Thursday, August 31, 2017

GOP Stupidly Asks If We Want Socialized Healthcare

For some reason, the National Republican Campaign Committee sent me a "flash poll" the other day, asking "Do You Want a Government Takeover of Healthcare, Yes or No?" (They obviously don't read this blog.)

The first time I pressed Yes, all I got was one of those annoying error messages, the bland equivalent of a "Danger Danger, Will Robinson, Does Not Compute!" warning siren. Nevertheless, I persisted, and after a couple more tries, I finally got my "vote" counted. (I think.) I know, I know, it was nothing but a ham-fisted push poll to get more money and gin up more resentment by Have-Not white people against Have-Not brown and black people. But nasty person that I am, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to mess even briefly with their race-baiting algorithms. It felt therapeutic for all of five minutes.

Naturally, they want to warn their base that the corporate Democratic Party has been completely taken over by Bernie Sanders in the dead of night, and that his Medicare for All bill has a fantastic chance of passing, and that the luxuriously appointed medical suites of the rich are about to turn into Siberian forced labor camps.

"The leftist dream is gaining more traction with the Democratic Party every day. Even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer agrees it should be on the table. We need to let these extreme leftist Democrats like Schumer and Bernie know that Americans refuse to support a single payer health system," the email hilariously warned.

Just a few points:

-The Republicans need the Democrats as much as the Democrats need the Republicans. GOP hyperbole against such Wall Street extremists as Schumer saves the Democrats themselves the trouble of bashing the real left wing, which does not naturally reside within the Democratic Party.

-Something being "on the table" is politician-speak for an appetizer made out of such fake ingredients as thin air.

-The majority of Americans do, in fact, now support single payer government health coverage. Of course, the GOP's own twisted definition of "American" is the white, the whole white, and nothing but the white - or more specifically, the party's wealthy clients and donors. They're banking on the base being willing to starve or die for the plutocracy rather than see black and brown people score a trip to the doctor. "Let them eat resentment" just about sums up the Republican platform.

-Although Bernie Sanders has yet to release his long-promised Medicare for All legislation, the word is that it will be far less inclusive than John Conyers's HR 676, which now has the support ("on the table") of the majority of House Democrats. 

According to Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Plan, Sanders is instead going the Barack Obama sellout route by offering to compromise with the privateers and the profiteers as a totally unnecessary and weak starting point in reform negotiations. Sanders is walking the tenuous line between serving the citizens of this country and serving his Senate colleagues in the exclusive millionaires' club to which they all belong.

Flowers writes:
When it comes to the healthcare crisis, the smallest incremental step is National Improved Medicare for All. That will create the system and the cost savings needed to provide universal comprehensive coverage. Throughout history, every movement for social transformation has been told that it is asking for too much. When the single payer movement is told that it must compromise, that is no different. The movement is demanding a proven solution to the healthcare crisis, and anything less will not work.
You can write to Sanders here. With any luck and with any human decency, he will take your concerns and your pain a lot more seriously than the Republicans and the Wall Street Democrats currently do. And keep in mind, of course, that he is no populist savior; like all politicians, he is a mere instrument and a public servant. All the billionaire donations in the world do not translate into actual votes, as Hillary Clinton could very ruefully tell him.

With so many people now taking matters into their own hands and offering their own powerful helping hands in flood-ravaged Houston, what better time than now to build on this newfound solidarity? People of all ethnicities and skin colors and classes are proving that we're all in this together, that we can sink or we can swim together, and that class and race have always been mutually intertwined.

Before the catastrophic flooding, we'd already been taking the first important step: a widespread recognition, in the wake of Charlottesville, of the racist/oppressive/militaristic American past and how it has evolved seamlessly into the neo-feudal present of the most extreme wealth inequality in modern history.

We have a choice: we can use this crisis to become a more humane country, or we can allow the privateers and the profiteers to use it as just one more excuse to crush people into ever deeper levels of submission.

Carpe diem.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Taken At the Flood

The waters in Texas were still rising, and thousands of people were still stranded or worse, but it's never too soon for the disaster capitalists of the plutonomy to begin licking their chops over all the potential windfall profits they can take from the thousand-year storm known as Harvey.

If New Orleans could privatize its entire public school system after Hurricane Katrina, just imagine the possibilities for the fifth largest metro area in the country. Houston, which boomed on climate-changing oil in the first place, can surely reinvent itself once the flood waters subside and all the disposable people - like the homeless, the old, the immigrant, and the unemployed - are but misty water-colored memories. 

Look on the bright side, advise the financiers and economists who dished on the future of south Texas to the New York Times. This epic flood is just a glitch in the never-ending march of progress!  Sure, there will be a temporary hiatus in Houston's economic "recovery" - dividends for the rich gained in large part from an orgy of pollution, deregulation policies not conducive to public safety, and ever-stagnating wages.
 The Houston metropolitan area, the nation’s fifth largest, accounted for 2.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product as of 2015, and that figure is almost certainly higher today. A good amount of that comes from trade: Texas accounts for about half of petroleum and gas exports, along with about a fifth of chemical exports.
But what about the billions of dollars in property damage and the fact that many of the storm's victims lack flood insurance? Not to worry. People have short memories, and pretty soon they'll be flocking back to town, escaping the cold winters and looking to buy or rent still relatively affordable homes.  An added Texas bonus: no state income tax. And Houston has no pesky zoning rules. 
But if other disasters are a guide, much of that lost potential will be diverted for now and made up later, through money spent on cleanup and rebuilding.
Moreover, factories and refineries are rarely running at full capacity, and as they come back online they can ramp up production to meet the backlogs that accrue. “Businesses have stockpiles and the ability to catch up,” said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, a consulting firm.
This is rule number one of market neoliberalism: never let a serious crisis go to waste.
 As the floodwaters drain away and Texas shifts to clean-up mode, followed by a mammoth effort to replace what was lost, the daily modes of commerce will shift but not stop. Disruptions, displacement and property damage are quickly followed by federal aid and insurance checks.
 This is rule number two of neoliberalism: whenever things go terribly, terribly wrong because policy-makers have put profits over people, always look forward and never look back. No matter what happens to the little people, it will always be the best of all possible worlds for the obscenely rich. All they care about is the deluge of money sure to come their way as they suck up billions in dollars in no-bid government contracts to, when they're not lining their own pockets, construct even more shoddy dwellings at no personal cost to themselves and at much cost to the poor people left behind.

