Sunday, May 19, 2019

War Crime and Punishment, American-Style

If you are a soldier or a mercenary accused or already convicted of a war crime, President Trump will gladly grant you a pardon. Just in time for Memorial Day! He'll even call you a hero and patriot if your sadistic actions against human beings were especially gruesome and outrageous.

But, if you are a former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower named Chelsea Manning, and were instrumental in exposing war crimes to the world, you've been thrown back in jail. Not only that, you'll be heftily fined for every single day that you refuse to cooperate with the US government. The so-called Justice Department refuses to back down from its relentless demands that you testify, before a top-secret grand jury, against the publisher of damning and incontrovertible evidence of United States war crimes. 

Physical (due to gender transition medical issues requiring specialized care), psychological and economic torture are your own very special Memorial Day treats from the Trump administration. You are essentially being punished for the same things you already admitted to and served years in prison for, before Barack Obama ultimately commuted your sentence rather than issue you a complete pardon.

And if you are Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks publisher of Manning's cache of war crime evidence, then you, too. have been jailed in Great Britain as you fight extradition to the United States on a trumped-up "conspiracy" charge related to the massive 2010 document dump outlining United States malfeasance ranging from the banal and petty to the brutal and deadly.

Such is the upside-down system of justice of the Permanent War State, a/k/a the World's Sole Remaining Superpower.  By their cowardly, vicious and hypocritical acts ye shall know them.

Some of the servicemen for whom Trump is considering pardons have already been convicted of murder. The New York Times broke the story on Saturday:
One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.
The others are believed to include the case of a former Blackwater security contractor recently found guilty in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis; the case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, the Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; and the case of a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters.
Trump has already pardoned one convicted murderer, Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who'd been found guilty of the 2008 killing of an Iraqi prisoner during an "interrogation."

Special Ops chief Gallagher is accused of recklessly gunning down several people, including a woman wearing a hijab and an elderly man. He is also charged with stabbing to death a young captive who was receiving emergency medical treatment for his injuries, a killing that Gallagher later reportedly bragged about in emails.

It seems obvious that by pardoning these people right in the middle of enhanced saber-rattling by his Neocon advisers, who are itching for a war of aggression against Iran, Trump is sending a not-too-subtle message to his base of supporters. The message is two-fold: he's got their backs for the damage already done in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is loath to send any more of them to fight and die anywhere else.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd suggests that for once in his reign of error, Trump could act as the proverbial "adult in the room" if he controls his in-house war-mongers, particularly National Security Adviser John Bolton, one of the original architects of the Iraq War and also one of the brainless brains behind the ongoing US-led coup attempt in Venezuela.
In an echo of the hawks conspiring with Iraqi exiles to concoct a casus belli for Iraq, Bolton told members of an Iranian exile group in Paris in 2017 that the Trump administration should go for regime change in Tehran.
 “And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!” Bolton cheerily told the exiles.
When Bolton was the fifth column in the Bush 2 State Department — there to lurk around and report back on flower child Colin Powell — he complained that W.’s Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) was too limited, adding three more of his own (Cuba, Libya, Syria). Then, last year, Bolton talked about “the Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela). His flirtations with military intervention in Venezuela this month irritated Trump.
My published response:
Trump won election in many of the distressed locales that sent a disproportionate number of their sons and daughters to fight and die in Bush's wars. Thus, his reluctance to send more troops on another misguided and deadly adventure. This is his voting base we're talking about. And he did make his opposition to Bush's wars a campaign issue.
 It's not that he cares a fig about these people. of course. It's that he wants another term.
He also doesn't care about all the Middle Eastern civilians who have died, been injured, displaced and finally, been denied refuge in the US by Trump. If he didn't despise them, he wouldn't be readying pardons for several US troops accused or convicted of war crimes Meanwhile, whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been sent back to jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury against WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, who published evidence of these war crimes and whom the Trumpies seek to extradite.
 Talk about a topsy-turvy world!
The scary thing is, Trump could revert to temper tantrum mode in an instant if a Gulf of Tonkin-type pretext convinces him that he has no other choice.
 Finally, too many in the media, even erstwhile Trump critics, still have never met a war they didn't like. The journalistic cheerleaders of the Iraq War are still around to act as propaganda tools of their sponsors in the weapons, aerospace and oil industries, which always profit the most from the blood of innocents.
It's way past time for another anti-war movement.
Given that we no longer have a draft, that last suggestion is not too likely to happen. Absent a mass moral awakening in this country to the unequal class aspect of our forever-wars, the mostly poor and working-class people who get killed in them tend to slide down the Orwellian memory hole of the collective American psyche.

A study jointly conducted by professors at Boston University and the University of Michigan Law School concluded there is indeed a direct correlation between the number of casualties from three specific states during the Bush-Obama wars and the 2016 election results in those states.

From the report's synopsis:
"Trump was speaking to this forgotten part of America. Even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump. Our statistical model suggests that if three states key to Trump’s victory – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – had suffered even a modestly lower casualty rate, all three could have flipped from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House.
There are many implications of our findings, but none as important as what this means for Trump’s foreign policy. If Trump wants to win again in 2020, his electoral fate may well rest on the administration’s approach to the human costs of war. Trump should remain highly sensitive to American combat casualties, lest he become yet another politician who overlooks the invisible inequality of military sacrifice. More broadly, the findings suggest that politicians from both parties would do well to more directly recognize and address the needs of those communities whose young women and men are making the ultimate sacrifice for the country."
The moral of this story is that if we can't appeal to amoral politicians' humanity and altruism, then at least we should be able to appeal to their political self-interest. 

Maybe that's wishful thinking too.

