Saturday, April 29, 2017

Don of the Hundred Days Vs. Barry the Buckraker

Everybody who's anybody in the corporate media bubble is talking about the First Hundred Days of Trump's presidency. Since I don't live in the corporate media bubble, I don't care about this milestone and won't contribute to the churnalistic echo chamber. I'll just sum it all up by observing that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.The rich continue to get richer, the poor continue to get poorer. And our elected leaders and their greedy plutocratic clients will never lose their appetite for endless war and plunder all over the globe. For them, what should be the main course is always just the appetizer.

Meanwhile, there was a shallow phony outrage side-issue this week. The  media bubble is aghast, aghast I tell you, that the saintly Barack Obama is raking in $400,000 per speech. Liberals are upset not because Obama is proving himself to be just one more avaricious plutocrat, but because his shameless cupidity is making the moribund Democratic Party look even worse than it already does. With Buckraking Barry sucking up some of the negative energy from Dastardly Don, it's getting even harder for the party to salvage its tattered reputation as it sends out ever more feeble SOS's of virtue-signalling.

Michelle Obama should perhaps boil down her simpering battle cry from "When they go low, we go high" to "We live high."

Populist superwoman Elizabeth Warren daintily offered that she is "troubled" that Obama now has the audacity to be claiming his deferred compensation for all those hard years of being the only thing standing between the bankers and the pitchforks. But in the spirit of Washington etiquette, Warren studiously avoided criticizing the ex-president. She has finally achieved the true Insider status she once so passionately decried. 

In her first memoir, written in the waning days of her outsiderism, Warren described a dinner with Obama economic adviser Larry Summers: 
Late in the evening, Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. By now, I’d lost count of Larry’s Diet Cokes, and our table was strewn with bits of food and spilled sauces. Larry’s tone was in the friendly-advice category. He teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders.
I had been warned.
  Warren apparently heeded the warning. Because when confronted this week over the antics of Barry the Buckraker, she only groused generically about the influence of big money on "this place." Individuals are never held accountable for their actions in This Place. Only geography is held accountable. Or maybe it's The System.

Likewise for Bernie Sanders, fresh off his "unity tour" of trying to lure disgusted voters from their ruined lives into the stultifying atmosphere of the tattered Democratic tent. He hilariously called Obama's big payday "unfortunate." What he meant, of course, is that the optics are unfortunate, not that Obama's growing multimillion-dollar fortune itself is unfortunate.

As pro-Democratic organ Salon puts it, Obama wearing his greed right on his sleeve is really bad for the party's "brand." It's not that his piggishness will irritate his own loyal personality cult, it's that it makes him look like a hypocrite to the gleeful Vast Right Wing Alt-Right Conspiracy.

"It's not a good look," Sanders clarified.

Sure it is, Bernie! Look on the bright side, and think about it this way: Obama is putting some much-needed liberal gloss on the Gordon Gekko mantra. As an extra value-added bonus, his orgy of buckraking makes even the avaricious kleptocrat Donald Trump seem almost normal. If Obama is good and Obama is greedy, then it naturally follows that Greed is not only Good, it is better than ever. 

Trump should have nothing to worry about from here on out, especially if he continues to faithfully follow Obama's lead by sanctimoniously bombing the hell out of any country of his choosing. If he continues to satisfy the corporate media bubble's ravenous appetite for death and destruction, then the transition from indirect oligarchic rule under Obama to direct oligarchic rule under Trump might end up being remembered as a minor bump in the road. Trump's had very a rocky first hundred days of his on-the-job training session. He's found it difficult to master the art of public relations. Unlike his smooth-talking predecessor, he's been so uncouth. He unfashionably lumbers and blusters, and the media have become way too spoiled by the previous president charming and strutting and chin-stroking his way through office.

The Art of Obama Maintenance: Fashion To Die For

Bernie and Liz should just relax about the Zen Master of Cool's quest for cash. Pretty soon, nobody who's anybody will probably even care. Because as the magazine for men, Esquire, gushingly foretold just a couple of months ago, "Obama's most stylish days are yet to come."

When you wear a cool leather jacket while stepping off your private jet on your way to yet another schmooze-fest with your Wall Street buddies, nobody who's anybody in the churnalistic bubble will ever dare be so insensitive as to ponder how much money you're charging for gracing the world with your existence. They'll be too busy ooh-ing and ahh-ing over your sartorial splendor:
Returning from their vacation in the Virgin Islands, the former president and first lady were photographed in an excellent display of airport style. Michelle looked chic as always in a black turtleneck and oversized cardigan. And Barack absolutely nailed his casual style with dark blue jeans, a gray button-front shirt, brown leather shoes, and the crowning piece: a slim brown leather jacket.
If only Donald Trump could get his own fashion shit together so awesomely, the Esquire reporter sniffed in conclusion. Barry looks so laid-back and cosmopolitan wearing his mantle of dead cow, while Trump with his Archie Bunker accent and his polyester baseball cap and his oversized ties comes across as a "try-too-hard aging rocker." Ugh.

So let the shallow journalistic idiots continue scratching their heads and wondering why Trump's "deplorable" fans still swear their undying fealty to him despite all his broken promises to them and his failure to drain the swamp.

