Sunday, October 20, 2019

Yes, Virginia, There Are Girl Soldiers with AR-15s

*** Fall Fundraiser. Please show your support for Sardonicky via the PayPal tip jar to your right, making either a one-time or recurring donation. If you don't like PayPal, you can email me at for instructions on where to send a check. Without generous readers, I can't keep writing. So thank you in advance!***


Just in time for the Halloween pre-Christmas marketing blitz comes word that at long last, women will gain parity as plastic toy soldiers.

This consumer season's first feel-good story is built around little Vivian Lord of Arkansas, who several years ago began precociously writing indignant letters to  toy companies, wondering why the little soldiers in the plastic bags are always men. She didn't want any guy soldiers painted pink pandering to her, either. She wanted plastic women with guns to look like real women! 

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Want

As the New York Times narrates A Very Special Christmas Wish, right jolly old toy-maker Steve Imel of Scranton had been hearing similar complaints for years -- from real-life female soldiers who regretted never having been able to properly and realistically play war games when they were tots.

One retired Navy fleet commander named Ortloff proclaimed herself really bummed that she couldn't give her three-year-old granddaughter realistic female action figures with rifles and helmets and jackboots to play with under the Christmas tree.

The problem was, Imel said, that getting into the girl plastic soldiers biz would be way too expensive and not very profitable. So while sympathetic to Vivian, he just couldn't satisfy her heart's desire. 

And so the years passed, and poor little Vivian remained stuck playing with her olive-drab plastic guys with guns.

But then came The Miracle.  

It wasn't really Vivian herself who finally convinced Imel to change his mind and invest in plastic girl soldier power. It was the all-powerful defense industry-sponsored corporate news media that co-opted Vivian, using her to make Imel an offer he couldn't refuse.

The Times reports:
It started with local outlets in Little Rock, after one reporter had seen a copy of Vivian’s letter that Ms. Lord had posted on Facebook. In one story, Ms. Lord mentioned her exchange with Mr. Imel.
CNN and a veterans publication published stories online. Soon, Mr. Imel was getting calls to do interviews on national television networks like CBS.
Mr. Imel said he then realized he had made a “huge mistake” in putting off complaints like Vivian’s and Ms. Ortloff’s.
“All hell broke loose with the media,” he said, “and I haven’t had a chance to catch my breath since.”
Well, they do say war is hell. 

Sadly, the toys will not be ready in time for this Christmas. But where there's endless war, there's always hope. And, of course, sugarplum dreams. And crowdfunding. And publicity. And marketing. And more interviews with the future girl soldiers of America. And military recruiting drives all wrapped up in cozy holiday cheer. 

Mr. Imel said the first group of toys was likely to have 24 figures in five positions: a soldier standing and holding a handgun and binoculars; standing and shooting a rifle; kneeling and shooting a rifle; lying on the ground with a rifle; and kneeling and firing a bazooka.

There's no word yet on whether the girl toy soldiers will also come equipped with rape kits in their old kit bags. They'll need them, because in the past two years alone, there's been a 50 percent increase in sexual assaults on military women by military men.

Although making up only 20 percent of the military, women are targets of 63 percent of assaults, with the youngest and the lowest-ranking women most at risk. One out of every 16 military women reported being groped, raped or otherwise sexually assaulted within the last year, reports the New York Times in a different article published in April.

That War, Incorporated is so aggressively marketing military play-time even to preschool girls makes perfect sense in light of the drastically decreased enlistment rates among young people.  The Pentagon is desperate for warm bodies. And since the Pentagon is desperate, its partners in the media will act as its public relations agents and do everything in their power to promote death and injury and post-traumatic stress disorder - even if they have to sell it to children as a women's rights issue.

As William Arkin reported in The Guardian last April:
And things are going to get worse. This year, for the first time ever, Americans born after 11 September 2001 will be able to enlist in the armed forces. It’s a sobering reminder both of how long we’ve been at war but also how distant those very wars have become from America’s youth. And yet official military polling shows that fewer and fewer young Americans consider the military as a career or as a transitional step – only some 12.5% – the lowest number in a decade.
The 12.5% is bracing, but based on a complex math that balances losses from deaths and injuries, retirements, attrition and discharges, the army and Marine Corps only needs about 100,000 recruits to maintain current force levels. That’s just 2.4% of the 4.2 million Americans who will celebrate their 18th birthday this year. And yet the military is looking at its third or fourth year in a row where it will struggle to even find these numbers.
No wonder the media-political establishment is smearing Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, an Army medic deployed to Iraq who is still an active member of the Hawaii National Guard with the rank of major. She used her national stage time at the Democratic Party presidential debate last week to blast the Duopoly and the media for selling the regime-change wars which are so lucrative for the ruling class.

