Friday, November 30, 2018

Methods To the Political Madness

The blockbuster story of the week (in my opinion) is that Rhode Island students have filed a federal lawsuit charging that their public school system's failure to provide them with basic instruction in government and civics is a direct violation of their Constitutional rights as American citizens. 

Donald Trump certainly isn't the only overlord who "loves the poorly educated," and who has a vested interest in keeping the population dumbed down and perpetually ignorant and apathetic, and even beginning to die off at an alarming new rate.

Indeed, you have to search very hard to find the New York Times article on this important legal challenge to our two-tiered, class and race-based education system. The legal relief sought by the plaintiffs is simply acknowledgment that a liberal education is a basic human right.  It is probably no accident that the story is buried under the usual avalanche of All Trump Scandals, All the Time, alongside the usual near-hysterical demands for social media censorship of freelance political discourse, and the drumbeats for war on Russia and China.

As a matter of fact, one of the plaintiffs in the Rhode Island lawsuit complains that of the two "social studies" courses she did take during high school, the only things she remembers learning about were America's relentless wars. She didn't learn about the three branches of government, or about how to judge political candidates. She simply wants to "know what I don't know."

The case is riding a wave of bipartisan anxiety about a national lack of civic engagement and knowledge, from voter participation rates that are among the lowest in the developed world to pervasive disinformation on social media.Fewer than half the states hold schools accountable for teaching civics, according to a review in 2016 by the Education Commission of the States. Only 23 percent of American eighth graders were proficient in civics on the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test that included questions on the Constitution and the roles of the various branches of government.Rhode Island does not require schools to offer courses in government or civics, does not require standardized tests in those subjects or in history, and does not provide training for teachers in civics, the lawsuit says.
When our "bipartisan" politicians can't even agree to pass gun control legislation to keep weapons out of schools, can we really expect these oligarchy-beholden lawmakers to mandate the teaching of civics and critical thinking skills in the nation's public school classrooms? Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, for one, would rather arm teachers with guns than arm them with the resources and training to turn America's youth into thinking adults with the basic skills to detect political fraudulence and double-talk whenever they hear it. 

The Rhode Island lawsuit faces a tough road, especially if the case ends up in the arch-conservative Supreme Court. Ironically, as the Times reports, it was an opinion written by Justice Lewis Powell, of infamous "corporate memo" fame, that may provide the opening for a positive decision. He sided with the dissenting Justice Thurgood Marshall in writing that "educational inequality might rise to the level of a constitutional violation if it prevented students from exercising their right to speak and to vote.'"

Ironically (or not) the Times and the consolidated corporate media at large themselves make it hard, if not impossible, for the educated and non-educated alike to exercise their rights to stay informed and educated. Even if poor students are gifted with free copies of the Paper of Record as part of a new civics lexicon, their learning will be largely be limited to what Trump is tweeting about today, or what new scandal has embroiled him and his gene pool.

There is a method to the madness of the Trump era.

In the latest psychotic episode, students of all ages and backgrounds learned that Trump's lawyer pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a caper involving a new Trump luxury tower in Moscow, a doomed real estate/attempted bribery deal that was in the works at the same time that Trump was an active presidential candidate.

We learned that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is nevertheless persisting in his own real estate negotiations with Trump for a big beautiful bipartisan wall to keep immigrants out.

Just because Trump is a dangerous xenophobe doesn't mean that xenophobia doesn't still deserve its proper place in the cruel Neoliberal World Order. Hillary Clinton delivered her own psychotic civics lecture to Europe recently, warning them to keep out the refugees from the wars that she herself had  voted for or even directly instigated -- lest more Trump-like demagogues rear their ugly racist heads in response to those utterly deplorable racist populations.

Trump, meanwhile, is calling the Mueller investigation a "fake witch hunt."

  This is an example of the chronic double-think strategy beloved of authoritarian leaders. If he really thought the probe was unfair, he would not have inserted the word "fake" before witch hunt. Taken literally, the phrase would mean that it is not a true witch hunt at all, but a legitimate investigation. Trump's own definition of witch hunt is any normal criminal investigation against him, his family and associates. It lays bare his belief that criminal investigations of criminals are bogus on their face and that habitual criminals like him should be immune from the penal code. He thinks that double negatives are a net positive for him.

Besides, "fake" is one of the most overused words in his limited vocabulary. All news which paints him in a bad light - and that is at least 99% of all news about Donald Trump - is fake by definition. But, using classic double-think strategy, he isn't complaining too much. He still craves the media and makes himself regularly and enthusiastically available for interviews and press conferences. 

Of course, this does not mean that all bad news about Trump is itself honest and fact-based. The recent Guardian piece, for example, claiming that convicted fraudster and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort met secretly in broad daylight with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange on several occasions is already falling apart at its anonymously-sourced seams. Therefore a former CIA operative who now writes satirical fiction published a bizarre piece in Politico defending the Guardian journalists who wrote the story. These reporters are such great professionals, the former CIA spook writes, that they were obviously just the latest hapless victims of Russian disinformation fraud.

So you can see that the current epidemic of Doublethink is not just limited to Trump. The message of the Politico article is similarly self-contradictory. The reporters are both smart and incredibly stupid at the exact same time. How were they to know that Trump himself could very well be the planter of the hit piece, or at least the co-planter, along with Putin? 

And it's a fake-real war. It allows Donald Trump to control every news cycle, and it allows lazy corporate journalists to grandstand and showboat as martyrs and resistance fighters.

Linguist Ruth Wodak, who has written extensively about the rhetoric of ultra-right authoritarianism in Europe, exposes the traditional collusion between outright fascism and its collaborator, neoliberalism, which Bertram Gross has called "friendly fascism" - or corporatism attempting to disguise itself with a democratic mask. 