Iraq War cheerleader Joe Biden, who currently leads in the polls for the Democratic nomination, not only made the decision to plop his own campaign headquarters in Pennsylvania, he also delivered his official maiden campaign speech in Philly over the weekend. He didn't mention bringing home the troops and ending Permawar. He called instead for "unity" and bipartisanship, and a return to the golden years of the previous administration, bragging about passage of the increasingly costly and restrictive Affordable Care Act and a tepid economic stimulus program that did little to make people's lives better.

In a move reminiscent of an aviator jacket-attired George W. Bush strutting on board a Navy aircraft carrier to deliver his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech, Biden strode onstage and manfully "ripped off his aviator sunglasses and threw his jacket into the crowd... the event felt like authentic Biden."(according to a Politico reporter on the scene of the boilerplate action.) 

Ugh.

When will they ever learn?

As repulsive as Trump's looming pardons for a handful of murderous service members may be, are they any more repulsive than Barack Obama schmoozing that "We must look forward, not back" to explain that he would not be holding Bush, Cheney, current CIA Director Gina Haspel and the whole gruesome gang accountable for their own war crimes and torture sessions as well as for the illegal invasion of Iraq itself? Are they any more repulsive than Obama ruefully admitting that "we tortured some folks" as he redacted whole chunks of the Senate report on torture that the CIA had already hacked? Although these politicians and apparatchiks never (I assume) personally wielded an assault rifle or a combat knife or operated a drone joystick or dropped a bomb, they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for the deaths and injuries and psychic damage done to millions of people in the name of American "democracy."

It's just as repulsive that the United States is the only Western democracy that has refused to sign the Rome Statute treaty, which would render it culpable in the International War Crimes tribunal. As a matter of fact, if any high or low American official is ever hauled before this court to face justice, there's a law passed by Congress authorizing the American military to break the suspects out their Hague holding cells and whisk them off to the safety of Homeland soil.

Guess who dreamed up that self-immunizing policy? Perhaps one reason that Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange have been persecuted and deemed permanent enemies of the state is that the WikiLeaks cables also revealed how John Bolton came up with the idea of immunizing the U.S. government from international war crimes statutes as well as from the laws of the countries they were invading and occupying.

So perhaps the most valuable mission that Trump has ever unintentionally accomplished is that he has freed other nations, especially in Europe, from the bonds of paying unquestioning homage to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Knaves.

The Iraq invasion's hideous "Coalition of the Willing" is no more.

So maybe somebody should inform the stubborn war-hungry Neocons in both of our establishment political parties and the corporate media of that inconvenient fact.

Somebody should also clue them in to the fact that that their continuing punishment of Chelsea Manning for leaking the "collateral murder" video is so warped and so unjust as to be criminally insane.

Finally, somebody should tell them that Julian Assange is a publisher deserving of the same First Amendment protections as every other journalist. 





Friday, May 17, 2019

Slow-Jamming #Resistance, Inc.

Like neglected children, congressional Democrats are once again pinning all their hopes on Deadbeat Dad Robert Mueller III. The chief Russiagate investigator had come under liberal fire in recent weeks not only for failing to make the facts fit MSNBC's conspiracy theories, but for not immediately disowning Attorney General William Barr's semi-accurate spin on the long-awaited report.

Therefore, the Desperate Dems hope to haul Mueller in the actual flesh before their committees to try and elicit the secret inner workings of his mind. If he gives them what they want, who knows? He might even be re-elevated to the Father of Our Country status he had enjoyed for the past couple of years. As long as they could count on getting their child support payments, with interest, in the not-too-distant future, they were quite content these past few years to subsist on their own speculative hot air as the official gourmet feast was being quietly and painstakingly prepared for them.

It's safe to say that the Democrats are now officially in the bargaining phase of their Five Stages of Russiagate Grief. Still awaiting salvation and sustenance from Mueller, whose public testimony is still far from a done deal, they've had to satisfy themselves this week with another marathon reading, this time with a cameo by John Cusack, of the entire redacted Mueller report. Unlike the usual grandstanding Congressional theatrics, though, the ensemble cast's bravura performance was conducted in a private room and live-streamed on C-Span for viewing by anybody with 12 masochistic hours to kill.

House Judiciary Chair Adam Schiff was certainly not sated by the performance, demanding to hear from Mueller himself, because "seeing is believing, hearing is believing." In other words, if only Mueller can channel his inner Rachel Maddow, all might be forgiven.

Unless and until it is proven otherwise by the special counsel himself,  the suspicion lingers that Mueller could have written his report under the influence. He might not have written or redacted the report himself. He could even be a Russian asset. The revered elder statesman that everybody assumed was Mueller could even be an alien pod person who took over Mueller's body when we weren't looking. This is far more plausible than it sounds, given that Mueller has rarely been seen and virtually never heard in public during the years that everybody naively assumed he was carefully plodding through his investigation and discovering the desired facts. 

So if Mueller finally does appear before Congress and he does stick to his findings, the next step of the Desperate Dems might include using advanced technology to discern whether his eyes turn into red pulsating pinwheels while he stands firmly by his written words. At the very least, they can produce body language experts to interpret the testimony, and cable talking heads can count how many times Mueller blinks every time he persists in alleging that there was no grand conspiracy between Trump and Putin.

The New York Times cuts right to the chase and reports that the Democrats' biggest fear is that they are not keeping the manufactured public fear of TrumPutin and Russia sufficiently alive. People might actually be losing interest in the Mueller Report, which had immediately shot to the top of the bestseller lists when it was hastily printed, redactions and all, in book form last month. Things are now getting so fraught that Michelle Obama's memoir even threatens to reclaim its rightful place at Number One.

