Thursday, February 28, 2019

America Loves a Mob Boss

The comparisons of Trump World to the hit mafia TV series The Sopranos intensified Wednesday with the testimony, before the House Oversight Committee, of the president's convicted former fixer, Michael "The Rat" Cohen.

Although not nearly as bloody or profanity-ridden as the HBO drama, the nine-hour spectacle did its best to titillate, as members of the committee (with the possible exceptions of Ro Khanna and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) tried to steal the show in a series of truncated showboating walk-on appearances.

Worst actress honors should probably go to former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was forced to resign from that role (but unfortunately not from Congress) when WikiLeaks dumps revealed she had done underhanded things to hurt Bernie Sanders and swing the nomination to Hillary Clinton. Her scripted part in the hearing therefore consisted largely of one series of blame-shifting words: "Russiarussiarussiarussia," despite the admonitions from Committee Chair Elijah Cummings to his repertory company to steer clear of that delicate topic during the soliloquies masquerading as questions.

The delicate topic of Russiarussiarussia was to be explored in a separate closed-door hearing before the House's judiciary committee next week. So we will have to satisfy ourselves with the one-man show to be performed by Committee Chair Adam Schiff in order to get a secondhand account of the next episode.

Meanwhile, if the critics are still wondering why as much as 40 percent of the electorate are still 'uge fans of Donald Trump, they should remember that a shockingly large proportion of die-hard Sopranos viewers were also rooting for mob boss Tony Soprano as he whacked and lied and threatened his way into the hearts and minds and living rooms of America. David Chase, the show's creator, often expressed chagrin that his brilliant satire of American organized crime and political corruption, and its biting portrayals of the rank stupidity, viciousness and greed of Tony and his assorted henchmen, enablers, hangers-on and complicit relatives, were construed by much of the public as a slightly bloodier, cooler version of Father Knows Best. Chase worried that his critical portrayal of violence was making violence normal and even desirable in viewers who got hooked on the weekly knee-capping scenes juxtaposed with the enviable luxuriant lifestyles of the whacky cast of knee-cappers 

Cohen is probably right to fear for his own safety and that of his family members. All that Mob Boss Trump has to do is send out a mass tweet, and at least a few of his vast unpaid army of fans and true believers are bound to take the bait and strive to create and act out their own bit parts in this saga.

When James Gandolfini, the late actor who portrayed Tony Soprano, was hurt in a scooter accident in New York City one day in 2006, a concerned fan rushing to his aid frantically asked: "Tony, are you O.K.?"

Gandolfini, obviously upset that his TV role had typecast him, snarled at the fan through his pain: "I am not Tony. That's just a character that I play!"

Not that all the supporting players in The Sopranos were necessarily upstanding humans in their true lives, though. Some had real-life mob associations, and one was even convicted of murder after appearing in the series. The last season of the show really hit close to home for me and my own family, when an actor named Louis Gross, playing the part of Tony Soprano's bodyguard, suddenly appeared on our TV screen. It was the very same Louis Gross who had bullied my daughter, among other pupils, about a decade before when they were in middle school.

Although he got away with his rotten behavior in middle school, Gross was not so lucky in high school, when he and his pals still thought that throwing rocks at girls from behind bushes was cool, and he got suspended. In adulthood, if you can call it that, he was arrested for allegedly beating up his girlfriend and for trying to spend some counterfeit hundred-dollar bills that he had xeroxed himself. It turned out that he was one of those die-hard Sopranos fans who loved Tony so much and took the show so seriously that he reportedly bulked up on steroids to win
 the part of "Muscles Marinara." 

As Cohen testified on Wednesday, Trump himself is a consummate actor who only ran for president to market his business empire and his floundering TV series. He never expected to win the highest office in the land. Unlike Gandolfini, he is a character actor playing himself in his own virtual spin-off of a reality show, a character who has fully embraced his new, unexpected and much-expanded star turn as Mob Boss of the entire country.

And, Cohen warned, if Trump's latest hit series is cancelled in 2020, it won't be an abrupt Sopranos-style blackout. After that series finale, all that the fans and critics could do was complain that it was lazy cop-out on David Chase's part, and that they were unfairly cheated out of a satisfying final bloodbath, if not a happily-ever-after denouement.

 When The Trumps ends, Cohen told the panel in the cliff-hanging finale of his own episode, “Indeed, given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.” 

Cohen acknowledged that his remarks were edited, if not actually scripted, by his pro bono attorney, longtime Clinton henchman Lanny Davis, the author of such brilliant but underrated scripts  as "I Was the Back Channel Bag Man of the Illegal US Coup in Honduras."

That particular show got low ratings because Davis didn't actually kneecap or bludgeon to death the democratically elected president of Honduras to prevent him from raising the minimum wage and returning land, stolen by corporate American agribusinesses, to subsistence farmers. Davis, acting on behalf of the Clinton State Department, merely subcontracted out to the military the job of frogmarching the president out of his house in the middle of the night. It was a bloodless coup, with the main bloody violence and refugee crisis coming afterward. The US media didn't hype it, so American viewers were not attracted to it.

It's no wonder that Cohen's testimony was conveniently scheduled for the very same day that Trump was negotiating a (failed) peace deal with North Korea. The neocons and permanent security state henchmen really running this show don't want peace with North Korea. It's hard out there for a godfather president trying to negotiate with a minor, but no less dangerous, mob boss when the Big Guy's grisly reputation is being dragged through the mud by the corporate duopoly back home on live TV. Lanny Davis (pictured below at left) just couldn't seem to keep the smirk off his face during the nine hours that Michael the Rat was being "grilled" by the actors of the Oversight Committee.  

Cohen himself could barely keep the smirk off his own face at times as he explained all the mistakes that were made before he got caught.

But not to worry. This series will not be ending any time soon, as Democratic leaders hastily reiterated their pledge that impeachment is still totally off the table. Oversight Chair Cummings even bragged, “Isn’t it interesting that not one person on our side even mentioned the word impeachment? Not one.” 

When you want to hook the country on a mobster soap opera and keep the ratings high, it is always best not to cram too much mayhem and satisfying closure into any one episode, lest people get jaded or bored. As Cummings told reporters, "It's best to proceed cautiously."  

