Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Kiss the Mean Teens Goodbye

And say hello to another Roaring Twenties for the plutocrats - in tandem with the Soaring (as in record heat) Twenties for everybody. Those hoping for a Boring, Snoring Twenties in the wake of Trumpism and a return to the status quo ante that produced Trump are probably out of luck - unless, of course, they are among the millions of people who will die prematurely because of the vicious, neoliberal capitalism that has all but subsumed representative democracy throughout the world. 

Then again, the Twenties could also finally bring millions more people into the streets, capitalism could be overthrown with some sort of socialist revolution, and inexorable climate change and its negative effects on life might at least be slowed down/ameliorated by a few years.

For as Barack Obama once so infamously proclaimed when he gave the Bush administration a free pass on its war crimes, we must look forward and not back. We're already witnessing the myriad global victims of the Bush-Clinton-Obama-Trump era no longer taking so kindly to American Exceptionalism. We just got a preview when thousands of Iraqis stormed the supposedly impregnable Emerald City Embassy in Baghdad in protest of US military airstrikes. The US war against that country, despite all the bragging to the contrary, has never ended.

There's already a plethora of lists of the Bests and Worsts of our last decade. I got a particular chuckle out of Politico's How Will History Books Remember the 2010s?  The title provoked in my head a zany picture of vast columns of nostalgic animated books marching along like the demented brooms in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

The actual people who supposedly will write those history books decades from now won't remember the Teens because they and the trees providing the paper and the bees pollinating the food crops will have all died out from the climate catastrophe and drug-resistant plagues. Now, if that's too gloomy and doomy a scenario for you to contemplate, let's say that maybe one actual human producer/consumer of memories is still left, a lonely character bearing a striking resemblance to the Burgess Meredith bookworm in that Twilight Zone episode about nuclear catastrophe.

Not for nothing has Dictionary.Com, to much media fanfare, just named "existential" the Word of the Year, not least because the noncommercial massive Websters on their own special stands are disappearing, right along with the not-for-profit physical libraries that house both them and increasing numbers of homeless people.

Meanwhile, Dictionary.Com at least has a sense of humor. Before you're even allowed to read about the Existential Crisis, this little caveat pops up from the darkness:

Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com use cookies to enhance {see also: improve, boost} your experience. By continuing without changing your settings, you agree to this use. To provide the best {see also: finest, first-rate} English dictionary and thesaurus on the web for free, we also request your permission for us and our partners to use cookies to personalize ads. To allow this, please click "Accept Cookies." Need more info? Take a bite out of our ∙ Cookie Policy
And that reminds me that high on my list of Best Books of 2019 is The Rise of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. It's also, strangely enough, on Barack Obama's Best Books list. I say strangely, because Obama himself had kept alive the Bush era's mass surveillance program. He also accused Edward Snowden, the great revealer of the top-secret mass surveillance state, of being unpatriotic. Needless to say, Obama did not include Snowden's own memoir on his list of worthy tomes. To be fair, though, the New York Times also snubbed it from its list ot the year's 100 notable books. What the Times did strangely consider notable was Michelle Obama's ghostwritten memoir.

Let's face it. Lists are so fakakta. (Look it up on the online Yiddish dictionary.)

Of course, not being a history book, I can't even remember all the books that I have read and/or re-read in the past year, let alone collate them all into a fakakta list. But here is just a portion (some newly published, but mostly older) that I enjoyed and highly recommend. Despite my criticism and previous New Year resolutions, I find that I cannot completely Resist the List. Call me a hypocrite if you want, but here are listed (ugh) in no particular order:

Hate, Inc. - Matt Taibbi
 Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism - ed. by Jason Moore. 
Staying With the Trouble - Donna Haraway. 
A Brief History of Neoliberalism - David Harvey 
The 42nd Parallel - John Dos Passos 
American Nightmare - Henry A. Giroux 
Black Reconstruction in America - W.E.B. Dubois 
The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry 
Words Are My Matter -  Ursula K. LeGuin 
Owls Do Cry - Janet Frame 
Birth of Our Power - Victor Serge 
The Liberal Defence of Murder - Richard Seymour 
Cancer Ward - Alexander Solzhenytsin 
Making Trouble - Lynne Segal 
The Code of the Woosters - P.G. Wodehouse 
Squeezed - Alyssa Quart 
American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace - John C. Culver 
The Original Frankenstein - Mary Shelley 
An American Utopia - Fredric Jamison 
The Power of the Dog - Don Winslow 
Down to Earth - Bruno Letour 
The Wrecking Crew - Thomas Frank 
The Book of Joan - Lidia Yuknavitch 
Bananeras - Dana Frank 
The Weird and the Eerie - Mark Fisher 
Travels With Herodotus - Ryszard Kapusinski 
Goya - Robert Hughes 
This Census-Taker - China Mieville 
Reporter - Seymour M. Hersh 
I put in a request months ago to the mammoth New York Public Library for Snowden's Permanent Record, but to no avail. It is glaringly still not on their list of virtually hundreds of thousands of books available to download. So in light of what seems to be an orchestrated blackout of his work, you should definitely watch his lengthy(nearly three hours) conversation with Joe Rogan, available for streaming on YouTube.

If you have more time after that, please also share your own favorite movies, shows, books, pet peeves, whatever, in the comments section. They need not be actual lists.

Happy New Year to Sardonickists everywhere!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Seasonal Salutations

To all my readers, best wishes of the holiday season, including but not limited to Christmas,  Hanukkah, Solstice, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa and Festivus. If you're not feeling especially joyful this year, or if forced gaiety has never been your style, then I hope you'll endure the most grimly satisfying or the least-bad Bah Humbug ever!

Maybe, just maybe, world peace will actually get a chance in our lifetimes. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Poor People Are Not "Cases"

But that doesn't stop the New York Times from archaically referring to them as such, as evidenced by its 108th annual holiday charity campaign still known as the Neediest Cases Fund.