From the Times:
Any appearance by Mr. Mueller, however noncommittal or boring it turns out to be, is one of the only means to snap the issue of Mr. Trump’s actions back to center stage, they said, along with testimony from someone like Mr. (former White House chief counsel Don) McGahn.
Shakespeare was only partly right. All the world's a stage, for sure. But it's really not the play that's the thing when it comes to Washington theatrics. It's the relentless hyping of the play. It's the production of constant cliff-hangers to keep us binge-watching and riveted on anything except the myriad existential crises that the political class is doing nothing to address or remedy. 

With that truism in mind, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally allowed on Thursday that while she is still averse to bringing impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, she is now a little more open to talking about impeachment. And who knows, she added, given that Trump is providing them new grounds for impeachment every single day with his obstructions of House subpoenas, he could even end up impeaching his own self with no effort even needed by the Democrats!

Impeachment doesn't necessarily mean a definite move to remove Trump from office, it means constructing a legal path to arrive at the facts, she cogently explained. Courts are also more likely to take Trump's obstruction seriously if the I word is tacked on to the Democrats' legal challenges to his recalcitrance.

 "You never say, blanketly, I'm not answering any subpoenas," Pelosi chided Trump at a different appearance Thursday at Georgetown University.

Blanketly? I checked, and it's a real adverb, meaning that one approach should never be applied to too many disparate things. Now, I may be too much of a literal thinker, but when I first read that statement, it immediately conjured up a mental picture of Linus stubbornly and blissfully clutching his security blanket despite Lucy's hectoring.




Marx was right about tragedy and farce. Not only does history keep repeating itself, the repetitions are now coming so close together that the genres seamlessly merge and become indistinguishable from one another. The messages become mixed and the actors all mixed up as the whole facade crumbles around them, and the curtain falls.

Until next time. Stayed tuned for another exciting episode. True, it may turn out to be as boring as the last one, but the anticipation alone is guaranteed to keep our eyes glued to the ubiquitous screens that, like Linus's lovey, have become virtual and indispensable parts of our physical and mental selves.

Lose our gadgets blanketly? Shut the blankety-blank up!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

He's a Yankee Doodle Donald

In case you hadn't heard, President Trump will be the star of his own Fourth of July show in Washington this year.

Righteous people are all upset about the plans, because they deviate so recklessly from The Norm of presidents just sitting sedately on the White House balcony and watching the fireworks explode above our nation's great phallic symbol, a/k/a the Washington Monument. This monument might have presaged Trump when it sustained serious cracks a few years back due to a renegade earthquake believed to be caused by some very serious fracking in the area.



USA! USA! USA!

One typical headline bemoaning the sacrilege to be perpetrated upon our Great National Birthday is "Donald Trump Is Not America." 


 Oh, yeah?


New York Times columnist Frank Bruni says he hates to waste his valuable column real estate on Trump, but sometimes patriotism and decency demand that he take a stand, that he set people and Trump himself straight on the fact that this holiday cannot, just cannot, be all about Him:

Most of his predecessors did nothing of the kind. They understood that the day belonged to the country, not its leader, and they didn’t conflate the two.
Trump does, all the time, and it’s alternately annoying, confounding and galling. If you’re not thrilling to his vision and submitting to him, you’re possibly guilty of treason — remember that rant? If you’re asking legitimate questions about unholy alliances that he may have forged or conflicts of interest he may possess, you’re orchestrating a coup.
Most Black people and native Americans also understand that this holiday was never about them, given that the great white Fathers and Constitution-writers decreed that the enslaved would be only counted as three-fifths of a person -- and that was only so that plantation owners could be as well-represented in Congress as their northern Brethren. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, certainly did not include the people he purported to own in his assertion that "all men are created equal." And as for the Indians, they had already been personae-non-grata and extermination fodder for hundreds of years prior to the signing of the national birth certificate - or, in the contiguous future USA, at least since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock settlers began infecting them with their European diseases before expelling them and killing them.

So, again, Trump is simply ripping the mask right off all the historical and hysterical hypocrisy that is the very heart of the Fourth of July. He is exposing and encapsulating and symbolizing American Exceptionalism into one symbolic little blob of corpulent flesh.


My comment on the Bruni column:

Trump's bizarre-spangled Fourth would lose its luster if only the cable TV networks will set aside their greed for one magical night and patriotically refuse to broadcast this grotesque event.
Will they, though? His Nuremberg-style rallies are always reliably lucrative for the networks and their corporate sponsors. Think of the audience share and the ratings, the blow-by-blow coverage starting at the crack of dawn's early light, the talking heads acting out all the shock, awe and outrage they can muster.
Who in their right consumer mind has ever stayed home on the Fourth to watch military brass bands playing on PBS, or a rerun of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" with James Cagney as George M. Cohan? Trump could literally change the whole tradition and meaning of this day for at least some people.
 Not that he'd use the occasion for the public good, of course, such as lecturing young people not to blow their fingers or their MAGA-hat wearing heads off with illegal fireworks. In fact, he might do the exact opposite, and load up his cheesy online store with Trump-branded sparklers or rocket grenade launchers for the kiddies. It would certainly help get people all hyped up for all the new global wars he seems so anxious to start with his pals Bolton and Pompeo.
 Boycott Trump this Fourth of July. As George M. Cohan might say as he rolls in his grave: "My mother will thank you, my father will thank you, my sister will thank you, and I will thank you!"





Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Biden Critic Who Came In From the Cold

What's a well-paid New York Times columnist who moonlights as a regular MSNBC contributor to do when, repulsed as she is by Creepy Uncle Joe, realizes that her career probably depends on at least passive-aggressively promoting Creepy Uncle Joe in the interests of her corporate sponsors?

