Friday, September 29, 2017

Never Let a Serious Manufactured Crisis Go To Waste

While Trump is sending in the military, under cover of humanitarianism, to quell any incipient native unrest on Puerto Rico, his good-thinking critics in Congress are obsessively adhering to their own McCarthyite agenda.

The latest episode in RussiaGate has congress critters criticizing Twitter for, of all things, not taking the whole Cold War resurgence propaganda campaign seriously enough.

Senator Mark Warner, far from grousing to TV cameras that Puerto Rico is being criminally ignored by the White House, and that American citizens are being allowed to die for no good reason other than cruelty and greed, groused that he was very disappointed that Twitter had furnished his witch-hunting intelligence committee with only 200 accounts possibly linked to fake news trolls operating out of the Kremlin.

Never mind that when Senator Joe McCarthy claimed to have in his own pocket the names of 200 subversives acting for Russia right within the US government, people were shocked and awed enough that McCarthy didn't even have to produce his nonexistent list. Times have changed, though, and if you can't come up with at least a million Russian operatives who sneakily forced American voters to pick Trump over Hillary, then your whole hysterical plot is in danger of completely falling apart. From the New York Times:
The company’s  presentation “showed an enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions and again begs many more questions than they offered,” Mr. Warner said, adding, “Their response was frankly inadequate on every level.”
Translation: Has Twitter now, or has it ever been, an associate of Vladimir Putin or a member the Russian Federation?

Adam Schiff went on CNN Thursday to vaguely not answer any questions about what actual evidence he might have in his own pocket regarding Twitter malfeasance. He said that his House Intelligence Committee has "only scratched the surface" of the alleged massive meddling by Russia in our democracy. He's only had almost a year to scratch, and congressional fingernails grow more slowly than we might like. And then he was caught flat-footed when, as almost an afterthought, Wolf Blitzer asked him about the Puerto Rico catastrophe. Schiff, looking perplexed, said he "thinks" that Congress might be voting on a long-term relief bill next week... or maybe it's the week after that. He's not sure, because that's not his department. But he certainly seems sure that RussiaGate is far, far more important than thousands or even millions of American citizens sickening and dying right before our eyes on national TV.

From the front-page Times article, which is handily placed above the old news that American citizens are being callously allowed by their own government to sicken and die:
Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Republican chairman, would not answer questions about the briefing on Thursday, and his spokeswoman declined to comment. Mr. Warner said that he and Mr. Burr would hold a news conference as soon as next week to update the public on their investigation and try to draw attention to the continuing threat by foreign entities to the American political system.
It will be very hard to draw the attention of Americans who are faced,every single day of their lives, with such mundane threats as climate change catastrophes, lack of jobs and health care, institutionalized racism and police brutality, and rents that are too damned high. The propagandists of the Democratic/Neocon Alliance have taken on the very daunting task of making us believe in magic. Just as Trump is sending in the troops to Puerto Rico to stifle the dissent as they hand out the water bottles, our government is sending in the shock troops, trying to stifle dissent by tacitly accusing more and more people of treason. If you dare to complain about your lot in life, or to call out social and economic injustices, then you are unpatriotic and probably a dupe of the Russians. So it's best for everybody to shut up, and let American leaders get on with their gaslighting.

The modern congressional witch-hunters are very poor propagandists if they think that gullible Americans will be shocked that somebody in Russia spent a paltry $100,000 on some fake ads which proceeded, all by themselves, to magically propel Donald Trump to victory. Since this is chump change compared to the billion dollars that Hillary Clinton raised and spent on her own failed bid, it must mean that a crappy hundred thou has more clout than a billion smackeroos. This is what Mark Warner and Adam Schiff actually expect us, knowledge-impaired dupes that we are, to believe as they strive valiantly to reduce our quivering jelly brains into one great big puddle of fear and docility.

Perhaps they can get a friendly state attorney general to sue Twitter and take this all the way to the Supreme Court. After all, even the tiniest smattering of "possibly foreign" cheap fake ads is a subversive violation of the great Citizens United ruling, which equates money with speech. The very survival of all-American greed and capitalism is at stake.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Trump To Puerto Rico: Drop Dead

 **9/28 Updated below.

OK, so maybe that's a little harsh. But more likely, it's not harsh enough, given that Donald Trump's administration is actually in the business of hastening death - be it by attempting to yank health care from millions, reducing public housing assistance, destroying environmental protections, scoffing at banking regulations, and of course, waging endless wars and expanding drone strike assassinations to wherever on the globe "terrorist" Muslims live, breathe and drive. (not counting, of course, his good oil-rich friends in Saudi Arabia.)

Trump took a break from his racist tirades against professional football players, and has finally gotten around to hurling his white supremacist racism against Puerto Rico.  Following the All-American austerity Bible of foisting "personal responsibility" upon the poor for the benefit of the predatory billionaire class, the president, in a triple whammy of a Tweet, dutifully blames the American citizens of this island commonwealth for their own plight:
"Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble....

It's (sic) old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated, with billions of dollars....

owed to Wall Street and the banks, which, sadly must be dealt with. Food, water and medicine are top priorities - and doing well #Fema."
As bad as this sounds, it's really nothing worse than how United States leaders have treated Puerto Rico for the past 120 years of its unwanted status as a de facto United States colony plundered by banksters, sugar barons and drug-makers. At least Trump is not ordering the Air National Guard to bomb our fellow American citizens, as Harry Truman did back in 1950, for having the audacity to seek their independence from Uncle Sam. 

