Saturday, March 31, 2018

#MeToo For Executioners

Thank goodness for the crusading New York Times. Unfortunately, though, the Gray Lady sometimes gets her priorities mixed up, and buries the lede. 

Hypocrite that I am, I'll be burying the lede myself, but only to show you how the Paper of Record buries the lede. But here's a hint: it's a class thing, and an identity politics thing. The Times places the interests of the professional class above the rights of the downtrodden. Please bear with me for a minute and read on....

 As a result of inquiries related to the newspaper's #MeToo investigations, the lawyer in charge of the Justice Department's death penalty unit has been removed from his post and transferred on grounds of sexual harassment. This comes after he spent eight years making life and death decisions, despite never having personally prosecuted, or even sat through, a death penalty case in open court. That's the lede, and it gives only the slightest hint of the real blockbuster yet to come. Pretty compelling so far, though.

In its article titillatingly headlined "At Justice Dept, Claims of Gender Bias and Groping," the paper also reports that D.O.J. lawyers immediately complained when the Obama administration appointed Kevin Carwile to the job in 2010, because as tradition dictates, only a prosecutor who has actually looked a convicted criminal right in the eye and then eloquently begged for his death in front of a jury can be qualified to later push a lot of papers around as the leader of the Capital Case Division.

This is despite D.O.J.'s own official policy statement, in which the division's lawyers merely "refer" cases to the Attorney General and don't ever prosecute them personally. That's the job of the president-appointed U.,S attorneys, who rely on the career D.O.J. lawyers to do most or all of the vetting. From the Department's website:
The Capital Case Section is primarily responsible for assisting the Attorney General's Review Committee on Capital Cases (AGRCCC) in its evaluation of capital cases submitted by United States Attorneys to the Department of Justice for review and recommendation to the Attorney General concerning the appropriateness of seeking the death penalty.  The CCS conducts a preliminary analysis of all cases in which the United States Attorney charges a defendant with a crime punishable by death and advises the AGRCCC of the factual and legal issues that are relevant to the Committee's recommendation to the Attorney General whether to seek the death penalty.
In addition to providing the expertise and analysis necessary to complete the preliminary capital review process, CCS attorneys provide legal, procedural, and technical assistance to United States Attorneys in capital investigations and prosecutions; develop policies and procedures for Federal capital prosecutions; provide training for Federal capital litigators; draft legal memoranda and pleadings; maintain a resource library on capital issues; and provide assistance in capital trials, appeals, and post-conviction litigation.
  So despite all the office kvetching back in 2010, Carwile's ultimate (transferable) offense was not that somebody higher up in the D.O.J. food chain finally got wind of his lack of prior direct death advocacy experience. His offense was that he "promoted gender bias and a sexualized environment" in the workplace. He was transferred out of the division when the Times started asking questions about the complaints against him.

Katie Benner writes in the Times:
 He fostered a culture of favoritism and sexism, according to court records, internal documents and interviews with more than a half-dozen current and former employees. In one episode, his deputy groped an administrative assistant at a bar in view of their colleagues, according to some who were present. Mr. Carwile asked the witnesses to keep it secret, one said.

 Employees of the unit, the capital case section, complained about the issues to Justice Department officials, the inspector general and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at least 12 times. Some allegations went unaddressed for years. In cases that were investigated, the accusers were never told what investigators found. Both Mr. Carwile and his deputy, Gwynn Kinsey, remained Justice Department employees despite the inquiries.

 Six employees, including the administrative assistant, said they eventually left the section or quit government altogether in part because of the toxic climate. A defendant in Indiana has asked in court for the government to drop the death penalty recommendation in his case because of the unit’s emerging conduct issues.
It must be so hard discussing which arcane mixture of toxic chemicals can be used to kill convicts, when the decision-making environment itself is so toxic.  I am sure that 61 federal death row inmates are breathing a sigh of relief today as they learn that at least one Chief Proxy Executioner is gone, and that a more "woke" bureaucrat might soon be taking his place. Chances are that many, if not most, of them will die in prison of natural causes before their sentences are carried out anyway.

The mention of the "Indiana defendant" is, to be fair, something of a teaser for the buried lede. More about that later.

The relief must be especially poignant because, as the Times uncritically writes, President Trump now wants to make drug dealers (hear the dog-whistle: Mexicans and other foreigners) subject to the death penalty. So the capital punishment unit is therefore expected to balloon in funding, staffing, power, and stature. Whether this new improved unit will adhere to all the legal niceties decreed by Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno after the federal death penalty was revived in 1988 remains to be seen, however. She was very keen on avoiding any appearance of racial discrimination by lawyers recommending an execution. Trump isn't really all that into appearances.

Ironically, reports the Times, Carwile's promotion eight years ago to the Capital Case Division was done as a direct result of his carelessly misleading the government over the "Fast and Furious" gun-running scandal that got Attorney General Eric Holder hauled before Congress and wrist-slapped. At the time, it was actually considered more of a demotion for Carwile (who'd previously headed the high-profile Gangs Division) than a promotion. After all, federal capital punishment cases are relatively rare, and are usually recommended for only the most egregious crimes, such as the Timothy McVeigh Oklahoma City bombing case and more recently, for the Boston Marathon bombing case and the Dylann Roof church massacre.

The Times doesn't explicitly state that it was Eric Holder who ignored the sexual abuse complaints, at least some of which were made during his tenure. But it does report that despite his appointee's alleged bad behavior, Holder had awarded him a "management excellence" prize, ostensibly for a record increase in the division's death penalty referrals. Carwile apparently took his job very seriously.

But of course, that creepy enthusiasm for executing more and more people is not why he lost his job. 

One female attorney complained that he'd sent her all the way to California to work a death penalty case, even though she lives in Connecticut. Her male colleagues, she said, were not similarly assigned to cases far from their own homes and families.

Another employee, a male, complained that Carwile took him to a restaurant staffed by "scantily clad waitresses," which made him very uncomfortable while discussing death penalty cases.

Buried Lede Alert!

It's only after 23 paragraphs and details about the numerous sexual harassment claims that the Times finally, but only partially, relinquishes its #MeToo narrative and arrives at what should be the gist of the story. 

