Monday, September 30, 2019

Democracy, CIA-Style

By artificially narrowing the Trump impeachment inquiry to "Ukraine-gate" under the auspices of the House Intelligence Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has all but assured that this constitutional remedy for removing a criminal president from office will proceed largely in secret, away from the public eye and away from public accountability.

At the very least, much if not most of the star witness testimony of the unnamed CIA official, who is rather ridiculously being marketed as a "whistle-blower," will not be held in a public forum. This is for the ostensible reason of protecting him from the nefarious machinations of Doctor Evil, a/k/a Donald Trump.

To help effect public compliance with this essential secrecy, the ubiquitous Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff is waxing breathless to the point of asphyxia on the corporate cable shows about all the complicated security protections needed to be put in place in order to keep the Informer's identity anonymous and his physical well-being assured.

Once the script of the CIA official's testimony has been honed and edited to self-serving perfection, this individual may finally make his debut before the cameras incognito, probably with a hood over his head and his voice disguised by some of the cool technology that we so admire in the Hollywood movies about our sexy, daring, cool and selfless Intelligence Community. Whatever props can elicit the maximum cloak-and-dagger excitement for the TV audience, the better that the producers of the Democratic Party-Security State-Media Complex, or Impeachment, Inc. will look.

Meanwhile, we'll have to be satisfied with such tawdry episodes as The Rudy Giuliani Story. In perhaps the most extreme role reversal and plot twist in modern political theater history, the once-lauded Mayor of Nine Eleven has morphed from prosecuting mob bosses to defending them. 

Lest the Impeachers come across as too James Bond-ish, Nancy Pelosi has carefully leaked her own secret list of solemn Impeachment Talking Points for use by the supporting congressional cast as they head for their home districts for a two-week recess to try and convince their constituents that the national security of the elites should be of grave concern to one and all.

Forget hassling your elected representatives about health care and the climate catastrophe and your crushing college debt and your unaffordable housing costs. Because the fates of certain centrist Democrats are more important than your lives. Pelosi and her henchmen are thus embarking on an unabashed Psy-Ops campaign of the type first devised by the CIA itself some 75 years ago in order to convince the world that they were not safe from Russian aggression in the aftermath of World War II. 

And make no mistake: "Ukraine-gate" is not only about impeachment, it's about the reanimated Cold War against Russia waged by an ever more militarized United States. With 800 to perhaps one thousand global bases under dire threat by Putin's grand total of nine, the USA is obviously in profound danger from "the Russians" - not least because they posted a few thousand cheesy Facebook ads to swing the election to Donald Trump and to sow domestic discord in the Happiest Place on Earth. That's right: America was a consumer paradise, a virtual Disneyland on steroids before Trump came along to spoil the mood and make American consumerism look bad to the whole free world. If we can only get rid of him and go back to the Status Quo, all will be well.

As it is, Trump is such a profound threat to the world order that even his imposition of more economic sanctions on Russia and his trashing of a nuclear arms accord were not enough for the order-mongers. The fact that he withheld, or is accused of withholding, a fortune in deadly weapons from the US-sponsored Ukrainian fighting forces was the last straw. It was more than the American Security State can be expected to bear.

So think of this artificially narrow impeachment inquiry as a proxy battle in the larger US-backed Ukraine vs. Russia war. The CIA has always acted in behalf of US multinational corporations anxious to plunder the wealth and natural resources of other countries and anxious to overthrow "corrupt" socialist-leaning or worker-friendly regimes. The CIA has always partnered with or installed US-friendly right wing puppets, arming them and training their death squads.

 They view Donald Trump as the Putin surrogate who has had the absolute chutzpah to denigrate corporation-serving NATO forces even as he caved to their Russophobic demands in a futile attempt to show that he can be just as vicious a team player as the rest of the elite American establishment. 

It hasn't worked. He just can't keep his big oafish mouth shut, and his clumsy paranoid tweeting thumbs still, and his self-dealing and corruption under as good control as his fellow elite leaders have historically done. He totally lacks the charm offensive skills so necessary in any chief executive, whether it be of a corporation or of the One Exceptional Nation itself. 

Donald Trump has got to go. He is not a good marketing or propaganda tool for our weaponized Democracy, neither the domestic variety nor the deadlier exported variety.

The Democrats and their "deep state" partners don't want to delve too deeply in Trump's long history of financial chicanery, however. Because as the Mueller investigation so painfully showed, some of their own respectable colleagues also run the risk of becoming collateral damage in such open-ended investigations. Witness the downfall of super-lobbyist Tony Podesta and the criminal trial of former White House attorney Greg Craig, who served under Obama and who was just acquitted of charges stemming from his own self-dealing in behalf of Ukrainian oligarchs.

But lest the corporate Democrats look even more like the hypocrites they are, they're claiming that a handful of valiant "front-line" representatives are in danger of losing their seats and the House of losing its majority if impeachment proceedings are not severely truncated and limited in scope.

"Front-line" is a telling bellicose adjective, describing a cadre of conservative congress critters who supposedly are just as endangered as the anonymous CIA "whistle-blower" due to their wins in solid GOP districts. Two of the most prominent Front-liners are Abigail Spanberger and Elissa Slotkin, who themselves are high-ranking (allegedly former) CIA officials.

Thanks to a highly coordinated week-long corporate media blitz calling for Trump's impeachment,"the polls have changed drastically on this," Pelosi said in a carefully-leaked "private" conference with her members on Sunday. In so saying, she used another common information warfare ploy: transforming a desire of the elite class into a desire of the non-elite class through the magic of propaganda and the measuring of its effectiveness through skewed, selective polling.

But lest the Party appear too gleeful and vindictive, she added:
“Our tone must be prayerful, respectful, solemn, worthy of the Constitution.”
As far as we know, she didn't suggest that congress critters appear at their constituent town halls decked out in religious garb and swinging incense-wafting chasubles, the better to awe-strike people who already are feeling mightily struck down by the worst income inequality of modern times. 