Let Obama keep raking in the bucks and showing the real world more of the true inner core lurking beneath the shiny weeds.

  Then let both sides of the Uniparty collapse from the weight of their own corruption that much sooner. Let new political organizations and movements rise from their neoliberal ashes and their pricey leather jackets and their money-laundering charitable foundations and their ever more unabashed use of public office for private gain.

Let the timeless, vintage fashion of social democracy make one of its periodic and long-overdue comebacks.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Bland Semantics of Capital Punishment

Press accounts of the Monday night executions in Arkansas of two convicted murderers are almost universally anodyne.

"Arkansas" ordered the lethal injections, which were then approved by the "courts," whose orders were finally obeyed by "Arkansas" in an utterly passive manner. No human beings, either as individuals or as groups, are made to bear any moral responsibility for the taking of two lives. 

The headlines seemingly come from the same corporate media echo chamber:

Arkansas Executes 2 Men In One Night -- CNN. 

Arkansas Executed Two Men on the Same Gurney -- ThinkProgress.

Arkansas Carries Out First Double Execution Since 2000 -- Reuters.

Arkansas Executions: Why It's Executing 11 People in 7 Days -- Time.

Here's how the New York Times led its own account, which was squeamishly and tastefully buried below several articles on Trump's first hundred days:
 Arkansas executed two convicted murderers on Monday night, the first time in almost 17 years that any state has executed two inmates on the same day, as the state carries out a series of capital punishments before one of its lethal injection drugs expires.
Jack H. Jones Jr. died at 7:20 p.m. local time, and Marcel Williams at 10:33 p.m., both from the injection of a three-drug combination, after a flurry of failed, last-ditch appeals. The executions in the death chamber at the Cummings Unit, a state prison southwest of Pine Bluff, came four days after the state put to death another killer, Ledell Lee. A fourth condemned man, Kenneth Williams, is scheduled to be executed on Thursday.
If you are envisioning a giant map of the state of Arkansas magically coming to life and killing people, then that is just what the unaccountable killers want you to envision. Who held the needle, Fayetteville or Hot Springs? We don't know. All we know is that the men died from some anonymous, passively administered injections.

Further down in the article, however, we learn that "infirmary workers" rather than the legendary hooded executioners were the administrators of the death-dealing drugs. Capital punishment is thus downgraded to a medical procedure carried out by health care personnel.

Since it is impossible to totally avoid naming any names, the Times does finally inform us that one Judge Kristine Baker of the US District Court issued a brief stay of execution for the second inmate, given that the first inmate reportedly "gulped for air" prior to his passive demise. But apparently satisfied that the gulping fell within normal pathological parameters, the judge allowed the second round of injections to proceed as planned.

To give a sentimental gloss to the brutality, we get the standard juicy details of what each man ate for his final meal.  "Arkansas" was humane enough to give them whatever they wanted. Fortunately, unlike the 1992 case in which the brain-damaged Ricky Ray Rector decided to save his dessert "for later" after Governor Bill Clinton gave the final OK for his execution, both men apparently ate every bite of their final repasts, which included Butterfingers and Mountain Dews. Real Southern hospitality was extended by "Arkansas."

Arkansas politicians and their henchmen are on an accelerated execution schedule, given that the companies manufacturing the heavy duty tranquillizers used off-label as chemical homicide agents are now refusing to sell them for such terrible purposes. As a result, the pencil-pushing executioners are in a hurry to use the medication they already have in stock, before it expires. Heaven forbid that they administer an expired drug to their patients. It might have gone stale or even toxic. It might have become too dangerous to use. And that would be so inhumane. 

You have to look far and wide to find any news account which assigns human agency to the executions. Creede Newton at The Intercept breaks out of the mold through his article about the Arkansas medical director being in danger of losing his license for procuring the capital punishment drugs under false therapeutic pretenses. Unfortunately, we are not made privy to Doctor Death's actual name, because "Arkansas" has a law protecting the identities of such people. It's telling that the lawsuit against the good doctor was not filed by any human rights group, but by the pharmaceutical distribution company being asked, by fraudulent means, to provide the drug in question.

Even reporters scoring tickets to the Arkansas executions on Monday night were not truly allowed to witness them. They were given the censored version.  As Jacob Rosenberg writes in his own harrowing account, spectators were barred from viewing the human placement of the IV delivering the drugs. A black curtain separated them from the procedure, and the audio feed was also frequently cut off throughout the death process.
... Even as a witness,  I could not say if Marcel Williams felt pain or what happened during his death by the midazolam three-drug protocol.

The process is designed to feed me details as a viewer that can give me the appearance of peaceful passing.  But this will not have been the experience of Marcel Williams. By the time the potassium chloride, which stops the heart and can be excruciatingly painful, was administered, the protocol ensures that even if the prisoner felt pain I would not see it. The paralytic was in place.
Maybe we should change our exceptional nation's mottoes from E Pluribus Unum and In God We Trust to our own three-drug protocol: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Shattered": A Slog of a Reading Experience

 It's not until the end of their gossipy rehash of the doomed Democratic presidential campaign that the authors of Shattered finally get around to dishing out their biggest scoop.  RussiaGate was the brainchild of Hillary Clinton herself. Her campaign has never really ended at all, because it was just one subsidiary of the Clintons' vast financial and political global empire.

