Friday, December 28, 2018

Commentariat Central: Obituary Edition

I wrote three New York Times comments this week: two of them to mark the deaths of a couple of long-time fellow commenters, and the third to critique yet another beating of a dead horse by dismal economics pundit Paul Krugman. To give Krugman credit, he boldly buried his fellow dishonest economists without mentioning even one of them by his or her actual name. How can I put this delicately? Krugman himself has been moribund for quite some time now, vacillating in his biweekly columns between easy-peasy GOP-bashing and defending Obamacare to the death.

But back to the true obits.

Larry Eisenberg, legendary resident poet and limericist of the Times commentariat, died on Christmas night at the age of 99. He was such an institution that he rated a prominently displayed full obituary written by another of the Paper of Record's institutions, chief necrologist Margalit Fox. (Since Fox actually left the Times earlier this year, she did not, as some readers surmised, physically return to the building to write Eisenberg's obit. Such things are kept in the can for years, if not decades, before a famous person actually dies.)

It was a classic of the form, with the appropriate blackly humorous headline: Larry Eisenberg, 99, Is Dead; His Limericks Were Very Well Read. Fox writes:
 His first ( of 13,000 Times comments), from July 14, 2008, was in response to an Op-Ed article by Barack Obama, then a United States senator from Illinois and the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency.
 In the article, which outlined his proposal for the Iraq campaign, Mr. Obama called for the gradual withdrawal of United States combat troops there, a plan that would leave only “a residual force” to “perform limited missions.”
Dr. Eisenberg, a self-described ardent liberal, was having none of this. As he wrote in reply:
A “residual force,” Mr. O.?
With “limited missions,” ah, so,
Precipitous? Nay!
It’s a sure way to stay.
Your plan sounds like “in statu quo”!
In the years that followed, limericks burst forth from Dr. Eisenberg on a welter of subjects.
A couple of years ago, I noticed that Larry's comments had disappeared. A couple of us wondered if perhaps he'd become incapacitated or even died. Another frequent contributor, Rima Regas, tracked him down. He wrote me back a very nice personal email, thanking me for my concern, and explained that he had quit making submissions because the Times moderators had started rejecting them. (Rima kept up an email correspondence with him until just a few days before his death in hospice.) Larry complained to former editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal (an Eisenberg fan) and got reinstated. It just goes to show you that even famous unpaid resident poets who rate full obituaries can get censored by the Gray Lady if their thoughts are deemed to be too "edgy."

So anyway, here's my published comment on Larry's obit:
 There once was a poet named Larry
 Whose comments made Times readers merry
 In spite of Trump news
 In spite of Trump's views
 His wit made the world seem less scary.

 So though sad that Limerick Larry
 Bows out in a Times obituary,
 His verses live on.
 The memories so fond
 As he journeys on Charon's old ferry.


 My deepest condolences to Larry's children. Your dad was a true mensch!

Do check out the other comments from his fans. Some of the limericks and poems and other essays written in his honor are well worth a read.

Now on to the second Times commenter death, that of right-wing gadfly Richard Luettgen. He rated a somewhat less prominent tribute from a Times censor moderator, mainly on the basis of his having published a whopping 30,000 comments over the years. His demise was not noticed until several weeks after the fact, although the Times apparently "wondered" whatever had become of him. News came in the form of another reader comment on a Bret Stephens column trashing Elizabeth Warren.

"He (Luettgen) was not known for holding back," diplomatically wrote moderator Nancy Wartik.
The Times’s comment moderators are a tight-knit group, affectionately familiar with our frequent commenters and appreciative of those who contribute thoughtfully, like Mr. Luettgen. Commenters, too, have developed virtual relationships within our community....

“That’s tragic,” “rtj” of Massachusetts responded to the news of Mr. Luettgen’s death. “He had a sense of humor that’s rare around these parts.”
Another reader, “Nick,” wrote: “I almost never agreed with him, but appreciated his contribution to the discussion. He provided a lot of grist for the mill.”
Others have been offering their condolences to his family.
The ripples also spread through our department.
 One of the things I really respected about Richard,” said Bassey Etim, our Community Editor, “is that he would email me when we took down some rude replies to his comments and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing, put that back up.’ He was not afraid of mixing it up.”
I personally never chose to "mix it up" with Luettgen, despite his best efforts to troll me (in that funny erudite way of his, of course.) 

 The final - and I believe the only - remarks I ever wrote to or about Richard Luettgen, whose comments, frankly, I had stopped reading:
 I was sorry to learn of Richard's death in spite of the fact that he once responded to one of my comments by suggesting that my doctor up my dose of Valium. As others have noted, he was something of an imp. To be fair, he also once complimented me on my writing ability, which was nice coming from such a verbally gifted contributor as Richard L. 

It was also pretty shocking to learn he had penned some 30,000 comments during his career at the Times. It leads me to wonder whether his constant defense of Trump had caused a rise in blood pressure, leading to the stroke that apparently was the cause of his death. Myself, I comment more sparingly these days and only when I find something new and different to say, other than that Trump is horrible. My heart pounds and my head throbs whenever I see or hear him. He is the main reason I cancelled cable TV. This man indeed endangers the health of both his defenders and his detractors, not to mention collaterally damaging global humanity as a whole.

 Condolences to Richard's family.

 And for those who miss erudite commentary from the right, do check out the "American Conservative" website if you haven't already done so. I find myself agreeing with maybe a third to a half of their articles, especially the anti-war and anti-surveillance ones by Andrew Bacevich and others.

 Here's to a peaceful and healthy New Year to moderating staff and commenters.

Last and least, on to the only paid pundit in this mix: Paul Krugman.

Ironic that his subhead reads "On professionals who sold their integrity and got nothing in return," in light of the fact that he sold out to the corporate Dems when he peevishly trashed Bernie Sanders and Medicare For All during the 2016  primary season. Of course, he and we got saddled with Donald Trump in return. But that's not "nothing", because Krugman is still employed by the Times as one of America's most respected public intellectuals. The rest of us are just purists and whiners.

An excerpt from his latest effort:
 The bad faith that dominates conservative politics at every level is infecting right-leaning economists, too.
This is sad, but it’s also pathetic. For even as once-respected economists abase themselves in the face of Trumpism, the G.O.P. is making it ever clearer that their services aren’t wanted, that only hacks need apply.
What you need to know when talking about economics and politics is that there are three kinds of economist in modern America: liberal professional economists, conservative professional economists and professional conservative economists.
He doesn't mention the fourth kind of economist in America: the Marxist variety, most prominently exemplified by the extremely well-credentialed and informative Richard Wolff and Michael Hudson. (See Wolff's website, Democracy At Work for a cogent, and quite entertaining, series of his posts and video lectures, along with Hudson's site, also on the list.)

