow plutocrats at a pre-speech cocktail party. But she is charging as much as $3,000 a head, not only for front-row seating, but for a value-added separate red-carpeted VIP entrance reserved for the most well-heeled of the well-heeled. It's an expensive privilege to see Michelle Obama in the flesh, but it's even more of a privilege to be seen as being able to afford Michelle Obama. The ticket holders will be treated just like celebrities at the Oscars, waving to envious gawking onlookers behind the ropes, who cannot afford the high price of admission. Michelle Obama makes Hillary Clinton's Goldman Sachs speeches look like pep talks to the Podunk Rotary Club.

Hubby Barack is also headed to Singapore, where one out of every six residents is a millionaire. But he will not be sharing the stage with Michelle. Why do two for the price of one when the affluent audience can very well afford the high price of two separate Obama-ramas? But he does manage to outshine Michelle by not only offering a pen and a notebook and the red carpet treatment for attendees, he's also giving away a special souvenir lanyard and a wine-soaked three course lunch (which he will sadly not attend.)

Notice the Carefully Hidden Thumb

This is the same Obama who just told another group of stateside plutocratic fans fearful of a Sanders or Elizabeth Warren presidency that "when you listen to the average voter — even ones who aren’t stalwart Democrats, but who are more independent or are low-information voters — they don’t feel that things are working well, but they’re also nervous about changes that might take away what little they have."

So if he wants to convince the average, barely making it, low-information (read: stupid) voter that other average stupid voters don't want to tear down the the oligarchic system that he, Barack Obama, worked so hard to perfect during his eight years in office, he'd better hurry home from Singapore for a non-stop condescending lecture tour right where the Lowlife Low-Info rabble lives. That's because Bernie Sanders is once again topping many polls.

Obama's mission, if he chooses to accept it, will be to hammer home the "electability" trope that Democratic Party fortunes are more important than the existential crises of climate, health care, housing, unbridled militarism, excessive surveillance and incarceration, low wages and crushing household debt, His mission might be even more effective if he stops by Flint, Michigan to take another ghoulishly disdainful sip of lead-contaminated water to prove to the Low-Info crowd that lead is harmless. Too abrupt of a change to a cleaner system might make them nervous. They don't want to lose the contaminated water that they already have.

Aggression is not in the Democratic Party's job description. Just remember Obama's blase reaction to Trump's election in 2016, soothing that Trump and the Dems are all on the same team, fighting within the safe 40 yard line. He was absolutely correct. The oligarchs will be safe, no matter who is president. Except, of course, if Bernie Sanders becomes president.

In the last 40 years, playing defense in the center of the field has been the D Team's only strategy. Tactics have included "defending" Social Security from Republican predation by raising the retirement age. There was Obama's noble but rebuffed offer to scale back cost of living increases for retirees, surviving parents and children and the disabled. Besides snipping social programs, the D Team can also be relied upon to protect abortion rights by not fighting all that hard in the Senate to prevent anti-abortion judges from advancing to the Supreme Court.

Notwithstanding that by any fact-based metric (including the loss of a thousand Democratic seats during his tenure), Obama was a failed president, he is still marketed as possessing a magical thumb with which to push down on a voter scale and influence the primary election outcome. Notwithstanding that this same magical thumb pressed very hard on the Hillary scale in 2016 and actually gave the election to Donald Trump, the Magical Thumb cliche remains a favorite of the Media/Political Complex.

From The Hill:

Former President Obama has emerged as a key player in the Democratic presidential primary race.
He hasn’t put his thumb on the scale for any one candidate in particular. But in two different speeches this month, he has made clear that presidential hopefuls would be wise to avoid moving too far to the left if they hope to win back the White House in 2020.
And The American Prospect:
Obama has determined to put his thumb on the primary scale, and he couches his critique in the language of electability, in what voters really want. Practically every Democrat in America wants to eject Donald Trump from the White House, and ask 100 of them and you get 101 theories of how to make that happen. But without doubting Obama’s sincerity that a moderate politics and only a moderate politics can spell victory next November, I can’t help but notice the audiences for his targeted attacks on progressive policy: wealthy donors in the most rarefied, winner-take-all enclaves of America, whether in Washington last week or San Francisco on Thursday.
The National Review:

Look, everybody knows — I think everybody knows, we didn’t only serve together, but our families are close. We became very close personal friends . . . I didn’t want it to look like he was putting his thumb on the scale here. And that, you know, I’m gonna do this based on who I am, not by the president going out and trying to say, ‘This is the guy you should be with,’” Biden said during an interview on The View in April.
The former adviser (Valerie Jarrett) said she was "not going to put my thumb on the scale. Because at this time when Barack Obama was running in 2007, he was down by 30 points and Hilary Clinton was the inevitable candidate,
Now, lest the Low Info Hordes of America feel that their own short brutish thumbs are being neglected in all this elite pressing upon the scales, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has a more egalitarian take on the Doped-Up Horserace. As reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal:
He also appealed directly to Nevadans, saying that the voters of this state wield considerable political power due to its early caucus.
“You have a thumb on the scale,” Buttigieg said. “Please use it well. Please tell your friends. The biggest decider in whether somebody gets involved who wasn’t already is not whether somebody like me asks them, it’s whether somebody they know asks them.”
Who needs a brain when all you need is a magical thumb that you can call your very own - once, of course, you heed the centrist wisdom of Mayor Pete and only press responsibly. Your thumbs are so much more than the texting appendages of your smartphone.