Trump and the media are fake enemies who feed off one another and become richer through the construction of their never-ending political soap opera. Each dances to the same tune. Trump is alternately predator and victim, and the corporate media, themselves sponsored by the predatory lords of unfettered capitalism and unlimited war, can posture as victims while the Oligarchy as a whole gets a free pass. The new role of the media is not afflicting the comfortable, but afflicting Trump.

It allows them to spread his toxic message of xenophobia while pretending to wash their hands of their own complicity and collusion. It allows right-wing liberals like Hillary Clinton to sell xenophobia within a kinder, gentler "friendly fascism" discourse and cast blame upon both the refugees of her wars and the ordinary people who have been taught to be frightened of the "Other" who subsequently flee those wars. Trump allows people like her to appear calm and reasonable as they spread much the same kind of propaganda.

Whether it's the latest in a long series of personal scandals or crimes, or whether it's just the latest ignorant, racist tweet, there is a method to the Trump-Media madness and collusion.

Ruth Wodak described how this formula operates within Austria's right-wing Freedom Party, originally made up of both former Nazis and liberals and formed with the direct help of occupying American forces after World War II as a counterweight against - you guessed it - Russia.

The dynamic consists of several stages: the scandal is first denied; then, once some evidence is produced, the scandal is redefined and equated with entirely different phenomena. Predictably, the provocateurs then claim the right to freedom of speech for themselves, as a justificatory strategy. Such utterances immediately trigger another debate - unrelated to the original scandal - about freedom of speech and political correctness. Simultaneously, victimhood is claimed by the original provocateur and the event is dramatized and exaggerated. This leads to the construction of a conspiracy - somebody must be 'pulling the strings' against the original producer of the scandal and scapegoats...  are quickly discovered." Eventually and possibly a 'quasi-apology' might follow to straighten out the 'misunderstanding'... and the entire process starts all over again."
We can cite example after example of how Trump faithfully follows the fascistic playbook.

Perhaps most memorable is the scandal of Trump pronouncing that "there are good people on both sides" after the deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. When an uproar ensued, he offered a canned quasi-apology condemning ultra-right violence. He quickly followed that up with his own outrage when people began calling for the removal of Confederate statues, leading to further inflammatory rhetoric by Trump against "socialist Democrats."

Just like the abusive husband who tells his wife that she "made him do it, " Trump is a master of reversing the dichotomy between victim and perpetrator. He has made turning the tables on his accusers something of an art form. Confronted about white nationalism by a Black reporter, Yamiche Alcindor, at a recent news conference, he attacked her personally and called her question "racist." 

From the transcript:

Alcindor: “On the campaign trail, you called yourself a ‘nationalist.’ Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists. Now people are also saying…”
Trump: “I don’t know why you say that, that is such a racist question.”
Alcindor: “There are some people who are saying that the Republican Party is now supporting white nationalists because of your rhetoric.”
Trump: “Oh, I don’t believe that, I don’t believe that, I don’t believe that. Why do I have my highest poll numbers ever with African-Americans? Why do I have among the highest poll numbers with African-Americans? That’s such a racist question.”
[Alcindor tries to speak.]
Trump: “Honestly, I know you have it written down and everything. Let me tell you, that is a racist question.”

This is the classic ultra-right technique of transforming those who have traditionally been targets of oppression into oppressors themselves. His behavior at the press conference was a not-so-subtle dog-whistle to his base of supporters, who have been programmed into diverting their own very real anxieties and victimization at the hands of neoliberalism onto their own fellow human beings.

His skilled victim-perpetrator reversal technique extends to what J.E. Richardson calls "calculated ambivalence." His fans receive the message that violence against the Other is O.K. and he is still able to wash his hands of culpability when someone takes matters into his own hands, and shoots Black people in a grocery store or slaughters Jews as they worship in their synagogue. He rails against "Mexican rapists," firing up the crowd at one of his campaign rallies and in the same breath "assumes that some of them are very good people." This strategy of self-contradiction is nothing new under the ultra-right rhetorical sun.

It works both for him and for the #Resistance, Inc. Duopolists who jointly serve the oligarchs. The constant lathering, rinsing and repeating of Trumpian scandals and utterances leaves the media with no time and little space to cover issues of immediate concern to ordinary people and increasing popular demands for policies like debt-free college and universal single payer health care coverage. It allows a lawsuit by students demanding a basic education to fall through the cracks.

The inspiring story of one group of students and teachers fighting back against the ignorance imposed upon regular people by the ruling class is all too easily ignored. The fewer people who are able to read about it and hear about it, the less is the likelihood that they will ever be inspired by it and urged to emulate it with their own lawsuits and protests and sit-down strikes and boycotts.

We have met the enemy, and it is them... the oligarchy and its political and media lackeys. The common wisdom that most people are willfully and deplorably ignorant is itself fake news. Being scared stupid is not the same thing as being stupid. 

Meanwhile, for your civic educational pleasure, here's a detailed analysis of Trumpian language courtesy of Ruth Wodak.  

Monday, November 26, 2018

United In Exile

With about eight dynasties now possessing as much money as half the entire world's population combined, it is impossible to ignore the fact that extreme wealth inequality is antithetical to the health and future of humanity and every other living thing on earth. 

Despite the dystopian title - American Nightmare - of his latest book, cultural critic and prolific author Henry Giroux thinks that with a combined regimen of education and organization, we might still overthrow neoliberal fascism, of which the Donald Trump administration is only the most recent and most noxious end-product. He writes: 
There is certainly something to be learned from older, proven tactics including using education to create a revolution in consciousness and values, and using broad-based alliances to create the conditions for mass disruptions such as the general strike. These tactics combine theory, consciousness, and practice as a part of a strategy to dismantle the complex workings of the death-dealing machinery of casino capitalism and its recent intensification under the Trump administration. Certainly, one of the most powerful tools of oppression is convincing people that the oppressive conditions they experience are normal and cannot be changed. The ideology of normalization functions to prevent any understanding of the larger systemic forces of oppression by insisting that all problems are individually based and ultimately a matter of individual character and responsibility.
Evidence abounds all over the world that oppressed people are no longer convinced. Workers in European Amazon fulfillment centers walked off the job during the peak of the Christmas buying season over the weekend, and citizens of France are demonstrating all over their country against a new punishing diesel fuel tax. Migrants from Central America defied a tear gas assault by Trump's military forces at the Mexico-US border, bringing anew their own message of democratic defiance and courage to the world at large.

