Monday, May 28, 2018

No God But Mammon

Never one to gush platitudes like "normal" presidents do when touting American Exceptionalism on solemn occasions, Donald Trump certainly did not disappoint in his Memorial Day tweet.

Instead of thanking God, Mom, and Apple Pie on this great national day of fake mourning for people who allegedly "gave their lives" rather than having their lives snatched out from under them by the Lords of Capitalism, Trump did what Trump does best. He instigated yet another bout of fake outrage by making Memorial Day 2018 all about memorializing... gasp, surprise...himself.

"Happy Memorial Day!" was his jovial message to America. "Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women for 18 years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!"

But hey, let's give the oaf at least a little credit. For someone who's trashed our sacred norms day in and day out, even failing to utter the requisite "God Bless America" at the end of his presidential acceptance speech, he has at least advanced to the point of envisioning all those dead American soldiers partying up in Heaven and cheering him (Trump, not the other boring old God) on.

Well, maybe not, when you parse it. The tweet says the dead soldiers "would" be happy, as opposed to Trump speciously claiming that they actually are happy. So fact-checkers, beware, because this was a highly nuanced tweet. I still think the president is a closet atheist despite going to church with Melania at Easter and Christmas.

The semi-good news is that Trump graciously capitalized Blacks and Hispanics, giving them parity with the Military, one of the few remaining job opportunities with benefits for poor people, of whom America's Blacks and Hispanics represent a big chunk. Lower-case "women" sadly didn't fare nearly as well, but at least more of them are working at crappy jobs at salaries so meager and benefits so nonexistent that Exceptional America's birthrate is now plummeting to record low levels.

But our ruling class racketeers don't want you to be outraged about those grim facts. They want you to be outraged at Trump's lack of presidential etiquette.

Since Trump didn't mention the Invisible Guy in the Sky, former CIA and National Security Chief Michael Hayden did the hypocritical honors for him, tweeting out "OMG!" in response to Trump's tweet. Talk about disrespect! Hayden couldn't even be bothered to spell out G-O-D, for Christ's sake.

Professional #Resistance Fighter Chris Cilizza of CNN did the next best outraged thing. He dredged up (who else?) Barack Obama as the shining standard of how presidents should vapidly "do" Memorial Day via Twitter:

"We can never truly repay the debt we owe our fallen heroes," tapped out Obama in his final year in office. "But we can remember them, honor their sacrifice, and affirm in our own lives those enduring ideals of justice, equality and opportunity for which generations of Americans have given that last full measure of devotion."

With soaring neoliberal rhetoric like that, it's not shocking at all that Barack and wife Michelle just signed a reputed $50 million dollar deal with Netflix to produce fiction, nonfiction, documentaries, talk shows, you name it, for the purpose of "telling stories to the world."  It's also not shocking that they immediately parked the cash in a Delaware LLC, a/k/a tax shelter, which they dubbed "Higher Ground Productions." As Obama lectured to the soon-to-be displaced tenants of the Chicago neighborhood hosting his presidential "library," they shouldn't complain or sue him over their incipient homelessness, because he and Michelle "won't be making a dime on it." On their library/entertainment venue, that is. True fact: it's not that he can't ever truly repay the destitute and the evicted. It's that he won't. But they'll always have his Ladders of Opportunity to tide over future generations of Americans, if not already existing Americans. If they die prematurely, at least they'll have given "that last full measure of devotion" to him, Barack Obama.

  But, I digress. Since this post is ostensibly about the Military Industrial Complex's glorification of violent death and sugar-coating it under the twin platitudes of God and Democracy, I'd now like to send a prayer-gram to all the bellicose American presidents of all the Memorial Days Past, Present and (Dicey) Future. 

This prayer actually has multi-purpose functionality and would come in especially handy on those very special School Massacre Days, when the banal Thoughts and Prayers being so tediously offered in lieu of gun control laws just don't seem to do the trick on the public psyche any more.

From E.M. Cioran's "The Arrogance of Prayer"--
Lord, give me the capacity of never praying, spare me the insanity of all worship, let this temptation of love pass from me which would deliver me forever unto You. Let the void spread between my heart and heaven! I have no desire to people my deserts with Your presence, to tyrannize my nights by Your light, to dissolve my Siberias beneath your sun. Lonelier than You, I want my hands pure, the contrary of Yours which were forever corrupted by kneading the earth and busying themselves with the world's affairs. I ask Your stupid omnipotence for nothing but the respect of my solitude and torments.... Grant me the miracle gathered before the first moment, the peace which You could not tolerate and which incited You to breach the nothingness in order to make way for this carnival of time, and thereby to condemn me to the universe -- to humiliation and the shame of Being.
Surely, I jest.


On a related note, I offered a riposte the other day to Maureen Dowd's latest New York Times effort, in which the Puff Queen of Shallow bemoaned all the Grifters -- Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Elizabeth Holmes -- who are giving such grief these days to the more staid division of the Ruling Class Racket. Her prescription? Delete your social media accounts, pronto... but be sure to keep following Maureen Dowd on Facebook and, of course, Twitter.

My published comment:
Trump is as all-American as rancid apple pie, just another poster child for the de facto twin mottoes of the USA: Might Makes Right, and Greed Is Good.

The golden thread that links all these charlatans together is that while they might get charged and convicted due to public outcries so loud that even corrupt prosecutors can't ignore them, few ever see the inside of a jail cell.

Billionaire Elizabeth Holmes, despite perpetrating one of the biggest frauds in history, to date has only had to pay a $500,000 fine, return shares, and promise not to lead another public company for a decade. Poor little rich girl, huh?

Trump has enjoyed a whole lifetime of slaps on the wrist because, essentially, he is just like one of those too big to fail banks for whom financial settlements are the cost of doing business. Fines become just another tax write-off, a nifty way to suck more money from regular people.
Usually it's only when plutocrats and celebrities begin failing to provide nice returns on the investments of their fellow rich people that the "justice" system suddenly develops a moral compass and takes a brief break from prosecuting low-level, mainly black and poor, offenders.