And who needs pollsters and Nate Silver's analyses and predictions when you can opt to use your thumbs the magical Shakespearean witchery way and intone "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes" whenever you hear Obama sermonize, or read a scare-mongering article about powerful thumbs on scales making a mockery of what is still left of our democracy.

Obama's over-hyped thumbs should be the least of our worries. Despite all the media propaganda, his thumbs are no more powerful than anybody else's. Remember all the good his mighty magical thumb did Hillary Clinton, and how she and her team were themselves all thumbs in their contrivance of the failed #Russiagate scandal to explain how Obama's thumb turned out to be nothing but a useless arthritic pinkie finger.

As Obama and the rest of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party preen and posture, loom and lecture, let's remember that all Obama is really doing is thumbing his nose at us. As the First Witch in Macbeth so sagely predicted,

Shall he dwindle, peak and pine:
Though his bark cannot be lost
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.

Flight of Witches by Arthur Rackham

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Very Sardonicky Thanksgiving

The Internet is rife with advice about how to cope with your Trump-supporting relatives around the holiday dinner table. It is not so rife with advice for leftists about how to cope with your MSNBC and Rachel Maddow-loving relatives. If they're on the mailing list of the DCCC, family members even threaten to arrive with a complete cartoonified menu of Russiagate and Ukrainegate talking points along with the side dishes and the pies.

  For those not in the acronymic know, DCCC stands for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the aggressive fund-raising, email-bombing arm of the party. Like Nixon's Committee To Re-Elect the President (CREEP), if the acronym fits, then one should absolutely wear it with unquestioning pride. Even though lacking the necessary vowel, DCCC can easily be pronounced as "Dick" which is certainly more muscular-sounding than "Duck," especially on Thanksgiving.  So as you serve the turkey on Thursday, please be aware of any DCCC-heads lurking too close to the carving knife.

But let us be thankful. Because with impeachment sucking up all the oxygen, at least the Internet scolds have largely abandoned lecturing us about the true meaning of Thanksgiving getting subsumed by the annual Black Friday Greed Stampede, which now officially begins on the sacred holiday itself. For one thing, most people now do their holiday shopping online, on Cyber Monday. So gorge till you purge, shop till you drop, and click like a DCCC-head. 

The "true meaning" of Thanksgiving was never the true meaning of Thanksgiving in the first place. As David J. Silverman recounts in his new book "This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving," traditional puritan thanksgivings were marked by fasts, not feasts. It's a sham of a holiday whose original purpose was to put a feel-good gloss on imperialism and racism. The English passengers of the Mayflower were members of a severe religious cult whose 1620 voyage was financed by a proto-capitalist group aptly called The Adventurers. These financial backers expected a big return on their investment. And the Pilgrims got the message. Before even reaching their ultimate destination at the future Plymouth colony, the storm-tossed refugees landed at Cape Cod, where they proceeded to desecrate and rob graves, steal buried stores of corn, and burglarize the homes of the Wampanoag tribe, who had already left their shoreline abodes for their winter sojourn in the inland forest.

The pilgrims did not consider these crimes to be crimes, but rather opportunities granted to them by Divine Providence. They were the chosen ones, The Elect.  They were the true ancestors of our own modern criminal capitalist class and its Republican branch-centered unholy collaboration with religious fundamentalists, or what Chris Hedges so aptly calls the Christian fascist movement.

The original Pilgrims pretty much got everything they wanted for the first 50 years or so of their invasion. For starters, the Wampanoags had already been traumatized by a series of Euro-epidemics which had reduced their numbers by at least two-thirds by the time the pilgrims arrived in 1620 and which had left them vulnerable to assaults by the enemy Naragansetts.  They were among the hundreds of millions of human victims throughout history of what is now known as The Shock Doctrine, which as Naomi Klein explains, is how the wealthy and powerful create crises, exploit them for their own benefit, and then portray themselves as heroes for "saving" the system they helped to destroy in the first place.

