Tuesday, October 31, 2017

More MIsery of the Elites

Paul Krugman's latest is yet another noodle-lashing of those nasty Republicans and their foul donor class whose added tax cuts won't put the slightest dent into their pre-existing conditions of meanness and misery.

The wealthy donors for whom the G.O.P. will apparently do anything, up to and including covering up for possible treason, will get no joy from their tax cuts.
I don’t mean that history will judge them harshly, although it will. I don’t even mean that plutocrats as well as plebeians will eventually suffer if America becomes a lawless, authoritarian regime. I mean that a few hundred thousand dollars extra will do little if anything to make the already wealthy more satisfied with their lives.

You might well ask, who cares? Even if tax cuts would make the rich joyful, this shouldn’t count against the sheer misery Republicans are trying to impose on the tens of millions of people they’re trying to deprive of health care, food stamps, disability benefits and more.
Still, for some reason I find it fascinating that all this misery, plus the possible destruction of constitutional government, may happen without even making the intended beneficiaries happy.
My published response: 
  Making this all about the feral GOP donor class lets the "good rich" off the hook. It isn't a matter of Republicans vs Democrats. It's a matter of the rich versus the rest of us. And it's bipartisan. Why else are "centrist" Democrats, like Wall Street mogul Steve Rattner, so rabidly against Medicare for All? 
As Gilens and Page established in their study of affluence and political influence, even most wealthy Democratic donors are against increased spending for public education and higher taxes to pay for true universal health care. As a result, more often than not, the beholden Congress does the exact opposite of what the voters want and need.
And as Forbes's latest annual wealth list reveals, the 400 richest US billionaires now own as much wealth as the bottom 60% of the population combined. This obscene inequality is making even the ultra-rich so nervous that one UBS banker suggested a "cure" of more public exhibits of plutocratic art, and more investment in sports teams. This noblesse oblige would not, however, extend to actual free admission for the public. Even the despots of the crumbling Roman Empire let their citizens watch the gladiators get killed for free.
So Trump isn't the only clueless tycoon who thinks that his dollars are equivalent to IQ points. Even if he were kicked out tomorrow, there's plenty more where he came from.

It's total war. It's 400 plutocrats' combined net worth of $2.68 trillion against the rest of us. It's the antithesis of democracy.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Misery of the Elites

I've always been a sucker for Halloween lit, so when I first glanced at Ross Douthat's latest New York Times column, my heart went pitter-pat with crazed excitement. Since he titled his effort "The Misery Filter" I thought it might be a squeamish conservative's guide to reading the Stephen King bestseller of the same name.

Reader, I read it. And its hypocrisy was every bit as terrifying as anything Edgar Allan Poe could ever have dreamed up.

For those of you who've blessedly forgotten the Reagan Wonder Years of the 80s, King's Misery is the story of a pulp fiction writer who is imprisoned and hobbled by a psychotic serial killer nurse named Annie Wilkes. She is so smitten with her captive's series of books about a heroine named Misery that she keeps him alive just so he can type out the next episode, exclusively for her. It's a kind of gender-reversal retelling of the Scheherazade story.

But much to my disappointment, it turned out that Ross isn't into Grand Guignol black comedy at all. Like so many of his Republican ilk, though, he is suddenly very much into "wokeness." The same misanthropes who've been howling like werewolves for decades about "unassimilated illegals"  and lazy "welfare queens" are suddenly realizing that empathy for others might be the better tactic if they hope to have a respectable journalistic career in this Trumpian age of cruelty.

Of course, when these conservative types talk about empathy, what they really mean is empathy for one of their own class or profession. This empathy tends to rise to the surface whenever one of them gets stricken with a terminal disease or other unexpected bit of bad luck. Even then, they persist in narrowly framing the definition of loving-kindness in terms of the political corporate Duopoly. In young Ross Douthat's own tell-tale column, the scolding is in terms of that old Nixonian standby, the "generation gap."

Naturally, the meme of the cluelessness of the generic college student is an ideal scapegoat for the causation of Trump. Those privileged young-uns, those coddled snowflakes, so totally explain why Donald Trump won, and Hillary Clinton did not.
Because this seems to me to be the signal failing of modern education — visible among my own peers, now entering the time of life when suffering is more the weather than a lightning strike, but especially among the generation younger than us, who seem to be struggling with the contrast between what social media and meritocracy tell them they should feel and what they actually experience.
In America we have education for success, but no education for suffering. There is instead the filter, the well-meaning deception, that teaches neither religious hope nor stoicism, and when suffering arrives encourages group hysteria, private shame and a growing contagion of despair.
How to educate for suffering is a question for a different column. Here I’ll just stress its necessity: Because what cannot be cured must be endured, and how to endure is, even now, the hardest challenge every one of us will face.
Even on Halloween, Douthat can't face the awful truth: that the force enabling Trump is the record economic and social inequality causing all this misery in the first place. Douthat's own clogged filter chugs out the same old exhaust, refuses to acknowledge that the polar opposite of empathy is not ignorance. Rather it is cold-blooded greed. It's personified not just by Trump, but by the outlandishly powerful, blood-sucking predators of the global oligarchy, a club in which only six or eight billionaires own as much wealth as the bottom half of the entire world.

 Therefore, Douthat has fashioned something called the "misery filter" - the ability of the coddled to ignore suffering, and the falsely equivalent incapacity of the suffering to embrace the virtues of stoicism, and or noble acceptance of their lots in life. It sounds every bit as appetizing as the medieval scold's bridle.

My published response:
 "What cannot be cured must be endured" was also the dogma of the Calvinist settlers who landed on Plymouth Rock. This cruel philosophy is the entire basis of wealth for the deserving few, and poverty for the unworthy masses.
Stoicism is what the ruling class dictates to the underclass as justification for their membership in the Ebenezer Scrooge Club. As Princeton's Gilens and Page established in their study of affluence and influence, the very wealthy simply don't want to be taxed to make the lives of ordinary people better. Rather than admit this selfishness, though, they preach such beatitudes as "blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Or, if they're really mean and nasty, they hire"values" politicians who preach to hungry children: "Those who do not work shall not eat."
In other words, there will be no decent wages, no secure jobs, no well-funded public schools and no guaranteed health care on Planet Plutocrat. Forget educating for suffering, Ross: the hyper-rich are desperate to privatize education to regiment the future wage slaves of America while putting all the dividends into their own deep pockets.
 Before people can develop hope, or stoicism, their oppressors need to develop some cognitive empathy. They should stop hoarding and virtue-signaling and lecturing people, and start imagining what life is really like in an oppressed person's shoes.

