Thursday, November 30, 2017

Just Fascists Being Fascists

Just when you thought that Donald Trump had really gone too far, that his latest projectile belch was so loud and so toxic that even Congress would finally put its foot down, you were bound to be sorely disappointed. The man who bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still be elected president could probably shoot someone in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and still remain in office.

"Oh, it's just Donald being Donald," they'd yawn, as they eagerly rushed their latest anti-social legislation to his desk for his pudgy-fingered signature.

I don't exaggerate. Because if Trump could re-tweet inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda videos originating from a notorious Britain-based hate group whose leader is under criminal indictment, and all that GOP connivers like Jeff Flake and Lindsay Graham can do is shrug their shoulders and sigh "that's not helpful," then I think that yes, he probably could actually get away with a lot worse than simply instigating violence on an epic domestic and global scale.

 He is, of course, no outlier. Although his drone assassinations and the civilian death tolls of his bombing campaigns already threaten to overtake those of his immediate predecessors, he is only using the lethal and normal unitary executive powers bequeathed to him. His emotional and monetary embrace of the despotic Saudi government, with its mass extermination campaign against Yemenis now vying with Rwanda and the Balkans in genocidal horror, is met with complicit silence from both major political parties. Congress loves war, Congress loves arms sales to authoritarian regimes,  and Congress especially loves the campaign donations and the bases and the Homeland Security fusion centers and the nuclear and "conventional" weapons factories which keep military and civilian constituents alike employed and supportive.

So when the New York Times first published the story of Trump's anti-Muslim tweets and his boosterism of a marginalized far-right British hate group on Wednesday, the media world was still busy reeling from news that NBC superstar Matt Lauer had been fired. The Trump article was initially and discreetly placed about a third of the way down the digital home page.

Only days after publishing a much-maligned puff piece serving to "normalize" an Ohio neo-Nazi, the Times drawled in its initial story: "It is unusual (my bold) to see an American president push out this type of content on such a powerful social media platform."

Is it merely "unusual" for the leader of the free world to spread blatantly fake videos which purport to show a Muslim man attacking a child on crutches, and another Muslim man desecrating a statue of the Virgin Mary, and a Muslim mob pushing a man off a rooftop?

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president's unhinged outburst with the usual disclaimer that facts don't matter as long as effective lies can serve to bolster his regime's fascist message. "Whether it's a real video, the threat is real," she insisted in true Goebbelsian fashion. "The threat is real, the threat needs to be addressed, and the threat needs to be talked about, and that's what the president is doing in bringing it up."

Look, I've been as sanguine as anybody about the sad reality that this president's Twitter habit serves mainly as a diversionary smokescreen from his own legal troubles and the kleptomaniacal attacks which pose as a White House administration. But this one goes way, way beyond the usual quotidian mischief.

My published comment on the original ho-hum Times article:
"It is unusual to see an American president push out this type of content on such a powerful social media platform."

No it's not. It's unprecedented, it's pathological, and it's dangerous. It might even border on the criminal, should it lead directly to someone, or many people, getting killed. It is an incitement to violence.

Trump is breathtaking in his irresponsibility. He knows, deep down within whatever rational part of his brain might still exist, that his presidency is a monumental failure. His solution, therefore, is to bring the rest of the world right down with him.

Thanks, but no thanks. Congress can either impeach this pathocrat, or they can be complicit with his antics. They don't get to have it both ways, not when so many lives are at stake.
Only when British Prime Minister Theresa May and other European politicians expressed shock and outrage did the Times advance the story to the top of the home page, and later completely rewrite it. The paper removed the banal "it is unusual to see an America president" characterization of the Tweet in favor of the more compelling "no modern American president has promoted inflammatory content of this sort from an extremist organization. Mr. Trump’s two most recent predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both made a point of avoiding public messages that were likely to be seen as anti-Muslim and could exacerbate racial and religious animosities, arguing that the war against terrorism was not a war against Islam."

Not that Bush and Obama are exactly friends of Muslims either, given the illegal invasion of Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan, the military-corporatist re-colonization of Africa, the cluster bombings and drone attacks on Yemeni civilians, the drone strikes in the "tribal areas" of AfPac, and the CIA's illegal program of domestic spying against Muslim Americans. Bush and Obama committed their own foul deeds with pretty and false words, while Trump commits his foul deeds with equally foul words. His bloodthirstiness and racist venom are unacceptably outside the "norms" of American bloodthirstiness and venomous exceptionalism.

But not that unacceptably. Because Trump is a very useful idiot indeed, able to convince his fans and fellow xenophobes that the oligarchic plot to financially ruin the lives of hundreds of millions of ordinary Americans under the auspices of "tax reform" is actually manna from heaven for them.

About a third of the voting population which continues to enable him will go happily to their doom, safe in the knowledge that their president feels not their pain, but their hatred.

Trump is a master of the politics of resentment. And if Congress has anything to say about it, he won't be going anywhere for a very long time.  Unless the KFC and the McDonald's fries do him in first, of course.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Enemies R Us

If Congress and its oligarchic masters get their way with their tax reform package, the ultra-rich will attach themselves like leeches on steroids to the body politic. They'll suck the poor and middle class as dry as it is possible to suck them without actually killing off too many their hosts.

There will, sadly, be collateral damage resulting as the Winter Solstice darkness approaches and gives the racketeering revelers necessary cover for their annual orgy of sacrificing the poor as an offering to the rich. But like the Democratic Party enablers always say, "we" must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good...  for the robber barons who already have way more than their share of the public goods. To say otherwise is to be unpatriotic and possibly Russian.