Myth-making with the aim of enforcing public compliance with wars for profit, various forms of mass imprisonment and forced labor and exploitation of the poor by the rich is an integral part of any capitalist success story. We're seeing it right now as various war-mongering neoconservatives and regime-toppling spy-thugs are being lauded by the "liberal" media as patriotic knights in shining armor and anti-Trump resistance fighters. Myths don't have to be old to be effective. But it helps, especially when the white Christian supremacist myth of Thanksgiving, with the Indians portrayed as perpetually prehistoric cardboard cutouts, is rammed down the throats and implanted in the brains of whole generations of school-children, regardless of their own races, colors and creeds.

As Silverman writes, 
"Subtly, the Thanksgiving myth buttresses this fallacy by making the Mayflower passengers the dynamic initiators of contact with a Wampanoag population that seems to have been waiting passively to be discovered. In turn the portrayal of Indians as static contributes to a sinister racist double bind of long standing in American culture. It posits that the Native way of life at the time of European contact was and is the only authentic Indian culture. Nobody expects the Pilgrims' modern descendants to look and act like their seventeenth century ancestors, yet the public commonly judges that indigenous people who have changed since 1492 or 1620 have somehow relinquished their claims to be Indian."
The reality of the first Thanksgiving is that the Wampanoags viewed the English not as friends, but as potential necromancers,swindlers and slave traders, just as their previous encounters with Europeans had taught them to believe. The feast they shared one year after the landing of the Mayflower was conducted in an atmosphere of fear, mourning, desperation and suspicion. "This is the most basic element missing from the Thanksgiving myth," writes Silverman.

That the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians co-existed more or less in peace for the next half-century is testament to both the relatively low, "pre-swarm" numbers of English settlers and the pragmatism and political savvy of the Wampanoag sachem Ousamequin, who is more commonly known in "mythistory" as Massasoit. That was his title and not his name. It's as if historians referred to Lincoln as "President" assuming that is all the identity he'll ever need.

Speaking of Honest Abe, it was he who proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the national holiday that we celebrate today, moving it beyond its regional New England roots. It was designed to promote unity after the Civil War and also as a propaganda tool to justify Western expansion and the extermination of more Indian populations. Just as they were at the original Thanksgiving, the propaganda went, the Indians were just waiting around ready to be colonized wherever in Exceptional America they lived. And if they balked, then it just went to prove to the colonizers that they were nothing but ungrateful savages.

It was only after Ousamequin's death that his son Pometcomet (anglicized as "King Philip") and the Wampanoags finally balked in the 1670s and joined forces with other tribes to fight the English, who were doing such un-Christian things as fining and imprisoning natives who killed the colonial pigs and other livestock encroaching on their own plots of land and eating up their crops. If the natives couldn't pay the fines they were levied for defending their own existences, they often were seized as slaves and transported either to Europe or Caribbean sugar plantations. The pilgrims were truly doubling down on the capitalistic greed, given that their domestic animals were already being imported to feed the enslaved Africans toiling away on the sugar plantations.

As Trumpian precursors, they even separated children from families, erected walls around their enclaves, and banished thousands of non-combative, Christianized Indians to an outdoor gulag on Deer Island, where most of them starved to death. 

King Philip's War, as it was called in order to spread the desired narrative that it was the Indians assaulting the colonists rather than the Indians reacting to vicious English aggression, was short-lived but lethal, both in terms of casualties and in the lasting animus that it spawned.

Silverman writes:
"The war spread so quickly and unexpectedly that many English concluded that the Indians were an instrument of God's judgment. The question was for what. Staunch puritans in Massachusetts blamed lax morals and passed sumptuary laws banning men from wearing long hair, women from 'following strange fashions in their apparel,' and unmarried couples from riding from town to town unchaperoned.... Plymouth leaders wondered if God smote them because of their lax treatment of Quakers.... All the English could agree about was that the war had little to do with genuine Indian grievances."
Fast forward almost 400 years, and abandoned CIA assets ("Infidels") bombed the World Trade Center and Pentagon because "they hate us for our freedoms." Hillary Clinton lost because as we all know, white women are misogynists and a Russian troll farm convinced millions of Black Americans to stay home from the polls on that fateful day.

The late Haitian historian and anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot said that it is the silences of history along with its mythical narratives that are at the root of power. We become "complaisant hostages of the pasts they create."

"The production of historical narratives involves the uneven contribution of competing groups and individuals who have unusual access to the means of such production."

All facts are not created equal. To paraphrase Orwell, some facts are more equal than others.

On that note, here once again is Sardonicky's longstanding Thanksgiving tradition. Happy Turkey Day to all! 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Debate & Switch: They Got Nothing

I'm sorry to report that I couldn't consume Wednesday's Democratic talking point telecast as voraciously as my assigned civic duty of passive spectator dictated that I should.

Since the latest edition of Perpetual Primary was hosted by MSNBC and the Jeff Bezos Gazette, and since the only way that cable-free households could watch it was by downloading the NBC app, and since the NBC app kept freezing up, losing audio or crashing completely on my cheap smartphone, I had to resort to the New York Times live blog to get their elite take on the festivities.