It's certainly no accident that the current CEO to worker pay ratio is 275 to 1, while United Way reports that more than a third of US citizens don't earn enough money to meet their basic needs.

This goes way beyond Silicon Valley and Hollywood and D.C. It's capitalism on steroids that's run amok.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Commentariat Central/Open Thread

Sorry not sorry for the dearth of new posts. Springtime warmth has finally arrived here in my corner of the elitist Northeast, and snnshine and birds and flowers beckon like an irresistible magnet away from the dank confines of my depressively cluttered little computer alcove.

The only writing I've done this whole week is respond to Charles Blow's latest column in the New York Times, which takes issue with Donald Trump's sloppy, vague and unaccountable, but still paradoxically effective, language skills. Since analysis of media-political language is my game, I joined the fray and wrote a comment: 

Trump is the Pontius Pilate of presidents.

"Things" may or may not passive-aggressively happen. Stay tuned, because this is the highest rated cliffhanger of a reality show that, to use his words, "the world has ever seen."

"People" are saying, because his regime is defined as the pulpy pages of a checkout gossip mag.

I just read that a judge has ruled Trump can no longer ban people from his Twitter account. I also read that his staff largely ghost-writes his tweets, deliberately misspelling words and using CAPs and too many !!!!s so as to make him a Deplorable in good standing, a very stable genius whose base, he perceives, is slightly less intellekchul than he is. And the media gobble it all up., as he merely pretends to despise them.

And the feeling is utterly mutual. Michelle Wolf was right when she told the D.C. press that "you guys love Trump." And well they should: the ratings and revenues of the consolidated corporate media are through the roof. #Resistance, Inc. is a very lucrative franchise, for professional Trumpers and anti-Trumpers alike.

The only losers are the bottom 90% of the US population, not to mention close to 100% of the world's population.

Trump might lie like the day-glo orange rug on the top of his head, but whenever he brays "Winning!!!!" he is very sadly speaking Mammon's honest truth.

He's been the poster boy of our two-tiered justice system for all 70-odd years of his existence. Poor people go to jail. Trump pays a fine and signs an NDA.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Great White Rant, Revisited

Just as Donald Trump regularly dehumanizes dark-skinned people, incurring the requisite (and much-desired) outrage from all who claim to be decent,  so too is he uncannily proficient at then turning the tables upon the decently outraged.

In typical gaslighting fashion, Trump is calling the outraged media and citizens to account for their coverage of and reaction to his latest "animals" remark aimed at undocumented immigrants. He lambasted the outraged, saying that if they'd been paying close enough attention to his well-known nuanced verbal skills, they would have noticed he was again only talking about the notorious MS-13 gang.

He's technically right about that to a minor degree, but very wrong about it to a truly major degree.. His incendiary comment was, in fact, a response to a complaint by the Fresno County (California) sheriff that state law precludes her from reporting to federal immigration authorities information about undocumented migrants, including MS-13 gang members, being held in her county jail.

"We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country,” Trump responded without referring to MS-13. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”

He was perfectly OK to let the conventional interpretation of his remarks about "these people" stand for more than 24 hours - more than enough time to rebroadcast his bullhorn of a message that all Latino migrants are animals and criminals  - before complaining that he'd been deliberately misunderstood... again.

This has caused a minor corporate media and political frenzy, with some hastily cobbled-together retractions and corrections about the "misunderstanding." So score a win for Trump among his base and his enablers from the Duopoly, and a loss for the coastal elites who pay lip service to the rights of migrants and refugees when it suits their political agendas and party prospects to do so. 

And most of all, score more terror and angst for Latinos and other immigrants, who are being torn from their families by the abusive Trump administration.

For the most part, the corporate media are acting like a bunch of wimps in the face of Trump's critique. They should neither have retracted their stories and tweets, like the A.P. did, nor issued even the flimsiest of apologies to the Trump administration for appearing to "coddle" the MS-13 gang the way that they did, nor even "declined to comment" on the issue, as the New York Times safely did.

 The media were certainly co-opted by Trump in getting the xenophobic message out to the base, loud and clear, before many outlets took the easy way out and decided that yes, they had indeed misinterpreted Trump's "true" message. The lone exception, strange as it may seem, was the Washington Post, which stands by its factual headline "Trump Refers To Some Undocumented Immigrants As Animals."

CNN, long the profitable subject of Trump's "fake news" wrath, took the low road and sided with Trump, accusing and naming the major outlets which took his "animals" comments out of context. The cable network posted its screed, aptly enough, on its "Money Blog."

Heaven forbid that CNN personalities lose their credentials or "access" to the presidential seat of malevolent power as their bosses and corporate sponsors rake in record revenues by selectively #resisting Trump.

  Meanwhile,Trump is having his cake and eating it too, gleefully tweeting today: 

"Fake News Media had me calling Immigrants, or Illegal Immigrants, ‘Animals.’ Wrong! They were begrudgingly forced to withdraw their stories.. I referred to MS 13 Gang Members as “Animals,” a big difference — and so true. Fake News got it purposely wrong, as usual!”

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went even further. At Thursday's daily White House briefing, she read from a prepared statement:  “The president was very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members who enter the country illegally and whose deportations are hamstrung by our laws. If the media and liberals want to defend MS-13, they’re more than welcome to. Frankly, I don’t think the term that the president used was strong enough.”

She then went on to gleefully and graphically imagine the press corps getting their jollies over the gang cutting off heads and ripping out hearts.

There were no follow-up questions from the cowed assembled court stenographers.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Great White Rant

Not for the first time has Donald Trump dehumanized people by calling them "animals" during one of his habitual rants. Last month, it was alleged gang members. On Wednesday, it was the immigrants entering the country from Mexico, all for the lack of a magical wall to keep Whiteness safe.