Until the 1970s, the initiative was called The Hundred Neediest Cases, with all the stories of individual heartbreak and hard luck dumped into one special edition of the newspaper in a feast of what can only be called poverty porn. In subsequent years,  in an effort to be more respectful to the needy in light of the rising political right wing's demonization of the poor and welfare programs, the charity drive began spreading out its articles from November through January every year. And rather than administering the fund itself, the Times began farming out the selection process to various religious and secular social service agencies in the city.

Despite a surface attempt at enlightened sensitivity, the paper still refers to recipients as "cases" rather than as human beings. This term connotes both pathology and criminality, as in a case of tuberculosis or a court case - or at best, equates a human being with an academic exercise.

Attitudes toward the poor have not, in fact, changed, Here's what the great muckraker Upton Sinclair had to say about the Times's Neediest Cases a hundred years ago, during our previous Gilded Age of obscene wealth inequality:
The Times never goes into the question about the social system which produces these harrowing cases, nor does it allow anyone else to go into this question: what it does is to present a hundred victims of the system with enough money to preserve them until the following December, so that they may again enter into competition for mention in the list, and have their miseries exploited by the Times.
Of course, recipients of the fund did not and still do not receive anywhere near what they need to sustain themselves for another year. They don't receive any direct cash aid at all, in fact.  Upton Sinclair certainly didn't foresee the Neoliberal Project and philanthrocapitalism and tax dodges and corporate branding factoring in to the Neediest Cases fund the way they insidiously factor in to the newspaper's initiative today. Although individual and corporate donors are no longer listed by name, they very much remain integral characters in the newspaper's flashy profiles of its "needy cases."

For example, a piece ostensibly about a struggling single mother with three teenage daughters morphs into a plug for corporate giant Procter and Gamble's "End Period Poverty" program of donating pads and tampons to a measly 20 food banks in the United States. Another story , about the Jazzy Jumpers, a double dutch jump-roping team based in a Brooklyn housing project, points out that these deserving youths have appeared in TV commercials for Google and Madewell. The team was awarded $32,000 to pay for uniforms, coaching and tour expenses.

One common theme in the neoliberally-defined poverty industry is getting people off minimum wage jobs and food stamps - if not out of unhealthy overcrowded extended family living situations - into subsidized internships and STEM programs of study. One young woman received a $300 grant from the Neediest fund to "dress for success" while she networks. in hopes of one day landing a job in cybersecurity at the NSA. Her onerous $3,000 student debt from a year of community college, however, is still on her.

Other stories chronicle the Neediest Cases who have made it their life's work to "give back" to the same programs that once helped them. A mother of a child with autism was given a low-wage teaching assistant job at the preschool while she still shares a two-bedroom apartment with her daughter, her sister, her parents and two nephews. The Neediest Cases fund thus gave her a $200 Visa (plug!) gift card with which to buy her child sneakers and boots. Priceless! In exchange for this reward, the mom and child posed rather awkwardly for several stylized color New York Times photos.

In another heart-rending "case" described by the Times, there's a grandfather with kidney failure and heart trouble, a mom with high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, and a bullied learning-disabled daughter all living in a rat-infested apartment with no working bathroom sink. However, since enrolling in a mentoring program and getting a $550 laptop computer from one of the paper's outsourced social service agencies, this lucky winner proclaims herself grateful for the opportunity to browse on the Internet in search of other opportunities.

As the Times's Neediest Cases drive goes into its third month, readers have donated a little over $3 million for struggling people living in the Income Disparity Capital of the country. This isn't very much at all, considering that there are now 112 billionaires living in New York City, up from 109 a year ago. One out of every seven billionaires calls the Big Apple home.

Nothing much has changed in the century since Upton Sinclair wrote his critique of the Neediest Cases initiative. On the same Sunday in 1919 that featured the hundred people in need of help, he noticed another article:
Young Mr. Vincent Astor was erecting his country estate at a cost of one million dollars. This building was for the use of Astor and his friends; it had no place for the public. It was devoted to tennis and swimming and gymnastics; it had no place for literature. music, art, science, or religion - it was a typical product of the private property regime. 
Astor, of course, would be a multibillionaire today and his estate would have risen in value to the hundreds of millions. The difference is that today's oligarchs have much more of a direct influence on politics than they did in the first age of the Robber Barons.

Juxtaposed with the Times's self-congratulatory, feel-good, lushly illustrated Neediest Cases series in 2019 is the saga of billionaire Democratic donor Craig Hill,trapped in his Swarovski crystal-infested wine cave in Napa Valley, California. He is incensed that he has been singled out by Elizabeth Warren as one of the corrupt political system's Greediest Cases -  just because he gave a lavish fundraiser for wealth-serving centrist presidential contender Pete Buttigieg. 

This poor mogul must feel every bit as exploited as the Times's "cases."

"I'm just a pawn here," he groused to the Times, which noted that he has given more than $2 million to such needy candidates as Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris. That's about two-thirds the amount raised thus far this season by the Times Neediest Cases drive. 

Something tells me that our priorities are as seriously screwed up as they ever were in the Land of the Free Market.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Plutocratic Panic Is Palpable

They're triple-peeing themselves, and I don't mean in the way that neoliberals have been selling the odious acronym PPP for the past 40 years. Since the "public- private partnerships" which socialize all the costs and privatize all the profits have been duly exposed as scams literally condemning Americans to premature deaths, the plutocratic perps are now resorting to bald-faced lies.

The Paper of Record is only too happy to help. With only seven Democrats on the latest debate stage, Bernie Sanders actually threatened to get noticed and take away precious speaking time from low-polling "moderate" Amy Klobuchar and billionaire Tom Steyer. The Anti-Bernie campaign will thus begin in earnest.

The New York Times' role in destroying Sanders for a second time is beginning with some blatant monkeying-around with public opinion through use of an online marketing tool aptly called SurveyMonkey.

"When Offered Options, Democratic Voters Prefer a Moderate Path" is the since-changed headline of a piece by Ben Casselman, who writes

Only one in four Democratic voters says they would favr eliminating private health insurance and replacing it with a government-run plan — the centerpiece of the “Medicare for all” proposals put forward by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. And only one in three favors making public college tuition free for all Americans regardless of income, another idea shared by the two leading progressives in the race.Those results, from a survey conducted this month for The New York Times by the online research firm SurveyMonkey, are striking because past polls, including those from The Times, have shown broad-based support for progressive ideas among Democrats. Last month, 81 percent of Democrats said they approved of Medicare for all; in July, 82 percent said they supported making public colleges free for all.
A SurveyMonkey "research scientist" feebly explains away the glaring inconsistency that these same Democratic respondents trust Bernie Sanders more than any other candidate to "handle health care" by claiming that you can be very fond of a politician without ever agreeing with his or her policies. 