The ruling class racketeers simultaneously care and don't care what the poor and middle classes think of them and their greed. Therefore, regular people have been simultaneously and unwillingly cast in the dual roles of victim and enemy. Measures must be taken by the pathocrats to protect themselves from the annoying rabble.

 To that end, Congress-critters have tacked on some very sneaky companion legislation to their annual fiscal Saturnalia. Every single one of us would be subject to a new provision in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which would explicitly allow the US government to drastically expand its warrantless spying powers against its own citizens. We would lose all rights to appeal if and when we are ever accused of a crime in a secret FISA court proceeding. Suspicion would, potentially, be tantamount to conviction without benefit of a judge and jury of our peers.

Jason Pye and Sean Vitka write in The Hill:
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has marked up the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, S. 2010. The bill, sponsored by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is actually worse than existing law. It explicitly allows the attorney general to use information collected under Section 702 for domestic crimes that have nothing to do with national security and forbids judicial review of that decision.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee has marked up the USA Liberty Act, which, despite or because of painstaking deliberations, does not sufficiently protect innocent Americans from surveillance. The House version of the USA Liberty Act, for instance, has a weak warrant requirement, which would allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct backdoor searches of electronic communications collected by the NSA for domestic, non-terrorism investigations. Additionally, the proposed end of “about” collection, in which the government collects information that is neither to nor from a target, would sunset after six years.
All indications are that the expanded FISA reauthorization bill will pass Congress with little to no debate. And why not, since the media is doing its own complicit part and redirecting the alarm bells to the admittedly heinous sexual harassment scandals and cover-ups in that august body, for whom oversight and accountability are but quaint relics of some misty past.

Meanwhile, the lucrative paranoia stemming from the 9/11 attacks keeps right on growing, and our civil, constitutional rights keep right on shrinking. Net Neutrality looks to be dead in the water on the say-so of a cabal of unelected overseers in the Federal Communications Commission. 

If American journalists employed by RT, a Russia-owned TV station, can now be forced to register as foreign agents, so, potentially, can any writer or broadcaster or activist be decreed an enemy of the state for daring to criticize its leaders and institutions and endless wars. All the proof that the neo-McCarthyites need is to point the finger of "fake news" at anyone they deem to be a threat to their power.

The fog of totalitarianism in America isn't creeping around on little cat feet any more. It's breaking right out into the harsh light of day. It's snarling and it's slobbering like a primeval sabre-toothed tiger.

If that metaphor is too grisly for you, and because it's that most wonderful Saturnalian time of the year, maybe you'd prefer the image of Saturn eating his own children lest they grow up to be lazy poor peaceniks lolling about in their hammocks of dependency.

Hypercapitalist Holiday Greetings From Paul Ryan (graphic by Kat Garcia)

The old excuse that we must give up our rights to privacy and free speech in order to protect some nonexistent entity called "national security" doesn't hold up once we realize that we're under attack by our own leaders. The two-party system and the bicameral legislature and the corporatized media and the "intelligence community" are revealed as nothing but a smokescreen to hide rule of, by, and for the ultra-rich and their profitable wars against humanity, and the earth itself.

 "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" loses all meaning when "the good" entails tens or hundreds of millions of people losing their their health, their jobs, their very lives, just to satisfy the voracious appetites of a very tiny group of sociopathic billionaires.

In order to literally survive, it is incumbent on us to start rejecting, en masse, the limited false choices being offered to us, including but not limited to: We can either be free, or we can be safe, but we can't be both. We must support the troops and cheer for war and plunder and state aggression as the necessary price for our future peace and prosperity. The Lessers must "share the sacrifice" and barely scrape by on the empty promise of some vague, future, trickle-down leftovers from the Masters of the Universe table.

 As Hannah Arendt wrote in the last published collection of her essays, such choices are dangerously fallacious.
 "Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.... If we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of 'the lesser evil' -- far from being raised only from the outside by those who do not belong to the ruling elite -- is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such."
Therefore, what more convenient time than this season of Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men for our rulers to ram through legislation which officially buries our civil rights deep within a terroristic spending package which will literally destroy the lives and livelihoods of the very people who, under the pretense of representative democracy, voted them into power? They rely, correctly, on the inability of many people to think for themselves. The media fog machine keeps belching, and American consumers keep consuming as the unhealthy alternative to active citizenship. And the fat cats keep baring their fangs.

They call it the Omnibus Bill for a very good reason. It aims to throw us right under a runaway killer bus. It aims to render us into roadkill for the voracious billionaire omnivores running the place.

Get Well Soon, America! (photo by Tom Garcia)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Welfare As Trump Knows It and Loves It

Just as news leaked out that Donald Trump's tax returns, a/k/a his corporate welfare award letters, are now locked up in a safe deep within the bowels of the IRS, he vowed that his next big Grab-A-Thon will be "reforming welfare as we know it." As a late Christmas gift to himself, he'll go after Medicaid, food assistance and disability benefits early in 2018. (Since Medicare and Social Security are insurance programs and not means-tested, his crusade to destroy them will be a separate front in the Class War.)

"Welfare for me, but not for thee," he as much as brayed to the nation last week, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Because his faux-nemesis Hillary Clinton bragged in her second memoir that by the time she and Bill left the White House, there were 60 percent fewer women on the welfare rolls, Trump can't leave bad enough alone. He would like to raise that pathetic D grade to a solid A+, or a 100 percent destruction rate, for himself. This will prove that he is both tougher and smarter than Hillary Clinton. He shows no sign of abandoning his insane quest to "win" against her even after he's already beaten her into a pulp. He's actually goading her to run against him in 2020.