 But this time he revved up his violent rhetoric to maximum overdrive:
 "We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them,” Mr. Trump said in the Cabinet Room during an hourlong meeting that reporters were allowed to document. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”
Well, not quite. Trump still hasn't deported as many people as his predecessor, who set the real record. That probably explains at least part of his spittle-inflected rage. He gets away with it, though, because Barack Obama was not one to brag about his own inhumanity. On the contrary, he herded them out of the country very quietly, to little outrage from his own party, no credit from the Republican Party, and nearly nonexistent coverage by the corporate media. When his administration was rarely confronted over his mass deportations, officials soothed it was only in order "to send a message" to future border crossers. 

And if outright deportation wasn't feasible, especially for those migrants claiming refugee status because of violence in their home countries, Obama's immigration bureaucrats did the proper public relations thing and locked them up in immigration jails, often euphemised as "family detention centers."

Trump, of course, is far from the first American official to dehumanize dark-skinned people. The US was founded upon slavery and the expulsion and extermination of the continent's native populations, the xenophobic language of which survives to this very day in military jargon and the naming of sports teams.

Along with tens of millions of other modern-day citizens, Trump became a true believer during the post-civil rights victory decades which featured the reactionary law-and-order regimes of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton herself was a true believer, touting the harsh sentencing reforms of her husband's administration by infamously calling young black men "super-predators who must be brought to heel," as though they were vicious dogs. That remark came back to haunt her during her latest ill-fated presidential bid.

But the autocratic Trump brings the institutional racism, long a part of the American fabric, to a whole new level. His diatribes act as much as a rebuke to "politically correct" liberals on behalf of his army of proud Deplorables as they are a reflection of his own bigotry.

From the New York Times: 
His harsh criticism came as American and Mexican officials were at a critical stage in their efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Mr. Trump’s heated remarks on immigration, both private and public, appear to have resonated with his advisers, who have been moving to put in place ever-stricter policies in line with the president’s vision. Mr. Sessions said the Department of Justice would be adding immigration judges and prosecuting twice as many immigration cases this year.
“The president has made clear to all of us that we have to do better,” he said. “We are going to do better.”
My published comment on the article:
 With every hateful rant, Trump gives tacit permission to his base and all manner of disturbed individuals to act out their most violent fantasies. When you consider that, according to polls, at least a third of this country's citizens heartily approve of him, I think it's fair to conclude that this potential for violence is increasing exponentially with every passing day.

This applies both to state-sanctioned violence, as in the average of three people now getting killed daily by law enforcement, and the non-state sanctioned violence of people taking matters into their own hands, specifically their own hands gripping guns.

Not that our politicians seem to care. They're actually complicit. Trump doesn't seem like such an anomaly when the Senate has all but confirmed a known torturer and war criminal to head the CIA.

Trump refuses to feed any other belly besides the bloated one of the de facto oligarchy. The only thing he's interested in feeding to ordinary people is resentment.

Too many of us have become numbed to Trump's relentless bursts of projectile verbal vomitus. I don't know what's more noxious: calling immigrants "animals," his cruel demand to break up immigrant families, or his call for the prosecution of a democratically elected official acting to protect these same families.

This isn't a dog whistle to his fans: it's a bullhorn giving them permission to be brown-shirted vigilantes.

It's a very scary time to be alive.
And not just in America, of course. Witness SLOTUS (son-in-law of the United States) Jared Kushner's dehumanization of the Gaza Palestinians shot to death by Israeli snipers this week as mere propaganda tools who deserved to die by daring to venture too close to the barbed-wire fence of the world's largest open air prison.

Trump might be nothing but an ignorant con man riling up the base for the benefit of his own business empire. But Kushner, whose own relatives were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust, should know better. Violent language aimed at rendering people less than human is historically the prelude to actual physical violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide. If nothing else, this language serves to terrorize entire populations for the crime of simply existing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Trumps in Jerusalem: Smashing the Frames of War

Were it not for the corporate media's disdain for the Trump administration and the oafish damage this oligarchic crime family does every day to the reputation of the permanent ruling class, I doubt that American audiences would ever have been treated by CNN to the grotesque, side-by-side images of a simpering Jared and Ivanka and scores of Palestinians getting mowed down in cold blood by Israeli snipers. 

The message could not have been made any more graphic if Ivanka had been pictured digging her designer stiletto heel into a wounded child, her finishing-school bromides vainly competing with the sound of gunfire and the stench of human slaughter.

This pictorial juxtaposition is quite a new, sympathetic development in the media's portrayal of the prisoners of Gaza and American war in general. For purposes of critiquing Trump, the Palestinians have been granted an unprecedented modicum of humanity by the media-political complex. For the first time in a long time, the "other side" of the story is being told.

When the White House discounted the massacre, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel and the removal of the official capital to Jerusalem as Hamas "propaganda," and when Jared Kushner's words blaming Palestinian protesters for own deaths were censored from the official government transcript of the event, the Fourth Estate took notice and spoke out. With Trump and his neocon enablers bellowing out their xenophobia in decibels guaranteed to make even the most jaded ears bleed, the media has had no choice. When the minister tapped to deliver a speech at the dedication of the new US embassy gave his personal blessing to Jared and Ivanka, his racist past - he once called black people "monkeys" -- had even some of the most valiant supporters of the apartheid state of Israel cringing in discomfort.

This speaking of truth to power is almost entirely new, given that the media and both establishment political parties have never exactly been critics of the Gaza concentration camp and the historical atrocities unleashed by Israel against the inmates behind the barbed wire. For the first time in a long time, American audiences are not being granted the customary sanitized "safe distance" between the violence directed against the powerless by the powerful. Either the media have finally undergone an ethical epiphany, or their almost universal hatred of the Trump regime has made truth-telling suddenly and politically convenient. You decide.

Previous corporate media accounts have, for example, usually cast the child victims of Israeli overkill as "human shields" used by their terrorist parents. This is a propaganda ploy, used for the sole purpose of rendering even the tiniest Palestinians in Gaza as less than human creatures.