Krugman, as I mentioned above, is either too polite or too cowardly to mention the actual names of any of his colleagues in the Club You Ain't In, least of all that of dead fellow Nobel Bank Prize winner Milton Friedman, founder of the Mont Pelerin Society and the acknowledged granddaddy of neoliberalism.

So I did in my published response:
Milton Friedman and his zombie descendants wouldn't know a good faith economic argument if it hit them in the face. Their neoliberal ideology - that the market can solve all problems, and that cutthroat competition trumps cooperation - has been internalized in the hive-mind of most of global humanity over the past half-century.
  It's so ingrained that even when the financial system crashed in 2008, it not only survived, it's grown stronger. The miscreants got pay hikes and bonuses and bailouts. This has only inspired them to flaunt their corruption for all to see.
 It's the plutonomy, stupid. As Sen. Dick Durbin ruefully observed a decade ago, after the smirking Wall Street culprits were hauled before Congress for their slap on the wrist: "They frankly own the place."
In 1995, Citigroup wrote a secret memo for their ultra-rich clients laying out this de facto plutonomy, claiming that obscene wealth inequality is not a matter of morality, but of cold hard math. They cynically quipped that "a rising tide lifts all yachts."

 "Perhaps one reason that societies allow plutonomy, is because enough of the electorate believe they have a chance of becoming a Pluto-participant. Why kill it off, if you can join it? In a sense this is the embodiment of the 'American dream'”. 
 To paraphrase George Carlin, you have to be asleep to believe in the American Dream. And it looks like a lot of people are finally beginning to wake up, thanks to the human alarm clock named Donald Trump.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

All the Noose That's Fit to Print On Chaos Mess

I don't think Lake Superior University has come out with its list of breakout Words of the Year yet, but I am placing my own bet on "chaos."

My "Trump Chaos" query got 185 million results from a Google search on Christmas - er, make that Chaosmess - night. Up to then I foolishly thought that I had enjoyed a pretty nice holiday, until I was informed that Trump had spoiled it.

Ripped from the latest headlines:

The Ghost of Trump Chaos Future -- New York Times.

Trump Chaos Pervades Holiday Season -- The Hill.

Michael Moore Says Trump Chaos Makes Him Frightened For the Country -- MSNBC.

Trump Chaos Keeps Finding New Levels -- Bloomberg News.

Donald Trump Ruins the Holidays With Shutdown, Mattis Chaos --  New York Magazine. 

Is Trump's Chaos Tornado a Move from the Kremlin's Playbook? -- Vanity Fair. (They're so vain, they want you to think all the bad stuff comes from Russia. At least they had the good taste not to describe it as a Trump Tsunami, in light of the 400-plus people killed in Indonesia, an event which has already slipped well below the Trump Chaos in clicks, views and Likes)

A dangerous contender in the corporate media's overused word of the year contest is "noose" - as in, the noose that's been tightening around the King of Chaos's neck since Inauguration Day, 2017. Donald Trump has a very short, wide, fleshy neck, which seems to have protected him pretty well, till now, from Robert Mueller's very wide net, or more accurately, hangman's lasso.

Since the rope has been tightening for far longer than the hysterical mass chaos has been erupting, the search term "Trump noose" gets a lot more results: more than 3.8 million on Google. Most recently:

The Walls Are Closing In, the Noose Is Tightening -- Washington Examiner. (Will Trump be squashed to death before the strangulation, or during?)

The Noose Is Tightening: Five Takeaways From the Michael Cohen Plea Deal -- CBC. (Is that for here, or to go?)

Rob Reiner Says the Noose Is Tightening - Breitbart. (but somehow forgets to mention that we are under Russian attack.)

Legal Noose Tightens Around Trump's Neck - And It's No Hyperbole -- CandidCamera. com (Finally, somebody explains right in the scare headline that it's just a metaphor and not a real piece of rope.)

The chaos got really chaotic and the noose tightened in a veritable frenzy of mass yanking over the past week. That is because for the first name since the Trump election, Chaos is really messing with the sensitive spots of the usually impervious Ruling Class Racketeers. To wit: Trump has made the teensiest effort to stop the permanent state of war by withdrawing 2,000 US troops from Syria. On top of that insult to violent capitalism, he dared criticize the sacrosanct Fed, and the stock market took a dive. How quickly the heretofore serene oligarchs have panicked, right after their record gains from the great Trump Tax Giveaway from earlier in the year. And then there's the Government Shutdown over the Wall. It's been a perfect trifecta of chaos.

Of course, life has always been precarious and chaotic for the poor and working classes, but their plights have not garnered much attention, let alone headlines.

It is so suddenly chaotic out there that congress critters and pundits from both sides of the War Party are reduced to begging a general nicknamed "Mad Dog" - whom Barack Obama once removed from command for being too bloodthirsty - to stay on as one of the last remaining competent adult psychopaths in the Room. Rabies is now more popular than Donald Trump . And why not, since polls also show that root canals are more popular than the congress critters who are slobbering all over James Mattis, a steady patriotic war criminal, who once frothed that "it's fun to kill some people."

It is so chaotic that some corporate news outlets are equally outraged that Trump allegedly spoiled Christmas for a seven-year-old - by opining that belief in Santa Claus was "marginal" for someone her age - as they are that another Guatemalan child migrant died in US custody on Christmas morning.  As a matter of fact, The Guardian actually placed these two events in side by side top-of-the-homepage headlines to award them tacit equal importance: Christmas Cheer and Death In Detention.

But let's be fair. Just as the seven-year-old who had the phone chat with Trump later admitted to the press that she has no idea what "marginal" even means, it is also doubtful that Trump himself knows what it means. When he was seven years old, and his teacher tactfully noted on his report card that his performance was marginal at best, he assumed that it was a compliment.  Marginal, magical. Same exact thing. He meant to tell the little girl that belief in Santa is simply magical thinking, a skill at which he himself is so marvelously adept.

But lest we forget, there are at least two more dangerous stalking word-horses that only add to the linguistic chaos: coyfeve and smocking gun.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

And a Very Happy Humbug To All

Miserly person that I am, I'm somewhat recycling last year's Christmas gift to my fellow Sardonickists, with just a few Santa-like tweaks to the side of the nose to make this post seem all new and shiny. 

I wrote previously, and at some length, that in the good old 19th century days of mass immigration, back when the future Lady Liberty's "give me your tired, your poor" mantra was actually taken literally, Christmas was celebrated by the teeming masses more in the spirit of Halloween than in the current "traditional" version which Charles Dickens made so sentimentally popular with his tale of the miser who suddenly gets "woke" by his nightmares and who salves his conscience by giving his clerk's family one opulent Christmas dinner, one measly raise, and one lousy day off.