So once she got past the brief shock of "conceding gracefully" to Donald Trump, Clinton was back in campaign mode with a vengeance. Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen write:
On a phone call with a longtime friend a couple of days after the election, Hillary was much less accepting of her defeat. She put a fine point on the factors she believed cost her the presidency: the FBI (Comey), the KGB (the old name for Russia's intelligence service) and the KKK (the support Trump got from white nationalists.)....

"She wants to make sure all these narratives get spun the right way," this person said.

That strategy had been set within four hours of her concession speech.
 Clinton operatives got right to work in Brooklyn headquarters. "For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument."

And thus does Hillary's campaign as a sort of empress in exile continue. After a much-publicized sojourn in the woods designed for purposes of humanization, she has emerged as the face of Resistance,Inc. Still not learning the lesson of what happens to an anointed presidential candidate who abandons the working class, she's restricted her emergence only to those locales where the rich and famous gather. Her most recent event was, ironically enough, at a Tribeca Film Festival discussion about saving elephants.

I'm a person who can never quit a book once I'm past the midway point, so I spent much of the weekend reliving the depressing slog that was the Hillary Clinton coronation crusade. If you happen to enjoy reminiscing about the pettiness and backbiting and divide and conquer tactics of any office job you've ever held, then this book will truly resonate. Shattered has the same dull throbbing effect as discordant church bells echoing through the Slough of Despond.

  To get Hillary's minions to talk to them, Parnes and Allen promised each of them total protection and anonymity in order to elicit maximum invective and optimum dirt. The authors are quick to confess that on the numerous occasions when they purport to know what their sources were thinking, they mean that their sources actually told them what they were thinking. You'd think that stream-of-consciousness was a whole new literary device in nonfiction political writing.

If their thought-narrative explanation is true, then the gossipy sources of Shattered include not only the hired help, but such luminaries as Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Obama, for example, "thought" that Hillary looked sick and terrible at the Democratic National Convention. Bill "thought" that Donald Trump was lowlife scum for bringing Bill's female victims to one of the debates. Bill, alone out of all the clueless people who appear in Shattered, had bad vibes about his wife's chances from early on. He correctly thought, in several sentences and over many pages, that the election was going to be a repeat of Brexit. He comes across as one of the few intelligent people in this whole literary slog, as a matter of fact.

Hillary herself is directly outed as a source for the book via this passage:
'I'm no longer a candidate or public official,' she thought. I'm not going to be the leader of a party in the future. I want to exit with grace - and do it quickly.'
And we can assume that her next unspoken thought was to come out of the woods after the shortest possible decent interval in order to force an exhausted public to relive the campaign into eternity and beyond.

Shattered is being widely praised (and maligned, as the partisan case may be) as a scathing exposé of Hillary Clinton and her cadre of grasping sycophants. But the book only scratches the surface of the rot, delving as it does mainly into gossip and character attacks. There is no reporting on such dirty Party tricks as the herding of Vegas casino workers into one huge venue to force public bloc voting in the Nevada caucus, and the later purging of voter rolls in the New York primary. There's no reporting on the scheme to bypass campaign financing laws by directing her donors to contribute to state parties, which then rerouted the cash right back to her. The authors, who so ably burst the bubble in which the Democratic nominee and her campaign resided, themselves write from deep within the bubble of establishment Beltway journalism. Their previous book about Clinton's reign as Secretary of State, for example, was so fawning to powerful actors that it was considered "required reading" for Washington insiders.

No wonder that People on the Inside were so ready, willing and able to anonymously spill their deepest and nastiest guts and thoughts to this reporting duo. It must have helped immensely that co-author Jonathan Allen is a revolving door alumnus himself, swirling at various times between working for politicians and covering them as a Beltway journalist. At one point, he ran former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz's congressional PAC. Since DWS is treated harshly in this book - even her curly hair is witheringly mocked - I can only assume that the experience ended as badly for Allen as the experiences of many a Clinton operative given leave to speak off the record, in the spirit of operative solidarity.

And it does get nasty. Campaign Manager Robby Mook, for example, seems to have been universally disliked.

"He was more interested in "maintaining the castle than winning the war," an unnamed somebody groused.

And Mook wasted no time in neutralizing the worshipful founders and volunteers of the Ready for Hillary super PAC once their free services were no longer required. "As one Democratic insider familiar with Mook's thinking put it, 'When you're done with a condom, you throw it out.'"

Throughout the book, Hillary herself wobbles between two stereotypical roles: victim and bitch. Her heart really wasn't ever in it, we're told at the outset.The only reason she ran was because she thought nobody else in the party could win. Her big mistake was then to assign too many cooks to one curdling pot.

There were so many actors and so many servants that "Clintonworld looked like a traffic jam on a Venn diagram, with so many interlocking and concentric circles that it was next to impossible to determine who was in Hillary's ear."

She "had set up rival power centers everywhere. And no one had enough authority to make the others play nice. Nor was anyone empowered to both enforce Hillary's will and tell her when she was wrong without fear of reprisal."