As philosopher Judith Butler lays out in Frames of War, the lives of civilians targeted in American wars have traditionally been cast by the corporate US media as "ungrievable."
Ungrievable lives are those that cannot be lost, and cannot be destroyed, because they already inhabit a lost and destroyed zone.... To destroy them actively might even seem like a kind of redundancy, or a way of simply ratifying a prior truth.
That's how we can understand Jared Kushner's cold portrayal of the slaughtered Palestinian protesters as nothing but propaganda puppets. If they were already effectively dead to him anyway, how could they possibly be murdered again?

This mindset is nothing new in Imperial America, of course. The late Barbara Bush infamously opined that Hurricane Katrina victims were doing just fine packed in the Houston Astrodome because they had been "underprivileged to begin with." American authorities have never bothered counting or naming the "collateral damage" of their drone assassinations in Yemen and Pakistan, because as denizens of "tribal areas" they are not only not considered human, they are demonized as "militants." As apologists for US hegemony have rationalized it, why count victims if their lives never really counted in the first place? This is further rationalized by pleading that the counting of the dead would entail endangering more precious - and grievable - American troop-lives.

The massacres of Middle Eastern children are simply not as "grievable" as the massacres of American children in their classrooms. Similarly, the shooting deaths of black and brown people in The Homeland are not grieved (covered) in the media and by politicians as much as the shooting deaths of white people, especially white celebrities. As Butler describes it, it's all a matter of the media "framing." 
Framing is contrived by "norms" defining who and who is not a person, and whose status of living is open to apprehension. A picture is framed, but so too is a criminal suspect (by the police) or an innocent person (by someone nefarious, often the police) so that to be framed is to be set up, or have evidence planted against one that ultimately "proves" one's guilt. The frame of a picture serves as a limiting editorialized embellishment of the image, if not a self-commentary on the history of the frame itself. It is also possible to frame the frame or the framer and expose the ruse.
As far as the Trumps In Jerusalem story is concerned, the framing has been effectively stretched far beyond the heretofore artificially narrow canvas, exposing the grotesque surrealism of the painting for the whole audience to see. The New York Daily News correctly called Ivanka "Daddy's Little Ghoul" as she primly applauded while real human beings were being murdered just 50 miles away from her latest insipid Project Runway public relations event.

So we might just be making progress against American war propaganda in spite of ourselves. Neither norms nor frames are meant to last forever, so the sooner that the four rigid corners of acceptable media war discourse can be broken, the better.

The Trump framers have been framed, and the whole neocon ruse is being exposed.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Gina Haspel's House of Waffles

After Gina Haspel's weasel-worded performance at her Senate hearing for the CIA directorship this week, the only surprise (besides her arrogance, that is) is the fact that so many lawmakers are still "waffling" over whether to confirm her to the post.

It's not because Haspel supervised torture sessions, including waterboarding, at a secret black site prison in Thailand and later destroyed the video evidence of same that the senators are wringing their hands, or pretending to. It's because she refused to be straightforward about whether she has a moral code or not. She refused to acknowledge that while torture may once have been deemed "legal" by the Bush administration, it has always been inherently immoral. She refused to admit there could even be a gap between bad law and basic morality.

This has put many politicians and corporate media pundits into a quandary, at least insofar as their own public personae are concerned. If only she'd groveled a little and said she has a few regrets for her war crimes, the wafflers (mainly liberals but also a smattering of conservatives) would feel free to wash their own hands of the sordid past, in which many of them were complicit at the time, if only by their very silence. They desperately want to look forward, not backward. But they can't. It's all nasty old Trump's fault, you see. 

If Barack Obama was able to successfully appoint torture apologist and architect (if not actual practitioner) John Brennan to lead the agency, and then later to suppress huge classified chunks of the Senate's report on CIA torture, redact Haspel's name, and instead classify Brennan, Haspel and their co-workers as "patriots who tortured some folks," then who are liberals to defy his conventional wisdom? Who are they to possibly sully Obama's carefully manufactured reputation as he rakes in the big bucks on the speaking circuit?

Their dilemma is that Trump is simply not capable of being as glib and discreet as Obama was in deploying the sadism and protecting the sadists in grand old circumspect American tradition. Trump has bellowed on more than one occasion that he'd love to bring back torture as official US policy rather than just continue outsourcing it, as Obama quietly did, to other countries. 

So if the Democrats make too big a public stink about Haspel and refuse to give her the job, it will be a slap on the wrist to Obama himself and a betrayal of all that the Democratic Party now stands for: unquestioning allegiance to the "intelligence community" as the manufactured foil to the Trump presidency.

The real unexamined issue is the existence of the CIA itself, which has operated as an unaccountable rogue state since its inception nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

How big a monster is it?

Well, when President Harry Truman said he never lost a minute's sleep over his atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but rued the day he created the CIA in 1947 through the National Security Act, you get the picture. Right from the very start the agency has operated without the "moral code" the Senate now pretends to insist upon for its leader. It has operated far outside the rule of both domestic and international law, toppling foreign governments and killing leaders and "meddling" in the elections of war-torn Europe and beyond.  

So to ask Gina Haspel whether she's developed a moral compass since her benighted torturing days is like asking Jack the Ripper if he has a good bedside manner.

An excerpt from Plain Speaking, Merle Miller's oral biography of Truman:  
Merle Miller: Mr. President, I know that you were responsible as President for setting up the CIA. How do you feel about it now?