(Given that Barack Obama earned a miserable F for his own "Grand Bargain" attempt to raise the Medicare eligibility age and to reduce Social Security benefits through the "chained CPI" gimmick, Trump can afford to ignore that part of the Obama legacy. It's not cruel enough to threaten him. Plus, the mere thought of one more bipartisan cat food commission probably makes him break out in hives.)

Even if he accomplishes nothing else, Trump has had the deplorable effect of making the Clintons seem like the kinder, gentler, more sympathetic and more pragmatic destroyers of poor people. Hillary's personal propaganda shtick during the 90s welfare reform campaign involved co-opting a poor, hardworking (possibly fictional) waitress and pitting her against lazy stay-at-home moms. The coddled poor, she implied, must be punished in order to placate the deserving and slaving poor.

As a result, direct federal cash aid to the poor stopped in the late 90s, and the program was block-granted to the states. It has resulted in a doubling of the extreme poverty rate in the two decades since its passage. 

Paradoxically, the mass punishment of mainly women and children has not saved the government any of the promised money. For one thing, the block grants ended up being used for other programs which had nothing to do with ameliorating poverty, or helping people kicked off the rolls to find work. Only 23 percent of poor families now receive help from TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families), the state-run programs which replaced the New Deal's Aid to Families With Dependent Children.

Millions of people are now living on less than $2 cash a day, with only the restricted balances on their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program e-cards (food stamps) keeping body and soul together.

This state of affairs had Trump so riled up that when he finally got wind of it, he practically choked on his overdone Mar-a-Lago steak with the catered side of McDonalds fries.

"People are taking advantage of the system!" Trump sputtered between Tweets and mouthfuls last week. But as is usual with him, details are lacking on how he'd like to make people even more insecure than they already are. So the Heritage Foundation, an ultra-right think tank in Washington, is salivating at the chance to fill in all the Trumpian blanks. To deflect attention from the fact that Trump and his kin are epic kleptocratic corporate welfare cheats in their own right, they'll use the tried-and-truthy methods of scapegoating, gaslighting and the politics of resentment.
Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at Heritage, said he would like to see more work requirements for a range of anti-poverty programs and stronger marriage incentives, as well as strategies to improve results for social programs and to limit waste. He said while the administration could make some adjustments through executive order, legislation would be required for any major change.
“This is a good system,” he said. “We just need to make this system better.”
Administration officials have already suggested they are eyeing anti-poverty programs. Trump’s initial 2018 budget proposal, outlined in March, sought to sharply reduce spending for Medicaid, food stamps and student loan subsidies, among other programs.
Budget director Mick Mulvaney said this year, “If you are on food stamps and you are able-bodied, we need you to go to work.”
By sermonizing that the fraying American social safety net is already "a good system" which only needs improvement, Rector hides the ultra-right's real agenda. Far from mending it with stronger thread, the oligarch-controlled Congress will rip it to shreds and then call the remaining tatters the latest cool fashion for style-savvy poor people. Look on the bright side. You will no longer have to pay top dollar for Ivanka Trump's designer distressed jeans and pre-ripped tee shirts. You can get right back to basics, and let your nonexistent clothing budget take its own natural course. Be mindful that plutocrat-manufactured crises always seem beneficent whenever they're accompanied by some positive marketing spin and social solidarity.

You Too Can Feel As Too-Thin & Needy As a Rich Person
Grand Bargain Fashion, Obama-Style: Cutting the Waste in Thread & Sleeves

Old Pols Never Die, They Just Fashionably Fade Away (Not)

Evangelical Christians won't say a word, because starving people who die a lot quicker will go to heaven a lot quicker. Plus, it will force them to get married if they want to eat. The whole idea is that if they're working for food, they'll be too exhausted to have lots of extramarital sex.

And to help get you through your ordeal, always remember that Mick Mulvaney's needs are very important to you. He needs you to suffer as much as possible as he barges into his next gig of running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau... right into the ground. 

Meanwhile, the Trump Food Stamp Reform Bill reportedly already has a marketing motto: "Let them eat pictures of Trump Steaks!"

 As God is my witness, you'll be too nauseated to ever go hungry again.

Yum, Yum: "I Love the Uneducated"

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

Life got in the way, and I haven't had time to write an original Thanksgiving post this year.This reprise from Turkey Day 2016 hopefully will be the only thing repeating on you today!


It's that most exceptionally American time of the year, when we bow our heads in thanks, celebrating the birth legend of the great United States imperium. It's time to get all nostalgic about the myth of the libertarian pilgrims who fled British persecution only to co-opt, evict and exterminate the aboriginal people in the name of God and greed and freedom.

Even if you choose to ignore the historical propaganda, and use the day as an excuse to get together with friends and family, this whole Thanksgiving bounty thing is kind of hard to take if you live in Flint, Michigan, and your water is still poisoned by lead. While our president was on his grandiloquent farewell tour of the world last week, singing the praises of American democracy, it took a lawsuit and a federal judge to order the government to deliver more bottled water to Flint residents by a December 16th deadline. Democracy apparently doe not involve the president ordering the Army Corps of Engineers into Flint to begin immediate emergency work to replace the corroded water delivery system.