If you're Michelle Goldberg, and you have previously opined that Biden should never run for president, then the first step in your rehabilitation is to write a chastened column about all the polls that show Joe Biden with a substantial lead. You then subtly denigrate the anti-Biden "online left". You provide no evidence to back up your claim that this group has little to no influence over the vast, silent majority of Democratic "moderates" for whom the defeat of Trump trumps everything else. Defeating Trump is more important than Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. Those nice things are for the "future" of the Democratic Party, not for the precarious present of the actual people and the planet they live on.


As horrible a candidate as Joe Biden is, after all, he could never be as horrible as Donald Trump.


Goldberg seems to want to have it both ways. She gives her reluctant tacit approval to the "electable" Biden, while still clinging tenuously to her faux-progressive feminist brand:

 I still think it’s a bad idea for the party to nominate a man who, among other things, voted to authorize the Iraq war and oversaw the televised humiliation of Anita Hill. But while it’s still very early, his poll numbers suggest that those of us who’d written Biden off could be the ones who are out of step with a lot of Democrats. (my bold).
The future of the Democratic Party is still with left-wing social media dynamos like Ocasio-Cortez. As Niall Ferguson and Eyck Freymann recently wrote in The Atlantic, she’s “often described as a radical, but the data show that her views are close to the median for her generation.” Right now, though, her generation is mostly in charge only online.
How odd that even though Goldberg had long ago dutifully joined the media chorus insisting that a Russian troll farm swayed an entire election by posting a few hundred cheesy ads online, the "Online Left" back home in the USA does not wield similar power and influence.

One explanation for this alleged lack of power and influence, she continues, is that MSNBC doesn't give lefty ideas as much coverage as Fox News gives to those in its own right-wing audience.

MSNBC (where I’m a contributor) doesn’t play a remotely similar role in mainstreaming fringe ideas. Polls tell us that Democratic voters don’t rely on it as their main news source the way Republican voters do with Fox, and it doesn’t take its cues from online left-wing subcultures. In fact, it often seems that Fox News pays more attention to progressive Twitter than MSNBC does, because the right-wing network loves to jeer at anything that looks like lefty overreach.
She doesn't mention that MSNBC also loves to regularly jeer at leftists, including but not limited to Bernie Sanders. The most infamous incident took place in March, when a different on-air contributor falsely claimed that Sanders had not mentioned gender or race until 23 minutes into his campaign announcement speech. (He had mentioned them immediately, and to this day, MSNBC has not issued a correction or apologized.)

She also doesn't name any "online left-wing subcultures," other than AOC's twitter account, or even explain what she means by this dismissive term. But by lumping them all together into one fringe-dwelling pot, she does manage to make them seem both suspect and scary. At most, she damns them with her very faint praise. They're not radical at all, but by golly, they're still fringe-dwellers despite the overwhelming support of more than 90 percent of registered Democrats for single payer health care.


I suspect that if Michelle Goldberg had mentioned the inconvenient truth that MSNBC is essentially a corporate Democratic Party propaganda mill and regularly lies by both commission and omission, she would no longer have her lucrative gig on MSNBC. Members of its revolving stable of occasional contributors get paid a reported average $85,000 to $100,000 a year to be available to rehash and promote their articles, their think tank research papers, and their Democratic Party consulting work. Their job is to agree with each other, and occasionally debate GOP operatives and politicians in the interest of "balance" and for shouting-over purposes. This keeps the audience glued to the screen in a simulacrum of mass indignation and righteous liberal solidarity. If it's not about the anti-Trump #Resistance, Inc., "the Russians," or the Mueller Report soap opera, then it does not exist.



Michelle Goldberg

Goldberg seems to have gotten the message that the time has now arrived for even the mildly restive liberal stable to get trotting in unison in the spectacle of the Horse Race, mainly by endlessly promoting that P.R. gimmick called "electability." (As I wrote last week, the electability gimmick was dreamed up in the 1980s by the Democratic Leadership Council to justify implementation of the undemocratic superdelegate system as a means to steer the party toward the right and keep it there permanently.)


Goldberg thus dutifully continues:

In his own horrific way, Trump seemed to expand the possibilities of American politics, making it seem as if the old rules of electability no longer applied. Many of us assumed that the expansion would go in both directions, since Trump’s rise represented such a catastrophic failure of the political center. But there are a lot of Democrats who don’t want a revolution, or even a protracted political fight. They just want things to be the way they were before Trump came along, when ordinary people didn’t have to think about Twitter at all.
My published comment: 
 The media promotion of Biden proceeds apace. Michelle Goldberg basically shrugs "what do I know?" as she pivots from finding Biden borderline-abhorrent to acknowledging that The Polls Speak.
 But what about those polls? What percentage of the people questioned were contacted by cell phone as opposed to landline? Few young people have landlines. "Biden leading by double digits!" is about as far as most people read. The polls then become a self-fulfilling prophecy and a magnet for the undecided voter.
Meanwhile,there are fewer stories about Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and other candidates. There are Zero stories about Tulsi Gabbard, whose opposition to the regime-change wars embraced by both establishment parties and mainstream media outlets makes her persona non grata in the "official narrative."
 Michelle Goldberg acknowledges that she is also a contributor on MSNBC, which exposes yet another problem of journalism. One corporate outlet or personality quotes another corporate outlet or personality, and ad infinitum until it all becomes "the conventional wisdom."
Beating Trump is now the be-all and end-all as news and political personalities and the "horse race" supersede deep discussions and reporting about the everyday problems of ordinary people.
 No wonder impeachment is "off the table." It would take attention away from the candidate whose main policy platform is "restoring America's soul." Whatever that even means.
 Who's up? Who's down? Who cares?