Truman: I think it was a mistake. And if I'd know what was going to happen, I never would have done it....the President needed at that time a central organization that would bring all the various intelligence reports we were getting in those days, and there must have been a dozen of them, maybe more, bring them all into one organization so that the President would get one report on what was going on in various parts of the world. Now that made sense, and that's why I went ahead and set up what they called the Central Intelligence Agency.
 But it got out of hand. The fella ... the one that was in the White House after me never paid any attention to it, and it got out of hand. Why, they've got an organization over there in Virginia now that is practically the equal of the Pentagon in many ways. And I think I've told you, one Pentagon is one too many.
Now, as nearly as I can make out, those fellows in the CIA don't just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own, and there's nobody to keep track of what they're up to. They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they'll have something to report on. They've become ... it's become a government all of its own and all secret. They don't have to account to anybody.
That's a very dangerous thing in a democratic society, and it's got to be put a stop to. The people have got a right to know what those birds are up to. And if I was back in the White House, people would know. You see, the way a free government works, there's got to be a housecleaning every now and again, and I don't care what branch of the government is involved. Somebody has to keep an eye on things.
And when you can't do any housecleaning because everything that goes on is a damn secret, why, then we're on our way to something the Founding Fathers didn't have in mind. Secrecy and a free, democratic government don't mix. And if what happened at the Bay of Pigs doesn't prove that, I don't know what does. You have got to keep an eye on the military at all times, and it doesn't matter whether it's the birds in the Pentagon or the birds in the CIA.
Since the Senate never even put its own legal rubber stamp on the creation of the CIA, the supposed accountability that Gina Haspel and her agency owe to our publicly elected representatives is just so much fiction, and it always has been. Housecleaning? Sure, if you count giving war criminals and other miscreants a lick and a promise, or if your idea of hygiene is sweeping dirt under the rug. The only cleaning up our elected officials ever seem to do is cleaning up on the fund-raising circuit, or in whatever realm of legalized bribery the Supreme Court has seen fit to allow.

As the great socialist muckraker Upton Sinclair once so saliently observed, our two political parties are nothing but "the two wings of one bird of prey."

So I predict Haspel's eventual, albeit as narrow as decently possible, confirmation, with much hand-wringing and pragmatic posturing. Blue Dog Democrats will vote her in to placate their Trump Country bases and the more "progressive" Dems will say Nay, particularly if they have their eyes on the Oval Office. If and when one of them does win the highest office in the land, he or she can pretend the hand-wringing (or wing-fluttering) never even happened. We must look forward, not back, as Gina Haspel either continues her unaccountable ways or retires to much fanfare and a generous pension and a gig on cable "news" shows and an advisory role in some awesome Hollywood spy movies and TV series glorifying the CIA.

So far, according to CNN's "whip count" for Haspel, the vast majority of Senate Democratic birds are still undecided, with only the hawkish Joe Manchin of West Virginia declaring himself firmly in favor.  Bernie Sanders has sliced his own waffle right down the middle, tweeting soggily and jingoistically: "We need a new CIA director who is committed to the rule of law and will heed the advice of U.S. military leaders who vigorously oppose torture and uphold the values that have made us a great and respected nation. Ms. Haspel is the wrong choice to lead the CIA."  The other progressive Senate lion, Elizabeth Warren, declares herself a No or a "Likely" No.

Pass the syrup along with the blank ammunition.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Healthy Death By Natural Gas Causes

Filed under "Strange But True." (Optional soundtrack here.)

The New York Times has made a story about the use of nitrogen gas for executing convicts the lead article in this week's "Health" section. You might find such product placement tasteless, were it not for the fact that the extrajudicial drone assassinations practiced by the last three US presidents have also been euphemized in therapeutic terms, as "surgical strikes" which are preferable to torture and indefinite imprisonment.

It's the same deal for state-sanctioned murder here in the Homeland. Why expose yourself to gruesome symptoms like seizures and screams when you can witness a convict serenely dying from the inhalation of nitrogen gas? For the patient, it's almost as good as going to the dentist and whiffing laughing gas or ether.  
Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi have authorized nitrogen for executions and are developing protocols to use it, which represents a leap into the unknown. There is no scientific data on executing people with nitrogen, leading some experts to question whether states, in trying to solve old problems, may create new ones.
“If and when states begin carrying out executions with nitrogen, it will amount to the same type of experimentation we see in the different variations of lethal injection,” said Jen Moreno, a lawyer who is an expert on lethal injection at the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic.
The experts' moral battle is already half-won if they're actually calling their place of deadly legal business a clinic - even though their expertise is more that of a medical malpractice lawyer than that of a medical clinician.

"Okay, Inmate," says the beneficent Nurse Guard of the Near Future. "Time to go to the clinic for some anesthesia. It'll be just like going to sleep! You won't even feel a thing, unlike in the olden barbaric days when we used to give out those terrible drug cocktails, or heaven forbid, electroshock therapy in a chair."

The Times's health article continues:
With some 2,750 inmates on death row in 31 states and in federal and military prisons, any jurisdiction that tries something new will be scrutinized as a test lab.

The push for change comes because lethal injection, introduced 40 years ago as more efficient and humane than the electric chair or gas chamber, has not met that promise. Indeed, it has sometimes resulted in spectacles that rival the ones it was meant to avert.
This is starting to get a bit scary. Republicans might come out against this miracle cure because it will be tested in a lab, and Republicans hate everything even remotely scientific, even when it's inspired by The Island of Dr. Moreau.

And what a shame that all the humane methods dreamed up by the Dr. Moreaus of the modern medical execution biz have not yet met the early promise of humaneness. This is especially galling in an oligarchic society where "spectacle" is largely reserved for political horse-races, demagogic campaign rallies and sporting events carrying an acceptably high risk of permanent brain damage to participants and sometimes to spectators themselves. There is nothing worse than an unforeseen spectacle offending the delicate sensibilities of the target audience.
One pitfall is that execution teams must find a vein to infuse, a process that can be excruciating. In February, an Alabama execution team gave up after trying for more than two hours on an inmate whose blood vessels had been damaged by chemotherapy and drug abuse. His lawyer accused the team of opening an artery and puncturing the prisoner’s bladder. The state later said it would not try again to execute him.
If they're patient enough, the Alabama inmate mentioned above will probably die of his cancer anyway, and there won't be a need for the "team' to exert themselves on such an unfairly uneven playing field.

Incidentally, have you ever noticed how the humane human executioners rarely have names in these death penalty stories? "The state" suddenly develops this strange ability to verbalize without the benefit of a human larynx whenever people want to avoid accountability. It's every bit as miraculous as a therapeutic lethal injection.