In the true spirit of the hegemonic holiday, government officials are actually appealing this very modest and humane judicial order, saying that it would be just too hard to deliver life-sustaining water door to door. If residents are too old, too sick, too language-deprived, too transportation-deprived, or too intellectually deprived to get themselves to a bottled water distribution center or to install a cheap ineffectual plastic filter on their faucets, then too bad for them. From the Detroit News:  
State officials argued the court order would require a “Herculean effort” equivalent to a large-scale military operation and cost the state at least $10.45 million a month, or $125 million annually. For more than a year, Flint’s residents have been advised against drinking their tap water without a filter due to dangerously high lead levels.
In a 37-page opinion, Lawson ordered home delivery of four cases of water per resident each week unless state and city officials can verify each resident has a properly installed and maintained faucet water filter.
The delivery order “increases the scope of the state’s emergency response to an unnecessary and insurmountable degree, particularly in light of the injunction’s time constraints,” attorneys wrote.
America's forced colonization and re-colonization by deregulated puritanical plunderers high on crack capitalism continues unabated. Thanks to the 2008 financial collapse that they orchestrated, grim reapers in suits are seizing distressed property for a song and then baiting inviting the distressed multitudes to partake of their leavings. (Drinking water is extra, however, and not only in Flint. If you can't pay your privatized water bill, you'll just have to swallow your stuffing crumbs dry.)

Water is only free when it is blasted out of a military cannon at the indigenous Americans and environmentalists currently protesting an oil pipeline in sub-freezing North Dakota.
Just in time for Thanksgiving, law enforcers acting in the service of a few greedy oil company millionaires have escalated their attacks on unarmed citizens attempting to block construction of the polluting project. Police injured another 160 people over the weekend with the surplus military grade weaponry provided to them by the Obama administration. They used rubber bullets, percussion grenades, and tear gas, as well as highly pressured water which freezes skin upon contact. One woman was so seriously hurt that she might lose an arm. The Guardian reported:
Sophia Wilansky, an environmental activist from New York, was hospitalized in Minneapolis where surgeons are attempting to repair a severe injury to her left arm that destroyed arteries, nerves, muscle, soft tissue and bone, according to her father. She remains at risk of amputation, and if the arm is salvaged, it will probably have very limited functionality.
Wayne Wilansky, her father, contends that the injury was caused by an exploding concussion grenade thrown by law enforcement, who also deployed teargas, rubber bullets and a water cannon on protesters during a tense standoff on a bridge Sunday night.
But North Dakota law enforcement officers have aggressively countered Wilansky’s account, releasing multiple statements accusing protesters of setting off an explosion.
( Whether it's in Michigan or in North Dakota, or wherever powerful sadists roam free and unaccountable, have you noticed how the technique of victim-blaming is always at the top of their list of talking points?)

The nearly completed pipeline is meant to transport crude oil across the ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, and residents fear that the project will contaminate their drinking water. They're trying, to no avail thus far, to get the Obama administration to deny the Dakota Access company permits to extend the pipeline across the Missouri River. 

In a powerful editorial published today, the New York Times noted that this kind of cruel oppression against indigenous Americans has been going on for centuries. And corporate police state and media efforts to portray the protesters in a bad light is having the exact opposite effect:  
The department’s video was meant to portray the protesters as dangerous troublemakers, but the photos and videos in news reports suggest a more familiar story — an imbalance of power, where law enforcement fiercely defends property rights against protesters’ claims of environmental protection and the rights of indigenous people. American Indians have seen this sort of drama unfold for centuries — native demands meeting brute force against a backdrop of folly — in this case, the pursuit of fossil fuels at a time of sagging oil demand and global climatic peril.
The Army Corps of Engineers has called for more study and input from the tribe before it decides on whether to grant a permit. The pipeline company has asked a federal judge to give it the right to proceed with its plan to lay pipe under the river. There is no firm timeline for either decision.
Obama, meanwhile, cluckily pardoned one last Thanksgiving turkey as he basked in his twilight glow of record high public approval ratings. Cynically ignoring Flint and Standing Rock and the most extreme wealth inequality in modern history, he employed the slimy political tactic of red herring-with-wattles:
Tomorrow is one of the best days of the year to be an American. It’s a day to count our blessings, spend time with the ones we love, and enjoy some good food and some great company. But it’s also one of the worst days of the year to be a turkey. They don’t have it so good.
It could always be worse, proles. Put yourselves in the place of a Butterball, and you'll swear that your Flint drinking water is champagne, and that police blasts from a water cannon are a spa treatment.

Before long, Obama will passive-aggressively hand off the ultimate decisions on Standing Rock and Flint to his successor. Donald Trump, you might remember, wants to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. The new president is as unabashedly all-American as they come. Oh, and he just happens to have some of his own plundered money invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline, whose owners also conveniently donated to his campaign. 

Terrorism as the profiteers' weapon of choice is a grand American tradition that started the minute Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492. Glorious greed is the whole basis of the Thanksgiving Day holiday. It's as bald and ugly as an obese plucked turkey.