Casselman himself sought out other regular folk until he found a few willing to echo corporate Democratic and insurance industry talking points. They agree with Medicare For All in principle, but don't think the time is right to make a change. A political party's fortunes are more important than people's health.

 Meanwhile, the methodology of the survey is iffy at best, with SurveyMonkey explaining:

This SurveyMonkey online poll was conducted December 2 through 8, 2019 among a national sample of 4,093 adults. Respondents for this survey were selected from the more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Data were weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States.
Who did the selecting? Did they cherry-pick among the two million people to find the "moderate" public opinion with which the ruling class so desperately wants to gaslight the public?

Although the Wikipedia entry for SurveyMonkey has been flagged due to suspicions that it is nothing but a paid advertisement and thereby in violation of the site's terms of use, it does contain several disturbing facts, such as the firm's Wall Street and private equity financing and leadership. Another massive infusion of oligarchic cash boosted its market share price by a whopping 60 percent just in the last year. Its board of directors includes the billionaire widow, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, of its first leader. To add the necessary sheen of  gender and racial diversity, tennis star Serena Williams was recently added to the roster of super-capitalists invested in carefully measuring,if not outright creating or even falsifying, public opinion. Not for nothing does the board also include Facebook alumnus David Ebersman, who now runs Lyra Health, a "frictionless" technocratic mental health service provider to the disgruntled and oppressed workers of America.

Employers naturally have a stake in this as they want their employees to stay health, (sic) but the goal is to offer a sort of safe space where users can benefit from years of growth in pattern matching and data to help them figure out where to start. The company said it has raised $45 million in a new financing round including Tenaya Capital, Glynn Capital Partners, Crown Ventures, and Casdin Capital. Existing investors that include Greylock Partners, Venrock, and Providence Ventures also participated in the funding round.
 As one satisfied customer gushed in a testimonial on the Lyra website, getting mental health treatment from private equity is just like getting an upgrade to business class!

Judging from some other results of the New York Times-commissioned survey revealing there are millions more "moderates" than even they thought, I wonder whether SurveyMonkey picked some of the respondents from among the happy workplace clients of Lyra. Survey Monkey certainly appears to have picked and chosen its respondents from among the financially comfortable minority rather than from the precarious majority. More than a third of respondents reported being better off financially than they were a year ago, with another 41 percent thinking that they'll be even better off next year. Half the respondents think that the United States will be doing just fine in the next five years. More than a third are so flush with disposable income that they think that now is the perfect time to buy major household items.

 Even more preposterously, more than half proclaim themselves to be extremely concerned about the government budget deficit while a third are "somewhat" concerned about it, resulting in a shocking 80 percent of allegedly typical Americans worried about the deficit while life actually is pretty good for them, personally.

So my money is on the panicked plutocratic cherry-picking rather than on life being a big fat bowl of luscious cherries for concerned liberals having the time, the computers, the internet connections and probably lots of mind-altering drugs to fill out online SurveyMonkey questionnaires commissioned by the New York Times.

Of course, I could be nothing but a conspiracy theorist whose brain has been infiltrated by Putin. I am probably in dire need of some frictionless psychotherapy from the private equity shrinks at Lyra and SurveyMonkey, which are striving mightily to get the huddled masses to see the error of their radical life-sustaining thought processes.

Resistance (as opposed to approved #Resistance, Inc.) may be futile, but I think I'll give it a try anyway. I hope that millions of my fellow immoderates will join me in the new decade.

Spellbound In America: Dali Meets Hitchock

Monday, December 16, 2019

"The U.S. Is a Threat To Humanity: Full Stop."

That was the tweet by meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus as he exited the United Nations' COP25 climate summit in Madrid on Sunday. The US-based multinational corporations which effectively run the place refused to set limits on pollution, thus dooming the island nations of the globe to an even more untimely demise than what had been forecast under previous anti-pollution agreements among the world's most powerful governments.

Since the United States had already successfully immunized itself from prosecution in The Hague under war crimes statutes, it is no surprise that the Land of the Free Marketeers has also immunized itself from liability to poorer countries for the damage their unfettered capitalistic plunder has caused. This refusal, according to one delegation to the summit, should be construed as a crime against humanity.

"The U.S. continued its long tradition of sacrificing survival chances of billions of people for its own ability to continue making incredible amountx of money and shirking its historical climate responsibility," tweeted Holthaus.

It should have been the tweet heard 'round the world, but it has run into a brick wall as far as the corporate media borg in the United States is concerned. Here in the Homeland, it's all impeachment all the time. Here in the Homeland, news isn't news unless it's manufactured by the corporate sponsors, for the corporate sponsors.

A scene in William Gibson's novel "Spook Country" pithily comments on pre- and post-cable and 24/7 news and entertainment.

One character explains "the artifact of preubiquitous media" to another:

"Of --?"
 "Of a state in which 'mass' media existed, if you will, within the world."
"As opposed to?"
 "Comprising it."
Thus has the American population largely internalized the "value systems" of the oligarchs running the place and the media explaining the place to the rest of us. To be fair, the reason that most people aren't more concerned about the climate catastrophe that imminently threatens the world's poor people, and will even threaten rich people someday in the not too distant future if they don't escape to their yacht cities or outer space colonies in time, is because the world-comprising media has not properly informed, alarmed or outraged them.

If we science-acknowledging liberal folk do acknowledge the climate crisis, that rational acknowledgment and rational fear is enhanced, even subsumed, by being taught to hate the ignorant anti-science folk of the opposite party and in different sections of the country.

Case in point: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman simplistically titled his own latest effort "The Party That Ruined the Planet."