Disasters are just so cool:
In fact, when natural disasters do show up in economic data it is usually as a small growth bump a few months after the storm, when rebuilding accelerates and insurance checks are cut.
One might think that the scale of the damage would give future home buyers some pause. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, for instance, investors and homeowners had big questions about property values in coastal New York and New Jersey.
But thanks to boosterism by the likes of unindicted BridgeGate Governor Chris Christie, and the cornering of the property market by private equity sharks, real estate prices are booming. And it's during those manufactured, periodic crises known as government shutdowns that the vultures can really swoop down. When the beaches are closed to the public because of alleged lack of public funds, the rich and the powerful can still enjoy them with impunity. That's just what Chris Christie and his clan did this past July. These people no longer even care what the public thinks of them, of course, because their approval ratings were in the toilet to begin with. 

The predatory capitalist class is just taking a tip from Shakespeare's Brutus, who cynically remarked back in the day:There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

Or, as one financial wag put it about a millennium later in Citigroup's infamous study of the New Plutonomy:  "A rising tide lifts all yachts." 

To my readers in Texas: all my good wishes go out to you. This feels very personal to me. I lived for an extended period in Houston and have made frequent visits to Austin and the Hill Country, where I also have family. We went through some pretty severe record flooding here in the Hudson Valley of New York in 2011, in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene. But it was not even remotely close to what Texans are experiencing. I can only imagine what you must be going through.

To everybody else: please consider making a donation to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, or the charity of your choice.(see comments below.)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Your Moment of Zinn

We're in a self-congratulatory orgy of sacred cow-tipping these days, measuring our anti-racism by how many Confederate statues we can protest, remove, or even topple over in the dead of night.

 It's gotten so intense that chief White House economic adviser Gary Cohn had even drafted a resignation letter over Boss Trump's Charlottesville remarks praising white supremacy. But then, of course, Cohn's financial patriotism got the better of him, and he tore it up. The mega-banker's dream of one day chairing the Federal Reserve tipped the delicate moral scales in favor of continuing to serve in Trump's administration. At least Cohn won't have to face the onerous task of removing any confederate icons from United States currency. For now, anyway, George Washington is safe, despite that mouthful of teeth extracted from his own slaves. 

Unlike Trump, this was a president who knew when to keep his trap shut.

Meanwhile,  New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has gone the anti-confederacy brigade one better and boldly suggested doing away with the statue of Christopher Columbus. This promptly brought out the crowds of protesters to Columbus Circle over the weekend. The anti-Columbus movement had been brewing for quite a while anyway. After several centuries, word has finally gotten out that Chris was part of an invasion of looting, rape, torture and slaughter of Arawaks in the Caribbean. So he didn't really discover America. Plus, America was not really America until some imperialists decided to name it after an adventurer named Amerigo Vespucci.

In June, the New Paltz, NY (my hometown) Board of Education passed a unanimous resolution which banishes Columbus Day outright. Instead, the second Monday in October will hereby be known as Indigenous People's Day, and the curriculum will be revised between then and Thanksgiving to include history from the perspective of the aboriginal people.

More and more thoughtful people seem to be getting their Zinn on. That would be the late Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States. He tipped over any number of sacred American cows, beginning aptly enough with Christopher Columbus's orgy of brutalism, and continuing with the extermination of the natives, the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans, and the non-stop wars which have always made this country so exceptional. Absent any prosecution of Wall Street criminals and war criminals, at least we're finally getting a small measure of truth and reconciliation after Charlottesville opened up so many eyes.

Howard Zinn
  If Donald Trump serves any positive purpose at all, it is in yanking the mask right off all kinds of institutional ugliness and watching the refined perpetrators of the institutional ugliness squirm helplessly in the glare of his sputtering spotlight.

  People are actually starting to notice that the great American military machine is every bit as racist as Trump himself. One of the main gates of the United States Military Academy in New York is named after star cadet and later superintendant, General Robert E. Lee, as is one of the post's main thoroughfares.  General George Armstrong Custer, another grad and exterminator of native Americans, is buried on its hallowed grounds, as is General Winfield Scott, who oversaw the deadly expulsion of the Cherokees before going on to invade Mexico in another one of our nearly forgotten wars of bloody aggression. Thus far, nobody is suggesting we exhume their bodies and drive stakes through their hearts, although there is some movement toward symbolically removing all symbolic traces of Lee from the premises. He, after all, was a traitor, and the others are still considered patriots. Anyway, there is some doubt that the body buried at West Point is even Custer's.

The American military loves to put on a show of equal opportunity and multicultural propaganda these days. Since there is no more draft, recruits must be gleaned from the ranks of historically oppressed people, including from among the Amerindian descendants of Christopher Columbus's victims. 