It was not until many decades later that the FBI, under a Freedom of Information Act demand, released files which revealed that about 100,000 Americans residing on that island had been systematically harassed, and often jailed and tortured and experimented on and killed, for participating in the nationalist movement. Naturally, US officials used the same tried and untrue and permanent excuse of "Russian meddling" to justify their own atrocities.

So in the long run, Donald Trump's clumsy bloviating against Puerto Rico might even have the silver lining of causing mainland Americans who hadn't even realized that this island is part of the United States to join forces against him, and to demand an immediate government response to a "natural" humanitarian catastrophe caused, in large part, by man-made climate change.

As the New York Times reports, 

A new poll of 2,200 adults by Morning Consult found that only 54 percent of Americans know that people born in Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, are U.S. citizens. (Because Puerto Rico is not a state, they do not vote in presidential elections, but they send one nonvoting representative to Congress.) This finding varied significantly by age and education. Only 37 percent of people ages 18 to 29 know people born in Puerto Rico are citizens, compared with 64 percent of those 65 or older. Similarly, 47 percent of Americans without a college degree know Puerto Ricans are Americans, compared with 72 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree and 66 percent of those with a postgraduate education.
Inaccurate beliefs on this question matter, because Americans often support cuts to foreign aid when asked to evaluate spending priorities. In our poll, support for additional aid was strongly associated with knowledge of the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans. More than 8 in 10 Americans who know Puerto Ricans are citizens support aid, compared with only 4 in 10 of those who do not.
Unlike the presidents before him, Trump is not even remotely trying to cover up the historical, institutional and corporate racism inherent in America's ongoing "War Against All Puerto Ricans." 

This disdain had heretofore been carefully hidden under the usual benevolent "white man's burden" kinds of platitudes. At least, unlike Teddy Roosevelt, Trump isn't ordering that only English be taught in this Spanish-speaking territory's schools.

A longtime protectionist ban (the Jones Act) on any non-US shipping to or from the island remains in place, meaning that emergency humanitarian aid from South America, Central America and Cuba, and all unaffected, or less-affected Caribbean locales, is still ridiculously outlawed, at great human cost. The Trump administration has denied a request for a waiver which would allow, among other things, swift lifesaving foreign shipments of gasoline to power the generators of Puerto Rico's sweltering hospitals.

That's outrageous, to put it very mildly. (**see update) But where
was all the liberal outrage in 2015/16, when officials from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (unelected American governing bodies) foisted a Greece-like austerity regimen upon Puerto Rico when it defaulted on a $58 million predatory loan repayment? The Obama White House was certainly very quick to nix the kind of bailout it had only recently gifted to the Wall Street banks which had plundered Puerto Rico in the first place.

At the same time that the big banks were underwriting subprime mortgages on the mainland and turning ("securitizing") them into fraudulent toxic financial instruments, they were going on an orgiastic Puerto Rican bond-buying spree, and foisting the paper on colluding hedge funds. When that all went kaput, the neoliberal solution was to reduce the federally mandated minimum wage for select groups of Puerto Rican Americans, to close public schools and fire teachers, to cut pension funds, to freeze the wages of public employees, to raise college tuition, to reduce Medicare and Medicaid payments to physicians (causing a mass exodus of doctors from the island to the mainland), and to cut food stamp stipends.

As World Bank economist Anne Krueger wrote at the time, cutting the too-generous-for-Puerto Ricans minimum wage of $7.25 makes perfect sense,  "because higher labor costs force Puerto Rican businesses to raise prices, making the island more expensive for tourists than neighboring Caribbean nations."

In other words, the dark-skinned Puerto Ricans should sacrifice and get paid less money to buy fewer expensive groceries so as to dissuade wealthy, cost-conscious (and white) tourists from vacationing instead in Jamaica or the Bahamas, where the dark-hued servants earn even smaller pittances. Moreover, Krueger went on, the $7.25 minimum wage also discourages multinationals from locating their businesses in Puerto Rico. After all, the big pharmaceutical companies have already left in a snit for much friendlier wage-slave countries.  This exodus, in turn, had the awful effect of "causing more workers to opt for collecting welfare over working." So let's cut their welfare assistance even more, to get them out of their hammocks of dependency and send them to work at a special introductory rate as low as $4.25 an hour.

Paul Krugman, resident New York Times liberal columnist and self-limited critic of only the GOP side of institutional white supremacy and austerity, dutifully approved:
  A recent report commissioned by the commonwealth’s government argues that its economy is hurt by sharing the U.S. minimum wage, which raises costs, and also by federal benefits that encourage adults to drop out of the work force. In principle these complaints could be right. In particular, even economists who support a higher U.S. minimum wage, myself included, generally agree that it could be a problem if set too high relative to productivity — and Puerto Rican productivity is far below mainland levels.
 Trump, in his own brash and insensitive way, is merely repeating what the poobahs of the Neoliberal Thought Collective have been dictating to the world for decades: it's the poor who must bear every burden and who must be blamed when they're not "productive" enough to fix the problems caused by the rich. Trump simply lacks the necessary finesse, the concern-trolling obfuscation, the colorblind beneficence of the modern colonial mindset as displayed by the Kruegers and the Krugmans and the Obamas of the world.

In spite of his own ignorant self, Donald Trump is turning out to be a damned good educator. 

  Therefore, may his ugly campaign of divide-and-conquer have the unintended consequence of actually uniting more people in both the pursuit of knowledge and in class/race solidarity.

*Update: Responding to criticism, Trump said he'll visit the island next Tuesday, scope it out, and continuously praise the strength and resiliency (neoliberal code for "you're so screwed") of the great Puerto Rican people. "It's very, very tough because it's an island... sitting in the middle of an ocean, and it's a big ocean, a really really big ocean," he insightfully prattled.