We should be angry that the Republicans are vocal climate denialists, while ignoring the fact that the Democrats reneged on a pledge to refuse political donations from the fossil fuel industry, that Barack Obama approved the export of US fracked oil the same week he signed the Paris Climate Accord, and that he appeared at an oil industry-funded think tank in Texas to brag that more oil and gas was extracted during his administration than in any other.

But look on the bright side. Obama acknowledges climate change, and even raised money for his foundation by shaking hands with teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. And all that dumb old Trump can do is bully her on Twitter! The resulting rise in your blood pressure should thereby be indistinguishable from the rise in the actual temperature.

Krugman dutifully writes:

Still, whatever the short-term political incentives, it takes a special kind of depravity to respond to those incentives by denying facts, embracing insane conspiracy theories and putting the very future of civilization at risk.
Unfortunately, that kind of depravity isn’t just present in the modern Republican Party, it has effectively taken over the whole institution. There used to be at least some Republicans with principles; as recently as 2008 Senator John McCain co-sponsored serious climate-change legislation. But those people have either experienced total moral collapse (hello, Senator Graham) or left the party.
See how selectively fomenting helpless anger against the Grim Old Party not only robs us of our ability to think critically, it allows a liberal pundit like Krugman to endorse the post-ubiquitous "serious" war hawk artifact John McCain while studiously ignoring both corporate malfeasance and the "radical" proposal of a Green New Deal?

My published response to Krugman:

The destruction of the planet long preceded the emergence of the Grim Old Party. It began with the capitalist revolution which, although its birth is commonly coincident with the Industrial Revolution, really got its start with Europe's invasion of the "New World" in the 16th century, when plunder of natural resources, destruction of forests and native crops and plants and forced labor/enslavement of both native people and kidnapped Africans began with a vengeance.
Truly addressing climate change would require the overthrow of capitalism, whose sole purpose is to extract, extract and extract some more, without thought and without concern for the damages.
Getting rid of Republicans might take the edge off the catastrophe, maybe even buy us some time with 500 year floods, fires and and storms only coming once a year instead of several times a year. The US military is the biggest polluter and user of fossil fuels on Planet Earth, yet House Democrats just joined the evil Republicans in giving Trump another three quarters of a trillion dollars to wage Permawar - mere days after the Washington Post published shocking admissions from officials from the last three administrations that they have lied to the public about the "progress" being made in Afghanistan.
Without an end to unbridled militarized capitalism, whatever political party is in power is beside the point. Not for nothing are some scientists calling it the Necrocene Epoch - as in dying if not already dead.
To which one fellow reader dutifully replied:
No, you're wrong about capitalism and environmental damage. Whenever the costs of destruction from economic activities are not considered there will be no effort to prevent needless damage. The enormous environmental damage done in the communists states of Eastern Europe is a clear example of non-capitalist states destructive behavior. And, please remember that even if Democrats are in the driver's seat in Congress and/or the White House, they may not be able do all that they would like to, or they would soon be out of office. We must bear this in mind and not expect them to do all that we might desire.
This is another example of William Gibson's observation that we don't live in the real world as much as we consist of and in a perverted media land of enchantment. Everything is the fault of the other party or "the Russians," who deep in their nefarious little  hearts are still the same Communists that the elites battled during the first Cold War.

Of course, the climate change "controversy" is not the only manufactured cult with two permissible distinct sects: the polluters who deny science,  and the polluters who pay lip service to science while making "carbon pricing" their cynical alternative to meaningful action.

Another recent glaring indication of Post-Ubiquitous Media Reality is the framing of the devastating Department of Justice Inspector General report on FBI corruption into the outrage that Trump is using this report as a political cudgel with which to bully the FBI.

Pay no attention to what the report says about our chronically abusive and unlawful national police agency. Pay attention to how unfairly the corrupt Trump is using this corruption to benefit himself.

New York Times business columnist  James B. Stewart, who wrote one of the many books marketing the Russiagate narrative, turned the facts right on their head in a "news analysis"  in which he falsely claimed that the IG report completely exonerated the FBI - when, in fact, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the exact opposite both in the report and in his Senate testimony.

A report can be truthful and honest, but if Trump likes it, then it magically becomes tainted on its face. Just as the imprisoned Julian Assange was smeared by the media because his Wikileaks revealed damaging information about the Clinton campaign, Stewart smears Horowitz for simply doing his job:

So much for the supposedly nonpartisan and independent office of the Department of Justice Inspector General — which, before the Trump administration, most Americans hardly knew existed. To a striking degree, Mr. Trump and his allies have turned the post into a potent weapon aimed at his supposed enemies in the federal law enforcement agencies.
My published comment:
Believe it or not, it is possible to both loathe Trump and be deeply disturbed by the rogue police agency known as the FBI.
The most disturbing aspect of the report is actual evidence tampering by an FBI lawyer. An email from the CIA verifying that Carter Page had been working with them was doctored and changed to the CIA denying it had any affiliation with Carter Page, This fraudulent email was then presented to the FISA court. The FBI also withheld exculpatory evidence, such as testimony from witnesses that the Steele Dossier was "a joke" in that some of its allegations were gleaned from third hand barroom gossip.
So Trump will make political hay of this report, and he is, painful as it may be to admit, perfectly justified in doing so. The Democratic Party should rue the day it ever sided with the FBI as well as the equally rogue CIA in #Resistance, Inc. Attacking Trump from the right was never a good idea. And with the party owned and operated by wealthy donors, they will not attack him from the left. 
Meanwhile, what better time than now to abolish the unaccountable and deeply anti-democratic FISA Court, which rubber-stamps nearly every single investigation requested by the FBI? We should follow up the Trump impeachment hearing the same way we did Nixon's. A truth and reconciliation reckoning would also be a great way of honoring Black activist Fred Hampton on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, a joint project of the Chicago police and the FBI.
All of one (1 as in single) of my fellow Times readers "recommended" that heretical comment.