It was weird. because when the Times reporters were carping about Tulsi Gabbard's refreshingly blunt attack on the Democratic Party and thrilling over NBC-WaPo's orchestrated  smear of Gabbard through the willing, shrilling mouth of Kamala Harris, this exchange had not yet appeared on my tiny screen. It was a real spoiler from the Times, who never questioned the whopper that Gabbard had spent Obama's entire second term trashing him on Fox News rather than serving in Congress.  And when the exchange finally did appear on my screen a minute or two later, the Times live-blog had already moved on to inserting its own video of a Deval Patrick campaign event in order to give private equity's stalking horse equal time.

I don't know whether the Times reporters pimping for Patrick did so to avoid covering one of the few times that Bernie Sanders was allowed to speak, but it wouldn't surprise if they had. I quickly logged off the Times's Deval Patrick gush-fest and turned back to my tiny little sputtering screen.

The best part of the consumer experience for me was Amy Klobuchar's mouth moving and no sound coming out -  until the part where she actually said that when she's president, nobody is getting a free car. A free car apparently is her code for guaranteed health care. And then they went to commercial break for another annoying December to Remember Lexus commercial for those willing to work hard, play by the rules and go high when "they" go low.

And that brought back so many unpleasant memories of the earlier part of my wasted day, when I'd watched hours of impeachment hearings, or what the media outlandishly calls The Smoking Gun Episode..Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the E.U., came right out and said that US military aid to puppet state Ukraine was predicated entirely upon Ukraine's president going on live TV and announcing he was digging up dirt on the Bidens and Russiagate. No matter that Trump had already boastfully admitted to this exercise in corrupt diplomacy a couple of months ago on live TV.

For some reason, NBC streamed its impeachment coverage on YouTube, graciously allowing me to watch it on live TV without having to download their horrible app. NBC also treated me to endless loops of Donald Trump bellowing "I want nothing! I want nothing! I want nothing!" as he read directly from notes saying "I want nothing! I want nothing! I want nothing!" in those large block letters so eerily reminding me the threatening letters we used to get at my newspaper from one particular person well-known to the authorities. Those letters were also big on frenzied repetitions, such as "You will die! You will die! You will die!" 

Fast forward again to my less than satisfying NBC app of a debate consumer experience later in the day. Remember when you were a kid. and how much fun it was to turn off the TV sound and make up your own dialogue for the characters on the screen, or else put on "Nowhere Man" when Nixon was talking? Well, maybe you don't because you didn't and I was just this weird kid - okay, young adult - having another one of my oddball moments.

But last night when Mayor Pete's face froze right in the middle of a sneer, I imagined him saying "You'll get nothing. You'll get nothing. YOU'LL GET NOTHING!  because all I care about is reaching across the aisle and getting STUFF done even if it kills you!"

And when the camera panned to Rachel Maddow and the screen got so fun-house loopy that even her wonkish outsize eyeglasses couldn't sharpen her image for me, I pretty much assumed that all her questions consisted of a noun, a verb, and Russia. 

Andrea Mitchell, a/k/a Mrs. Alan "Ayn Rand" Greenspan, did not seem to get a whole lot of airtime, but I assume that there was at least one "but how you gonna pay for that?" in her repertoire.

In the spurts of actual dialogue among the ten candidates that did escape from my phone in tinny little soundbites, I heard a lot of agreement and very little argument, signalling that at least half the candidates on the stage are simply vying for vice president or cabinet positions. Absent the bullying of Tulsi Gabbard, it was an exercise in mutual back-scratching. 

Elections, like everything else in Neoliberalandia, are presented to us as pure, for-profit entertainment, at the lowest possible cost to the oligarchs and at the highest possible social cost to us, the citizen-consumers.The consolidated media-political complex controls both the information and the delivery of the information. Both the information and the delivery of the information have become so distorted and so corrupted that the "free" commercialized cheap applications they offer those who are unwilling and/or unable to pay high cable prices to access a simulacrum of democracy are an epic, abject failure. The dialogue intended to spurt straight from the belly of the corporate media beast into our living rooms in one smooth stream of projectile vomitus got stuck right in their own craws last night. They effectively choked on the distorted byproducts of their own gluttony.

They got nothing, they got nothing, they got nothing from their message of "You'll get nothing because you are nothing. So vote for me!" 

You might think that if the medium crashes, the messages of the politicians can't get out to the public, and then we all lose as a result.

But I beg to differ. I'll take a frozen grimace and a multitude of silently flapping gums over empty platitudes any time. Their techno-enhanced silences and freeze-ups on the debate stage spoke volumes of unintended truth. They have nothing, they offer nothing, and they know that we know that it's all a big nothing-burger.