Meanwhile, back in the US capitol, House Speaker-in-Waiting Nancy Pelosi took to the pay-walled pages of the Amazon Empire's Washington Post mouthpiece in yet another attempt to convince the oppressed that her plutocratic Congress is in their corner.

But her words can't help but betray that the Democratic Party's toothless new "restoring democracy" legislation is simply more sugar-coating of the continued oppression of ordinary people by the Amazon-America League of Oligarchs. She follows the neoliberal playbook of diagnosing the lethal cancer and then prescribing band-aids to keep it nicely hidden. The "big tells" are highlighted in my bold.
(First, here's the obligatory big brave honest and carefully nitpicked "feel your pain" admission of some of the horror oppressing us): For far too long, big-money and corporate special interests have undermined the will of the people and subverted policymaking in Washington — enabling soaring health-care costs and prescription drug prices, undermining clean air and clean water for our children, and blocking long-overdue wage increases for hard-working Americans. 
(Now comes the standard laundry list of bromides and placebos) So let’s rein in the unaccountable “dark money” unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by requiring all political organizations to disclose their donors and by shutting down the shell game of big-money donations to super PACs. We must also empower hard-working Americans in our democracy by building a 21st-century campaign-finance system — combining small-donor incentives and matching support — to increase and multiply the power of small donors. Wealthy special interests shouldn’t be able to buy more influence than the workers, consumers and families who should be our priority in Washington.
The solutions offered by neoliberals for what they themselves have wrought are aspirational at best and devious at worst. Pelosi doesn't want to outlaw money in politics, she merely wants to "rein it in" and encourage more oppressed voters to donate as a way for the wealthy to be inspired to give (more) in kind. She merely wants to pretend to "level" the playing field by strewing it with cold hard cash from all classes, in order to give our de facto oligarchy the fig leaf of egalitarianism. Your dollar and their million dollars are all the same color and it naturally follows that you, too, can be as influential as they are. But tellingly, she gives discriminatory priority only to those "hard-working" people who still have the power to consume more stuff from Amazon fulfillment centers. There is no mention of the poor and near-poor, who now account for at least half the population. When you consider the fact that fully two-thirds of Americans don't even have a couple of hundred bucks stashed away for a household emergency, the methods by which experts measure poverty in this country become ever more ludicrous.

Pelosi concludes:
And with a system that works for the people, we will deliver policy outcomes that make life better for all Americans: We will lower health-care costs and out-of-control prices for prescription drugs. We will rebuild the United States’ infrastructure, raise the minimum wage and put leverage back in the hands of workers and consumers. We will finally advance common-sense, bipartisan solutions to prevent gun violence. We will confront discrimination with the Equality Act , pass the Dream Act to protect the patriotic young undocumented immigrants who came here as children, and take the first step toward comprehensive immigration reform.
Translation: there will be no single payer, Medicare For All legislation coming from her party, despite the fact that more than 90% of registered Democrats are in favor of it, and nearly half of registered Republicans are, making for a combined 70% favorability factor. You might save a few bucks on your drugs, but that's as far as they'll go.

 The dreaded "common-sense bipartisan solutions" to prevent gun violence do not actually translate into banning gun ownership and assault weapons manufacture, or drastically diminishing America's violent role as the biggest arms dealer on the planet. It doesn't translate into government-subsidized medical and surgical care for gunshot victims.

 Democrats will timidly "confront" discrimination and only "take the first step" on immigration reform. There will be no more talk of abolishing ICE and protesting Trump's pediatric concentration camps at the border. The midterm election campaigns are over.

I asked Henry Giroux whether his opinion of Democrats has changed at all since his book was published last summer, in light of their recent takeover of the House of Representatives, and their self-advertised nouveau-progressivism. 

 "I think the hard line against both parties that the book takes still holds true, and is an antidote to people like Jason Stanley and others who rail against fascist politics but still push a misguided faith in liberal politics and the two party system," he replied in an email. "This is the dreadful political and moral hangover that gets them reviews in the press."  

Nancy Pelosi is, of course, only one of the zombie characters in our collective American Nightmare. She will likely continue as House leader, because the right-wing Blue Dogs and "New" Democrats currently posturing as her foes actually do make her look "progressive" by comparison. She is an integral part of what Henry Giroux calls "America's shopworn legacy of 'habitual optimism,' one that substitutes a cheery, empty, Disney-like dreamscape for any viable notion of utopian possibility. The Disney dreamscape evacuates hope of any substantive meaning. It attempts to undercut a radical utopian element in the conceptual apparatus of hope that speaks to the possibility of a democratic future very different from the authoritarian past or present."

He continues:
Trump's unapologetic authoritarianism has prompted Democratic Party members and the liberal elite to position themselves as the only model of organized resistance. It is difficult not to see their alleged moral outrage and faux resistance as both comedic and hypocritical in light of the role these centrist liberals have played in the past forty years - subverting democracy and throwing the working class and people of color under the bus."
But as I mentioned above, people are emerging from underneath that bus. The fact that the vast majority of us live in exile does not also mean that we are squashed into helpless pulp by the machinery of capitalism on crack.

Henry Giroux sounds an alarm tinged with optimism in the last chapter of his American Nightmare, in which he explores the notion of Democracy in Exile.