But as the New York Times reports, they will be "clutching talking points cards headlined 'No One is Above the Law.'"

These index cards contain a Holy Trinity of classic psy-ops techniques for the lawmaking preachers to inculcate into their congregations: (my interpretations in parentheses)
  • that Trump “engaged in serious wrongdoing betrayed his oath of office and undermined national security;” (security for the ruling establishment and the maintenance of elite rule)
  • that the president “pressured a foreign government to target a political opponent,” and what’s more, “tried to cover it up;” (instill fear in the populace by the "othering" technique, or xenophobia.)
  • and that Democrats are planning to stick to just the facts in the inquiry as it moves forward. (the facts which fit the desired narrative, but which do not necessarily include facts which don't adhere to the narrowly defined narrative.)
It is an easy-to-understand, digestible narrative, unlike the other inquiries Democrats have been pursuing, including the Russia investigation, hush money payments and Mr. Trump’s business dealings.
“I still believe in story,” said Representative Anna G. Eshoo, Democrat of California and a close ally of Ms. Pelosi. “There’s clarity to this Ukraine story.”
Centrist Democrats must think that their constituents are real dolts, unable to understand even basic cheating or bribery, yet easily swayed by Cold War rhetoric and the fear and xenophobia that it instills. All people need in lieu of guaranteed health care and food on the table is a good story, especially if it has echoes of James Bond or Austin Powers to keep them diverted and entertained. 

The coincidental fact that the CIA whistle-blower law was just quietly changed to allow reports to be based on second-hand complaints and information should alert us to the inconvenient truth that this secretive, unaccountable "government within a government" has also arrogated to itself the power to remove, in collusion with our elected representatives, any elected representative that the ruling elites of Empire don't like - in this case, Donald Trump.

 Trump is the most criminal person ever elected to our nation's highest office, so you may ask why it should even matter if the CIA is coordinating his removal.

But it does matter, because a disturbing precedent is being set, one that is actually antithetical to the Constitution that Nancy Pelosi claims to so revere. 

What if by some miracle Bernie Sanders overcomes the Democratic Party's meddling and undemocratic machinations and does indeed become our next president?

The CIA, promoted and even initially staffed by some of this country's most eminent intellectual and financial elites from the cosseted world of the Ivy League, the landed aristocracy,Wall Street and prominent mainstream media outlets, will no doubt perform its sworn duty and do everything in its power to remove him from office, on any pretext whatsoever. A coordinated, relentless, disempowering stealth campaign of red-baiting to prevent any resurgence of the New Deal would probably begin within a day of his election.

And it would all be perfectly legal. It was during Christmas week 2016, when nobody was paying much attention, that Barack Obama very modestly, quietly, and un-Trumpily signed into law the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, which allows the State Department to coordinate its own domestic propaganda programs with other agencies and mainstream media outlets in order to battle so-called foreign disinformation. Such domestic propaganda from government agencies, specifically aimed at US citizens, had previously been banned. 

As Mint Press News reported,
Introduced by Congressmen Adam Kinzinger and Ted Lieu, H.R. 5181 seeks a “whole-government approach without the bureaucratic restrictions” to counter “foreign disinformation and manipulation,” which they believe threaten the world’s “security and stability.”
 “As Russia continues to spew its disinformation and false narratives, they undermine the United States and its interests in places like Ukraine, while also breeding further instability in these countries,” Kinzinger explained in a statement. “The United States has a role in countering these destabilizing acts of propaganda, which is why I’m proud to introduce [the aforementioned bill]. This important legislation develops a comprehensive U.S. strategy to counter disinformation campaigns through interagency cooperation and on-the-ground partnerships with outside organizations that have experience in countering foreign propaganda.”
Make no mistake — this legislation isn’t proposing some team of noble fact-finders, chiseling away to free the truth from the fa├žades of various foreign governmental narratives for the betterment of American and allied populations. If passed, this legislation will allow cumbrously pro-‘American’ propaganda to infiltrate cable, online, and mainstream news organizations wherever the government deems necessary.
Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, hails from the US Air Force's elite Special Ops division. A veteran of the war on Iraq, he is a currently-serving member of the Air National Guard and was recently deployed to the militarized Texas border "to oversee security." 

California Democrat Lieu, an early proponent of Trump impeachment, also hails from the Air Force, with a current rank of colonel in the Air Force Reserve Command. Pelosi appointed him her assistant whip in 2017

It's no big surprise that Nancy Pelosi and Impeachment, Inc. are limiting the scope of their investigations. They don't want to expose themselves as the loyal anti-social and anti-socialist servants of the oligarchy and the Military-Industrial Complex that they always have been.

They are just as much the enemies of democracy as the more boorish Trump.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Cancel NYT Subscriptions-Gate

Chuck Schumer famously warned a newly-elected Donald Trump in 2017 that the CIA "has six ways from Sunday" to get him if he didn't stop bashing the "Intelligence Community."

Fast forward nearly three years. The New York Times, which is pushing Impeachment Now! with a vengeance - virtually its entire digital home-page is plastered with impeachment articles - is itself getting bashed from all sides for "outing" a CIA analyst as the whistle-blower. The scandal is that three anonymous government sources fed the Times enough information to make it pretty easy for the vengeful Trump administration to identify him. Not only was he posted to the White House for a time, he is an expert in US-Ukraine foreign policy. That should narrow it down to - oh, I don't know - one individual or maybe two.

Executive Editor Dean Baquet defended the revelation, lamely explaining that without it, readers might believe Trump's reckless allegation that the whistle-blower's report is nothing but a "political hack job." (As if liberal Times readers would ever take Trump's side in anything, and as if Trump fans would even read the Times in the first place!).

 And besides, as a subsequent article pleads, the Trump White House has known about the whistle-blower complaint for weeks, and the need to protect his identity is now moot.