As a further indication of their own Washington media insularity, Parnes and Allen dutifully toe the line in parroting the disdain which the establishment had and still has for Bernie Sanders and his supporters. He is once again stereotyped as an old coot with the cheap suits and the wild hair and the flailing arms. The phrase "pie in the sky" is the common descriptor of his campaign platform throughout the book. Just because they aim to tell the whole unvarnished truth about Hillary Clinton doesn't mean they want to do any favors for Bernie, whose fans are characterized throughout the volume as "dead enders" and "haters."

In the chapter "Feeling the Bern," the co-authors just can't resist indulging in the usual silly false equivalency. When you adhere like a tick to the extreme center, there can be no discernible difference between the radicals of the Tea Party and the radicals of Occupy Wall Street:
"They scapegoated different segments of society -- immigrants on the right and bankers on the left, for example." 
Yep, those poor Wall Street tycoons take just as much undeserved crap as a sub-minimum wage farm worker or restaurant line cook.

Allen and Parnes are also careful to disguise the lobbying career of Minyan Moore, one of Hillary's "Super Six" cabal of unpaid secret campaign overseers. While working for the campaign, Moore continued her employment with Dewey Square, a notorious astroturf operation responsible for crafting such sleazy initiatives as Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson's Fix the Debt initiative to cut Medicare and Social Security. The authors don't inform their readers about this fact, because generalized political corruption is not a part of their chosen narrative. Instead, they describe Dewey Square as a public service organization.

Once I got past the chapter on Bernie, I started to read with a more critical eye. It dawned on me that Parnes' and Allen's main self-assigned task was to critique a candidate who failed to protect the endangered Neoliberal Project for the benefit of the establishment. Hillary wasn't as suitably proficient as Barack Obama. She failed to co-opt the rabble. Once I received that epiphany - that the authors of Shattered have no beef with the actual oligarchic system -  their tell-all tome lost much of its muckraking luster for me. It became a slog, something to be gotten through.

This is not to say that are no masterful barbs and illuminating goodies to enjoy during the rehash of this memory lane trip through political hell. The following anecdote, about an August 2015 conference call in the wake of Hillary's private email server scandal, left me both laughing and wondering who to despise more: the Clintons, or their spineless careerist minions:
Hillary's severe, controlled voice crackled through the line first. It carried the sound of a disappointed teacher or mother delivering a lecture before a whipping. That back end was left to Bill, who lashed out with abandon. Eyes cast downward, stomachs turning - both from the scare tactics and from their own revulsion at being chastised for Hillary's failures - Hillary's talented and accomplished team of professionals and loyalists simply took it.... It was hard to tell what was worse -- getting hollered at by Bill or getting scolded by the stern and self-righteous Hillary. Neither was pleasant. 'You heard him,' she admonished 'Get it straight.''
It was an astonishing moment -- and one that would stick in the minds of Hillary's aides for the rest of the campaign -- for two reasons. First, Hillary was already inaccessible to most of her own staff, preferring to communicate through Abedin. So, a phone call featuring both Hillary and Bill was a real rarity. But more important, the scapegoating tone and tenor revealed that the Clintons were either living on another planet or at least having emotional and intellectual difficulty coming to terms with the reality that only Hillary was culpable and only Hillary could turn things around.
Her economic message wasn't getting through, her aides realized, because she hadn't told the truth to the public about her emails and she was under federal investigation.
From hippies scapegoating Wall Street tycoons to Hillary scapegoating the hired help: will the inhumanity never cease? As Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri is quoted as whining, "We (Clinton and her staff) aren't ever allowed to have nice things!"

Another surprise, for me at least, was the extreme and paranoid lengths to which both the Clinton and the Sanders camps went to ensure that the Philadelphia convention we saw on TV was totally different from what really went on in the Wells Fargo arena. A special "boiler room" was set up so that "every time a Bernie supporter raised an anti-Clinton sign, a whip team member in the convention hall could relay the message quickly to the boiler room. The team there would send a note to Bernie and Hillary aides on the floor, who would ask the person to take it down. The flash-speed communications network would turn out to be a major factor in transforming what was a tumultuous convention into a unified one on television."

Remember all the times the crowd began chanting "USA! USA!" at inappropriate times during Clinton's acceptance speech?  What many of us suspected at the time was all too true: it was an orchestrated performance to drown out the hecklers.

The tacit message in Shattered is that if the Democratic establishment wants to find successful candidates to keep the neoliberal dream alive, they'll have to be more like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama than Hillary. According to Parnes and Allen, this is where Hillary so abjectly failed:
She had to explain why the turn-back-the-clock promises of politicians like Sanders and Trump were empty and why voters' anger had to be converted to a commitment to policies that would bring their communities into the future. It was a bank shot compared to a vow to end trade and resurrect coal jobs. Bill was a much better explainer  than Hillary, but she had to do something to bridge the distance between what she thought these voters thought they wanted and what Hillary believed would be best for them."
She failed to convince the ignorant rabble about their overlords' core beneficence. She failed to convince enough of the people enough of the time to allow themselves to be co-opted in the service of elitism. She wasn't a genuine enough huckster.

And she had, and still has, the unmitigated gall to blame her failure on everyone but herself.