Back in the good old days, working class holiday revelers acted like the Gilets Jaunes of France. They assailed the wealthy by wassailing the wealthy in a winter form of Trick or Treat. Give us money and a decent wage and some of your food, or we'll smash things. That unrest spurred the rich propertied classes to bring their own Yuletide revelry behind their bolted doors. They encouraged poor people to follow their example, and just stay the hell home. 

Dickens could even be considered the literary precursor of neoliberalism and  trickle-down economics. His poverty-stricken, orphaned heroes in his most popular books ultimately prevail. They survive and come out of penury not through the imposition of taxes on the aristocracy, with the upshot of a more equitable society, but in the miraculous discovery of some long-lost aristocratic relative. David Copperfield finds his wealthy aunt, Oliver Twist is rescued by a benevolent gentleman who turns out to be his grandfather, Esther Summerson (one of the few Dickensian female characters who isn't a complete simpering dolt) both inherits a bundle and finds true love despite a smallpox-scarred countenance. Naturally, these lucky few had mothers who were either sluts, improvident, dumb, or all three. The heroes were selfless bootstrappers who overcame adversity through hard work, grit, maybe a little honest theft, and determination -- and long-lost benefactors.

Pip in Great Expectations is somewhat of an outlier in the Dickens canon. He goes through several transformations, from naive child, to snobbish gentleman, to "woke" individual who finally overcomes his snootiness and finds some humanity after discovering that his particular benefactor is a convicted felon. He even gets to marry the benefactor's snooty daughter in the Hollywood film version.

It isn't until Dickens' later novels that he examines wealth inequality and societal injustice. From going to "living happily ever after" upon the acquisition of riches, his characters come to realize that money is no guarantee of a happy life. His last work, Our Mutual Friend, proved unpopular with both the critics and the public because it turned the rags to riches myth right on its head. The family at the center of the book inherits a ton of cash, and misery and vacuity and conspicuous, tasteless consumption ensue. 

I used to be a fan, but now I'm just not that into  A Christmas Carol, whose moral value to the modern-day wealthy is that it permits them to be stingy and selfish on the other 364 days of the year. The working class as portrayed by the Cratchits were meekly accepting of their lot, as all of us should be. Christmas is still largely an indoor festival, and not just because it's cold outside. And it's that one special time of year for the ruling class to wear their noblesse oblige proudly on their sleeves for the relative minute out of their lives that it takes to play Santa. And then they ostentatiously send the video clips of their good deeds to all the news sites and networks to ensure that the gratefully quiet rabble won't miss even one second of their conspicuous, yet fleeting, beneficence. 

Case in point: 

And since Barack Obama has always prided himself on his "balanced approach" to inequality, here's Mrs. Claus in a pair of glittery, gaudy $4,000 boots whose material appears to have been prised right off the walls of Trump's Fifth Avenue Versailles palace and then glued directly onto what Victorian writers in the age of Dickens so delicately used to describe as "limbs."

(Sorry for the Santa redundancy at the end of the above clip, but it was the least gushy and the shortest that I could find from my Google search of this vapid event.)

If this approach still isn't quite balanced enough for you, then do check out Santa Barack's recent visit to a Neocon think tank in Houston, where he shamed a whole roomful of Oil and Gas titans out of $5 million of their polluted cash. Not for sick children, mind you, but to help promote his Mutual Friends in the Neoliberal World Order Club.

The problem of the super-wealthy and the ruling class, folksily lectured Obama to the oligarchs, is that they haven't adapted quickly enough to the mass disaffection of the dispossessed rabble. The elites are just too smug, he smugly remarked, to much appreciative smug laughter and applause from the elite audience. They wouldn't recognize a veiled insult if it hit them like a gentle ocean breeze. Them selfish? They are Thought Leaders whose only goal is to make the world a better place.

God bless us, everyone.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Ru$$ophobia Must Never Die

The New York Times and Washington Post and other corporate media outlets are all pushing new documents today pushing the same old Russiagate propaganda.

The reports, contracted by the "bipartisan" Senate Intelligence Committee, seem designed to both shame "Russian-targeted" Black voters who failed to turn out for Hillary Clinton and thus unwittingly gave the 2016 election to Donald Trump, and to gaslight supporters of Bernie Sanders, who remains the most popular politician in America and who threatens Joe Biden and others of the neoliberal persuasion as they vie for the next Democratic presidential nomination.

The Times piece, written by Scott Shane and Sheera Frenkel, uncritically highlights the findings of an Austin, TX-based "brand defense" start-up called New Knowledge. This organization says it discovered that the indicted Russian troll farm, Internet Research Agency, which meddled in our free and fair elections process, was even more evil than they first told us to believe. They produced a lot more cheesy ads on a lot more social media platforms than were immediately apparent when Russiagate first became a "thing" more than a year ago. The ads were just discovered to have been specifically aimed at Black voters and at Bernie supporters. Although there is no proof that the ads actually swung the election to Trump, that possibility exists, says the Times. They will never know. And neither will you.

Sow the doubt, and sow it good and hard. Because doubt and confusion are prerequisites of fear. And fear is essential to compliance.

Meanwhile, a quick visit to the New Knowledge website tells you what the Times doesn't bother disclosing:  it was founded and is run by former (and who knows, maybe even current) employees of, and advisers to, the US military, the NSA and the State Department.

My published comment on the "blockbuster" story:
This article doesn't inform readers that the co-founder and chief operating officer of New Knowledge, contracted to write the report on Russian influence, spent 15 years at the NSA working on SIGINT and has also served in US Army's Joint Special Ops.
 It's always a good idea to investigate the sources of one's information, both in cheesy, amateurish Facebook and Instagram ads, and in highly respected mainstream media outlets.
This article also serves the subtle purpose of denigrating the popular Bernie Sanders, at whose supporters the ads were directed. If you didn't vote for Hillary, if you voted for Jill Stein, and if you simply voted for nobody at all, and if you are still a Bernie fan, it is possible (but of course not provable as the article hastens to add) that the Russians infiltrated your brain. And the Russian trolls are even snidely joking about it in their subsequent ads!
Solutions? Quit Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and agitate for more public education funding, specifically teaching kids basic civics and critical thinking to help them identify propaganda, whatever the source. And pay teachers a living wage so that more people will enter this important and undervalued profession.
And reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, which mandated broadcasting in the public interest. Here's looking at the biggest disinformation troll of all: Fox News.
 The Times article also doesn't disclose that the author of the New Knowledge report, Renee DiResta, is a venture capitalist and derivatives trader in a parallel professional life. This presumably gives her the expertise to declare that while "very real racial tensions and feelings of alienation have existed in the United States for decades," the Russians make them worse by exploiting them. After all, she sunk some her own money into the New Knowledge startup.