We ourselves, he writes, must be 
(A) counterforce and remedy to the Jacksonian intolerance, violence, expulsion, and racism of Donald Trump, Stephen Miller and Trumpism as a nationalist movement drifting in plain sight from plutocracy and authoritarian nepotism to fascism. Democracy in exile is the space in which people, families, networks, and communities fight back. It unites the promise of insurrectional political engagement with the creation of expansive new manifestations of justice - social, economic, environmental. 
Spaces for democracies in exile include churches and homes and cities and counties which give sanctuary to refugees and undocumented migrants facing deportation. Henry Giroux explains that
Such cities and counties, and a host of diverse public spheres, function as parallel structures that create alternative modes of communication, social relations, education, health care and cultural work, including popular music, social media, the performing arts, and literature. These spaces are what Vaclav Benda has called a 'parallel polis' which brings pressure on official structures, implements new modes of pedagogical resistance, and provides the basis for organizing larger day-to-day protests and more organized and sustainable social movements.
We have to crawl out from beneath that neoliberal nightmare bus, hoist ourselves up, and start talking to each other, finding common ground and reclaiming our humanity. We have to start somewhere, despite how small and puny our efforts might seem to us in the beginning. We have to keep in mind that what we fight against - neoliberal financialized capitalism and its resultant oligarchic power structure - is a small-minded ideology fostered by greedy, small-minded people who have to tell us constant lies to maintain their increasingly shaky grasp on power. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Progressive Plutocrats Ltd

From the Department of Putting Lipstick on a Neoliberal Pig:

An exclusive cartel of wealthy Democratic donors imagine that the way to win back the presidency in 2020 is to back more progressive candidates who can attract the black and brown working class from the Sunbelt and the Southwest. Their abandonment of the deplorable white working class from the Rust Belt who went for Trump leaves a big vacuum that has to be filled. To that end, they held a private strategy session at a luxury Washington D.C. hotel last week. And with only a few token exceptions, the voters whom they hope to attract were themselves barred from the discussions. To make matters even more anti-democratic, journalists were barred from covering the discussions and not invited to partake of the pricey hors d'oevres.

 Kenneth Vogel of the New York Times was escorted out of the exclusive affair after he sneaked in anyway. Vogel has been covering the secretive Plutocratic Progressives for quite some time now, and they apparently aren't fond of him. In his most recent article about the billionaire-run Democracy Alliance and its offshoots, he described how the wealthy donors have quietly been co-opting such erstwhile grassroots organizations as Black Voters Matter, BlackPAC and Color of Change. Although the rabble and reporters were barred from the recent strategy session reception, a few carefully selected minority leaders were graciously allowed a seat at the gourmet table.

Vogel writes:
Since its creation in 2005, the Democracy Alliance has played a significant role in shaping the institutional ecosystem of the political left by steering more than $1.6 billion to recommended liberal and Democratic groups, according to an alliance official.It has helped to fund an array of new nonprofit groups dedicated to taking on Mr. Trump. Its ranks include some of the left’s most prolific donors, such as the billionaire investors George Soros and Tom Steyer. This past week’s meeting drew appearances from several Democratic politicians, including Representatives Adam B. Schiff of California and Pramila Jayapal of Washington, as well as Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Governor-elect Jared Polis of Colorado, a former Democracy Alliance donor.
 Schiff, who voted for the Iraq War and has also legislatively backed the US-assisted Saudi genocidal war on Yemen, is a member of the right-wing New Democrat Coalition, an offshoot of the Clintons' Democratic Leadership Council, which was instrumental in moving the party to the right as a way to join the arch-conservative and anti-labor Reagan Revolution. He is also at the forefront of the congressional #Russiagate investigation of Donald Trump and as such, is a ubiquitous rising political star on the cable shows.

Polis, the owner of a network of for-profit charter schools and the founder of ProFlowers, is also a member of the conservative New Democrats. As a  congressional representative, he was at the forefront of the Obama administration's punishing neoliberal Race to the Top agenda, which predicates government funding of public schools and teacher retention on the scores of standardized tests administered by private, for-profit corporations. Although he opposed the 2016 Colorado ballot initiative for single payer health care, his winning gubernatorial campaign included mealy-mouthed support for "some kind of universal health system" that would "expand access and reduce costs." In other words, he is not for single payer and not for Medicare For All.

If these guys are positioning themselves in what the New Democratic Alliance considers a big bold new "lefty" roster of candidates, then the Democrats have moved further right than even I had imagined.  

Just because the plutocratic donors of the Democratic Gentry Party see, as the New York Times headline announced, "a leftward path to beating Trump"  this does not mean they are embracing democratic socialism as an actual mode of governance. Far from it. In barring the press from their events, they're even less fond of the First Amendment than they are of the actual bodies of distressed people seeking physical entree to closed receptions guarded by private security forces.

Without a hint of irony, in fact, Tory Gavito of the NDA offshoot "Way to Win" said that "the concentration of young people, poor people and people of color who used to sit on the sidelines because Democrats have not inspired them will upend the map.” (if not the heavily armed gates of the fabulously wealthy themselves.)

Among the donors spotted by Vogel at the closed reception were Susan Pritzker, heiress of the Hyatt hotel chain, where employees have been striking against low wages and poor working conditions, and Leah Hunt, scion of the Texas oil dynasty.

As he pointed out in his Times article, while these billionaires are making a big show of criticizing the neoliberal deficit-hawk Clintonism espoused by Pete Peterson's Third Way think tank and centrist operatives like David Brock, their Democracy Alliance continues to give money to them. Just as Wall Street does, the Progressive Plutocrats are hedging their bets.

And while Vogel, in the politest Timesian way possible, is exposing them for who they are, his colleague Paul Krugman is spreading their message for them -- without, of course, ever mentioning them by name.