The whistle-blower was detailed to work at the White House at one point, according to three people familiar with his identity, and has since returned to the C.I.A.
 His complaint suggested he was an analyst by training and made clear he was steeped in details of American foreign policy toward Europe, demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of Ukrainian politics and at least some knowledge of the law.
The whistle-blower’s expertise will most likely add to lawmakers’ confidence about the merits of his complaint and tamp down allegations that he might have misunderstood what he learned about Mr. Trump. He did not listen directly to the July call, but some White House colleagues told him that they were concerned they had witnessed “the president abuse his office for personal gain,” according to the complaint.
It should be fairly obvious from reading it that the author of the report is highly literate and extremely well-versed in foreign policy matters as well as the law. That the Times still felt the need to trumpet his credentials simply points to how obsessed the Knowledge Class is with proper credentials. The well-credentialed expert must have his Best and Brightest bona fides broadcast far and wide in order to elicit the proper respect and awe from the befuddled teeming masses.

One possibility is that the CIA, and probably also the Democratic Party, wanted the Times to semi-out the whistleblower, and then pretend to be all upset and aghast about the danger that the newspaper poses to their vulnerable agent. It's another week, another round of threats on Twitter to cancel one's Times subscription. That'll show 'em!

This controlled-leak tactic was employed in the New York Times's 2012 blockbuster scoop revealing the existence of Barack Obama's top-secret Kill List. It actually was a story spoon-fed to the Times with the aim of turning Obama's soft-on-terror image into that of a macho war hawk who nonetheless "agonized" before making his lofty, cerebral decisions about which Muslim "militant" to drone to death next. He was up for re-election in just a few short months. Nobody dreamed of impeaching him for extra-judicially assassinating people.

The Paper of Record is the establishment mouthpiece. It has been known to regularly submit national security articles to the proper authorities for vetting before publication. It has been known to suppress information about the illegal Bush wiretapping program at the specific request of George W. Bush himself, agreeing to delay publication until after he was safely elected. It helpfully broadcast the phony WMD stories to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The Paper of Record has also had no qualms about throwing both Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange under the bus after it so enthusiastically published slews of articles based upon the Wikileaks cables. Both of these war crime-exposing whistle-blowers are still rotting in jails. Any New York Times concerns about their safety are M.I.A. Democrats and Republicans alike still complain that they, along with the exiled Edward Snowden, should have gone through "proper channels" instead of acting independently and going to the press.

There's a lot more to this impeachment-by-CIA whistle-blower than meets the eye, and a lot more questions that must be asked. Was, for example, the whistle-blower involved in the Obama administration's orchestration of the Ukraine coup in 2014, which overthrew an admittedly corrupt but still democratically elected leader? Is this really mostly about the Democratic Party-Media-CIA Cooperative not wanting their own meddling and corruption exposed?

The very fact that impeachment appears to be restricted to "Ukraine-gate" is highly suspect. Cold War 2.0 and Russophobia are huge money-makers for weapons manufacturers, Wall Street investors and revolving-door politicians.

If it was regular humanity that the Democrats were so concerned about, they'd also impeach Trump on grounds of his cruel imprisonment of refugees in border concentration camps, along with the kidnapping and trafficking of perhaps thousands of migrant children. Instead, Nancy Pelosi handed over billions of dollars to Trump so that he could continue merrily scoffing at the "norms" which they pretend to hold so dear.


Times columnist Paul Krugman, meanwhile, thinks that impeachment will be good for the Economy - meaning the sacrosanct Market, which, much like Ayn Rand's Atlas, has merely "shrugged" over the Big Impeachment News:

If we had a normal administration, one that, whatever its ideology, was trying to govern the nation well, the distraction and paralysis that comes with an impeachment investigation could have adverse side effects, although even then the historical record is unclear. (Compared with the Trump era, the Nixon administration was a paragon of good government.)
 But this isn’t a normal administration; it has never seemed to care much about governing, and it is actively hostile to civil servants trying to do their jobs. So paralysis is good. The more time Trump appointees spend worrying about potential prosecution rather than planning loyalty purges, the better off all of us, from ordinary citizens to giant corporations, will be.
Impeaching Donald Trump is good for the economy.
Do you get the feeling that Krugman's definition of "ordinary citizens" and "all of us" is anybody who resides in the top 10 or 20 percent of income earners?

My bummer of a published response: 

The plutocrats will keep chugging along no matter what happens to Trump. The Senate confirmation of anti-labor lawyer Eugene Scalia as the new labor secretary is doubtlessly making the Market very happy, what with his long history of defending corporations against workers and fighting regulations that protect the rights and health and safety of workers.
 So impeachment cuts both ways, both distracting the Trumpies and distracting the rest of us as it becomes the latest media spectacle. Even in the unlikely event he is removed from office, the lives of ordinary people will not improve as a result.
 The planet will continue frying, drowning and suffocating. Assault weapons and violence will proliferate and spread. Tens of millions of people will keep going broke and dying prematurely due to the lack of the kind of guaranteed health care enjoyed by every other advanced nation.
Police will continue killing an average of three people every day. Congress will continue funding forever-wars and about 800 military bases around the globe. America will still incarcerate more people than anyplace else on earth.
What our ruling elites call American Exceptionalism should really be called American Deviance.
The Scalia confirmation, quietly voted upon Thursday at the height of Impeachment, Now!, has rightly been called "obscene" by Bernie Sanders. It is also being conveniently buried by the Times and other corporate media giants.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Son of #Russiagate

First let's get the obligatory "I'm not a Trump fan" disclaimer out of the way. The transcript of the July phone conversation that the U.S. president had with the Ukrainian president did indeed showcase Trump at his oafish, garbled, self-interested worst. He did indeed sound like a less talented and less subtle Tony Soprano.