 And then she was duly slandered by the #Queen of the Warmongers herself (Hillary Clinton) as a traitorous Russian asset for daring to speak the truth that war is nothing but a big, fat, wasteful hell on earth.
Clinton, speaking on the podcast which first aired on Thursday, did not name Gabbard, but her comments appeared aimed at the Hawaii congresswoman.
When asked if the former secretary of state was referring to Gabbard, Clinton’s spokesman said: “If the nesting doll fits.”

Something tells me that Tulsi will not be used as one of the models for the girl plastic soldiers franchise/recruiting drive. 

Maybe they can do likenesses of patriots Chelsea Clinton and Meghan McCain instead. Little girls can pretend that those tiny excess hunks of molded plastic sticking out from Chelsea's and Meghan's designer jackboots are heel spurs. Then they can make believe that Chelsea and Meghan and Hillary go on The View to slime Tulsi Gabbard from the elite sisterhood/armchair warrior safety of the ABC-Disney TV studios.

If the dynastic nest egg fits....

Friday, October 18, 2019

Commentariat Central: New York Times Fake News Edition

In an appearance this week on the "Useful Idiots" podcast hosted by Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper, journalist Chris Hedges nailed it about the trajectory the Paper of Record has taken since Donald Trump's election. "They're morphing into MSNBC in print," he observed.

MSNBC, of course, is not so much in the news business as it is in the plutocratic promotion business and the Russophobic business as marketed by the Democratic Party. Staffed to the rafters with former - and in some cases, current - security and military officials, it preaches hatred of Trump, fear of Putin, and loathing of Bernie Sanders -- all crammed in between commercials for overpriced prescription drugs, wealth management experts, the goodness of oil and gas, the beneficence of for-profit hospital chains, and all manner of antisocial neoliberal claptrap.

The Times, long known for at least a pretense of seriousness and impartiality, has recently branched out into video, including a partnership with Hulu to produce weekly documentaries starring its own reporters, as well as producing its own podcasts. It has, meanwhile, stopped publication of often trenchant political cartoons for the sin of offending too many people.

 When Edward Bernays wrote his seminal volume on propaganda in 1928, he estimated that about one-quarter of all the front page articles in the Times were pure propaganda, the contrived "narratives" coming in about equal portions from government, big business. and the various public relations/lobbying outfits currently euphemized as "think tanks."

With the introduction of Russiagate and now Ukrainegate, the mere one-quarter propaganda content has at the very least doubled, especially since the lockstep opinion columnists now receive pride of place on the digital homepage. ("Where do they find these people?" Hedges marveled on the Useful Idiots podcast.)

Exactly one hundred years ago, about a decade before the Bernays book, muckraker Upton Sinclair had described the Times as "the great organ of world capitalism," writing in The Brass Check:
Our newspapers do not represent public interests but private interests; they do not represent humanity but property; they value a man, not because he is great, or good, or wise, or useful, but because he is wealthy, or of service to vested wealth.
The Times not only refused to review Sinclair's book, whose observations and criticisms have held up remarkably well over the past century, it even refused to run paid advertisements for it.

The historic truth of the consolidated media's inherent capitalistic value system has been conveniently muffled by the emergence of Donald Trump and the media's subsequent positioning of itself as "Resistance, Inc." Trump has gifted them with a new opportunity to advance the interests of property in the name of endangered Norms and abused Decency. They relish their roles as the righteous victims of Trump's fascistic "enemies of the people" crusade and as the simultaneous hypocritical enablers of Trump, feverishly covering his every Nuremberg-style rally and republishing his every tweet the minute it emanates from his twitchy thumbs. 

So never mind the brass check. Times columnist Michelle Goldberg was recently given a blank check, or at least a generous expense account, to travel to all the way to Ukraine just to assert that the Democracy which America has always tried so very, very hard to export has been sadly supplanted by the rank corruption that Donald Trump and his mafia minions have been single-handedly forcing down that beleaguered nation's throat.

She didn't personally travel to the Russian border to cover the "proxy war's" skirmishes and battles. She didn't interview ordinary Ukrainians. Instead, she followed the MSNBC echo chamber playbook and interviewed like-minded fellow professionals in trendy Kiev cafes. She even glowingly quoted the discredited neoconservative  Francis "The End of History" Fukayama, who is now trying to rebrand himself as a professional Never-Trump liberal resistance fighter.