His latest column is worth quoting at length to fully appreciate its underlying Progressive Plutocrats Ltd message:
Even if they’re personally doing well, many voters in lagging regions have a sense of grievance, a feeling that they’re being disrespected by the glittering elites of superstar cities; this sense of grievance all too easily turns into racial antagonism. Conversely, however, the transformation of the G.O.P. into a white nationalist party alienates voters — even white voters — in those big, successful metropolitan areas. So the regional economic divide becomes a political chasm.
Can this chasm be bridged? Honestly, I doubt it.
We can and should do a lot to improve the lives of Americans in lagging regions. We can guarantee access to health care and raise their incomes with wage subsidies and other policies (in fact, the earned-income tax credit, which helps low-wage workers, already disproportionally benefits workers in low-income states).
But restoring these regions’ dynamism is much harder, because it means swimming against a powerful economic tide.
Economic grievance has turned into racial antagonism. Rust Belt voters who lost their jobs to corporate trade deals are not only resentful, they're racist. Therefore it's not worth it for the wealthy liberal oligarchs of the Gentry Party to even bother wooing them back into their Big Gilded Tent. The chasm is just too wide! Therefore, besides the Black and Brown voters of the South and West, the Gentries might also have a shot at wooing the upper class white Republicans from the Coasts by using the wedge issue of Trump, rather than promising to improve people's lives in any meaningful way.

 But still, to show what a good liberal he is, Krugman does deign to offer the Laggards "access to health care"  - which is plutocrat-speak for No Medicare For All, Not Ever, No Way.  And as usual, he doesn't explore the reasons why these regions became so distressed in the first place. If it's not those mysterious Headwinds, it's the Powerful Economic Tide which keeps washing over people with no cruel policy decisions by the ruling class racketeers of the Duopoly having had anything to do with it.

Stuff just happens. Too bad, so sad. And so extremely, sickeningly smug.

My (not well-received) published response to Krugman:
"Guaranteeing access to health care" is not the same thing as guaranteed, universal, single payer health care. And the vast majority of Americans (70%) who now support Medicare for All know it. They even include those "deplorable" Rust Belt voters who refused to come out for Hillary Clinton, despite many having cast their votes for Barack Obama in 2012. Clinton announced on the campaign trail, in no uncertain terms, that single payer "will never, ever come to pass."
Nothing attracts desperate people like telling them they'll just have to "shop around" each year for ever more restrictive, expensive private insurance. And even if they do scrape together the premiums, there's no guarantee that they'll be able to afford the co-pays and deductibles, which can reach thousands of dollars annually. As it is, 63% of us don't even have $250 in savings.
It was George Bush who once snarkily observed: "I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room."
Sure, and then you get an exorbitant bill. You can still go bankrupt if you get sick or hurt, even if you do have insurance. And 30 million Americans still don't.
Democrats will have stop sounding like Republicans if they want to win hearts, minds and elections. Marketing wonkish incremental policy proposals didn't work in 2016, and it won't work in 2020. There was a reason that many incumbent Dems lost this month, and it wasn't because they were too progressive or radical.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Accidental Indictment of Julian Assange

What many have long suspected has finally been confirmed. Julian Assange of Wikileaks is indeed under sealed federal criminal indictment.

The secret Assange indictment was (ahem) "accidentally" cut and pasted by prosecutors on an unrelated court filing where it sat ever so passive-aggressively until some roving reportorial eye finally spotted it. Or, more likely, was tipped off by an official who was not allowed to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the matter. Oops.

Here's my suspicion: prosecutors and the spy/police agencies have been itching for years to get their anxious claws on the most famous whistleblower of all time, but could not do so for a number of reasons.

 First, they were loath to set a precedent by going after someone who, for all intents and purposes, is a publisher, and not a hacker or a thief. If embarrassed officials in the Bush and Obama administrations had charged or seized Assange, they would rightly have been seen as the enemies of the First Amendment that they were, and still are. And then there was the pesky little matter of Ecuador then being led by a socialist government who took the concept of democracy more seriously than the US hegemon.

Second, they would have been put in the awkward position of appearing hypocritical if they did not also indict the New York Times, the Washington Post, and all the other quasi-official house organs upon whom they traditionally rely to sell their wars and to selectively leak their self-serving secrets and "narratives" explaining why, for instance, we cannot have non-profit single payer health insurance.

 Such a messy court case against the free press would have dirtied the hands of all manner of corporatists working both within and without the government and the military-industrial-media complex.

But with the advent of Trump, the aromatic bloom on Assange's rose has sufficiently faded in the sensitive eyes and mental nostrils of the public. The man once lauded by liberals as a hero for his exposure of the war crimes of the Bush administration is now anathema because of x degrees of separation from the Trump victory over Hillary Clinton. And once the Wikileaks documents (from SONY and other Hollywood bigwigs, the Democratic Party, and the sordid Clinton campaign) began to surface during the Obama years, Assange quickly morphed from the most important and successful journalistic muckraker in modern history to a Russian stooge, a traitor, and worst of all, a good pal of the Donald Trump machine.

Therefore, the punishing surveillance and carceral state will bite while the biting is still good, realizing that the public will not only not make a stink about his arrest and extradition, they will be cheering it on like the good little authoritarian subjects that they are. London, moreover, is currently in a state of chaotic disarray because of the Brexit finale, so complicit British officials can thus be held harmless in the event of a midnight raid on the embassy. It helps that Ecuador, whose embassy currently shelters Assange, itself is now controlled by an authoritarian right-wing regime anxious for US dollars and protection at the expense of its own citizens. 

And last but not least, the increasingly cornered and legally jeopardized Trump can be made to appear "serious" about going after Putin by seriously going after Wikileaks, which he once sarcastically urged to release more of Hillary's emails in the closing days of the 2016 campaign.  