As my last example today of Gibson's media-comprised world, let's  turn to Maureen Dowd, who abandoned her day job as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's besotted publicist long enough to write a fairly decent column about Trump not being the only bad guy in Washington. She noted, correctly, that regular folk are not as besotted with the impeachment narrative as the media who are manufacturing it and covering themselves covering it. She actually mentioned that it's kind of strange that former CIA director John Brennan has a gig as a Trump resistance fighter on MSNBC, given that he helped torture some folks and broke into Senate computer files which incriminated him in the torture. There's even an Amazon movie about it, making it more real still. But in keeping with the artificial binary nature of our corporate-manufactured political discourse and narrative, Dowd outlandishly positioned Brennan on the "left" as opposed to Trump's proper placement on the "right."

It was this offhand statement that I took issue with in my published comment:

"The left keens that the president is destroying our sacred institutions and jeopardizing our national security."
 From where I sit, the "left" is advocating for Medicare For All, debt-free education, a Green New Deal, affordable housing as a basic human right, voting rights, and an end to mass incarceration, surveillance and war. It's the neocons and the centrists who are keening about "national security" - code for Permawar and mass surveillance. and endless financial rewards for the oligarchs running the place.
Since our political leaders don't give a fig about the security of ordinary people, they sell fear and "resistance" to Donald Trump instead, even as they gift him with his vanity Space Force, his vanity Wall, more hundreds of billions for war, and his very own NAFTA clone. Where's the outrage over his kicking almost a million people off food stamps? How about impeachment for his imprisonment and kidnapping of thousands of migrant and refugee children?
Let's face the unpleasant fact that this narrowly focused impeachment battle between the parties is pretty much a smokescreen. It helps them avoid doing anything about, even talking about. the existential crises facing the vast majority of us. Record numbers are dying prematurely because even with health insurance we can't afford medical care. Evictions are increasing nationwide, and three homeless people are dying on the streets of Los Angeles County every single day.
We are Americans. Hear us keen.

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Political Mob Families Call Christmas Truce

It's that most wonderful time of the year, when the racketeers in Congress put aside their petty partisan differences just long enough to have their big party and pay their annual mob dues before they all head off to the beaches, the ski slopes and the high-dollar fundraisers.

It's an especially rewarding time for President Donald Trump, whom the House Democrats just honored for his cruel treatment of immigrants and his cruel cuts to the SNAP (food stamp) program by giving him his very own Space Force, a bona fide fourth branch of the military, along with enhanced killing powers by way of another nearly trillion-dollar stocking stuffer for his Pentagon. This was an especially generous gift in light of the publication of documents in the Washington Post which show that the past three administrations have deliberately lied about the "progress" of the multi-trillion dollar Afghanistan war and occupation. Adam Schiff, the Democrat who spent all last week lambasting the unpatriotic and corrupt Trump, grotesquely gushed that the Democrats' gift to the president is "the most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades."

 The Democrats even gave Trump his very own worker-punishing NAFTA clone package with his name on it. In a grab-bag ripoff if there ever was one, the Democrats in return got a relatively paltry twelve weeks of paid family leave for federal workers only. They apparently didn't want to act too greedy by demanding that Bad Santa Trump also reverse his cruel pre-Christmas decision to cut nearly a million people from SNAP (food stamps) which also includes cuts to home heating assistance.

This hellish Saturnalia kind of makes the much ballyhooed and ridiculously limited articles of impeachment the House is debating in the same breath look like dessert for Donald Trump.. It's more of a six-course meal for him, because he'll get unprecedented nonstop TV time soon after the holidays. It won't matter if the corporate media strives mightily to cast this as negative publicity for him, because he'll cast his own self as a victim-hero for the ages. 

He'll be able to make hay, and rightly so, over the shocking revelations that among its other crimes, the FBI actually tampered with the physical evidence it presented to the FISA court in its investigation of his campaign operative Carter Page. No matter that the otherwise scathing report by Michael Horowitz, the Department of Justice Inspector General, feebly concluded that the actual investigation itself was begun legitimately, and that there was no evidence of political motivation for FBI malfeasance and no evidence of a Deep State plot against the president. That's simply because, he acknowledged in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the people at the FBI were vague when questioned about their motivations and he doesn't purport to be a mind reader. 

The FBI, now joined at the hip with the Democratic Party in its utterly phony #Resistance, Inc. movement, has been revealed to be rotten to its very core, and the undemocratic Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has (not for the first time) been revealed as a rubber stamp for all manner of abuse. It is so rotten that even extremist Republicans like Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz came off as righteous civil liberties champions during Thursday's Senate hearing on the matter. For the first time since 9/11, the most diehard war hawks are questioning the wisdom of having a secret court where the targets of investigations aren't even informed that they're under investigation. No matter if, when Graham said "it can happen to anyone," he was mainly thinking about himself and his fellow right-wing politicians.

Sometimes mistakes get made, and justice trickles down by sheer luck. Until, that is, the political racketeers figure out that even a trickle of democracy threatens to erode capitalism, and in a reactionary panic they turn up their own fire hoses of freedom to full throttle and aim them at the huddled masses both at home and abroad. But they're running dry on their excuses, and the pathetic hot air left in the wake of their mendacious gushers hasn't got the power to terrorize us, let alone convince us of their kindly flag-wrapped motivations.

Why else would Speaker Nancy Pelosi allow for a minimalist impeachment of Trump, other than to ensure that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren remain trapped in a Senate trial while corporatists Biden, Bloomberg and Buttigieg pretend to fight Trump out there and she pretends to fight him over here, in the cynically-named People's House?

Monday, December 9, 2019

Compassion, Neoliberal Style

By all accounts, homelessness in California is a humanitarian crisis as well as a shameful example of deliberate political inaction. Deaths of those living on the streets are occurring at the rate of three a day and expected to increase even more next year as the result of the paralysis of the political class, beholden as they are to the needs of their ultra-wealthy donors and "not in my back yard" (Nimby) constituents.

The New York Times is on the case - but not by espousing the need for more public housing and affordable rents. Instead, the Paper of Record is running a concern-trolling piece about "compassion fatigue."  It seems that both ordinary Californians and burnt-out social workers are suffering an epidemic of "secondary trauma" just by having to  deal with and look at homeless people.