But while the draft was still on and memories of protesters burning flags and draft cards in defiance of the Vietnam War were still fresh, the Academy saw fit in 1975 to invite Ayn Rand, queen of the extreme right, to their hallowed West Point grounds. She was there to give a philosophical pep talk talk to a very enthusiastic corps of cadets. The audience may well have included such future disgraced Iraq/Afghanistan war generals as David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal (Class of 1976). Their classmate, the future National Security Director and unindicted perjurer Keith Alexander, is today credited with being the mastermind of America's unconstitutional global spying enterprise. He might have listened to Ayn Rand too. There were also a goodly number of budding CEOs in likely attendance, such as Procter and Gamble's Bob McDonald ('75) who would later become Barack Obama's Veterans Affairs director and infamously insist that wait times for VA medical appointments are not important. We don't exactly know who attended, because Ayn Rand's toxic talk is another historical fact that they'd just as soon the public forgot all about.

As a matter of fact, the full transcript and recording of her schmooze-fest with the military-industrial complex aspirants wouldn't surface until 40 years, and several wars and invasions, later. And for good reason: she told them that the military genocide of native Americans had been necessary and right, because they were "savages." And then they applauded her.

In the question-and-answer session, one unidentified cadet told Rand that he was about to ask her a liberal question from a point of view outside the norm of acceptable military discourse:
At the risk of stating an unpopular view, when you were speaking of America, I couldn’t help but think of the cultural genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Black men in this country, and the relocation of Japanese-Americans during World War II. How do you account for all of this in your view of America?
After blaming slavery, racism and internment camps on liberals, Rand went on:
If you are born in a magnificent country which you don’t know what to do with, you believe that it is a property right; it is not. And, since the Indians did not have any property rights—they didn’t have the concept of property; they didn’t even have a settled, society, they were predominantly nomadic tribes; they were a primitive tribal culture, if you want to call it that—if so, they didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using.
It would be wrong to attack any country which does respect—or try, for that matter, to respect—individual rights, because if they do, you are an aggressor and you are morally wrong to attack them. But if a country does not protect rights—if a given tribe is the slave of its own tribal chief—why should you respect the rights they do not have?
And therein lies the exceptional American doctrine of Manifest Destiny, which eventually morphed into the Bush Doctrine of preemptive aggression justified by the target country's disrespect of human rights - as selectively defined by Ayn Rand, that is.

Her nasty speech was greeted with "thunderous applause" from the once and future military/corporate American elite, a group which, for all intents and purposes, now runs the White House for useful idiot and military high school bad boy Donald J. Trump. Under their orders, he has "reluctantly" ordered several thousand more troops to the Graveyard of Empires, Afghanistan. He has gladly gone along to get along and is thereby rapidly achieving parity with his predecessors' global body counts and war crimes, which include the dropping of white phosphorus bombs on civilians in Syria.

Trump might be a national embarrassment for his unfettered tongue, but he is certainly no anomaly. This summer's fad of the confederate statue "debate" is just one more smokescreen to protect ingrained and ongoing All-American racist policies as well as the identities of both perpetrators and complicit enablers.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Trump Takes a Dump

Sorely lacking both cajones and intellectual stamina, Donald Trump had to cower behind a hurricane to embrace a bigot after his own heart.

Only when safely esconced in his Camp David retreat on a Friday night - when every professional scold worth his or her oversize paycheck was off the air  - did Trump officially pardon former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.

We knew this was coming. The president said as much at his Phoenix rally this week, complaining that he couldn't make his grandiose announcement just yet because "they" had put the kibosh on it. He presumably meant the military junta and the Wall Street executives who are undemocratically running the country in his permanent mental and moral absence.

  So Trump not only dumped on Latinos during the traditional Friday night news dump beloved of all presidents before him, he actually increased the chances that the people running the show wouldn't much notice or even care. That's because the show this weekend is all about another vicious monster, named Harvey, making his landfall in Texas. Still, Trump couldn't leave well enough alone. He had to dig his dull knife in further and twist it by passive-aggressively allowing the immigrant checkpoints on evacuation routes to remain open. This decision both slowed down evacuations for everybody, and ensured that at least some "illegals" would stay behind in harm's way. The only choice offered to the undocumented was between drowning, and being arrested and deported.

The checkpoints will close only when actual highways close. Checkpoints will remain open on all roads not in the direct path of the storm, officials said.

Trump and Arpaio and all their loyal fans must be so proud of themselves. Hopefully, they won't drown in their own tears of joy or worse yet, choke on their spasms of maniacal wind.

Arpaio gained national notoriety by racially targeting people of Hispanic descent and building one of the most inhumane county jails in modern history. He housed inmates in tents in the broiling heat, served them rotten inedible food and humiliated men by forcing them to wear pink underwear. After years of getting away with it, he finally was convicted of criminal contempt last month for his refusal to obey a court order to stop his racial profiling. He had not yet been sentenced when Trump gleefully pardoned him.

But Trump still wasn't done dumping. He also chose the looming hurricane as the most optimal time to officially ban transgender people from joining the military.

He will, however, still allow undocumented immigrants to fight and die for the American imperium as the only fast track to citizenship yet available to them. Trump would never allow his xenophobic principles to stand in the way of endless profits for the perpetual war machine.

Of course, if these immigrant soldiers are unlucky enough to suffer a traumatic brain injury or PTSD during their tours of duty, and subsequently get into trouble with the law when they return home, they can still be deported in a New York minute.

Furthermore, the Pentagon announced plans last month to administer "enhanced screenings" and monitoring to more than 4,000 naturalized troops upon their returns home in order to ensure that they have not become "radicalized" during their military training and service.