 "In her view, it was up to the people she paid to find the right message for her - a construction deeply at odds with the way Sanders and Trump built their campaigns around their own gut feelings about where to lead the country."

I give Shattered a solid C, with an additional "minus" for the stupid denigrating trope of Bernie Sanders acting out of the same pure gut feelings as Trump.

For all their clever repartee and their access to insiders both large and small, the real gutless wonders are Parnes and Allen. The underlying exposé of their book is that mainstream media functions largely as a protection racket. This book ultimately fails to hold anybody directly accountable for Donald Trump, least of all the media and Barack Obama and Trump himself. Like so many other explainers of its kind, it focuses on mistakes in "process" as it mind-numbingly accentuates the horse-race aspect of the presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, Obama's own political campaign continues. He was in Chicago today with the specific goal of inspiring the next generation of Barack and Michelle Obamas.

I can hardly wait for the slog through their $60 million twin memoirs.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Scandal Wrapped in a Smear Inside of a Calumny

 Why worry about World War III when the only fallout we have to fear is the politically radioactive detritus from the scandal known as RussiaGate? A fate even worse than massive death and destruction would be the tragic loss of public confidence in our benevolent Surveillance State.

So whispered a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee into the sympathetic ear of New Yorker columnist and CNN talking head Ryan Lizza.

In a delicate little convoluted pretzel of a story, Lizza strives in fine Orwellian fashion to obfuscate rather than to enlighten. As Donald Trump recklessly goads a cornered North Korean dictator into a nuclear confrontation while mindlessly bombing thousands of people to death throughout the greater Middle East, Lizza idiotically complains that "the most reckless lie" of Trump's entire career has been the one about the Obama wiretapping. It's even worse, apparently, than Trump's whopper about the American Armada encircling Korea even as the Carl Vinson chugged thousands of miles away in a completely opposite direction.

Were it not for Republican Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, making such political hay out of our patriotic spies just doing their normal thing and sweeping up and transcribing the international phone conversations of Trump associates, the future bright prospects of the great surveillance state would not now be in such danger. 

The fact that Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, was also just doing her normal national security thing by "unmasking" some of Trump's associates is not proof of a political conspiracy to damage Trump's candidacy. That is because when she unmasked them, she had no idea what she was looking for. Most of the names in the examined transcripts remain masked anyway.
It is now clear that the scandal was not Rice’s normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice’s unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal. Last week, CNN was the first to report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided “no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.”
Notice how Lizza glibly avoids any investigative journalistic effort of his own by ceding authority not only to both corporate political parties, but to his own war-hungry employer, CNN. If Republicans and Democrats have bipartisanly decreed that the Obama administration is innocent and the Trump administration is guilty, and establishment propaganda organ CNN then obediently reports their findings, all Lizza has to do is obediently re-report the approved reporting for maximum public acceptance.

But just to make doubly sure that his readers keep feeling as informed as it is possible to feel while flailing in the miasma of manufactured journalistic confusion, he next employs the old propaganda trick of using one anonymous source to confirm the findings of another anonymous source:
I spoke to two intelligence sources, one who read the entire binder of intercepts and one who was briefed on their contents. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” one source said. The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.
Lizza cleverly doesn't inform his readers whether it was the primary source or the secondary source who told him that there is no there there. I imagine that it would be very easy for an unnamed invisible source who wasn't actually there to honestly and conveniently assure our intrepid reporter that there was nothing there.

Now, we get into the real nitty-gritty nuclear fallout aspect of Lizza's piece: it's not the fact that the United State spies on every man, woman and child in the country, even the world, sucking up all our phone records and all our emails and all our Internet searches. It's the fact that the Republicans are reminding us of it, and wrenching us out of the our miasma of ignorance and blind compliance with the inexorable, largely unnoticed, and very bipartisan destruction of the Bill of Rights.
Nunes is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee because, in talking about the documents, he may have leaked classified information. But this is like getting Al Capone for tax evasion. The bigger scandal is the coördinated effort to use the American intelligence services to manufacture an excuse for Trump’s original tweet.
The intelligence source told me that he knows, “from talking to people in the intelligence community,” that “the White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled.’ They put out an all-points bulletin”—a call to sift through intelligence reports—“and said, ‘We need to find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower.’ And I’m telling you there is no way you get that from those transcripts, which are about as plain vanilla as can be.” (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)
Translation: everything the Surveillance State does is as pure and comforting as a dish of ice cream. Only Trump would find evil in an innocent dish of ice cream, or discern porn on prim little sheets of frosty white vellum.
 The fallout from Trump’s tweet could have grave consequences for national security. The law governing the N.S.A.’s collection of the content of communications of foreign targets is up for renewal this summer. Known as Section 702, part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it is perhaps the most important intelligence tool that America’s spy agencies have to gather information about potential terrorist attacks and about the intentions of regimes around the world. There are legitimate privacy concerns about allowing the N.S.A. to vacuum up such an enormous amount of communications. A report from 2014 by the Obama Administration’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board identified several areas that might be changed to increase the privacy protections for Americans, but the board also “found no evidence of intentional abuse” of the program.
 Remember, citizen-consumers, be afraid only of the things, like Russia, which they tell you to fear. Trump's stupid Tweets are far deadlier than any atomic weapon. You can only be safe as long as all your emails, all your phone records, and all your Internet searches can be vacuumed up by government bureaucrats for future reference.  Although they abuse your privacy rights on a constant basis, their intentions remain as pure and as sweet as a dish of all-natural vanilla ice cream.

