Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Race-Woke New York Times Asleep At the Switch

It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for the New York Times. 

Their nearly three-year-long Russiagate-centric "resistance" to Donald Trump in tatters. all they have left are the two Pulitzers for the bold, fear-mongering propaganda provided to them by national security think tanks, former CIA officials and Democratic Party operatives, a body of stenography judged eminently prize- by a panel of judges comprised of their fellow Russophobes. 

Bereft of their overarching Narrative, they needed to plot their next Big Theme. and this is what they've come up with: they will deign to spread the word that the president of the United State is a lifelong racist and xenophobe who appeals to lifelong racists and xenophobes, which is even worse than being either a witting or unwitting Russian stooge. This shocking realization apparently dawned on Times management only a few weeks ago. And therefore, the Times will be on it, from here till Election Day 2020 and maybe even beyond.

Still smarting from the liberal backlash against their recent banner headline announcing that "Trump Urges Unity Against Racism"  and its subsequent replacement with the still wishy-washy "Assailing Hate But Not Guns," top brass at the paper convened an emergency meeting with reporters and editors to figure out what, exactly, their journalistic function should be for the duration of the Trump reign.

Slate, the online magazine, obtained a cringe-worthy recorded transcript of the meeting, in which Executive Editor Dean Baquet educated the troops about the narrative strategy for the coming years.

Here are the remarks by Baquet that had Trump gleefully shrilling "Witch Hunt by the Failing NYT!" The bolds are mine:

The day Bob Mueller walked off that witness stand, two things happened. Our readers who want Donald Trump to go away suddenly thought, “Holy shit, Bob Mueller is not going to do it.” And Donald Trump got a little emboldened politically, I think. Because, you know, for obvious reasons. And I think that the story changed. A lot of the stuff we’re talking about started to emerge like six or seven weeks ago. We’re a little tiny bit flat-footed. I mean, that’s what happens when a story looks a certain way for two years. Right?
I think that we’ve got to change. I mean, the vision for coverage for the next two years is what I talked about earlier: How do we cover a guy who makes these kinds of [racist] remarks? How do we cover the world’s reaction to him? How do we do that while continuing to cover his policies? How do we cover America, that’s become so divided by Donald Trump? How do we grapple with all the stuff you all are talking about? How do we write about race in a thoughtful way, something we haven’t done in a large way in a long time? That, to me, is the vision for coverage. You all are going to have to help us shape that vision. But I think that’s what we’re going to have to do for the rest of the next two years.
Translation: stories about Donald Trump henceforth will be carefully framed through the lens of his personal racism in particular and the endemic racism in the United States in general. Be sure to read the whole transcript of the meeting. It's a valuable behind-the-scenes primer about how the actual Manufacture of Consent gets done. Now, if only there were a transcript of a meeting plotting how to negatively cover Bernie Sanders, either in 2016 or in the current campaign. There probably isn't one, because the careerist reporters assigned to cover Bernie, both at the Times and other corporate outlets, know without having to be told what their subtle, teensy flat-footed marching orders are.

The newspaper's worthy "1619 Project," Baquet actually acknowledges during the meeting, would never have seen the light of day were it not for Donald Trump. This crash course in American history relies very heavily on previous scholarship on slavery, reconstruction and Jim Crow, much of the research emphasizing the true capitalistic roots of slavery and its aftermath of institutionalized oppression of minorities and the continued power of the white patriarchy. The Times, though, is subtly and unsurprisingly emphasizing the white supremacy part over the capitalism which actually spawned it and nourishes it to this very day. Self-examination can only go so far, especially with a popular, oligarchy-threatening Democratic socialist named Bernie Sanders running for president. 

The admission by Dean Baquet - that the Times examination of the roots of racism and American conservatism is inspired by the Trump presidency - is what has the Trumpists howling with their own overblown outrage.

Showing how hard it is to parody right-wing extremism in the Age of Trump, The Onion was not really exaggerating when it had Newt Gingrich lambasting the 1619 Project as "shameless abolitionist propaganda."

The real shamelessness is that Times is selectively speaking truth to power only about a century too late. That's because the newspaper did not exist in its current form until the 19th century, post-Emancipation, and thus cannot be blamed for the "peculiar institution."  It is speaking truth to power for the express purpose of making Trump's Democratic presidential opponents and the Vichy Democratic collaborators in Congress look good, by comparison, in the run-up to 2020. It's history presented in the interests of party politics and virtue-signaling.

So, no,  I don't feel sorry for the New York Times and its embattled leadership. Despite the smattering of canceled subscriptions due to its shockingly bland, Trump-friendly headline in the wake of the recent gun massacres, its profits have skyrocketed by a whopping 66 percent since Trump's election. This is the same paper that went broke after the 2008 financial collapse and had to take out an emergency loan from oligarch (and big Clinton telecom deregulation beneficiary) Carlos Slim, just to stay in business.

Of course, criticizing the Times at this fraught moment in end-stage capitalistic history makes me, by binary-dictated default, a closet Trump supporter, if not still a persistent Russian stooge, in the eyes of many of my liberal friends. Yes, of course, America has its roots in racism and slavery and land-grabbing and genocide. But were it not for Trump, wouldn't the Times (under a Clinton Restoration) have gone right on ignoring history and propping up capitalism-fed white supremacy? It was Hillary, after all, who during a debate with Trump, sternly announced: "I want to send the message that America is already great. And we are great because we are good."

Perhaps in subtle collusion with his employer's new Narrative for the coming year or two, columnist Paul Krugman now blames Germany (wink, nod) for the global Neoliberal Project's damaging fixation on austerity, without so much as a wink or nod to the Mighty Moderate Obama Technocracy's influence in perpetuating both domestic and European austerity regimens in service to the global rich. At least Krugman offers a minimal smidgen of even-handedness, correctly pointing out that Trump is blaming Europe for the totally wrong reason, that they are injuring America while supposedly enriching themselves at everyone else's expense, especially Trump's base of Real Americans.