Admittedly, these are far less salacious incidents of legal malfeasance than the alcohol-fueled groping of women described at division happy hours in local watering holes. They include lost or destroyed boxes of evidence, lawyers who quit for greener pastures right in the middle of arguing a death penalty case, and defendants who were interviewed without the presence of "law enforcement officers" and other witnesses whose job it is to take notes and to later act as trial witnesses. But far from voicing concern for the rights of suspects and prisoners, they complain in their court papers and other documents  that the government's cases are jeopardized by all the ineptitude and sniping from people other than themselves. This carelessness, complainants say, has had the awful result of tainting death penalty prosecutions and ultimately, messing with the Division's improved capital punishment statistics down the road.

A state-sponsored death, apparently, is a terrible thing to waste. This is the lede that the New York Times buried in order to advance the #MeToo agenda and narrative.
Rather than accentuating the rampant legal malpractice by federal prosecutors that harms the defendants facing the death penalty, (or any draconian sentence, for that matter) the Times also seems more concerned about the harmful sexist treatment of career death penalty attorneys. One female lawyer in the division actually filed papers claiming that Carwile took more seriously a male colleague's "gluten intolerance" than he did her recent surgery, and required her to travel. It is "insensitive," she said, to force ailing female legal execution advocates to make long trips, while male death penalty advocates are allowed to malinger behind their desks. 

The Times concludes:
Current and former employees said the public understandably expects death penalty cases to be handled with integrity. As Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump push for more capital punishments, the section’s history, they say, could work against the Justice Department.
In other words, the bureaucracy is more important than the justice it claims to mete out, especially the justice meted out in the death chamber. No mention is made of the due process rights of the accused or convicted people moldering in their prison cells or on death row as they await their trials and appeals. The implication about the aforementioned Indiana defendant is that his lawyer is taking advantage of an unfortunate personnel situation, and nothing more. The implication is that Capital Punishment is spread way too thin, that it's being spoiled by sexism, that the solution is simply a change in qualified personnel, and that the damage done to high-powered careers always trumps the physical deaths of defendants who may or may not be guilty of what the government accuses them of doing. And naturally, more money will be needed to help root out the overwork and the toxicity, and attract more qualified legal personnel who will not be inconvenienced or exhausted by long-distance travel.

Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace are terrible things, to be sure. But that a newspaper gives these wrongs more import than the scandal of federal prosecutors manufacturing, and often bungling, an ever-increasing number of death penalty referrals is downright grotesque. This enthusiasm for ever more capital punishment is only mentioned in the Times article as it pertains to the sexual harassment cases, and then almost as a side issue.

Just as more people are refusing to tolerate misogyny, more people are refusing to tolerate the cruel and unusual punishment that is the death penalty, whether lawyers advocate for it with "integrity" or not. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of Americans now oppose capital punishment, and this opposition is at its highest among young people.

Most of it stems from the publicity on several recent botched lethal injections, as well as more death row inmates being exonerated as a result of DNA testing. And despite the Department of Justice actually rewarding its recently demoted death penalty expert for referring more such cases for prosecution, the actual total number of executions in this country has gone down, as have convicts sentenced to death.

Capital punishment in the United States might finally be reaching its own #Time's Up moment. Somebody ought to alert the editors at the Times, not to mention the legislators being prodded to inflate the Capital Cases Division with more proxy executioners, support personnel and of course, scads more money.

Should our congressional appropriators divert from type and experience a smidgen of doubt over the funding of America's myriad death squads, they will no doubt turn to conservative role model Joseph de Maistre and a book that might as well be re-titled "Executions For Dummies." 
"Just as it is possible that we are in error when we accuse human justice of sparing a guilty man, because the one we regard as such is not really guilty, on the other side it is equally possible that a man tortured for a crime he did not commit really merited punishment for an absolutely unknown crime."
This is exactly how the pathocrats sleep at night.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

McCarthyite Cavalcade of Cartoons

My adolescent niece recently received the following email from the microblogging site Tumblr:
Dear (name redacted by me):
As part of our commitment to transparency, we want you to know that we uncovered and terminated 84 accounts linked to Internet Research Agency or IRA (a group closely tied to the the Russian government) posing as members of the Tumblr community.
The IRA engages in electronic disinformation and propaganda campaigns around the world using phony social media accounts. When we uncovered these accounts, we notified law enforcement, terminated the accounts, and deleted their original posts.
While investigating their activity on Tumblr, we discovered that you either followed one of these accounts linked to the IRA, or liked or reblogged one of their posts:
  • coldfirefan
You aren’t in trouble, and don’t need to take any action if you don’t want to. We deleted the accounts but decided to leave up any reblog chains so that you can curate your own Tumblr to reflect your own personal views and perspectives.
My nieces's first thought was, "Oh my god, I've been hacked and I have to change all 500 of my damned passwords again."

Her second thought was, "Oh my god, somebody hacked my account and stole my identity and filled my page with porn images and all my friends will think I'm a horrible person."

Her third thought: "What if maybe I really am in trouble, and Tumblr is bullshitting me by telling me I have nothing to worry about because I did something wrong even if I didn't do anything wrong! All I ever did on that site was post pictures of My Little Pony!"

But then the light bulb went off. My niece's final encouraging thought was, "Hey - wait a minute. Is this just another extension of people's paranoia about Russia that Aunt Karen was talking about at the dinner table?"

Bingo.  My niece, after several panic-stricken minutes, had finally used her rational brain and decided to ignore the propaganda and fear-mongering. She didn't even waste her time clicking on Tumblr. She will probably never click on Tumblr again. She's still dying to know just who "coldfirefan" really is, though, because she'd never heard that name and hadn't even realized she was stalking him, her or it, especially since she hadn't logged on to Tumblr in months. And she thinks it's pretty rotten that people are so biased against "Russians." After all, some of her (and my) ancestors and relatives are of Russian extraction.