Because cliffhangers sell. So do new and recurring characters and subplots and campaigns for awards shows.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who's been getting rave reviews for her own lead part as Trump's feminine foil in The Wall episodes, did her best Carmela Soprano impression after Wednesday's hearing, disingenuously claiming to know nothing at all about it. She told reporters she had been "too busy" to pay any attention to it.

The show must always go on. Actors gotta act.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Those Poor, Put-Upon Corporate Democrats

In the guise of a concern-trolling piece about the plight of Democratic "moderates" within a party moving left, the New York Times has once again managed to correlate socialism with anti-Semitism.

This false narrative, of which British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn was heretofore the most prominent villain, turns on its ear the historical and actual association of fascism and anti-Semitism, most recently displayed in this country by neo-Nazi groups of the type which wreaked such havoc in Virginia.  

On this side of the pond, the smearing of the left wing with the "bigot" moniker is being passive-aggressively framed as innocent Democrats forced to respond to attacks by GOP House Republicans. But at the very same time, it allows corporate Dems to tacitly give some credence to the GOP smears of the party's left flank.  Democratic centrists complain that they are being unfairly tainted by the allegedly dangerous, reckless and radical rhetoric of a specific trio of outspoken newcomers in the House of Representatives:  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar. 

Originally lauded by both Democratic Party elders and the neoliberal corporate media for their cool exotic identities, the three women are rapidly losing their initial marketing value as the poster girls of diversity. 

So to construct the revised narrative against these female upstarts, the Times sent out two of its female reporters to the wilds of Flyover Country to write about how conservative Democrats are coming under attack from their own constituents, simply for the sin of existing within the same governing body as AOC, Tlaib and Omar.

The innuendo-heavy hit piece by Catie Edmondson and Emily Cochraine couples the socialism-is-anti-Semitism smear right in the lede, composed of three rat-a-tat one-sentence paragraphs, the better with which to impart the desired tone of urgency and siege mentality:
In the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Representative Ben McAdams, a freshman, was grilled by constituents about the “socialism” and “anti-Semitism” that they saw coming out of the new Democratic House.
“How long do you intend to ride that train with those people?” one Utahan asked.
In Michigan, Representative Haley Stevens was asked about her ability to counter what one voter deemed the bigotry of some of her freshman colleagues — a concern fueled partly by remarks from her counterpart in nearby Detroit, Rashida Tlaib — and “the negative attitude they bring to Democrats.”
Although the Times does not explain the nature of this "negative attitude," what the reporters apparently refer to is Tlaib being caught on tape last month urging her cohort to "impeach the mother-f***er," meaning Trump. So as much as corporate Democrats might purport to "resist" Trump, elected officials calling him bad names or suggesting that he be impeached is beyond the pale, especially from a woman expected to stay in her identity politics-assigned place. The president does have his valuable moments, after all, especially when he properly rails against the dangerous socialistic scourge in Venezuela so Democrats don't have to do the actual regime-change dirty work as they wax indignant about his emergency declaration and his anti-immigrant wall.

Besides the pretense of objectivity through encasing its anti-left smears in a slew of self-protective quotation marks and ascribing them to poor ordinary Democratic constituents, the Times is also careful to foist the blame on Republicans, whose own bigotry the Paper of Record broadcasts --  purely in the interests of fairness and balance and "both-side-ism":
Just two months into the new Congress, Republicans have begun an all-out assault painting Democrats as extremists — even bigots — and trying to tar moderates with their more liberal freshman counterparts’ beliefs. Their talking points appear to be resonating with some voters the Democrats will need next year if they are to keep their majority — and the voters determined to flip the districts back.
In the part of the article showcasing Ben McAdams from Utah, he is quoted as vowing that Tlaib, Omar and AOC will never "corrupt" him, while acknowledging that the Democratic Party is composed of both "good and bad."

Meanwhile, the Times enthuses that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bends over backwards to fairly critique GOP hypocrisy at the same time that she boldly condemned as "anti-Semitic"  lhan Omar's tweeted remarks about the big-dollar influence of the Israel government's AIPAC lobby.
 Many of the newly elected progressive freshmen probably “aren’t thinking that whatever they say might do harm to their class, and that’s not going to change,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the former majority leader. “The more progressive messaging is what sells right now. That’s what everyone is talking about, so it will be harder for moderates to break through. But that’s why it’s important to repeat their view of the world to their constituents.”
This paragraph encompasses in a nutshell the values of the corporate Democratic machine: first, do no harm to your Class (and that implicitly means the Donor Class); and always put party and power over country and constituents. Progressivism and socialism are just the latest trendy fads being foisted on the righteous conservatives whom the centrist Dems exist to please while they also fulfill the needs of their oligarchic paymasters.

The central misleading message in the Times article is that normal everyday Americans are conservatives. This has never been true, of course. The vast majority of Democrats, at least 90 percent, favor single payer health care, and about half of Republicans do. Most people favor progressive, even socialistic policies, provided of course that the "S" word is not first appended to them by pollsters like a big flashing red warning sign. The vast majority think that billionaires and corporations exercise too much influence on government policy and politicians, and that political corruption is a huge problem. Most are against American wars of aggression and runaway military spending.

Therefore, since too many people, especially younger people, no longer tremble in fear at the word "socialism," the power elites have pivoted to equating it with bigotry, in order to dissuade people from stridently agitating for policies and programs for the greater public good. The populace must be cowed and subdued, especially the increasingly restive liberals who must be taught to fear being called racists as well as purists and and unwitting Russian stooges and closet Trumpists should they start demanding too many nice things for themselves and their communities.

So the designated nasty side of the Duopoly, with Trump and his neocon kleptocrats as the latest spokesmen, falsely equate socialism with totalitarian cruelty and perverse Stalinism. And the pseudo-resistance corporate liberal party, while pitifully agreeing that Venezuelan socialism must be overcome with an invasion of nutritious humanitarian weaponry, if not with actual human troops, strives mightily to differentiate itself from Trump by associating, if not exactly equating, socialism with bigotry.