But when Krugman says, correctly, that American deficit hawks as they existed during the Obama administration were also nothing but a bunch of hypocrites, he carefully absolves Barack Obama from having anything at all to do with it. The last regime is never even mentioned in his column, either by name or by party:

 Some background: Around 2010, politicians and pundits on both sides of the Atlantic caught a bad case of austerity fever. Somehow they lost interest in fighting unemployment, even though it remained catastrophically high, and demanded spending cuts instead. And these spending cuts, unprecedented in a weak economy, slowed the recovery and delayed the return to full employment.While debt alarmism ruled both here and in Europe, however, it eventually became clear that there was a crucial difference in underlying motivation. Our deficit hawks were, in fact, hypocrites, who suddenly lost all interest in debt as soon as a Republican was in the White House. The Germans, on the other hand, really meant it.
Oops. They took the last Leader of the Free World at his literal word. Their bad. An examination of even the recent past can get so damned selective sometimes. Memories are short, and memory holes are deep. Krugman did not hesitate to criticize Obama's austerity policies and tepid stimulus package once upon a time, particularly during his first term. But now that centrist Democrats are running on the nostalgic fumes of Obama's myth-based rosy legacy, facts and truth be damned.

One of these truths is that the austerity measures imposed under his administration disproportionately affected Blacks and Latinos. The extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in 2010 dealt a particularly harsh blow to already-oppressed people.

My early-submitted response to Krugman was once again delayed for many hours and buried in an avalanche of reader comments, due to some mystery algorithm that, we are assured, has absolutely nothing to do with human censorship:

Phony populist that he is, Trump has seized upon the global misery caused by austerity, and has made it into a lethal weapon in his self-serving arsenal. Far be it for Trump to even pretend to "feel your pain" - because in order to control his fan-base and keep it riled up and resentful, he has skillfully taken their hardships and made them his very own.
 What could possibly be worse than losing your home, your health, your job, your savings? Why, for the elites and the immigrants and the media to deny the Triumph of the Will of The (real) People, in trying to deny him his re-election! They're ruining "our" economy out of pure spite! (Never mind that his own policies, such as they are, are based mainly upon spitefulness.)
Of course, his anti-elitist rhetoric masks his fealty and service to the very same "enemy" elites and corporate media conglomerate that he purports to despise.
He bypasses the media by tweets, and then the media dutifully reports on all his tweets the minute they appear. It's all Trump, all the time.
Unfair Advantage: Trump.
 Meanwhile, the EU technocrats and their banker pals have managed to crush the once truly populist Left ruling party in Greece so thoroughly that Syriza has now formed coalitions with newly rising Trump-like parties.
Trump is what happens when "centrist" rulers block emancipatory democratic politics, putting profits for the entitled few above prosperity and justice for the many.
 He is the quintessential scavenger.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Jeffrey Epstein's State-Assisted Suicide

Wouldn't it be a supreme irony if it turned that one of the Neoliberal Era's most notorious and hedonistic symbols died as an indirect result of the very austerity agenda that his pluto-political cohort have been ramming down our throats for the last four decades?

The latest twist in the Jeffrey Epstein saga is that he died because both the guards who were supposed to be checking his cell at a Manhattan federal jail every thirty minutes fell asleep on the job, apparently simultaneously. And thus was Epstein, rank opportunist to the last, allowed to enter into his own eternal rest unimpeded. At a jail nicknamed The Tombs, no less.

The question is not why the jailers nodded off  - one or both were working double shifts on top of several days of previous "severe overtime" - but why there were only two guards on duty to monitor some of the country's most dangerous criminal defendants in the first place.

The obvious reason is the severe budget-cutting in our neoliberal age of deficit hawkery.  Prisoners, along with other perceived dregs of society, are a low priority when our corrupt political class has only so many trillions of dollars to allocate to war and weapons and corporate welfare for their wealthy benefactors. Their time is also severely limited, what with endless meetings with corporate lobbyists, the counting of their donors' weighted votes, and decisions about which low-priority groups to punish next. Should it be old people, sick people, hungry people, indebted students, prisoners?

Yep. All the above.

And the Trump administration, to help cover the cost of the massive tax cuts rewarding Jeffrey Epstein's class of tycoons, proposed in February that 1,000 more workers be cut from the federal prison system and that 6,000 additional jobs be eliminated through attrition.

"This isn't right, and this isn't safe for America. This isn't good policy, especially when you have a president of the United States that says he supports law and order," said Eric Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees' Council of Prison Locals.

Jeffrey Epstein was a true anomaly, a near-billionaire Member of the Club who tragically got caught up in a carceral justice system which is usually reserved for the poor and the powerless and, occasionally, a notorious criminal like El Chapo. The Mexican drug lord was held accountable because he symbolized the Duopoly's War On Drugs, which is code for its war on poor drug-users. The drug-trafficking roles of the US Military and the CIA  are thus more easily ignored or forgotten.

El Chapo, who spent two years in the same jail as Epstein until his conviction, had already been notorious for escaping from prison in Mexico. It thus seems highly unlikely that he was ever guarded by only two sleep-deprived staffers during his stay in a facility renowned for its ultra-tight security.

So my own conspiracy theory is that nobody had to directly murder Jeffrey Epstein in order to keep him quiet about all the important people he had dirt on for their participation in his various financial scams and global sex trafficking ring. All that some higher-up had to do was approve a whole bunch of vacations at the same time, and then force the remaining skeleton crew to work punishing overtime shifts. And as an added insurance policy, they assigned one staffer to the Epstein detail who wasn't even a trained guard.

Oops. Nobody could ever have predicted.... A full investigation will be launched.... Heads will roll - as long as they're unimportant heads.

Another unanswered question is why Epstein was even arrested and charged again, a full decade after completing his sweetheart deal of a sentence. I doubt very much that it was sudden concern for his victims in the Me Too era, mainly because the Trump administration and its Department of Justice are not exactly known for their empathy or altruism or sense of justice for all.

It could have been public pressure on the somewhat liberal Southern District of New York branch of the federal justice system after Julie K. Brown's blockbuster series about the sweetheart deal appeared in the Miami Herald.