But doesn't she worry, I asked, that Tumblr itself was and still is following her, seemingly aware of her every click and move in cyberspace?. She shrugged. Privacy is not her most pressing concern. She grew up on the Facebook ethos and the "sharing economy," after all. The stealing of her information and data by corporations interested only in making a profit doesn't seem to faze her in the least.

But hey, at least she cares about propaganda as much as she cares about her My Little Pony collection. All is not lost.

Looking over the email that Tumblr sent to her, and to who knows how many other (mainly very youthful) subscribers, I am not so sanguine. This media company's cloying implicit message, that "since you did nothing wrong yourself, you have nothing to worry about" is a chilling one, barely removed from "if you do nothing wrong, then you'll have nothing to worry about - because we're keeping an eye on you."

Meanwhile, the corporate media are praising Tumblr's belated "transparency" initiative. Wired, a part of the Clinton-friendly Conde Nast empire, applauds the platform for "finally breaking its long silence".
After months of silence, Tumblr Friday released a list of 84 usernames and their aliases that it says were connected to "state-sponsored disinformation and propaganda campaigns." It's the first time the company has publicly acknowledged what journalists and researchers have known now for months: Russian trolls also used Tumblr to spread their divisive memes and gifs, reportedly to the tune of hundreds of thousands of interactions.
Wired, which "outed" whistleblower Chelsea Manning by publishing email exchanges between her and the late Adrian Lamo, itself maintained a long year of silence over its role in exposing her. It seems that in Wired's world, transparency is the top priority only so long as it doesn't endanger the security of the US military establishment. And now we learn that Wired and other "researchers" had been monitoring Tumblr for months, and knew what Tumblr warned my niece about long before Tumblr was finally pressured into warning her and other spied-upon users. 

The Daily Beast, where Chelsea Clinton just happens to sit on the board, had also been complaining about Tumblr's tight lips, even after its journalists had taken screen shots of the site and collated the names of known Russian bots. Even so, Tumblr shockingly had rejected requests for comment not only from the Beast, but from the powerful Borg mind of CNN. And when Tumblr did comment, it was too frightfully generic.

Meanwhile, I wonder whether "coldfirefan" possibly used Pinkie Pie Pony to spread divisive messages about Morning Glory Pony, thereby convincing the snowy-white Bride Pony to listen to her husband and vote for Trump instead of for Hillary. Also too, could the male fans of My Little Pony, called "Bronies," really be nothing but a Trojan horse for hordes of Hillary-hating Bernie Bro straw-stallions? I guess we'll never know. But, as Wired continues,
Not surprisingly, the accounts often promoted each others' posts, in an apparently successful effort to expand their reach. They also mostly appear to have continued posting long after the election, a reminder that, as intelligence officials have repeatedly warned, Russia's efforts to subvert US democracy have continued unabated.
My niece is supposed to be all upset at the possibility that her My Little Pony pics may have been subverted, or even had their identities stolen. For all we know, there might be whole herds of little plastic Anna Karenina equines out there in Moscow and St. Petersburg. And that is a very scary thought, especially if they happen to live in the same playroom as Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends.

Seriously, though, the Russian movie version of My Little Pony is supposed to be every bit as cheesy as the hundred or so political Facebook ads planted by those 13 grossly underpaid Russian trolls from the IRA. The film is so subversively bad, in fact, that it's not even available on YouTube any more. It's impossible to find out if coldfirefan is listed on the credits.

Those irksome trolls not only interfered in our free and fixed oligarchic elections, their countrymen even meddled in our beloved cheesy all-American Little Ponies TV franchise, having the gall to dub the dialogue of the animated cartoons into Russian.

 No leaked dossier or Congressional witch-hunt is necessary. Senate Troll Hunter-in-Chief Mark Warner can just relax, because here's all the shocking proof he'll ever need:

Monday, March 26, 2018

Where Late the Sweet Obamas Sang

When the Obamas appear at one of their many lucrative speaking gigs and tell other rich people that their new goal in life is to fill the whole world with "hundreds or thousands or millions" of Baracks and Michelles, please don't worry. They're not going for a kinder, gentler, neoliberal version of The Boys From Brazil. They don't actually want to replicate themselves as robotic pod people.

They don't want to literally clone themselves, for heaven's sake -- even though this method would probably be a lot cheaper than training vast new generations of wannabe Baracks and Michelles at their planned $500 million library in Chicago, and burning hundreds or thousands or millions of gallons of polluting jet fuel as they travel the world to inspire paying customers to murmur the right platitudes. Better for the rich to talk optimistically and nicely about the downtrodden than to insult them. It sure beats sharing the actual wealth with them. The very thought of redistribution makes offshore tax havens cringe.

If Barack Obama knows how to train people in anything, it's in the properly mellifluous use of platitudes. He crooned to a Tokyo audience that he wants to teach young people how to "run in the relay race that is human progress." That's a nice way of saying that it's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and competition - not empathy - is the key to success and happiness. On the other hand, the cult of the individual must always be tempered by "civil discourse" so as to give proper cover to predatory capitalists. Nice guy that he is, Obama even euphemized these predators and their unprosecuted crimes against humanity as "problems caused by old men."

As the glowing corporate media coverage of his post-presidency always interprets it, isn't Obama just so wonderfully discreet and even-tempered whenever he takes a jab at Donald J. Trump?

Now, to be fair, Obama also told the audience that if it turns out he's unable to create new legions of virtual Baracks and Michelles to save the world, he will at least inspire imitations: "or, the next group of people who could take that baton in that relay race that is human progress.”

(It's the Think System of the 21st century, as originally devised by that lovable old scammer himself, Professor Harold Hill the Music Man.)