What is really scary to the establishment is that those annoying "questions are being raised" by politicians who refuse to loyally adhere to the extreme center. The surveillance state is having its own privacy severely damaged, and it's all Trump's fault:
Some American intelligence officials are now concerned that Trump and Nunes’s wild claims about intercepts and Rice have made Section 702 look like a rogue program that can be easily abused for political purposes. The intelligence source said, “In defense of the President, Devin Nunes and some other partisans have created a huge political problem by casting doubt, in the service of Donald Trump, on these intercepts.” Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, a leading critic of Section 702, has been using the episode to rally libertarians. He recently tweeted, “Smoking gun found! Obama pal and noted dissembler Susan Rice said to have been spying on Trump campaign.” Democratic critics of Section 702 have also been emboldened. “Section 702 of FISA allows warrantless searches on Americans. That’s unconstitutional & must be changed,” Representative Ted Lieu, the Democrat from California, tweeted last month, during the controversy.
So, when it is correctly pointed out that all of our emails, phone records and Internet searches are being swept up, it becomes a "wild accusation" - especially if this fact is pointed out for purposes of craven political gain. This unmasking unfairly politicizes the intelligence agencies, which actually exist at the funding pleasure and unquestioning behest of the politicians both in the White House and in Congress. The intelligence community wants to have its cake and ice cream, and eat them too.
“They manufactured a scandal to distract from a serious investigation,” Eric Swalwell, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, who would not comment on the N.S.A. documents, said. “And the collateral damage is the public confidence in our intelligence community when we need to count on them now more than ever. Considering the threats we are facing right now from North Korea and ISIS, it’s a pretty dangerous time to undermine the I.C.’s credibility to make a five-yard sack in the Russia investigation.”
There's nothing worse than a silly distraction from a serious distraction. This silliness distracts the tired, the hungry, the jobless from what really counts: Russia, and voting for a Democratic Party whose sole remaining purpose is to serve its pathologically rich cadre of donors. It's a distraction from fighting a terrorist group which itself was manufactured by the same "intelligence community" which is now pretending to do battle with it. But pointing this out would be a huge distraction from Ryan Lizza's convoluted little propaganda piece. 

Williams Hughes Mearns sums up the mainstream media's distractionary angst quite nicely in the famous ditty Antagonish (originally and aptly part of a play called Psyco-ed.)
Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish, I wish he'd go away...

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn't see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don't you come back any more
Go away, go away, and please don't slam the door.
Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who was not there
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he'd go away.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Moveable Feast: Open Thread/Links

Happy Easter, Passover, or whatever resurrection or exodus holiday you may or may not be celebrating during this glorious American tax season.

On that note, this weekend's official Trump resistance movement event doesn't  involve protesting our looming entry into World War III, or the dropping of the biggest bomb in the history of bellicosity. Rather, we're urged to restrict ourselves to kvetching about Donald Trump's tax returns.  Without the release of his tax returns, we might remain woefully ignorant of the fact that he is a global kleptocrat whose sojourn in the White House was only made possible by the worst bombed-out presidential candidate in the history of dynastic politics.

Let's hope that Trump is not watching TV or reading newspapers this weekend. Because if he sees the pictures of Kim Jong-un watching his glorious parade of tanks and goose-stepping soldiers as he taunts Trump to Bring It On, our president might get upset and jealous enough to "act." Remember, Trump very much wanted a North Korean-style parade at his inauguration. So when a hysterical nut like Lil Kim orders the USA to end its "dangerous hysteria" you kind of get the inkling that the world is in deep, deep trouble.

On that note, the remaining Lucky Seven death row inmates in Arkansas must be breathing a sigh of relief knowing that at least they won't die any more prematurely than the average American prole or collaterally damaged human being in the permanent war zone. It turns out that state officials had tried to pull a fast one. When ordering their lethal execution drugs, they failed to inform the lethal drug manufacturer that its potent sleep medication was to be used for purposes of endless sleep. Plus, it's bad public relations to kill too many people too enthusiastically all in the same week. One must always deploy one's state repression privileges responsibly. 

On that note, prison officials should probably take a propaganda tip from the good folks at the exclusive Choate Rosemary Hall boarding school. After many decades of sexual abuse of students by teachers, the school is patting itself on the back for sending out "proactive" emails confessing to the crimes. Since Choate caters to the scions of the ruling class, the New York Times has also done its due deference, first burying the blockbuster story on Page A19, and subsequently downgrading rape in high places to a poorly managed breach of etiquette:
A disturbing picture emerges of top school officials treating recurring cases of sexual impropriety as isolated personnel problems, not as a structural issue that should have been managed comprehensively. The same administrators handled situations on an individual basis, over and over again.
This is the same newspaper which persisted for years in euphemising the CIA's torture orgies as an "enhanced interrogation" program.

Oh brave new world, that has such peeps in it. 

Update: This just arrived in my in-box from Mar-A-Lago:
You’re invited to the Official Trump Store Easter sale!