The Trump administration has also tightened the screws on new immigrant recruits by delaying their final orders after sign-up and thus opening them up to deportation proceedings in the interim. According to the Washington Post, about a thousand of these recruits have already seen their visas expire as they await their deployment orders.

Trump is nothing if not a consummate bait-and-switch operator. And the military itself has long been in the business of holding out the carrots of citizenship, education, a steady paycheck and free medical care to its desperate recruits from all lower classes from all countries before wielding any number of their heavy sticks - not least of which is permanent physical disability or death.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Thoughts on Charlottesville

The alt-right hate groups who caused so much terror, death and destruction in Charlottesville over the weekend are horrible enough. And then there's the extreme center's castigation of what they derisively and falsely call their "alt-left" counterparts.

White supremacists shouting anti-black, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic slogans had converged to protest the imminent removal of a statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee on the grounds of the Virginia university founded by slave owner Thomas Jefferson. They were confronted by democratic socialists, anarchists and other social justice groups who'd traveled to the quiet college town to show solidarity and bear witness. 

There has to be a reason that police stood by and let the two groups battle it out in the streets before they finally intervened. It was to give the TV audience watching at home the opportunity to see that "both sides do it." Lookee here, folks, socialists are the same thuggish thing as fascists! So before one young woman got killed and many others injured by a road-raged young neo-Nazi, the violence was dutifully portrayed as a  "clash" between two equally unruly groups. If an alt-right man threw a punch, and a leftist defended him or herself, it was caught on camera so that both could be chided for resorting to violence. Maybe they would just cancel each other out in the eyes of the great moral majority, and go home so that the proper anti-Trump resistance of the Democratic-Neocon alliance could get on with the more seemly outrage and virtue-signalling. 

Although centrist criticism of the leftist counter-protesters has now become suitably muted in light of the fact that one of them - a white female Bernie Sanders supporter, no less - was actually killed, the liberal punditocracy had been saying the exact same things which they are now criticizing the shocking Donald Trump for saying: that "many sides" act egregiously.

Right before Saturday's terror attack, corporate Democratic groups were actually goading young leftists, mocking them as probably too cowardly and basement-bound to ever don a pink pussy hat and join the astroturfed Clintonoid "resistance" movement against Trump. Writes Shuja Haider of Jacobin:
The morning before the rally, Mieke Eoyang, vice president of the National Security Program at centrist think tank Third Way, tweeted, “If the Bernie Bros wanted to make a show of force on behalf of progressive values, Saturday in Charlottesville would be a good time.”
Neera Tanden, president of liberal think tank Center for American Progress, turned disdainfully to her left later that day. “We have actual fascists marching with torches. Maybe everyone on the progressive side could focus on the enemies of progress in front of us,” she tweeted. “We’re ready for you to join us Neera,” one young activist responded. Tanden’s response was to ask him to condemn “those on the alt left who want to join with the fascists.”
If it had been Hillary Clinton supporters who were attacked by a Nazi sympathizer with a vehicular weapon, I think it's a good bet that their biographies would be cause celebre for a massive outpouring of corporate news coverage and fundraising appeals. But the New York Times, to name just one, never even mentioned in its bio-piece about the murdered Heather Heyer that she had been a Sanders supporter. It doesn't fit their prescribed identity politics Narrative. As a matter of fact, in a separate Tweet, Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg remarked that "the hard left seem as hate-filled as the alt-right."

Meanwhile, down at the more staid Netroots Nation's annual convention, which wound up over the weekend, the agenda was The Russian Infiltration of Our Democracy™️. The prescribed resistance at the Atlanta meeting was not against fascism, but against any and all criticisms of the Democratic Party's Russophobic propaganda. If I were a conspiracy buff, I might even suspect that the NSA and the CIA have infiltrated what used to be an independent group of progressive activists and bloggers. From Politico: 
The question of alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia looms especially large here. In the hallways and on side panels, activists and organizers are resisting the guidance of party leaders who worry about overplaying the Russia issue at the expense of others that may matter more to voters. The message from the grass roots? We’re not going to stop talking about President Donald Trump and Russia.
“Not only is it a false choice, it’s a really limited choice,” said Democracy for America Executive Director Charles Chamberlain of the common refrain that Democratic candidates and groups ought to focus on issues like health care rather than the investigations. “I get it when people are frustrated when they feel like all they’re hearing is, ‘Russia, Russia, Russia…[but] it actually isn’t a distraction: It’s actually critical for our democracy.”
Chamberlain wasted no time, therefore, sending out an email blast in which he used Donald Trump's remarks about Charlottesville as the perfect fund-raising hook. How quickly Russia is forgotten! Now we should give this Democratic veal pen group money to show how united we are in (artificially narrow) righteous indignation against Trump's failure to call out white supremacists. It is absolutely critical for the Democratic Party to co-opt the same events that it deliberately chose to ignore in favor of Russia, Russia, Russia. (Not least because their backfiring pro-Clinton propaganda has seemingly infected so many "grassroots" minds to the point of no return.)

Hate and righteous anger are being falsely equated by far more sources than just the odious Donald Trump. As usual, the establishment is bursting its seams with its own, glibber versions of the same old platitudinous jingoistic boilerplate. (Love Trumps Hate; This Is Not Who America Is; Let the Healing Begin; Thoughts and Prayers; War Is Peace, etc.)