There's cruelty, and then there's benevolent paternalism. Both are inherently anti-democratic.


Since reading Douthat's version of misery left me with an unhealthy craving for some real Stephen King,  I picked up a book of his called Grave New World. I hadn't seen it on any recent bestseller lists, so I'd assumed it was a sequel to Pet Sematary or The Shining, and that I'd missed it.

Much to my horror, it was not only written by a different Stephen King, but by a Stephen D. King who is a chief economic advisor to the monster called HSBC. This is another too-big-to-die multinational behemoth, the seventh largest bank in the world. Among other things, it's been accused of money laundering for international drug cartels. Despite (or more aptly, because of) this criminal background, it thrives and it grows and it devours.

So, while King's book is in part yet another apologia from yet another "woke" neoliberal, at least it's a lot more honest than what Ross Douthat has to offer. For one thing, the "other" Stephen King outright accuses the saintly Barack Obama of lying about the benefits of the moribund Trans-Pacific Partnership. King acknowledges it was never a free trade deal at all, and that Obama's claim that it would protect the workers of the United States is ridiculous on its face. The TPP essentially was the core of Obama's aggressive "pivot to China" in the selfish interests of US-based corporations and billionaires.

The two Stephen Kings actually do have something in common: a macabre sense of humor. 

In his time-travel novel November 22, 1963 the novelist King describes the future in a world where John F. Kennedy was never assassinated. The 21st century he envisions is a dystopian mess ruled by President Hillary Clinton.  (To be fair, not even Stephen King saw Donald Trump coming.)

The economist King, on the other hand, wrote his book after Trump's election. In his version of events, although Hillary Clinton didn't get to reign in Dystopia USA, she did help to create it. She just couldn't hide her elitism, even flaunted it proudly in the form of a $12,495 Armani jacket at the New York City celebration of her primary victory over Bernie Sanders. "She fooled nobody," he notes drily. (Did I mention that he is British?)

King the economist also mocks the elitist horror of all things Trump, most notably the dirge over the death of "international norms" as moralized by the exceptional United States:
Too often, the three words used by politicians and news organizations lazily seeking to establish some sense of moral superiority are 'the international community.' If the government of a particular nation acts in a way that 'draws condemnation' from the international community, then it has apparently done something very bad indeed. If it has merely acted in a controversial way - perhaps impulsively, without spending enough time weighing up the evidence - its actions may be 'frowned upon by the international community.' If, alternatively, a government has done something that appears to be morally upstanding, its actions are 'applauded by the international community.'
King, in a refreshing departure from the wit and wisdom of Ross Douthat, aptly notes that the real division is not between political parties, or ethnicities, or genders, but between rich and poor. "That our international representatives tend to be more comfortable in each other's company than they are with the citizens they are supposed to represent is, in itself, a serious challenge to globalization, particularly if they insist on looking down on their fellow citizens from a great height," he writes.

While the novelist Stephen King is commonly lambasted by "serious" literary critics as being two-dimensional and lurid, the economist/historian Stephen King is lambasted for being too glum. 

In its own review,The Economist sniffed at his prescriptions, which include an economic United Nations and a breakup of the Eurozone. 

They didn't even like his entertaining closing chapter, a Grand Guignol imagining of Ivanka Trump as the GOP's 2044 presidential nominee (rather than as an inmate in the penthouse of a Club Fed.)  She enthuses to loud and sustained applause:
 Ladies and gentlemen. As president, I will always make sure that the United States of America is in control. I will engage only with those countries that believe 100 percent in the American way. And those who don't can expect to be faced with the full force of my proposed Pacifying Protectionist Regime (PPR). I'm fed up with countries using their cheap labour to steal from good, honest American workers. So tonight I pledge to protect remaining American jobs come what may!

 They don't call Economics "the dismal science" for nothing, even when the misery is so hilarious as to be absolutely supply side-splitting.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fifty Is Not So Nifty In Unequal America

People within a decade of retirement are at increased risk of not living their "golden years" in the same state of good health that their own parents enjoyed and in many cases continue to enjoy.

Sixty might be the new 40 for the rich and famous. But for too many people, it's become the new 80. The Great Recession has not only wiped out savings and jobs, it's been a main cause of premature aging and the development of chronic diseases which only get worse the longer that they go untreated. 

Depression-Era Photo Courtesy of the Social Security Administration

A study by University of Michigan researchers reveals that American workers in late middle age are at a higher risk of developing disease than the previous generation. People are forced to retire later, and they have fewer resources to pay for medical treatment and the high insurance premiums, co-pays and deductibles of the Affordable Care Act. Those who are within 10 years of qualifying for Social Security and Medicare are at especially high risk.

From UM's Health Care Institute for Policy and Innovation:
  • Those born after 1967, who have to wait longer to receive their full Social Security benefits, tended to have higher rates of poor cognition, such as memory and thinking ability, in their 50s than the earlier cohort groups had at a similar age.
  • When people in the latest-born birth cohort was asked at around age 50 to rate their own health, more of them said it was fair or poor—compared with lower percentages in the middle three birth cohorts when they were around 50.
  • The later-born groups had higher percentages of people who had at least one limitation on their ability to perform a basic daily living task by themselves, such as shopping for groceries, taking medications or getting out of bed.
  • There weren’t strong differences between the groups in physical function, such as being able to climb a flight of stairs without resting, lifting 10 pounds or walking several blocks.
  • Stark differences in health between people with different levels of education were seen—echoing what other studies have shown. For instance, about 25 percent of people who had to wait until age 66 to claim full benefits and had less than 12 years of education reported at least one health-related life limitation when they were in their mid-50s. But among those who had more than 12 years of education and were in the same claiming group (age 66), only about 7 percent had at least one such limitation. Those whose education had stopped at high school graduation were in the middle.
Economic inequality has been growing steadily worse since the Reagan years. According to another survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the wealth gap among American senior citizens is the widest of any other developed country, with only Mexico and Chile doing worse.

