Thursday, May 30, 2019

#Russiagate Exhaustion

I got tired just watching Robert Mueller III totter up to the podium on Wednesday to wearily announce that just because he'd found no evidence that Trump is a crook doesn't mean that Trump is not a crook.

Heads, which had barely begun to heal from the initial release of Mueller's written report, exploded anew when the special prosecutor announced he would prefer not to testify before Congress. His report, he said, speaks for itself. He is so, so done with it all.

Ranking House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries summed up his party's dilemma all too well when he groused that "there is a difference between reading the book and seeing the movie on the big screen.”

It seems that Trump isn't the only American who doesn't read.  Polls have revealed for years that most US citizens don't read more than one or two books a year. And despite its best-seller status, "The Mueller Report" is pretty dry reading, even for die-hard readers.

Who has the time, anyway? Even an article in The Week about people not reading much any more was classified as a "speed read" in a probably futile effort to get more people to read it. 

If it's not on a screen, then it doesn't exist. And with so many shows to choose from, the recent bravura C-Span-streamed marathon reading of the report by an ensemble cast of Democrats attracted only a tiny number of eyeballs.

Politics is spectacle. Politicians see voters as a blob of consumers addicted to their various screens. The consent has been manufactured by the corporate media conglomerate, and the learned passivity is complete.

So the longer that our congress critters can keep the Mueller-centered suspense (and the #Russiagate franchise) alive, and the electorate barely awake, the better they think it will be for their ultimate goal, which is limited to winning elections and raising scads of money to do so.

Since Democrats are damned if they do impeach and damned if they don't, they might as well do the right thing as ordained by the Constitution. Otherwise, win or lose, they won't be treated kindly in the history books.

Oh, I forgot. People don't read actual books, not when there are rage-filled twitter feeds and Facebook flummery to keep them amused.

That's why corporate media outlets pounced with glee when Trump wrote one of his typically garbled tweets this morning. "Trump Tweets and Then Retracts, Statement that Russia Helped Him Get Elected" shrilled the New York Times in a particularly egregious example of "gotcha" churnalism.

Here's the original tweet that had media heads exploding in Toldja So! triumph: 

Russia, Russia, Russia! That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax...And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. It was a crime that didn’t exist. So now the Dems and their partner, the Fake News Media,.....
....say he fought back against this phony crime that didn’t exist, this horrendous false accusation, and he shouldn’t fight back, he should just sit back and take it. Could this be Obstruction? No, Mueller didn’t find Obstruction either. Presidential Harassment!
It's somewhat surprising that the Times isn't also reporting that Trump falsely claimed that Russia has literally disappeared off the face of the planet for the sole fact that it had nothing to do with getting him elected. But that would have entailed getting their fact-checker to refer to Google Earth in order to determine whether Russia is still there, and then writing a brand new outraged article about Trump's Eleven-Thousandth Lie.

It's exhausting. And it's futile.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

When Concern-Trolling Oligarchs Attack

One way that hospital CEOs justify their increasingly obscene pay packages is to market the hospitals they run as "health systems" instead of hospitals. This is especially true when a private corporation (Continuum Health Partners) buys up several struggling charity hospitals at bargain basement prices and then merges them all into one behemoth.
They justify enriching themselves and their shareholders off the backs of the poor and the sick by occasionally voicing great concern for their treat-and-dump clientele. They run expensive ad campaigns, including videos which aired during the televised Academy Awards show.

One of the easier and more cost-effective ways to accomplish this onerous marketing task, though, is to publish an ad disguised as an op-ed in the New York Times.

And lest the wealthy Wall Street investors in Kenneth L. Davis's Mount Sinai Health System conglomerate of providers become unduly concerned about his concern for the poor, he enlisted as his Times co-author one of the best friends that Wall Street ever had: former Treasury Secretary and Citibank CEO Robert Rubin. There hasn't been this much deference to the sensitivities of the rich since 2015, when Mount Sinai officially dropped the Roosevelt name from the Roosevelt Hospital it subsumed in the interests of cost-cutting.

The gist of their concern-trolling Times piece is this: If only the poor and the sick didn't live in such crappy housing situations and had more to eat, then the poor and the sick wouldn't be straining our country's precious for-profit Health Systems to the absolute breaking point!

Now, why didn't we think of that before Rubin and Davis deigned to enlighten us about their awesome discovery, which seemingly ranks right up there with the unearthing of King Tut's Tomb? And to get us properly prepped for the absolute genius of their Eureka moment, the Times even cooperatively headlines the piece: "A Secret to Better Health Care."