But my suspicion is that Epstein's arrest, coming at this belated moment in time, was mainly done for political reasons. It could have been a way for Trump to get revenge on his former pals, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and a whole slew of other important Democratic politicians, celebrities and wealthy donor class liberals in Epstein's social circle. If the cache of documents released on the eve of Epstein's apparent suicide had implicated Trump in any major way, would they have been released?  

It does kind of reek of oligarchic intra-class warfare, with Epstein's victims still being treated a bit like afterthoughts as the pundits argue about how many times Bill Clinton boarded the Lolita Express. Was it four, or 24, or even more?

The rumors of Epstein's possible double life as a Mossad agent or FBI informant certainly add to the intrigue and conspiracy-theorizing that's taken the country by storm. There has even sprung up a whole new media sub-genre of conspiracy-theorizing about the genesis of Epstein conspiracy theories. A sub-sub-genre is the narrative that if Donald Trump tweets out a conspiracy theory, it automatically makes everybody else proffering a similar theory a prima facie idiot by association. The churnalism being committed about the Epstein matter is even more deranged than usual.

The passive-aggressive drugging by sleep deprivation of Epstein's minders to effect Epstein's suicide makes perfect sense, because sleep deprivation of the masses is a primary form of socially controlling the masses. Chronically tired people don't think as critically, they tend to get sick a lot and eat poor diets, and they tend to die prematurely of such things as heart disease and diabetes.

Sleeping also eats into the profits of the owners and bosses. Sleeping is for slackers and losers. Those prison guards should have had better control over their brains and their circadian rhythms. Shame on them for sleeping on the job! They were members of a union, for crying out loud, plus they have taxpayer-funded pensions. What we need now, my friends, is the complete  privatization-for-profit of our federal prisons to avoid any more Jeff-like tragedies in the future and to bring closure and justice to the future victims of predators that we prosecute whenever it's convenient or profitable to us to feign concern for lesser mortals. 

As Jonathan Crary writes in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep:
Sleep is the irrational and intolerable affirmation that there might be limits to the compatibility of living beings with the allegedly irresistible forces of modernization. One of the familiar truisms of contemporary critical thought is that there are no unalterable givens of nature - not even death, according to those who predict we will all soon be downloading our minds into digital immortality. To believe that there are any essential features that distinguish living beings from machines is, we are told by celebrated critics, naive and delusional. Why should anyone object, they would counter, if new drugs could allow someone to work at their job 100 hours straight? 
According to press reports, at least one of Epstein's guards had put in about a hundred hours in the preceding week. He or she apparently was not imbibing sufficient amounts of caffeine or other stimulants  to stay awake. So what the plutocrats need is not a War on Drugs but a War for Drugs. Telling workers to sleep on their own time is meaningless, given that there is little to no free time for people to sleep, let alone enjoy themselves. More and more people can survive only by working several jobs or putting in double overtime shifts.

Rich people think they're immune from what they themselves have wrought, but by damaging their employees they are only hurting themselves and their partners in crime - including, as it turns out, Jeffrey Epstein.

Lack of sleep is deadly. Just days after Epstein offed himself, a New York City firefighter dropped dead of a heart attack after working a 24-hour shift. 

Heads will roll. But only little, tortured, sleep-deprived heads.

Monday, August 12, 2019

New American Gothic

Make no mistake. This was a gleeful victory celebration for the pair of D.C. comics who currently reside in the White House. At the same moment that the Joker and Catwoman were holding up the human spoils of their Campaign of Cruelty and Fear, ICE agents were terrorizing at least a thousand other children by arresting several hundred of their parents, who were working for low wages at a poultry processing plant in Mississippi.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Trump family had invested in chicken futures that very morning, betting that the price of drumsticks will soon be skyrocketing for the lack of undocumented foreign workers in the nation's factory farms. That, besides their banal celebration of the latest gun mayhem, could have been another cause for their macabre grimaces in this now-iconic photo.

For those of you who haven't been keeping up on the news, the baby in the picture is the orphaned son of two of last week's victims of the Walmart massacre in El Paso, Texas. Little Paul had been released from the hospital before the Trumps' victory tour, but was summoned back for use as a prop after still-admitted patients refused to meet with the couple. The two other adults in the photo are Paul's aunt and uncle, perhaps invited to pose so as to quash speculation that the Trumps might even be applying to adopt or foster the child out of a sense of guilt.

I suppose it could have been worse. Melania could have been wearing the same Mussolini-inspired "I Really Don't Care" jacket she wore on a previous trip to Texas, when she visited incarcerated immigrant children who'd been ripped away from their parents on orders of the Trump administration. At least, unlike many of them, little Paul of El Paso isn't being housed or even trafficked ("placed for adoption") by the for-profit agency owned and run by Education Secretary Betsy De Vos's fundamentalist Christian family foundation.

The El Paso hospital picture is about as close to a maternal statement as Melania is willing to go. She holds the baby in the same way that a newly-crowned beauty queen holds her bouquet of roses. Donald could be giving the triumphant thumbs-up not only to celebrate the victory of Trump-inspired freelance gun violence, but to signal that he's very proud of his wife for winning the Miss MAGA pageant. It's an even greater honor than winning one of his Miss Universe titles, back when he still owned that particular meat market franchise.

At long last, Melania has evolved from mere arm candy to spokeswoman for a fascistic version of feminism. She is so liberated that she gets her own arm candy trophy, in the form of a helpless little baby. 

Luckily, both little Paul and his aunt and uncle are bona fide US citizens in Texas, which until only recently in the history of global imperialism had been part of Spain-invaded Mexico. It was briefly an independent republic before it became a state, post-US invasion/annexation. The shooter who attacked Hispanic-looking people in the El Paso Walmart perhaps was unaware of the historic fact that Texas was populated by Hispanics and Indian aboriginals long before the white folk refugees and migrants (and yes, a few fugitives and criminals) ever took it in to their heads to begin settling there in droves, especially in the 19th century.