According to Goldberg - Bernays and Sinclair notwithstanding - the epidemic of fake news and propaganda is a brand-new, purely TrumPutian phenomenon which only started a few years ago:
Ukrainians are no strangers to post-truth politics. The first time I ever heard the term “fake news” was in 2015, when I learned about the Ukrainian fact-checking organization StopFake. It was created by a group of journalists to push back against the torrents of Russian disinformation sowing chaos in the country’s politics. At the time, it would have been hard to imagine that the United States would soon join Russia as a source of weaponized untruth in Ukraine....
Pro-Western reformers, the Ukrainian philosopher Volodymyr Yermolenko told me, had seen the United States as a “a perfect democracy functioning very well,” with an admirable system of checks and balances. “And now this image is crumbling and that’s very dangerous.”
When you combat alleged fake news with pure propaganda, as Michelle Goldberg does with her column, nothing good can come of it. (It does help, though, that Goldberg's propaganda is so clumsily rendered that it becomes a virtual parody of itself.)

 Not only does she omit any mention of the US-backed Maidan Square coup of 2014, she ignores the entire imperialistic history of the US and its numerous CIA-led regime changes, its aiding and abetting and installation of myriad corrupt and vicious right-wing dictators (Pinochet, the Shah of Iran, Armas, etc.) who are compliant with US corporate interests. Did I mention that her other regular gig is paid MSNBC punditry?

My published comment on her Oct. 12th column: 
My own earliest memory of the term "fake news" was when President Obama used it on a trip to Europe in November 2016, shortly after Trump's election. He called it a "threat to democracy."
 In the Athens leg of his trip, the White House shared a "travel diary" with photos of a pensive Obama at the Parthenon and other ruins in the birthplace of Democracy. He wrote:
"We view ourselves as part of a broader humanity and a community of nations that can work together to solve problems and lift up what’s best in humanity.”
 But what neither he nor most US media outlets saw fit to share were photos and footage of riot police lobbing tear gas at some 7,000 Greek citizens who were protesting and demanding "Yankee go home!" just blocks away from the American embassy where he was dining with officials. People were not only protesting the harsh austerity measures imposed by bank-friendly politicians, but the timing of the presidential visit. It occurred on the anniversary of the 1973 revolt that helped oust the military junta backed by the US.
"Fake news" can also be perpetrated by the deliberate omission of salient facts, giving any "narrative" the desired slant. "Exporting Democracy" is greasing the skids for multinational corporate plunder with the weaponized help of what is commonly euphemized as "the intelligence community."
Corruption is baked right into the system. Maybe we can start to root it out at home by overturning the Citizens United ruling that's made most of it perfectly legal.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Debate & Switch: So On and So Forth

So, am I the only one who found Elizabeth Warren's prefacing every evasive answer to debate questions with the word "So" so very irritating?

I started noticing the emergence of the word "so" as a trendy verbal tic several years ago, and it's become a real pet peeve of mine. For starters, its not as anodyne or natural as beginning one's answer with an "um," which merely signals that the respondent is gathering her thoughts. But using "so" to answer a question sends the warning to brace yourselves for a meandering, wildly tangential, off-topic, or evasive reply, or worst of all, a big fat whopper. As a former schoolteacher, Warren should know better than to misuse the word "so" like this. Back in the olden days, it was used mainly to continue one's own narrative or to expound upon one's own preceding thoughts. I personally often use as a synonym for "therefore." But saying it to preface an answer to a clear-cut question not only comes across as an insult to the questioner, it's an insult to good grammar.

As the dictionary says:

  1. 1.
    to such a great extent.
    "the words tumbled out so fast that I could barely hear them"
  2. 2.
    to the same extent (used in comparisons).
    "he isn't so bad as you'd think"
  1. 1.
    and for this reason; therefore.
    "it was still painful so I went to see a specialist"
  2. 2.
    with the aim that; in order that.
    "they whisper to each other so that no one else can hear"

Warren began her answers with the word "so" so many times during the debate that I lost count of them.

But she was particularly evasive when asked if middle class taxes would go up under her alleged Medicare For All/Some/Who Knows plan. She could have explained, like Bernie Sanders managed to so (correct usage) cogently do, that the increased taxes for single payer health care would be far, far less than what the middle class currently pays private insurance predators in premiums, co-pays, and deductibles.

But like Bartleby the Scrivener, she preferred not to.

A prime example:

LACEY: Senator Warren, we've proposed -- you've proposed some sweeping plans, free public college, free universal childcare, eliminating most Americans' college debt. And you've said how you're going to pay for those plans. But you have not specified how you're going to pay for the most expensive plan, Medicare for all. Will you raise taxes on the middle class to pay for it, yes or no?
WARREN: So I have made clear what my principles are here, and that is costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations, and for hard-working middle-class families, costs will go down. You know, the way I see this is, I have been out all around this country. I've done 140 town halls now, been to 27 states and Puerto Rico. Shoot, I've done 70,000 selfies, which must be the new measure of democracy....
And the follow-up:
LACEY: Senator Warren, to be clear, Senator Sanders acknowledges he's going to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for all. You've endorsed his plan. Should you acknowledge it, too?
 WARREN: So the way I see this, it is about what kinds of costs middle-class families are going to face. So let me be clear on this. Costs will go up for the wealthy. They will go up for big corporations. And for middle-class families, they will go down. I will not sign a bill into law that does not lower costs for middle-class families. 
Just An Intimate Modest Fireside Chat With the Folks

And so it went. I have to say, though, that I liked it when Warren began that one sentence with the twangy word "shoot." It simply oozed the down-home heartland sincerity that every voter craves.