Rubin and Davis start out by honestly admitting that American Health Systems are indeed a complete mess. But that mess is really the fault of other systems, such as the food stamp system and the housing system.

If our spending on social programs were (sic) more in line with other developed countries, our health care costs would fall. That means that as policymakers evaluate a social program, they should weigh not only its direct and second-order benefits — from reducing crime and recidivism to increasing productivity — but also its effect on lowering federal health care costs.
This demonizes the poor and the sick by conflating poverty and illness with crime. We must spend more on social programs, not because it is the right and the humane thing to do,  but because a little extra spending on poor people is better for the bottom line of both the System and the investor class. The goal is to get the laggards producing.

The impetus, or hook, for this op-ed appears to be the case of a recently-released Mount Sinai System patient who became trapped in his New York high-rise apartment when the elevator broke down. A System social worker prevailed upon management to make repairs, because the patient otherwise would have been unable to score his heart failure medication and (if he survived) then put an even greater strain on The System with a premature readmission and even possible denial of his untimely insurance claim.

If the System can suggest better nutrition and housing for its customers, it will also be less prone to lawsuits for releasing them too soon into horrible living conditions. It will help absolve them of responsibility when System management shows itself willing to suggest in the New York Times that mold be ameliorated and elevators repaired.

But no concern-trolling neoliberal manifesto could ever be complete without the oligarchs also insisting that the crime-prone lazy poor and sick also have some "skin in the game." Citing a study conducted by the RAND Corporation, Rubin and Davis continue:

And once in stable housing, beneficiaries can better pursue public benefits and job opportunities.The Los Angeles program showed even greater cost savings, according to a study by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation. After receiving housing assistance, beneficiaries’ costs to the public health system plummeted. Inpatient services fell by 75 percent. Over all, the study found that, even accounting for the increased housing costs, recipients’ total social service and health care costs fell by 20 percent. And beneficiaries showed signs of reduced involvement in crime and improved mental health.
Notice how smoothly they pivot from the trapped man with heart failure to the miracle of all those sick and poor people suddenly getting law-abiding and spry and enthused about finding a job, and without the government even having to implement a federal jobs system with a living wage!

It's just too bad that the Times's big reveal of The System's Secret to Health doesn't also clue us in about the location of all those wonderful job opportunities. But as long as the message is bipartisan or nonpartisan, it's just got to be good. For rich people, especially.

My published response to the New York Times:

This column is so rich.
Pssst... want to know the real secret? The US oligarchy doesn't want our market-based mess of a health care system to be replaced by guaranteed single payer insurance.
 But rather than come right out and admit it, Mr. Rubin recommends a little stitch here and a little stitch there to repair a tattered social safety net that, it just so happens, he had a large role in shredding back when he was one of Bill Clinton's main economic advisers.
It was Rubin who also urged Clinton to work with House Speaker Newt "Contract With America" Gingrich to dismantle welfare. It was Rubin who wanted Social Security privatized. Thank goodness that our great national heroine, Monica Lewinsky, came along when she did and ruined that scheme before tens of millions of precarious lives were further ruined in the selfish interests of Wall Street.
 Thanks to deficit hawks like Rubin and 40 years of neoliberal austerity, our average national life expectancy has plummeted for the third straight year. If our oligarchic "thought leaders" really cared, they'd also be espousing enhanced Social Security benefits and better legal protections for tenants against greedy landlords. Decent housing shouldn't be limited to fixing broken elevators and slapping bleach on moldy walls. The rents are too damned high!
  Mr. Davis,co-author of this piece, is among the highest paid hospital CEOs, his compensation having risen to $12 million in 2017. 
Wealth inequality is the real killer.
As Dean Baker points out, Robert Rubin also was behind the 1990s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act deregulating Wall Street, which led to the collapse of the housing market in 2008, and the subsequent evictions of 10 million people from their homes. Rubin made a personal fortune from the bursting of the housing bubble. Most people have never recovered.

Was the man trapped in his apartment and suffering heart failure also a victim of Rubin's policies? Was he living in substandard housing because Wall Street had forced him out of his original home when he lost his job and couldn't pay the rent or the mortgage?

The New York Times op-ed doesn't say. 