That being said, the emboldened, no-hoods-needed neo-Nazi movement is absolutely being aided and abetted by Trump's dangerous rhetoric, more bullhorn than the usual right-wing dog whistle. He is simply using the resentments of bigoted young white men the same way he is using the plights of the coal miners and the veterans and the fragmented labor unions: to further cement his own power. An administration composed of Wall Street bankers, bloodthirsty generals and fascist ideologues is his dangerous way of triangulating against traditional institutions, not least of which are the United States Congress and the entire federal court system. The courts have thus far balked at his unconstitutional directives and desires, the Congress not so much. So where there's gridlock, there's at least a little hope left for what is still left of our democracy.

Meanwhile, membership in the Democratic Socialists of America is skyrocketing. As a result, there are already worrying signs of infiltration by establishment Democrats, who'd also tried to co-opt the Occupy movement before the camps were torn apart by Democratic mayors, and the solidarity splintered, and the co-optation rendered moot.

While supporting such measures as universal health care and standing up to Trump-inspired fascism, there is, tellingly, nothing on the DSA website about resisting American wars and imperialism. 

And what is the American military's aiding and abetting of multinationals high on capitalistic crack but fascism? What are the bombings and occupations of faraway countries and their darker-skinned people anything but racism?


Note to readers: I'll be away, so few to no postings in the next two weeks. I'll still be checking in regularly to moderate and publish your comments.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sounds, Furies, and Nothing-Burgers

Just hours after publishing my previous post on the media going crazy over the dearth of news coming out of Trump's New Jersey golf club, he obligingly made them even crazier by seeming to threaten a nuclear attack on North Korea. Or, as he colorfully put it, "fire and fury like the world has never seen." That would presumably include Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it definitely surpasses the Mother of All Bombs which he recently dropped on some old CIA tunnels in Afghanistan.

Trump apparently believes mainstream news reports hinting that North Korea already possesses full nuclear capability, which it does not. He should really be more careful about all the news he consumes on CNN, which is going even crazier than usual ginning up the fear and paranoia in its viewing audience.  According to the latest polls, more than half of Americans now believe that a preemptive attack on North Korea would be just fine and dandy.

Propaganda absolutely works. Never underestimate was passes for intelligence in generous chunks of the consuming population, a large sub-chunk of whom don't even know where the Korean peninsula is on the map. Even so, 72% of those questioned in a CBS poll declare themselves to be "uneasy" about the situation after watching the requisite approved programming. This programming includes breathless reporting from Hawaii, complete with nuclear warning siren soundtrack. CNN's Wolf Blitzer acted downright disappointed that officials from the American military base/possession of Guam are so sanguine in the face of North Korean threats. The island's governor seemed more interested in touting Guam's tourism industry than in ducking for cover. Come on over, the water's fine.*

If you were thinking that the press and the Democratic-Republican-Neocon alliance would be condemning outright Trump's inflammatory rhetoric, you would be thinking very wrong. The general consensus is that although The Donald indulged in verbal conduct unbecoming a president, he is nevertheless deserving of praise for bellicosity extremely becoming of the American Empire itself. Trump may be more neon-con artist than ideological neocon, but as long as he gets with the program, some of his harshest critics are suddenly letting bygones be bygones.

Relentless Trump critic Senator Lindsay Graham, for one, is suddenly mellowing out in near-ecstasy at the mere prospect of more American aggression, even if it would cause the deaths of many thousands, perhaps even millions, of people:
 Graham said the president’s remarks are in line with the only reasonable approach to dealing with the Kim regime and that many of those criticizing the president have had previous opportunities to deal with North Korea and failed to do so. A North Korea armed with a nuclear missile capable of striking the U.S. is unacceptable, Graham said, because “I don’t believe our missile defense systems are that good.” 

As such, Graham said the U.S. must be prepared to strike North Korea if it obtains such a weapon, a step some believe the Kim regime has already taken, or if it attacks the U.S. or its allies.
“His rhetoric yesterday, I think, is a change that is probably necessary. Everybody who spoke before him failed,” Graham told Hewitt. “Every smart person on TV who talks about what Trump should do, when it was their turn to deal with North Korea, they failed miserably. There’s no place for him to kick the can down the road.”
What philosopher Alain Badiou once wrote about the French right-wing populist Jean-Marie Le Pen applies just as well to the bloviating overreactions to Trump's bombast:
"He is like the hideous spectacle of what one is oneself, but taken to its extreme, or proclaimed rather than hidden.... Do these people really like deprived immigrants, workers, sick Africans, war fraternities and enthusiastic political adventures, that is, everything that stigmatizes their electoral nightmare? There is nothing to warrant believing it. Instead, just as they have always done, moderate profiteers veil the chronic violence that shelters them from the real world, and the vast anonymous masses with proclamations of love. But when someone declares, in all its rawness, the very thing their comfort presupposes, the thing they consent to in silence, or through lies, they cry out that enough is enough, and they won't have any part of it."
This is also true of the liberal outrage over Trump's admittedly cruel immigration policy. Despite his inflammatory rhetoric over "bad hombres" and the like, it was in fact the more debonair and glib Barack Obama who set a deportation record the likes of which the United States has never seen.

As reported in Politico this week, the deportation rate has slowed down under President Trump. 
From Feb. 1 to June 30, ICE officials removed 84,473 people — a rate of roughly 16,900 people per month. If deportations continue at the same clip until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, federal immigration officials will have removed fewer people than they did during even the slowest years of Barack Obama's presidency.
In fiscal year 2016, ICE removed 240,255 people from the country, a rate of more than 20,000 people per month.
In fiscal year 2012 — the peak year for deportations under Obama — the agency removed an average of roughly 34,000 people per month.
Obama knew when and how to keep his mouth shut about his real agenda and accomplishments (deportations, bombings, arms sales to despots, drone assassinations, corporate giveaways, sweetheart deals with Wall Street criminals) while still talking a good humanitarian game. Trump keeps braying out the inhumanity which has been the de facto policy of the United States all along. It makes the important people feel very uncomfortable, at least until the desired result - war, war, and more war - is achieved to everyone's comfort and complicit satisfaction. 