New Knowledge actually gets its funding from several venture capital firms, including GGV Capital, Moonshot Capital, Haystack Ventures, Geekdom Fund, Capital Factory and Spitfire Ventures. 

Nowhere in the New York Times piece is the question asked why Ryan Fox, the NSA veteran and special ops spook running New Knowledge, didn't come up with the goods on Russian meddling a long time ago, when he was developing all that advanced global eavesdropping technology and defending our precious national security interests. Maybe, and quite probably, he did. And he and the other spy state operatives dismissed it out of hand as being too trivial and commonplace to even worry about.

Then Hillary lost, and her campaign operatives needed to come up with a big excuse in a big hurry. Enter the good folks in the public-private Military-Industrial-Surveillance Complex and some old intel gathering dust in the cyberfiles of the NSA and its various partners.

And so it's time once again to cast doubt in the minds of people who still support Bernie Sanders or who otherwise champion progressive and socialist ideas. The Times article does it, none too subtly, with this paragraph:
Of 81 Facebook pages created by the Internet Research Agency in the Senate’s data, 30 targeted African-American audiences, amassing 1.2 million followers, the report finds. By comparison, 25 pages targeted the political right and drew 1.4 million followers. Just seven pages focused on the political left, drawing 689,045 followers.
While the right-wing pages promoted Mr. Trump’s candidacy, the left-wing pages scorned Mrs. Clinton while promoting Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. The voter suppression effort was focused particularly on Sanders supporters and African-Americans, urging them to shun Mrs. Clinton in the general election and either vote for Ms. Stein or stay home.
Whether such efforts had a significant effect is difficult to judge. Black voter turnout declined in 2016 for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, but it is impossible to determine whether that was the result of the Russian campaign.
The spooks and private equity capitalists at New Knowledge, meanwhile, want you to discard your previous knowledge, and just trust the predatory lords of capitalism to divide the good discourse from the bad. Without a hint of irony, given the security state's current vendetta against truth-revealing whistleblowers like Ed Snowden and Julian Assange, its mission statement asserts:  
 We are living in a crisis of trust - and societies in which citizens can’t trust their information sources are vulnerable to collapse. It’s no secret that in today’s information-rich society, the lines between fact and fiction have blurred. 
New Knowledge is on a mission to make it easier to monitor and defend against damaging social media security risks and disinformation so the truth will prevail in our public discourse.
If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Meanwhile, try very hard to censor your own independent thoughts, while they go about monitoring your online activities and censoring any information that might hurt their profits and damage their waning credibility.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Interpreting Corporate Democrat-Speak

Get me rewrite, pronto!

In their haste to anoint a replacement for Donald Trump, Democrats in exile are unintentionally acting a lot more transparent than their corporate donors might like.

Take, for example, Obama State Department and White House alumna Jen Psaki, who now does P.R. for the oligarchic Carnegie Endowment for International Peace along with a regular gig as a CNN contributor. Lest you think that these jobs are not inextricably related, think again. Both entities are heavily subsidized by Big Polluting Oil, which produces those "I'm an energy voter!" ads showcasing regular people in love with pollution and whose representative also sits on the Board of Trustees at Carnegie. And why not? Despite the liberal outcry over Trump's rejection of the Paris Climate Accord, the US military has always been carefully exempt from even the feeble anti-pollution rules which still exist. This is pretty amazing, given that the US Military is the biggest consumer of polluting fossil fuels on the entire planet.

So anyway, in her revolving-door capacity as peace spokesperson for the more polite faction of the planet-endangering War Party, Jen Psaki is also acting as a spokesperson for the oligarchs who are currently vetting the presidential candidates whom we will ultimately be allowed to vote for.

Her CNN editorial gives the game away right in the lede:
The Democratic Party has a lot going for it right now. An energized base of supporters in cities and suburbs, a more diverse freshman class in Congress to mix up the agenda, interesting likely candidates for President, and a shared focus in defeating Donald Trump.
Rural areas? Forget about wooing the Deplorables. Concentrate instead on well-heeled gender and race diversity as new congress-critters mix it up and party hearty while staying laser-focused on Trump, the whole Trump, and nothing but the Trump. Such petty concerns as universal health care insurance and debt-free college education must fade away. They are so divisive.

Nonetheless, Psaki hastens to add, choosing a presidential contender should not be based on gender or race. Identity politics are on the way out. Instead, the oligarchic vetters should examine the qualities they want in their ideal president.

And it's complicated, because these qualities are just so darned intangible.

But first and foremost, the ideal candidate to serve the interests of the wealthy should be honest. She writes:

Not the "aww-shucks" kind, but the kind where our President is not afraid to tell the American people what is happening in our economy and in our global engagements, not afraid to share views that aren't politically popular, and not afraid to admit mistakes.
If Jen Psaki were honest, she wouldn't be so obfuscatory. Since Medicare For All (with a 70% and rising favorable rating) is one of the most politically popular ideas in the country, her ideal candidate must not be afraid to tell people that they won't be enjoying universal guaranteed health care any time soon. The candidate also must not hesitate to sell the public on such "global engagements" as war for oil and job-destroying trade agreements, which enrich transnational corporations while keeping American workers poor and desperate. The ideal candidate must be unabashedly pro-capitalist and not threaten the bottomless pocketbooks of the rich with any new taxes.

And that leads Psaki directly to Beto O'Rourke, a man so honest that he just lost the Texas Senate race to the loathsome Ted Cruz. O'Rourke is so painfully honest that he's refused to sign on to either the Green New Deal or Medicare For All. But most important, she writes, is that he was once honest enough to support football players "taking the knee" to protest racial injustice and police brutality while at the same time politely respecting the racism of the town hall attendee who'd questioned him about it.
His honesty is one reason he has quickly emerged as a Democratic frontrunner, although he narrowly lost his Senate race in Texas. He is authentic and inspiring and says what he thinks. And more than anything, that is what inspires people to follow a leader.
He has emerged as a frontrunner because CNN says he has emerged as a frontrunner. (For a scathing treatment of how the corporate media advances the fortunes of corporate candidates and dismisses more independent people, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, be sure to read this piece by Matt Taibbi.)

According to Psaki, people getting told that they can't have nice things while learning to embrace the wisdom of the plutocrats is what will inspire people. More than health, housing and living wages, the rich need to believe that ordinary folk simply want to "follow a leader" -- rather than think independently or, heaven forbid, take to the streets. At most they'll have to learn to be satisfied with watching sports teams take to the knee on national television.