Monday, May 13, 2019

A Few Degrees Of Separation

By Jay - Ottawa

Just about every day, the news, with its endless reports of injustice and lunacy, can push us to react with 'a belly full of hate' (h/t Mao).  Whether for the perps (them) or the perped upon (us), hate can be injurious to your physical and mental health.  Reading about Trump and remembering his recent predecessors/predators in the White House (and the candidates who hope to scramble their way up the steps into the WH), as well as their henchmen wielding bureaucracies the Romans would envy, probably does lead to ulcers and more serious ailments of mind and body.  Printers' ink is so often poison.

We want heroes, we need heroes, not merely to keep us out of the doctor's office for belly aches and depression, but to provide us with the oxygen of inspiration.  There are people out there who are clear-minded and persistent workers, who are effective in creating zones of justice.  Take courage; those preserves are larger than we realize.

Chris Hedges interviews makers of justice zones regularly.  A few weeks ago he introduced his readers to Adam Frank, an astrophysicist who writes books for laypeople as well as his professional colleagues.  In researching Frank and, later, buying one of his books, I was led to a website called Orbiter, where Frank is a contributor.  Orbiter's purpose: 

 "To elevate and enrich the public conversation about science, meaning, and morality. Orbiter seeks to bring accuracy, balance, and humility to a conversation about ideas that are often mischaracterized and misunderstood.

So, Orbiter serves the needs of science to more widely communicate its findings and leaves the back door open to philosophers like Blaise Pascal: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of….  We know the truth not only through reason, but through the heart.” 

The Buddha, giving high place to compassion, may have been asserting the same thing.  Here's a talk by a Tibetan monk (1978) who, after a little windup, launches into one of the most touching salutes to mothers as exemplars of compassion.  (Just in time for Mother's Day in the US and Canada.)

Back to the need for heroes.  What did I find in my pass by Orbiter today?  A celebration of (of all people) Jean Vanier, a Frenchman whose non-medical solution to a medical problem has been copied in scores of countries.  Vanier died this week on Tuesday, age 90. His obituary appeared in the NY Times. 

Another obit can be found in Orbiter.  How come?  Vanier was not a scientist, but he did develop a few formulas that work.  He received the Templeton Prize in 2015, and I believe it's the Templeton Foundation that helps Orbiter stay afloat ($) to peddle science coupled with wisdom. 

Vanier found one approach to deal with the mildly mentally handicapped, which technique has been doing just fine by itself until science in its own special way comes up with a silver bullet to cure them. 

There is a short video at the bottom of the Orbiter article where Vanier describes the ridiculously unscientific, unsophisticated, heartfelt ideas that have helped make his chosen group of nobodies into valued, joyful somebodies.  May this heroic news serve as your antidote for the front page of tomorrow. 

Chris Hedges, Adam Frank, Orbiter, Templeton, Jean Vanier, all addressing the belly, the brain and the heart.  They are lights within the dark matter of the universe, with not so many degrees of separation and therefore a force.

Friday, May 10, 2019

New Democrats Enter Their Golden Oldie Moldy Years

Stung by Richard Nixon's landslide victory over George McGovern in 1972 and then battered by Ronald Reagan's crushing of one-term Jimmy Carter in 1980, the Democratic Party decided it needed a "third way" approach to win back power. They would accomplish this by starting a movement they dubbed the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). It arrived complete with 140 congress critters and governors and a set of neoliberal principles which purported to split the difference equally between the working class and the big business/corporate class.

First they would need to co-opt and then distort the egalitarian rhetoric and policies of FDR's New Deal by conflating representative democracy with consumer capitalism. This new definition wholeheartedly adopted Reagan's "government is the problem" dog-whistled means to demonize the poor and minorities while downplaying the cruel agenda with their own meaningless platitudes about acceptance and inclusivity.


The DLC Agenda would not be so crass as to openly pummel the poor and minorities while they were down, or call single Black mothers "Cadillac welfare queens."  It would instead offer the down-and-out a series of gentle shaming kicks and shoves in order to get them scrambling up invisible ladders of self-help and opportunity.


Joe Biden, the current alleged Democratic front-runner, was not only one of the original founding members of the DLC, he was also one of its very first presidential recruits. As Goldwater-style movement conservatism was gaining traction during the 1970s, Democratic leaders looked at this new rising star and realized how well he could co-opt his own working class background and put some of his down-home rhetoric into the service of the corporations. Biden was considered a natural to pander to the blue-collar white voters who had fled to the Republican Party in droves, thanks largely to Reagan's fear-mongering on race. That populist mystique still clings to him, despite the harsh reality of every reactionary thing he has accomplished politically in the last nearly half-century.



Say Uncle, Or Bust!

 Back in the 80s, the three most common "colorblind" euphemisms for the "N" word being utilized by Biden and both establishment political parties were Welfare, Drugs, and Crime.


Reagan himself not so subtly railed against welfare queens and "young bucks" on food stamps in such blatantly symbolic places as Mississippi. But the Democrats, who still needed the support of black and brown people in the South, had to be a tad more politically correct. 


Mere months after Reagan took office, DLC architect Al From recalls, the House's then-named New Democratic Caucus was absolutely thrilled when on April 9, 1981, the New York Times published, verbatim, his entire "movement manifesto" of economic principles.


This nearly 40-year-old document has become the Bible of every conservative Democratic administration since Clinton, seamlessly morphing into Obama acting as the other heel of the Bush Jr sandwich filling...  and just wait till next year - or so From's neoliberal centrist wing of the party hopes  - to get Joe Biden for dessert, the goofy guy whom conservative Democrats have been hankering for as their president since 1972, when he was still only a 29-year-old senator (D-Capitol One) from Delaware, LLC/USA.