In other news, (H/T annenigma) the New York Times was forced to issue a correction to its blockbuster front page scoop that Trump might try to block the release of a scary "new" report on climate change. It turns out that the report in question has been available online for the past eight months.  As I wrote the other day, the newspaper weirdly slanted the story around pure speculation into the president's thought-processes. The report itself was just a hook all along, with its actual content achieving only secondary importance. Now we know why. It's not the climate change that they really care about - it's keeping the anti-Trump media hysteria alive. Facts not fitting the prescribed Narrative be damned.

The Times recently got rid of its entire copy-editing desk, which used to go over every story with a fine-tooth comb before publication, looking for errors in both fact and grammar. Oops.

*Update, 8/12: In a phone call with Guam's governor on Friday, Trump also touted the island's tourism industry, much to the pseudo-shock of CNN and the professional indignados of the media-political complex. What, they never heard of disaster capitalism before?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Might As Well Face It, They're Addicted to Trump

The New York Times is so obsessed with Donald Trump that it headlines a scary new report about climate change, not as a scary new report about climate change, but as about the clear and present danger which The Donald represents in possibly - possibly! - withholding his official imprimatur.

Frankly, given that any document bearing Trump's signature is suspect on its face, his failure to sign the new report might actually be a very good thing. It will get a lot more attention without his outsize paw-print obliterating the fine print. It'll be a lot like the lists of condemned books and films that the Catholic Church used to display in the vestibules. Before even hitting the holy water font, we'd make a beeline for the latest report. We were that eager to learn what was forbidden us, and then we'd promptly perform our own extended searches in the public library and in newspaper movie listings to gobble up all the forbidden fruit we would not otherwise have known about.

So what is it that Trump allegedly doesn't want us to see? Get out of our way!

Since the media apparently has forgotten how to cover any story without inserting a Donald Trump angle into it somewhere, anywhere, they are nevertheless persisting in doing him the honor of making everything all about him.

"Scientists Fear That Trump Will Dismiss Climate Change Report" blares the Times and most other news agencies today. Therefore, fear not the premature dying of yourselves, your children and the planet. Worry instead that Trump is so magical that his mighty Tweets will a) speed up the process; and b) convince everybody that they are not sweating more than usual during this Summer of Hell.

Who knew that such a doofus could be so powerful as to actually control our thoughts? Methinks the mainstream media doth protest too much, especially seeing as how the actual report has successfully eluded Trump's slimy grasp. So much for the totalitarian suppression of facts under this fascistic regime, which has thus far proven itself mighty inept in the barn door-closing department.

The media is really having a hard time of it now that Trump is vacationing so far away in exotic New Jersey. They're so used to being the supporting actors in his show that performing their anti-Trump soliloquies minus the comforting backdrop of the press briefing room is jarring. They're scrambling to insert Trump into stories which have nothing much to do with him or for that matter, with us. They assume that the American public is as addicted to Trump trivia and drama as they are.

Due to the lack of any real news emanating from Trump's golf club during these dog days of summer, the Times was even impelled to publish a piece in which four - four! - of its critics "weigh in" with snarky suggestions on what he should watch on TV during the next couple of weeks. (Hint: one of the shows centers around the obsessive-compulsive disorder of its protagonist. Pot/kettle much?)

The newspaper has also started publishing a regular feature curating all the late-night show jokes about the Trump show. I read in today's Times that last night one of the hosts quipped about Trump making a peace deal with some golf course gophers. I'm too lazy to go looking for the links link myself, so Google it if you must.

Times columnist David Brooks is so obsessed by Trump that he devoted a full column to how obsessed he is by Trump. At least it's funnier than the gopher story. An excerpt:
Now a lot of people are clearly still addicted to Trump. My Twitter feed is all him. Some people treat the Trump White House as the “Breaking Bad” serial drama they’ve been binge watching for six months. For some of us, Trump-bashing has become educated-class meth. We derive endless satisfaction from feeling morally superior to him — and as Leon Wieseltier put it, affirmation is the new sex.
According to a recent Harvard study (which somehow has also mysteriously escaped the all-powerful Trumpian clutches), the mainstream media devotes almost half of all its space and air time to Trump.

From Poynter:
The report portrays a media that was initially solicitous to Trump, later more critical and, now, distinctly combative. And, all along, he was fascinating and clearly a positive influence on ratings and circulation, especially on the digital side of elite newspapers.
"Our studies of 2016 presidential election coverage found that Trump received more news coverage than rival candidates during virtually every week of the campaign. The reason is clear enough. Trump is a journalist’s dream."
"Reporters are tuned to what’s new and different, better yet if it’s laced with controversy. Trump delivers that type of material by the shovel full. Trump is also good for business. News ratings were slumping until Trump entered the arena. Said one network executive, '[Trump] may not be good for America, but [he’s] damn good for [us].'"
The report serves as a window, too, onto the mentality of journalists — in ways that might ruffle Fox News and other exemplars of conservative conventional wisdom in portraying the "mainstream" press as driven by liberal bias.
"Although journalists are accused of having a liberal bias, their real bias is a preference for the negative."
Trump is so ridiculously easy to cover. All that reporters need to do is set their alarms to beat the competition to the early morning Tweets. Barring that, they can regularly stick their microphones right into his obliging face when they're not passively lapping up all the creamy leaks gushing from anonymous sources both within and without his administration. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the leaks were coming from The Donald himself. He has, after all, been known to impersonate his own publicists. 