O'Rourke has been described as "the white Obama." Indeed, he is adept at projecting a glib and handsome image along with the fine art of doublespeak. Best of all, he has three whole O's in his name.... Beto O'Rourke.... so he might even be triple the fun that Obama was. Skilled as the former president was, he only ever could master talking out of two sides of his mouth.

Did I mention that O'Rourke got the second-highest (after Cruz) amount of money from the oil and gas industry, which also fronts Psaki's "peace" think tank and CNN? I'm sure it's just an honest coincidence.

So Beto should be the corporate Dems' first current choice. Coming in second in their playbook is former Vice President Joe Biden, whose alleged quality of empathy is also a must-have intangible. It is absolutely essential for a liberal politician to feign feeling people's pain, and Biden certainly has this quality in excess. He is even shamelessly willing to milk the deaths of his family members for everything they're worth, especially in book sales.
After experiencing unimaginable tragedy, with the loss of his wife and infant daughter and later his son, he turned his grief into an incredible capacity to comfort others -- a quality that is called upon often for Presidents after a school shooting, a hurricane or any unpredictable moment when the country looks to the Commander in Chief.
Biden incredibly and effectively killed gun control legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. Rather than seize the moment in the immediate aftermath, he preferred to wait until everybody forgot about the dead children before making his mild suggestions to curb violence. Psaki unwittingly calls attention to the ingrained violence - both state-sanctioned and freelance - of this country when she refers to the president as Commander in Chief. He is not the people's ruling general. That term is only applicable to his leadership of the uniformed armed forces, not the civilian population. Psaki is being unwittingly, transparently honest about her bellicose, authoritarian mindset.

The liberal plutocracy's third and fourth choices for president, writes Psaki, should be Corey Booker of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio respectively. She incredibly and honestly admits that Booker might be a little on the self-centered side. She might want to revisit his third place status, now that he has signed on to the Green New Deal, albeit in a self-serving manner to boost his populist cred.

Brown makes the cut because Ohio is an important swing state, and he just got re-elected in what the Dems view as deplorable Trump country. He is very empathetic in towns whose factories went to Mexico, thanks to NAFTA, and whose residents have never forgiven the Clintons for signing their jobs and livelihoods away.

Now comes the inevitable part of the op-ed where Jen Psaki clumsily kills two progressive birds with one stone:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren had a serious fumble over the release of her DNA. But years ago, she also had the bold idea for addressing consumer woes long before Bernie Sanders ever ran for president.
Translation: Warren is toast, but Bernie is stale crusty old toast made with the heels. Not so appealing to the well-heeled. And those ordinary people were pitifully woebegone (not angry as hell!) when the too-big-to-fail banks cheated them out of their homes and their pensions.

Now that she got that distasteful anti-populism chore out of the way, Psaki sets her sights on gender, which she had claimed to dismiss as a presidential quality at the start of her essay. Therefore, she redefines female gender as the intangible quality of tenacity:
There are a number of potential candidates, mostly women, who have shown they have the guts. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Kavanaugh would not have been as pointed and tough without the dogged questioning of Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar. Neither gave an inch beneath the stares of the all-male and all-white Republican side. They asked smart, incisive questions and in Klobuchar's case, and stood firm in the face of aggressive personal questioning from the nominee.
They doggedly asked the same repetitive question ("will you request an independent FBI investigation?") over and over and over again. They did not cry out or faint when the truly scary Lindsey Graham shrieked like a banshee, and doddering old Chuck Grassley peered peevishly in their general direction. Try as she might to make it not seem so, Jen Psaki is unashamedly playing the gender card. She could have saved herself a lot of time by simply crowing You go, girls! 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York brings up the gender rear, because she is still something a long shot in the horse-race, thanks to her lead role in ousting fellow senator Al Franken from that august body just as the #MeToo movement was gathering steam.

(She) got her start in electoral office by running for the US House of Representatives against a popular longtime incumbent in a district in New York that had not gone for a Democrat in decades. She pushed her way to the top of the pack without the initial help of the national party and not only won the seat but quickly emerged as a rising star. After being named to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton's seat when Clinton became Secretary of State, she later won the seat in a special election -- and soon took on the military to hold them accountable for dealing with rampant cases of sexual assault. And that displays another essential quality for a President -- courage.
Gillibrand comes from a well-entrenched conservative, or Blue Dog, upstate political family machine. Before becoming a "progressive" she was a staunch NRA adherent and courageous anti-immigration idealogue. She won her Senate seat by raking in more Wall Street money of any other Senate candidate, including Mr. Wall Street himself, Chuck Schumer.

Finally, Jen Psaki seems to become as honestly tired of writing her puff piece as you have become from reading it. She concludes:
While a long primary process is exhausting to everyone involved, it allows for candidates to rise and fall. And the prism through which we should judge each candidate in the 2020 presidential race is how they exhibit these core human qualities: honesty, empathy, curiosity, tenacity and courage. 
Did I skip the curiosity intangible? My bad.

Of course, Psaki herself doesn't have the curiosity to wonder why this primary process is so long. If she were truly, brutally honest with herself and with us, she'd have to admit that it all boils down to money, and lots of it, for herself and her party and her think tank and her cable TV employer.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Medicare For All Meets Kafka

*Updated below.

Although 70 percent of Americans now favor Medicare For All, the Knowledge Class is warning us to hold our horses for at least another couple of decades, by which time many of the uninsured and underinsured will be prematurely and conveniently dead. If climate change doesn't get us, untreated disease and despair should do the job in the efficient manner so beloved of the neoliberal thought collective.

That's because Medicare For All doesn't really mean Medicare For All. None of the various and sundry Democratic (read: Gentry Party) proposals has the aim of providing immediate relief to the tens of millions of people who lack coverage. On the contrary. There is no sense of crisis in any of them. With perhaps one exception, the proposals are incremental at best and purely profit-driven at worst. Even Bernie Sanders is only proposing an initial Medicare buy-in beginning at age 55. This is negotiating from a position of apologetic weakness, with the ultimate victory possibly being a compromise of getting Medicare by aged 60 rather than from birth.

Rather than honestly admitting this to the 70 percent, or 200 million (and counting) people who want government sponsored single payer health insurance, not a few of the politicians and corporate-funded think tanks claiming to favor Medicare For All are actually adamantly opposed to it. They just can't come right out and say it, lest their popularity suffer and their greedy inhumanity be exposed. They cannot acknowledge that their real constituents are corporations and wealthy people, who equate universal health coverage with an actual plague, and who are used to getting what they want from their servants in government and the media.