Meanwhile, CNN has amped up its coverage of the Puerto Rico catastrophe, with pundit Nia Malika Henderson even voicing the hope that since Trump watches a lot of cable news, perhaps he'll stop congratulating himself on the "great ratings" for his lackluster response long enough to allow his brain to soak up some of the awful human suffering going on outside his own self-involved little world.

We'll see. People are literally running out of time.

**Update 9/28: After initially refusing to waive the Jones Act lest the profits of the American shipping industry be reduced, Trump, through his Homeland Security secretary, reversed course and waived it after mounting pressure from the Puerto Rican governor and members of Congress, as well as from Defense Secretary James Mattis, who cited "national security" rather than humanitarianism as the prime reason. The war department obviously fears an outbreak of civic dissent on the island. This waiver will allow international disaster aid to flow to Puerto Rico. The most necessary commodities are water and fuel.

Meanwhile, long-term disaster assistance is still on hold, although Wall Street banks and hedge funds have "charitably" offered to strangle Puerto Ricans with even more debt in order to repair their destroyed electrical grid. Whatever happened to the quaint notion of the  Army Corps of Engineers performing this task as an ordinary public service? Maybe they're all tied up building infrastructure elsewhere, such as Graveyard of Empires, Afghanistan.

And here's the cruel catch (isn't there always a cruel catch?) The Jones Act waiver is cruelly limited to only 10 days. This means that emergency shipments from foreign countries will have precious little, if any, time to load up supplies and get to their destination. Trump obviously doesn't want his faux-concern for suffering Puerto Ricans to overcome his very real concern for American shipping magnates. This waiver is nothing but a one-way ticket to hell.

I hereby double down on my original title, Trump to Puerto Rico: Drop Dead!  

Monday, September 25, 2017

Commentariat Central: Red Scare, Healthscare

Facebook and its billionaire leaders are the latest casualties of the Russia Fake News scare campaign. CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg now admits that a relatively small portion of the millions of political ads on his social media platform have been financed and placed by Russian operatives. Congress is investigating, and the corporate media is pearl-clutching. It's great distracting publicity to help hide the all-American stuff, like the enhanced military aggression and the domestic kleptomania (as in the epic Equifax breach) going on right under our noses.

The ever-reliable Washington Post is doing its part to ramp up Red Scare Redux by publishing a "scoop" which has Barack Obama trying to rehabilitate his erstwhile "soft on Russia" reputation. The planted narrative is that the former president secretly took Zuckerberg aside last year to sternly and explicitly warn him that the Kremlin was infecting the Silicon Valley Empire, and by extension, America itself. The Facebook wunderkind then stubbornly sat on his little techie hands for months before reluctantly coming clean and admitting that he and his band of geniuses had been asleep at the switch.

He's taking one for the Military/Industrial Complex team. He can afford to.

(An interesting aside: Craig Timberg, one of the three reporters who wrote this story, was also the conduit for the nasty and anonymous "PropOrNot" smear campaign which blacklisted several left-leaning websites last year.)

The same media which has long elevated Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl "Lean In" Sandberg to godlike status because of their self-serving philanthrocapitalism and their awesome intellects and and their high-finance  political clout are ganging up and knocking them right back down again. Pundits acting in the interests of Russophobia have suddenly discovered that Facebook is pretty much a pyramid scheme whose shocking essential aim is to suck money from its billions of worldwide members as it callously monetizes social relationships. When you've been named as a Russian dupe, all bets are suddenly off, and the media/political Protection Racket is no longer willing to protect and celebrate your outsize capitalistic greed.

Overnight, you have become a dangerous secret agent, the latest scapegoat in the "Clinton Wuz Robbed" blame campaign.

Sheryl Sandberg, celebrated protegee of Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and reputedly Hillary's pick to lead the Treasury Department in the event of a Clinton Restoration, has agreed to keep a closer watch on things in the interests of the Democratic Party/Neocon Republican alliance. She has promised to guard the country from any further Putin damage, in the form of "divisive" racist and xenophobic ads aimed at the subset of racist and xenophobic Facebook clientele."It's on us," she said in yet another variation of the Mistakes Were Made Concerto in D Minor.

Mark Zuckerberg, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd warns, is a Dr. Frankenstein who has already created one Trump monster and who therefore must be stopped before he does even more damage:

 The idea of Mark Zuckerberg running for president was always sort of scary.
But now it’s really scary, given what we’ve discovered about the power of his little invention to warp democracy.
All these years, the 33-year-old founder of Facebook has been dismissive of the idea that social media and A.I. could be used for global domination — or even that they should be regulated....

 Days after Donald Trump pulled out his disorienting win, Zuckerberg told a tech conference that the contention that fake news had influenced the election was “a pretty crazy idea,” showing a “profound lack of empathy” toward Trump voters.
But all the while, the company was piling up the rubles and turning a blind eye as the Kremlin’s cyber hit men weaponized anti-Hillary bots on Facebook to sway the U.S. election. Russian agents also used Facebook and Twitter trolls, less successfully, to try to upend the French election.
Evidence? Who needs any stinkin' evidence to write a Russophobic newspaper column these days? French intelligence officials announced months ago that they found no evidence of Kremlin hacking in that country's recent election. Still, these corporate-sponsored legends always have a strange Goebbelsian way of infiltrating the great public hive-mind. The trick is in the relentless repetition.

Dowd's professed horror has not, however, gone so far as to remove her standard end-of-column blurb which urges readers to  "Join me on Facebook."