The only problem is that the US government seems to have zero proof that Assange acted in concert with either Russian operatives or Trump to publish the DNC and Clinton (via her adviser John Podesta's account) emails. Even the sycophantic press can only say, with the usual obfuscatory language, that the usual anonymous officials have "a high degree of certainty" that Assange and Trump and the Russians were all in cahoots to subvert our non-existing democracy. It's nothing but a vain and dogged attempt to translate mere suspicion into absolute proof in the minds of the audience.

The government has no case. 

But I see this as a glass half-full scenario for a number of reasons.

First, prosecutors will now be pressured to outline whatever case they do have against Assange sooner rather than later. Second, the "accidental" filing brings his plight back to the forefront of public discourse, where it belongs. While Assange has been holed up in the Ecuador Embassy in London for many years, both his mental and his physical health have reportedly deteriorated. If he is extradited back to the US, he will at least (presumably) have his teeth seen to. And should he be treated as cruelly as his Bush-era source, Chelsea Manning, was, and locked up in solitary for a lengthy period without a trial, the liberal class will be forced to confront its own hypocrisy as it pertains to its outrage over Trump's own serial assaults on the rule of law.

This will be especially true if Assange is charged as a terrorist or an enemy combatant and sent to the Guantanamo gulag, a military prison and even perhaps "renditioned" to a secret CIA black site.

The liberal class will rightly be made to feel uncomfortable making a stink about CNN's Jim Acosta being barred from the White House, and not making a similar stink about Julian Assange being prosecuted - or persecuted - for simply telling the truth about corrupt government and corporate officials.

Finally, the failure of prosecutors to bring an imprisoned Assange to trial in a timely, constitutional manner might even force them to admit that #Russiagate itself has always been nothing but a big fat propaganda campaign dreamed up by Clinton operatives as a tool to absolve her of any responsibility for her own loss. 

The New York Times, in its own account of the secret indictment filing, twisted itself into a pretzel by parroting the evidence-free propaganda that it was "Russian intelligence officers" - and not another inside or outside source - who stole the DNC emails and handed them over to Assange - while at  the same time tacitly acknowledging that Assange himself was merely acting as a publisher and a journalist. If it can happen to him, it can happen to them as well.
WikiLeaks published thousands of emailsthat year from Democrats during the presidential race that were stolen by Russian intelligence officers. The hackings were a major part of Moscow’s campaign of disruption.
Though the legal move against Mr. Assange remained a mystery on Thursday, charges centering on the publication of information of public interest — even if it was obtained from Russian government hackers — would create a precedent with profound implications for press freedoms.
If Assange does go on trial, the American media and the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights will go on trial right along with him. Publishers and reporters will be called as witnesses by both the prosecution and defense and asked to explain why they chose to disseminate stolen information. The Fourth Estate, whose traditional mantra is to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted" will be plopped center-stage in a legal and ethical drama which, for a refreshing change, might finally force them to play themselves rather than the trite group-thinking #Resistance against Donald Trump, fighters-for-hire in the service of the corrupt neoliberal system that produced Trump in the first place.  

Of course, the biggest spanner in the works of justice for Julian Assange could be Donald Trump himself, tweeting loud and tweeting often about how unfairly he thinks the Wikileaks founder is being treated and casting him as a major player on the same victimized-by-Mueller team. That might be the ultimate kiss of death for Assange in the court of liberal public opinion, which has already turned so hypocritically against him. 

The best thing that could happen to Assange would be for the ever-contradictory and unpredictable Trump to suddenly begin bellowing  "Lock Him Up!" at his Nuremberg-style rallies. And presto-change-o, the new enemy of their enemy would morph right back into being the best friend a liberal ever had.

Liberals are a fickle bunch. And stranger things have happened. Just look at their recent miraculous rehabilitation, if not downright beatification, of George W Bush.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Kings, Queens, and Luxury World Disorder

There's the Cult of Trump, which used to be known as the Republican Party.

There's the "resistance" Gentry Party, which still insists upon calling itself the Democratic Party, despite its having little to do with ordinary people.

And then there's the Empire of Amazon, whose ruler Jeff Bezos is coming ever closer to his goal of conquering and controlling not only the corrupt US duopoly but the whole planet and even outer space. It's no wonder that Wannabe World Dictator Donald Trump can't stand him. Not only is Bezos the richest man in the world, he's rubbing it in by horning in on Trump's old stomping ground, the outer borough of Queens, New York.

While Trump got rich from his father's enterprise of bilking poor tenants in his rundown buildings (when he wasn't refusing to rent to them because of their skin color), Bezos aims to constructively evict them with the placement of one of his "secondary" headquarters in Long Island City. Not only will the residents be expelled sooner rather than later, they'll also be parted from their dwindling funds sooner rather than later, via the estimated $3 billion in public subsidies which the Gentry Party elders have promised him. This includes a pricey new helipad. Because if there is one thing our modern-day oligarchs need, it's the ability to stay above the fray and make a fast getaway in case the dispossessed rabble gets too irate. That, too, will happen sooner rather than later.

Trump is probably kicking himself with bilious envy. It was his monstrous tax giveaway to the obscenely rich, after all, which designated the already-gentrifying Queens neighborhood an "opportunity zone" for investors to set up shop and either enslave or expel the existing denizens as the whim grabs them.

This assault by Bezos is so Trumpily egregious, in fact, that the more progressive upstarts in the Gentry Party are making a stink about it. It certainly doesn't help the Gentries that New York State is now entirely ruled by the Democratic Party and therefore, liberal pols will no longer have the nasty old Republicans to blame if and when Bezos gets his way.

But at least they'll put on a show of resistance to prove to their constituents that they care, even as they feebly explain  that "nobody could ever have predicted" that Amazon had any designs on the Empire State. Just because the Gentries stealthily had offered Bezos incentives in the billions of dollars to please, please, please pick them as the big winners doesn't make the corruption a completely done deal, at least not quite yet.