The first DLC (later renamed the "New Democrats" in the age of Obama) principle, after they get the requisite gushing over the New Deal out of the way, is austerity, or deficit reduction, even when times are bad, as a guard against inflation. Inflation hasn't been a problem since the 70s, but once they get all ballooned up with their addictive hot air, the Inflationistas and Deficit Hawks never die. The difference is that when Republicans cycle into power, deficits don't matter when it comes to giving tax breaks to the rich. And when it's the Democrats' turn, all programs benefiting regular people must be "paid for" by cutting other programs benefiting regular people. Both parties always exempt the permanent war machine from any of their inflation fear-mongering.


A related founding principle, a/k/a shameless propaganda, of the DLC is that since "people" (the rich) demand austerity and spending cuts, the New Democrats must always try to placate (the rich and) Republicans as a show of their good faith. But to prove that they really also care about the working and poor people who actually vote them into office, the Democrats will quickly add that the wealthy should (it's just a suggestion) equally share the burden of sacrifice.


Here's the clunky concluding chunk of the first Official DLC Manifesto reprinted verbatim for your reading pleasure. I have bolded all the neoliberal keywords, which have survived for four decades to poison our minds and our spirits and our lives to this very day. These principles remain at the rotten core of the Joe Biden agenda. They were baked into his political psyche from the very beginning of his career... which, by the way, more or less coincided with the beginning of Donald Trump's own career:

In controlling Federal spending, we intend to abide by the following guidelines:
-We will seek out and eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse. We will provide the resources to prosecute those taking advantage of government benefits to which they are not entitled, whether wealthy tax evaders, illegal monopolies or participants in welfare fraud.
- We will promote the work ethic by encouraging recipients of government assistance to work and resisting cuts that would throw people out of work and onto welfare. 
- We will help those who cannot work, particularly the disabled, the sick and the elderly. A society cannot remain health and self-respecting while ignoring those who are poor and helpless through no fault of their own.
 - We will strengthen our defense force, in cooperation with our allies, to ensure world peace. We will increase military capability and readiness, eliminate Pentagon waste and renew the search for mutual arms control agreements.
- We will promote cooperation rather than conflict among the levels of government. We must recognize local strengths, local initiative and regional differences in the country as we decide the structure and number of Federal programs. We will not purposely add unnecessary tax and regulatory burdens to state and local governments.
 We will examine indirect spending through the tax code with the same critical eye we focus on direct spending. Wasteful and unfair tax loopholes will be closed.
- We will upgrade our efforts in the area of law enforcement to intercept the flow of illegal drugs across our borders, stem the tide of illegal immigration, introduce efficiencies into our criminal justice system, and work in partnership with state and local governments to combat crime. 
 - In short, we pledge to develop a lean Federal budget, which puts us on the path of balancing the budget and provides for the human needs of our people.
Translating the above into normal person-speak:

-- A poor single mother on food stamps is the same kind of villain as Donald Trump. We will demonize and even jail the poor mother while comparing her to Donald Trump, whom we never prosecuted or imprisoned. Not only that, we'll even promote him to our friends in corporate media as our Pied Piper GOP nominee, just to make DLC original founding member Hillary Clinton look better.


--The DLC, under Bill Clinton, soon got its dream fulfilled when millions of poor mothers got thrown off welfare in the 90s, only to be thrown into low-wage or non-existent jobs without the promised child care aid. At the same time, Donald Trump kept "losing" billions of dollars on paper, which allowed him to pay zero income taxes for possibly more than a decade, as he importuned crooked banks to fraudulently bankroll his real estate empire, which ultimately landed this self-made grifter his own hit TV show on NBC. So as you can see, the DLC's work ethic sermon of a manifesto worked exactly as intended. The New Dems helped to inspire Trump (a registered Democrat) to keep struggling against all odds. Even better, his ladder of opportunity turned out to be an elevator of opportunity!


--There are the deserving poor. and then there are the undeserving poor. The different groups of Poors must be divided, and taught to resent one another so that they will be less apt to resent the rich racketeers of the ruling class, including Donald Trump.  Ex-GOP Speaker Paul Ryan is unfairly often blamed by Democrats for coming up with this poor vs. poor crap all on his own. But, as self-avowed New Democrat Obama used to gently chide his Old GOP bro Mitt Romney: "You didn't succeed all on your own, Governor. You didn't build this all by yourself!"


- Calling Mr. Orwell. We will arm ourselves to the gills to promote world peace, love and understanding. We will impose sanctions on Iraq and the deaths of 500,000 children as a result will have been "worth it." Later in the War Is Peace endeavor, lethal Predator drone assassinations will  become therapeutic "surgical strikes," and the "externalities" of thousands of innocent dead will never be divulged and their names never revealed. 

--Regulations on capital and greed are bad. As a result, Bill Clinton and his bipartisan Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and other anti-graft legislation from the New Deal era. As a result of that repeal, the financial system crashed in 2008, just in time for Obama to win the White House and the Democrats to win the whole Congress and stuff the new ruling administration with the same deregulation-happy culprits, like Larry Summers, who caused the whole mess in the first place. And the regular people struggled on for eight more years until 2016, just in time for Trump and the Republicans to complete the inevitable cycle.


--Mexicans were bringing drugs across the border decades and decades ago! Blacks and Browns were committing all the crimes! Stop them, police them, jail them, and begin a new Jim Crow era and conduct a virtual slow genocide -  but be sure to call your institutional bigoted practices "efficiencies." Then slap a slick "War on Drugs" label on it so you don't sound racist. Decades later, act all shocked and appalled when Donald Trump unleashes his racist rhetoric and tragically rips the whole happy-face mask right off your long-standing official DLC manifesto.