Now, with my recent sad history of getting my Times comments scrubbed on account of harshness, and because I am not a Facebook fan anyway, I was able to choose my words more carefully with the following published submission:
 I signed up for Facebook several years ago when the NYT made it a (wisely short-lived) requirement for verified commentary.

I gave FB the bare minimum personal info: my name and gender. And I never went back.

I know this might seem radical, but how about a mass FB boycott? Surely, there must be other ways to share gossip and baby photos. Since they're only interested in making money off us, and money is the only language that they seem to understand, maybe they'll really start perking up their cute little digital ears if their masses of human food suddenly disappear off their plates.

Quitting will be very hard, because FB (and Twitter) is a real physical addiction. Studies show that for every "like," or new follower, or re-tweet, your brain gets a nice little jolt of dopamine.

And besides the awful prospect of getting a President Zuckerberg, there's also the danger of the anti-fake news crusade careening off into some really reactionary Joe McCarthy territory. Google has already adjusted its search engine algorithm to suppress legitimate left-leaning sites as well as Nazi groups.

A shadowy group called "PropOrNot" lists some 200 purported Russia-influenced sites. Trouble is, along with the rabid hate blogs, they also included such well-regarded progressive sites as TruthOut and Truthdig as "possible" conduits of Kremlin agit-prop.

So just who gets to decide what's real, and what's fake?

We have to stay vigilant, against both fakery and against censorship.

Now, moving on from Russophobia to Single Payer Health Care phobia, a/k/a Healthscare.

Just as the Democrats and the "moderate" Republicans have joined forces to fight the TrumPutin Monster, so have they, in the interests of the Market God, colluded to do battle against both the Trumpcare and Berniecare health plans currently before Congress.

Just as the original Red Scare ostensibly aimed at Russia and the Communist Party of the USA really was a proxy fight against trade unionism and FDR's New Deal, so too is the current anti-Bernie "Socialist" Sanders campaign a fight against the popular resurgence of FDR's New Deal. No matter that Commie Pinkos no longer exist; because the right-wing oligarch Putin was an original KGB creation of the Commie Pinko system, American leaders must strive to co-opt manufactured Fear of the Other into a renewed public allegiance to American corporatism. Everybody has to be the bootstrapping entrepreneur of his or her own life. That's how it's supposed to work. No matter to them that it doesn't work at all, not for the vast majority of us.

So young fogey Times pundit Ross Douthat thinks, right along with his neoliberal colleague Paul Krugman, that we should just leave well enough (the profit-intensive Obamacare Kludge) alone: 
But sometimes, when a party has spent most of a year producing health care bills that excite almost nobody and that even the senators voting for them can’t effectively defend, it’s worth stepping back and thinking about our national priorities.
 This goes for both parties: not only the stepping-on-rakes Republicans, but the suddenly single-payer-dreaming Democrats. If Obamacare repeal is really dead for the year 2017, both left and right have a chance to shake their minds free of the health care debate and ask themselves: What are the biggest threats to the American Dream right now, to our unity and prosperity, our happiness and civic health?
While Krugman has lamely suggested that Congress pass a Universal Pre-K package as a worthy enough crumb to substitute for universal health coverage, Douthat is a lot bolder in his own smarminess:
There are better options for both parties. Republicans could get off the repeal-and-replace merry-go-round and actually try to govern on a version of the Trump agenda: With one hand, cut corporate taxes and slash regulations to spur growth; with the other, spend on infrastructure to boost blue-collar work, cut payroll taxes and increase the child tax credit, and push to reduce low-skilled immigration. Pay for some of it with caps on tax breaks, let paying for the rest wait for another day.
 Democrats, meanwhile, could let single-payer dreams wait (or just die) and think instead about spending that supports work and family directly. They could look at proposals for a larger earned-income tax credit, a family allowance, and let the “job guarantee” and “guaranteed basic income” factions fight things out. If they want to go big in 2020, they could run on wage subsidies and public works, not another disruptive health care vision.
   My published response:
Who woulda thunk it? Ross Douthat and Paul Krugman have essentially written the same column. To wit: "both sides" are just so annoyingly extreme. The Rabid Right wants poor people to just die quickly, while the Unicorny Left wants everybody to live to the ripest possible old age. Therefore, both sides are equally insane.

If 2020 does turn out to be a health care election, I say bring it on. Not that we have a true representative democracy or anything, but nearly 60 percent of us are totally on board with Medicare for All. That includes eight out of every 10 Democrats and four or five out of every 10 Republicans. So it's not only the D candidates who should worry about a dreaded "litmus test."

The ACA was originally a Republican plan, with the usual Republican ideology. It's not all-inclusive, and was never meant to be. It's based on competition, profit, shopping, and the demand that everybody have some "skin in the game." This comes in the form of outrageous premiums and co-pays, with the object being not to overuse one's insurance policy. The best thing about the ACA is its Medicaid expansion. 

 The Medicare for All plan just introduced in the Senate would even cover dentistry. Does Ross know that one reason poor young men can't get jobs is because of the poor state of their teeth? Just think what a great boost to the economy some basic preventive dental care would create.

If you want to have a healthy economy, the first thing you need is healthy people.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Power To the McCarthyite People

Former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power has countered Donald Trump's unhinged performance at the international confab this week with a very unhinged proposal of her own.