As CNBC reports:
Local Democrats, with a few high-profile exceptions, swiftly criticized Amazon. They raised concerns about cost of living increases, a potential lack of benefit to local community members and state tax incentives going to a large corporation rather than residents. The response sets up a political clash for Amazon — a company that has had no shortage of battles with officials as it extends its reach across the country and globe.
Democratic Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will represent parts of Queens and the Bronx starting in January, said early Tuesday that her future constituents raised concerns about the Amazon offices. In a series of tweets, she called it "extremely concerning" that Amazon would get tax breaks "when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less."
And that, of course, is why the constituents will pay for a helipad for the world's richest oligarch. He doesn't ride the subways.

Ocasio-Cortez rather tepidly added in a tweet that "we need to focus on good healthcare, living wages, affordable rent" and that "corporations that offer none of those thing should be met w/skepticism" while insisting she is not trying to "pick a fight."

That's a little too kind. The Queens residents of one of the country's largest public housing projects aren't doubtful or skeptical. They're frightened, they're broke, and they're outraged. 

The hearty partiers of the Gentry, meanwhile, point to the derelict conditions of the housing in question, in probable anticipation of the sad need for them to eventually just tear it all down to make room for all that sacrosanct progress in the name of progress. Therefore, the main improvements which the government plans to make are not mold amelioration, or guaranteeing heat and hot water to the tenants.

 It's installing millions of dollars' worth of new surveillance cameras and security lighting.

 The Gentries are refusing to divulge the totality of the Trump-like corrupt wheeling and dealing that has gone into the Bezos bribery scheme. It's none of the public's damned business how they conduct their shady business. But I wouldn't be surprised if one of the incentives was awarding Bezos the no-bid contract to spy on the poor via all that Amazonian surveillance technology as they await their eviction orders from the Panopticon. The oligarchs always try to squeeze every last dime from the indigent before disposing of them, whether the destination be a private prison or the streets... or the morgue.

The lips of the Gentries, most notably those of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill "Tale of Two Cities" de Blasio, remain stubbornly pursed as regards the power of the purse.

Or, as the New York Times more squeamishly puts it: "It is still unknown what financial incentives city and state officials may have offered Amazon or what, if any concessions, they have extracted from the company to help the neighborhood."

The idea that corporations and billionaires are ever extracted from is really kind of quaint.  But getting the Times to admit this would be like pulling teeth. This is the same establishment mouthpiece that just hosted a Luxury Conference for transnational oligarchs. The Times and its advertisers and corporate partners are so resistant to Trumpian kitsch, which has given such a bad tasteless name to unbridled hedonism, that they had to jet all the way to Hong Kong to bitch and moan among themselves.

The theme of this year's confab was, appropriately enough, The New Luxury World (Dis) Order:
This November, Vanessa Friedman and The New York Times brought together top C.E.O.s, policy makers, entrepreneurs, celebrities and thought leaders at the annual International Luxury Conference in Hong Kong.
In these tumultuous times of rapid political and economic change, unpredictability is constant and competitive forces necessitate taking bold chances. Luxury’s decision makers are facing challenges that continue to transform their industry — from constant technological evolution to a dramatic shift in the retail world, to what’s next for China, India and the West to the pervasive demand for transparency and moral equity.
Through provocative interviews with powerful and influential figures, Friedman and her colleagues explored how luxury companies can win in a world where the only constant is change, and the biggest risk is taking no risk at all.
Thomas Frank already wrote a great book about these awful people. Published in 2012, it's called Pity the Billionaire. And needless to say, the Times gave it a rotten review. If you scathingly and hilariously criticize pathocratic rich people, it simply proves that you are a jealous grouch, wrote the reviewer. And then if you dare criticize the great Barack Obama, who so nobly "gave us health care" and "tough new financial protections for consumers" it makes you even more of an ungrateful envious wretch. Rise of the American Oligarchy? No such-a thing!

And then along came Trump. Along came Bezos. But nobody could ever have predicted....

We will not go gentrified into that good night.

Friday, November 9, 2018

About Those "Grassroots" Pro-Mueller Rallies

To read and listen to all the media reports, Thursday night's nationwide protests against Trump's firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and in support of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's Russiagate probe arose almost spontaneously.

From CBS News:
Protests have sprung up across the country Thursday night calling for the protection of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into possible collusion between President Trump's campaign and Russia. Several hundred had gathered in New York's Times Square and other places like Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, North Carolina, Tennessee and Philadelphia.
In New York, demonstrators could be heard chanting "Hands off Mueller" and "Nobody is above the law" as they marched downtown. The Associated Press reported some held signs like "Truth Must Triumph" and "Repeal, Replace Trump."
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois joined several protesters in Chicago's Federal Plaza, AP reported.
Organizers of the protest said the naming of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was a "deliberate attempt to obstruct the special counsel's investigation," according to AP.
Thursday's show of disapproval came a day after President Trump asked Jeff Sessions to resign as the nation's top law enforcement official. He was then replaced by Whitaker, Sessions' chief of staff, who has been critical of Mueller's investigation.
Whenever an elected politician joins a "spontaneous" grassroots uprising, your bullshit detector should immediately escalate into the red zone.

What the corporate media carefully doesn't tell you about the protests' organizers should disabuse you of any notion that these protests simply "sprang up" out of any mass outrage over the discredited Russiagate probe, which has been going on for almost two years and has resulted in just a handful of indictments against Russian troll farm workers and the usual sleazy mix of money launderers and low-level political operatives.

Polls show that most people don't put the alleged Trump-Putin "collusion" to swing the 2016 election away from Hillary Clinton even close to top of their list of concerns and fears. Politico even recently warned all those Russophobes out there to tamp down their enthusiasm for any earth-shattering revelations or indictments from Mueller's office. And even if Mueller has or will uncover Trumpian malfeasance, his findings may never even be made public.