It's long past time, anyway, that we mute their distorted volume-product and create our own democratic dialogue.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Censorious Censoring Borg

Fresh on the heels of Barack Obama's much-derided warning that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is moving #TooFarLeft, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet has chimed in with the exact same sentiment.

Several paragraphs into an interview with The Guardian newspaper that has him fretting that Donald Trump is putting his reporters' lives at risk with his "enemies of the people" rhetoric, Baquet issued this dire warning:

“We have a new generation that grew up in a different world that have not only different demands of their news, they want a different relationship with their readers.”
He warned junior staff and readers against pushing to embrace leftwing Democratic candidates such as Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, saying the outlet would lose its status if it openly sided with particular politicians.
“They probably want a more political New York Times than I’m willing to give them. I hope they will learn over time that a New York Times that plays it straight has much more power and much more longevity.”
As to "junior staff" siding with Warren and especially Sanders, there is little danger of that, given that at least half the journalists at the Times are the products of elite schools. Sydney Ember, for example, was assigned to cover Sanders fresh off a stint on the business-friendly Dealbook section of the paper, where she was fresh off a stint working in private equity by way of a Harvard Business School degree. She is also the daughter-in-law of the retired CEO of Bain Capital. So just by virtue of her class and pedigree, she is highly unlikely to go crazy and "embrace" Bernie's ideas. In fact, her coverage of him has been mostly of a derogatory nature, only varying in its degrees of hidden and blatant vitriol. 

You might have noticed that neither Obama nor Baquet warned people against moving too far right. When it comes to serving the wealthy and corporations, one can never move far enough to the right.

It was Baquet's censorious warning to readers not to embrace left-wing politicians that left me shaking my head -  although, to be fair to him, there is little chance of his readers ever doing such a thing if their only news sources are the Times and its defacto sister outlet, MSNBC, which also covers Bernie harshly when it bothers to cover him at all.

In denigrating the left at the same time he insists "his job is to cover the world with tremendous curiosity” while avoiding opposition to the president – despite calls from many readers and some of his own staff to take a more directly critical approach to Trump," Baquet exposes his own embrace of the extreme ideological "centrism" practiced by Obama, the corporate wing of the party, and all the wealthy donors and advertisers and corporations that the Political/Media Borg caters to.

Baquet finished off his interview with The Guardian by discounting any threat of competition from independent journalists who stray too from the ascribed center:

He said that with the exception of BuzzFeed there were few online startup news organisations that had had a substantial journalistic impact. “It’s the Guardian, it’s the New York Times, the Washington Post. It’s the papers that were supposed to be the dinosaurs that are breaking the big stories.”
Baquet has every reason to feel smug and secure. Because at about the same time he was flicking smaller news sites off his shoulders like so many pesky flakes of unsightly dandruff, the Wall Street Journal was publishing a blockbuster report exposing how Google, with the direct help of Baquet's own publication, actively censors independent news sources from its search results. For the past several years, Google has maintained a secret blacklist of sites deemed by the Information Authorities to be dangerously outside the turgid centrist mainstream.

The Journal article  - unfortunately for nonsubsribers, but good for the Elite who can afford to read it - is paywalled. But the World Socialist Website, which did its own investigation of Google two years ago, had already exposed an Orwellian mechanism called Project Owl, by which Google admitted to "burying alternative viewpoints" determined not to be "authoritative."

What's new is that the Journal has uncovered the existence of an actual blacklist compiled with the help of elite censors from the establishment media. The names of the banned sites were not released, but probably correlate with reports by such outlets as Truthout, Common Dreams, Naked Capitalism and the World Socialist Website that their traffic had decreased anywhere between 30 and 60 percent because they were no longer included in Google's search results.

I've noticed a precipitous decline in my own traffic in recent years, but don't have the technological wherewithal to do a deep analytical survey of the numbers. 

Guess who not only helps to continuously compile this blacklist, but financially benefits from it? 

Why, the New York Times itself, along with a precious few other "authoritative" censors, including the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post. These all-powerful media behemoths boost their own traffic and revenue at the expense of others deemed to be lacking in the necessary authority. (read: their failure to boost the interests of the wealthy and their failure to market endless wars of aggression.) 

Coincidentally, the Times earlier this year ditched its policy of allowing several hundred pre-approved readers to instantly self-publish, including yours truly. I am now facing the other extreme, with the vast majority of my comments either being buried in a dump of hundreds at a time, delayed* for up to 24 hours, or entirely rejected. This is the common experience of other "regular" commenters with whom I've been in contact. The Times has gone from celebrating the popular (and largely progressive) commenters on its articles and op-eds to, as one prolific participant named "Socrates" described it to me, banishing us to Commenting Siberia. 

Censorship comes in so many delightful forms. And the perpetrators of it all share the same responses when confronted: What censorship? You're just being paranoid. Or the secret banned keyword in your commentary must have tripped our algorithm.