If Trump is impeached, indicted or resigns, the media will be deprived of the best drug it ever took and the best drug it ever dealt. The crash and burn will be epic, especially when we all wake up to the early morning mug of the oh-so-sober and oh-so-dangerous Mike Pence.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Krugman: You Can Have Single Payer Health Care When You're Dead

Despite the palpable spike in my blood pressure whenever I read something by Paul Krugman, nevertheless I persisted.  And the ensuing pounding sensation in my ears this morning did not disappoint.

In a piece ironically titled "What's Next For Progressives?" the star New York Times pundit suggests that we stop being so damned unicorny and fight for universal pre-K as a worthy substitute for the impossible dream of maintaining our lives and livelihoods when we get sick or hurt.

Not that he personally has anything against a single payer health insurance system, of course. It's just that such a program would be too hard to sell to anti-government Deplorables.  It's just that a public program would put all those private insurance executives and claims adjusters and rent-seeking lobbyists out on the street. Or should I say, out on The Street?

No, it's simply that the desperate people insanely clamoring for a single payer program are unreasonably forcing Democratic politicians to take a litmus test for purity. Making candidates promise Medicare for All would essentially be inviting them to lie, and goodness knows, they don't want to also be faced with a lie detector test should they have the amazing good luck to win any more elections on their feeble incremental platforms.

On behalf of the Clinton-Obama wing of the party, Krugman chides:
So it’s time for a little pushback. A commitment to universal health coverage — bringing in the people currently falling through Obamacare’s cracks — should definitely be a litmus test. But single-payer, while it has many virtues, isn’t the only way to get there; it would be much harder politically than its advocates acknowledge; and there are more important priorities.
What could possibly be more important than life and good health, you may ask?

Why, saving the predatory insurance cartel which helped save Obamacare by altruistically pushing back against Republican repeal, of course! Blue Cross/Blue Shield saved the day for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Let's give three cheers for the oligarchy.

Also more important than the lives and well-being of 330 million American citizens is the convenience of those who currently obtain their insurance through their employers. No matter that a program like HR 676 would require no effort, automatically enrolling everybody, Krugman claims to be worried that transitioning from private to public would cause a massive outbreak of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among the current beneficiaries of for-profit coverage.
Moving to single-payer would mean taking away this coverage and imposing new taxes; to make it fly politically you’d have to convince most of these people both that they would save more in premiums than they pay in additional taxes, and that their new coverage would be just as good as the old.
This might in fact be true, but it would be one heck of a hard sell. Is this really where progressives want to spend their political capital?
As economist Robert Frank and others have demonstrated, this premiums vs. taxes argument doesn't hold water. But Krugman not only refuses outright to discuss the specifics, he dismisses them out of hand. He doesn't tell his readers that for one thing, administrative costs for a government run insurance program would only be two percent of the total budget, as opposed to the six percent costs of running a for-profit system. Further reducing costs would be the government's ability to negotiate lower prices for drugs and other services. And most important, a Medicare for All plan would be virtually repeal-proof. If everybody enjoyed the same benefits, the divide and conquer politics of resentment would be a thing of the past.

So Krugman pulls the old bait and switcheroo. If centrist Democrats (he calls them  "progressives" solely for purposes of propaganda) can't deliver on single payer health care, perhaps they'll get some political mileage from pretending to care about Our Children. Krugman has suddenly discovered that "we" neglect the nation's children. But rather than suggesting a living wage and/or guaranteed income for their parents, an increase in food assistance, a federal jobs program and subsidized housing, he tosses out the crumbs of pre-K and paid parental leave.

My published response:
Health care is either a basic human right, or it isn't.

Incremental improvements to, and more public funding of, our for-profit predatory health care delivery system are not going to cut it. A system in which some lucky people are insured and some are not is, in fact, the very antithesis of social and economic justice. It's health care apartheid.

Whatever happened to "justice delayed is justice denied?"

Krugman maintains that it would be "too hard" to educate people that paying premiums, via taxes, to a centralized government-run Medicare for All-type system is fairer and cheaper than paying premiums to private corporations whose CEOs make obscene salaries and whose wealthy investors suck profits from the pain of ordinary people.

Krugman is squandering an enormous opportunity from his popular perch in the op-ed pages to do some of this educating himself. Of course, his claim of "impossibility" is not true at all. According to most polls, between half and two-thirds of the American populace already support a single payer system.

So he should have titled this piece "What's Next For the Plutocrats Running the Place?" As established by Gilens and Page in their Princeton study, it's the rich donor class which despises the idea of true universal health care.

The only "progress" the billionaires care about is the progress of their own wealth and their own dynasties as the chasm between rich and poor grows wider by the day.

The rest of us can't wait. Single Payer or bust.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Let Them Eat Birth Control Pills

"Could we just have some birth control down here?" sniffed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's enormously wealthy and enormously tone-deaf schools chancellor in 2011 after touring an overcrowded building in one of New York City's poorest neighborhoods. Cathie Black was also so enormously unqualified for her job that Bloomberg was forced to assign another person to do her actual job for her. Unlike the oligarchs and family members in Trump's administration, however, she only lasted a couple of months before her mayoral pal reluctantly threw her under the proverbial limousine.