  From Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States":

When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory inhabited by tribes of Indians. The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a "vacuum." The Indians, he said, had not "subdued" the land, and therefore had only a "natural" right to it, but not a "civil right." A "natural right" did not have legal standing.
 The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalms 2:8: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." And to justify their use of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."
 The Puritans lived in uneasy truce with the Pequot Indians, who occupied what is now southern Connecticut and Rhode Island. But they wanted them out of the way; they wanted their land. And they seemed to want also to establish their rule firmly over Connecticut settlers in that area. The murder of a white trader, Indian-kidnaper, and troublemaker became an excuse to make war on the Pequots in 1636.
 A punitive expedition left Boston to attack the Narraganset Indians on Block Island, who were lumped with the Pequots. As Governor Winthrop wrote: "They had commission to put to death the men of Block Island, but to spare the women and children, and to bring them away, and to take possession of the island; and from thence to go to the Pequods to demand the murderers of Captain Stone and other English, and one thousand fathom of wampum for damages, etc. and some of their children as hostages, which if they should refuse, they were to obtain it by force." 
The English landed and killed some Indians, but the rest hid in the thick forests of the island and the English went from one deserted village to the next, destroying crops. Then they sailed back to the mainland and raided Pequot villages along the coast, destroying crops again. One of the officers of that expedition, in his account, gives some insight into the Pequots they encountered: "The Indians spying of us came running in multitudes along the water side, crying, What cheer, Englishmen, what cheer, what do you come for? They not thinking we intended war, went on cheerfully... -"
And so it went. Pequot crops were slashed and burned, Pequot people died of European diseases if they didn't starve first, and their homes were razed to the ground, just like in blighted urban areas and foreclosed Rust Belt towns in the re-colonized States of the Homeland. The original assault against the native population was so intense and so thorough that in the end, perhaps a couple dozen inhabitants out of an original population of many thousands remained in any given locale. 

So let's contemplate how it felt, and how it still does feel for so many of us, to actually be on the receiving end of the imperialism that made this country so special.

But since I'm such a sucker for alternative history:

Wednesday (playing "Pocahontas")): Wait!

 Amanda: (a modern lady-who-lunches in the audience) What?

  Wednesday: We cannot break bread with you.

  Amanda: (playing Sarah, a pilgrim lady-who-lunches) Huh? Becky, what's going on?

  Becky: [whispered] Wednesday!

  Wednesday: You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, you will play golf, and enjoy hot hors d'oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, "Do not trust the Pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller."

  Amanda: Gary, she's changing the words.

  Wednesday: And for all these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground. 


Here's wishing all my readers a very peaceful holiday weekend and a heartfelt thank you for your continuing interest and support. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Perverts On Parade

The pigs have been dropping like flies, and long past time. Not only every day, but nearly every hour, comes news of yet another powerful man brought down by allegations of sexually abusive behavior that in many cases started decades ago.

Would the New York Times have gone after Harvey Weinstein with such determination had not Donald Trump, with his own sleazy history of bad behavior toward women, been elected president? Would there have been such a deluge of victims past and present joining together and taking a stand against the physical, economic and psychic violence they've suffered?

I can hardly stand to read all the sordid details in all the sordid stories because they're bringing up such unpleasant repressed memories for me personally. I had to leave journalism for more than a decade as a result of my own experiences.

The publisher of the first newspaper I worked for attacked me the same night I won a reporting award. A bunch of us had gone out for celebratory drinks after the ceremony, and as he was dropping me off at my own car, the groping and sloppy kisses ensued. I managed to fend him off and escaped. Needless to say, my big moment of professional recognition had been forever spoiled.

After that, I noticed that I wasn't getting the same number and caliber of reporting assignments from the all-male editing desk. The silent freeze-out, the constructive eviction, had begun.

A second incident happened when I'd been transferred back to the graveyard shift,  and had gone into the tiny alcove off the main newsroom to rip out the AP wire reports. The sports editor had silently followed me,  cornered me and grabbed me with no warning. Again, I managed to fend off the attack while making no attempt to hide my disgust.

I fit the usual pattern. I only complained to the few women I worked with. Back then, in the late 70s, there were no laws against sexual harassment in the workplace. The term "sexual harassment" was not even in the lexicon yet.

And these incidents adversely affected my entire professional career. Like so many of the women who are speaking out today, I was "blackballed." When my newspaper was sold by the Gannet chain to a foreign investor, I finally left and immediately was offered another job at a local weekly paper. Everything was hunky-dory, or so I thought. 

The editor who had hired me so enthusiastically because of my excellent journalistic credentials and writing skills suddenly became distant and wouldn't name the day for me to report to work. He hemmed and he hawed, and he hawed and he hemmed, something about the budget and health insurance issues. I finally realized he was blowing me off, and I angrily told him so.

My suspicions about why the job offer was so suddenly and so passive-aggressively rescinded were confirmed a short time later. I found out from a mutual acquaintance that the sports editor who'd attacked me in the wire room had contacted his good friend, the weekly newspaper editor, and bad-mouthed me behind my back. I never learned precisely what he said, but I can imagine.

I gave up looking for another reporting job, and left the field entirely to help my husband open his medical clinic and later to raise my children. The next newspaper I worked for had a female editor and a much more sensitive and respectful group of male colleagues.

Of course, by then I was no longer a cute 20-something in a miniskirt. I was a matronly-looking woman in my 40s. And that's certainly the best part of getting older: the gropers start to leave you alone. The invisibility of the mature woman does have its perks, that's for sure.

So I feel angry and wistful at the same time as I read the stories of my modern-day reporting counterparts. With the closings of so many local newspapers and radio stations, and the consolidation of the media, it's harder than ever for talented women to not only break in, but to survive in this cutthroat competitive field.

The gruesome details of the Charlie Rose spree of both abusive verbal behavior and sexual predation were particularly galling to me. Here was a plutocrat who lived a luxury life, complete with private jets and four homes, but was too cheap to even pay some of his victims. He literally owned slaves, or as they're more euphemistically known these days, unpaid interns.