It all started with a letter from a Chicago reader named Ayanna, who asked the Times:

What detaches a person so far from human suffering/poverty/homelessness that they see people who are stricken with one or all three as a public nuisance?We can’t depend on the altruism of the wealthy to help solve the housing crisis. Housing policies must be equitable, inclusive and be pushed forth with the belief that shelter is a human right.”
But rather than contact local, state and federal officials to press them on why the housing crisis has gotten so out of hand, the Times asked a homelessness researcher from the University of Southern California about why ordinary people aren't more compassionate toward the homeless.

Well, according to Professor Benjamin Henwood, people are just sick and tired of witnessing misery. So if you, too, feel disgusted at the sight of homeless people, you need to be easier on yourself. You can help the homeless and develop empathy simply by taking a little time every day to think about them and try not stigmatize them so much. At the same time you should indulge in a little self-care and learn not to beat yourself up for having such callous feelings about people you see living on the streets.

As Henwood said:

While there’s not a lot of research on how best to address it, there are plenty of best practices that in different ways emphasize being kind to yourself. Of course, there may also be collective compassion fatigue, which can occur when the public is invested in trying to help address homelessness but don’t see the problem getting better.
"Best practices" in the neoliberal buzzword that obfuscates how policies and programs ostensibly designed to help the poor usually end up benefiting the rich investors in privatized programs that used to be under the sole purview of public agencies. Poverty is not a crisis, it is a business.  For example, it might be "best practices" for the wealthy donor class to suggest that slightly more privileged California residents put up homeless people in their backyards for a spell to qualify for a temporary property tax break or small stipend. It would not, however, be "best practiccs" to tax the wealthy in order to build a million subsidized housing units to permanently shelter the chronically unhoused.

So if the problem of homelessness rears its ugly head and offends the eyes of a country full of eyewitnesses, another "best practice" is to ever so subtly put the onus on the homeless people themselves. The Times interview with Henwood continues:

Q -We are often quick to reach into our pockets when disaster hits, like after an earthquake or wildfire, but do you think people are more reluctant to pitch in when it comes to helping the homeless?
 A- Homelessness is instead attributed to poor decision making or the fault of the person experiencing homelessness who we conclude are somehow to blame and not deserving of help or relief.
Notice the use of the passive voice. Henwood doesn't say who, exactly, blames the poor for their own plights. But he does passive-aggressively put the discredited message out there. The planting of a tainted theory with the caveat that it's tainted is still a plant.  Could it be that he doesn't want to bite the hands that fund his research at wealth-soaked USC? If he went so far as to clamor for  a wealth tax to build housing for the homeless, it might damage his research funding as much as it might damage the career trajectory of the Times reporter who limits her own inquiries to middle class attitudes about the homeless as a way to avoid directly addressing this humanitarian catastrophe. As I previously wrote in a piece about godzillionaire Bill Gates's method of helping the poor, our ruling class would rather spend their money studying problems than see any little smidgen of their excess cash going into the pockets of the poor. Therefore, the powerful are very fond of glibly ascribing the poverty caused by private equity and obscene wealth inequality to the drug addiction and mental illness of their targets. 

In other words, it's a way of stereotyping homeless people. Even well-meaning researchers send the message that a person is living on the streets for no other reason than addiction or mental illness. They never address the distinct  possibility that the drugs and the mental problems are the direct results of evictions and job losses caused by the financial meltdown of 2008, with fully 94 percent of all the recovered wealth going directly to the top one percent. They never talk about taxing the rich.

Another common liberal trope is to paint the slightly better off, but still- struggling general public as ignorant bigots, further relieving politicians and their deep pocketed donors of any and all culpability. It's the same trope that allows them to blast Donald Trump for the cruel rhetoric that accompanies his cruel policies as they themselves utter all the right liberal platitudes while doing absolutely nothing to rectify dire situations.

 Another word for this "best practice" is virtue-signaling.

It's the tired old ploy that just allowed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other centrist Democrats to wring their hands over Trump's food stamp cuts - without introducing any legislation to help the up to a million poor people now facing the loss of meals and home heating assistance.

The Times article about compassion fatigue syndrome hopelessly and cynically concludes with this smarmy little bit of stigma-fighting as a substitute for what the rest of the world is doing - striking, marching, rioting - to fight the cruelties of neoliberal capitalism.

What can we do to combat the stigma?
We haven’t studied and don’t know a lot about fighting stigma related to homelessness. In other fields we’ve looked at stigma related to, for example, serious mental illness and found that there are several approaches including disseminating information (e.g. people with serious mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crimes) and exposing the public to people who have disclosed having a mental illness.
These can be targeted anti-stigma campaigns or part of a much larger media campaign. More recently, there have been media campaigns that appear to be addressing stigma related to homelessness, but it isn’t clear whether the message “anyone can become homeless” impacts stigma since while this may be true, we also know that certain groups, including African-Americans, are more likely to become homeless in the United States.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Impeachment Show As War Propaganda

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff represents Hollywood. And as such, he was initially and very generously bankrolled by the likes of mega-director Steven Spielberg and former Disney honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg. He still enjoys one of the fattest campaign war chests of any member of Congress.

But politics is not by any means his first career choice. Schiff is a failed Hollywood screenwriter who, despite his current job, is still working on another script in hopes of finally making it as big in hometown Tinseltown as he's making it big in Washington. 

The impeachment report that he wrote and just released to glowing mainstream media reviews has all the trappings of the spy thriller which he admits to crafting in his spare time.  I predict that Tom Hanks will be tapped to play the part of the intrepid screenwriter-turned-prosecutor-turned congressman who, with the help of a few unaccountable and unelected patriots of the CIA and the State Department, saved the Permanent War State from Donald Trump's oafish transactional diplomacy and tepid and phony gestures toward world peace.