 And if Donald Trump's regressive tax plan goes through, the divide will become even more extreme. Wealthy, healthy retirees will get to keep more of what their investments earn, and they'll be able to pass most of their money down to succeeding generations with the planned repeal of the estate tax.

No wonder that the predatory casino known as the Stock Market (heads they win, tails you lose) is posting record gains. These are gains for the rich at the expense of the rest of us. Meanwhile, Trump has even axed the Obama administration's milquetoast and rather cynical MyRa private retirement plan - for the quite logical reason that not enough workers have had the spare change to put into it.

Yet, the richest of the rich are still not satisfied with having it all. They want to extract every last penny from the poor, the old, and the sick.

"Centrist" Obama administration advisor and financier Steve Rattner, who had no qualms orchestrating the bailout of the auto industry after the 2008 crash, has now penned a New York Times op-ed warning of the dangers of Medicare for All. His elite class cringes at the very thought of hordes of vulnerable people escaping from poverty and illness. This unprecedented glut of healthy people threatens to suck the life right out of the billionaires - or at least prevent them from using their hoarded money to buy a larger mega-yacht or a fifth vacation home.

Of course, Rattner didn't put it quite like that. Rather, too much health care for too many people would have the awful affect of sinking the whole Democratic Party! What is more important than life itself, if not an exclusive political party?

Rattner begins with the stale argument that since Medicare for All proponent Bernie Sanders isn't even a Democrat, his proposals are absolute heresy, if not inherently un-American. This is definitely a question of Party Over People, especially when the partiers are billionaires and CEOs. And not only that - Sanders also viscerally offends the Upper Crust by dint of being a "crusty Vermont independent."

"A freight train is coming at us from the Left!" the Wall Street multimillionaire shrills in the proper spirit of Halloween and Krusty the Clown. 

That ghost train would run right over and crush the lucky few who now enjoy gold-plated health care. They would be inconvenienced if they were automatically enrolled in a Medicare-type health plan with little to no effort on their own parts. Single Payer insurance would take away all the pleasure of shopping and choosing among gold, silver, bronze, copper, plug nickel and paper plans. It wouldn't even require Internet access.

Even worse, public insurance would knock the joy right out of the booming stock market. Therefore, Rattner clownishly concludes, if Democrats would only get out their knives and join in the ghoulish fun and heartlessly deny single payer health care to the poor, the old and sick, they are bound to beat Trump in 2020!

Needless to say, the Times did not open Rattner's unhinged horror story to reader comments.

On a related note, though,  the Times is urging what it calls "consumers" (who apparently are human beings only secondarily) in that high-risk 50+ age bracket to blithely fork over $280 for a brand-new Shingles vaccine:
According to the C.D.C., almost 1 of every 3 people in the United States will contract shingles, a viral infection that can result in a painful rash and lasting nerve damage.
The disease, also known as herpes zoster, can range in severity from barely noticeable to debilitating. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also triggers chickenpox.
The newspaper made no mention of the cruel policies which have triggered the shameful morbidity and mortality rates in the richest country on the face of the earth.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How To Buy An Impeachment

It is a truth now universally acknowledged that the very rich usually get what they want from elected politicians.

And so if a hedge fund billionaire wants Donald Trump to be impeached, he'll  spend whatever it takes to make his dream come true. Just ask Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer, who's already forked over $10 million for TV ads to inform the already converted that Trump needs to go. He's spending another 10 mil or so on social media ad buys, or at least 10 times what the Russians allegedly invested in order to magically propel Impeachy Don directly into the White House. And if you only count the $10,000 that Russian troll farms spent on Facebook ads, the total Steyer ad buy would amount to a whopping 20 times of that foreign expenditure.

Still, his impeachment campaign doesn't come anywhere close to the $5 billion worth of free TV coverage  which Trump got from the mainstream media during his endless campaign, nor the $2 billion in estimated cash raised by the Clinton machine.

But thanks to the power of even lesser - but still obscenely excessive - cash, Steyer is also getting plenty of free press to boost his ad campaign investment, most recently in a prominently-placed column by the New York Times' new hire, Michelle Goldberg. It's so awesome what tens of millions of dollars will do to "control the narrative" with little to no independent reporting even needed from the stenographer in question.

All Michelle Goldberg had to do to write her column was to elicit a little confirmation bias from other Democratic operatives and "thought leaders" who operate in Steyer's cash-rich political milieu. These experts are here to urge the cash-needy Congressional Democrats to get off their hands for a change, and hold out those hands for all the great ideas and policies and outcomes that progressive billionaires have to offer them. They should then absolutely embrace their donors impeachment.

Why wait for Robert Mueller to complete his criminal investigation into the Trump Empire's wheelings and dealings? Goldberg scrolled down the Times's speed-dial list to find out:
But as the Harvard Law scholar Cass Sunstein, author of the recent book “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide,” told me, that doesn’t mean Congress can impeach only a president who is caught breaking the law. “Crime is neither necessary nor sufficient,” said Sunstein, who emphasizes that his book is not about Trump. “If the president went on vacation in Madagascar for six months, that’s not a crime, but that’s impeachable.”
If you're going to use an establishment Democrat as the main supplementary source of your piece, you must also plug his book while letting him deny that he is plugging his book and also letting him deny that his book is even about Trump. This makes your column seem very plausible, and nowhere close to the Russian propaganda spreading its tentacles into our hearts and minds on a daily basis. It also artificially limits the "terror" that US citizens feel, restricted to only Trump and Russia as the roots of all evil.

  "And the best way to show Trump that people are serious about impeaching him is to put the message on television," sagely concludes Michelle Goldberg.

My published response:

Before they think about impeachment, Congress should take the keys to the nuclear code right out of his little hands. They should stop spending 70% of their time raising money, and start passing emergency legislation which rescinds the unitary executive powers instigated by Dick Cheney. They should repeal the Patriot Act at the earliest opportunity, strengthen shield laws for reporters, and rescind the blanket authorization for military force they give to presidents every single year, with virtually no serious debate.