Especially with Donald Trump and the Republicans in power, it's getting increasingly hard out there for the good rich to get America's increasing numbers of poor women to stop breeding poor children - for whom both the good rich and the bad rich have been slashing food assistance, housing aid, subsidized child care, cash grants,  and other safety net programs over the past four decades.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof gives it another concern-trolling try anyway in his latest column about how "Americans" are letting mothers die at a greater rate than in all other civilized countries.  To find out why "we" are letting this happen, he parachuted down to Houston to hang out with the president-elect of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists..
My day with Dr. Hollier underscored that there’s one very simple and inexpensive starting point: Help women and girls avoid pregnancies they don’t want. “You can’t die from a pregnancy when you’re not pregnant,” Dr. Hollier noted.
Almost half of pregnancies in America are unintended. And almost one-third of American girls will become pregnant as teenagers. (Meanwhile, President Trump slashed $213 million in funding for teenage pregnancy prevention programs.)
The underlying message of Kristof's piece is that if you are poor and pregnant, you have done something wrong. You either got pregnant out of your own carelessness or laziness, or you got pregnant because Donald Trump cut off your birth control. Nowhere in his piece does he highlight an underpaid mother who gives birth to a planned, loved and much-wanted child.

 He does describe one Latina woman who went off the pill for just a few months as now "bulging" with a full-term pregnancy.

Because he chose Texas, maternal death capital of the nation, he naturally highlights his column with another high-risk mother with a Spanish surname who has already undergone three C-sections. Cue the xenophobic outrage, cue the Kristoffian scolding. We've got to keep those culture wars alive!
 Some of you readers are thinking this is outrageous irresponsibility. But we should also look at society’s irresponsibility in failing to help all women and girls get access to long-acting reversible contraceptives, or LARCs.
Kristof has just given cover to the actual policy-makers of our de facto oligarchy. Aside from the eminently detestable Trump and his cabal of dour misogynists, the names have been changed to protect the guilty. From "we" and "America" he shields all the other power players behind the anodyne "society." Kristof just cannot or will not admit that the rich political donor class running the place are loath to part with even a small part of their wealth to help take care of the less fortunate. And those less fortunate include every man, woman and child whose well-being plummeted even as the top One Percent scraped up 94% of all the wealth recovered since the 2008 economic collapse.

Kristof is pulling another Cathie Black. In essence, he writes that policy-makers should address the shameful maternal mortality rates in this country, not by protecting mothers and children throughout their lives, but by actually reducing the motherhood rate itself.

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell  (Phillips-Andover Prep/Princeton Legacy) puts it even more bluntly. Notice all the neoliberal buzzwords in just this one little paragraph:
But giving low-income women more control over their own fertility also promotes economic security, educational attainment, income mobility and more stable environments for American children. Not to mention deficit reduction (two-thirds of unplanned births are paid for by public insurance programs, which is why government spending on family planning has a high return on investment ); and abortion reduction (40 percent of unplanned pregnancies end in abortion).
  There's a name for this: Eugenics-Lite. True, it's a lot more nuanced and politically correct now than it was in the original movement's heyday in the 20s and 30s, when the poor, minorities and the "feeble-minded" were often sterilized against their will. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, herself had a love-hate relationship with the eugenics movement. To its credit, Planned Parenthood does not sugarcoat her history, even going so far as to condemn a speech she once gave to the Ku Klux Klan.

Although women are rarely sterilized against their will, it does still happen to incarcerated women, and was an especially widespread egregious practice in California prisons until quite recently.

Women lucky enough not to be in jail for the crime of being poor or addicted or indebted are urged instead to get with the program of "investing" in long-term contraceptives, the better for our betters to "empower" us. They proudly point to their own special selves as inspirations, for having had the good sense to make financial sacrifices, to control themselves and delay having their own children until they were very firmly established in their careers. Best of all, they carefully chose partners who are as intelligent and as well educated as they are. (For more on this philosophy, see my post, Pity the Poor Upper Middle Class).

In other words, if you're working your butt off at $9 an hour in front of a Walmart cash register, don't count on ever getting financially secure enough to become a mother. Even the "controversial" bill proffered by the most liberal Democrats for a $15 dollar minimum wage is not nearly enough for one person to live on, let alone a mom and child.

Today's liberal class is telling underemployed and underpaid women that they can feel safe and prosperous simply by getting an IUD inserted into their wombs. This is as insulting in its own smarmy way as sadistic Republicans telling us that we have no choices and no right to any medical care at all.

Here is my published response to Nicholas Kristof's column:

Nobody is more hateful or dangerous to women than a man worried about his own virility. Thus does Donald Trump anxiously monitor his testosterone levels at the same time he goes about demeaning women in a hundred different ways.

There's a big fat Texas redneck just beneath that Rogaine-enhanced New York comb-over. Why else pick a doofus like Rick Perry as energy secretary? Low-T anxiety, that's why. Don't mess with Trump and his ilk, ladies, or they'll find more ways to mess with you than cutting off your birth control.

The only part of the human life-span they care about is the nine months we spend in the womb. After that, it's hasta la vista to the Have-Nots.

Meanwhile, Kristof's antidote is unnecessarily weak. Rather than increased "access" to contraception and prenatal care, what we really need is Medicare for All, or single-payer health care. Sadistic states like Texas would then be helpless to turn back the clock, given that fully 100% of the population would be contributing beneficiaries.

Despite having some of the highest maternal (and infant) mortality rates in the "civilized" world, the US also has the highest per capita medical costs. The mortality rate is also rising for middle-aged women, while general life expectancy for Have-Nots who reach the age of 60 is less than it used to be.

Being pro-life must also include improved housing policy, living wage /guaranteed income, subsidized child care, enhanced food assistance, strong public education, and an end to our destructive wars.