But wait....
Lethal injection also involves drugs that, if given incorrectly, can result in suffering. One is a paralyzing agent, and the other stops the heart. The paralyzing drug was included in the original plan for lethal injection partly to make the process look peaceful and less disturbing to witnesses, by preventing the prisoner from thrashing around. Both it and the heart-stopping drug are supposed to be given after a powerful sedative has rendered the person unconscious, but if the sedative does not work properly, the other two drugs can cause significant pain.
Again, the ghouls must never be subjected to witnessing the pain of the executed. Otherwise, the spectators might emerge from their cocoons of placid spectatorship and join the rest of the world in opposing the whole barbaric concept of capital punishment.
 Barbiturates were originally used for sedation, but manufacturers began refusing to sell them for executions. So states tried substituting other drugs. Some were ineffective and left prisoners moaning in what appeared to be prolonged agony.
The drug manufacturers don't want their good reputations for the standard sedation of the masses to be damaged. Most of all they don't want their bottom lines to be damaged by all the adverse publicity that such off-label use might engender. People might even get the correct idea that their favorite healthy downers could actually kill them.
 Nebraska and Nevada hope to soon start using the opioid fentanyl as a sedative. Illegal use has made it a scourge of national death statistics, but medically it is an important painkiller and anesthetic. Defense lawyers in Nebraska have argued that fentanyl comes under a federal law that limits its distribution to lifesaving purposes, and that it is therefore illegal for a prison clinic to distribute it for an execution. A trial seeking information about the source of the fentanyl is scheduled for May 14.
Who knew that actual death statistics could be as subject to a "scourge" as a living, breathing thing? Maybe these snowflake statistics need some good old preventive care. 

But seriously, people in chronic, unrelenting pain are already suffering needlessly because doctors are getting too afraid to subscribe therapeutic opioids for pain relief. So what better way to demonize these drugs and their prescribers than to re-categorize them as official execution agents? Meanwhile, I wouldn't be surprised if the death row inmate in Alabama mentioned above is being denied humane opioid therapy for his cancer because the prison is stockpiling it for future planned state-sanctioned overdoses.
In March, Oklahoma’s attorney general, Mike Hunter, said that using nitrogen was “the safest, the best and the most effective method available.”
There is scant scientific data to back up that statement. What little is known about human death by nitrogen comes from industrial and medical accidents and its use in suicide. In accidents, when people have been exposed to high levels of nitrogen and little air in an enclosed space, they have died quickly. In some cases co-workers who rushed in to rescue them also collapsed and died.
Hey, this is Oklahoma, home base of our anti-science EPA Chief Scott Pruitt. They don't need no stinkin' proof. But the part about the collateral damage to the "co-workers" is worrisome. The executioners using nitrogen might have to wear protective gas masks, which might make them look too much like KKK ghouls, which might upset the spectator-ghouls.

But look on the bright side:
Unlike lethal injection, the use of nitrogen would not require that the execution team dig around for a vein. An anesthesiologist, who requested anonymity because medical societies bar members from participating in executions or providing information to encourage them, said that nitrogen inhalation was less cruel than lethal injection. And since it presumably would involve no paralytic agent, witnesses would be able to see whether the person seemed to be suffering, he said.
Did it ever occur to the anesthesiologist too afraid to give his name that certain witnesses attend executions for the sole reason that they want to see a person suffering? I'm surprised that there isn't yet professional literature on triggers for sensitive execution witnesses, or the providing of special safe spaces for them. Maybe the State should just dose them with calming drugs before the curtain goes up on the whole grisly spectacle.

Meanwhile, the free market dogma of the profit motive for anything and everything will probably win out in the end: .
Seizures might occur from inhaling nitrogen, he said. But if the technique appears to go smoothly, he predicted that other states would quickly adopt it.
In fact, according to state documents, in May of 2016, an Arizona company sent a sales-pitch letter for nitrogen gas executions to Nebraska corrections officials. Among the standout features of its Euthypoxia Chamber: It “produces calm and sedation followed by inebriation and euphoria;” it “requires no medical expertise;” and it guarantees “the demise of any mammalian life in 4 minutes.
A humane person might be tempted to scream "a pox on all your Euthypoxia Chambers!" But remember, this is Exceptional America we're talking about. So in true efficient neoliberal spirit the Times health article concludes:
Experts on state-sanctioned execution methods suggest that the search for a palatable means of carrying out death sentences is itself uniquely American. Aside from the United States, the relatively few countries who execute prisoners typically do so by hanging, beheading or firing squad — methods which most Americans find repugnant. Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that such a reaction exemplifies the collision between two contradictory traits that streak through the national identity.

“One is a tradition of tenderness, with us being the safeguard of human dignity and decency,” he said. “The other is a culture of violence. And when you’re concerned about human rights and dignity, that carries an aversion to gruesome killings by the state. But the death penalty is inherently violent — so those traditions now are really at loggerheads.”
The debate is very similar to the one about America's choice, not for peace, but between the "palatable" dropping of bombs on innocent civilians and the deployment our own precious "boots on the ground."

The Healthy Choice Times article is grotesquely framed between cruel capital punishment and loving, healthy murder. The outright abolishment of capital punishment as the most logical solution to this manufactured dilemma never even enters into the paper's equation. It's all about how to keep the spectator citizen-consumers tranquilized and happy, heads permanently buried in the suffocating quicksand of ignorance and apathy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

How (a few of) the Mighty Have Fallen

Irony reached new heights Monday night, when New York's attorney general was forced to resign his office for slapping and choking women even before the last opulent bondage and torture-themed costume had exited the annual Met Gala. The poor New York Times was even forced to temporarily replace its best and worst-dressed slideshows of the decadent event with the shocking news of Eric Schneiderman's downfall.

And talk about role reversal --  he will now be investigated by Cyrus Vance, the same Manhattan district attorney whom Schneiderman had been ostensibly investigating for the alleged deep-sixing of a New York City police investigation of sexual predator Harvey Weinstein.