But forget the feel-good musical comedy. We've got big trouble here in River City  The late Kate Wilhelm warned in her classic work of post-apocalyptic fiction, "Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang," that while the rich might think they're special, keeping their dynasties alive and thriving while the rest of the world starves and burns might have a few drawbacks. From Wikipedia's plot summary:
The collapse of civilization around the worlds resulted from massive environmental changes and global disease, which was attributed to large-scale pollution. With a range of members privileged by virtue of education and monetary resources, one large family founds an isolated community in an attempt to survive the still developing global disasters. As the death toll rises, mainly to disease and nuclear warfare, they discover that the human population left on earth is universally infertile. From cloning experiments conducted through the study of mice, the scientists in the small community theorize that the infertility might be reversed after multiple generations of cloning, and the family begins cloning themselves in an effort to survive.
If you think that scenario is far-fetched, you can always turn to nonfiction. Naomi Klein writes in The Intercept of a small group of Ayn Randian plutocrats - Puertopians - aiming to re-colonize the storm-ravaged Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and turn it into a jumbo gated community and multi-trillion dollar closed market economy:  
As a breed, the Puertopians, in their flip-flops and surfer shorts, are a sort of slacker cousin to the Seasteaders, a movement of wealthy libertarians who have been plotting for years to escape the government’s grip by starting their own city-states on artificial islands. Anybody who doesn’t like being taxed or regulated will simply be able to, as the Seasteading manifesto states, “vote with your boat.
”For those harboring these Randian secessionist fantasies, Puerto Rico is a much lighter lift. When it comes to taxing and regulating the wealthy, its current government has surrendered with unmatched enthusiasm. And there’s no need to go to the trouble of building your own islands on elaborate floating platforms — as one Puerto Crypto session put it, Puerto Rico is poised to be transformed into a “crypto-island.”
Sure, unlike the empty city-states Seasteaders fantasize about, real-world Puerto Rico is densely habited with living, breathing Puerto Ricans. But FEMA and the governor’s office have been doing their best to take care of that too. Though there has been no reliable effort to track migration flows since Hurricane Maria, some 200,000 people have reportedly left the island, many of them with federal help.
Of course, this makes Barack and Michelle's million-clone neoliberal army seem downright beneficent. They sure beat a bunch of creepy wrinkled old Ayn Rand pod people.

Forget about Michelle Obama running against Trump in 2020, though. Unlike her hubby's rather narcissistic goal of millions of Obamas, she herself modestly aims for only "thousands of Mes" to do the hard work of market-based identity politics. As reported by Business Insider,
The former first lady has been meeting many younger leaders through her work with the Obama Foundation. She says it has given her a lot of optimism about their approach to leading the country.
"They're tired of watching us do the same old thing and expect different results," Obama, 54, said at Klick Health's Muse event in New York on Tuesday. "So I'm optimistic about the future. There are some bright young people out there doing some amazing things."
Those interactions have helped to solidify her plans, which aren't likely to involve running for office. "This is why I'm not going to run for president," she said. "Because I think it's a better investment to invest in creating thousands of mes."
The article doesn't state whether The Real Michelle was paid her reported customary fee of $200,000 for inspiring Klick Health, a consulting and marketing agency whose stated task is to help the world's top medical and pharmaceutical industries burnish their images and increase their profits through the use of Big Data, as well as to inspire patients to manage their own health care needs more "efficiently."

Something just klicked in my brain, and not in a pleasant way. But never mind all that. Back to Mrs. Obama.

While she apparently allows media coverage of certain carefully selected muse-ical corporate events such as Klick Fest, this was apparently not the case in Miami Beach last week, when a Pulitzer-winning Washington Post reporter was booted from an exclusive BET event headlining Michelle Obama. It seems that the "intimate" conference for wealthy African-American women was implicitly off the record, yet panelist Robin Givhan still had the nerve to write a rather fawning blog-post about Obama's appearance for her newspaper. 
A BET rep insisted Givhan was “invited as a guest (not working press) to moderate a fashion panel,” and her travel and hotel were paid for by BET.
“She was made aware that it was an intimate conversation in a sacred space of sisterhood and fellowship.”
After a prolonged ethics kerfuffle largely played out over Twitter, the National Association of Black Journalists has come out in support of Givhan:
The rules of journalism are clear: any decision to make an event off-the-record must be stated clearly upfront, and not after-the-fact. If an individual or entity desires to have a conversation that is off-the-record, that has to be made public. It can’t be assumed or hinted. BET’s statement of the event being ‘an intimate conversation in a sacred space of sisterhood and fellowship’ does not hold water in any newsroom. If the off-the-record declaration is not made, that means everything is on-the-record and available to be reported.
Here's my take on the controversy. Michelle Obama's scripted BET conversation with BFF Valerie Jarrett probably derives from a chapter in her upcoming memoir, Becoming Michelle Obama. It was also probably a dress rehearsal for the world-wide book tour. The publisher's hype is that this volume will be so thrillingly "intimate" and mesmerizing that its sales are expected to skyrocket into even more millions of copies than there will be Obama clones.  Since intimacy "as told by" the rich and famous is such a valuable commodity, Robin Givhan probably leaked a whole hunk of the book without even realizing it. 

But at least the sour note ended on a very sweet note. Journalism in the public, rather than the private, interest really does prevail sometimes. Not every reporter is a stenographer and celebrity-worshiper. It's enough to make you sing for joy.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Commentariat Central: Hawks & Mawks Edition

 Welcome to another semi-regular New York Times comment dump.

If the media aren't salivating over porn star Stormy Daniels, they're salivating and/or retching over war porn addict John Bolton joining the Trump administration.  Bolton did constitute at least a quarter-lobe of Bush's-dry drunk brain, after all. So the fact that erstwhile Iraq War critic Trump is embracing the "hawkish" Bolton - on the 15th anniversary of the illegal invasion, no less - is making even some Neocon-embracing, Saudi-groveling Democrats' hair curl. 

It's bad enough that Trump is a hypocrite, Bolton is a hypocrite for talking tough about Russia at the same time he's enriched himself by, among other things, canoodling with Russian oligarchs on behalf of the National Rifle Association.

 We are supposed to be selectively outraged by some, but by no means all, of the corruption going on this establishment. Thanks to the dearth of media coverage, most people are not too shocked that the US has sold billions of dollars' worth of weapons to the Saudi royals for their war on poor Yemenis, and the humanitarian crisis of starvation and cholera it has wrought.

So this week's designated bad guy is John Bolton. Not that he doesn't eminently deserve the title, of course; it's just so hard to keep straight so many names of so many miscreants vying for attention in our overloaded brains at any given moment.