 So instead, Democrats are falling back on the tried and true Kafka-esque method. They'll talk and they'll talk and they'll talk, and they'll gaslight us and guilt-trip us over Single Payer's "winners and losers," and they'll warn us about the costs and the dangers of achieving health care as a basic human right. And the Republicans will get to do their part by accusing these neoliberal corporatists of being Marxists-Leninists-Socialists. 

And the technocrats will draw up their dozens and dozens of colorful pie charts to aid in the glazing-over of the eye and the melting of the mind. Everybody will become so exhausted and confused, the hope is, that Medicare For All will eventually die of its own wonkitude. (For the merest hint of the assaults yet to come, refer if you dare to the latest Vox explainer.)

This was the theme that Franz Kafka explored in most of his writing, in the economically depressed years between World War I and the rise of fascism. Even the most mundane tasks are fraught with such unnecessarily complex difficulties that they never are completed. Since there is no such thing as a simple problem, there can never be a solution. True to his own philosophy, Kafka didn't even complete several of his own stories, and even ordered that most of his work be burned upon his premature death. Thankfully his friend and executor, Max Brod, did not honor this request.

The only reason that (unlike the neoliberal wonk class) Kafka is not a complete downer, and remains popular nearly a century after his death, is that he had a wicked and humorous sense of the absurd, a sense that (making the neoliberal wonk class quake in fear and loathing) we ordinary slobs are all in this together and that our condition is pretty much universal.

This solidarity and unity are the exact opposite of what the political duopoly mean when they long for the good old bipartisan days, when Democrats and Republicans supposedly got along so well. To them, everybody must be divided between conservative and liberal, or more recently, between rural- deplorable and urban-enlightened. It's the main reason why they are so flummoxed by the Gilets Jaunes ("Yellow Vests") movement in France. Here are ordinary people acting, not out of ideology or identity, but in recognition that this is a class war, and it's global. They're emerging from their ordained isolation, and their unified anger is absolutely terrifying the ruling class.  

Well, sort of terrifying them. French President Emanuel Macron hasn't gone so far as to repeal his infamous repeal of the wealth tax. He is doing an imitation of his friend and early booster Barack Obama by calling in the "fat cats" (les chats grosses) for a friendly gross chat in the Elysee Palace and mildly "browbeating" them into a voluntary relinquishment of a smidgen of their obscene profits to their employees. Whether, like the duplicitous Obama, Macron also claimed he was the only thing standing between them and the pitchforks, is not known. 

But back to Kafka. The pretend-architects of a "Medicare For All" simulacrum are like the doorkeeper in his fable Before the Law. The supplicant (let's say it's for health care coverage) is told that he can't gain admittance just quite yet, but that if he's reasonable and patient, it's possible that he'll be allowed in later. As a gesture of good faith,  he's even allowed a glimpse inside. And as he peers into the hope and brightness, 

The doorkeeper laughs and says: "If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him."
The supplicant wheedles, bribes and begs, and the doorkeeper teases and promises. Only at the very end, when the seeker is near death, does the doorkeeper inform him that nobody could ever be admitted because "the gate was made only for you. And now I am going to shut it."

The moral of this story, as I see it, is that the various wonky policy proposals for Medicare For All are about as artificial as the neoliberal architects who are fashioning them. 

So enough of waiting for politicians to do the right thing. If we want entree to social and economic justice, we have to storm the gates and above all, reject the neoliberal dictum that we're lone economic consumers who must be in constant competition both with ourselves and with others in order to "succeed" in this best of all possible worlds.

But we are already being skillfully and subtly discouraged by the Explainers. If it took the Vox policy wonks (with the help of funding from investors NBC Universal and private equity giant General Atlantic) one whole month to read through all the "Medicare For All" proposals, the subliminal message is, it will take you ordinary people at least twice as long to try and make sense of it all. Meanwhile, they'll allow you to peer in to the turgid brightness for the time it takes to read their "explainer" piece and wade through the complexity of its myriad charts and graphs - if you can even make it through to the end. I could not.

But the basic gist is that if you like your plan you can keep your plan (sound familiar?), especially if you have employer-based insurance. It would be terrible, for example, if your boss were to lose his tax breaks on your premiums because you were selfish enough to enroll in government-sponsored health insurance.

Dash away, dash away, dash away all.

And the fraught, impossible choices? There's Medicare Buy-In For All, and Medicare Extra For All, and Medicare X, and the Choice Act, and Healthy America, and Medicaid Buy-In on the convoluted imaginary menu. Of course, Vox warns, buying into Medicaid doesn't translate into receiving actual care, since it would reimburse doctors at much lower rates than private insurance "typically" pays. 

Other "universal" plans charted and explained by Vox appear to be nothing more than Obamacare with new labels attached to them.

Bait-and-switch is exactly how this eternal Kafkaesque game is played. All of these plans totally sidestep the reality that wealth inequality is the fundamental public health crisis of our time. Forty million Americans live below the official poverty line, and at least half the population are just a paycheck away from outright destitution.

As Dr. Michael Fine lays out in his book Health Care Revolt, Americans spent about 30 percent of total household income on health care and health insurance in 2017 - or about as much as we are expected to pay for housing. That is about $11,000 for every man, woman and child. Of that money, between $1 and $2 trillion is being skimmed off the top by the "market" as pure profit. Fine writes:

It's estimated that by 2025 we'll be spending 50 percent of household income on health insurance and medical services. By 2032, we will spend an estimated 100 percent of the average family income on health care. I hope you understand how that will work, because I don't. Neither does any economist. Think climate change is a threat to our planet? It is but many believe that climate change will take fifty to a hundred years to destroy the planet.  Health care is on track to destroy our economy and our nation within fifteen years.
Donald Trump is not the only denialist in this Kafka-esque mix. 

Franz Kafka also had a prescient thing or two to say about Trump's precious Wall, which I've written about in a previous post. The whole idea of the Wall, just like the Democrats' unnecessarily convoluted health care proposals, is that it will always be "a work in progress" and not something we should ever expect our leaders to actually complete. Gaps and holes are always essential if they are to keep us hoping, dreaming... and compliantly fearful.

They hate it when ordinary people poke holes in their manufactured holes.

*Update, 12/15. Well, isn't this convenient. On the very eve of this year's Obamacare enrollment period deadline, a federal judge from Texas has struck down the entire "Affordable" Care Act, declaring it unconstitutional. Judge Reed O'Connor also happens to an appointee of the newly-sanctified George W. Bush and is a member of the reactionary Federalist Society. Will Michelle Obama still love Junior "to death" and continue accepting candy from him at celebrity funerals after what his appointees and pals continue to do to her husband's precious legacy?