 A smoking gun, though,the phone call definitely was not, Besides hinting that he wanted dirt on Joe Biden and his lovely son Hunter, Trump seemed just as interested in getting dirt on CrowdStrike. That's the investigatory agency employed by the Democratic National Committee which provided the FBI with its subsequent "assessment," or best guess, that the theft of emails so embarrassing to the Clinton campaign was done via  Russian hack rather than through an inside job. The FBI never independently examined the DNC servers, which Trump and others believe might currently be residing in Ukraine. There is an ongoing Department of Justice investigation into the actual origins of #Russiagate.

(I, for one, would love to get the dirt on CrowdStrike and the Clinton origins of Cold War 2.0)

The one thing that might nail Trump is the attempted cover-up of the transcript before he finally blinked and released the transcript - after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally blinked and agreed to at least consider impeachment. The CIA whistleblower, according to a just-released letter, claims that the phone call transcript in question had been illegally secreted within a separate White House computer system in order to protect Trump.

Even before the release of both the transcript and the whistle-blower complaint, the corporate media went into full hysterical overdrive last weekend. What finally changed Pelosi's mind were demands by the media and a group of so-called "Frontline" Democrats for impeachment. These congress critters, many of whom just happen to be former CIA and Pentagon employees, apparently made her an offer she couldn't refuse.

This is the same Nancy Pelosi who built her entire political career on the House Intelligence Committee. This is the same Nancy Pelosi who refused to impeach George W. Bush over his own abuses of power, including ordering torture and  illegally invading Iraq based solely upon fraudulent CIA claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that he planned to wield against the United States.

And this is the same old Democratic Party that would rather manufacture enemies and instill fear in voters than give voters what they actually want and what they truly need:  Medicare For All, a Green New Deal, medical and student debt forgiveness - you know, everything that Bernie Sanders is campaigning for. Once again, the elites are trying to co-opt non-elites in another one of their intra-oligarchical battles.

And who knows, maybe this is even their passive-aggressive way of getting rid of Joe Biden while they smarmily pretend to defend him against all manner of Trumpian slings and arrows. It could even be their passive-aggressive way of  getting Trump re-elected. They certainly aren't doing any favors to Elizabeth Warren's anti-corruption platform when she becomes forced to defend the corrupt Bidens on behalf of the party.

The best outcome will be the election of Bernie Sanders. This, of course, will happen over the DNC's cold dead body. (Fingers crossed.)

I responded over the weekend to the New York Times's Nicholas Kristof's hysterical Saturday column, which he penned even before the transcript and whistle-blower letter were released. He knew, he just knew, that there was something rotten going on. Because of the stinky stench! My published comment:
The Biden-Ukraine connection has been an open secret for some time. That Trump is using it for political gain has also been an open secret for quite some time. And it certainly is not the first, nor will it be the last,time that a president engages with a foreign leader for non-altruistic reasons.
 Look at the big picture. As the NYT reported back in May, "Hunter Biden...was one of many politically prominent Americans of both major parties who made money in Ukraine over the last decade. In several cases — most notably that of Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman — that business came under criminal investigation that exposed a seedy side of the lucrative Western consulting industry in Ukraine."
The fact that an employee of the CIA - perhaps the most secretive and unaccountable, de facto branch of the US government ever invented - is raising an alarm should also be taken with a huge grain of salt. In my view, both the media and the Democratic Party are being way too friendly to this agency, not least by constantly describing it as the "intelligence "community" as though it were a sewing circle. In fact, it is an often rogue operation that "tortured some folks" and quite recently burglarized Senate computers to meddle with that body's investigation and reporting of said torture.
 This is more palace intrigue designed to pit American against American based on their allegiance to one wing or the other of the oligarchic duopoly. That's what stinks.
Needless to say, my unpatriotic failure to jump on the impeachment bandwagon with the New York Times was not kindly received by some of the Reading Faithful. 

I can no longer access either the stand-alone comment (reprinted below) or a  follow-up from one "Mike Bonnell" who urged the Times to investigate me and other non-believers in order to confirm his suspicion that we are Russian assets. I flagged them both. After the better part of a day, the Times in its infinite wisdom finally removed them. Because if there is one thing they insist on, it's that people remain civil to one another as the Paper of Record drums up the xenophobia to a fever pitch. They also removed my own reply to "Mike" in which I surmised that Joe McCarthy must be cackling in his grave. I'd also politely requested that he divulge his complete list of tell-tale Russian code words in the interests of keeping my fellow Times readers safe from subversives.  
Mike BonnellMontreal, Canada
The Russians are hard at it. I've read at least three comments (names below) that made me think of caviar as I read them. I encourage readers to check out the 'letters' by the following and see if they don't find the grammar, expressions and sentiments a bit...Russian-trying-to-write-'good'-English like.
"Karen Garcia, Kirk & Lars"

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Gates Foundation: Poor People Need Better P.R.

The problem with poor people is not that they don't have money. The problem with poor people is that they have horrible reputations. And billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates wants to repair those reputations by holding a contest to see who in the Creative Class can propose the best ways to "combat the false narratives" about poverty in America.

Ten lucky winners will receive grants of up to $100,000 each if their ideas meet the standards of a secret panel of "expert" judges. According to The Hollywood Reporter, entries may include the written word, performance pieces and documentary films.

The Gates Foundation still pretends to be utterly baffled about the root causes of the most extreme wealth inequality of modern times, in which eight or twelve oligarchs - including Bill Gates himself - have pocketed more cash than is owned by the bottom half of the entire global population. 

Thomas Piketty and other economists, along with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, have thus proposed both domestic and global wealth taxes on these modern-day robber barons; their combined holdings could easily feed and house everybody on the planet who needs food and housing. But since the wealthy don't want to be taxed, they concern-troll instead, offering a mere pittance to "explore" ways to fix the very problems that they themselves have had an outsize hand in creating.