Taking a page from the paranoid Trump playbook, this liberal interventionist of the Obama administration penned a New York Times op-ed calling for the construction of a huge, amazing, beautiful wall like the world has never seen before. This wall would consist of stringent monitoring and censorship of whatever independent thought on the Internet that she and some shadow cohort deem to be "fake news" - a/k/a subversive. Suppression is needed, Power writes, because any and all criticism of the Military-Industrial Complex is obviously coming straight out of Russia. Vladimir Putin is secretly feasting upon what she calls "a ripe subset of the population."
While television remains the main source of news for most Americans, viewers today tend to select a network in line with their political preferences. Even more significantly, The Pew Research Center has found that two-thirds of Americans are getting at least some of their news through social media.
After the election, around 84 percent of Americans polled by Pew described themselves as at least somewhat confident in their ability to discern real news from fake. This confidence may be misplaced. (my bold.)
People not fortunate enough to be a member of Samantha Power's Class of Expert Thinkers are too stupid to distinguish proper, American, market-based neoliberal propaganda from other types of propaganda. Therefore she wants to take us back to a mythical time when all good citizens and true strictly adhered to mainstream media. She wants consumers to settle for whatever political discourse the corporate media chooses to slice, dice, marinate, cook up and boil down in a limited smorgasbord of pre-approved information.

We Americans are getting way too fat on way too much unregulated content. And Samantha Power wants our diets to be fair, balanced, vapid, and docility-provoking.

Here's the fake, untrue, paranoid and misleading paragraph in her op-ed that really got me chuckling:
During the Cold War, most Americans received their news and information via mediated platforms. Reporters and editors serving in the role of professional gatekeepers had almost full control over what appeared in the media. A foreign adversary seeking to reach American audiences did not have great options for bypassing these umpires, and Russian dezinformatsia rarely penetrated.
As a former "professional gatekeeper" on both newspapers and radio during the waning days of the Cold War and its aftermath, neither my job description nor that of my editors ever involved watching the wires and news releases coming across our desks for evidence of rampant infestations of dezinformatsia. Our main challenge was in mucking out whole boatloads of domestic political manure, which propagated in mountainous piles of real American press releases and flowed in endless streams of homegrown gobbledygook warning real Americans about such dangers as the Black Panthers lurking on every rooftop, and the Commie plot to sneak fluoride into our drinking water supply.

Revisionist History, Henry Kissinger-Style
  It's odd that, as such a credentialed stickler for academic rigor and especially as a former human rights journalist, Power also fails to mention that before, during,and throughout the Cold War, American newspapers, local radio stations and other independent media were thriving, proliferating and disseminating an almost unbelievable variety of opinion and news on a wide variety of topics. Even the smallest cities published both a morning and afternoon newspaper, and hosted a whole slew of radio stations which broadcast a veritable feast of locally produced spot news and discussion programs.

Maybe Henry Kissinger, that fawning Joe McCarthy critic (he could have done more to fight Communism!) and architect of not a few crimes against humanity himself, got her to revise her worldview when he picked her for a prize which he humbly named after himself.

Sure, the poobahs have always complained, loudly and vociferously, about content they don't like, and they've often threatened (and filed) libel suits. But rarely have they seriously demanded that a publication or a station be shut down, as they are now calling for such outlets as RT to be shut down. They took the First Amendment very literally "in those good old days".

It was with the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, which had mandated broadcasting in the public interest, when local news stations began to be subsumed into such consolidated megaliths as Clear Channel Communications, original home base of hate-monger Rush Limbaugh, among others. Local news went the way of the rotary phone, If there isn't Limbaugh to listen to for hours upon hours every day, there's always the canned feedback of the same top ten hits to keep you bland from Bangor to San Diego.

As John Light writes for the Bill Moyers blog, there are "857 channels, and there's nothing on." 

And it's getting worse during the Trump era. The planned takeover by the right-wing Sinclair family of the Tribune Company will result in one company controlling the local TV news beamed out to 70% of American households.

The waning days of the Cold War were also the waning days of the daily local newspaper. Vulture investors swooped down with a vengeance during the 70s recession, bought up all the financially struggling periodicals they could, downsized them, loaded them up with the debt, and then shuttered them for good at a windfall profit for themselves. If a newspaper was reasonably profitable, it stayed open under new cost-cutting management. I'd suggest that if Samantha Power was so worried about "foreign interference" in our media,  she would have first pointed her finger at Australian mogul Rupert Murdoch, who bought up a whole bunch of US newspapers and broadcast stations, including the last newspaper I ever worked for. As the soon-to-be de facto head of the Republican "Fox News" Party, he proceeded to close all our satellite bureaus and to fire most of the staff. We pre-existing reporters were not only too liberal and muck-rakish, Murdoch also thought that our modest but livable wages were way too high. Also, too many news stories were unfairly interfering with all those garish front page ads for booze and used cars.

So, Earth to Samantha: Russia has nothing to do with the demise of quality print and broadcast media, or the alleged dumbing down of Americans. Corporate greed on a global scale has done that. And the corporations, particularly those which profit mightily from the American war and surveillance state, want to ensure that only their important messages get through to us.


The excellent Moon of Alabama blog has a detail-rich, evidence-based  deconstruction of Powers's op-ed, which among its other blatant whoppers, maintains that the Soviets unconscionably infiltrated Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign. The Russians wanted Walter Mondale to win, so thank goodness we dodged that lethal bullet and Reagan went on to successfully entrench the neoliberal mantra - private competition and profit at great public cost - into people's ripe little minds. This, from a top adviser in the Obama administration! I can only surmise that Samantha must have just watched The Manchurian Candidate on TV to get her so inspired and so befuddled.