I say "ostensibly," because Schneiderman has always been something of a poseur. You might vaguely remember him as the "tough on Wall Street" prosecutor who was conveniently co-opted by President Barack Obama in 2014 to head up a special federal task force on financial crime. Needless to say, not one banker ever went to jail as a result. This could possibly have been because Obama somehow not only forgot to provide Schneiderman with an office staff, he'd even neglected to give him an office. Or one single phone.

But Schneiderman got the next best thing to a real function, official Oval Office cuff-links, or a trip to Disneyland. He got an honored seat next to Michelle Obama at that year's State of the Union address.  He got the biggest political prize of all: saturated, nationwide corporate media coverage.

More recently, he'd bathed himself in glowing saturated coverage by posing as righteously as the legal face of the anti-Trump #Resistance as he'd once posed as the new anti-bankster sheriff in town. He pretended to be Lancelot defending legions of Guineveres at the same time he was abusing them in the castle keeps of his West Side bachelor pad, the Hamptons, and wherever the rich and famous congregate. So it should come as no surprise that Schneiderman would defend his assaults as "consensual role-playing" exercises.

  I signed up for Eric's mailing list way back in the good old days when I still thought he was sincere about fighting Wall Street in the vein of one of his predecessors, the also-fallen Eliot Spitzer. I first became smitten with the dapper Schneiderman persona in 2011, when the Obama administration began putting a lot of pressure on him to back off the banksters. My AG-crush reached its crescendo when Kathryn Wylde, a New York Fed official, actually confronted Eric on the sacred steps of the Catholic church where the funeral for Governor Hugh Carey had just been held, and demanded that he lay off Bank of America. When he was kicked off a federal panel by an Obama factotum for refusing to make a sweetheart deal with foreclosure fraudsters, I was in his email fan club for life. Or so I thought at the time.

Despite my gradual awakening to Eric's true posing nature, the revelations of his sadistic violence still have the capacity to shock. And here I thought that Timothy Cardinal Dolan, partying at the decadent Catholic-themed Met Gala on Monday night, right alongside Rihanna dressed as a Borgia pope, was the shock of the day. This event was the total obverse of Savonarola's Bonfire of the Vanities, as Dolan profusely thanked private equity robber baron Stephen Schwartzmann for financing the "Heavenly Bodies" museum exhibit, which includes a leather bondage mask draped in rosary beads and a near-topless scarlet dress fashioned from cardinals' robes.   

If even the righteous professional virtue-signalers of Dark Ages America can't beat them, the pragmatic philosophy goes, they might as well join them. How else would the Church remain the wealthiest institution on the face of planet?

As for Schneiderman, his mortal sin was that while he was pretending to beat up the bankers, he was beating up on women, both physically and emotionally. He compensated for his craven wrist-slap of Wall Street by slapping women's faces so severely that he literally left his hand-print on one victim's skin, while he rendered another woman chronically hearing-impaired.

One thing I always found weird about his frequent fund-raising emails was that he rarely signed them himself. A female campaign underling usually wrote them on his behalf, probably to distance him from money and the incessant grubbing of it. Like many a top cop before him, he invested a lot of time and energy into the maintenance of his squeaky-clean, virtue-signalling image. (see Comey, James.)

It of course came as no surprise when current Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a stalwart friend of Wall Street despite some recent progressive role-playing exercises, was the first VIP to demand Schneidermann's resignation on Monday. For his part, Cuomo may or may not also be under official investigation for bribery and other corrupt things which have nothing to do with the #MeToo movement. So he's probably safe, despite experiencing some ostensible discomfort from his primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon.

As a matter of fact, Schneiderman probably could have gotten away with his violence and alleged drug abuse were it not for the "wokeness" of his victims, engendered by the #MeToo movement. 

Only a precious few of the Mighty ever fall, and it's usually for the crime of not having kowtowed to other Mighty Righties obsequiously enough - or as Cardinal Dolan put it at Monday night's Met Gala, not adhering smarmily enough to "truth, goodness and beauty".

Why else would the wealthy celebrities dress up in their Torquemadan S&M attire at their annual Bacchanalia if not, as Dolan gushed, to show that "we love to serve the poor to do good.  And that's why we're into things such as art, poetry, music, liturgy and, yes, even fashion, to thank God for the gift of beauty."

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

When Sneering Pundits Attack

Pundit Paul Krugman, who used much of his 2016 New York Times column space to sneer at Bernie Sanders and even pettily punch down on his supporters, has conveniently pivoted back to concern-trolling progressive mode just in time for the 2018 midterms. 

He now directs his ire at what he calls "The Big Sneer"- other pundits (whom he doesn't bother naming) who are allegedly complaining that Democrats (also unnamed) running for office don't have enough "new ideas." This is both sexist and silly, according to Krugman.

After a whole Democratic primary campaign season spent sneering at single payer health care and debt-free higher education as "pie-in-the-sky" utopian pipe dreams, Krugman complains that it's not fair for somebody like Paul Ryan to be lauded by the media, while the righteous Democrats are chronically sneered upon for being so dull and dreary:
I’m not saying that politicians shouldn’t be open to new thinking and evidence about policy. But a political party isn’t like Apple, which needs to keep coming up with glitzier products to stay ahead of Android. There are huge problems with U.S. policy on many fronts, but very few of these problems come from lack of good new ideas. They come, instead, from failure to act on what we already know – and, for the most part, have known for a long time.
Since Krugman has never been one to sneer at himself, he does not name himself as the most prominent expert who took the good idea of Medicare For All and sneered all over it in his quest to ensure that Bernie would never beat Hillary in the rigged Democratic Party primaries.

Now, to be fair to Krugman, he doesn't actually go so far as to belatedly espouse Medicare For All, which he dutifully sneered at as "a distraction" when Hillary came out against it on the campaign trail. Rather, he now carefully opines that "access" to universal health care is a good idea, with only a non-progressive president and Congress standing in its way. He doesn't mention that even the uninsured and underinsured already have ways to "access" their local emergency rooms  - by taking an ambulance, an Uber, or even crawling there on their hands and knees if they have to, to display that all-American grit, determination, resilience and entrepreneurship.