From the shattering and detail-rich Washington Post story: 
Working for the “Charlie Rose” show was a longtime dream for Reah Bravo, who in 2007 was a 29-year-old graduate student studying international affairs at Columbia University. She struggled to make ends meet during her unpaid internship, accruing credit card debt and eating free cereal in the Bloomberg food court.
One day, several months into the internship, Rose offered her a side gig at his home in Bellport on Long Island.
“Here is the deal: I’ll pay you $2,500 for the week plus all expenses for food, movies etc.,” he wrote to her on Aug. 9, 2007. “You will be there from Monday August 13-Friday afternoon, August 17. Your primary responsibilities are to organize and catalogue all my books and tapes and files ... It will help me a lot, be fun for you, and you will have a car all the time for whatever you need to do.”
As cathartic as it must be for Bravo and other women to be finally spilling their guts in public about their ordeals, the economic and emotional prices they have paid and continue to pay will last them their whole lives. Already labeled "difficult," their career opportunities will suffer, especially in the Google age. When highly credentialed young graduates are forced to enter the servant "gig" economy to make ends barely meet, the predation is not only sexual and financial. It is literally life and soul-destroying.

So I'm glad the ugly truth is coming out, at long last.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Cult of Russophobia

At the rate the American Inquisition is going, before long they'll require us to take a loyalty oath swearing that we're not Russian agents.

An op-ed published in Wednesday's New York Times comes mighty close, what with the accusatory headline "Why Don't Sanders Supporters Care About the Russian Investigation?" It is accompanied by a garish graphic of an American flag emblazoned with the visage of Vladimir Putin.

Since the whole piece, written by one David Klion, is built on a fact-free foundation of quicksand, his whole premise quickly sinks into the ridiculous. The lede paragraph is a masterpiece of the standard Russophobic form:
Nearly every day, new details emerge about the relationship between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. The extent of the alleged collusion, which may ultimately endanger Mr. Trump’s presidency, has yet to be determined, but the scandal has dominated news coverage and enthralled Washington.
Certainly, new stories emerge every day, but the details are seriously lacking, unless one counts the details of the speculations and the suppositions which substitute for clear, hard evidence. Even the so-called "smoking gun"  of Donald Trump Jr.'s email correspondence with WikiLeaks has already been exposed as a phony starter pistol. The original story in The Atlantic was misleading to the point of journalistic malpractice, since writer Julia Ioffe appears to have deliberately doctored one email with the result of altering its entire meaning. Of course, it's already way too late. It's enthralled Washington so much that it's already accepted as dogmatic fact by virtually the entire establishment pundit class.

And so naturally it behooves the Times to constantly remind readers that because RussiaGate has "enthralled Washington"  it behooves those doubters out there to jump on the enthrallment bandwagon. But in a good way, of course, not as a slave is in thrall to his master. They will gladly rent us the requisite ladders of opportunity to enthrallment Nirvana.

To try to prove his thesis, Klion names several prominent left-leaning writers, not all of whom are even Bernie Sanders supporters, who have cast doubt on the "narrative" and smeared it as variously a distraction, a conspiracy theory, a minor issue. And then he proceeds to one of the establishment's favorite methods: gaslighting.

If leftists refuse to believe that Russia has infiltrated our democracy, then they are also in cahoots with polluting capitalists. Klion writes,
American corporations have lobbied against recognizing Mr. Putin’s human rights abuses and have sought to exploit Russia’s natural resources. Energy companies like Exxon Mobil, whose former chief executive, Rex Tillerson, now serves as secretary of state, have partnered with Russia and have sought waivers from international sanctions to drill for oil in Russia. A new Cold War would be dangerous, but so would a warmer United States-Russia relationship that enriches oil company executives in both countries.
In other words, if you don't cheer for the new Cold War devised by liberal Democrats as a substitute for an actual New Deal platform to make your life better, then you will be partly to blame for a new Hot War funded by the climate change-denying oil companies. These are disturbing echoes of the neocon George W. Bush's Manichean admonition to patriotically support his illegal invasion of Iraq. You're either for us, or you're against us.

My published response:
 The headline implies that Bernie supporters are heretics for not "believing" in RussiaGate.

Despite what the pundits say, his supporters are no more a cult or a monolithic entity than are the supporters of other politicians.

Plus, not all leftists in this country are even Sanders supporters. There are plenty of people who think his ultimate function as a candidate was to herd disaffected people into the Democratic Party and into the voting booth for Hillary.

So please, credit the so-called heretics with a little nuance and ability to think critically. Speaking only for myself, and based on the evidence so far, I do think that Trump and his kin and associates had some pretty seamy dealings with Russian oligarchs, not least because the high-end Manhattan real estate empire at the center of their world is a prime place for foreign tycoons to park and/or launder their money. I hope the Mueller investigation, like the Paradise Papers, opens many cans of many worms.

Do I think that Putin literally "hacked" the presidential election, or swayed undecided voters through the placement of some truly cheesy Facebook and Twitter ads? No. And frankly, the Democrats' complaints that "Russia" is sowing social divisions in the US is laughable on its face. This red-baiting trope has been going on for about a century now. How about they take a good long look at the manufactured wealth inequality in this country, and admit that the big money which controls them is the real Enemy Within?

In other news-suppressing news, the Democratic Party-aligned Huffington Post scrubbed, with no explanation, an article on the origins of RussiaGate written by award-winning journalist Joe Lauria, author of "How I Lost, By Hillary Clinton" with a foreward by Julian (gasp!) Assange. You can, however, still read the forbidden material here.