The keyword is "Fact." Trump and his post-fascist fellow travelers don't need any stinking facts to arrive at their own special Truths. They abhor facts. Even the  kinder, gentler, and increasingly senile white supremacist presidential contender Joe Biden let the cat out of his own right-wing bag last week when he announced that "We choose truth over facts."

The denial of both present reality and history are tenets of faith in right-wing populism, which according to historian Federico Finchelstein is nothing less than the direct post-World War Two offshoot of the fascist totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, which lost their legitimacy after the Nazi genocide and Allied/Soviet victories. 

Fascism never died. It has simply evolved into new forms. It has always been a worldwide phenomenon, despite the discovery by the corporate media conglomerate that far-right nationalism is a sudden worldwide phenomenon fueled by oligarchs and their think tanks and media outlets. The current form, as exemplified and amplified by Trump and explained by Finchelstein, operates within more or less democratic systems even as it belittles, challenges and damages these same systems. What all the right-wing/post-fascist populist iterations have in common is their devotion to cruelty, their gospel of fear of foreigners (xenophobia), their hatred of the Enlightenment and liberalism, and their strongman-type leaders who purport to act for "the People" and against so-called invaders and elites: the "Anti-People." 

As Finchelstein quotes the late Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, "most abominable of all, they promote idiocy."

The way to fight this idiocy is not, as many Democratic centrists like Biden simplistically propose, a return to the same "moral" neoliberal austerity agendas that helped to bring Trump to power. Coupled with their own cruel and idiotic resistance to policies like Medicare For All, debt forgiveness, guaranteed affordable housing and living wages, their neoliberal program not only ensures the survival of Trumpism, it willingly conspires with Trumpism. It also hastens the death of the planet through polluting militarized capitalism run amok.

Of course, the idiocy exemplified by the baby-holding photo proudly posted by Melania herself is also very cunning, designed as it is to provoke liberal outrage. This mass outrage in its own turn allows the Trumps to portray themselves as the victims, in fake solidarity with the very same left-behind people they oppress with their antisocial policies, but who've been taught to identify with the true oppressors and to direct their hate and fear to immigrants and other powerless manufactured enemies.

This technique is what the late Christopher Hitchens described as "co-opting populism in the service of elitism" in his critique of former Trump pal Bill Clinton.

Centrists falsely conflate Trump's right-wing populism with Bernie Sanders's left-wing populism, which is really nothing more radical than FDR-style liberalism.  New Deal programs have been under relentless duopolistic attack since the end of World War Two. Democrats, using the propaganda of #Russiagate, actually employ the same "Us Vs.Them" rhetoric as Trump and his fellow-travelers. In draining democracy of every last ounce of its emancipatory potential, these centrist technocrats abandon actually-existing people every bit as cruelly and effectively do their right-wing Republican counterparts. 

All they have to offer us are the grimaces frozen on their faces. They put the dental back in presidential. What is modern electoral politics, after all, but the shiny veneer covering up all the rot?

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

How Sociopaths Lecture Psychopaths

I hadn't wanted to write anything yet on the Texas and Ohio shooting sprees, because I was and still am trying to absorb the horror, and think about it some more before adding my own two cents to the mass outrage. I find it very hard to think clearly when I feel so mad and yes, helpless. 

Watching a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump laboriously reading the platitudes written for him by a public relations flack was bad enough. Actually, I should have stopped at my first attempt to watch his statement live-streaming on the New York Times homepage. My old computer combined with slow Internet speed showed a blurry image of the president, with an endlessly rotating buffer-circle perfectly centered over his face, completely obliterating his features. It was like a cartoon rendering of our fiendishly cartoonish president suffering a bad dizzy spell.

So I switched to C-Span and unfortunately got a much clearer cartoon of the cardboard cutout Trump struggling to read in a voice so monotonous and lethargic that it was chilling.

I'd still been feeling mad and scared enough when I clicked on the Times again this morning and was hit by a sanctimonious op-ed written by Susan Rice, Barack Obama's former national security advisor and co-architect of the US's destructive Libya regime-change war, and currently a very highly-paid board member of the Netflix entertainment empire.

After expressing the outrage that we all feel at the murders and at Trump's role as a hate and violence instigator bar none, Rice bemoans what liberal interventionists and their neocon brethren usually bemoan whenever they talk about Trump: America's sudden, shocking loss of Standing in the World.

It was a dream world in which the rest of the world totally loved the United States, or at least relied on the United States to bring peace and love and democracy to it.... or at least feared the United States enough to kowtow to its awesome might. Rice opines:
When the president of the United States reveals himself to be an unabashed bigot, attacking minorities in his own country, America’s ability to stand credibly against human rights abuses, especially repression of minorities in other countries — from the Uighurs in China to Shiites in Bahrain and Christians throughout the Middle East — is thwarted in ways lasting and immeasurable. Dictators around the world encounter no opprobrium from our government and are comforted to find a fellow traveler in rhetoric and policies that demean his own people.
In case anyone needs reminding: A majority of the world is populated by what we Americans call “people of color.” To fight terrorism or prevent the spread of pandemic disease, to stem weapons proliferation or organized criminal organizations, to address climate change or punish outlaw states, we need the willing cooperation of nations around the world. None of these transnational security challenges can be combated effectively by the United States alone.
She ignores the truth that American administrations have long propped up those corrupt dictators who enable US-based corporate plunder at the expense of their own citizens. Her idea of an "outlaw state" is Venezuela, upon whose people economic war was declared in the Obama administration. She does not mention that the US military is the biggest polluter on the planet and that the US is the largest arms manufacturer on earth. 

She's upset because Trump has deprived the murderous Military-Industrial Complex of its precious mask of humanity and rectitude 

And Susan Rice would not be a neoliberal warmonger in good standing if she didn't also blame Russia, with its nine global military bases so unfairly competing with America's thousand or so. Black people also were apparently either sanguine or comatose about police abuses until those damned Russian trolls got them all riled up and prevented them from turning out for Hillary Clinton.
Most dangerously, President Trump is serving up to our adversaries an ever more divided and weakened America, one that is animated by suspicion, rived by hatred of the “other” and increasingly incapable of uniting in the face of external threats. Russia, above all, continues to exploit and exacerbate these divisions.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russian trolls stoked American white nationalism while amplifying black anger about police brutality in an effort to suppress the African-American vote. Today, President Vladimir Putin of Russia continues to use social media to undermine our democracy and provoke internal conflict
She counters Trump-style xenophobia and fear-mongering with Democratic Party-style xenophobia and fear-mongering.