Quoting from the Journal article, the World Socialist Website piece continues:

Engineers known as “maintainers” are authorized to make and approve changes to blacklists. It takes at least two people to do this; one person makes the change, while a second approves it, according to the person familiar with the matter.
The Journal reviewed a draft policy document from August 2018 that outlines how Google employees should implement an “anti-misinformation” blacklist aimed at blocking certain publishers from appearing in Google News and other search products....
In 2018, Google set up a “news initiative” to “Clean Up False News,” as the New York Times reported. Among its partners are the New York Times, theWashington Post and the Guardian, all of which circulated false statements by the Bush administration regarding so-called “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, among countless other lies.Google’s statements about promoting “authoritative” news outlets is code for promoting news outlets that support US foreign policy and the lies that underpin it, because, as the Journal writes, “search is a zero-sum game: A change that helps lift one result inevitably pushes down another.” 
With information and news available to the public now being so reverse-engineered, so artificially limited and consolidated, and often so distorted if not downright false, is it any surprise that the Times has sucked up a record number of new subscribers this year?

They don't even bother describing the Trump-intensive information and fear that they're selling as news. It's "product."

Subscribers aren't simply readers and seekers of knowledge. They're customers with open wallets.

 The number of paid subscriptions, digital and print, reached 4.7 million, a high. Nearly 3.8 million people pay for the publisher’s online products, with the company adding a net total of 197,000 customers for its news, crossword and cooking apps during the quarter, a sharp increase from the 109,000 subscriptions added in the same period in 2018. Of those subscribers, 131,000 came for the digital news product.Since introducing its web paywall eight years ago, The New York Times has sought to guard against industry declines in print advertising revenue by making most of its money from subscriptions, breaking from the traditional newspaper business model.
OK, everybody. Stop your complaining. Pull up your droopy pants and get off your extreme lefty Twitter. Shop for product, whether it be approved information or predatory health insurance policies.  If you demand Medicare For All and a debt-free education and a secure old age and a roof over your head, you're nothing but a bunch of whining purists. And, we the Censorious Censoring Misanthropes of the Borg, will make sure that you never forget  that your only job is to consume even as you are being consumed. We'll drown out your voices and we'll infiltrate your brains and we'll press your panic and hate buttons with the money we steal from you every single day through private equity and privatization of all public spaces. We'll just go on merrily pretending that the Market knows best, until it collapses under its own weight and we escape to our yacht cities and our billionaire colonies in a thawed-out Greenland.

Thus spake moderate extremists Barack Obama and Dean Baquet, to some very free-thinking, very healthy, very refreshing impolite jeers and derision from the world outside the Borg.


Here's my response to a column by Charles Blow about Mike Bloomberg's phony baloney apology for Stop and Frisk. I submitted it at about 7 p.m. Sunday and the Times finally posted it in a dump at about 1 p.m. Monday....

A lot is being made of the fact that Bloomberg choked while delivering his apology. It must have been so hard for him to force those words of regret from the pander center of his brain, up his throat through clenched vocal cords and out into the un-rarefied air that regular people breathe.
I suppose it could have been worse. At least he didn't excuse his ignorance of how his stop and frisk crusade traumatized a whole city full of black and brown men and boys by pleading to an inability to sweat, or that he regretted behaving in a manner unbecoming a plutocrat, or that he was only ordering racial profiling because it seemed like the honorable thing to do at the time.. At least he apologized in a church rather in a prerecorded TV studio appearance at a TV network he owns.
 But if Bloomberg is really as sorry as he claims, he wouldn't be running for president. He'd be giving a big chunk of his $50 billion fortune in reparations to the black and brown people he has so grievously harmed.
Next stop on the godzillionaire campaign trail: Bloomberg explaining to voters that Medicare for all, enhanced Social Security, affordable guaranteed housing, college debt forgiveness and wealth taxes will be fiscally irresponsible non-starters under his beneficent watch.

Friday, November 15, 2019

There's Something About Deval Patrick... and Liz Warren

If, as Cornel West once so pithily observed,"Barack Obama is Wall Street's black mascot," then Deval Patrick is Wall Street's black mascot on steroids, crack and crystal meth.

So why is the former Massachusetts governor suddenly and belatedly entering the Democratic presidential primaries?

Let us contemplate the scenario in an admittedly speculative manner.

First a little background. As Michael Hudson lays out in "The Monster," an excellent investigation into the subprime mortgage crime spree that contributed to the complete collapse of the financial system in 2008, Deval Patrick was the lead civil rights attorney in the Bill Clinton Justice Department in 1996 when he inked a $4 million sweetheart deal with Roland Arnall, whom he had threatened to sue for using his Long Beach, California mortgage shop to target black home buyers with predatory loans. 