The same congress critters who clutch their pearls over every last Trumpian faux pas just handed his perpetual war machine three quarters of a trillion dollars to play around with.

Senior Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Lindsay Graham both admitted in recent days that they had no idea we had nearly a thousand troops in Niger, and at least six thousand in other African countries. Huh?

So methinks that Donald Trump isn't the only guy who isn't up to the job. The way the Pentagon and the CIA and corporations run roughshod over the legislative branch, you'd think they were only a millionaire social club whose job is to go on TV and complain helplessly when they aren't begging us to elect them to just two more years, six more years, a lifetime's worth of years.

 And while Mr. Steyer's heart might be in the right place, he exemplifies the dangerously outsize power that billionaires now have in running the country.

And then there's Mike Pence. God help us all.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Rewarding Our Psychopaths

The rehabilitation of George W. Bush is well nigh complete.  Within mere hours of delivering a glowingly-reviewed anti-Trump speech, he was honored with the coveted Thayer Award at the United States Military Academy at West Point for all his folksy contributions to the perpetual war effort.

There is such a sudden glut of Bush revenance, in fact, that it even makes you wonder if the coordinated piling-on of Harvey Weinstein by every celebrity under the sun is being done for the express purpose of smoothing the way for Bush's own final release from political purgatory into the heavenly realm of the permanent ruling class.

 Weinstein himself reportedly didn't do well during his own truncated rehab, even having the effrontery to fall asleep during luxury therapy sessions.  Dubya, on the other hand, did an entire decade's worth of self-exiled penance, before finally graduating summa cum laude. His bizarre "leaked" bathtub oil paintings of his own feet in 2013 were the first tentative big toe into the rehab publicity waters before the inclusive photo-ops with psychopathic presidents of Christmases Past began popping up all year round like demented greeting cards.

Rub a Dub, Three Men in a Tub of Money: Bros For All Seasons

And of course it helps the Bush redemption campaign immensely that Donald Trump is so universally loathed by the liberal class that even liberals have been welcoming Dubya back with open arms. Michelle Obama gave him that famous hug last year, automatically promoting him several levels ahead to a blissful state of pre-Nirvana. At about the same time, he magically appeared on the Ellen Show to pose for insipid selfies and to crack self-deprecating jokes.  It was so totally not coordinated.

The Hug Heard 'Round the World: Redemption of the Psychopath

Joining the steady stream of prominent op-eds penned by a veritable army of "woke" A-List actresses recounting the horrors of the Harvey Weinstein massage, the New York Times's Frank Bruni wrote a puff piece massaging the image of George W. Bush under cover of a cozy luncheon with Barbara and Jenna, his twin daughters. It was so coincidentally placed adjacent to his paper's very approving coverage of Bush's pro-market, anti-Trump speech. The former Times restaurant critic generously topped Barbara Jr.'s pricey grilled salmon entree with globs upon globs of feel-good froth about Dear Old Dad.

 So, now that we know that Goofy Pappy likes to use emojis in his emails, we can forget all about the hundreds of thousands of Americans and Iraqis who died as a result of his unprosecuted war crimes.

Trump does his own part for the cause by making the deeply reactionary words which Bush spoke at his neo-confab Thursday seem downright benign, delivered as they were with his fake Texas drawl as a syrupy counterpoint to Trump's Queens-bred bile. Bush babbled,
There are some signs that the intensity of support for democracy itself has waned, especially among the young, who never experienced the galvanizing moral clarity of the Cold War, or never focused on the ruin of entire nations by socialist central planning. Some have called this “democratic deconsolidation.” Really, it seems to be a combination of weariness, frayed tempers, and forgetfulness.
We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.
McCarthyism and red-baiting are presented as moral imperatives rather than what they really were, and are: attacks on the social programs of FDR's New Deal and an excuse for billionaires and corporations to get even richer from the constant manufacture and sale of deadly weapons. This is very much a diatribe against socialism in general, and the Russian Revolution specifically, which is marking its 100th anniversary this month. It is an appeal to fear and religion as the toxic glue with which the political duopoly strives to both bind us and gag us. Notice that Bush merely bemoans the degradation of "our discourse" by casual cruelty. It's not the institutional cruelty that his regime and others have spread all over the world by way of wars and predatory International Monetary Fund and World Bank loans that bother him. It's that the propaganda which has literally allowed them to get away with murder is coming apart at the seams. 

 Barack Obama deserves the most credit for immediately getting the rehab ball rolling in 2009 when he ignored the Geneva Convention and refused to prosecute George Jr. and other members of the Bush administration for torture and the illegal invasion of a sovereign country. On the contrary, Obama actually ramped up Bush's wars and drone assassinations, and kept the Guantanamo Bay gulag for "enemy combatants" open. Although he banned the CIA from conducting any more direct torture, he did outsource torture to poorer countries in much the same way that pro-corporate trade deals outsource jobs to poorer countries. He suppressed the Senate's investigatory report on CIA torture, and praised the criminals as "patriots."

And, ever so coincidentally, he delivered his own anti-Trump speech on Thursday, the exact same day that George delivered his. Obama's criticism was in the guise of an endorsement speech for Phil Murphy, the  multimillionaire Goldman Sachs banker and former DNC finance chairman who was appointed by Obama to be ambassador to Germany before he entered the New Jersey gubernatorial race. 

 Of course, both former presidents' publicists denied that the speeches were in any way coordinated. So if you thought that the twin polemics damning Trumpism were just another ploy to use neoliberal "bipartisan" harmony as a propaganda tool to get the masses of disaffected people to shut up and get with the plutocratic program, you are probably a stooge of both Trump and Putin.