As Al From wrote in 2013's "The New Democrats and the Return to Power," the original 1981 manifesto was the absolute catalyst for "vibrant economic growth in the private sector of the economy.... It was the right first battle for us to take on. It left a good impression and gave us running room for later reform efforts.... It allowed us to establish our new themes without fear of being crushed by the old bulls.... That the New York Times chose to print it in full was icing on the cake."


This manifesto set the Democrats on their relentless, 40-year trajectory to the right, moving the GOP even further to the right as a result.


From adds that as disappointed as DLC conservatives were when, in 1984, Biden "had the good sense to put a stop to our nonsense" of trying to oust Reagan challenger Walter Mondale and replace him with the reactionary Biden, they were confident that the younger man's zealous contributions to their right-wing platform would ultimately prevail. "Developing a winning message" was their ultimate goal then, and it's their ever more feeble ultimate goal now.


Their 1986 midterm message was "Defending America," which according to From, sent the Reaganites into conniption fits of jealousy for out-flanking them from the right.


From also brags that it was the core DLC membership who, in 1981, came up with the anti-democratic superdelegate system to ensure that the right-wing faction of the party would always prevail against any potential lefty upstarts.


This is also when the whole "electability" canard that the pundits can't stop talking about these days first took shape. "If the elected officials whose outlooks were moderated by actually having to be elected took a bigger role in the conventions, making them superdelegates would give them that role." he wrote.


Remember, the "reform" that bars superdelegates from voting in the first ballot at a contested convention is tailor-made so that a vast field of contenders, none of them with a clear majority, will cancel each other out, ensuring that only the conservative party machine will have the final say and coronation privileges. 


From actually credits Hillary Clinton with spreading the New Democrat ideology far and wide throughout the world during her stint as Obama's secretary of state. He doesn't mention the subsequent rise of right-wing authoritarianism in the same countries that Hillary so ingeniously inspired.


And in his own introduction to From's book, written just three years before Donald Trump was elected, Bill Clinton gushes that despite all the pain and destruction and death that it wrought, he is still a true believer in the DLC message of mass austerity, endless war, the continuous growth of capitalism, the expansion of globalism, "reform" of welfare and the fight against "crime". There is nary a word about the climate catastrophe.


Joe Biden himself is not putting the climate catastrophe anywhere near the top of his DLC-inspired agenda. Forget the U.N. report revealing that millions of plant and animal species will go extinct because of the crisis. Not content to be a do-nothing vice president, in 2011 he proclaimed that he was "the new sheriff in town" who would ruthlessly cut all the "waste, fraud and abuse" displayed by living beings protected by the big, bad guvmint. He was the anointed Anti-Waste Czar, whose first accomplishment would be to strike pictures and stories about endangered species from government websites.

War is not only Peace, but Public Ignorance is Strength, and therefore Biden announced:
Did you know that the government spends millions to maintain buildings that have sat vacant for years? Or that your tax dollars pay to needlessly ship copies of the Federal Register to thousands of government offices across the country even though the same information is available online?
And I bet you didn't know that your tax dollars pay for a website dedicated to the Desert Tortoise. I'm sure it's a wonderful species, but we can't afford to have a standalone site devoted to every member of the animal kingdom. It's just one of hundreds of government websites that should be consolidated or eliminated.
This kind of waste is just unacceptable. Particularly at a time when we’re facing tough decisions about reducing our deficit, it's a no-brainer to stop spending taxpayer dollars on things that benefit nobody.
That’s why President Obama asked me to head up the Campaign to Cut Waste—a new effort to root out wasteful spending at every agency and department in The Federal Government.
Fast forward to 2019, and his fellow well-protected old New Dems Bill and Hillary Clinton have also sadly devolved into aging (if not quite extinct) vaudevillians, touring cities and speaking to half-empty auditoriums, where ticket prices have been drastically reduced for lack of interest. Hillary just confided to one friendly interviewer that the biggest thing the next Democratic president has to fear is not the climate catastrophe, but (drum-roll, please) - Vladimir Putin!

The crowds are roaring. But probably not in the adulatory fashion that the Clintons would prefer.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

As Vice President, Biden Was Still Bragging About His Racist Crime Bill

Presidential contender Joe Biden cynically co-opted Martin Luther King Day this year to express the very mildest of regrets for his draconian 1994 Crime Bill, which sentenced record numbers of mainly Black men to long prison terms for possession of even tiny amounts of drugs, especially crack cocaine.
“It was a big mistake when it was made,” he said. “We thought, we were told by the experts, that crack you never go back, it was somehow fundamentally different. It’s not different, but it’s trapped an entire generation.”
Biden pleaded that he was practically forced into drafting the legislation (originally called the Biden Crime Bill, but later somewhat unfairly renamed the Clinton Crime Bill) in his capacity as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This pleading, as well as his use of the passive voice, sounds eerily similar to his recent excuses about how powerless he was to protect Anita Hill from the abuse she suffered during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

It was the crack that trapped and imprisoned people, not Biden. It was the Republican crackpots on Biden's panel who victimized Anita Hill all over again, not Biden.

But whenever the occasion demands it, Uncle Joe admits that regrets, he has a few. But then again, too few to mention -- unless and until he is practically forced into uttering them.  

Even during his tenure as Barack Obama's vice president, and long, long after other "experts" had correctly called out the racial bias inherent in his Crime Bill,  Biden was still doubling down on the false and debunked narrative that drug use is the primary cause of violence in poor communities.

He was still gung-ho for the racist War on Drugs, or what Michelle Alexander has aptly identified as The New Jim Crow.