As a matter of fact, I would not be surprised if the Establishment now co-opts the latest gun massacres to justify even more corporatized government censorship of independent news sites and security state oppression of citizens than it does now.

My published comment to Susan Rice:
That Trump has reduced our country to a "fresh nadir" and is endangering people with his vile rhetoric is beyond question.
 But to say that the US previously had "credibility" as a global human rights champion is a real stretch, given our relentless wars of aggression and regime change. These wars have unleashed an immigration crisis, most widely being felt in Europe, with its own rise in right-wing populism. Blaming the immigrant "other" for the effects of unfettered capitalism and climate change and state-sanctioned terror (bombs and drones) aimed disproportionately at dark-hued people isn't just a Trumpian conflagration, although his Twitter bully pulpit certainly pours oceans of gasoline on it.
Previous presidents have been lots more skillful and glib at spewing platitudes of love and peace to help US citizens to more easily ignore the horrors being done in our names in faraway lands.
Trump is giving tacit permission for disturbed individuals to act out their violent fantasies. It's a scorched earth policy at its most extreme and its most dangerous. That such violence has now come home to roost should come as no surprise, especially in a country that has more guns than people, where most people don't have a few hundred dollars in savings for household emergencies or retirement, where tens of millions of people lack basic medical care, and where the death rate has risen for a third straight year.
 Defeating Trump is only the tiniest first baby step to cure what ails us.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Grand Guignol Sold As Democratic Debate

The gilded, gaudy Phantom of the Opera stage was what immediately set the tone for the comic horror that was to be the second round of the Democratic debates. Then came the ominous sound of thumping military boots echoing throughout the auditorium as a prelude to the National Anthem. And then CNN cut to commercial.

Since I live-streamed the spectacle on a special CNN app which I was forced to download for the privilege of participating from afar in our money-soaked electoral democracy, I am sad to report that I missed the ads. But I did read that they included such regular CNN sponsors as the drug companies and the private health insurance lobbies who set the tone for the moderators' anti-Single Payer questions.

The combination of frenzied theatrical melodrama, jackbooted militarism, and rank corporatism gave the proceedings the distinct whiff of fascism. The only difference between the CNN debates and a Trump rally was that the CNN spectacle did not contain any obvious or overt racism or xenophobia.

You really had to listen very closely to detect it. Joe Biden, for example, bragged that he warmly welcomes any immigrant with a Ph.D who wants to enter our country to enjoy our freedoms. (translation: to help keep our corporate profits great) That statement kind of excludes the Central American compesinos seeking refuge from the US-engendered regime changes and climate catastrophes, and allowed him to elide the fact that he was President Obama's own special emissary to the region,  his mission being to stop the migrants before they even entered Mexico. Trump could not immediately enforce a similar agreement, thanks to his own lack of diplomatic skills.

Besides a jolly-sounding Cory Booker (D-NJ-Private Equity) the only people vociferously challenging Biden on Obama's record deportations and anti-immigrant policies, in fact, were a group of immigrant protesters in the audience.

It's amazing, really, that the protesters got inside the building, because Bernie Sanders supporters had just been physically barred from even entering a CNN-controlled section of the parking lot outside Detroit's Fox Theater.

As Status Coup's Jordan Chariton reported from the scene:
Multiple supporters for Bernie Sanders who were part of the “visibility zone” area—an area designated by CNN for supporters of candidates to stand with their signs and cheer on camera—told Status Coup that efforts were made by both CNN and local police to visually diminish their presence as compared to the supporters of other candidates like Warren. 
 "Four different police officers said we could not go that way, as it was reserved for the other candidates’ supporters,” Sanders supporter Victoria Bowman told Status Coup. “One even used a bullhorn to dissuade us, but we ignored them and carried on. A Bernie campaign person got us past the last battalion of officers intent on blocking us. That campaign person went back out into the streets to bring more Bernie people in, then she was not allowed back into the “cheering section." 
  There were very few Bernie supporters allowed into the lot that was full of Warren, Williamson, and Biden supporters. Their cheers nearly drowned out the voices of Bernie’s supporters. Bowman’s account was confirmed by other supporters who faced similar roadblocks from the police blocking them from entering the cheering section that other candidates’ supporters appeared free to come and go from as they pleased.
So we can add police repression to the theatricality, jingoism and corporate profit motive to make the privatized Democratic Debate franchise fit the classic definition of fascism.

One of the few full-throated rebukes to bipartisan complicity in the long-standing American institutional racist tradition also came from protesters in the audience, who shouted "Fire Pantaleo!" at candidate Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York. Daniel Pantaleo is the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death and who still, under de Blasio's liberal watch, remains on the several job years later despite an official ruling that Garner died of a police-inflicted homicide.

 Much to everyone's surprise, Kamala Harris did not reprise her Act One starring role as Biden foil in the second episode of Debate Thriller Theater. Her previous attack on him over his anti-busing record was apparently just a one-off. Biden's team had done its own homework on Harris's own authoritarian record as California's chief prosecutor, noting that she had failed to bring lawsuits against two heavily segregated school districts in her state.

But the most damage to Harris and her de facto Jim Crow agenda was inflicted by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii,who lambasted Kamala for abusing the rights of defendants in her jurisdiction. She perfectly clarified Joe Biden's somewhat garbled counter-attack on Harris's record. Here's how the whole exchange played out:

All Kamala Harris could do was say how proud she was of her hard work in "fixing the criminal justice system." When Tulsi Gabbard demanded that she apologize to all the poor people she has hurt, Harris simply offered her trademark nervous giggle.