Antony J. Blinken, a contributing op-ed Times writer and Democratic national security expert who has lately pushed for a surge in the proxy war against Russia in the interest of Joe Biden's financial interests in Ukraine, was the centerpiece of a coordinated article written by fellow Timesman Peter Baker:
“The two presidents speaking out so forcefully and eloquently is a warning that some basic principles of democracy that both parties have long supported at home and abroad are in jeopardy,” said Antony J. Blinken, who served as Mr. Obama’s deputy secretary of state and attended Mr. Bush’s speech on Thursday.
The bipartisan apprehension was illustrated by Mr. Blinken’s presence. As managing director of the newly formed Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement led by Mr. Obama’s vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Blinken attended to kick off a joint project with the George W. Bush Institute and Freedom House to counter the erosion of support for democratic principles and institutions at home and abroad.
Translation: with the waning of American influence around the world, and the destruction of social programs here at home, the continued profits and power of the ruling elites are in jeopardy. Telling citizens that their discontents and sufferings are mostly a result of Russian "meddling" into our so-called democracy is falling about as flat as Bush's oil-painted feet.

The Art and Artifice of Dubya: Glub, Glub, Glub

As I mentioned above, it wouldn't be a successful rehab without a glittering awards show to complement the speechifying and the selfies. During the same week that Harvey Weinstein finally got his bogus W.E.B. Dubois medal stripped right off his massaged chest by Harvard University, West Point honored George W. Bush with its own signature award, which glorifies patriotic non-graduates who epitomize the USMA slogan, "Duty, Honor, Country."

In a photo-op reminiscent of the "Mission Accomplished" bomber jacket monstrosity taken at the very beginning of the Iraq War debacle, Bush rode to the ceremony in a military jeep as prelude to a grandiose parade held in his honor.

Ever the hokey war criminal capitalist, Bush humbly poked fun at himself, to many loud guffaws and much applause from the Corps of Cadets, those budding generals and corporate CEOs in service of Forever War.
"Col. Thayer founded the dialectic society in order to foster debate and dialect, which makes my selection for this honor somewhat puzzling,” he said to laughter and loud applause.
“Laura and I had dinner with Lorne Michaels, the creator of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and during the course of the dinner, he told me something very disturbing,” the 43rd president said.
“He said he put his best writers on me while I was president, and they came up with ‘strategery.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me? All those years I thought I was the guy who came up with that.’ I said, ‘Did your writer come up with ‘mis-underestimate?’
He even hilariously quipped about "outlaw regimes" without once mentioning the names of Dick Cheney, John Yoo, or Donald Rumsfeld.

Now, just in case you were wondering where Hillary Clinton is in all of these speeches and awards shows, never fear. Because it will finally be "her turn" this week. when the Democratic veal pen's Women's Media Center will honor her with its first-ever "Wonder Woman" prize, just for existing in the world as Hillary Clinton. Her name (along with those of prima Harvey Weinstein accuser Ashley Judd and journalistic Trump nemesis April Ryan) was added to the prize list literally at the very last minute, not having been included in the original roster of winners announced in September.

Hillary, far from apologizing for a career which has included agitating for wars and orchestrating the impoverishment of millions of women under welfare "reform," doesn't feel the need to enter into even a phony personal rehabilitation program like Weinstein and Bush. Skipping the mea culpas, she's going straight to the awards stage at the exclusive Capitale club in Manhattan's Upper West Side this week. Her prize is, of course, totally not coordinated with her ongoing global blame tour and book-selling spree.

From the gushing press release:
 The Women’s Media Center is presenting its first—and only—WMC Wonder Woman Award to Clinton as she is a hero to millions in the United States and around the globe for her extraordinary accomplishments and public service. Like Wonder Woman, she seems to have superhuman strength, resilience, and courage. She also blazes new paths so that everyone has equal opportunity to pursue their dreams, and she has done much of it in the face of enemy fire.
Who can ever forget her trip to Bosnia under all that heavy sniper fire?

I hereby nominate Hillary to receive the next Thayer award, with full military parade honors, in acknowledgment of her duty to the oligarchs, her honoring of the Orwellian slogan "War Is Peace", and her devotion to No Country For the Bottom 99 Percent.

You and Me Against the World. Literally.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Oafs At the Funeral

No bereaved person can avoid the inevitable encounter with a condoler who is congenitally incapable of sympathy. There will always be oafs at the funeral, people who blurt out something really horrible instead of murmuring something suitably comforting.

Myeshia Johnson, the newly widowed spouse of Green Beret La David T. Johnson, got an oaf for the ages when, as she rode to the airport to greet her husband's body, President Trump called and gruffly told her that her "guy" probably "knew what he was signing up for... but it still probably hurts."

At my own young husband's wake three decades ago, one mourner chirped, "Don't worry, you'll get over it sooner than you think and get married again," while a contrarian noted "You'd better not get married again, Karen. After all, the first one left you and the second one died on you!" 

There were many more condolences of that clumsy and insensitive, but well-meaning, sort. But since none of them came from the president of the United States, they didn't make the front-page news as the latest chapter in Political Distraction Theater.

The Emily Posts of political etiquette in the Age of Trump are universally incensed that he so sorely lacks the fake empathy skills of his predecessors. Other presidents have actually stuck to their boilerplate scripts and recited not only the names, but the entire life stories of dead soldiers as if they'd known them intimately their entire lives. They even developed such acting skills as the quavering voice and the tear-filled eye.

 Donald Trump doesn't believe in either crocodile tears or in sticking to scripts. So when he probably meant to tell Myeshia Johnson that "despite the dangers he knew were lurking everywhere, your husband was very brave to protect our country and preserve our freedoms by making the ultimate sacrifice," he came out instead with the equivalent of "War is hell. Shit happens."

The bereaved were rendered sadder by the fact that Trump didn't even remember to say Sgt. Johnson's name in his condolence call. And they'll be rendered sadder still by the fact that political and media critics are making this story more about Trump's poor social skills than they are about Johnson and his surviving family members. In its own front page story, headlined as an "imbroglio," the New York Times itself didn't get around to mentioning Johnson's name until the third paragraph (after putting Trump in the first graf, and John McCain in the second.) It didn't acknowledge Myeshia Johnson by name until the seventh paragraph.