It's a secret.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Give Me Your Bored, Your Rich, Your Coddled Asses

Jeff Bezos may have left the Big Apple in a huff because the huddled masses balked at building him a private helipad and paying him billions of dollars for the privilege of having a new Amazon headquarters in their neighborhood. But that snub didn't stop the world's richest man from returning to the Big Apple last week to mingle with his plutocratic peers at the exclusive star-studded gala opening of the new $100 million Statue of Liberty museum. 

When you're the colossal Jeff Bezos, simply mingling with your fellow billionaires and corporate donors is not enough. What do you give the man who already has everything? It was a dilemma, for sure. But they finally came up with the nifty idea of getting Oprah herself to award him his own Special Star, to be permanently affixed to a mural in the museum. It will vie with the 1883 Emma Lazarus sonnet ("The New Colossus") for millions of pairs of tourist eyes, yearning to be free to buy stuff on the Internet.

Well, not quite. It turns out that Bezos actually paid $2 million for his star, and it's ostensibly in honor of his immigrant father Miguel (pictured above). The wealthy may not only buy stars, they can also purchase stripes forged from the iron bars of the statue's original armature.

Oh, and since you're Oprah, you also got your own award, for your unspecified "contributions to freedoms, both domestic and abroad." It didn't cost her a dime, because freedoms are free and states of mind are priceless.

Hillary Clinton, wearing one of her signature Chairman Mao jackets, was also there. You might remember Hillary as the former Secretary of State who in 2014 warned "irresponsible" Central American parents not to send their endangered children north of the border. The US government would immediately deport them right back to the gang violence and poverty they had fled, at great risk to their lives and limbs, as a direct result of US-sponsored regime change coups. Hillary herself had been instrumental in forging the military coup that toppled the democratically-elected president of Honduras in 2009. Her decision to not welcome Central American refugees was not due to Trump-style racism and xenophobia, but simply in order to "send a message" to future incipient migrants.

Ha Ha, I Got a Star and You Didn't!

Former New York City billionaire Mayor Michael "Stop and Frisk" Bloomberg was also on hand, champagne in hand, to celebrate all the classy tempest-tossed freedom. 

Entertainment was provided by, among other stars, Gloria Estefan. She covered the old Kate Smith standard "God Bless America." I guess the plutocrats at the glitzy gala hadn't gotten the message that this song is newly acknowledged to be "tainted with racist lyrics" in much the same way that the Statue of Liberty itself is historically tainted with racism. The monument of freedom was never exactly viewed as a beacon of hope or welcome to Black people, despite the "emancipation" proclamation.

But, as Oprah's own "O" magazine hastened to glowingly report, Oprah herself offered such "moving words" about letting freedom ring and so forth on her very first visit to Liberty Island that racism was all but forgotten as everybody wined and dined and schmoozed. "America is about an ideal, and that ideal is for everybody" was her facile and reassuring message to her fellow plutocrats. 

Although the gentrification of Liberty Island and nearby Ellis Island has been creeping along for many decades, if not forever, the event which truly transformed this national park from a premier global public tourist destination to a Disneyfied pleasure palace and private corporate event venue was The Day That Changed Everything: Sept. 11, 2001.

The ritual trek by millions of the modern "wretched refuse of your teeming shore" up to the Statue's crown is now pretty much a thing of the past. Tickets to the top are very expensive and severely limited, ostensibly due to perpetual terror threats. Less than 20 percent of the island's annual 4 million visitors are ever allowed to enter even the base of the statue, let alone the pedestal and the crown.

Obviously, the traveling hoi polloi of the world need something besides the Jeff Bezos Star to attract them to this all-but-shuttered iconic site  As museum designer Edwin Schlossberg, the husband of heiress, political dynast and Boeing Director Caroline Kennedy, explained it to Forbes magazine:
“While the Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognizable icons in the world, few people ever get to climb to its crown or get to see Lady Liberty’s face up close. Our goal for the design of the museum experience is to immerse visitors in not just the grandeur and sweeping history of the statue but also the very idea of liberty itself. We want them to leave with a deeper understanding of what liberty means to them and the active role required to uphold it.”
To help ordinary people arrive at the nirvana of a deeper understanding of freedom, they will be allowed to watch an "immersive film"  about climbing up to the crown as a substitute for actually doing it. No active role will be required of them. They will be able soak up all that magical liberty without ever breaking a sweat.