She despises the lefties, what's left of them, just as much as Joe McCarthy did back in the good old late 40s and early 50s. She wants America to hate again just as eagerly as Donald Trump does. But the special thing that centrist Democrats want us to hate, besides Russia, is a brand-new horrible something called divisiveness:
 In the United States, the vulnerability to foreign influence is exacerbated by divisions within the political establishment. During the Cold War, the larger struggle against communism created a mainstream consensus about what America stood for and against. Today, our society appears to be defined by a particularly vicious form of “partyism” affecting Democrats and Republicans alike. This divisive environment can make the media more susceptible to repeating and amplifying falsehoods.
More nonsense from a self-described historian. All you have to do is watch the Vietnam War documentary currently airing on PBS to remember that Lyndon Johnson demanded that the anti-war raging protests on American streets and on college campuses be exposed as a Kremlin plot. He was very sorry when even J. Edgar Hoover himself couldn't shut down the dissent and come up with evidence of Russian meddling. The war and its critics ended up destroying his presidency.

 The granddaddy of propaganda, Edward Bernays, noted 90 years ago that   divisiveness has always been as all-American as fear itself. The difference nowadays, as I noted above, is the stunning lack of diversity in our consolidated establishment media, now comprised of only six or eight major corporations. In 1928, when Bernays wrote, there were 22,128 specialty periodicals, with most of them enjoying circulations above 100,000 readers.

The diversity of these publications is evident at a glance. Yet they only faintly suggest the multitude of cleavages which exist in our society, and along which flow information and opinion carrying authority to the individual groups....
"Life" satirically expresses the idea in the reply which it represents an American as giving to the Britisher who praises this country for having no upper and lower classes or castes:
"Yeah, all we have is the Four Hundred, the White-Collar Men, Bootleggers, Wall Street Barons, Criminals, the D.A.R., the K.K.K., the Colonial Dames, the Masons, Kiwanis and Rotarians, the K. of C., the Elks, the Censors, the Cognoscenti, the Morons, Heroes like Lindy, the W.C.T.U., Politicians, Menckenites, the Booboisie, Immigrants, Broadcasters, and - the Rich and Poor."
So therefore, methinks that Samantha Power doth protest too much.

For a member of a political party which prides itself so much on "diversity," she certainly seems insanely intent upon limiting America's diverse citizenry to the preferences of one very small core of wealthy donors and Neocon warmongers.

And it was absolutely no surprise to me that the compliant New York Times chose not to allow reader comments to Samantha Powers's special pleading for even more censorship of dissenting, independent voices.

This country is ripe for revolution, or maybe it's already just a ripening corpse, but whatever it is, it's obviously consolidated all the Powers That Be into one massive blob of pulsating delusions.

Blob-o-Mania: Samantha Power Receiving Kissinger Diplomacy Prize

... And now streaming for your nostalgic Orwellian viewing pleasure over an acceptable Internet site, or if you're a real American, through your smart modern two-way TV set:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Darkly Dreaming Hillary

Losing the election to Donald Trump was her "dark midnight time of the soul," Hillary Clinton confided to rehab specialist Stephen Colbert on his CBS infotainment show. Fresh off his stint of normalizing and endearing professional liar Sean Spicer at the Emmy awards, Colbert was happy to do likewise for Clinton, whose marathon book tour is vying for attention with earthquakes, hurricanes and other disasters which always seem to unfairly threaten her campaigns.

She joked that she'll be sticking around unless people take up a huge collection to send her someplace really nice. She demurred from mentioning an actual price for her departure. And since she already is someplace really nice, "I'm not going anywhere."

Asked about her book, she said it was "horrible." (I am pretty sure that she meant that the grueling experience of writing the book was horrible, which just goes to show that Trump's own constant use of the words horrible - horrible! - is catching.)

Hillary called Trump's U.N. speech, which ridiculed the North Korean dictator as Rocket Man, "very dark and very dangerous," threatening as it did to eclipse her own dark night of the soul, not to mention causing an endless loop of the Elton John hit to play inside people's heads.

Trump's words, Hillary complained, were very crass and not befitting the designated purveyor of "respectful" American aggression and exceptionalism.  It's always best to use words which are diplomatic and nuanced and democracy-spreading, she said. Maybe something more in line with how the then-Secretary of State respectfully described to a worldwide TV audience (via another CBS interview) the death-by-sodomy of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, after the US bombing campaign and right before another mass US-inspired immigration crisis:

Perhaps that's what prompted her to dish to Colbert about Putin -  whom, she has absolutely no doubt, infiltrated the hive-mind of the American electorate and turned them into millions of zombie Trump-voters. Not only is Putin a giant pod creature from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he is an evil manspreader whose sexism only added to the free-floating scourge of misogyny which helped propel Trump to his Dark Victory. Hillary also bragged that she got Putin so agitated one time in his dacha, he went into a manspreading frenzy. "He takes me down the stairs... into his inner sanctum... and then asked if my husband would like to come." (on a polar bear-tagging junket, not the other kind of threesome) Oh, the Hillmanity.

With that, Colbert uncorked a bottle of the Chardonnay which Hillary - once again - jokingly admitted is her drug of choice for the dark days of her lives. It's what got her through the agony of blamespreading, and then demanding gobs of money for it.  

Meanwhile, Darkly Dangerous Donald just got insanely handed, with no strings attached, more than ten times the money he'd asked for to help him pursue his dream-quest to redundantly "totally destroy" tiny North Korea: a whopping three quarters of a trillion dollars. Also in Trump's beady little sights: Venezuela and Iran or wherever his pre-adolescent brain takes him next.

As the New York Times approvingly noted, 
 In a rare act of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, the Senate passed a $700 billion defense policy bill on Monday that sets forth a muscular vision of America as a global power, with a Pentagon budget that far exceeds what President Trump has asked for.
Senators voted 89-9 to approve the measure, known as the National Defense Authorization Act; the House has already adopted a similar version.
I love the way the mainstream media is always in awe of this allegedly "rare" bipartisanship. The two right wings of the war party always act in lockstep when it comes to funding unlimited state-sponsored death. It seems like only yesterday when they near-unanimously funded Johnson's war in Vietnam after the phony Gulf of Tonkin attack (which was glossed over in the current PBS series, incidentally.)