The poverty guru in charge of the Gates contest can't even explain its goals coherently. Although a Harvard-trained lawyer, Ryan Rippel sounds more like a graduate of the Joe Biden Culinary Institute For the Study of Word Salads: 
These stereotypes are so problematic in the search for solutions,” says Ryan Rippel, director of U.S. economic mobility and opportunity at the foundation.
“They cause us to demean people and not actually be in the conversation with a lens of humanity and a deep commitment to getting to the bottom of the nature of the challenge.”
Rippel never quite gets around to listing just what these stereotypes about poor people are.

His objective is the standard one beloved of philanthrocapitalism: to study the problems of poor people and in lieu of direct cash aid, to give money to experts who can study those problems some more. If poor people are consulted at all, it must be through the filter of rich people, or consultants and experts who get their funding from rich people and tax-averse corporations. Or, as Rippel so cogently explains on his web page, he is involved with "a number of partnerships to generate new data and public goods in service to those working to address barriers of opportunity."

Before poor people can ever hope to be housed and fed, the rich first must get to the bottom of the nature of the challenge. Because if Bill Gates's flunkies hope to fend off a wealth tax on his fortune, they must first pretend to commit to caring. And before they can pretend to commit to caring, they must dive into the deepest depths of their wells of greed and conduct more endless studies to help absolve them of all blame and responsibility.

Gates's new casting call to Hollywood is his foundation's first anti-poverty initiative designed exclusively for the United States. It comes just as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are ramping up their calls for taxing the wealthy, with the goal being to redistribute the wealth downward. The Gates Foundation's pushing of the narrative that poor people have a reputation problem is in itself a passive-aggressive narrative of poor-shaming. If something must be "combated" then there must be some basis for its actual existence. Right?

Since there are no rules restricting this contest to Hollywood and other media professionals, I suggest that poor people themselves should enter for the chance to win a hundred grand. A homeless person in California might chronicle her daily life on skid row with a borrowed smart phone. A struggling mother on a meager SNAP budget can write about visiting her poorly-stocked local food pantry every month. Somebody else could explain how they cut corners to meet rising rents on Walmart wages. The possibilities are endless.

Stories emphasizing solidarity among people would be even more compelling, such as Chicago teachers and nurses striking and marching right alongside their students and patients. An employee-produced documentary about the horrible working conditions in Amazon fulfillment centers and the resulting burgeoning labor movement would be similarly inspiring.

That way, when the Gates Panel of Experts ultimately awards the grant money for a film about Chelsea Clinton and her books-in-laundromats initiative, or to a heartwarming Joe Biden-inspired documentary about reputation-battered minority parents getting new record players to boost their kids' vocabularies, the poor themselves can cry foul and expose tax-avoiding philanthrocapitalism for what it is: a neoliberal greed racket to keep poor people down and out.

Deadline for entry is eight weeks away, so you'll need to come up with your ideas in a relative hurry so that the Gates Foundation can cut the checks in time for the big Democratic primaries next year.

But let the entrant beware. For buried deep within the Gates's criteria for winning their poverty propaganda funding is this neoliberal gem:
Change from a sole focus on lack of money to money, power, agency, and dignity.
In other words, they will fund only those portrayals of the "respectable" poor for whom the chronic and crushing lack of money is not their most pressing and selfish concern, for whom having enough cash to feed and house themselves and their families is of co-equal importance with such intangibles as identity and self-worth. Bill and Melinda Gates do not want to be parted from any of their own excess wealth. They do, however, want to feel good about themselves and their excess wealth. And they want you to feel good, too. Because through their embrace of the respectable, deserving poor as opposed to the undeserving poor, they can remind all the respectable "non-elites" in their audience that your own plight could always be worse. You might never even enjoy the privilege of seeing a poor person in her native habitat without Bill and Melinda as your anthropological field guides.

They want to discourage mass uprisings of increasing numbers of poor people by pretending to help poor people to help themselves with non-existent but optimistic "ladders of opportunity," along with helping Wall Street to help the poor with digitized financial services. And, of course, lots of Microsoft computers in classrooms in privatized, for-profit, non-unionized charter schools.

They also don't want Bernie Sanders to be president. His latest proposal to fund Medicare For All and other poverty-busting programs would literally cut the obscene Gates fortune right in half. Rival Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, is only politely asking the tech mogul and his cohort for a mere two cents on the dollar.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Oil-Friendly Obama Buckrakes Off Greta Thunberg

"You're never too young to lead" reads the header of the fund-raising email from Barack Obama that landed in my in-box this week  It was accompanied by a short video clip of his decidedly stiff meeting with Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.

The former president is not collecting donations to save trees, however. He is collecting money to cut them down, specifically to cut them down at pristine public parkland in Chicago to make way for his presidential center and professional golf course. In using Greta Thunberg to raise money to "inspire a new generation of leaders" who will burn untold gallons of jet fuel traveling to his center for the privilege of being inspired by his legacy, Obama has proven conclusively that cynicism has no age limits.

You're never too young or too old to believe that everybody is exploitable and everything must have a profit motive.

It's not as though centamillionaire Obama needs the funds to pay rent to the citizens who ostensibly own the parkland on which his shrine and entertainment complex is to be built. In a sweetheart deal inked with City Hall, his organization will pay only $10 for a 99-year lease on the property. Meanwhile, rents in the surrounding neighborhood, populated mainly by poor, retired and working class people, have already started to go up even before ground has officially been broken on the Obama Center.

Once many of those oxygen-contributing, shade-producing trees started coming down last year despite a lawsuit and without a public hearing or formal approval, the fix for the neighborhood seemed to be in. This is despite Obama's glib assurances to concerned residents he doesn't have to compensate them for their financial pain because gentrification won't happen until at least the next generation, or until his daughters might be affected by it. Not that Malia and Sasha will ever be priced out of their housing because of gentrification, of course.

But if you pay attention to this reality, you're probably too cynical to get with his feel-good neoliberal program. As Obama wrote in his buck-raking email, Greta Thunberg - without her even being consulted on the matter  - "embodies why Michelle and I started the Obama Foundation in the first place."