I won't give you a blow-by-blow of the rest of the Gong Show, because life is too short. For example, I won't do a recount of how many times Kamala Harris referenced her mother sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of the night. The woman apparently never slept.

 Bernie Sanders looked and did great during the few intervals that he was allowed to talk. Joe Biden was his usual goofy old self. He mumbled something incoherent about "clipping coupons at the stock market." He yelled a lot about his grifting son's honesty and America's mighty reputation as Noble Global Imperium. He also took very false and very paternalistic credit for getting Warren's consumer protection bureau started.

The best performance of the evening, in my view, was Tulsi Gabbard's. She scathingly critiqued the New York Times and CNN moderators and the whole establishment right to their faces for their organizations' smears of her:

"Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hands, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing “regime change” war in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime change war. Not only that but, The New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war. Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist, and all these different smears.

This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia. Completely despicable. As president, I will end these regime change wars by doing two things: ending the draconian sanctions that are really a modern-day siege, the likes of which we are seeing Saudi Arabia wage against Yemen that have caused tens of thousands Syrian civilians to die and to starve, and make sure we stop supporting terrorists like Al Qaeda in Syria, who have been the ground force in this ongoing regime change war."
It's no surprise that in its own coverage of Gabbard's remarks, the Times doubled right down on its original smears while denying that equating her with Trump and questioning her patriotism and the unusual crossover support that she's getting from some conservative voters was even a smear in the first place. Disingenuous is too good a word for this increasingly reactionary Democratic mouthpiece.

The overarching corporate agenda for this debate was to elevate the centrists - Mayor Pete Buttigieg and the very low-polling Amy Klobuchar - by giving them inordinate amounts of time with which to attack an ascendant Warren from the right. They also served as surrogates for the faltering Uncle Joe, who got a bit of a break and less of a chance to mess up or lose his teeth or suffer an embarrassing eye bleed. 

The media-political complex seems to have written Bernie Sanders off at its peril, especially with his latest record fundraising haul and the newly-announced and very coveted endorsements of three members of The Squad: Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

I could be wrong, but I think the bubble-encased pundits might be in for a yuge shock come Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Capitalism Dooming Kids With Curable Cancers

Buried deep (Page A-21) within the dead tree edition of the New York Times today is a scandal far more deserving of outrage than the latest Ukraine-gate drama:
A critical drug that serves as the backbone of treatment for most childhood cancers, including leukemias, lymphomas and brain tumors, has become increasingly scarce, and doctors are warning that they may soon be forced to consider rationing doses.
Persistent shortages of certain drugs and medical supplies have plagued the United States for years, but physicians say the loss of this medication, vincristine, is uniquely problematic, as there is no appropriate substitute.
Could there, I wondered, have been recent blight of the periwinkle plant (Vinca), whose toxic alkaloids are used for the drug's manufacture?

No. The only blight in play is on the moral compass of Big Pharma, whose ultimate aim is not to cure diseases, but to bloat their stock prices, enrich their investors and reward their CEOs, both with outrageous salaries and golden parachutes when they retire.

Of course, the Times puts it a bit more delicately than that, only noting that Trump's Food and Drug Administration tersely announced that Teva, the drug's manufacturer, had made a "business decision" last July to stop manufacturing vincristine. The only remaining manufacturer is Pfizer, which is experiencing some vague "manufacturing troubles" of its own and can't keep up with demand. 

There are shortages not only of vincristine, but also of about 200 other drugs,  including standard antibiotics and injectable vaccines, including the one for rabies. The generic vincristine is the gold standard of treatment for pediatric cancers, including for lymphoblastomic leukemia (which currently has an 85 percent cure rate) along with lymphomas and brain and kidney tumors.

The oncologists interviewed for the Times article describe themselves as terrified at the looming "nightmare situation" of rationing medication, reducing dosages, or even facing a "Sophie's Choice" of which children will be treated and which children will simply be allowed to die.

This situation is not new. In a 2013 survey run by the New England Journal of Medicine, 83 percent of oncologists reported they had been unable to prescribe their first-choice chemotherapy drugs because of shortages, and either had to prescribe less effective alternatives or delay treatment.

What the Times doesn't report about Teva, the Israel-based multinational generic drug company that so abruptly stopped manufacturing Vincristine, is that it is also one of the six major firms now facing billions of dollars in liabilities because of its very lucrative and possibly criminal involvement in the manufacture of opioids for worldwide distribution.