What I suspect is really bothering the political establishment more than Trump's crude words is that his crude words will discourage young people from volunteering for military service. The commander in chief just committed the ultimate faux pas of admitting that people in uniform are nothing but human meat in buffer zones between the poor citizens of resource-rich countries and the US-based corporations which want to plunder those rich resources. Rather than tell recruits that the military is a great place to get job training, college tuition and other lifetime benefits, Trump just brayed out that you have a very good chance of getting killed if you join up. Presidents are supposed to celebrate and mourn and gloss over deaths, not throw a shadow over the rosy patriotic glow of it all.

And of course, Trump had also brought the latest criticism upon himself when, days before his clumsy phone call, he'd boastfully compared the frequency of his own personal condolence calls to those of his predecessors.

This latest Trump outrage, this slap in the face to everything that is stylish and sacred, also distracts attention from why the United States has troops in Niger and other parts of Africa in the first place. 

As Phillip Carter, of the liberal think tank Center for a New American Security, writes in Slate,

  Thirteen days after their deaths, we lack any real explanation for why and how Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright died in combat on Oct. 4. In a wide-ranging press conference, senior Pentagon officials said they were in Niger to train and advise the country’s security forces, which have partnered with the U.S. to root out al-Qaida-linked elements in Africa. The efforts in Niger appear broadly linked to the global U.S. counterterrorism campaign, which began after 9/11, an effort that now continues to expand and grind on under an  amorphous blend of legal authorities.
 Sgts. Black, Johnson, Johnson, and Wright died while accompanying Nigerien forces on a patrol near the border with Mali. Similar patrols had been conducted some 30 times previously without incident. And yet, on Oct. 4, al-Qaida-linked militants ambushed the American Green Berets and their Nigerien teammates. The ambush—and American fatalities—punctured the lie that American troops were simply in Niger for a training mission, just as American casualties have done for decades of similar missions in Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Training and advising missions frequently include combat, too; the enemy gets an important vote on deciding when and where they make the switch. Insisting otherwise insults those who conduct these missions, and the memories of those who die during them.

Since Trump became president and elevated the military to even the highest echelons of his civilian cabinet, ground troops have been granted unprecedented leeway all around the world. The Guardian quotes one unnamed former official as saying "Decisions about when and what to engage have been devolved right down to unit level. Any soldier knows that if you give guys on the ground more independence, then they will be that much more aggressive and will take more risks.”

Trump has given his "guys" all the freedom in the world to protect the freedoms of the global oligarchy. If they didn't know what they were getting into then, they probably are getting a nasty reality check right about now, thanks to his unabashed oafishness.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Taking the Einstein Pledge

It shouldn't take an Einstein to figure out that the ongoing RussiaGate propaganda campaign is, as one wag injudiciously put it recently, a nothing-burger. Nor must you be an Einstein to observe that Hillary Clinton is as much a paranoid liar in her way as Donald Trump is in his. These two characters just can't quit each other, and they want to make sure that we can't quit them not quitting each other either. That is one of our assigned tasks as citizen-consumers in the continuous political spectacle that substitutes for participatory democracy.

Because even otherwise intelligent people are swallowing whole the lie that Vladimir Putin "hacked" the last presidential election and continues to hack our very minds by stirring up dissent against the US establishment, we need a little Einstein, right this very minute. We should Just Say No to any number of the lies we're being fed by the leaders of a crumbling empire. Our survival and our sanity depend on us using more of our little gray cells to cut through all the crap.

From the Black Lives Matter movement, to refusing to honor the flag, to anti-war criticism, to independent thought itself: it seems that everything has become fair game for the 21st Century Inquisition.

You even have to read those handy self-help guides to thinking with a healthy dose of skepticism. My bullshit detector went off when I picked up "The Hacking of the American Mind: the Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains" the other night, and right in the introduction, author Robert Lustig bemoans the Russian "hacking" of John Podesta's emails which, he unquestioningly asserts, were leaked to "humiliate or blackmail" Hillary Clinton, and not to elucidate voters about Democratic Party machinations.

"And similar to the Russian hack of the 2016 election," he goes on, "this plot has been and continues to be executed by private interests with government support."

Hillary Clinton, the failed presidential candidate and the proven instigator of RussiaGate, has now taken the paranoia on the road, wackily telling British and Australian audiences this week that since she lost the election because of Wikileaks' release of Democratic Party and campaign emails, it logically follows that Wikileaks director Julian Assange is a tool of the Kremlin. She stated, moreover, that he has never published any information detrimental to the Kremlin, a baldfaced lie which largely went unchallenged.

She even falsely implied that leaked emails themselves were frauds:
In the interview, Clinton rejected reporter Sarah Ferguson’s proposition that Assange was simply performing a journalist’s role by publishing information.
 "There was a concerted operation between WikiLeaks and Russia and most likely people in the United States to, as I say, weaponize that information, to make up stories, outlandish, often terrible stories that had no basis in fact, no basis even in the emails themselves, but which were used to denigrate me, my campaign, people who supported me, and to help (Donald) Trump,” Clinton said. “WikiLeaks is unfortunately now practically a fully owned subsidiary of Russian intelligence,” she said.
As I've written before, I can personally attest that at least one of the emails in the leaked John Podestra stash is legitimate, because it embeds an article that I wrote, republished by Truthout, and forwarded to John Podesta. I swear on the Bible that I wrote it myself, and that "Russian intelligence" did not force me to write it. The fact that Clinton refuses outright to address the content of the damaging leaked emails, even separate the real from the allegedly fake, is suspect on its very face.

 It should be so easy to simply ignore Hillary Clinton's Russophobic nonsense, just as it should have been so easy to ignore Senator Joe McCarthy's nonsense back in the day - but for the fact that the mass media and Congress are again making sure that the latest official witch-hunt cannot and will not be ignored. RussiaGate has taken on a life of its own. No facts are required, and evidence is purely optional. To doubt is again to be chastised as un-American. 

And using Hillary Clinton's own twisted logic, we might also assume that if Assange is indeed an agent of Putin, then we should also congratulate Mother Russia for instigating the democratic Arab Spring. 

As I wrote in 2012, Hillary grudgingly credited Julian Assange for helping to overthrow Tunisian dictator Zini Ben Abi by publishing some gossipy State Department cables mocking his thievery and corruption. She confided to journalist David Sanger, “I think the openness of the social media, I think WikiLeaks, in great detail, describing the lavishness of the Ben Ali family and cronies was a big douse of gasoline on the smoldering fire.”