Anyway, here's my comment on the New York Times op-ed on the matter:
While we await the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court, what better time than now for Democrats to take the Medicare For All campaign up a notch or ten?
Look at this ruling as a blessing in disguise. The lucky 20 million or so Americans who have coverage under the ACA are not going to lose it right away, if ever, and meanwhile, the 30 million who have virtually no coverage at all will gain the additional clout to convince their reps that government-sponsored single payer insurance, from cradle to grave, is the only thing that will prevent these cruel and frivolous rulings in the future.
Just let the Supreme Court uphold this insane decision. Just watch the GOP sink when/if their voters are kicked to the curb.
Democratic leaders should finally be learning that negotiating with Republicans to the extent of adopting an actual GOP scheme (from the conservative Heritage Foundation) is not only a crazy strategy, it keeps giving ammunition to the experts who believe -- correctly, in my view -- that requiring citizens to purchase "product" from an essentially predatory cartel of private insurers is the wrong way to go about covering people. These companies skim trillions off the top of US medical care expenditures, making this country's market-based system the most costly and least effective in the civilized world. Better to require everybody to pay taxes, according to their means, to truly cover everybody. The reactionary judges won't have a leg to stand on.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Wall Plus Russiagate Equals Distraction

Donald Trump is rattled about the Mueller investigation. Therefore, the Democrats colluded with him on Tuesday to change the subject from his legal woes to The Wall and the usual pre-Christmas government shutdown threats. The only thing they have to fear is that their marketing of Fear to the rabble is less successful than it used to be.

So Trump once again played his grotesquely seductive spider part to perfection as he sent his always-irresistible invitation to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to join him in his sticky oval-shaped web of a parlor.

The House Speaker-in-waiting and the Senate Majority Leader played their own supporting roles reasonably well, mawkishly casting their desperate gazes and pleadings toward the whirring TV cameras in the room as often as they directed them at their arachnoid host. 

Vice President Mike Pence had even less of a supporting role, because his non-speaking function as Chief Toady consisted entirely of swiveling his little white metronome of a head at the Democrats to Trump and then back again. To his credit, though, he was able to maintain a stolid manspreading pose throughout the skit that had him glued in the chair next to his more voluble manspreading boss. 

I don't know who was in charge of the sound system for this latest episode of the Trump Reality TV show, but somebody certainly neglected to give Pelosi a proper working microphone. Trump boomed out his incoherence, and even Chuck came through loud and clear as he vied with Trump for the opportunity to interrupt Nancy at every turn. Pelosi sounded like she was talking through a mask of cotton wool as she wonkishly and patiently and ineffectually attempted to lecture Trump on the mechanics of legislation.

It was a performance designed to show Trump at his bullying superior best next to the schoolmarm persona dreaded by many an American male even long after he's escaped the physical classroom. Trump succeeded mightily in showcasing the Democratic leaders as the hapless weaklings they are. Schumer was reduced to sputtering that Trump had lost two states, when he should have used his TV time to wax indignant over the very xenophobic idea of a Wall to keep out refugees and immigrants.

For her part, Pelosi carefully saved her (strategically leaked) anti-Trump vitriol until after the meeting, when it would be least effective. If only she had questioned his manhood right to his manspreading corpus and right to his sneering face, then it might actually have meant something. 

But that's not what Democrats do. They portray themselves as emotionally and intellectually superior victims in a futile attempt to create some space between GOP corruption and Democratic corruption. The maintenance of their smugness is more important to them than, say, agitating for Medicare for all and a federal jobs program. 

The Wall and the Shutdown of Doom episode momentarily deflected attention away from Trump's legal woes for the space of one more Trump-orchestrated 24 hour news cycle. With the corporate media and their talking heads so busily talking among themselves about impeachment and Oval Office manners and the "unprecedented" bicker-fest among America's top political leaders, there simply have not been enough resources left to cover matters of more pressing concern to the ordinary people who have been co-opted into giving these chronically weak people their very powerful jobs.

There certainly hasn't been enough time to cover the immensely popular Yellow Vests movement in France, other than for the occasional editorial bemoaning of President Emanuel Macron's imperialistic style and his failure to tamp down the discontent as ably and as glibly as his neoliberal pro-bank American counterpart, Barack Obama, so recently did.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Peeved Aggrieved Bereaved Club

It's getting so divisive out there that liberal commentators can't even tweet out their innocuous accolades for war criminal George H.W. Bush without the Twitter trolls making their lives a living hell.

Frank Bruni of the New York Times has even written a column about the "obituary wars" between those who come to innocently praise Bush and those who come to crankily point to his many faults and crimes while his freshly embalmed body is still indecently at room temperature.
On Twitter over the weekend, the television writer Bryan Behar did something unconscionable.
He praised George H.W. Bush.
The former president had just died. In Behar’s view, it was a moment to recognize any merit in the man and his legacy.
Many of his followers disagreed. They depended on Behar for righteous liberal passion, which left no room for such Bush-flattering adjectives and phrases as “good,” “decent” and “a life of dignity.” How dare Behar lavish them on a man who leaned on the despicable Willie Horton ad, who nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, who did too little in the face of AIDS, whose privilege often blinded him to need.
They lashed out at Behar. They unfollowed him. And they demonstrated the transcendent curse of these tribal times: Americans’  diminishing inability to hold two thoughts at once.
I'm surprised that Bruni didn't blame Russian trolls for sowing such divisions among the rabble. But it's early hagiographic days yet. And to give Bruni credit, he at least admitted that his own Saturday column in praise of Bush 41 was just a tad over the top.

But rather than cast too much opprobrium on himself and his fellow liberal Bush fan club members, he casts opprobrium on people who, unlike Bush, are totally lacking in class and the ability to project bullshit with a smarmy smile and crocodile tears. Meanwhile, we should allow all the cyber-mourners to pseudo-grieve in peace and safety.  Just because Behar had written a boilerplate condolence tweet praising Bush's goodness and his dignity and his patriotism didn't mean he was endorsing the points of blight on Bush's record, for cryin' out loud. Now all those haters are making him feel so terribly bad about himself, don't you see.

Grief-shaming is the new slut-shaming.

Lanny Davis, the Clinton lawyer who now represents Donald Trump consigliere Michael Cohen, is among the outraged, tweeting: "Any follower who dropped @bryanbehar for his kind words about this great and good man President George H.W. Bush reflects the worst there is in today’s politics. They only show affinity for the politics or hate reflected by @realDonaldTrump

Since writing my own post on Saturday to mark Poppy's entrance into the void, I let off some additional steam in the Times comments sections, which at least initially were rife with liberal praise for Bush. I felt compelled to throw a little acid on the sickening hagiography emanating like rivers of rancid honey from the Paper of Record. Although nobody accused me of liking or even being Trump as a result, the most common epithet hurled in my direction by Times readers was "churlish." One troll worried I might show up at his wake to cast opprobrium on his life. Unfortunately, he posted under a pseudonym, so I have no way of knowing whether the many funerals that I crash in order to deliver my unseemly diatribes against the Dead will ever find the right target. Sad.  