One occasion was the nomination of former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske in the spring of 2009 as the Obama administration's new "drug czar." Speaking to a room full of municipal police chiefs, Biden fondly reminisced about his direct role in the creation of the White House drug czar position as well as his authorship of his post-Crime Bill COPS legislation, which allocated federal funds for cities with large black and brown populations to hire more police officers and make more drug arrests and send more black and brown individuals to prison, often for decades, for minor drug possession offenses.
We know we needed tough laws, and we have tough laws. But that wasn't enough. We needed a balanced approach in combating drugs -- one that included prevention, treatment and enforcement.
And that's why when I wrote what used to be called the Biden Crime Bill back in the '90s -- and quite frankly, many of you in this room literally sat and wrote that bill with me; it had my name on it, but you all wrote it -- when we wrote that back in 1994, I felt so strongly about the need to create specialized Drug Courts -- so we could have an alternative to incarceration and the traditional probation that included treatment and a way forward.
That's why I fought so hard for the Drug Free Communities Support Program, so we could bring together parents, teachers, business leaders, police, medical profession to prevent drug abuse and addiction in local communities.
 And that's why I, along with many of you, worked so hard for the COPS program -- because quite frankly more cops on the street is one of the best ways to keep drugs off the street.
Biden was actually to the right of President George W. Bush when he pushed, in 2002, for the addition of 50,000 police officers in America's cities, on top of the 100,000 cop positions originally funded under his 1994 Crime Bill. Biden complained, without evidence, that violent crime in inner cities had gone up as a direct result of Bush's cuts to his tough drug enforcement programs.

Biden also ran on a "tough on crime" platform during his failed 2004 presidential primary campaign. Correlating drug users with post-09/11 terrorism as well as with violence, he wrote on his website:
"Our police officers who walk the beat in every city and town across America are the backbone of homeland security  Whenever we need them, our police officers never hesitate to respond. Now they need us, and we should not hesitate to respond to law enforcement by giving them the tools they need to protect our communities. Let's save the COPS program, and, in so doing, say thank you to every cop on the street."
With Biden's crime legislation later widely criticized as the racist policy that it was, he burnished it with the "balanced approach" rhetoric that was a hallmark of other Obama policies, such as the imposition of austerity on the struggling middle and working classes and the poor coupled with paltry tax increases on the wealthy. Thus was added the cosmetic gloss of an ounce of prevention and treatment in the racist Drug War, ostensibly to "balance out" the continuing mega-tons of cruel and unusual punishment -- and to feebly camouflage the ongoing and underlying racism.

It's the same propaganda tactic Biden had used 15 years earlier to "arm-twist" his fellow Democrats into passing his Crime Bill which, besides putting 100,000 new cops on the streets, allocated $9.7 billion for the construction of new prisons, expanded the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty to 52, discouraged prison paroles and rewarded prisons with federal grants based upon increased parole-denial rates, criminalized gang membership, denied Pell educational grants to convicts, and imposed mandatory drug testing for released prisoners (practically guaranteeing a return to prison, because released prisoners have a very hard time getting work, finding housing and paying for food, given that they're denied housing and food stamp benefits because most applications forms contain a box to check for even minor convictions and,or  arrests).

 To all that cruelty he cynically tacked on the Sunset Law-prone Violence Against Women Act and a similarly temporary assault weapons ban in order to give his reactionary agenda that all-important cosmetic liberal gloss. These were sweeteners enough to convince even then-Rep. Bernie Sanders to reluctantly vote for the package.

As Michelle Alexander pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, the problem of violence is actually correlated not with drug use per se, but with the permanent effects of long-term incarcerations of mainly men on entire families and communities. A cop on every corner has done nothing, for example, to curb violent crime and gang activity in cities like Chicago. 

Moreover, with an epidemic of opioid addiction now affecting mainly white people, the racist War on Drugs is rapidly losing its effectiveness as a wedge issue and fear-spreading tool for right-wing politicians like Joe Biden.

Michelle Alexander wrote:
Drug law reform has never been an easier sell — especially now that opioid addiction is perceived as ravaging primarily white communities, generating far more compassion than black communities ever experienced during the crack epidemic in the late 1980s. The opportunity to curb the drug war is critically important for many communities of color, especially in places like Chicago where it has caused catastrophic harm. Nationally, the drug war helped to birth our system of mass incarceration, which now governs not only the 2.2 million people who are locked in prisons and jails in this country, but also the 4.5 million people that are under correctional control outside prison walls — on probation or paroleMore than 70 million people now have criminal records that authorize legal discrimination against them, relegating them to a permanent second-class status. The overwhelming majority ensnared by this system have been convicted of nonviolent crimes and drug offenses.
This relegation of millions of people to permanent underclass status is reason enough to deny Joe Biden the Democratic presidential nomination. For one thing, there is virtually no distance between him and Trump as regards their disdain for black and brown people. I can just envision Trump patting Uncle Joe on the back during one of those televised corporate debates and claiming to be the real inspiration for the Crime Bill, what with the fear-mongering full page ad he'd taken out in the New York Times, calling for execution of the Central Park Five (who were later exonerated) just a few years before its passage.

 I guess Biden would only respond that at least he's mouthed a few convenient platitudes and words of regret for the national hysteria that he was instrumental in fomenting, while Trump has never offered any. 

 Trump, though, would then be able to one-up Biden by bragging about his commutation last year of the sentence of a grandmother serving life in prison on a cocaine trafficking charges: a sentence that was the direct result of the cruel Biden Crime Bill.

Denying Biden the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency has never been an easier sell. 

But try explaining that to the Party leadership and the donor class.