That's the power of young people - unafraid to believe that change is possible and willing to challenge conventional wisdom. Greta and her generation are making their voices heard, even at a young age. That's what's possible when we let (my bold) young people lead the way.
Of course, allowing young people to lead the way did not apply when, under the Obama administration in 2011, scores of Occupy camps throughout the United States were broken up by club-wielding police in a nationally orchestrated assault. Young people are inspiring only when neoliberal government and corporate leaders give them the green light, and only when their actions can help elect the desired political party, or help line the desired pockets.
And that's the examples of the idea behind the Obama Foundation. If we foster the next generation of young leaders with the tools, resources and connections they'll need down the road, then they'll handle the rest.

It makes you wonder how Greta Thunberg and the crowds of young people all over the world who are striking and demanding policies to address climate change ever came this far without Barack Obama as their inspiration. Without his "fostering" resources and myriad connections to powerful investors, how can they possibly be the neoliberal tools they need to be in order to be properly co-opted?

Nowhere in his fundraising email does Obama even directly bring up the climate catastrophe, and how wealthy, powerful and influential elite leaders can and should address it right this very minute. That's because climate change per se is not on his bucket list. He is only here to promote the young people who are promoting clean energy, using them to burnish his own image, as well as to profit from their independent efforts.

Otherwise, people might remember his own fealty to the fossil fuel industry. He  would prefer, for example, that they forget his months-long delay in barely acknowledging that the Gulf of Mexico was being permanently polluted by BP -  until graphic images of dead sea and shore life and a live underwater video feed of a blown well cap spewing out tons of crude gave him no other choice but to slap Big Oil on the wrist - after taking a dip in the Gulf with Sasha to convince us it was clean, the same way he later took his tiny sip of filtered Flint water to prove that it was safe.

He also doesn't want people to remember (or maybe even learn for the first time) that mere days after ostentatiously signing the Paris climate agreement in 2015, he quietly approved the previously-banned exportation of domestic fracked crude oil and its natural gas byproduct to the rest of the world. Like so many other toxic products which harm life, this measure was tucked safely inside a thick budget bill, and received little to no media attention. For his own part, Obama was still cynically basking in the media glow of Paris. His "all of the above" energy policy combined increased pollution and windfall industry profits with measures which only very slightly ameliorate pollution and global warming. His lifting of the ban on oil exports was cynically exchanged for a pathetic five-year tax credit for wind and solar energy providers.

 Obama discreetly sold out on the climate long before Donald Trump appeared on the scene to boast and bray about selling out on the climate. The two men differ a lot in style, but not so much in substance. Trump, as evidenced by Obama's own appointment of fossil fuel promoter and profiteer Ernest Moniz as his Energy Secretary, is not the first chief executive to have cynically staffed his cabinet with regulation-busting industry insiders. (Moniz, taking time out from well-compensated service on numerous energy and vulture capitalism boards, is currently embarked on an anti-Green New Deal crusade, which he describes as a "counterbalance" to the bill proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Edward Markey. He calls his own plan the Green Real Deal, because unless environment-destroying capitalism is invited to help fix what it has wrought, nothing can be real.)

As Jenny Zou of the Center of Public Integrity reported last year on Obama's reversal of the oil export ban:

“You’re giving one side something forever, and [another] something for a limited time. It didn’t strike us as the best deal,” said Ana Unruh Cohen, managing director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. Cohen was an aide to Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., when interest in the ban spiked on Capitol Hill. Markey was the deal’s most vocal opponent, calling it a “Trojan horse” for “pumping up Big Oil’s profits.”
Climate change was an afterthought in the debate over the ban, Cohen said. Both sides were fixated on how crude-oil exports would affect energy prices, not greenhouse-gas emissions. Experts wrongly predicted exports would amount to “a trickle, not a flood.” And Democrats mistakenly banked on pollution-cutting policies such as the Clean Power Plan — one of several Obama-era regulations being tossed out by Trump — to drive investment in renewable energy.
Even though the Obama White House publicly discouraged efforts to undo the ban, it ultimately signed off on the deal. Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, called it a “pathetic compromise” driven by the administration’s pro-export agenda. “The minute the White House staff signaled that they were going to endorse the lifting of the crude oil ban, all of the Democratic opposition to it evaporated,” he said. “Everybody was like, ‘Why would I go to the mat if my president isn’t going to the mat?’”
(It's probably no coincidence that Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who owns $1.75 million worth of stock in Exxon-Mobil and Chevron and other fossil fuel companies, has just mounted a primary campaign for Markey's Senate seat.)

It was only a year ago, at a gala fund-raising event in Houston, for some of the same oily oligarchs who had convinced him to lift the export ban, that Obama jokingly pointed to his role as Oil Extractor-in-Chief as inspiration for them to fork over more cash to an oil-funded think tank which exists for the deadly propagation of lethal, oily, free-market ideas. 

True to form, the New York Times gushed over the event, lauding the oil and gas industry-serving alumni from the two Bush administrations and the Obama administration for proving that bipartisanship isn't completely dead, and for acting ever so un-Trumpily civil to one another. 

"Not only did I not get indicted, nobody in my administration got indicted," Obama also humble-bragged to the assorted oil and gas moguls. Yes, and neither have any of them, despite their best efforts to squelch scientific evidence of climate change, their cover-ups of oil spills, their poisoning of wells by fracking chemicals, and their frequent violations of the Corrupt Foreign Practices Act when they bribe tin pot dictators to allow the theft of the natural resources of other, mainly poor, countries. 

Now, notice the contrast in tone and body language at Obama's meeting this week with Greta Thunberg, who appears to be less than inspired and amused as Obama clumsily tries to fist-bump her and then lamely asserts that "we're on the same team."