Albert Einstein would most certainly have something to say to the mendacious and inconsistent and hypocritical Hillary Clinton and her enablers. The man known for his scientific genius was also a humanist, a socialist, a pacifist, and an early critic of McCarthyism. He called for an end, not only to the witch-hunts of his day, but to all future Congressional investigatory "fishing expedition" committees. He publicly announced his intention to refuse to testify before any such committee if ever called upon to do so. This vow and call to action only inspired the FBI to add even more documents to the 1,427-page surveillance dossier it had been keeping on him for more than two decades. From reading his mail and going through his trash, the government concluded, among other zany subversions, that Einstein was simultaneously a German spy and a Russian spy who was secretly working on a death ray machine in his spare time when he wasn't busy leading a Communist conspiracy to take over Hollywood. And perhaps most suspiciously of all, Einstein was an independent thinker who refused to join a political party.

 The New York Times, then as now ever the faithful establishment mouthpiece, actually took Albert Einstein to task for failing to acquiesce to the Inquisition, and for exercising his right to civil disobedience. "Too wrongs never did add up to one right," the editorial board cleverly tut-tutted at him.

I.F. Stone, the great independent journalist, also would most certainly have something to say to Hillary Clinton and the New York Times and other corporate media giants about their current coordinated campaigns against the "fake news" and "Russian ads" on the Internet and social media. Just because an inquisition is wrapped up in a facade of virtue and truth-seeking doesn't make it right. Inquisitions, even when headed by qualified lawyer-politicians rather than by a demagogue like McCarthy, still have no place in a putative democracy. This isn't Oz. The way to do battle against wicked witch-hunts is not with "good" witch-hunts.
The need for such defiance is illustrated by the objections advanced against it. "One cannot start," the New York Times said, "from the premise that Congressional committees have no right to question teachers and scientists or to seek out subversives wherever they can find them; what is profoundly wrong is the way some of them have been exercising it." The fact is that one cannot start from any other premise without making defeat inevitable....

The New York Times says "An investigation which has no taint of witch-hunting, no bias of anti-intellectualism, no prejudice, no distorted ideas of what is guilt and subversion would be irreproachable." A censorship of such immaculate virtues would be irreproachable, but the Framers of the Bill of Rights thought it safer to rely on free discussion than on the miraculous possibility that the Archangel Gabriel might decide to take the civil service exam for the office of censor."
The current Congressional investigations and op-eds all have an anti-democracy agenda at their very cores. CNN talking head Gloria Borger actually enthused last week that RussiaGate is a solid legitimate effort merely by virtue of it being cooperatively pursued by both Republicans and Democrats. Under this twisted logic, a witch-hunt is a lot like Smuckers preserves: if it's bipartisan, it's just got to be good!

Einstein would, of course, have something to say to CNN and all the establishment media today:
The problem with which the intellectuals of this country are confronted is very serious.The reactionary politicians have managed to instill suspicion of all intellectual efforts into the public by dangling before their eyes a danger from without . .
What ought the minority of intellectuals to do against this evil? I can only see the revolutionary way of non-co-operation, in Gandhi’s sense... based on the assertion that it is shameful for a blameless citizen to submit to such an inquisition.
Instead of simply celebrating the athletes and others who "take a knee" to the pledge to the flag, we should go a step further and follow I.F. Stone's advice "to take the Einstein Pledge and throw down a fundamental challenge to the establishment of an inquisition in America."

And it wouldn't hurt to inject a little disrespectful Einsteinian humor into the equation either. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fear & Loathing in Tinseltown-on-Potomac

"I've got two words for you, Harvey. Predator drones. You'll never see it coming."

That's what I imagine Barack Obama schmoozing to Harvey Weinstein as the two alpha males bonded one night over bundles of Hollywood campaign cash at a $34,000-a-plate dinner.  Burnishing each other's brands with money and influence was all well and good. But just imagine the dividends from an actual blending of the two powerhouse firms via a subsidized internship at Weinstein's company for Obama's elder daughter. Just imagine a lucrative niche for Weinstein at Obama's planned $500 million post-presidential shrine and luxury entertainment complex.

They were ruling members of the same extended clan anyway. And despite the "open secret" of Weinstein's decades-long history of sexual predation of women, he probably wasn't about to touch a young woman who arrived for work every day with her own armed Secret Service detail. It would have been akin to incest, and as far as we know, Harvey isn't into that.

Harvey most likely remembered the Kill List president's grotesque remarks to the Jonas Brothers at one of those annual Washington press dinners where media stars and political stars and Hollywood stars become more indistinguishable from one another than usual.

  Yours truly called Weinstein out as a predator on this blog more than two years ago. At around the same time that Wikileaks was dumping a stash of Sony emails to and from Hollywood insiders and Obama insiders, the New York tabloids (but not the New York Times) were salaciously splashing Weinstein's groping of an Italian model all over their front pages.

Those leaked emails revealed just how closely intertwined the Democratic Party and Hollywood truly are.

One of the sleazier reveals was how, in exchange for the millions of dollars the movie mogul gave to the party and to the Obama war chest, First Friend Valerie Jarrett arranged with Harvard's Henry Louis Gates for Weinstein to receive a Harvard medal named after civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois. At the same time, the 2014 emails show, Jarrett also finagled a spot for herself on Gates's fawning PBS series which explores the genetic roots of Hollywood stars. The only problem they encountered in the deal-making was getting somebody important in Hollywood to fly all the way out to Boston to personally bestow the fake award upon Harvey Weinstein.

Sony CEO Michael Lynton refused outright, voicing disgust that Weinstein was actually being honored for anything even remotely resembling human rights. Gates, the master of ceremonies for the event, allowed that he, too, had his "issues" with Weinstein.

Where Harvey was concerned, there was a battle royal between fear and loathing even among the most loyal Democrats. As far as the awards show was concerned, loathing won that particular round, because Jarrett and Gates couldn't get one single A-Lister to stoop so low as to actually call Harvey Weinstein a civil rights icon in exchange for future wads of his cash to the Democrats. They ended up using a mere Harvard student to pay Weinstein off with the medal.