The political marketing tools of xenophobia on the one side, and the shallow, qualified embrace of diversity just for the sake of diversity on the other side, are mirror images of one another. They are divide-and-conquer propaganda techniques whose sole purpose is to keep the electorate submissive, their anger and fear properly directed at the contrived opposing mirror images.

That is how afraid of us the power elites are. Independent thinkers from outside the acceptable Knowledge Class are their worst enemies. So get ready for the smears to escalate as the perpetual presidential campaign thunders on... and on... and on.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Kids Over Capitalism

Since presidential contender Elizabeth Warren recently asserted that she is "a capitalist to my bones," it should come as no surprise that her plan for universal child care in the United States is loosely modeled on the market-based kludge known as Obamacare.

Unlike the government-run systems operating in other social democratic countries, Warren's plan is predicated upon direct government payments to for-profit providers who will "partner" with municipalities and states. What the system giveth, the system can always take away if said providers  in any given state don't meet a set of amorphous standards, or can't be found in the first place.

In other words, it's a conservative plan of the type moderate Republicans might have suggested if there were still any moderate Republicans around.

But never say never, because wherever there's a predatory profit motive, there's always a way. Flush with all that excess cash, Wall Street has been getting into the lucrative early child care game with a vengeance in recent years. And they're even flusher with cash this year, thanks to Trump's tax code overhaul. When neoliberals gush that we must "invest" in children as though they were cattle futures, they're not kidding. Bain Capital, for instance, already runs a billion dollar-plus chain of day care centers. With more federal money possibly on the horizon should Warren's plan pass in Congress, look for even more Goldman Sachs and Evercore and BlackRock Little Tots Schools popping up in distressed neighborhoods all over this land. The win-win upshot is that even a Mom slaving at a $10 an hour fast food or retail gig would see her child care woes disappear.

For those parents desirous of in-home care, private equity is transforming this kind of care into a virtual Airbnb opportunity. An outfit called Wondercare purports to train teachers and provides software to help them get "qualified" to care for children. They even help with the rentals of empty homes to turn them into nurseries. All for a hefty cut of the profits, of course, and a big return for investors.

The financial disbursement power under the Warren plan would be granted to the states, many of which have notoriously already turned down federal Medicaid expansion for the sole reason of cruel, right-wing, social Darwinist ideology. So what could possibly go wrong with a universal child care program in a red state like Texas? Cash-strapped locales also have a tendency to "divert" block grant-type funds to other programs.

Granted, Warren's proposal --  even the most well-off of the qualifying parents would be let off the hook for child care expenses above seven percent of their incomes, and poorer families would pay nothing at all -- is certainly better than the big fat nothing-burger of a system we currently have in place in the richest country on earth. My own son and daughter-in-law had their first child last year, and my granddaughter's in-home care by a part-time babysitter amounts to nearly a quarter of their joint annual income, second only to their monthly house payment. (They have adjusted their own full-time work and sleep schedules so that one parent can be home for half the total work week, and they are both chronically exhausted as a result.)  Preschool costs can be almost as much as college tuition in some areas. The waiting time for admission to the one decent and well-staffed and comparatively affordable preschool in my own family's area is not weeks or months -- but years.

So yes, I think that they and most other parents would gladly accept a 25 percent or more reduction in their child care costs, no matter how many bureaucratic hoops they had to jump through to get it. And that, of course, is the catch. You have to have the time and the skills to jump through these hoops, and a lot of people do not for any number of reasons... such as, they're too tired after working three part-time jobs.

And those "providers" whom Warren assumes are waiting in the wings in the thousands to jump through all those bureaucratic hoops and to subject themselves to even more government scrutiny to fill non-existent slots in their programs? Don't even ask. But should private equity billionaires lobby Congress to pass her plan, I am sure that all costs of doing business with government bureaucrats will conveniently be passed on to the consumer, as will the "wealth tax" imposed upon them to pay for the care.

But still, everybody will enjoy that all-important freedom of choice so important to capitalistic enterprise.  As Warren writes in a Medium blog-post announcing her program, with a handy "petition" at the bottom so that you can get on her campaign fund-raising email list:
 Nobody would be required to enroll in this new program. But right now, millions of families can’t take advantage of child care because of its cost — and millions more are draining their paychecks to cover high costs. As a result, under the new program, an independent economic analysis projects that 12 million kids will take advantage of these new high-quality options — nearly double the number that currently receive formal child care outside the home.
The entire cost of this proposal can be covered by my Ultra-Millionaire Tax. The Ultra-Millionaire Tax asks the wealthiest families in America — those with a net worth of more than $50 million — to pay a small annual tax on their wealth. Experts project that the Ultra-Millionaire Tax will generate $2.75 trillion in new government revenue over the next ten years. That’s about four times more than the entire cost of my Universal Child Care and Early Learning plan.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman fulsomely praises the Warren plan just because it sounds so realistically modest. And comparing apples to oranges, he further gushes that 
Among other things, unlike purist visions of replacing private health insurance with “Medicare for all,” providing child care wouldn’t require imposing big new taxes on the middle class. The sums of money involved are small enough that new taxes on great wealth and high incomes, which are desirable on other grounds, could easily raise sufficient revenue.
What uninsured Purist needs guaranteed health care if she can substitute it with the relief of partially subsidized nursery care? Presumably, reading between the Krugman lines, not even the kids enrolled in the germ factories known as day care centers will ever get sick, and Mom won't ever go bankrupt paying the doctor bills, premiums, co-pays and deductibles.