In her Sunday column comparing the two boy kings - George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump - and their mutual Neocon addiction, Maureen Dowd writes:
Because the Dr. Strangeloves treated W. like a host body, we ended up in two tragically unending wars.
In the bitter contest between the Rumsfeld Defense Department and the Colin Powell State Department, John Bolton was a Rummy person who was a fifth column at State, along with Liz Cheney. Like a walrus version of Wile E. Coyote, he lived to dynamite treaties, alliances and anything with “global” or “multilateral” in the title.
He was known as the most undiplomatic diplomat ever, with a rip-their-eyeballs-out, foaming-at-the-mouth style.
My published comment:
 Calling Bolton a hawk is an insult to hawks, who are sharp-eyed, who kill only what they can eat at one sitting, and who are actually tameable if paired with a properly trained handler. A better moniker is "war criminal." However, since in 2002 Bolton pre-absolved himself of culpability for war crimes when he advised Bush not to ratify the Rome Statute/ International Criminal Court Treaty, he continues to roam free.

Not only was the Bush cohort never prosecuted, Bush himself is being rehabbed in the propaganda court of oligarchic opinion. Trump is so magical that way; he makes some of the worst scoundrels and killers in US history look like choirboys compared to himself.

Bolton is far too depraved to be called a mere hawk. But I do think it's fair to call him a mawk, given the way he slimily burrowed into Bush's soft yielding brain while whispering all those lies about the non-existent WMDs. Bolton is both a predator and a parasite.

The one black lining on the dark cloud is that Trump is neither a proper handler, nor as malleable as Bush. Trump's dwindling supply of sycophants can't hold a candle to, for example, the malevolence of the still-ticking Dick Cheney (who is likely too crafty to accept a temporary invite into the current chaotic inner sanctum.)

Odds are that Trump will grow as tired of Bolton as he has with the rest of them. We can only hope that both these criminals will be forced out before they ever get the chance to bomb any more innocent people.

For more run-of-the-mill mawkishness, we can always count on Times resident scold Charles Blow to supply it in overwrought dollops. In his latest effort, he bemoans the tragic damage that our most recent boy king is doing to America's benevolent "brand." All because of Trump, you see, people all over the world who used to love United States diplomatic product are now wrinkling their noses in disgust. The merchandise's value is being threatened. And as the title to his latest column asserts, this makes Trump absolutely "un-American." Attempting to analyze Trump's recent lying to Justin Trudeau of Canada about a non-existent trade deficit, Blow writes:
It bears repeating that Donald Trump is a pathological, unrepentant liar. We must state this truth for as long as he revels in untruth.
But there is something about the nakedness of this confession, the brazenness of it, the cavalier-ness, that still has the ability to shock....
Our relationship with our allies around the world depends on some degree of mutual trust and respect. What must they think when they watch Trump demolish those diplomatic tenets? How are international agreements supposed to be negotiated when one party is a proven, prolific liar?
We have no idea just how damaged the American brand has become under Trump.
My published response:
 Trump is as American as rotten apple pie. He isn't the disease, he's just the most glaring symptom of the disease which has been deliberately crafted in the laboratories of the money-soaked Congress.

Trump uses racism as a weapon to divide and conquer just as the US has from its very inception.:From the slave trade, to the colonization and extermination of natives, to the international plunder by the World Bank and the IMF, to the forever wars waged from nearly 1,000 military bases. 

Trump destroying the American "brand?" To the permanent ruling class and to the media whose job it is to sell a "narrative" of democracy and equality, yes. But to many of us, the "brand" was exposed as a fraud long ago. Ask the refugees from the Middle East, for example, how they feel about Trump's sullying of the "brand." Ask the unemployed factory workers in the US Midwest. Ask the millions of families evicted from their homes after the 2008 collapse, while the bankers got bailouts and bonuses and the top 1% pocketed 94% of all that lost household wealth. Ask them about "brand damage" and they'll either weep bitter tears or laugh right in your face.
 Trump's lies are his essential currency. List them to your heart's content and he won't care a whit. The Trump brand is the American brand boiled right down to its very essence: capitalism on crack.
The country not only needs a high colonic to purge itself of the Trump offal, it needs the therapeutic nourishment of a new New Deal.

Times op-ed contributor Susan Jacoby, meanwhile, sets up a nifty little neoliberal straw man in her recent piece, entitled "Stop Apologizing for Being Elite." It seems that hordes of Fox News Deplorables hate you because you happen to possess a college degree and hold a job and earn a decent salary. But don't let them get you down. Above all, stop feeling so ashamed just because you earned yourself a seat at the table, and they didn't. Stop feeling sorry for them! The ignorant should take a tip from her own dear departed grandmother and learn to love learning for learning's sake. And liberal intellectuals should take more pride in their own accomplishments as they mawkishly preach a bootstrapping, ladders-of-opportunity agenda to their less-educated brethren:
Gran has been in my thoughts even more than usual this year, because I know that she would have scoffed at one of the unanticipated consequences of the Trump presidency. I am referring to the endless self-flagellation among well-educated liberals — “the elites,” in pejorative parlance — about their failure to “get” the concerns of white working-class voters. Gran never expected anyone to “get” her. She was determined to educate herself for what she considered the privilege of citizenship.Our current political discourse is corrupted by two equally flawed narratives about the relationship between social class and politics.
 The first is a fable accepted by many intellectuals, who have found themselves guilty because just enough white working-class voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin handed Mr. Trump his Electoral College win in 2016. Many fear that this year’s midterm elections will once again result in a rejection of “elitism” by the same voters.
In a second, equally flawed narrative — adopted by a segment of both blue-collar workers and intellectuals — the American working class is so victimized that almost none of its members are capable of accepting the responsibility of civic self-education.
 And the third flawed narrative is Jacoby's own, given that she conflates the allegedly maligned educated elite ( for example, doctors who won't accept Medicaid patients) with the noxious Power Elite. Jacoby does not discuss the latter group in her article at all.

So I responded:
The resented "elites" aren't intellectuals like doctors and teachers. They are the permanent ruling class of career politicians and operatives, corporate media propagandists and personalities, and the handful of very wealthy families and CEOs who actually run this show.