"Access" is not the same thing as actual care. "Access" isn't getting health care without the fear of going bankrupt and getting even sicker from the relentless worry about how the heck you're ever going to pay the mortgage or rent on top of that mountain of medical bills.

And, to be even fairer to Krugman, he isn't actually calling for an end to the endless obfuscatory delay-tactic discussions of how "we" are ever going to pay for all the good ideas that have been floating around since at least the time of FDR. "Details" do still matter, especially when they're thrashed about in think tanks and universities by credentialed experts. Because despite his claim that Democrats shouldn't be constantly hounded to come up with "new ideas," one never knows what new ideas will burst forth while pounding into dust the details of the good ideas in the think tanks.

 And thus does Krugman effectively destroy his own argument for "keeping it simple, stupid!"  Meanwhile, though, there still has to be a sneering Strawman upon which to divert all our sneers:
So why the demand for new ideas? Partly it’s because pundits are bored with conventional policy discussion – and/or don’t want to be bothered learning enough to understand actually existing policy issues, preferring sparkly new stuff they can praise simply for its newness. Partly it’s just an excuse for sneering at Democrats, which as I understand it is required by the pundit code.
In case you were wondering why Krugman's historic and relentless and punditory sneering at Bernie and his supporters doesn't actually count as sneering, repeat after me: Bernie Is Not a Democrat, Bernie Is Not a Democrat, Bernie Is Not a Democrat. So of course he doesn't really count as either a sincere human being or a politician  --  and neither should you, if you're a lefty or an independent.  

Since Krugman doesn't bother delving into who actually finances this "pundit code," I mentioned it in my published comment:
When media pundits urge Democratic politicians to "go big, go bold and go new," what they're really prescribing is more austerity for the masses and more riches for the billionaires and corporations who keep them on the air and in print.

This embrace of plutocratic values - "ending welfare as we know it," the deregulation of Big Finance and the telecoms, the offshoring of jobs and manufacturing via "free" trade deals, and the "tough on crime" policies resulting in mass incarceration - is how the "New Democrats" first grabbed power in the 90s. Despite the aftershocks of these neoliberal policies and the loss of a thousand legislative seats in the past decade alone, the party elders and their media stenographers want more of the same. This championship of the status quo is actually their perverted definition of "new."

It doesn't help their message that the most famous New Democrats are now hitting their 70s and 80s. The pundits and the oligarchic donor class running this show are desperate for younger, more charismatic "rising stars" to sell us the same old "Incrementalism You Can Believe In."

Of course Medicare for All is a great idea, and would be much more cost-effective than our current privatized system. But they don't want to admit this because ordinary people having too many nice things might give Mr. Market a nervous breakdown.

Until we force finance capital and the government to get a divorce, and overturn Citizens United, nothing is going to change.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Happy May Day

Even though May Day was inspired by the fight for the eight-hour-day culminating in Chicago's Haymarket Massacre in 1886, the United States has never joined 80 other countries in declaring May 1st to be a legal holiday in honor of its workers. American politicians instead designated the first Monday of September as our own exceptional Labor Day, a day devoted to political stump speeches pandering to working class voters and family barbecues taking the place of marches in the streets. Honoring our historical labor struggles? Placing the worker above the boss in importance and value? Surely, you jest.

Before the September Labor Day caught on in the public's Great American Traditions mindset, US leaders frantically tried to suppress labor rights even further by declaring May 1st to be "Law and Order Day." Cue the deep bass thump-thump opening credits from the popular NBC franchise series about cops.  Cue the masses to get off the streets lest there be "clashes" with the night sticks and tear gas.

Sadly for the corporate suppressors of history, though, hundreds of thousands of underpaid teachers across America have been striking for a living wage in state after state after state. These are largely in hardcore conservative states  ("red"- so deliciously ironic in light of the upsurge of radical labor) whose corrupt leaders prescribed austerity for their citizens in the name of "fiscal responsibility" in the aftermath of the massive theft of trillions of dollars in household wealth, bowdlerized as The Financial Crisis of 2008. Gilded Age history just keeps right on repeating, simply because our leaders' refusal to learn any lessons from past struggles ensures the repetition.

Eric Chase of the Industrial Workers of the World explains:
Truly, history has a lot to teach us about the roots of our radicalism. When we remember that people were shot so we could have the 8-hour day; if we acknowledge that homes with families in them were burned to the ground so we could have Saturday as part of the weekend; when we recall 8-year old victims of industrial accidents who marched in the streets protesting working conditions and child labor only to be beat down by the police and company thugs, we understand that our current condition cannot be taken for granted - people fought for the rights and dignities we enjoy today, and there is still a lot more to fight for. The sacrifices of so many people can not be forgotten or we'll end up fighting for those same gains all over again. This is why we celebrate May Day.
In Arizona, where Trump wants to spend billions for a section of his symbolic Great Wall and where legislators have cut more than $1 billion from the state education budget in the decade since the financial collapse, the #RedforEd teachers are now entering the second week of their strike.

American leaders are just as anxious about the possibility of this latest strike spreading nationwide as their forebears were about the threatened spread of May Day agitations a century ago. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, for example, insisted to a World Socialist Website reporter covering one rally in Phoenix on Monday that "education is a statewide issue" rather than a national one.

"We want to make sure that these walk-outs become walk-ins to the voting booths in November," she added in typical centrist Democrat cant.

Given that Trump's billionaire right-wing Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, also insists that education initiatives and funding are the sole responsibility of the states which have been starved into submission by austerity policies, you get the drift. The leaders of both corporate political parties would just as soon that the chasm between the haves and the have-nots, both in knowledge and in wealth, will just keep exponentially widening so that more and more "collateral damage" will keep falling into it.

Thank goodness of the teachers who are refusing to fall into it, and who keep educating the whole country about the fight for justice and the never-ending search for truth and the value of solidarity.