You will not trudge. You will not plod. You will fly to the very top in only eight to ten minutes!
Weaving through this soaring theater space, museum-goers will learn the rich story of the Statue’s origins and be captivated by a virtual fly-through ascending the Statue that recreates interior views and sounds. Visitors will be invited to contemplate liberty today and its measures around the world, such as access to education, free elections, and a free press. 
Please remember as you wallow in all this simulated freedom that "access" to a human right is not the same thing as actually achieving it. Freedom comes at great monetary cost. Unless, of course, your name is Jeff Bezos and your corporate kingdom of Amazon not only pays no income taxes but is entitled to tax refunds. And a star on the Statue of Liberty mural.

The most important thing you can do to enhance your virtual freedom experience, though, is to bring your neoliberal state of mind (but no outside food or beverages!) with you to the Statue of Liberty Simulacrum. 

First, you need to believe that you still have as much "access" to the original statue as you have to the health care marketplace and a college education in the Land of the Free. You can roam around at will and gawk all you want.

And despite the United States being home to whole new lost generations of refugees from the middle class and indebted college graduates with few decent job prospects, the museum's corporate sponsors still aim to give their visitors all the liberal education they can handle in one truncated day. 

But you're not done yet, because the last stop before leaving the museum is the Inspiration Gallery.
In this awe-inspiring space, visitors can reflect upon what they have seen and experienced in the museum. Guests will be invited to document their visit and express their views by adding a self-portrait and collage of inspirational images to an ever-growing digital experience called Becoming Liberty. The tour culminates with an up-close view of Liberty’s most iconic symbol – her original torch – held high for nearly 100 years and still a touchstone of the light Liberty shines from generation to generation. Rescued from the elements and replaced in 1986, the torch will be the most powerful artifact visitors encounter as they reach the end of their museum experience. A model of the Statue's face offers another tactile moment, and the glass walls afford magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty herself set against a stunning backdrop of the New York City skyline. 
Finally, as much as the oligarchs and celebrities who partied hearty at the museum's glitzy grand opening might scoff at a Green New Deal to save the planet, they still want you to know that the Lady Liberty Simulacrum is as "sustainable" a construction project as any modern construction project can possibly be.
The museum embodies an environmentally responsible design and best practices for sustainability. It features material reuse of the existing Administration Building, a green roof-scape, and bird-safe glass exteriors. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it is set above 500-year flood levels and built to withstand hurricane force winds. 
So even though the Liberty museum brochure promises that you'll be blown away, if not drown in all that immersive experience, you won't actually be blown away or drown. If you can withstand the commercial Disneyfication of a great national monument, you'll probably be able to withstand anything.

Speaking of withstanding stuff, I would now like to reminisce about my own experience at the Statue of Liberty with my two young children back in the late spring of 1993.

The gala fun began way ahead of schedule, as we were driving to our town recreation center to catch a chartered bus down to the city and the ferry. As I was signalling for a left turn into the parking lot, our car was violently rear-ended by a motorist who said he was blinded by the early morning sun. Luckily for us, a town cop and a whole crowd full of fellow liberty-seeking day trippers witnessed the entire accident. Still in a daze, and so as not to disappoint the kids, I decided to go ahead with our trip after the police officer kindly arranged for our damaged car to be towed to a body shop.

On the way to the ferry, we passed the World Trade Center, still encased in yellow crime scene tape from the recent first bombing of the site. On reaching Liberty Island, we ate our brown-bag lunches on the pedestal (still allowed!) before trudging up the hundreds of narrow stairs to the Crown (at no extra cost!) to peer out at the New York skyline for a minute, all crammed together like wretched but hopeful refuse in immigrant steerage class.

Of course, the combination of the delayed whiplash symptoms from our rear-end car crash and the climb to the top left the three of us with extremely sore bodies by the following morning. But at least we can still humble-brag to anybody who will listen that we were among the last, lost decade of people ever to have climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty at no extra charge. We had a completely immersible and tactile experience that my mind and body will never forget, right down to my aching arthritic vertebrae.

As Oprah plagiarized in her Liberty Pleasure Island keynote speech to the Leisure Class: "Let freedom ring!" 

But as the far wiser and far more original John Donne wrote a long time ago: "No man is an island, entire of itself.... And therefore never send for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

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."

Of the unarmed people Special Ops chief Gallagher is accused of recklessly gunning down were a woman wearing a hijab and an elderly man. The young captive he is charged with stabbing to death was on a table receiving emergency medical treatment. Gallagher later reportedly bragged about killing the helpless injured man in emails to colleagues.

It seems obvious that by pardoning these military men 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.) 


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.


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?