If doctors refuse to treat Medicare and Medicaid patients, it's because the aristocracy refuses to adequately subsidize health care for the poor, disabled and elderly. Regular people aren't blaming underpaid teachers (bravely beginning to strike for a living wage) and adjunct college professors with advanced degrees who, along with other members of our growing economic underclass, often qualify for meager Medicaid and food assistance. If these professionals feel "guilty" about Trump, then it's probably news to them.

Education may have been a ticket to the good life back in Grandma's day, but since the US devolved into an oligarchy, this is no longer true. Our money-soaked, privatized government ensures that the culture of corruption, of which Trump is only the most glaring symptom, will continue to fester.

While the far-right GOP openly disdains humanity, the centrist Dems go the insipid concern-trolling route, touting incrementalism and bragging about "diversity" - as the oligarchs permit a token few black, brown and female persons to rise within the ranks in order to give the ultra-rich some much-needed identity-politics cover.

But guess what? The empire has no clothes, and people are noticing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Corporate Media: Incapable of Honor

Sampling the fare on the afternoon cable news shows this week, it struck me that the reporters and consultants and party hacks who star in them are not even pretending any more to disseminate information to me, the viewer. They are there for one reason, and one reason only: to bolster one other's talking points about the topic most important to them. Most recently, that prescribed theme has been Trump and Russia and Stormy Daniels.

Occasionally they do reluctantly tear themselves away from their insular conversations to just mention in passing the Mad Bomber of Austin, or to speculate over the guest list of Prince Harry and Princess Sparkle's upcoming nuptials.

Nationwide teacher strikes? Nope. Bernie Sanders's Internet town hall and its estimated one million-plus viewers? Surely, you jest.

On MSNBC Tuesday afternoon, the incessantly chirpy and unabashedly anti-Trump Katy Tur played an endless video loop of a couple of Russians stuffing the ballot boxes to re-elect Vladimir Putin. She went around the table inviting all her guests, one by one, to express their shock and outrage. While acknowledging that the Kremlin itself had released the video, she described the transparency as nothing but a blatant punch in the nose to democracy, even though Russia is not a democracy and never has been. Then she invited her guests to express outrage that Donald Trump had called Putin to congratulate him on his victory - which only proves once again that Trump is a Manchurian candidate and that the Russians obviously have Kompromat on him. 

 “Notable, a big huge flag that Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the White House will not confirm what everybody can see with their own eyes. Video came out just the other day, video looked at by the Associated Press, which actually showed people in Russia stuffing the ballot boxes, yet Sarah Huckabee Sanders and this White House refuses to say that the election in Russia was not fair," Tur said in apparent shock and disbelief.

Over at CNN in the same 2-3 p.m slot, chirpy news personality Brooke Baldwin was playing an endless loop of a couple of Russians stuffing the ballot boxes to re-elect Vladimir Putin before going around the table to invite her featured guests to outdo one another in the outrage department. Then she invited the guests to grouse about Trump's unprecedented refusal to listen to his own security team by calling Putin to suggest a meeting to discuss peace and cutting back a little bit on all the nuclear proliferation.

On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program today, the ubiquitous John Brennan, late of the CIA, chimed in that the Russians have got to have Kompromat on Trump for him to have so egregiously ignored the ALL CAPS ORDER from his own national security advisers to not congratulate Putin.

The cable TV talkfests could probably save themselves a bundle of money by simply playing an endless loop of all their highly-paid personalities repeating the same Russophobic talking points over and over and over again.

These are some of the same pundits and scolds who just recently spent a gala evening with the whole Trump crime family at the annual Gridiron Dinner, where they joked and canoodled with one another, far away from the prying eyes of the public. It's all a show - of, by, and for the cronies of the permanent ruling media-political establishment.

As former Obama speechwriter David Litt wrote of the hypocrisy of these journalistic scolds toasting Trump and joking with him in a private social setting:
With the free press threatened as never before, a Gridiron that proceeds as if everything’s normal will only make the situation worse. If Trump doubles down on his attacks, journalists who toast him will be ratifying this new arrangement. If his jokes are self-deprecating and his concluding paragraphs full of praise, it will be another sign that this administration can undermine our institutions so long as it pays them lip service.
The media, as has been its custom throughout the history of the Gridiron Incest-fest, dishonorably honored its off-the-record dictum this year even as they gleefully continued their lucrative and frenzied #Resistance reportage for public consumption. Still, as is also their hypocritical custom, they simply couldn't resist sharing with the great unwashed masses Trump's "top five jokes."

He really "let loose," as approvingly noted by the inside-the-Beltway site Axios, with such howlers as "I like chaos, It is really good" and "I offered Jeff Sessions a ride over but he recused himself."

The late Pulitzer Price-winning political novelist and former New York Times reporter Allen Drury described the inbred coziness in his book about political reporting and punditry, Capable of Honor:
Journalists might start their careers determined to tell America the truth honestly and fearlessly regardless of whom it might help or hinder, (but then ) almost without their knowing it they soon begin to write, not for the country, but for each other. They begin to report and interpret events, not according to the rigid standards of honesty upon which the great majority of them have been reared in their pre-Washington days, but according to what might or might not be acceptable in the acidly easygoing wisecracks of the Press Club bar and the parties at which they entertained one another.'
The cable show-people are shameless in their brazens displays of both the intramural and extramural cronyism; when I tuned in to the one-course tasting menu this week, I almost felt like an eavesdropper at one of their exclusive parties.

 The print journalists, though, are of necessity a bit more circumspect in their self-serving propaganda. Cable chitchat quickly dissolves into the air, whereas print has a way of hanging around forever. This extra care, however, does not apply when print reporters in great numbers appear on the cable shows. (or, as is the case of Maggie Haberman, who works for both CNN and the New York Times, they zig-zag seamlessy between dual employers in order to amplify their own narratives) On TV, the print straight-news journalists seem much freer to let loose with their own analyses and opinions. There is that feeling of security when they're in proximity to members of their own professional class. And there is also that competition in trying to outdo one another with the most sparkling and erudite and insightful group-think.