Anyway, here's my published comment on the Krugman column:
Since there's a serious dearth of child care centers and long waiting lists in many areas of the country, we need a more integrated approach to universal care.
  The federal government must be involved in both building new centers and staffing them with qualified workers. Since child care positions are usually underpaid and largely filled by women, these new jobs must pay a living wage, plus benefits.
We can't rely on a private, for-profit marketplace owned and operated by (mostly male) private equity moguls pocketing a huge chunk of government subsidies for themselves while cutting corners on the kids, the moms, and the female workers. A worker-parent cooperative system might be fairer.
Meanwhile, I hope that Elizabeth Warren will introduce her legislation in the Senate as soon as possible. It's a long overdue step in the right direction.
 And speaking of family values, we should embrace the philosophy of the Swedish universal caregiver system, whose aim is "to make it possible for both men and women to combine parenthood and gainful employment, a new view of the male role, and a radical change in the organization of working life."
Parents need the free time to combine work, leisure and fun, hobbies, community and political activism, and child-rearing.
 Besides radically extending paid child care leave, we should also subsidize voluntary stay-at-home parents and give them Social Security credit parity for their retirement years.
Prioritize kids over capitalism.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Coup-Coup For Democracy

Mere hours after unleashing a series of angry tweets accusing the FBI of plotting a coup to overthrow him, Donald Trump managed to get in a leisurely round of golf at his Florida club before going the Feds one better and showing them who's still the boss.

 You see, the FBI planned their coup in the dark. Trump actually staged a  televised rally in broad daylight on President's Day, no less, to officially announce to the whole world that he and his team of neocons are staging a coup to overthrow the government of Venezuela.

The revelations of two coup attempts in one day must have set a new record in the annals of global political intrigues. And Trump's game of coup d'etat tit-for-tat also gives new meaning to the conventional wisdom that not only is he completely lacking a sense of irony, he is absolutely nuts, a/k/a coup-coup. And since his latest medical exam also now places him in the clinically obese category, for all we know he might even be Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs along with suffering that creepy, kooky obsession with border walls.

Of course, since the US is the world's sole remaining superpower and Venezuela is a lesser country having the gall to balk at US corporate plunder, one of these coups is not like the other. The attempted coup against Trump, revealed by former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, was "illegal," according to the president and his cronies.

The attempted coup against Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, on the other hand, is simply the latest in a long line of "humanitarian interventions" against a small country which persists in disrespecting the inalienable rights of multinational corporations to plunder it of its natural resources. Maduro still hasn't gotten the message that his country, already squeezed to the breaking point by multiple factors, including US economic sanctions and embargoes going back for years, can only recover its stability if he allows Trump to destabilize it with much creative destruction and outright theft, not to mention bloodshed.

That is why the Powers That Be are fully on board with Trump's meddling in Venezuela's affairs while still whining that alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is not only just like Pearl Harbor, but that Trump himself was meddling in the FBI investigation of the meddling.

NBC News explains the planning and the plotting by the federal police to get rid of Trump:

The conversations came in the chaotic days after James Comey was fired as FBI director, McCabe told CBS, as the FBI became increasingly convinced that the president was obstructing into the agency's investigation in Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Rosenstein went as far to offer to wear a wire to the White House to gather information, McCabe said. (Officials have previously told NBC News Rosenstein made the remark sarcastically.)
Trump, calling McCabe "deranged," added in a tweet that "there is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who just elected a president they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more."

One reason that the permanent ruling class of the United State doesn't likewise think that it's "deranged" to try to overthrow the democratically-elected leaders of other countries is because they have self-immunized themselves from international war crimes statutes. Should any US official ever be hauled before the international court of The Hague for an act of mass murder, meddling and destruction, Congress has passed a law that would allow such a defendant to be rescued, by any weaponized means necessary, as though he or she were a hostage and not an alleged coup-instigator, aggressor, mass murderer, or torturer.

Before Trump came along, US leaders were more circumspect while plotting their regime-changing coups, invasions and wars. This secrecy served the purpose of keeping the inherent racist and class war aspects of these depredations hidden from the folks in the Homeland, lest any unabashed racist and classist rhetoric from the ruling class racketeers encourage too much freelance violence and racist rhetoric from within the ranks of the ordinary folks. If US leaders had to talk publicly about their depredations, they did so in the guise of protecting the human rights of the foreign people whom they were about to maim, torture, rape, kill, expel, or if the victims were especially lucky, simply rob.

Trump doesn't do fake-humanitarianism well. When he speaks of Central Americans as rapists, infestations, criminals and invaders, the standard "responsibility to protect" propaganda as he applies it to Venezuelans just doesn't ring as true as it did when previous presidents dished out their rhetoric in more tasteful globs of unctuous rectitude.

When Trump delivers the propaganda, any pretense at high-mindedness about Venezuela falls absolutely flat. His choice of the far right white nationalist Proud Boys chairman to act as his human backdrop at Monday's Miami rally while pledging assistance to brown-skinned Venezuelans probably didn't win many hearts and minds. When the embattled Maduro later went on TV to opine that Trump was acting just like a Nazi, he didn't have to convince his audience.

This, of course, also puts the pretend-opposition Democratic Party in a quandary. They are just as enthused about regime changes and wars of aggression as the Republicans are. Democrats in South Florida, which has a sizable Venezuelan population, also want to get rid of Maduro. But as the New York Times puts it,
To Democrats, all that suggests that the president may be more interested in wooing Venezuelan-Americans and other Latino voters than in promoting bipartisanship on the Maduro issue.
“I’m concerned about the Trump administration politicizing this issue, using Venezuelans’ suffering to score political points here in Florida,” said Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Democrat of Miami. “We shouldn’t be using this as a political weapon.”
So much for the plight of actual Venezuelans. They apparently have no say in the leadership or direction of their own country. They must be portrayed as incapable of acting in their own best interests. What really matters is which side of the US Uniparty can score the most political points off the backs of suffering, starved-out people. Meddling is fine, just so long as the United States does it, and as long as the purpose of the meddling can be sold to the US public in a palatable series of lies.

As Noam Chomsky has written, FDR's famous Four Freedoms: of speech and worship, and from fear and want, are traditionally vaunted and then wantonly disregarded by leaders as they undertake their myriad invasions, coups and wars. But missing from the propaganda ("we must rescue the oppressed starving victims of X's reign and stop him from abusing his own people!") that they spread for domestic consumption is the all-important Fifth Freedom, the unspoken precept which explains much of what "we" do in the world. From his book Turning the Tide, an examination of US interventions in Central America up to the Reagan years:

(It is) the freedom to rob and exploit. Infringement of the four official freedoms in enemy territory always evokes much agonized concern. Not, however, in our own ample domains. Here, as the historical record demonstrates with great clarity, it is only when the fifth and fundamental freedom is threatened that such a sudden and short-lived concern for other forms of freedom manifests itself, to be sustained for as long as it is needed to justify the righteous use of force and violence to restore the Fifth Freedom, the one that counts.
No matter that Communism collapsed decades ago. US Leaders, most loudly and recently Trump, still use the bugaboo of "socialism" to justify their meddling in other countries. In the latest variation of the "domino" effect or rotten apple theory, Donald Trump vows to defeat socialism in Venezuela lest the "virus" spread beyond any physical wall that he succeeds in building.