After calling ever-spreading war fever a refreshing anomaly, the Times steps in its own doo-doo by casually mentioning that, well, yeah, this is the 56th consecutive year that Congress has passed the defense bill with much eagerness and very little debate.

But this year was also something heartwarming and special, because the vote was also a "tribute" to Senate Hawk John McCain, who is bravely battling cancer, and who muscularly boasted on CNN last week that his treatment isn't costing him a dime, and who is once again the deciding vote on whether millions of other people will lost their own skimpy health insurance.

Giving a blank weapons check to a president whom establishment politicians and their media partners  purport to fear and loathe so much should call them out as hypocrites. But they are not about to expose themselves as such, especially since their message and "the narrative" is congealed within a handful of corporate-owned and controlled conglomerates. 

So, just in case you need a good laugh, or a good cry, or simply a rapidly-spreading distraction from other realities, here's the full clip of the Clinton/Colbert Russophobic schmooze-fest (naturally, when Colbert bloviates that "we" have to stop the horrible things going on in government under Trump, he doesn't mean that we have to stop the permanent state of war. The topic never even comes up, because militarism helps pay Colbert's salary, and it enriches the CBS stockholders way too much. As CBS honcho Les Moonves famously said, "Trump might not be good for America, but he's damned good for CBS!")

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

They Meant Well

I've watched the first two parts of Vietnam, the marathon Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary currently airing and streaming on PBS. Although the reviews have been mixed, I'm waiting to see the entire film before passing final judgment myself.

So far, my main quibble is that at the very beginning of the series, narrator Peter Coyote glibly informs us that the United States originally entered this misbegotten war with only the very best intentions.  My bullshit detector immediately went into high alert.

The footage somewhat confusingly zig-zags between French soldiers behaving badly in the 1950s and American soldiers behaving badly in the 1960s, and Vietnamese soldiers (essentially, all civilians) behaving badly throughout. This serves the purpose of spreading the blame around thinly and internationally, so that no one country or person can ever be held individually accountable for the colossal mess.

Interestingly enough, though, Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader of the north, is portrayed as initially being a good guy and friend of the CIA, but whose outreach to US presidents Truman and Eisenhower was either thwarted or ignored by the State Department, leading him straight into the arms of China. And oh, that Domino Effect, which some of the aging generals and spooks interviewed apparently adhere to right to this very day.

It was something of a jolt to be reminded that journalists in that era were given mostly free rein to document, in both words and pictures, countless bloody images of soldiers behaving both very nobly and very badly. It seems never to have occurred to American leaders to ban reporters from the killing fields, as is the case now. After Iraq and Afghanistan went sour, even film documentation of returning body bags to Joint Base Andrews was banned in an effort to shield American news-consumers from reality.  Our leaders were and still are trying to prevent a recurrence of the Vietnam Syndrome: the absolute loathing of most citizens for any more wars after so many graphic debacles on the nightly news. (The Neocons call this dreaded public aversion to state-sponsored blood and gore our "sickly inhibitions").

President John F. Kennedy is also portrayed as a good guy who only reluctantly sent secret US ground troops to Southeast Asia, and was absolutely appalled when, three weeks before his own assassination, the CIA orchestrated the assassination of South Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem and his secret police henchman. 

So this got me thinking about the whole Kennedy Camelot myth. And that, in turn, got me thinking about the modern re-creator of the Camelot myth, T.H. White, and his five-part The Once and Future King

A pacifist and conscientious objector during World War II, White wrote much of his opus during the rise and rule of European fascism. His overarching theme dovetails nicely with that of the Ken Burns film: They Meant Well. 

King Arthur surrounded himself with the righteous Knights of the Round Table just as Kennedy surrounded himself with the Best and the Brightest. Their goals were to fight Might with Right. And, as usually happens, the Righties ended up turning into the Mighties. And things began to fall apart, very badly.

I hadn't read White since I was a child, but I picked up the book again right after reading Helen Macdonald's excellent H Is For Hawk, which is a parallel tale of Macdonald dealing with her grief over the death of her father by taming a raptor, and fellow falconer White's struggling against his own sadistic demons  through writing about how hard it is for mankind to be a force for good.

Humans, he acerbically noted, are the only species on earth who kill each other for the sheer, stupid sport of it. 

This isn't to say that other animals can't be every bit as nasty as people. In one chapter in the first volume, The Sword in the Stone, we're regaled with Arthur's (the Wart's) life as an ant, and the insanely vicious rules of ant supremacy and ant oppression:
A. We are more numerous than they are, therefore we have a right to their mash.

B. They are more numerous than we are, therefore they are wickedly trying to steal our mash.

C. We are a mighty race and have a natural right to subjugate their puny one.

D. They are a mighty race and are unnaturally trying to subjugate our inoffensive one.

E. We must attack them in self-defense.

F. They are attacking us by defending themselves.

G. If we do not attack them today, they will attack us tomorrow.

H. In any case we are not attacking them at all. We are offering them incalculable benefits.
The "incalculable benefits" offered to recruits and draftees in the Vietnam War were actually put down on paper by latter-day Camelot Defense Secretary  Robert McNamara. This modern knight in shining armor thought it would be ultra-cool to sell the war to a whole multitude of ants (Project 100,000) in conjunction with LBJ's War on Poverty and the Great Society:
  "The poor of America... have not had the opportunity to earn their fair share of this nation's abundance, but they can be given the opportunity to serve in their country's defense and they can be given an opportunity to return to civilian life with skills and aptitudes which for them and their families will reverse the downward spiral of decay."
The best and brightest knights of the Pentagon derisively called them "the Moron Corps" - a disposable group of excess ants offered a one-way ticket to the ant farm. They checked in to the war, and due to their mental and physical disabilities, the few who did manage to escape certainly didn't return to any American dream. So it'll be interesting to see whether this largely forgotten tidbit of history will be included in the Ken Burns version of the Vietnam War. Dear Olde Camelot was the same myth in the '60s as it was in the equally mythical ancient Britain. And so it remains to this very day.