Patrick, as Hudson recounts, lamely explained the slap on the wrist by saying: "We recognize that lenders understand the industry in ways that we (government lawyers) don't."

Patrick also didn't balk when, after allowing Arnall to redirect $1 million of the settlement toward consumer education, the culprit picked his own consumer nonprofits and thus "parlayed an embarrassment for his company into an association that helped promote his image as a straight shooting reformer."

After his meaningless promise to behave himself, Arnall then ballooned his small-time loan racket into the monstrous Ameriquest financial empire, continuing to target black, brown, white, old, young, low income, even unemployed people with home loans whose payments ballooned to near-usurious rates after a couple of years. 

To further help Arnall salvage his rightly damaged reputation after he went national with his scheme and came under renewed investigation by several state attorneys general, Deval Patrick joined the holding company of the all-white Ameriquest board of directors as a way to reassure minority borrowers, as well as government regulators and the Wall Street investors in the bait and switch loan deals, which were sliced and diced to "spread the risk" and avoid accountability, that Arnall was totally on the up and up.

He wasn't. Millions of people lost their homes to foreclosure. Wall Street crashed. But not before Deval Patrick had written a glowing letter to Congress on Arnall's behalf, to help legislators overcome their sickly inhibitions against confirming this GOP mega-donor as George W. Bush's ambassador to The Netherlands. Arnall finally got the post after he agreed to dismantle Ameriquest and pay a pittance to the customers he'd defrauded.

Deval Patrick, instead of embarking on his own quest for the highest office in the land, should have been prosecuted himself for aiding and abetting a fraud,  or at the very least shamed into an early retirement. In hopes of leading the country one day, he instead followed in the Bain Capital footsteps of Mitt Romney and won the Massachusetts governorship - although unlike Romney, the Bain gig came after the "public" service, not before.

How does Elizabeth Warren enter into this? Well, it's quite the coincidence that Patrick announced his quest only one week after Warren shockingly said she'd consider him for her cabinet if she is elected president.
"If I could talk about people who aren't politicians, I talk about my former governor, Deval Patrick, who is a pretty terrific guy. I talk about some of the people I've met who are presidents of [historically black colleges and universities], especially those who are deeply engaged in education," she told CNN.
So, with little chance that he'll make the debates or appeal much to the general public, it looks like Patrick's  main goal is to get a lot of public visibility as he angles for an administration job as attorney general, treasury secretary or maybe even the vice presidency. Patrick could also be in talks with the
mysteriously ascendant centrist Pete Buttigieg, who has had his own problems appealing to black voters.  Vanilla Pete needs all the black cover help he can get, given his failure to address police racism even in his own small city of South Bend, Indiana. And then there is the little matter of Buttigieg lying about the non-existent endorsements of some important black South Carolinians, who are making no bones about how ticked off they are for being used in such a slimy way. 

Deval Patrick already has a proven track record of giving aid and comfort to dishonest people, and getting richly rewarded for doing so. A Buttigieg-Patrick ticket would be just the ticket to smooth over all those pesky racial problems. Or so they cynically might think.

Warren's own positive statements about Deval Patrick, meanwhile, make me wonder if she really is as smart and wonkish and plan-intensive as she markets herself to be. Or even worse, smart as she undoubtedly is, her praise of him makes me suspect that she is just plain cynical. If she didn't know about Patrick's sordid past and his neoliberal mindset when she touted him on CNN, then she hasn't done even basic research. And if she did know, then she's just another con artist in populist sheepdog clothing. 

And how about the bizarre way that she recently bristled at a very anodyne question from Amy Goodman at an environmental forum about the racism inherent in two largely white states (Iowa and New Hampshire) holding the first caucus and primary election, respectively? Warren's retort that she is "just a player in this game" was not only quite telling, it's more than a little disturbing, and it points very strongly in the cynicism direction.

I've been reluctant to criticize Warren too harshly, despite her technocratic piecemeal solutions to overwhelming existential crises and her applauding Trump at the State of the Union when he vowed to keep socialism out of the United States. She talks the class war talk, and that should count for a little something even if she doesn't mean it. She at least is making the billionaires nervous. And she did, after all, fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, unafraid to criticize the Obama administration for its lack of transparency over the brazen corporate takeover of the world that the TPP "trade deal" actually was.

Sad to say, I'm no longer even a tepid fan. Her Deval Patrick testimonial was the ultimate deal-breaker.

Again, though, why Deval, and why now? Besides the fact that the Obama crowd have long been urging him to run, this might also be their not so subtle signal to Joe Biden that he is toast. The impeachment inquiry is dragging both him and the Party down, and it will drag them down even further if Mitch McConnell feeds his inner Machiavelli on steroids, crack and crystal meth and decides to hold a formal impeachment trial after all.