Meanwhile, for detailed information on the activists and Woodlawn neighborhood residents trying to stop Obama's environmentally destructive takeover of public parkland in Chicago, I encourage you to visit Jackson Park Watch for the lowdown on this sweetheart deal of a construction project and all the legal challenges to it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Democratic Senators Secretly Hope For Trump Re-Election

Or, as The Hill newspaper so delicately puts it, the neoliberal wingnuts in the Democratic Senate minority "quietly hope that Biden wins the nomination over rivals" Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Because there is no way that Biden, given his declining mental faculties combined with his racist, war-mongering, pro-Wall Street history, can ever beat Trump despite what largely unreliable polls say. Fewer people - especially fewer young people - will come out to vote for Biden than came out for Hillary Clinton. He is actually worse than Hillary Clinton, who at least didn't pocket $200,000 for enthusiastically endorsing a swing state GOP politician during her numerous paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and other predatory institutions.

It was a speech, incidentally, that then-V.P. Biden delivered right in the middle of a 2016 Midwest midterm campaign swing for his fellow Democrats. As the New York Times reported, Biden gushed to a group of conservative business leaders that Michigan's Fred Upton "is one of the finest guys I ever worked with."

 Mr. Biden’s remarks, coming amid a wide-ranging discourse on American politics, quickly appeared in Republican advertising. The local Democratic Party pleaded with Mr. Biden to repair what it saw as a damaging error, to no avail. On Nov. 6, Mr. Upton defeated his Democratic challenger by four and a half percentage points.
Upton is such a great guy that he voted against establishing humanitarian standards for the people being held in border prisons and for Trump's continued sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for its war against Yemeni civilians, as well as the continued unfettered deep sea drilling for oil. He also voted to approve Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. All told, Upton is such a great guy that he's voted with Trump more than 85 percent of the time.
No wonder that The Hill's Alexander Bolton granted pro-Biden senators anonymity to whisper their wishes as they smeared Bernie and Liz. They don't want to be outed as hypocritical, de facto Trump enablers who are very supportive of his bloated military, his shredding of environmental protections, his planned cuts to the social safety net, his cruel crackdowns on immigrants and refugees, his tax giveaways to predatory capitalists, his whole oligarchy-serving agenda. According to Bolton, these Democrats cower in fear at the very thought of saving the planet and making regular people healthy and secure:
The two progressives are to the left of many of their colleagues, and some of their best-known proposals, such as “Medicare for All” and free college education, do not have widespread support within the Democratic caucus.
 If Warren or Sanders wins the party’s presidential nomination, there will be pressure in the Senate to adopt their proposals. And there could be tensions between a nominee and senators who do not back their proposals.
Another factor is the race for the Senate. Some Democrats think it will be easier to win races in conservative-leaning states such as Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia if Biden is their nominee and not Warren or Sanders.
In other words, the lobbyists, oligarchs and corporations which bankroll these craven senators will feel uncomfortable, the prospect of which makes the Democratic senators feel uncomfortable, because they might actually be forced to acknowledge where their true allegiances lie and who their real constituents are.

And Alabama? This sudden concern about the vote totals in Alabama is right down there with Trump's Sharpie marker putting George Wallace Country in the direct path of a hurricane. Alabama has suddenly become a battleground state, usurping even Michigan - which Biden would probably lose to Warren and Sanders and later to Trump, largely because of his continuing support for NAFTA and other anti-labor "trade" schemes and despite his endorsement of a Republican in 2016.

Better to have a united duopoly and to maintain America's one big business party than to have an ascendant Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. A President Sanders or (to a much lesser extent) a President Warren would only endanger the "party unity" trope peddled by the centrist Neoliberal Wing as though the party is an actual country deserving of rights and protection and nurturing rather than as the exclusive country club that it truly is. All of a sudden, therefore, it's more important to protect Alabama's arch-conservative Democratic Senator, Doug Jones, than it is to ensure that the climate catastrophe is addressed and that US citizens get the same guaranteed single payer health care as the rest of the civilized world.

You can almost smell the stench of desperation wafting right off the The Hill article.

Dianne Feinstein of California, who is rumored not to be seeking re-election to another term (she's pushing 90, thanks mainly to her own guaranteed health insurance and her stash of billions) is one of the few Democratic senators with the chutzpah to openly back Biden, even if it means overlooking her own state's younger neoliberal presidential hopeful, Kamala Harris.

Feinstein also is at least patriotic enough to privilege the entire United States plutocracy over just Alabama and the rest of George Wallace County, saying coherently:"If you ask me to weigh America, I actually think America is a pretty centrist country."

Earth to Dianne: The scales already are tipped way too far to the right, and they will remain so with either a Biden or a Trump in the Oval Office. The only way to balance them is with a left-leaning president - say, Bernie Sanders - and the political extinction of people like you.

They are nameless neoliberals who know only how to smear progressive ideas and candidates as they peddle their own stale pragmatic garbage. Hear them anonymously and desperately roar:

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Kode of the Kavanaugh Klique

It's too bad that the New York Times royally botched coverage of what is supposed to be a well-researched and nuanced new book about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, written by two of its own reporters. Because in choosing to highlight a previously unreported and unknown episode that had Kavanaugh's Yale frat brothers shoving his penis into a girl's hands at a drunken dorm party, the paper went the exact opposite of nuance, and veered into full tabloid territory.

Only after more than a day's worth of outraged calls for Kavanaugh's impeachment by the Times-reading public and anxious Democratic candidates did the paper finally append an online correction to the piece, acknowledging that the second woman allegedly abused by Kavanaugh at Yale University has no memory of it and refused to be interviewed for the book.

 The one alleged eyewitness serving as the authors' second-hand source is one Max Stier, who is lauded by The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, among others, for being a bipartisan Rhodes Scholar and a Washington insider with an impeccable set of credentials. Thus does the minima-culpa "explainer" piece written by Times Deputy Editorial Page editor James Dao simply double down on the specious claim that since Stier's account has been "corroborated" by others, including members of Congress, it's fit to print. In Times World, apparently, corroboration is defined as at least two important people confirming to the Times that yes, they had indeed heard that story first-hand from Stier. As such, even though Max Stier himself refuses to repeat his account to the Times, it is not grounds for the paper refusing to publish what amounts to second-hand gossip.