You might remember that the Arthurian legend ended with the banally evil Mordred usurping the throne and regressing the whole world to primordial mayhem just for the sheer, stupid fun of it. There are too many parallels to this cautionary tale in our modern world to even count.

As ever, we seem condemned to repeat (and revise) history, over and over and over again.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Don't Call Tony Blair a Poodle

The New York Times axed my published comment on today's Maureen Dowd column, which portrayed Iraq War co-manufacturer and former British P.M. Tony Blair and xenophobic UKIP leader Nigel Farage as the two opposite, but apparently coequal, sides of the "Brexit debate".

Although Blair has long been derided as "Bush's Poodle," it is apparently verboten for mere comment-writers to expand upon this apt metaphor as he strives to make some sort of political comeback, along with even more money. Or, maybe I was censored for mentioning the scary words "Jeremy Corbyn". Who really knows when it comes to the stqndards of the Times, which had no real qualms about quoting verbatim the foul-mouthed rant of that other Tony, name of Scaramucci.

Seeing as how Dowd's column was, for once, not devoted to either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, this piece doesn't seem to be gleaning the usual vast number of clicks or comments. As best as I can remember (didn't think to make a copy) this is what I wrote:

Nice scathing take-down of Tony Blair. Good to know that he remains properly paper-trained enough to adorn his office walls with his master's (this was a reference to George Bush, who remains a pal) bathroom kitsch. (many paintings were actually composed in the luxe Bush soaking tub or just outside the shower stall).
But why did Dowd make no attempt to contact the current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, before jetting off to Brussels to soak up the wit and wisdom of Nigel Farage?

Silly question, I know.  The corporate media views the leftist Corbyn much as it views Bernie Sanders: anathema, and a clear and present danger to the sensitive elites for whom "bipartisan" politics must always remain within an artificially narrow safe space. When Corbyn achieved his unexpected upset, Blair snarled to the desperate victims of decades of cruel austerity policies: "If your heart's with Corbyn, get a transplant!"

It could have been worse. Because despite the best efforts of neoliberal politicians spanning a 40-year straight line all the way from  Thatcher to May, the National Health Service still exists, and even the poorest heart patients are still able to avoid the debt collector should they ever require such drastic surgery.

 Blair insisting to Dowd that he abhors right-wing strongmen like Trump and Farage and Putin is really quite hilarious, given that he recently agreed with Donald Trump that the "left media" has criticized Trump unfairly.
 After all, it seems like only yesterday when Blair was partying hearty with Silvio Berlusconi, who on one memorable night lit up the Sardinian sky with fireworks spelling out "Viva Tony!"  
Bunga Bunga might be naught but a fond memory, but who's to say that there's not a Mar-a-Lago invite in Blair's future?  With any luck and groveling finesse, perhaps he can score a big hunk of amazing chocolate cake, or at least a Beggin Strip.

After all, a poodle's gotta eat.

If there's one thing that Donald Trump has accomplished, it has been making this dog-eat-dog world safe for a whole slew of lesser jerks.
What do you think - too harsh?

Anyway, I had much better luck with the Times censors with my riposte to Paul Krugman, who compared the political promises of Donald Trump with the political promises of Bernie "Medicare for All" Sanders - while smarmily and dishonestly insisting that he meant to do no such thing.  His column (Politicians, Promises, and Getting Real) is one more lazy rehash of his many pieces deriding single payer health insurance as ideal in a perfect world, but undo-able because its pie-in-the-sky unicorniness would create a "backlash," and also inconvenience the millions of lucky proles who simply adore the employment-based insurance which they now pay for in myriad ways, both hidden and unhidden.  Krugman doesn't even bother pretending any more. The fallacies in his logic are too myriad to address in just one 1500-character Times comment.

Nevertheless, I persisted.Here's my published comment as it (for now anyway) still appears online:
 I'm tired of hearing the same tired old tropes to explain to us non-wonks that we just can't have such nice things as a bankrupt-free healthy life because of some dreaded "backlash."

Let's get really real here. The richest country on earth doesn't have Single Payer because the corporations and oligarchs running the place don't want it. This has little to do with people now insured through work becoming too "inconvenienced" if they have to change plans and simplify things. Nearly two-thirds of us want Medicare for All. Does Krugman mean to imply that most people either don't work, or that their insurance has no stupid limits attached?

Ditto for the political "litmus test" so allegedly feared by politicians loath to quit taking bribes from the predatory insurance industry. Why protect these people? So that our health care system remains the most expensive on the planet, and our mortality and morbidity rates stay some of the worst?
Right now, there are millions of people suffering the mental and physical and financial trauma of two massive hurricanes. So what better time than right now to start incessantly demanding true universal coverage for them, and for all of us?

If Great Britain could establish its national health service after the Nazi blitz, surely we can do the same in the face of the even deadlier assault of man-made climate change.

"Pay-fors?" For starters, we can slash the Pentagon budget, and stop bombing people to death.
So, what do you think - not up to my usual standards of harshness?