Although Teva refused to comment to the Times about so heartlessly leaving kids with cancer in the lurch, you wouldn't know from its glossy glitzy website that it even had a problem. It brags to potential investors that its idea of helping patients is practically unique among other providers of life-saving medicines. (Because it stresses the money-saving over the life-saving aspects?) While it also correctly points to having left its "unique footprint" on world markets, what it modestly omits is that this footprint is literally crushing the life and the hope out of thousands of young cancer patients and their families:

As the world’s leading provider of generic pharmaceuticals, Teva’s medicines help patients and consumers in a way that few other companies can.
Teva produces 120 billion tablets and capsules a year in 70 pharmaceutical and API facilities around the world. Teva has a leadership position (top 3) in 25 markets globally. The scale and breadth of our generics portfolio has an unprecedented impact on global healthcare. Teva’s exceptional integration of generics and specialty R&D enables us to generate a robust pipeline of high-value medicines, with an emphasis on complex and branded generics. Our R&D capabilities have expanded beyond tablets, capsules, liquids, ointments and creams to a broad range of effective dosage forms and delivery systems.Teva has a unique understanding of - and footprint in - world markets, where our generic medicines are tailored to the needs of local patients, physicians and consumers. We also have an unparalleled ability to partner in commercializing generic products. Building on a remarkable track record of achievement, Teva continues to pursue a rich future in generics as we focus on patient needs, improving compliance, convenience, efficacy and safety, and providing affordable generic products to patients and society worldwide.
Since this is America, and American-style neoliberal capitalism has sickened the entire planet while a few plutocrats and corporations have gotten filthy rich, we can look for Master of the Universe Jeff Bezos to now swoop in like a vulture and make a killing off the backs of sick people, including sick and dying children. As Investopedia reported last month:
The worst-case scenario for drug companies may not be the cost of lawsuits. In August, Morgan Stanley analysts argued that the opioid settlements could present an opportunity for e-commerce giant Inc to steamroll its way into the market as it's done in other areas. "If distributors face increased regulation as a byproduct of any settlement, the cost of doing business would go up, making it easier for a fourth competitor such as Amazon to enter the marketplace, " wrote analyst Ricky Goldwasser.

So I hope that when the Democratic candidates are asked to dish on one another's scandals at tonight's "debate," Bernie Sanders will pipe up and again point to the real scandal of how our greedy, for-profit, market-based health care delivery systems are literally killing the same people who they merely pretend to help. 

We have a choice: Medicare For All, or the prospect of having Alexa administer your child's chemo at the sweltering Amazon Fulfillment Center nearest you.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Astroturfing Impeachment

With slightly more than half of those polled now favoring the impeachment of Donald Trump, it behooves the liberal ruling establishment to corral them and carefully set the boundaries for protesting this president's myriad high crimes and misdemeanors.

There thus will be no emphasis on his massive plunder of the public purse via his unprecedented tax giveaway to the oligarchs. The plight of imprisoned refugees and migrants and the thousands of kidnapped and trafficked children will be all but ignored. His assaults on the environment will take a back seat, as will his frequent incitements to violence against minorities and vulnerable groups. His relentless shredding of the social safety net will proceed apace. There must be no protests against the US troop build-up in Saudi Arabia and of course, no resistance to the US-assisted genocide in Yemen begun under the previous Democratic administration.

If you hate Trump for all these reasons and more, you are nevertheless urged to direct all your precious energies into aiding the ruling class's internecine battle over which corporations and oligarchs will get to plunder Ukraine. You will be urged to defend the neoliberal Democratic front-runner, Joe Biden, from the corruption charges being leveled against him by Trump. No matter that you believe that Biden is, in fact, corrupt. The outrage you must develop on behalf of the "good" oligarchic faction is that a far more corrupt individual is leading the charge against Biden and his family.

To facilitate the proper channeling of your anger against Trump, rather than at the system which spawned him, the Democratic Party is "scrambling" to get a "grassroots" impeachment movement underway.

The first propaganda step is describing the organizers of the movement as "outsiders" - when, in fact, they are consummate insiders who get most of their dark funding from corporations and billionaires. As narrated by Politico's Maggie Severns, these "outside" groups have been sadly marginalized by party bigwigs for years. But thanks to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, their impeachment day has finally come.

The flowers withering on the vine have gotten a magical dose of Miracle-Gro!

This organizational hub has sprouted in D.C., commissioning polling, sponsoring ads and trying to guide the energy in the party toward a message and result the public will support, while counteracting a blistering, expensive anti-impeachment campaign from Trump and the Republican National Committee.
It sure sounds like a spontaneous, bottom-up, grassroots uprising to me. It sounds almost as good as that time last year when thousands of progressive activists simply sprouted up with professional signs bemoaning the ouster of neoconfederate Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the feared ouster of Robert Mueller - whose status then sadly plummeted from Father of Our Country to Deadbeat Dad when he finally released his wishy-washy report and stumbled his way through congressional testimony.