Sadly, due to her own low poll numbers and individual donations (update: she has now met the donation threshhold) this was very likely Tulsi's last stand on the presidential debate stage. But she has certainly earned a permanent place on the national political stage as one of the country's last remaining anti-war politicians.

With a faltering Biden barely standing erect and Harris's reputation so damaged, it seems that the last best hope of the corporate wing is Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I can't wait for Bernie and Liz to confront him on, among other things, his attendance at a plutocratic "Stop Bernie!" strategizing fund-raiser earlier this year.

If the Democratic centrists were "agonizing" about Bernie's momentum last spring, they must really be in the thrashing and gnashing final throes of neoliberal misery by now, in the wake of his strong debate performance. As far as Elizabeth Warren is concerned, we'll just have to wait and see whether the corporatists will be as successful in co-opting her as they seemed to think they were only the other day. When you've lost Paul Krugman....

The next pseudo-debate is scheduled for September, and miracle of miracles, it appears that it will be a blessed one-night stand, with fully half of the candidates not expected to meet the rigid party criteria for appearing.

The news personalities playing the emcees will again do their own hideous best to pit the actors against each other and ensure that a gloriously gruesome time is had by all, especially by the corporate sponsors who pay their seven-figure salaries and rake in the profits at the expense of the millions of trapped paying subscriber-voters glued to their screens at home. Because admit it. You just can't look away.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Dem Debate: Punts and Stunts

I plan on writing a wrap-up of the CNN Game Show Extravaganza for tomorrow or Friday at the latest if I get as bogged down as I expect I will.

But meanwhile, how do you describe the desperation of the pundit class after last night's debacle? Let us count the ways, if we have the stamina. Paul Krugman, for example, tweeted that Elizabeth Warren had a "bad night" because she stood up for Medicare For All. What he obviously meant is that she did a bad thing by not lighting into Bernie Sanders the way she was supposed to. Since Krugman is now disowning Liz, I find that I like her better than I did yesterday. 

Then there's the New York Times column by Ross Douthat, who is so desperate that he declared Joe Biden the winner of the first night, even though Joe Biden wasn't even on the stage. My published comment:
I wish they'd stop calling corporate-funded, right-wing Democrats like Delaney "moderates," which connotes reasonableness and inclusiveness. It's as misleading as the congressional "problem-solvers caucus," whose prime agenda is solving the problems of billionaires by eviscerating even the mild Wall Street reforms of Dodd-Frank.
I think what is really scaring the moderates and the anti-progressive mainstream media is that Liz and Bernie made the brilliant tactical decision to join forces on the debate stage, refusing to take CNN's blatantly cheesy bait in hopes of a progressive food fight.
 Biden won insofar that he is probably thanking his lucky stars that he had people like Delaney, Ryan and Hickenlooper acting as his stunt men and stand-ins. It's not going to last.
And by the time Kamala Harris and the increasingly desperate Kirsten Gillibrand get done with him tonight, Joe might well be begging for Bernie and Liz, who obviously care more about the public good than they do their own individual political fortunes.
So here's hoping that their tactical and ideological partnership lasts to the convention and beyond. Sanders-Warren or Warren-Sanders would be a winning ticket. Notice how quiet Trump was during and after the debate? He knows that he's in deep, deep trouble after the knockout punches thrown by Liz and Bernie last night.
So the whole narrative that Bernie and Liz will cancel each other out, leading to a brokered convention with the super-delegates appointing/anointing Pete Buttigieg or Harris (I think/hope Biden will have flamed out long before then) might backfire on the corporate Democrats. In the event of neither Bernie nor Liz achieving a clear majority of primary votes necessary for nomination, would they then be able to award the front-runner his or her delegates? I'm not sure of the legalities here, so maybe somebody can help me out.

But leave it to the Democratic National Committee to come up with some kind of nifty solution that prevents voters from having the final word. The good thing is they'll have to do it full public view. Such a stunt would then hasten the long- overdue demise of the Democratic Party. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Maureen Dowd Versus The Mob

In the third installment of her summer series "Confessions of the Designated Nancy Pelosi Whisperer," New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd abandons channeling Madam Speaker's now-backfired attacks on the Squad of four progressive congresswomen of color, and unsheathes her worthy literary claws on the Vast Twittering Left.

The hook for this week's attack was a tweet by NBC News personality Howard Fineman, who boasted about his attendance at one of Dowd's apparently famous Georgetown parties. He affixed a photo of Dowd greeting honored guest Nancy Pelosi and her date for the evening, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Outrage then ensued from all across the political spectrum. Poor Howard Fineman was forced to delete his tweet, in utter shock that his "benign big shot brag" had elicited such "vicious" reactions from the hoi polloi. In the olden days, he implied, people would have been more duly awed by the doings of the high and mighty. The twitter taunts thus only gained in intensity. He and his hostess Maureen Dowd both interpret these negative reactions as pure class envy rather than as legitimate criticism of the cozy, incestuous relationship between government officials and the journalists who are supposed to be holding them to account.

As I mentioned above, it is no longer feasible for Dowd to directly attack the Squad, given that the first two installments of the Pelosi Whisperer franchise had only served to raise their public profiles and elevate their progressive agendas - and worst of all, had provided the perfect opening for Donald Trump to launch his own vicious triangulated racist attacks on them. Poor Maureen was temporarily reduced to dishing out sloppy seconds, such as a statement she retweeted from media mogul David Israel calling the four women "the Squad of Vuvuzelas."

Vuvuzelas are the extremely loud, even deafening, monotonal horns invented and used by the Zulus of southern Africa to summon distant community members, and are now widely used at soccer games and other sporting events. Given the ethnicities of the Squad and the fact that one of them, Ilhan Omar, is a refugee from Somalia, it's an interesting choice of metaphor. 