Schiff himself can do the off-screen sonorous voice-over of himself reading from his jingoistic, overblown Impeachment Report as the opening credits roll on the big screen, or more likely, on the small Netflix screen after the star-studded premiere at Constitution Hall or the Kennedy Center. Hear him now as you read the script:
America remains the beacon of democracy and opportunity for freedom-loving people around the world. From their homes and their jail cells, from their public squares and their refugee camps, from their waking hours till their last breath, individuals fighting for human rights, journalists uncovering and exposing corruption, persecuted minorities struggling to survive and preserve their faith, and countless others around the globe just hoping for a better life look to America. What we do will determine what they see, and whether America remains a nation committed to the rule of law.
Now, if the impeachment movie about the impeachment movie that is currently playing out in real, or actually unreal time, is a documentary rather than a fan-fic of the right-wing Neocon Democratic/CIA/ War Party in a pretend-battle against the ultra-right Neocon Republican/CIA/ War Party, among the images we should see on our screens are:

--The half million homeless people living in America on any given night. The situation is especially dire in Schiff's home state of California, due in large part to the mortgage foreclosures of the last decade, unaffordable rents charged by private equity landlords like Blackstone, job losses, lousy wages and other miseries orchestrated by and for the Oligarchy with the help of the corrupt political duopoly.An average of three homeless people die on the streets of Los Angeles County every single day. The death toll is expected to rise to a thousand in 2020. 

--Record numbers of mainly black and brown people locked up in America's for-profit privatized prisons, while white collar criminals like WeWork's Adam Neumann are not only going free, they're collecting billions of dollars in exit packages. And yes, there is already a Hollywood movie about this massive fraud in the works to give us a sense of theatrical justice in lieu of a televised perp walk or another true-life prison documentary.

--Increasing numbers of refugees and migrants arriving at our borders and Europe's to escape the crime and poverty engendered by US-led regime change coups and wars to advance corporate interests - what Adam Schiff and the Impeachers euphemize as "national security." Above all, the refugee crisis is engendered by the Capitalocene Epoch's destruction of the environment through forcing monoculture upon global populations at the very same time they imprison them with debt and austerity through International Monetary Fund loans. Border concentration camps for kids, with imprisoned refugees crying for freedom but mostly crying for their parents would be a top impeachable offense if it weren't so inconveniently bipartisan.

--As Schiff intones the words "to their last breath," we might see footage of Americans dying prematurely in record numbers because they can't afford to see a doctor. We might see child refugees drowning in bodies of water as disparate as the Rio Grande and the Mediterranean Sea in a futile attempt to escape the wars and famines directly caused by the same American foreign policy apparatus that Donald Trump is so seriously offending by using it for his own selfish political purposes.

--Schiff's introductory voice-over would conclude with the victims of America's drone wars. As he bloviates about how "persecuted minorities struggling to survive" look to America for hope, we will see terrorized Yemeni, Pakistani and Afghan children unable to sleep at night as they listen for the tell-tale signs of drone activity above their heads.

They need not wonder whether the removal or defeat of Trump will protect them. With the Obama Justice Department secretly drafting a "rule of law" which allows any president to act as their judge, jury and executioner, with no oversight and no accountability for "collateral damage," nobody is safe. The bodies are not even being counted.

They need not wonder whether America will protect them when Adam Schiff himself was among the Impeachers who just voted to renew the Patriot Act, granting the despised and feared Donald Trump the continuing  power to conduct unfettered mass surveillance. This is on top of most Democrats gifting him with more than $700 billion this year for more drones, bombs and such military hardware as a Hellfire missiles equipped with razor-sharp blades designed to slice people to death. Described as a 100-pound flying switchblade or "The Flying Ginsu." the  CIA and Pentagon developed this horrific weapon in secret, and justify its use by claiming that it spares "innocent civilians." So perhaps the Schiff movie could end with pictures of responsible slicing and dicing of humanity as a way to preserve the faith of the whole world in America's beneficence. After all, if the Guillotine could have been so successfully marketed as a humane death machine during the Reign of Terror, why not a guillotine that actually flies and kills by remote control?

 As a matter of fact, the Trump war machine just deployed another Flying Ginsu near the Turkey- Syria on Monday - the very same day that Adam Schiff released his impeachment recommendations. The razor blade bomb also reportedly was the weapon that took out ISIS leader Abu Khayr Al Masr two years ago.

The Impeachment Movie itself is a Grade Z slasher dud with some truly terrible and trite dialogue. And Adam Schiff and his supporting cast of complicit media and political enablers are reactionary box office poison. 

Personally, I could barely get past that one blood-curdling introductory paragraph of his report, which is nothing more than a propaganda broadside to gin up popular support of more endless wars for profit, the most deadly of which is currently waged by Ukraine proxy between two nuclear powers.  That potential apocalypse makes the Flying Ginsu look like a preschool Nerf sword set. 

But look over there! A corrupt president on one side of the US oligarchy tried to use an American-controlled corrupt foreign leader to investigate a corrupt domestic political rival on the other side of the US oligarchy. It's the only crime or scandal in the world that they're willing to talk about as they struggle to sell their competing narratives to a public that is either riled up out of all reason, or just plain bored.  

They want to deflect your attention from the real horrors, small or large, that afflict you and your fellow human beings every single day. If the corporate media doesn't cover them, they do not even exist.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Obama's Magical Thumb

Just as Barack Obama once bragged that he was the only thing standing between the criminal financial class and millions of angry "pitchforks," he's now posing as the only thing standing between  panic-stricken oligarchs and Bernie Sanders. Or so says the group-think media narrative in a rather blatant test of liberal loyalties. You can worship Obama, or you can agitate for a new New Deal, but you cannot possibly do both. Because that would be disloyal to Obama, beloved elder statesman and most admired man on earth according to a Gallup poll of about a thousand people.

As we have come to expect from the historically fawning media coverage of Obama, there's a lot of doublespeak involved in this narrative, which has the former president publicly vowing to support any Democratic nominee, but privately vowing to put a stop to Bernie if he threatens to run away with the nomination and thus prevents the brokered convention that could very well usher in the artificially reanimated corpse of Hillary Clinton.

There's even been some talk of Michelle Obama coming in to save the Neoliberal Project from Bernie Sanders. But if this were the case, she wouldn't be traveling to Singapore this month to schmooze with The Growth Faculty, a group of wealthy tax-avoiding American expatriates and multinational CEOs. To be fair, she won't actually be physically mingling with her fellow plutocrats at a pre-speech cocktail party. But she is charging as much as $3,000 a head, not only for front-row seating, but for a value-added separate red-carpeted VIP entrance reserved for the most well-heeled of the well-heeled. It's an expensive privilege to see Michelle Obama in the flesh, but it's even more of a privilege to be seen as being able to afford Michelle Obama. The ticket holders will be treated just like celebrities at the Oscars, waving to envious gawking onlookers behind the ropes, who cannot afford the high price of admission. Michelle Obama makes Hillary Clinton's Goldman Sachs speeches look like pep talks to the Podunk Rotary Club.