As Politico's marketing of Astroturfed Impeachment Inc. continues, we finally get our first clue about the real money and power behind this campaign: 

At the center of the emerging movement are several progressive groups that boast big memberships, including Indivisible and, that have quickly been joined by an array of other groups spanning the Democratic Party. Outside strategists including Zac Petkanas, former director of rapid response for Hillary Clinton, have started aiding the effort.
“It’s going to be very intense. It’s all hands-on-deck for grassroots folks and everybody in DC,” said Meagan Hatcher-Mays, director at the grassroots organization Indivisible.
Almost every email I get from Hillary Clinton includes a fundraising appeal for Indivisible, which was formed in the immediate aftermath of her defeat. Its sole purpose is to "resist Trump" by supporting Democratic candidates. You folks send the money to Hillary, and then she forwards it to the Indivisible folks. It sounds suspiciously like a variation of the scheme she devised during her second failed presidential campaign: she ostensibly raised money for a bunch of local Democratic Parties to help their local candidates. The local parties then funneled a big chunk of this money right back to her for use in her own campaign. It was a nifty way to skirt campaign finance laws, which limit the amount of money that each donor can contribute to any one particular candidate. Another word for what Hillary did is money-laundering. But thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, it was rendered perfectly legal.

So everybody join together and fight Trumpian corruption! And be sure use the "progressive" label every chance you get, in order to give credence and a semblance of authenticity to the astroturfed effort.

Indivisible, as New York Times reporter Kenneth Vogel has revealed, now gets most of its multi-millions of dollars in annual funding from Democracy Alliance, a consortium of liberal plutocrats who gather at fancy parties to decide which Democratic candidates will best represent their interests. Vogel exposed them strategizing over how to successfully make their "Never Bernie" agenda a reality.

The original funding source of the Indivisible "grassroots" effort was the Tides Foundation. According to Source Watch,

The Tides Foundation, founded in 1976, has provided more than $300 million in funding for what it calls "positive social change ... We define 'progressive' as creating a positive impact on people's lives in ways that honor and promote human rights, justice, and a healthy, sustainable environment."
The seed money for the Tides Foundation, in turn, had come from a Reynolds Tobacco heiress. It has since (cough) wafted to a vast interconnected network of organizations and philanthrocapitalist foundations. 

The co-chairman of Tides, as listed on its website, is Columbia University dean Jason Wingard. "Dr. Wingard served as the chief learning officer at Goldman Sachs, a multinational investment bank, where he led the strategy and implementation of thought leadership and management development solutions for the firm’s global workforce and clients. Previously, he served as vice dean of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, where he led Executive Education and oversaw one of the world’s largest providers of leadership development for corporate managers and executives. He also served as senior vice president of Regional Markets at ePals, Inc. and president & CEO of the ePals Foundation."

Whenever you hear a plutocrat described as a "thought leader," you should probably run for the hills. Capitalistic thoughts have this worrying tendency to privilege themselves while sermonizing to the less well-off - when they're not exploiting them, that is.

The other co-chair is Steve Zuckerman, described on the website as "Managing Director of Self-Help’s California operations and President of Self-Help Federal Credit Union. Self-Help is a leading nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) founded in 1980 and now manages almost $2 billion in assets and 42 credit union branches with more than 100,000 members. Self-Help has provided nearly $6.5 billion in financing to roughly 87,000 families, businesses and nonprofits. Previously, Steve spent almost 15 years with McCown De Leeuw & Co (MDC), a private investment firm based in Menlo Park, CA that focused on middle market management buyouts. Throughout his career, Steve has served on numerous nonprofit boards in the areas of economic justice and youth development. In addition to Self-Help related boards, he currently serves on the national governing board of Positive Coaching Alliance and the New Market Tax Credit advisory board of Opportunity Fund."

How to translate that convoluted bio? Since I'm in a good mood, I'll give Steve the benefit of the doubt and assume he generously he parlayed a tax-deductible portion of his vulture capitalist enterprise's obscene profits into loaning money (micro-lending) to the less well-off - so that one day, if they're extremely lucky, be able to buy the bootstraps to pull themselves up by. The market god only helps those who help themselves, which is why they put the Self Help label on it.

And how about that Opportunity Fund that Steve brags about? That was a gift given to tax-averse plutocrats and the investment class by Donald Trump himself as part of his tax reform/corporate welfare package. Although Opportunity Funds are supposed to benefit some 52 million struggling people living in distressed communities, it is doing the exact opposite. No wonder the liberal thought leaders from Tides and Democracy Alliance aren't emphasizing impeachment based upon theft from the public purse. They actually benefit from Trump's policies themselves.