 Invitations to these shows are predicated upon guests not straying too far from the conventional wisdom, especially as it pertains to Russiagate. To doubt that there was a direct Kremlin-ordered "attack on our democracy/elections" - besides Trump's likely sleazy dealings with Russian oligarchs - is to be never invited back.

The New York Times, the nation's Paper of Record, for the most part couches its own click-vantageous, pretend-contemptuous Trump coverage through the skilled use of slanted language and snide innuendo, rather than through chirpy overblown cable outrage.  A piece by Eileen Sullivan is also typical of a growing practice which treats the cable news and late night comedy shows as news events in and of themselves. Sullivan's article is headlined "Trump Criticizes Mueller, Again, (my bold) As a Former CIA Director Suggests Russia 'May Have Something' On the President."

There is so much meaning crammed into that one little headline. First is the implication that the crusading media-political complex is downright exhausted covering all these ridiculous Trumpian insults. Second is the implication that the former CIA Director - NBC's John Brennan - is speaking as an altruistic former government official and not as a highly-paid corporate pundit. Third is the unproven claim that Russia has Kompromat on Trump. And that leads me to wonder why on earth the former CIA director himself wouldn't know what Russia has or doesn't have. It certainly doesn't speak highly of his spying expertise; all he can do is "suggest" rather than to accuse, in a smarmy effort to appear honorable.

Okay, so now that we've been (mis) lead to believe that Trump blasted Mueller in no uncertain terms like the crazed buffoon that he is, the Times's lede goes all soft and mushy:
  President Trump indirectly (my bold) criticized Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, on Wednesday for the ongoing investigation into Russia’s 2016 campaign meddling, even as a former C.I.A. director said during a morning news show that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia may have compromising information on Mr. Trump.
The Times attempts to assert its own honor by inserting the belated modifier, "indirectly," lest they be accused of editorializing after their initial accusatory headline. The Times also protects John Brennan's honor by failing to mention that he is actually employed, and paid quite handsomely, by the same network which aired his appearance.
After a weekend of attacking Mr. Mueller — against the advice of his own lawyers — Mr. Trump picked up again in early morning tweets when he quoted a Harvard professor who said Mr. Mueller should never have been appointed to be the special counsel to investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. That investigation has expanded into inquiries into Mr. Trump’s aides and his own business dealings.
“I was opposed to the selection of Mueller to be Special Council,” Mr. Trump tweeted, misspelling the word, “counsel,” as he quoted Alan M. Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor who has been outspoken in his defense of the president.
It is impossible for the Times to write an article about Trump's tweets without also gleefully pointing out each and every one of his many spelling and grammatical mistakes. What actually surprises me, though, is their pointing out two separate times that Dershowitz is employed by Harvard University, home of the best and the brightest on both sides of the Uniparty. Then again, Dershowitz also appears frequently on Fox News, so maybe this serves as a subtle message to Harvard. I have no way of knowing, because as Allen Drury observed more than half a century ago, these media-political complex characters are almost always talking amongst themselves rather than directly to the reading and viewing public.

The Times continues,
Separately, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” John O. Brennan, a former C.I.A. director, speculated that the Russians “may have something on him personally,” referring to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Brennan was the C.I.A. director when a salacious dossier surfaced in 2016 that claimed the Russians had compromising information on Mr. Trump. There has been no proof that such material exists, but Mr. Trump’s affection for the Russian leader has raised questions about the nature of their relationship.
Again, there is no mention of Brennan's new professional and monetary association with NBC. For all that New York Times readers are allowed to know, the former CIA director just happened to drop by 30 Rock Center to "speculate" out of the pure goodness of his honorable little heart.

Notice, too, the passive voice employed by Eileen Sullivan when she describes the "salacious dossier." It just happened to "surface" out of thin air one day, all by its lonesome, seemingly without either the direct or indirect orders and financing of the Hillary Clinton campaign. The dossier is not proof of anything, Sullivan allows, but Trump's affection for Putin obviously leads one to the rational conclusion that Trump enjoys the "golden showers" of Russian prostitutes. You'd think that John Brennan, as the nation's former top spy, would know one way or another whether this is true. "High confidence" and speculation among spooks is not evidence. But who cares, when innuendo is such a powerful propaganda weapon when it is aimed at erudite Times readers and not at the deplorable hicks who get sucked in by the schlock Facebook ads and apps, disseminated by Steve Bannon and his Russian troll pals, and paid for by the all-American billionaire Mercers?
On Tuesday, Mr. Trump congratulated Mr. Putin on his re-election and made no mention of the election meddling. Mr. Trump has routinely issued statements about Russia and Mr. Putin that sound at odds with his own advisers and administration actions.
Trump serially lies out of both sides of his pursed little cat anus of a mouth before he serially walks back those lies. And the media always pretend to be shocked out of their minds as they rush to serialize all his lies into their endless listicles and columns. Lies are Trump's currency. They are his instruments of pure power over the media, which can't help bringing attention to them as part of their never-ending serialized spectacular reality show which passes for political discourse these days. His words don't jibe with his actions - doesn't that make him a typical sleazy American politician?
“I think he’s afraid of the president of Russia,” said Mr. Brennan, now retired from government service and a critic of Mr. Trump.
Oh, for Saint Pete's sake: the New York Times just denied Brennan's monetary collusion with NBC for the third straight time in just one short article.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Six Ways From Sunday

Senate Minority Weasel Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Wall Street) warned Donald Trump more than a year ago that the US intelligence agencies have "six ways from Sunday" of eliciting his respect and making him believe that Russia interfered in the elections. Schumer told Rachel Maddow that even a savvy businessman like Trump was being "really dumb" for comparing the meddling claims to the false intelligence on WMDs leading to the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.