In his Change.Org petition demanding restoration of his piece, Lauria writes,
Like the word fascism, censorship is over-used and mis-used, and I avoid using it. But I can come to no other conclusion than that this is an act of political censorship. I am non-partisan as I oppose both major parties. I am a reporter who follows the facts where they lead. And they lead to an understanding that the Jan. 6 intelligence “assessment” on alleged Russian interference in the election was based on opposition research, not serious intelligence work.
In the same week that the Huffington Post axed Lauria's article, the Russian Government-owned TV network RT America was pressured by the US Justice Department to register as a foreign agent. This draconian assault on the First Amendment follows on the heels of a hysterical hit job on RT funded by the Czech Republic-based "European Values" think tank - which just happens to be bankrolled by both the US Government and major Democratic Party donor George Soros. The report, written by Monika Richter, implicitly warns all prominent guests to stop appearing on the network, or else risk being branded a "useful idiot," or worse. Richter is "credentialed" by the Reuters Journalism Institute, which also happens to receive a lot of money from the ubiquitous George Soros.
  She names more than  2,000 names of the useful idiots who've appeared on RT, including such well-known US  figures as Robert Kennedy Jr., Ralph Nader, Robert Reich, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Rep. Keith Ellison, Gen. (ret.) Wesley Clark, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Chris Murphy, Sen. John McCain, and even former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Richter's shtick in her paranoid report is spreading conspiracy theories about facts that she doesn't like. She thinks, for example, that the idea that the US invaded Iraq under false pretenses is a conspiracy theory. She also thinks that the riots in Ferguson, Missouri were the result of a Kremlin conspiracy rather than the historical racial oppression and ongoing police brutality in this country.

And even when she grudgingly admits that RT performs laudable journalism,  "the critical point here is that RT’s treatment of these events is not motivated by a genuine commitment to principled, balanced journalism, but rather by opportunism to demonise the US government for its apparent contradictions and democratic shortcomings."

So add mind-reading to her many magical skills.

The truth can be so horrific sometimes that one simply has no other choice but to shoot its messengers - if one wants to continue collecting a paycheck, that is.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Moralizing Collides With Spectacle: The Louis C.K. - Obama Effect

Disgraced comedian Louis C.K. has not only had his movie premiere and TV deals cancelled after he confessed to masturbating in front of women. He's also been slapped with the ultimate punishment dreaded by A-Listers everywhere - he's been unceremoniously dumped from the latest in an interminable series of star-studded charity spectaculars which have come to substitute for public policy in this country.

HBO execs made the moralistic announcement that the reality-based selfish depravity of a comic, whose filthy, funny mouth has been so lucrative for them, will not be tolerated:
"Louis C.K. will no longer be participating in the Night of Too Many Stars: America Unites for Autism Programs, which will be presented live on HBO on November 18. In addition, HBO is removing Louis C.K.’s past projects from its On Demand services....”
 Jon Stewart is hosting Night of Too Many Stars, which will include stand-up performances, sketches and short films. Created by comedy writer and performer Robert Smigel, it raises money for autism schools, programs and services. C.K. was scheduled to appear along with the likes of Stephen Colbert, Abbi Jacobson, Jordan Klepper, Hasan Minhaj, John Mulaney, Olivia Munn, John Oliver, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and more.
The autism fundraiser has been held for many years, but this is the first time it is being nationally televised as a true media spectacular. Because in this age of record wealth inequality, it increasingly behooves wealthy liberal celebrities to ostentatiously "give back" before the largest possible audience as they inveigle their millions of fans into sending money for causes which used to be funded by taxing wealthy people like themselves to the hilt.

Federal funding for autism research has declined in recent years, like most social programs a victim of the bipartisan austerity imposed during the Obama administration.  But not to worry -  the ensuing cascade of fundraising extravaganzas on TV gives celebrities all the more free P.R. and airtime to say how much they hate Donald Trump and to virtue-signal how much nicer they are than that mean old president.

More ominously, though, these nonstop neoliberal charity bazaars give the uber-rich a chance to actually dictate policy. Witness the XQ Superschool Live education "reform" spectacular aired in September on all four major broadcast TV networks. The propaganda product of billionaire philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, the show was essentially one long infomercial against teachers' unions and for charter school privatization, corporate testing schemes, and the concentration of secondary school curricula to the STEM field.
Jobs... donated half of the reward for a $100 million competition calling for new high school designs. Roughly $10 million was awarded to 10 schools last year through the XQ Institute, an independent affiliate of the Emerson Collective, which Jobs started to focus work on social justice issues. XQ is continuing its work to use technology to “transform” high school, with the Web page promoting the show quoting Jobs as saying: “We all know America’s high schools need to be transformed to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist and a future that we can never see with perfect clarity.”
Into whose pockets all the money raised will actually go is also not seen with perfect clarity. But because Jobs inherited a fortune from her husband Steve, the co-founder of Apple, she apparently sees more clearly than most people, and therefore has no need to explain what, exactly, it is about high schools that actually need to be transformed. But I suspect that the technology used for this reform will have the ubiquitous Apple logo plastered all over it. With the magic  of unsullied star power, and billions of dollars and the co-optation of the "disruptive" discourse of social movements, public education is being turned into a private charity for the ultimate benefit, not of students, but of private corporations and oligarchs.

Laurene Jobs started her education privatization crusade in 2015 under the auspices of her think tank, the Emerson Collective, by enlisting the help of the Obama administration, including his first education commissioner, Arne Duncan. Duncan now serves as her managing partner, and both Obama and his wife Michelle began speaking at her think tank's events even before they left the White House. According to her website, Jobs plans a whole "series of ongoing conversations and efforts by the President and Mrs. Obama to explore partnerships with the private sector, non-profit organizations, NGOs, and other government entities that are committed to tackling violence, poverty, and unemployment in communities around the country. The Obamas say they look forward to working with organizations similar to CRED. Their eponymous foundation and the My Brother's Keeper initiative are both already committed to bringing much-needed opportunity expansion to Chicago neighborhoods."