While it's impossible to ascertain the identities of all the current donors to Tides, the 1,775 organizations receiving dark Tides money run the gamut. They include the elite private Brearley School (annual tuition $49,680), Duke University, M.I.T., Media Matters for America, the hawkish liberal think tank Center for New American Security... and surprise, surprise: the anti-Bernie Working Families Party!

Those Democracy Alliance/Tides/Indivisible liberal plutocrats, like most plutocrats, usually get whatever they want in the way of government policy. And right now, they seem to think they'll get most of what they want from the WFP-endorsed Elizabeth Warren. (If it's any consolation to Bernie and his supporters, the WFP also endorsed ethics-challenged New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over progressive anti-corruption candidate Zephyr Teachout, who literally wrote the book on Corruption In America!)

Of course, the Politico article trying to drum up support for a limited impeachment inquiry doesn't tell you anything about the layers of incestuous muck enveloping and enriching all these veal pen organizations and their secretive donor networks. If it did, then "folks" might not get enthused, and the "progressive" organizations would have an even harder time trying to corral them into caring more about Ukrainegate than they care about paying the rent and putting food on the table and getting health care when they're sick and uninsured.

Listed affiliates of the Indivisible group include the ubiquitous Working Families Party, the American Civil Liberties Union and even the Democratic Socialists of America.

I have a suggestion. If Indivisible wants to be really authentic, it should change its name to Invisible. After all, Halloween is nigh and it's not only the wads of donor money that are getting darker.

Trick or treat! Or, in the corrupted, subverted, anti-democratic version of the holiday: heads they win, tails you lose.

Unless, of course, you can cut your way through their four-ply toilet paper-festooned gated communities and foundations with lots of extra batteries to load into your truth-exposing flashlights.


Update, 10/14: I've revised this article by removing all references to a group called Influence Watch. This is actually an oppo-research project funded by the Capital Research Center, which itself is funded by such public-spirited corporations as Exxon-Mobil. In other words, an astroturf organization is exposing astroturf organizations it doesn't like!

 I was initially fooled, because Influence Watch imitates the style and layout of the reputable Source Watch, and has a nearly identical mission statement. I have independently verified Influence Watch's critical reporting on the Tides Foundation, and have even added information about the Tides board. The upshot: you certainly don't need right-wing oppo research to expose some of these Democratic veal pen organizations and the sources of their funding. It's even worse than what Influence Watch reported, as a matter of fact, because their research doesn't mention the direct role of private equity and Wall Street in choosing and financing the recipients of the Tides "charity."

It's a tangled web for sure.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Bad Fascism vs Less-Bad Fascism

First let's get the in-your-face variety out of the way. Donald Trump led another Nuremberg-style rally Thursday and vowed to bring the troops back home so that they might be deployed "somewhere else" - meaning, presumably, closer to home if not Homeland itself. And even though city cops were barred by their chief from attending the Minneapolis rally, Trump had his own detail of Redshirts on hand to escort protesters from the premises the moment he barked out the order.

Now let's get to the Democratic resistance to this offal-ness. Frontrunner Joe Biden (Fascist-lite) looks more corrupt by the minute, with reports (so far, by only right-leaning media outlets) that not only did he work closely with the CIA "whistleblower" in the White House, this same informant may also have accompanied the former vice president to Ukraine during and after the US-backed coup. Another report, via Rudy Giuliani, claims that Biden received a $900,000 contribution from a Ukraine lobbyist. Biden's campaign is furiously attacking the corporate media for covering all this sleaze, essentially demanding that they cease and desist from practicing journalism in the public interest (not that journalism in the public interest is that much of a thing any more.) Whether these allegations are true, mainly true, somewhat true, or false, mainly false or somewhat false seems moot at this point. Biden is being tainted by them. It's such a shame that this taint is covering up his proven 40-year record of anti-social neoliberal rhetoric and policy. But whoever said life was fair?

Elizabeth Warren, although inching up in the polls and threatening Biden's standing, is nevertheless being hammered from both right and left for "PregnancyGate." The scandal is that although Warren has been saying on the campaign trail that she was fired from a teaching job nearly half a century ago because of pregnancy, earlier video then surfaced of her explaining she'd quit the profession because she lacked the necessary teaching credentials.

Both narratives are likely true. Even if she weren't actually physically fired by her now-deceased principal, she had been due to give birth just as the new school year was starting in September. She knew she wouldn't be allowed to show up for classes either in labor or immediately postpartum, so she preemptively quit before they ever had a chance to fire her. Sure, she fudged the facts, but the essential truth remains that her pregnancy, and all the sexist bigotry then in play, got in the way of her career. She was, for all intents and purposes, barred from employment. So I'd give her a "mostly-to-somewhat true" rating. Her slanted version of events doesn't rise to the gross level of, say, Hillary Clinton's totally false claim that she once dodged sniper fire in Bosnia. Warren was trying to show empathy for women. Clinton was trying to show she was a war hawk to her bones.