 "The rot and infection," added Chomsky, "of course are code words for successful social and economic development that might constrain the Fifth Freedom." 

Trump fails Coup Propaganda 101, his ruling class critics fret, because he makes this alleged virus of socialism too much about politically protecting himself rather than glibly lying about protecting "the country" -- which is code for protecting and enriching corporations and oligarchs. By railing against socialism in so vociferous and ignorant and self-serving a manner, Trump actually makes it look pretty good to everyday Americans - by which I mean citizens of the United States. The people in the rest of the Americas are not fooled by anti-socialist imperialistic cant, and haven't been since Columbus first sailed the Ocean Blue. Trump cannot effectively frighten the folks of the US Homeland about the proper designated strongman and bogeyman to overthrow, because he can't disguise the fact that he himself, in the miscast role of our duly elected president, is the de facto thug and bogeyman.

Oafish Greedy Selfish Trump-Style Imperialism

"Responsibility to Protect" Style-Savvy Liberal Imperialism

The man whom the establishment corporate media righteously lambastes for never reading, and for never getting his facts straight even on the rare occasions when he doesn't deliberately set out to lie, ironically brayed in Miami that "socialism is a sad and discredited ideology rooted in the total ignorance of history and human nature."

But Trump also inadvertently acknowledged the inconvenient truth, which is that in the United States, the only existing and thriving socialism is the kind which benefits the plutocrats at the expense of the rest of us - a system of socialized risk for privatized profit.

"Which is why socialism must always give rise to tyranny...Socialism is about one thing only: power for the ruling class."
It was corporate socialism, or neoliberalism, which gave rise to the tyrannical Trump. And it may well be Trump himself who ironically gives rise to true democratic socialism of, by and for the people.

Now, wouldn't that be a refreshingly crazy coup?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

New York Times Calls Yellow Vests An "Invasion"

The protesters of France certainly have a nerve. The New York Times editorial board grouses that not only do they lack the requisite leader, a set of specific demands, or a detailed political platform, the Yellow Vests "show no signs of ending their weekly invasions of the capital any time soon."

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines "invasion" as: 1) an act of invading, especially incursion of an army for conquest or plunder and 2) the incoming or spread of something usually hurtful.

The primary implication of the editorial is that working class citizens of France have no inherent right to be in their own capital city of Paris, other than to go shopping or visit tourist spots. The secondary implication is that the Yellow Vests are disease-ridden. 

The newspaper's use of the word "invasion" to describe people who are exercising their civil rights in their own country eerily echoes Donald Trump's own grosser xenophobic rhetoric about the "invasion" of migrants and refugees from what he calls "shithole countries"  -- rhetoric which the more intellectual Times regularly and rightly criticizes.

The problem, the newspaper ever so delicately insinuates, is that the working classes are not only disrespecting class borders, they have now evolved into disrespecting even the semi-porous national borders put in place by the ruling elites for the main original purpose of assisting the free flow of commerce and capital. The fact that transnational corporatism immiserates and alienates people by depressing their wages and outsourcing their jobs is a truth universally acknowledged, even by the elites. But what really frightens the ruling class at this stage of growing unrest is that people are reaching across their national borders --  not to exchange money and goods, but to share their anger and to find common cause with one another.

The divide-and-conquer tactic used by the elites to keep the anger properly directed at anybody but the Lords of Capital is beginning to fray.  

The Yellow Vest movement is not only going pan-European, it even threatens to go global. And the New York Times is on it, invoking the Trumpian border paranoia in that discreet, dog-whistling, classist fashion at which it is so marvelously adept:
The grievances may be specifically French, but the sense of alienation is very much a part of the grass-roots discontent behind the vote for Brexit in Britain and for President Trump in the United States, and the populist movements pulling Europe apart.That was underscored last week when contacts between the Yellow Vests and the populist government in Italy caused a serious diplomatic rift. It happened when Luigi Di Maio, leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement and a deputy prime minister, met with a group of Yellow Vests in France and declared that “a new Europe is being born” of them. An outraged Paris called its ambassador back for “consultations,” the first time that has happened since 1940, when Mussolini declared war.
The third innuendo in the Times editorial is that not only are the Yellow Vests contaminated invaders from both within and without their defined limits and borders, they are also probably fascists. Why else bring up Mussolini and the Five Star movement?

This smear-by-association tactic is also evident in the piece by the op-ed section's David Leonhardt last week, in which he ever so politely slimes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her unpatriotic audacity in engaging in trans-Atlantic phone chat with British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. She made a shocking effort to find common cause around issues that benefit regular people rather than finding new ways to reward oligarchs and multinational corporations. But the Times can't come right out and act like a snob. Therefore, if they can relentlessly attack Corbyn's left-wing populism by linking it with anti-Semitism,  then it illogically follows that AOC's own lefty-style populism is also fair game for their virtual scolding finger.

Only France's suave centrist banker president, Emmanuel Macron, can save the ruling elites from the unwashed invaders, concludes the Times editorial board. Macron is now bravely and tirelessly going around the country in shirtsleeves, no less, to talk people to death as a sign of his own noble sincerity.
The 41-year-old president is right to stick to his reforms and his vision of European unity, but if they are to survive, he must convince his own heartland that he really feels its pain.
I think what the editorial board means is that if he can only evoke his inner Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, perhaps he can just as glibly and ably convince some of "his" heartland people of his empathy. It's his unenviable task to breathe some new life into the punitive global Neoliberal Project that's been running roughshod over people for the past 40 years and which spurred global wealth inequality to unheard-of levels. In the US alone, the richest 400 billionaires now own as much wealth as the bottom 60 percent, or 150 million Americans, combined.