Keeping Bernie, Liz and the four other senators running for president imprisoned in Senate chambers during such a trial would put a real damper on their campaign trail activities right before, if not during, the first primaries or even beyond. If the Republicans subpoena both Joe and Hunter Biden, and maybe even Obama himself as hostile witnesses for the Trump defense, they will give Buttigieg, the tainted Deval Patrick and the extremely tainted Mike Bloomberg all that much extra rope with which to hang themselves before Trump eats them for breakfast in the general election. 

And if Warren, Sanders and the four others use their impeachment camera time to breathe even one syllable about the election, you can rest assured that the Trumpies will gleefully pounce and accuse them of violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits political campaigning in official government places and in official government capacities.

Who knows? We may finally get the Spectacle and the ratings that the corporate media are counting on.

Or maybe not, if the Powers That Be decree that nothing must ever distract the public from the continued marketing of the Cold (But Getting Dangerously Warmer) War on Russia that the Ukraine-centered impeachment inquiry is now broadcasting to such abysmal public enthusiasm.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Impeachment Show Recap

It's not even mainly about impeaching Donald Trump. It's about nostalgic career Cold Warriors selling their perpetual Cold War to a war-weary American public. It's all about drumming up support and enthusiasm for the US war against Russia, currently playing out in Ukraine.

Trump's real but unacknowledged crime is having thrown a rhetorical little cup of water over American exceptionalism. It is for that faux pas - not fraud, not violation of the Emoluments Clause, not cruel immigration policy, not the wanton corporate destruction of the environment via an orgy of deregulation -  that he must be punished. Even though his brazen attempt to importune, bribe, or extort the new president of the US's war proxy-state puppet to investigate both the Bidens and the Clintonian origins of Russiagate quickly fell flat by virtue of its own oafish brazenness, it's the thought that really counts to the Impeachers and their partners of the Permanent Security State.

Trump's attempt to use foreign policy to make a personal political killing didn't even interfere with the US Empire's perpetual mission to rob and kill with impunity. As a matter of fact, Trump ultimately approved a fortune in deadly weapons for the US proxy war, including supplying Ukraine with the Javelin anti-tank hardware that Barack Obama had balked at supplying.

Trump's failed extortion/bribery scheme did, however, momentarily make the Very Important Killers just a tad nervous and embarrassed as they envisioned Vladimir Putin chortling with glee at the expense of the career Cold Warriors.

That's the gist I got from listening to the first day of public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee by Bill Taylor, top US diplomat to Ukraine and George Kent, a top State Department official. Both men went on and on about the "regular channels" that have enabled the US to reign supreme ever since the end of World War II, and the "irregular channels" evidenced by Rudy Giuliani, Trump's latest top legal fixer and shadow diplomat in Kiev. To hear the Cold Warriors kvetch about it, this irregular diplomacy is unprecedented in the annals of the permanent ruling security state. So is a president conducting his foreign policy out of pure political self-interest.

Just off the top of my head, I seem to remember Bill Clinton's bombing of Iraq just to divert attention from the Lewinsky scandal, Congressman Charlie Wilson's illegal shadow war against Russia in Afghanistan, even Obama's cold calculated decision to kill Osama bin Laden just months before he had to run for re-election in a very tight race. 

Taylor, who got his first taste of regime change war as an infantry commander in Vietnam (see previous post) summarized the war ethos, "freedom is death and death is freedom" as succinctly as anyone who has  spent the last half-century of his life defending weaponized capitalism. As a former Energy Department adviser, Taylor would never critique America's irregular shadow diplomacy with the murderous Saudi monarchs, no matter how intense the level of corruption in that repressive totalitarian state. The petrodollar is king. And Ukraine has gas fields and pipelines that both Russia and the US want to control.

Taylor (who should get an Oscar for projecting the most deeply serious sonorous voice and best presentation of Gravitas of the show so far) told the Committee: 
"The security assistance we provide is crucial to Ukraine's defense and the protection of the soldiers I met last week... we are Ukraine's reliable defense partner. It is clearly in our national interest to deter Russian aggression."
National interest is code for the bottom lines of the multinational oil companies and Wall Street. When asked, Taylor could not document one single soldier's death or injury as the result of Trump's pathetic bribery/extortion scheme.  

Meanwhile, both establishment political parties are furiously fund-raising off the Impeachment Show. Billionaire Trump is seeking donations for his legal defense fund - although the way he's been ripping through his roster of crooked lawyers, it may come to him defending himself and, of course, paying himself to do so.

As for the Democrats, when one of their buck-raking emails is slugged "Pelosi Corruption" in a bid for your money to prove that you stand with her in "condemning" Trump, you have to wonder about her mental acumen as well. Or maybe she's just going for comic self-deprecation.  Has there ever been such a seriously hilariously irregular bunch of Looney Tunes?

That's all, folks!