But for the past couple of days, I've been striving to ignore the nonstop pageantry, with its star-studded cast of blood-soaked ruling class racketeers coming together to cry, laugh, share candy, hug each other or snub each other, and take selfies. I keep thinking back to Ronald Reagan's week-long funeral in June 2004, when I was confined to the prison of a hospital bed and tortured by the wall-to-wall coverage. Shutting off the TV was next to impossible, because the remote kept falling on the floor and I didn't want to keep calling the nurses to deal with my TV dilemma when they had more pressing emergencies to address.

So now that I have the physical freedom to avoid such things, I do so with gusto. It also helps enormously that I cancelled cable several months ago.

With Bush 41's funeral and burial lasting only a day or two more, we can hopefully bury the Obituary Wars right along with the actual Bush body. Until it starts all over again. I am predicting Henry Kissinger to top the charts at the next Hagiography Hit Parade. Sadly, I give Dick Cheney, whose young transplanted heart remains helplessly trapped and beating in his aged body, a couple more years at least. Is anybody wondering, as I tastelessly am, what the movers and shakers will do when it comes time to bury Trump? It'll be interesting to see how long it takes for the liberal class to rehabilitate him, assuming of course that we still have a civilization in another few climate-changed decades.

George H.W. Bush is being effusively praised for remaining such a calm, collected, polite, serene old gentleman in the long dull decades of his post-presidency, much admired by the Aggrieved Club for his uncommon avowal of having achieved much peace and happiness in his life. His self-satisfaction is something all of us should emulate, apparently.

To which psychopathic mindset the late critical theorist Theodor Adorno replied in his Minima Moralia book of aphorisms:
A newspaper obituary for a businessman once contained the words: 'The breadth of his conscience vied with the kindness of his heart.' The blunder committed by the bereaved in the elevated language reserved for such purposes, the inadvertent admission that the kind-hearted deceased had lacked a conscience, expedites the funeral procession by the shortest route to the land of truth. If a man of advanced years is praised for his exceptional serenity, his life can be assumed to to comprise a succession of infamies. He has rid himself of the habit of getting excited. Breadth of conscience is passed off as magnaminity, all-forgiving because all-too-understanding. The quid pro quo between one's guilt and that of others, is resolved in favor of whoever has come off best. After so long a life one quite loses the capacity to distinguish who has done what harm to whom. In the abstract conception of universal wrong, all concrete responsibility vanishes. The blackguard presents himself as a victim of injustice: if you only knew, young man, what life is like. But those conspicuous midway through life by an exceptional kindness are usually drawing advances on such serenity. He who does not malign does not live serenely but with a peculiarly chaste hardness and intolerance. Lacking appropriate objects, his love can scarcely express itself except by hatred of the inappropriate, in which admittedly he comes to resemble what he hates. The bourgeois, however, is tolerant. His love of people as they are stems from his hatred of what they might be.
This insight makes the statement about Bush from Barack and Michelle Obama seem all the more creepily revealing: "America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush. While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Our thoughts are with the entire Bush family tonight - and all who were inspired by George and Barbara's example."

Their hearts are weighted down with big, chaste, hard boulders of appreciation for the way that Bush bequeathed unchallenged unitary executive powers to all his Oval Office successors and the well-monetized life that comes after "public" service to the oligarchy. They look in the mirror and they see George and Barbara reflected right back at them. It's a tiny club, and we ain't in it. Thank God.
Here are few of my recent Times comments. The first, directed toward Frank Bruni's column, is mainly a critique of Twitter itself, because I was already suffering from churlish anti-grief exhaustion:
Tweets are not exactly the ideal venue for conveying nuance. And that goes for outpourings of grief and pseudo-grief, reactions to the outpourings, and revisions of the outpourings by the original (now a victim of gaslighting) tweeter, ad infinitum and ad nauseum.
 I never tweet. For one thing, you can't ever take back what you might have written in haste. I'm also sick of reading tweets, especially when they are gratuitously and regularly inserted into every otherwise thoughtful and nuanced article, including this one.
Why do people feel so obligated to tweet, anyway? This is an addictive (and might I say lazy) form of communication, which seems to reward the sender more than it serves to share views with the hordes of unknown recipients out there in cyberspace. Studies have shown that the Tweeter receives a satisfying jolt of dopamine for every new "like," follower, retweet and "x number of people are talking about this!"
Twitter is absolutely tailor-made for the dangerous either-or/ us vs. them, "you're an idiot and I'm not" synaptic brain-bursts that pass for political discourse and even basic thought these days. It's also tailor-made for the limited vocabulary of President Thumbs, which is all the more reason to boycott it.
That said, you simply cannot be president of this historically violent country without accumulating gallons of blood on your hands. So much of the "grief" for Bush seems so utterly platitudinous and obligatory and downright clubby.
I also commented on Maureen Dowd's weird and allegedly touching post-mortem, in which she casts herself as the main character in a decades-long madcap flirtatious relationship with Poppy Bush. I kind of sensed something like this was coming, given the maudlin pre-mortem hagiography she'd already penned about the man three years ago. (see my previous post.) Read her whole column, or just get the mawkish gist of it from the title: "The Patrician President and the Reporterette: A Screwball Story."

My published response:
This column can be interpreted on two different levels. First, it's the heartwarming story of how a journalist with working class roots forged a decades-spanning "screwball" relationship with one of the most powerful men on earth. Cue Hepburn and Tracy and the popcorn and the hankies.
Second, it's a case study of the mechanics of "access journalism." The D.C. press corps (up until the rise of Trump, that is) have long acted more as stenographers for the powerful rather than their adversaries, who act in the public interest. Thus, the very brief paragraph buried within this otherwise hagiographic piece that has Maureen Dowd "recoiling" at some of Poppy's racist and sexist behavior, before she is able to sweep them under the memory rug and wax rhapsodic about how this basically decent patrician gentleman deigned to let the "reporterette" into his rarefied world with all that flirtatious banter and gift exchanges and meals.
She dismisses the horrible things he did with the stock phrase that sycophants commonly use to excuse the powerful: "he wasn't perfect."
And most forgivable of all, he wasn't like Trump. He had class, he had manners, he had the upbringing to know how to protect his privilege with self-deprecation and jokes. Dowd "afflicted" Bush, but not too hard, and not too seriously. The subtext of this piece is that Poppy had her wrapped around his little finger while allowing her to believe that he was wrapped around hers.