Sadly, though,  Jobs's other brainchild, a liberal magazine to be run by former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier, recently ran into its own Louis C.K.-type roadblock. It emerged that Wieseltier has had his own sordid history of sexual harassment in the workplace. If there's anything that the philanthro-capitalist class never likes to be confronted about, it's their hypocrisy. The dogma that their money possesses some kind of moral power over the rest of us must not be exposed as the fraud it is. And so we witness them breathlessly racing to cut all ties with the predators who give predatory capitalism such a bad rap. Laurene Jobs scrapped her whole magazine before the ink was dry on the revelations about her newest partner.

Celebrities, billionaires and former presidents are naturally drawn to natural disasters, as well as to the standard manufactured ones like "our failing public schools" and the "skills gap" which conveniently explains why workers are so poorly paid. So the trifecta of hurricane relief spectaculars this fall popped up almost faster than the ruling class racketeers can divest themselves of the latest predator. These disaster appeals are both substitute and supplement to the delayed and denied and deficient government allocation of funds to the victims.

Hurricane Harvey made the occasion especially heartwarming when all five living ex-presidents managed to put aside their pseudo-differences and war crimes to tell folks to send money, fast, and get FEMA off the hook. Their appeal for charity in lieu of a call for a massive public expenditure to get the downtrodden and displaced off the hook even garnered praise from the future living ex-president, Donald J. Trump.
 The stars got to show their faces, and their designer duds, and the regular folks out in the hinterland got guilted into sending in their ever-dwindling dollars to such money-laundering charities as the Red Cross. If George Clooney and Tom Hanks and Barack Obama are on the case, who needs the government? Meanwhile, actual hurricane victims are still faced with disease, homelessness, and joblessness as the stars go on to the next big noblesse-obligatory thing.

The next big thing for a few of them was canoodling at Barack and Michelle's  excellent propaganda reunion in Chicago last month. Although it didn't rate the star-studded TV spectacular treatment, it was live-streamed all over the planet. Chance the Rapper and Prince Harry of Britain showed up, along with Barack's favorite cultural sidekick, Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame.

Miranda has even taken time out of his busy charity performance schedule to schedule a few performances in Puerto Rico this winter. What's more important to starving, sick residents of a de facto US colony than a few hours of revisionist rap biography of the founding banker of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Slave?

Now, to be as perfectly clear as Laurene Jobs herself, the Obamas weren't money-grubbing for one specific cause or disaster other than their own future $500 million shrine. So to get the public on board with their zombie neoliberal agenda, they're just going the touchy-feely moralizing route for now. Any scolding they do is purely generic and not aimed at Louis C.K. or even at their erstwhile sugar daddy and BFF, Harvey Weinstein. The Obamas' new shtick is community organizing on an epic global scale.

According to Politico's coverage of the two-day event, Obama is staying true to form and still modestly "leading from behind." As political dynasty scion Caroline Kennedy schmoozed onstage with Miranda (or was it Prince Harry?) Obama had literally slipped into a back row seat, unannounced. Until he softly spoke up, that is, and the whole audience reportedly swooned at his blazing, amazing star power.

Who needs a roster of A-Listers when one is an A-List Superstar unto oneself? Who needs to agitate for gun control legislation just days after the latest massacre when all the world really needs is a 70s-style Encounter session with the Obamas? Their biggest claim to fame, after all, is that they avoided the usual slimy scandals during their entire eight-year stay in the White House. No extramarital affairs for Barack, no consulting astrologers or insider trading for Michelle. And let's face it: the Kill List president's extra-judicial drone assassinations of thousands of civilians simply do not count as a scandal in the moral political universe known as the USA. Unlike Louis C.K., Obama never operated the joystick himself. At the very worst, he just liked to watch.

As Politico frames it, if the Obama summit accomplished nothing else, it provided an escape from reality for the reality-based community. 
There was a morning meditation and yoga session, and an evening community concert with Chance the Rapper and The National. And in between breakout sessions with titles like “The Adventure of Civility” and “Who Narrates the World?,” people took pastel-colored chalk and filled out a blackboard customized with “I hope _______.” (Samples: “we speak better and listen,” “Americans will see each other,” “my nephews can escape toxic masculinity”).
“Therapeutic,” said one attendee. “The sanity bubble,” said another. An alternate reality, all the attendees at the kickoff of Obama’s new foundation acknowledged, some with nervous snickers, some with big, relieved belly laughs.
Who needs Louis C.K. with Obama still around to regale us into such paroxysms of yuks? He's even gotten the Emerson Collective's Arne Duncan to run interference for him against the hundreds of Chicago South Side residents who have turned out to protest the gentrification of their neighborhood and public park by his planned museum and professional golf course. To accomplish this repressive feat, the Obama Foundation has created a non-profit subsidiary whose only purpose is to convince residents that gentrification and globalization will literally save lives by helping get black boys off the streets and onto those strategizing ladders of opportunity. Now, where have we heard that joke before?

Obama even makes former President George H.W. Bush, who got a magical free pass from the media for hilariously groping women's behinds as "David Cop-A-Feel," look dour and dull in comparison.

Hilarity Ensues After Harvey: The Night of Too Many Presidents