And of course he isn't behaving himself in office and believing what he has to believe. The last straw for the permanent political class came when Trump fired Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe two days before what was to have been a very lucrative, perk-heavy retirement at the ripe old age of 50. Former CIA Director and current NBC performer John Brennan blasted out this mighty Tweet to Trump on Saturday:
 You know we've reached the point of no return when the architect of Barack Obama's drone assassination program, the burglar who ordered the hacking of Senate computers containing still-repressed torture documents, and the once-and-future champion of dirty tricks and torture, is lecturing Donald Trump on morals and corruption. That's the beautiful thing about Trump. He makes all kinds of scoundrels not only look like choirboys, he has actually promoted them to Cotton Mather status. And the corporate media are falling all over themselves to furnish this new breed of militaristic virtue signaler with their own bully pulpits.

Trump has effectively canonized the FBI, so maligned throughout its history for its own dirty tricks, ranging from the Palmer Raids, to spying on Martin Luther King Jr and later urging him to commit suicide, to infiltrating the anti-war and civil rights movements, to entrapping Muslims in manufactured terror plots, to breaking up the Occupy movement, to spying on American citizens on the Internet. And this is not even including its investigative failures, such as not heeding Russian warnings of the Boston Marathon bombing and most recently, its inaction on several tips related to the Florida school shooter. The FBI, the NSA and the CIA are now posing as moral bastions of democratic liberalism, which in turn has been newly and perversely defined as McCarthyism and Russophobia. And many Democrats are eagerly embracing thia authoritarian dogma, in a reactionary frenzy once thought to have been the sole purview of rightwing fanatics and Dick Nixon's Moral Majority.

Fired FBI Director James Comey even posed as liberal Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on Twitter for awhile before mistakenly outing himself and then going all preachy-moralizy under his own name. Virginia Heffernan wrote a scathing take-down of this sub-manic, golly gee willikers Tweeter for Politico last year. His folksy book is already a bestseller on Amazon and it hasn't even been released yet.

Trump has single-handedly made war criminal John Brennan into something of a Democratic Party folk hero - not to mention indirectly enriching him via his new high profile gig as NBC's #Resistance fighter. Ironically, Brennan's platform is the very same behemoth media corporation which made Trump himself into the postmodern folk hero of cruel capitalism, rich and famous beyond his own wildest dreams. 

in what now seems like the distant past, liberals were actually so outraged about Brennan's defense of torture - he'd Trumpily and falsely claimed that it saved American lives - that he was forced to withdraw his name when Barack Obama first nominated him to head the CIA in 2008.

But by 2013, as Glenn Greenwald observed in a New York Times op-ed, Obama was so popular that his fans willingly followed his lead in embracing Brennan as the country's top spook. Nobody cared that Obama was killing hundreds or thousands of Muslims from a Kill List devised by Brennan. Regarding the former president's refusal to prosecute Bush-era CIA torturers, Greenwald wrote, "Obama's Orwellian decree that we must 'look forward, not backward' has convinced huge numbers of citizens to sweep this all under the rug and pretend it never happened. That is what explains how Brennan went from radioactive and unconfirmable in 2008 to uncontroversial in 2013."

Long before Trump won his own nomination and the election, the abnormal was becoming the new normal. Brennan was actually being lauded by officials and pundits and politicians for pivoting from the gruesome torture and imprisonment of Muslims to humanely droning them to death. Even U.N. drone watchdog Ben Emmerson praised the Brennan appointment, saying that he would be a "moderating influence" on the CIA's expansion of drone assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"By putting Brennan in direct control of the CIA's policy [of targeted killings], the president has placed this mediating legal presence in direct control of the positions that the CIA will adopt and advance, so as to bring the CIA much more closely under direct presidential and democratic control," Emmerson told Wired.
"It's right to view this as a recognition of the repository of trust that Obama places in Brennan to put him in control of the organization that poses the greatest threat to international legal consensus and recognition of the lawfulness of the drone programme."
Orwellianism knows no bounds. Kinder, gentler - and most of all lighting-quick - murder by Predator missile is fine, as long as it is committed in the name of democracy. Who cares if a rogue organization poses a great international threat, as long as it is controlled by a law-loving, moralistic man like John Brennan?

Lambert Strether of Naked Capitalism has done yeoman's work constructing a valuable spreadsheet which documents the creepy prevalence in the 2018 mid-terms of the MILO (military, intelligence, law enforcement) candidates actively recruited to run by the Democratic Party establishment.

 So what's to stop the party from recruiting Brennan or Comey to run at the top of the ticket in 2020?

Stranger things have happened, including the Democrats seriously courting Oprah to run for president. America truly is the land of opportunity for the permanent ruling establishment. If John Brennan can go from despised to tolerated to admired in the space of a few short years, anything is possible. They aim high while Trump goes low. He is the gift that keeps on giving to the oligarchs who would, as Obama once said, really just like to play nicely together within the 40-yard line.

Everything was so mellow for the ruling class back in 2013, as Brennan was preparing to finally take the helm of the CIA. From a video interview:
BARACK OBAMA: In my conversations with Republicans, I actually think the divide is not that wide. So what we just have to do is find a pathway where Republicans in the House in particular feel comfortable enough about process that they can go ahead and meet us.
This, by the way, Gerry (sp), I think is a good example of something that’s been striking me about our politics for a while. When you go to other countries, the political divisions are so much more stark and wider; here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans — we’re fighting inside the 40-yard line, maybe –
SEIB: You fooled most people on that in the last few months, I’d say.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, but — but — (laughter) — well, no, no, the — I — I would — I would distinguish between the — the rhetoric and the tactics, versus the ideological differences.
I mean, in most countries, you’ve got — you know, people call me a socialist sometimes, but, no, you’ve got to me real socialists. You’ll have a sense of what a — what a socialist is. (Laughter.) You know, the — I mean, I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace. Stock market’s looking pretty good last time I checked, and, you know, it is true that I’m concerned about growing inequality in our system, but nobody questions the efficacy of market economies in terms of producing wealth and innovation and keeping us competitive.
Still wondering why nearly 10 percent of Obama voters later abandoned the Democrats and voted for Trump? The Orange Menace is not the disease; he is merely the latest, most glaring symptom of the disease.

So when Brennan tweetily bellows to Trump that "America will triumph over you," he simply means that the military/surveillance/oligarchic coup, disguised as liberal democracy, is well-nigh complete.