Shop now to save 25% OFF Trump gear with Promo Code: BUNNY. 
Take 25% off with promo code: BUNNY

Fill up your Easter basket with exclusive merchandise from the Trump store.
This spectacular Easter deal will not last long, so act now to claim your 25% OFF anything in the store.
Show your support for President Trump and stock up on iconic pieces for your closet.

P.S. - Don’t forget to use Promo Code: BUNNY at checkout to take 25% OFF your order.
  What - are these "iconic pieces" not worthy of proud display right out in the open? Must my exclusively spectaculuh Trump coffee mugs and medallions be forever doomed to gather dust in a dark closet along with the PTSD-inducing high school yearbooks? Is Trump really so cruel as to want to give the millions of kids already terrified of the closet monster something more tangible to cry about?

We can only hope that Trump is so busy running his empire and building his brand and getting off on fluffy pink bunnies and overdone steaks that he'll forget all about terror-bombing a few more hundred or thousand people over this Easter weekend, just for the Viagra-fueled fun of it.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Clump in the White House

(Clinton + Trump = Clump) 

I'm not hallucinating, and neither are you. The Donald Trump presidency is swiftly manifesting itself as almost the exact same presidency that Hillary Clinton envisioned for herself.  Same war-hungry neocon generals, same neoliberal Wall Street bankers, and of course, the same kind of palace intrigues and unforced errors for which the Clintons have been so rightly famous throughout their own political careers.

Politics is entertainment, in case you hadn't noticed. Unless, of course, you're one of those people on the receiving end of the Tomahawk missiles, the Predator drones and most recently, the Mother of All Bombs. Only in America could the biggest piece of weaponry ever dropped upon the earth be described in such grotesque maternal terms.

The populism of Trump is (surprise!) turning out to be just as fake as the populism of the Clintons. As the late Christopher Hitchens noted in his scathing book about the Clintons (Nobody Left to Lie To) these politicians achieved their initial success by co-opting regular people in the service of the ruling class elite. Hillary's problem during the past election cycle was that she was a stale, boring, wonkish liar, while Donald was the more colorful and amusing fibber.

And so far, Trump hasn't been forced to pay for his lies because he has utterly succeeded in normalizing the political flip-flop and making ignorance a virtue. Nobody expects him to tell the truth about anything, and so the constant fact-checking of his statements is getting more tedious and exhausting by the day. Stop the presses! Trump lied again! In relentlessly informing his fans about something they didn't already know, the fact-checkers only keep proving what stuck-up snobbish sticklers they are.

We exceptional bootstrapping Americans are far too enthralled by the dogma that the end always justifies the means, and that nothing succeeds like success, to really take Trump to task.  As Jeremy Peters writes in the New York Times:
No matter how many people try to tell them they have been played for fools, much to their annoyance, that is not a conclusion they seem likely to reach before Mr. Trump even marks his 100th day in office.
They knew all along that they were not voting for a man with concrete convictions. And they continue to see that lack of rigidity — his preference for the transactional over the dogmatic — as a quality they want in a chief executive.
So while much of the country sees the swerving on policy as another sign of White House dysfunction, many conservatives shrug it off as esoteric jockeying over foreign alliances, currency manipulation and economic policy. They are focused more, they say, on what they see as a litany of recent victories.
With Trump's unabashed love of international violence and sanctioned terrorism now on full display, the phony opposition party known as the Democrats hasn't even got a feeble leg to stand on. There's been nary a peep from the Clintonites on his ever more lethal rampages, including the dropping of "Mother" and a whole series of other utterly unintentional bombings of hundreds (if not thousands) of innocent bystanders in his first hundred days in power.

But if the Democratic leaders are having any second thoughts about their own recklessness, goading Trump into adopting a more bellicose policy in response to their accusations of Kremlin puppetry, they're keeping such thoughts to themselves. RussiaGate is still a thing, albeit a less discussed thing this week, now that Trump is going into full neocon overdrive.

Trump is Obama's third term, Bush's (both pere and fils) third term, Clinton's third term and Reagan's third term. He is continuity of government of, by and for the richest of the rich. He combines the very worst that the duopolistic enterprise has to offer to us, and he offers it with a vicious relish so lacking in his more circumspect predecessors. He doesn't lie and pander with their glibness and charm and folksiness. He wears his heart, clogged and shriveled as it probably is, right on his sleeve.

Nepotism? He's proud of it. As Jack Shafer points out in Politico, Hillary Clinton would have established Bill as co-president by now, with Ivanka's BFF Chelsea doing the honors as first lady. And without the ethical baggage and the grandstanding of permanent congressional investigations, where would our reality show of a democracy be?
Remember how Trump’s surrogates said during the campaign that a Clinton presidency would be too hobbled by the ongoing FBI investigation to govern effectively? Instead, we’ve gotten a Trump presidency tainted by an FBI investigation of several of his top campaign aides. During the campaign, Trump beat on Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen with the baseball-bat fury of Joey Ramone. “To a certain extent, I think she should be ashamed of herself,” he said. That statement is now inoperative, replaced with the “I like her, I respect her” statement he gave to the Wall Street Journal. Reappointing her to the Fed is not outside the realm of possibility.
Ivanka's and Jared's personal lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, who opined that there is nothing at all shady about the Kushners' use of public office for private gain, is an alumnus of the Clinton administration. In her capacity as Bill's deputy attorney general, she became embroiled in the Fannie Mae accounting scandal and also wrote the memo segregating intelligence agencies from one another. That decision, which disallowed the sharing of information among the agencies, led to the series of unfortunate miscommunication events which culminated in the 9/11 attacks. The War on Terror has continued raking in the cash for the plutocrats ever since.