Besides that contrived award, and Michelle Obama selling access to herself for $34,000 to Hollywood high rollers, the Sony emails revealed that Obama's relentless championship of the now-moribund Transpacific Partnership was fueled largely by Hollywood moguls anxious to keep their profits high through strict intellectual property rules to be applicable all over the world. The pact would have given them the right to sue foreign countries where their movies and TV shows and hit songs were being pirated. These suits would be prosecuted in secret courts, and any judgments would be as secret and as final as Weinstein's alleged confidentiality agreements with his victims. Had the TPP passed, it would have been the citizens of largely poor countries, like Indonesia and Vietnam, who would have been paying extortion to the likes of Harvey Weinstein - even if they themselves had never illegally downloaded a copy of one of his films.

As a matter of fact, emails in the Sony cache revealed that Hollywood insiders were so upset about previous Wikileaks documents revealing their own roles in secretly crafting the TPP that they flocked to the Oval Office to plot further public relations strategy with Obama himself.

And then Obama went on national TV to tell the public that an alleged North Korea revenge hack on Sony had been a virtual assault on US national security itself.  Obama's "intelligence community" absolutely did collude with Hollywood in order to "assassinate" Kim Jung Un in a spy spoof, and thus make audiences more amenable to an eventual regime change. And they say that Donald Trump is a reckless provocateur for calling the North Korea dictator "Rocket Man"? I wouldn't be surprised if Trump got his own inspiration for wackily whacking the foreign dictator from watching The Interview.

It took the Obamas five days, with a newly-fired Weinstein safely esconced in a luxury sex addiction therapy resort, to respond to the Hollywood scandal. They carefully crafted their words, saying they were disgusted by the reports about Weinstein. They didn't go so far as to claim disgust at the man himself. They didn't go so far as to return all his campaign donations, or pledge them to charity, as other Democratic politicians have done. They left it at a typically smarmy and meaningless "And we all need to build a culture -- including by empowering our girls and teaching our boys decency and respect -- so we can make such behavior less prevalent in the future."

Maybe they can raise more funds from Hollywood to build a virtue-signaling decency and empowerment wing at their new Chicago inspiration-industrial complex.

Tellingly, it was only the Hillary half of the Clinton duo which tweeted out some belated boilerplate shock and awe, also glaringly minus any cash donation to charity.(Update: on second thought, Hillary says, she will after all give the money to charity, because as she so humbly reminds us, she already gives away 10 percent of her annual income anyway.)

The Sensuous Art of the Political Ma$$age

As Wikileaks founder Julian Assange wrote concurrently with the release of the Sony emails, there is not only a co-equal partnership between Hollywood and the Democratic Party, Hollywood is an integral part of the military-industrial complex itself. Hollywood makes the surveillance state look sexy, and it makes war crimes seem glamorous. It can even try to make the CIA killing a North Korean dictator look zany and fun.
 Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton is on the board of trustees of RAND Corporation, an organisation specialising in research and development for the United States military and intelligence sector. The Sony Archives show the flow of contacts and information between these two major US industries, whether it is RAND wanting to invite George Clooney and Kevin Spacey to events, or Lynton offering contact to Valerie Jarrett (a close advisor to Obama) or RAND desiring a partnership with IMAX for digital archiving. With this close tie to the military-industrial complex it is no surprise that Sony reached out to RAND for advice regarding its North Korea film The Interview. RAND provided an analyst specialised in North Korea and suggested Sony reach out to the State Department and the NSA regarding North Korea's complaints about the upcoming film. The Sony documents also show Sony being in possession of a brochure for an NSA-evaluated online cloud security set-up called INTEGRITY.
As regards the New York Times and other establishment media suddenly all ganging up on their pal Weinstein after so many decades of giving him a free pass, who knows what their agenda really is? It could simply be the realization that maximum sleaze attracts maximum eyeballs, and they desperatey need maximum clicks to stay in business.  Or maybe Weinstein overstepped his bounds and groped not only the top actresses now fighting their way for a top spot in the accusation publicity sweepstakes, but someone so important that she shall not be named. I don't know, and I don't care. Because this would not be a scandal if it were a $40,000 McDonald's franchise owner groping his whole crew of $9-an-hour wage slaves between hamburger flips and milkshake runs. These scandals happen every hour and every day to the working class women the Obamas wouldn't empower if their new luxe lives depended on it.

I haven't been clicking on all of the sleaze myself, although I couldn't resist Times pundit Ross Douthat's hysterical piece last week about Weinstein and "liberalism's" creation of a whole stinky sty of man-pigs. Apparently, Republican pigs are not as disgusting as Democratic pigs, because Republicans grope women conservatively and Democrats grope them liberally. Everything must boil down to tribal affinity and tribal loyalty. Avoid nuance and depth as if your very careers depended on it.

My published comment:
Predatory behavior has more to do with power than it does with ideology. Creeps can be alt-right, libertarian, liberal, progressive, white, black, brown, or in one case, orange.

The one common denominator in the decades-long, consequence-free careers of serial predators is extreme wealth. It helps if the offender is also a media star or mogul, like Trump and Weinstein. Lack of clout is probably the main reason that Anthony Weiner, their brother in predation, is going to jail, and they're not. Perhaps if he'd been elected mayor of NYC, things would have turned out very differently for him. He would have been owed, big-time.

Weinstein did end up in the tabloids in 2015 when an Italian model accused him of groping her. Naturally, the media cast her as a bimbo with an accent. Provocative pics of her modeling sexy underwear duly accompanied all the articles, which were filed under "gossip" and "entertainment."

The NYPD pretended to care by setting up a "sting" phone call, in which a previously warned Weinstein readily admitted the groping. No charges were filed, because he came clean about the whole "misunderstanding." And then he gave Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr.'s campaign a nice $10,000 donation to show how nice he really is.

This is the same DA who, it was just revealed, dropped pending fraud charges against Ivanka and Don Jr.

It's a small world after all - especially when money begetting power begetting more money begetting more power is the oily engine that makes it spin.