Meanwhile, the workers of Belgium have gone out on a national strike, shutting down airports, roads, factories and schools right in the financial elite heartland of the European Union.

Workers in Matamoros, Mexico, recipient of a plethora of factories in the 1990s,  thanks to the NAFTA-engendered exodus of good-paying factory jobs from the US, struck for higher wages this past week, and won, after the new liberal president's "pragmatic" minimum wage bait-and-switch failed. The workers demanded that everybody get a raise, not just a select token few. What's more, they disrespected the precious southern border by sending messages of labor solidarity to their protesting counterparts at GM's soon-to-close auto plants in Michigan.

And joining the series of recent nationwide teachers strikes in the United States, Denver educators walked out for a third straight day this week. As in the recent Los Angeles strike, teachers are not just demanding a living wage, but an end to school privatization and corporate control of education, and the tying of bonus pay to corporation-enriching pupil test scores.

There's a reason that the Times and the ruling elites which it represents are subtly and not so subtly denigrating regular people and their social movements. It's because they're scared to death of all this emerging human solidarity that they've actually been reduced to calling the rest of us "invaders."

They're not that far away from Trump, who is the symptom of the real disease of crack-addicted capitalism.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Breaking Up With #Russiagate Is Hard To Do

Caught up in a thorny Russophobic propaganda trap of their own making, Democratic presidential contenders are feebly trying extricate themselves from it without getting too badly scratched in the process.

Ignoring, if not outright disowning, designated national hero heartthrob Robert Mueller is especially hard to do, given that most of the corporate news "resistance" to Trump in the last two years has revolved around Trump's alleged collusion with Vladimir Putin and the largely ineffectual meddling by a handful of Russian trolls in the 2016 election. One "blockbuster" scoop after another has fallen apart, with the latest one - that Special Counsel Mueller has documents proving that Trump ordered his former fixer to lie to Congress about a Moscow real estate scheme -- having been directly debunked by Mueller himself.

The #Russiagate propaganda crusade, you might remember, picked up steam in the days immediately following Hillary Clinton's embarrassing loss to Donald Trump. Her operatives had to come up with another scapegoat, besides the FBI, to divert attention from their own terrible campaign skills and lack of a coherent message. This emergency planning and plotting and placement of the propaganda by the Clintonites is well-documented in the book Shattered.

But with public polling revealing that the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling and collusion is way down on the list of the electorate's concerns, Democratic Party consultants are suddenly warning candidates away from using #Russiagate as a campaign issue.

Forget about an increasingly unhinged Rachel Maddow warning her MSNBC fans that we're all going to freeze to death in the Polar Vortex if "the Russians," and maybe even China, take it into their heads to mess with the US power grid. (see hilarious Jimmy Dore video below) 

 After two years of relentlessly propagating their dangerous and nonstop McCarthyite hysteria, it now appears that Mueller has been a lousy boyfriend, if not a stalker, all along. "2020 Dems See Danger In the Mueller Probe," according to a Politico piece published today.

Although skillfully flirting with the manufactured "seething outrage" of the politicized Russiagate franchise might help propel one lucky candidate to the Democratic nomination altar, the contenders must be very careful to not be seen as "politicizing" it, or enjoying it too lustfully.

Instead, using one of the favorite neoliberal buzzwords that justifies everything from austerity for the poor to endless wars of aggression, they have to be "smart" about it:

"Smart campaigns will war game this very quietly," said Ben LaBolt, a former spokesman from the Obama White House and 2012 reelection campaign. "They'll have smart plans on the shelf. But it's not something they'll talk about. It's not something that they'll broadcast."

Translation: campaigns will have to carefully and anonymously leak Russiagate propaganda dirt-slime to churnalists like Maddow without the risk of getting personally scratched in the process. Because that would really smart.

Not only would it hurt, but the cure for Trumpism actually turns out to be even worse than the disease:

Democrats working for 2020 candidates describe Mueller's work as something akin to a virus that will keep forcing their campaigns to take precautions.
I wonder if they'll come up with a vaccine in time to avoid getting infected by their own dirt-slime. I wonder how Mueller will react to being called a virus by the same fan club that's had such a huge crush on him for more than two years now. Maybe the Democratic operatives can invent a special condom to protect themselves from a Mueller STD or an unplanned Mueller pregnancy. Or, as one contender, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota bluntly puts it, they may even have to divorce themselves entirely from Mueller's probe.
It's the elephant in the room," said the party strategist working with a White House hopeful, fretting about the uncertainties tied to Mueller, from the rumors about possible new indictments to the advice from inside their own campaigns to just stay quiet about the topic.
What the anonymous strategists don't say and what the Politico article doesn't reveal is that #Russiagate might as well be called #Nothinggate. 

The so-called epidemic of "fake news" on social media which magically propelled Donald Trump to victory is itself fake news, according to Brendan Nyhan, professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. A study conducted by his team of researchers reveals that blaming fake news for Trump's win has provided nothing more than a "psychological refuge" for the millions of Clinton voters disappointed with the outcome.

Relatively few people consumed this form of content directly during the 2016 campaign, and even fewer did so before the 2018 election. Fake news consumption is concentrated among a narrow subset of Americans with the most conservative news diets. And, most notably, no credible evidence exists that exposure to fake news changed the outcome of the 2016 election.
The fake news panic echoes fears that prior forms of communication would brainwash the public. Just as exaggerated accounts of hysteria over Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast took advantage of doubts about radio, claims about the reach and influence of fake news express people’s broader concerns about social media and the internet.
His research, which relied upon the voluntary cooperation of people who allowed their Internet search histories to be examined,  reveals that only 27 percent of Americans visited a fake news site in the final weeks before the 2016 election. These sites were designated "fake" because they made wild and misleading claims about either Trump or Clinton. The vast majority of people who visited these sites did so because they already had opinions which gelled with those espoused by the sites. Even then, Nyhan writes, these fake sites only made up eight percent of the subjects' total news diet.

And despite all the hysteria to the contrary, Nyhan and his team found that visits to fake news outlets declined dramatically in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections.