Dao wrote:

During the authors’ investigation, they learned that a classmate, Max Stier, witnessed the event and later reported it to senators and to the F.B.I. The authors corroborated his story with two government officials, who said they found it credible. Based on that corroboration, we felt mentioning the claim as one part of a broader essay was warranted.
This is very much related to the Times and other corporate media outlets regularly writing evidence-free #Russiagate and war-mongering propaganda pieces based purely upon the "high confidence" of well-placed government sources who must always remain anonymous because of the sensitivities of the matter.

But the printing of gossip wasn't even the worst part of the Kavanaugh story. In promoting its "blockbuster" article on Twitter on Saturday evening, somebody* on the Times Opinion Page actually blurted out this gem:
"Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun. But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn't belong at Yale in the first place."
(Just to be clear, the alleged victim who has no recall of the previously unreported incident and refused to be interviewed for the book is not Deborah Ramirez, who is the main focus of the Times essay.)

So even before the offensive promotional Tweet and the apology for the Tweet, the feeble semi-retraction, and the pitiful disclaimer/explainer by James Dao, another problem with the essay is its implication that as a good, virginal, sheltered working class Catholic girl, Ramirez was more traumatized by Kavanaugh's behavior than a more experienced and worldly and non-religious young woman would have been. That subtext, in my view, became the whole basis for the Times's original promotional Tweet: that a non-virgin, or your typical sophisticated Ivy League gal, would have found having a penis thrust in her face to be stupid, harmless fun, and she would have taken it in her stride. 

In other words, if Brett Kavanaugh had only adhered to the Kode of the Klique and restricted his frat boy antics to jaded young women of his own high social class, then everything would have been hunky-dory. So while the essay treats Ramirez sympathetically and respectfully, and is not at all kind to Yale "culture," the promotional Tweet had a distinctly snobbish, classist, even sexist, undertone to it. It didn't quite blame the victim for feeling offended, but it came close enough. It also implicitly slut-shamed more well-off young women who "fit in" better at abusive elite institutions. The subliminal message is that their money and possessions and position protect them from all harm and hurt feelings and constitute the basis of their self-esteem. 

But that's not how Dao sees it. Rather than directly addressing the classism and sexism of the tweet, he simply puts forth the usual boilerplate excuse of how, since some sort of undisclosed rigid "process" wasn't followed, the tweet was not up to the Times's usual standards of excellence. They will be reviewing this unexpected process failure very carefully to determine how they can do better in the future. Process failures seem to be the rule rather than the exception lately, as in the Times' retraction of a recent headline that had Donald Trump vowing to fight racism, right after the El Paso gun massacre committed by a fan of Donald Trump. 

So despite the Times's obvious cherry-picking of the "scoop" of the previously unknown story of a second female Yale victim, I still get the sense that the book itself is probably well worth a read, that it is an in-depth sociological examination of what made Brett Kavanaugh who he is, and how his upbringing and class status and connections have catapulted him all the way to the Supreme Court.

The criticism by some of my fellow Times readers of my own early comment, which called for Supreme Court term limits, was based entirely upon my failure to get with the desired narrative program and immediately jump on the Kavanaugh Impeachment bandwagon. 

Here's how I responded to writers Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly:

Mark Judge, Kavanaugh's high school pal and alleged witness to the attack on Christine Blasey Ford, wrote a revealing book called "Wasted" in which he describes the insular, privileged, and alcohol-saturated world of the Georgetown preppies, their parents and even their Jesuit instructors. It's a highly conservative world, and a very misogynistic one.
 Even rich girls in the D.C. suburbs were subjected to the "pranks" perpetrated by these boys. including one group calling themselves the Inquisitors. Every weekend they'd don religious garb and trash the expensive home of a girl whose family, they'd ascertained, would be out of town. When finally caught, they were not prosecuted, but the Jesuits cooperated with the police and made the culprits do community service in a local soup kitchen. When they reneged and faked a written report on their charitable works, about a dozen of them were barred from graduation ceremonies.
Judge's parents then fondly and proudly dubbed them the Twelve Disciples.
 Kavanaugh is a permanent member of this club. The patriarchy that preys together, stays together.
His disturbing presence on our highest court should be the impetus for term limits. Without them, we could get rid of Trump tomorrow, but his horrible legacy would persist for many decades to come. The court should be staffed by revolving teams of jurists from lower courts. This will help prevent its further dangerous politicization, especially under predatory presidents like Trump.
The book "Wasted" has nothing in it about how the girls in this exalted social circle felt about being "harmlessly" pranked by having their homes destroyed. Tellingly, though,he affectionately describes the well-off victims as the Klique's "little sisters" who were such good sports they never bore them a grudge. One of the vandalized properties, Judge claims, was owned by a senator (whom he respectfully doesn't name, along with protecting the identities of everyone else in the book except himself and his parents) You get the distinct impression that the rich are very carefully taught, from earliest childhood, to keep each other's secrets. Because you never know when this unwritten Kode of Silence will come in handy, and if the drunken guys who once trashed your house (or worse) might be in a position to help you advance someday. Because their parents know your parents, and at the rarefied top of the power elite mountain, everybody is connected to everybody else. It's a small, small world.

The rich are different from you and me. It's not just that they have unlimited money. It's that friendships and ethics don't seem to matter to them as much as the life-long transactional relationships they cultivate for purely Machiavellian reasons.

*Update: Robin Pogrebin, the book's co-author, finally copped to writing the offensive tweet herself, after initially having denied doing so. As a jaded New Yorker and Yale classmate of Brett Kavanaugh she, personally, would have reacted differently to having a penis thrust in her face. Therefore, "people" took her tweet the wrong way.  Come to think of it, I think I'll skip her book. My experience has always been that if people can so glibly lie about one thing, they lie about other things. Plus, I am already sick of this story.