Therefore, the concern and the fear must be manufactured and packaged and marketed in order to get the citizenry ready for an otherwise issue-free Democratic Party presidential campaign season. It's slick, but it's also painfully obvious. 

I mean, what harried citizen would have the wherewithal to spontaneously construct a glitzy neon sign showing support for Iraq War cheerleader Robert Mueller, of all people? Summoning the proles to "save" this plutocrat is almost as bad as Trump summoning the proles to his neofascist rallies.

All you have to do to discover the powerful individuals and organizations and the scads of money behind these spontaneous grassroots protests is to visit the NobodyIsAboveTheLaw website and look for the fine print hidden beneath all the hype. Buried deep within the astroturf is a whole treasure trove of former and current Democratic Party politicians and consultants, alumni from the Clinton and Obama administrations, representatives of the permanent Security-Military State, and a healthy smattering of billionaire venture capitalists and hedge fund honchos.

Whether they realize it or not, the thousands of well-meaning participants in Thursday night's rallies were manipulated into serving power just as creepily as Trump's fans have been manipulated into serving power. The corporate media covering the rallies deliberately suppressed this vital information from its readers and viewers.

Among the protests' funders is Stand Up America, an astroturf propaganda mill started by Facebook billionaire Sean Eldridge, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2016 in my district after purchasing a mansion for that express purpose.  His top issue is not health care, civil rights or gun control. It is protecting Robert Mueller's investigation and by extension, vindicating Hillary Clinton and maybe even setting her up for a third run -- or as she seems to prefer, a coronation by acclamation at the 2020 party convention when the Superdelegates take over after an orchestrated first ballot failure.

So naturally, the Clinton fan club called Pantsuit Nation is also one of the main organizers of the spontaneous protests. It describes its main mission as "story-telling."
Libby Chamberlain created Pantsuit Nation as a “secret” Facebook group in late October 2016, inviting about thirty friends to wear pantsuits to the polls on Election Day. The group's emphasis on “going high” and a commitment to creating a troll-free space in which Clinton supporters could enthusiastically support their candidate struck a nerve. In the span of twenty-four hours, the group exploded to 24,000 members (new members can only be added by friends already within the group). Within a few weeks, group membership exceeded 3 million people. Our current membership is over 3.8 million people around the world.
Wow. "Exploding" sounds so much more spontaneous than "springing up", don't you think? There's nothing like spontaneous combustion to set all that plastic astroturf on fire and create a lot of smoke in the process.

And how grassroots can it possibly be without billionaire venture capitalist Tom Steyer's NextGen outfit in the mix? Maybe he can extend his get-out-the-youth-vote and impeachment franchise into petting zoos and puppies to keep the spontaneous protesters warm, if not fired up, on the next big march or rally.

One thing you can't help but notice as you click and scroll through all the grassroots "partners" is how eerily similar their websites appear, right down to the fonts and the layouts and the mission statements. As a matter of fact, many of them are renamed clones of one another, with the same consultants and directors. This broadcasts the message that there are many, many more spontaneous groups than really exist.

One such group,dubbed Every Voice, appears to be nothing but a re-tweeting platform and clickbait email aggregator whose Board of Directors all hail from the other organizations listed on the main NobodyIsAboveTheLaw website, including the Sierra Club and Democracy Matters. Those busy folks from the Democratic Consultant Class sure do get around, don't they? As a matter of fact, NIATL itself is the spontaneous creation of  MoveOn.Org, one of the Democratic Party's major clicktivist veal pens whose original purpose was to urge liberals to "move on" from the Lewinsky scandal.  It's a tangled web, for sure.

If it's a more diverse feel-good solidarity that you crave, then do check out the Truman National Security Project partner of the grassroots uprisings. I mean, any group named after the president who atom-bombed Hiroshima just to send a hegemonic message to the world and who later approved the unaccountable regime- changing CIA has got to have law and order on its side, right? Included on the board of directors is Hunter Biden, son of Joe, whose Ukrainian oligarchic connections are in direct capitalistic competition with Russia. Unlike Trump, though, he and Dad are apparently far, far above the law. Joining him is Steve Israel, late of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose job is to advance centrist candidates and to bury progressive ones. 

If you joined Thursday night's marches, you might even think that its backers are also fighting Trump's mendacious campaign against Medicare for All, because a group calling itself Health Care Voter helped pay for some of those glitzy pro-FBI/Mueller signs. Fugeddaboutit. It's nothing but a campaign commercial boosting centrist Democrats whose aim is merely to "protect" the profit-driven Affordable Care Act from GOP assaults. 

Then there's a site called Rapid Resist, whose director, Yoni Landau, hails from Bill Clinton's White House Office of Management and Budget and whose assistant, Jacinth Yohi, has overseen digital operations for Democratic candidates when not engaged in "community-building" at Google and Uber, where the de facto salary for its gig drivers is less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

That's only a small sampling of the interconnected anti-Trump partnership of Democratic consultants, donors and other operatives who orchestrated Thursday's grassroots uprising. Read them and click through them until your eyes glaze over from all that spontaneous and very lucrative redundancy. 

Meanwhile, some cynics are even suggesting that liberal activists start a GoFundMe page for the ousted Jeff Sessions, whose last desperate act before being kicked out of office was ordering a halt to federal consent decrees to curb police brutality and other law enforcement abuses of the poor, the black, and the brown. Of course, these decrees have traditionally been nothing but unenforced slaps on the wrist and warnings to offending police agencies in such poverty-stricken cities as Cleveland. 

Still, Sessions managed to dig in the racist knife even further, by ordering that political operatives - not career nonpartisan lawyers from the Justice Department - will now have the power to "discipline" police agencies. Additionally, such decrees will have sunset clauses, meaning that the offending departments can simply run out the clock and do nothing to reform themselves as they continue to act with impunity toward an increasingly vulnerable and disposable population.