 Gorelick later acted as chief counsel for BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill. And besides imparting lucrative legal advice to Jared and Ivanka, she also sits on the boards of Amazon and the giant weapons manufacturer and major polluter known as United Technologies.

You obviously don't hear establishment Democrats lambasting Trump for stuffing the White House with the same Goldman Sachs people who paid the Clintons their hundreds of millions of dollars in speaking fees. That's because Wall Street is the living continuity of government so essential to the ruling class racketeers who run this country as they fund and control both political parties.

Gary Cohn, the Democratic Goldman Sachs COO in charge of Trump's National Economics Council, is another testament to the fact that despite what the entertainment media dubs The Wild West Wing, everything is running very smoothly, exactly as it is meant to run in a feudal society. Slate's Daniel Gross explains:
The National Economic Council was created during the first year of the Clinton administration. Its inaugural director was Robert Rubin, the co-head of Goldman Sachs who was an influential early Clinton adviser. After two years at NEC, Rubin was promoted to Treasury Secretary. Rubin’s partner in running Goldman in the 1990s was Stephen Friedman. Friedman left the firm in 1994 but in 2002 was named to succeed Larry Lindsey as—yup—director of President George W. Bush’s National Economic Council.
Friedman and Rubin were succeeded at the helm of Goldman by Jon Corzine, who went on to run successfully for U.S. Senate and then governor after he was ousted in 1998. Corzine was replaced by Henry Paulson, who had been the chief operating officer. And when Paulson’s time at chief executive at Goldman came to an end, he skipped the NEC and went directly to the Treasury Department.
The Clintons and the Trumps are both New York limousine liberal dynasties residing in the same physical core of the Plutonomy.  Therefore, the core accusation in RussiaGate -- that Trump is beholden to, and financially embroiled with, Putin's oligarchs -- is simply a partisan red herring. High-end New York real estate could not exist without the global oligarchy. Luxury buildings and apartments in Manhattan are just like unregulated banks: they're a place for obscenely rich and tax-averse tycoons to park their billions. The purchasers of these luxury digs rarely if ever even set foot in them, even as the homeless population in the Wealth Disparity Capital unconscionably increases.

Joel Kotkin writes in "The New Class Conflict", 
Fifty percent of buyers in some urban areas are foreigners seeking pied-a-terre in what is increasingly an exclusive global club. This concentration of wealth begins to change everything in the political realm as well. In New York (...) the finances of the country's largest municipality are now entirely at the mercy of a few thousand very rich taxpayers....

Increasingly, in this era of Oligarchs, certain cities are not so much centers for upward mobility as preferred locales for the successful, talented and wealthy.... The rich cluster in the center and the poor serve them from the dreary periphery.
It should come as no big shock, therefore, that Russian oligarchs have invested some of their ill-gotten gains in Trump properties and hidden their ownership beneath limited liability companies for the tax-evading purposes which our corporate-owned Congress have deemed perfectly normal and legal. Rare would be the real estate tycoon or associate who avoided interacting with them.

As I wrote during the Clump campaign last year, Hillary and Donald actually have more in common than either they, or the corporate media profiting so intensely from the electoral charade, were willing to publicly admit. They did not, for example, heed my suggestion to hold one of their debates at their mutual homestead, located at 1209 Orange Street in Wilmington, Delaware.  This is just one of the domestic havens where both Hillary and Donald hide their excess cash from the tax collector.

Something invaded our democracy, all right, and the invasion was born within our own national boundaries. These boundaries are, of course, perfectly porous. Capital flows freely, but human bodies do not.

There's never been a more apt bipartisan time for Congress to change the name of Washington, D.C. to Wall Street-Upon-Potomac.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Desperately Seeking Squealers

The premier think tank of the Democratic Party is asking that the public supply it with damaging information on Donald Trump's associates, and associates of his associates of his associates.

Apparently losing patience with the slow investigation into RussiaGate by America's 17 official interconnected police and spy agencies, as well as the slugs of Congress, the Center for American Progress (CAP) blasted out its anxious email this week to all the aspiring amateur snitches of Joe McCarthy's America:

Uncovering the Truth About Trump and Russia

Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election was an unprecedented attack on American democracy and a deliberate attempt to place Donald Trump in the White House. Given Trump’s obedience to Vladimir Putin and the deep ties between his advisers and the Kremlin, Russia’s actions are a significant and ongoing cause for concern.
The Moscow Project is dedicated to investigating the extent, nature, and purpose of Trump’s ties to the Kremlin—but we need your help. By scouring the internet to investigate allegations, donating to fund our research, or sharing our findings on Twitter and Facebook, you can help uncover the truth about Trump and Russia.
You can also confidentially email the Moscow Project