The alleged scourge of fake news is merely the excuse being used by the public-private surveillance state to censor independent journalism and to suppress independent thought. It's easier for the Powers That Be and their postmodern McCarthyite media hacks to blame an outside bogeyman like Russia for "sowing dissent" among the increasingly precarious masses of people than it is for them to admit that their own wrongdoing is causing America to collapse. Their fear-mongering helps them avoid supporting policies like universal health care and a living wage or guaranteed income for every citizen.

Nyhan concludes:

 Finally, there remains no evidence that fake news changed the result of the 2016 election. Any such claim must take into account not just the reach of fake news but also the proportion of those exposed to it whose behavior could be changed. As noted above, approximately six in 10 visits to fake news websites came from the 10 percent of Americans with the most conservative news diets — a group that was already especially likely to vote and to support Donald Trump. Accordingly, my colleagues and I find no association between pro-Trump fake news exposure and differential shifts in candidate support or voter turnout.
But as Rachel Maddow might say, "what if" Nyhan and his team are really Russian stooges?

I have a feeling that despite the squeamish Democratic candidates' avowed trial separation from the Mueller probe, #Russiagate will die over her dead body, her top ratings, and her $7 million annual salary. She'll war-game it to death, if the ongoing climate catastrophe doesn't do the trick first.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

State of the Bunion 2019: The Heel That Spurred

I used to have such fun deconstructing Barack Obama's State of the Union speeches, digging under the multiple layers of obfuscation and soaring double-talk and platitudes to finally arrive at the essential neoliberal message of reassurance to the Masters of the Universe. 

With Donald Trump, though, there is no such need to parse. What you hear is what you get. And fact-checking is a wasted effort. Just follow Dorothy Parker's recipe and assume that every word he utters is a lie, including "and" and "the."

Maybe it was because he avoided the draft with a phony diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels, but Trump's amateur rendering of Major Jack D. Ripper from Dr. Strangelove was a tad on the wooden side. The moment that he forced a couple of moribund World War II vets out of their wheelchairs did not quite rise to the level of sadism we have come to expect from this president. But the TV cameras did their best, capturing every wincing, creaking, grimacing moment as aides dragged the two men to their feet for the obligatory ovations before gently shoving them back down again for the viewing pleasure of America.

Another guest of honor, a young boy invited to the event because his last name is Trump and he's been bullied as a result, escaped the other Trump's hectoring speech by simply falling asleep. (Recovering Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not attend this year, so I guess somebody had to do the napping honors.) Just like his namesake, Joshua Trump simply wasn't up to the job of pretending to be interested. If the president's jingoistic boilerplate rhetoric and the thundering applause and raucous cries of USA! USA! USA! it inspired weren't enough to wake a child from his slumbers, then how do Trump and his team of neocon kleptocrats expect the rest of us to overcome the sickly inhibitions of our recurring Vietnam Syndrome and get all excited about invading Venezuela and replacing socialism for the people with socialism for the corporations?

But at least Trump cares about The Children. He used as another human shield a little girl named Grace, who because she lives in a rich country without universal health insurance, had made it her life's work to collect money for St. Jude's Hospital. Then she was stricken with cancer herself. Therefore, Trump will not ask that Congress pass Medicare for All. to help with her expenses. He will ask for public funding for cancer research so that private pharmaceutical companies can make a whole bunch of money on new cancer drugs.

But for those hardworking parents going broke paying premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses, Trump will offer them the peace of mind of more charter schools for the enrichment of the oligarchs. 
I am also proud to be the first President to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave — so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child. There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days.
Now, what immediately came to my mind was children being ripped away from their parents at the border and then imprisoned in cages. And that made me think of the bone-chillingly cold conditions endured by inmates of the federal prison in Brooklyn when the power failed in the wake of Trump's shutdown and the Polar Vortex that so unfairly and illegally crossed our precious borders.

But, I was mistaken. The grisly images that Trump harbors in his sick demented mind are fetuses being ripped out of their mother's wombs and Democrats cheering with delight at the graphic spectacle. So here's a thought. Maybe if the refugee moms who cross the border start hiding their babies under their clothing instead of holding them tenderly in their arms, the mad doctors of ICE will be less likely to rip them away.
Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.
Yes, let's. And we can start by reuniting the migrant children with their parents and passing a single payer health insurance plan that covers everybody from cradle to grave. Maybe even Trump himself can finally be cured of his Jack D. Ripper-style paranoid fantasy that aliens are invading him and sucking away all his precious bodily fluids.

Sadly, though, when Trump D. Ripper spoke of the final part of his agenda being the protection of security, he wasn't talking about health care, Social Security, a living wage or a guaranteed income. He was talking about the improved security of the Masters of War, to the tune of nearly a trillion dollars in bomb and munitions and surveillance and invasion funding each and every year.

And all the white feminist regalia and stony-faced Democrats in the audience notwithstanding, the Senate in a solidly bipartisan vote actually rebuked Trump this week for daring to reduce troop levels in Syria and Afghanistan without first asking their permission, notwithstanding that they were never asked for permission, by the previous administrations, to invade and occupy and commit grisly acts in these countries in the first place.

Trump's speech, which the New York Times called the third longest SOTU speech in history, ended on this insipid, hackneyed and threatening note: 

Here tonight we have legislators from across this magnificent republic. You have come from the rocky shores of Maine and the volcanic peaks of Hawaii. From the snowy woods of Wisconsin and the red deserts of Arizona. From the green farms of Kentucky and the golden beaches of California.
Together, we represent the most extraordinary nation in all of history. What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered?
I ask the men and women of this Congress: Look at the opportunities before us. Our most thrilling achievements are still ahead. Our most exciting journeys still await. Our biggest victories are still to come. We have not yet begun to dream.
And here I thought I was in the middle of a waking nightmare. 

Joshua Trump probably had the right idea. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Democrats' Co-option of Race Hits Snags

The liberal class is all in a tizzy about Virginia Governor and amateur blackface entertainer Ralph Northam and his staunch refusal (as of this writing) to resign. Judging from all the media coverage, the tizzy is not so much about Northam injuring black people because of his racist behavior. It's that the incontrovertible evidence of his racist behavior is coming so close to the next election.