But back to Maureen Dowd's latest column, in which she expresses wonder that her vivid description of Speaker of the People's House Pelosi wearing $995 pumps, munching on bonbons, and relaxing at her Napa Valley vineyard evoked such sour grapes of wrath from people:
After I interviewed Nancy Pelosi a few weeks ago, The HuffPost huffed that we were Dreaded Elites because we were eating chocolates and — horror of horrors — the speaker had on some good pumps.
 Then this week, lefty Twitter erected a digital guillotine because I had a book party for my friend Carl Hulse, The Times’s authority on Capitol Hill for decades, attended by family, journalists, Hill denizens and a smattering of lawmakers, including Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Susan Collins.
I, the daughter of a D.C. cop, and Carl, the son of an Illinois plumber, were hilariously painted as decadent aristocrats reveling like Marie Antoinette when we should have been knitting like Madame Defarge.
Yo, proletariat: If the Democratic Party is going to be against chocolate, high heels, parties and fun, you’ve lost me. And I’ve got some bad news for you about 2020.
The actual bad news is that Dowd has erected a straw man. This version is comprised of the latest group-think narrative trope that progressives are a monolithic bloc whose constant harping on impeachment rather than on Party Unity will only serve to give us another term of Trump. 
They eviscerate their natural allies for not being pure enough while placing all their hopes in a color-inside-the-lines lifelong Republican prosecutor appointed by Ronald Reagan.
The politics of purism makes people stupid. And nasty.
Dowd carefully names no names within her horde of stupid puritans. Nor does she mention that the loudest voices for impeachment have not been those of ordinary people, more of whom are leaning toward some form of socialism to solve our problems, but rather the corporate class of journalists on MSNBC and CNN and her own colleagues at the Times. But since the much-ballyhooed testimony of Robert Mueller turned out to be such a dud, scapegoats must be devised by these discredited corporate journalists so fixated on #Russiagate, and they must be devised in a hurry. The corporatists of the incestuous media-political complex are not our natural allies. In fact, they're the exact opposite. 

Hippie-punching and voter shaming are the standard tactics of last resort for these amoral establishment fools, and Dowd is only too happy to join the fray and deflect the blame. When Trump wins another term due to the lack of a populist agenda from the centrist Democrat whom they hope to undemocratically nominate, they will then refrain from blaming themselves and as usual, blame people with no power and no money.

My published comment on Dowd's column: 
The tweet by pundit Howard Fineman bragging about canoodling at Dowd's digs with the very same officials that journalists are supposed to afflict was what roused the ire of both left and right. It had nothing to do with "progressives'" disappointment over Mueller's overhyped (by corporate journalists like Fineman) performance.
This may come as a shock to the Beltway Bubble, but opinions on impeachment vary among progressives. Some are for, some against. But I suppose it's easier for Maureen to call them nasty purists than it is for her to address such core progressive policy proposals as single payer health care or to write about epidemic student debt, the growing climate catastrophe, the unaffordability of housing, the caging of refugees, and the fact that Flint, Michigan still has no clean water.
Nobody out here in Lower Slobovia cares about your Georgetown shindigs or your angst about peevish purists who do not show proper deference to the Knowledge Class and its insulated meritocrats.. Most of us are too worried about paying the bills and what kind of future our children and grandchildren face in a country where representative democracy has devolved into winner take all predatory capitalism.
But keep writing columns like this one, because the more you scold the have-nothings the less they will heed your infinite wisdom, and the more they will spare themselves the tedium of reading the next self-pitying installment.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Kafka Does Christmas In July

planning has begun in the East Wing at the @WhiteHouse. I'm looking forward to sharing our final vision for this unique tradition in the coming months.

The ominous phrase "Final vision," juxtaposed as it is with Donald Trump's caging of thousands of migrants and refugees on the Southern border, certainly does bring back memories of past traditions. Just not the pleasant memories and traditions that Melania Trump's public relations shop wanted to distract us with.
But perhaps we should interpret her clumsy Tweet another way. Maybe she's getting started on Christmas way early because she doesn't plan on being in the White House very much longer. Maybe she got caught up in all the media hype telling us that Father of Our Country Robert Mueller's congressional testimony was going to be the final word, the real coup de grace,for her chubby hubby wubby. And then it turned out that not only is Mueller the Deadbeat Dad that so many feared that he was upon seeing his final tepid report. He's a Demented Deadbeat Dad on his last mental legs.
So call Melania delusional and lacking in good taste to your heart's content. Because anybody who still puts any credence in the #Russiagate franchise after Mueller's bumble-wumble testimony on Wednesday should probably also have his or her own head examined.
Was there anything more delusional and Kafkesque and surreal, for example, than the New York Times's headline that blared Mueller's claim that "the Russians" are in our country right now, interfering in our elections, placed right next to a sidebar analysis bemoaning how confused the aging prosecutor has been acting lately?
A Russophobe in good standing might be "halting and hesitant" about remembering what is in his own report, but when it comes to meddling he miraculously recovers from the muddling. He regains Father of Our Country status and mental sharpness as long as he sticks to the corporate propaganda that Hillary Clinton lost the last election not because of her own ineptitude and corruption, but because of a group of underpaid Kremlin Internet trolls.
So I say let Melania have her own visionary deluded fun as we anxiously await the grand final vision of the Trump family leaving the White House forever. It's a big asylum, and thank goodness we ain't in it.
Merry Christmas, and may Kafka's Goddess of Liberty bless us, everyone.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Corporatists Behaving Badly

Let me get this straight. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have miraculously just come to a silky-smooth bipartisan budget agreement that rips the feathers right off the deficit hawks and kills the Obama-era Sequester and fake debt ceiling crises all in one swoop.

The catch is that the debt ceiling truce is only for two years. So if a Democrat wins the White House and the GOP holds the Senate, it will be back to deficit hawkery as a bipartisan weapon to kill any possible resurgence of the New Deal.

Meanwhile, Trump is happy because the deal protects the war machine and "our veterans" and contains no poison pills that would nauseate rich people. The Democrats will not interfere with his border wall, and the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding for abortions will remain. Pelosi is happy because the deal "will enhance our national security and invest in middle class priorities that advance the health, financial security and well-being of the American people."

But Trump being Trump, it is entirely possible that he'll ultimately refuse to sign it no matter how much he praises it today. And Pelosi being Pelosi, she utters not one single word about helping the tens of millions of people now living in abject poverty in the United States. Bare survival priorities, such as food and shelter, are not the same thing as middle class priorities, which might include such things as somewhat more affordable prescription drugs and protecting our right to purchase expensive health insurance on the predatory marketplace.