Hubby Barack is also headed to Singapore, where one out of every six residents is a millionaire. But he will not be sharing the stage with Michelle. Why do two for the price of one when the affluent audience can very well afford the high price of two separate Obama-ramas? But he does manage to outshine Michelle by not only offering a pen and a notebook and the red carpet treatment for attendees, he's also giving away a special souvenir lanyard and a wine-soaked three course lunch (which he will sadly not attend.)

Notice the Carefully Hidden Thumb

This is the same Obama who just told another group of stateside plutocratic fans fearful of a Sanders or Elizabeth Warren presidency that "when you listen to the average voter — even ones who aren’t stalwart Democrats, but who are more independent or are low-information voters — they don’t feel that things are working well, but they’re also nervous about changes that might take away what little they have."

So if he wants to convince the average, barely making it, low-information (read: stupid) voter that other average stupid voters don't want to tear down the the oligarchic system that he, Barack Obama, worked so hard to perfect during his eight years in office, he'd better hurry home from Singapore for a non-stop condescending lecture tour right where the Lowlife Low-Info rabble lives. That's because Bernie Sanders is once again topping many polls.

Obama's mission, if he chooses to accept it, will be to hammer home the "electability" trope that Democratic Party fortunes are more important than the existential crises of climate, health care, housing, unbridled militarism, excessive surveillance and incarceration, low wages and crushing household debt, His mission might be even more effective if he stops by Flint, Michigan to take another ghoulishly disdainful sip of lead-contaminated water to prove to the Low-Info crowd that lead is harmless. Too abrupt of a change to a cleaner system might make them nervous. They don't want to lose the contaminated water that they already have.

Aggression is not in the Democratic Party's job description. Just remember Obama's blase reaction to Trump's election in 2016, soothing that Trump and the Dems are all on the same team, fighting within the safe 40 yard line. He was absolutely correct. The oligarchs will be safe, no matter who is president. Except, of course, if Bernie Sanders becomes president.

In the last 40 years, playing defense in the center of the field has been the D Team's only strategy. Tactics have included "defending" Social Security from Republican predation by raising the retirement age. There was Obama's noble but rebuffed offer to scale back cost of living increases for retirees, surviving parents and children and the disabled. Besides snipping social programs, the D Team can also be relied upon to protect abortion rights by not fighting all that hard in the Senate to prevent anti-abortion judges from advancing to the Supreme Court.

Notwithstanding that by any fact-based metric (including the loss of a thousand Democratic seats during his tenure), Obama was a failed president, he is still marketed as possessing a magical thumb with which to push down on a voter scale and influence the primary election outcome. Notwithstanding that this same magical thumb pressed very hard on the Hillary scale in 2016 and actually gave the election to Donald Trump, the Magical Thumb cliche remains a favorite of the Media/Political Complex.

From The Hill:

Former President Obama has emerged as a key player in the Democratic presidential primary race.
He hasn’t put his thumb on the scale for any one candidate in particular. But in two different speeches this month, he has made clear that presidential hopefuls would be wise to avoid moving too far to the left if they hope to win back the White House in 2020.
And The American Prospect:
Obama has determined to put his thumb on the primary scale, and he couches his critique in the language of electability, in what voters really want. Practically every Democrat in America wants to eject Donald Trump from the White House, and ask 100 of them and you get 101 theories of how to make that happen. But without doubting Obama’s sincerity that a moderate politics and only a moderate politics can spell victory next November, I can’t help but notice the audiences for his targeted attacks on progressive policy: wealthy donors in the most rarefied, winner-take-all enclaves of America, whether in Washington last week or San Francisco on Thursday.
The National Review:

Look, everybody knows — I think everybody knows, we didn’t only serve together, but our families are close. We became very close personal friends . . . I didn’t want it to look like he was putting his thumb on the scale here. And that, you know, I’m gonna do this based on who I am, not by the president going out and trying to say, ‘This is the guy you should be with,’” Biden said during an interview on The View in April.
The former adviser (Valerie Jarrett) said she was "not going to put my thumb on the scale. Because at this time when Barack Obama was running in 2007, he was down by 30 points and Hilary Clinton was the inevitable candidate,
Now, lest the Low Info Hordes of America feel that their own short brutish thumbs are being neglected in all this elite pressing upon the scales, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has a more egalitarian take on the Doped-Up Horserace. As reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal:
He also appealed directly to Nevadans, saying that the voters of this state wield considerable political power due to its early caucus.
“You have a thumb on the scale,” Buttigieg said. “Please use it well. Please tell your friends. The biggest decider in whether somebody gets involved who wasn’t already is not whether somebody like me asks them, it’s whether somebody they know asks them.”
Who needs a brain when all you need is a magical thumb that you can call your very own - once, of course, you heed the centrist wisdom of Mayor Pete and only press responsibly. Your thumbs are so much more than the texting appendages of your smartphone.

And who needs pollsters and Nate Silver's analyses and predictions when you can opt to use your thumbs the magical Shakespearean witchery way and intone "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes" whenever you hear Obama sermonize, or read a scare-mongering article about powerful thumbs on scales making a mockery of what is still left of our democracy.

Obama's over-hyped thumbs should be the least of our worries. Despite all the media propaganda, his thumbs are no more powerful than anybody else's. Remember all the good his mighty magical thumb did Hillary Clinton, and how she and her team were themselves all thumbs in their contrivance of the failed #Russiagate scandal to explain how Obama's thumb turned out to be nothing but a useless arthritic pinkie finger.

As Obama and the rest of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party preen and posture, loom and lecture, let's remember that all Obama is really doing is thumbing his nose at us. As the First Witch in Macbeth so sagely predicted,

Shall he dwindle, peak and pine:
Though his bark cannot be lost
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.

Flight of Witches by Arthur Rackham