But still, I'm torn. Even little bitty lies in the greater service to the truth are fraught, because they tend to turn into greater big fat lies in the service of whatever definition of "truth" is convenient at the time. What do you think?

Also of concern is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's implied threat that he will meddle with Warren's campaign by suppressing her ads and other campaign information as payback for her direct threat to break up his monopolistic social media giant. The pasty-faced little putz was caught on audio vowing to "go to the mat" to insure his continuing status as Master of the Universe. He might even do more damage than Russian troll farms in swinging the election away from Warren and toward, probably, Trump. Or just as bad, toward Hillary Clinton in the brokered convention lots of people are predicting.

Finally, there was Bernie Sanders's heart attack, and to make the blow even worse, the nearly simultaneous death of his daughter-in-law. The corporate press can barely contain its glee, producing an avalanche of "questions are now being raised about his candidacy" and "shadows are being cast on his candidacy" - which is nothing but code that ever so subtly bellows out "Quit, Bernie, Quit!"

My take is that if he wants to stop holding raucous rallies in order to rest and recuperate, then let him, and don't hold it against him. He can easily address the voters by video. Campaign seasons are way too brutally long anyway. If the other candidates in the field had any decency, they'd cut back on their own schedules out of solidarity, and as a way of protesting the made-for-TV spectacle that our politics has become. For those who market "party unity" above all else, then let them put their money where their mouths are for a change.

Speaking of protests, Tulsi Gabbard is threatening to boycott next week's debate over the continued rigging of the process by the Democratic National Committee, along with its rank commercialization into spectacle. If I were her, I'd use the few minutes allotted to her out of the dozen competing voices on the stage to vocally and loudly expose everything she knows about corrupt party machinations and profiteering media bias. Otherwise, the viewers at home might think she's acting out of sour grapes, or that she simply wimped out.

Somebody on that stage should, at the very least, express concern that a new poll reveals that fully 77 percent of Democrats "trust" the same CIA that, among its many other fascistic activities and atrocities, once rescued and then recruited Nazi war criminals to come work for the United States in the Cold War battles against "the Russians."

So my question is what they'll be chanting at next summer's Democratic Convention. Will "USA! USA! USA! be replaced by "CIA! CIA! CIA!"? 

This affinity for the "intelligence community" and "less-bad" fascism no doubt stems from Trump-hatred and not from any true admiration of this unaccountable and often rogue de facto branch of the government. Public opinion can turn on a dime, depending on whatever propaganda is being spooned out to the public at any given time. It was only a few short years ago that the public was on the definite outs with the spooks because of Bush-era torture and the break-in by the CIA of the computers of the senate committees that were investigating the torture.

But wait. Since comic Ellen DeGeneres recently shared a private box with George and Laura Bush at a Dallas Cowboys football game, the message the ruling class wants to impart is that since the ruling class mission of Bush rehab has been accomplished, all the fans and maimed Iraq war veterans at home should just relax and enjoy it. If you're a contrarian who took issue with a celebrity schmoozing with a folksy war criminal, then it just proves how petty you are, announced a whole slew of co-celebrities and Democratic donors, strategists and pundits.

What a horrific commentary about our times that should even have to explain herself for hanging with President Bush. Good for her!

Ellen, remember, is a treasured member of the same incestuous NBC family which employs Bush's daughter Jenna as a co-host on its infotainment "Today Show." Just like Meghan McCain, Hunter Biden, Chelsea Clinton, Ivanka Trump and virtually all children of politicians and plutocrats, she achieved her position based purely upon her own talents and merits and expertise.

NBC is the same network that for years ignored former Today host Matt Lauer's  sexual abuse of its less-elite female employees, including sweeping an alleged rape under the rug. It's currently reeling from a new Ronan Farrow book alleging that it also suppressed reports of Harvey Weinstein's long history of predation. 

But I guess it could always be worse. NBC could be hosting - and tainting - next week's Democratic debate, which will be jointly controlled by the private media companies CNN and the New York Times. NBC won't get its own turn until November, when the Gong Show field could be winnowed down to a shocking final ten contestants.  

It's a real nail-biter. The lucky viewers at home will have a chance to cast their votes as soon as next winter. If you're in an early primary or caucus state which doesn't require corporate party membership as a prerequisite to participation, your vote might even actually count a little bit.

Isn't capitalist Democracy grand? Isn't Fascism grand when it's a fully-owned subsidiary of capitalist Democracy?