Before we celebrate, therefore, we need to read the fine print in this proposed budget deal. Because whenever politicians "reach across the aisle" in one of those rare bipartisan moments of good feeling, we ordinary people must steel ourselves for the blows that are sure to come. The very fact that the deal was reached so secretly and so hastily and that it must be voted on before the artificial deadline of the Congressional summer recess, is our first clue that bipartisanship is the exact opposite of social and economic justice. This deal must go through before anybody even has a chance to read it.

That's how many poison pills for struggling people and how many gifts to the oligarchs that this package undoubtedly contains.

Take the issue of the nation's community health centers, which deal or no deal, appeared to be very much on the bipartisan chopping block as recently as last week. These centers, which serve the poor, are therefore conveniently and cynically exempt from Pelosi's "middle class priorities."

The Democratic lawmakers proposing the cuts frame their cruelty in the usual way: in order to be kind and save the poor, they have no choice but to punish and sacrifice the poor, because otherwise the Republican hostage takers will beat the poor into a bloody dead pulp.

As reported by the Washington Post,

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is pushing a bipartisan plan that would provide flat levels of federal funding for hundreds of community health centers nationwide, at about $4 billion for the next four years. A similar plan is advancing in the Senate with the support of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
Lawmakers face a September deadline for the community health centers, after which their funding would begin to expire, likely leading to steep cuts.Pallone said the plan would provide the security of the longest guaranteed funding commitment ever secured by the clinics, averting the September cliff. But flat funding would not keep pace with medical inflation, likely forcing the community health centers to serve about 4 million fewer people annually by 2023 than they do now, said Leighton Ku, professor of health policy at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
That prospect has alarmed liberal lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the congressional Progressive Caucus. They argue Democrats should use their control of the House to approve increases in funding for the centers, and then hammer out an agreement with Senate Republicans.
“I was, quite honestly, stunned. It’s just absolutely disastrous, and moving in the wrong direction,” said Sanders, a 2020 presidential candidate, in an interview. “We should be substantially increasing funding. I was very, very disappointed by Democratic leadership … We will do everything we can to rectify this.”
We still don't know if the TrumPelosi Manifesto contains the bait and switch method of reducing health care for the poor, or whether it's a side-deal negotiated apart from the budget agreement.

It is also quite telling that Trump waited until right after the budget agreement was announced to reveal plans to kick three million people off their food stamp benefits. In so doing, he gives credence to Pelosi's limited boast of protecting the financial interests of the "middle class" -- or those living above the poverty levels necessary to qualify for government nutrition assistance.

And speaking of bait and switch, the fact that Bernie Sanders is still going strong, and is even finally getting more refreshingly blunt about such corporate tools as Joe Biden, has finally elicited the full-blown hysteria of New York Times pundit Paul Krugman, who'd so far this campaign season kept his storied anti-Bernie powder dry, mainly by studiously ignoring Bernie Sanders.

Not any more. In a transparently bad-faith "both sides do it" column, ironically subtitled "A Bad Faith Debate Over Health Care Coverage," Krugman hilariously equates Biden's mendacity with Bernie's exposure of his mendacity.
But right now, two of the major contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, are having an ugly argument about health care that could hurt the party’s chances. There are real, important differences between the two men’s policy proposals, and it’s fine to point that out. What’s not fine is the name-calling and false assertions. Both men are behaving badly. And for their party’s sake, and their country’s, they need to stop it.
Notwithstanding that Krugman cannot point to one single example of Sanders calling Biden any bad names or lying (because he hasn't) the accusation is simply cover for his main point: he doesn't want Medicare For All to be a platform in the presidential campaign, even though he likes Single Payer "in theory". The column is all of a piece with the centrist, or corporate wing of the party, striving to please its deep-pocketed donors at the expense of everybody else. The message is this: you can get rid of Trump, or you can clamor for things that will make your lives better. But you cannot do both. Supporting Medicare For All is the same thing as giving Trump another term. Therefore, everybody please shut up about your damned health. And that includes the 70-80 percent of you in favor of Medicare For All. You're nothing but a distraction.

Also, now that Pelosi's attempted diminution of the "Squad's" championship of single payer health care has spectacularly backfired, the corporate party and its pundits need a new scapegoat with which to undermine Single Payer, even as they pretend to embrace the dark-hued female members as a means of combating Trump's racism.  Bernie Sanders, an old white guy, fits their bill perfectly. A Democratic legal pundit who hilariously calls herself a "moderate" can even go on MSNBC and complain that he "makes my skin crawl and I don't know why" with no consequence whatsoever.

Here's my published response to Krugman, in which I refused to take his slimy personality-politics bait, but instead tried to address the centrist groupthink propaganda that he so shamelessly parrots:
Whenever you hear universal coverage defined as everyone having "access" to "affordable" health care, beware of the bait and switch.
 Access to care is not the same thing as guaranteed care. Calling a trip to the doctor or emergency room "affordable" is glib to the point of cruelty, given that the majority of Americans don't even have $500 in savings.
The standard talking point that "folks" will never accept a Single Payer program because they are loath to give up their wonderful employer-based plans is also pretty cynical. Employers not only change plans regularly, they are increasingly passing the costs of overpriced plans with less coverage along to their workers.
If people are afraid of Medicare For All, it's mainly because our rulers and their corporate media stenographers, beholden to the insurance cartel and Big Pharma and their Wall Street investors, are making sure they stay very afraid of it. It's obviously not in their job descriptions to educate people and inform them that the taxes for Single Payer will be far, far lower than what they now pay to the predatory health care marketplace, with the continued risk that they can go bankrupt if they get hurt or sick.
 Once Single Payer is passed, and the profit motive goes out of health care, it will be repeal-proof. It will be as popular as Medicare For Some is right now. That's what has the wealthy donor class shaking in their custom-made shoes: the prospect of too many people becoming healthy and less stressed.