It was bad enough when Northam first admitted that he was either the dude in blackface or the dude in the KKK garb in his medical school yearbook photo, before quickly retracting the confession. But when he appeared on the verge of reprising the Michael Jackson moonwalk dance he performed as an Army medical officer, all bets about his "woke"  post-racial mindset were off. He still doesn't get it.

In this age of politics as spectator sport, politicians are used to manufacturing their own dramatic personal narratives as a way to avoid addressing deep societal problems. The standard excuse they use is that every crisis - like, say, 30 million Americans lacking health insurance in the richest country on earth - is just too close to Election Day for us to insist that our endangered, pragmatic and sensitive Democratic politicians do anything about it beyond mouthing platitudes. No matter that there is more than a year to go before November 2020. It's always a perpetual campaign. Their winning a seat is more important, in the long term, than the long-term survival of their constituents.

It's even worse in Virginia, which will hold its own off-year statehouse elections this coming November. As the HuffPost reports, quoting the usual Democratic operative granted the usual anonymity to speak frankly because of the sensitive self-dealing involved:
Democrats have a good  chance of taking control of both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, where Republicans currently have narrow majorities, in November. Republicans now hold a three-seat majority in the state House and a two-seat advantage in the state Senate. But Northam remaining at the top of the ticket could jeopardize Democrats' shot at unified control of government.
It's an unimaginable scenario going into an election cycle," said an advisor to a Democratic state senator who requested anonymity to speak freely. "This is the closets opportunity Democrats have to take control of the legislature in a generation."
The anonymous operative said the party is terrified that, absent Northam disappearing, Republicans will use the yearbook photo in campaign ads in an effort to depress black turnout. The operative did not comment on what Democrats have to offer the black voters of Virginia, besides cosmetic diversity.

They lose control of the narrative when one of their own party selfishly lets out his true inner reactionary and thereby endangers the careers of his fellow politicians besides, come to think of it, deeply wounding the feelings and perhaps even endangering the very lives of the black and brown people they supposedly care so much about. It becomes especially fraught for corporate Democrats, whose main, and perhaps only, theme and narrative of this perpetual campaign is beating Donald Trump just for the sake of beating Donald Trump.  They'v been working overtime to  flaunt the "diversity" of their own slate of candidates as a virtue-signaling tool to show that they are not racists like Trump and his Republican Party.

As Politico reported in November about the party's planned reliance on race and racial issues to defeat Trump:
The recent, more explicit rhetoric on race among potential 2020 Democratic hopefuls -- who, to varying degrees, have addressed racial issues for years -- is at least partly strategic. Black voters are likely to be decisive in many 2020 primaries, especially in the South.
"It's fairly simple -- s/he who wins the black vote, wins the primary," one advisor to Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign said in a text message. It was no accident that Clinton's first major policy speech during her 2016 campaign was about race and the criminal justice system. "It's time to end the era of mass incarceration," she said at Columbia University in April 2015. Clinton frequently discussed implicit racial bias on the campaign trial, and used the term "systemic racism" in her Democratic National Convention speech accepting her nomination, the first major party nominee to do so. But she was an imperfect messenger for those policies, given that her husband signed the 1994 crime bill that contributed to the era she was condemning." 
It also didn't help that in her own first memoir, Clinton fondly reminisced about the prison slave labor she used as Arkansas first lady. Abiding by racist tradition, she wrote, quickly won out over her initial misgivings.

It also doesn't help the corporate party cause when designated presidential favorite Kamala Harris gets caught on video bragging to an audience of rich white donors about prosecuting the poor, mainly black, mothers of truant children and even imitating their dialect while doing so. "If you don't go to school, Kamala gonna put both you and me in jail," she laughingly imagined one distraught mom saying to her child. Since Harris had "a lot of political capital," she was going to spend it by summoning up her bold inner white supremacy-serving angel, much to the chagrin of her own staff. Because if there is one thing that endears neoliberal candidates to their donors, it's their willingness to go against their own base and their own party. It has nothing to do with making their constituents' lives better. In fact, it's the exact opposite. The more that they're willing to punish the poor, the better that the wealthy plutocrats like it.

So with Ralph Northam now entering the fray and making such a complete ass of himself by not employing the standard Clinton-Harris Democratic dog whistle, it makes it all that much harder for Democrats to wield their hollow anti-racist cudgels against Trump and the GOP without looking like complete hypocrites.

The corporate Democratic Party, like any political party, is all about power being an end in itself. It is the exact opposite of what Martin Luther King Jr. had to say about the use of "political capital" and power:

"When I talk about power and the need for power, I'm talking in terms of the need for power to bring about the political and economic change necessary to make the good life a reality. I do not think of political power as an end. Neither do I think of economic power as an end. They are ingredients in the objective that we seek in life. And I think that end or that objective is a truly brotherly society, the creation of the beloved community."

So what is a postmodern hypocritical Democratic operative to do?

Change the subject, of course, and smear a popular progressive with the guilt-by-association racist brush.

David Leonhardt of the New York Times is in a bit of a tizzy because Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke by phone over the weekend about forging a trans-Atlantic alliance with British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whom the neoliberal class has long smeared as an anti-Semite. Leonhardt says that because the left-wing Corbyn "cozies up" - that is, shares occasional stages with - "known anti-Semites" -  that makes him the same thing as a racist GOP white nationalist. And it makes AOC "problematic," especially in a week when "the whole country is rightly denouncing Ralph Northam's bigotry."

This is a stretch, declaring her guilty by her association with a leftist politician himself declared guilty by associating with alleged bigots. It's kind of a third degree of guilt by association.

This is how slyly they use their racist cudgel, by accusing popular leftists as well as "deplorable" Trump voters of racism. They easily pounded Bernie Sanders with it because of his alleged discomfort with black people, because he's a white guy from a whitey white state. They had a hard time at first with AOC, given her own brown skin and their own shallow reliance on identity politics. Now it looks as though they finally think they've got a plan to bring her down. Guilt by association by association by association. 

The pounding of their anti-racist cudgels rings about as hollow as the rest of their platitudinous neoliberal rhetoric.