Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Whatever, Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became deservedly notorious this summer for coldly dismissing negative reactions to her complicity with Donald Trump's vicious border policies. Topping the list of atrocities are the abduction and imprisonment of thousands of migrant and refugee children. In disdaining the votes of "the Squad" of four progressive congresswomen against the appropriation of billions of dollars to pay for Trump's campaign of xenophobic sadism, Pelosi effectively tried to silence the voices of both the victims and the many people protesting these government-sanctioned crimes. She did so by very publicly calling them "the public whatever."

In Pelosi's shuttered view, the fact that only four Democrats out of 435 elected representatives in the lower House had chosen to honor the interests of immigrants, human rights activists and the liberal left in opposition to her "go along to get along" edict made them personae non gratae.

"If the left doesn't think I'm left enough, so be it," she griped to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in July, over an intimate San Francisco brunch.

Fast forward nearly four months, though, and Pelosi has done a complete about-face regarding the value of actual people and the wants and needs of the actual public.

Summoning a gaggle of elite columnists to her inner sanctum on Monday, Pelosi carefully positioned herself right beneath the bust of Abraham Lincoln in order to solemnly announce that "public sentiment is everything."

Corny Propaganda Or Whatever (staged photo credit, NY Times)

"With it, you can accomplish almost everything. Without it, you can accomplish almost nothing," was her echo of a truism beloved by calculating oligarchs from at least the days of the Roman emperors whenever they needed public backing and warm new recruits for their latest military incursions.

With no apparent self-reflection and without any sense of irony, Pelosi was almost plagiarizing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had responded to Madam Speaker's belittling July Maureen Dowd column by retorting in a tweet: "The public 'whatever' is called public sentiment. And wielding the power to shift it is how we actually achieve change in this country." 

 But Nancy Pelosi wasn't talking about the traumatized caged and abducted children to her elite press couriers on Monday. She apparently ignored a shocking new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, which now places the total number of migrant children victimized by Trump at over 5,400 and still counting. This is about five times the tally admitted to by the Trump administration, which continued its family separation policy even after a federal court ordered it stopped, and even after he flourished his own executive pen to pretend to stop it. The photo-op of a Trumpian antic was completely due to the widespread public backlash that Pelosi later derided as the "public whatever."

Nor did Pelosi react (on the record at least) at her closed press gathering on Monday to the Trump administration's own admission last week, after the release of the ACLU report, that Homeland Security and ICE cops had started caging kids - including 207 under the age of five - even before issuing his "zero tolerance" policy, in which anyone crossing the border without authorization would face prosecution.

Public sentiment about the plight of powerless kids and refugees doesn't count. But public sentiment about the plight of the National Security State does count. And it is for Trump's egregious attempt to abuse the national security apparatus for his own political gain and to damage a Democratic rival (Joe Biden) in the process that public sentiment must be aroused, by any artificial means necessary. 

It must not be aroused to achieve the meaningful structural change that AOC and Bernie Sanders call for, but aroused simply to give legitimacy to elite efforts to remove the current oligarchic placeholder known as the president of the United States.

As New York Times columnist and Pelosi invitee David Leonhardt (who just last week did the party's bidding through his column about "taking to the streets" to demand Trump's impeachment over UkraineGate) writes:  

Public sentiment is going to determine the outcome of the impeachment inquiry. If Democrats can persuade even a small share of President Trump’s supporters that he shouldn’t be president, he will almost certainly lose the 2020 election. If Democrats can persuade a modest share of those supporters, he will be at risk of losing the support of congressional Republicans and being removed from office by the Senate.
It's the same old story. It's all about the liberal political and consultant class winning power and keeping power. Trump must be brought down, not only because it is the morally right thing to do, but because it is the politically expedient thing to do.

Amazingly enough, though, the usually compliant Leonhardt has a tiny little bone to pick with Pelosi:

 The battle for public sentiment explains why Pelosi and other House Democrats changed course yesterday and announced that they would hold a vote on Thursday to “affirm” their impeachment inquiry.The language of the resolution is a bit too clever for my tastes: The Democrats insist that this is not a vote to authorize an inquiry. And, legally, they don’t need to take any vote. The Constitution doesn’t require a vote to open an inquiry, and a federal judge recently upheld the legality of the inquiry.
But Trump and congressional Republicans were winning the public debate over the lack of a vote. It made Democrats seem sheepish about the inquiry. So I think they’re right to hold a vote of some kind, in which each House member will go on record as supporting or opposing the inquiry.
It's the same old story. Democrats find it more expedient to be perceived as doing the right thing rather than be caught doing the right thing. This "vote to affirm" is a staged gambit to fool the public into believing that Pelosi's meaningless, superfluous gesture is tantamount to doing the right thing and allowing the public to finally get a glimpse into the still-secret impeachment "inquiry" - which, for now, is restricted to a closed room.
 Pelosi was meeting with us columnists, from several publications, to explain her thinking on impeachment. I asked her how she planned to make the case that this Trump scandal was different from all of the others that have failed to move public opinion; she said she would have an answer when the inquiry was complete. She promised that it would revolve around “simple and repetitive clarity about the Constitution of the United States.”
And complicit stenographer that he is, Leonhardt left it at that. There was no follow-up, no push-back from him against Pelosi's deflective non-answer to his very simple question. There were no questions at all, apparently, about the plight of the tens of millions of "lesser people" suffering in media-imposed silence through the Trump regime. He dishonestly claims that "public opinion" has not been moved by such things as pediatric concentration camps. I guess he wasn't paying attention to all the ad hoc protests by regular citizens at the concentration camps, or to the occupation of Pelosi's office a year ago by the independent Sunrise Movement agitating for a Green New Deal to combat the climate crisis. (which Pelosi later derided as the "green dream or whatever." The woman not only can't seem to keep her disdain for people to herself, she also has a very limited vocabulary.) 

Nancy Pelosi and her crew of media stenographers are living proof of what French political philosopher Simone Weil described as the main function of any political party: to generate "collective passions" and to indoctrinate voters on just what these collective passions should be limited to. That's because the ultimate goal of any political party is not to protect the public good, but to achieve growth of itself without limit. Political parties are thus microcosms of capitalism itself.

This not only explains Pelosi's non-answer to the complicit David Leonhardt's procedural question, it explains why Trump's impeachment will likely not center around his institutional child abuse, his racist incitements to violence, his misogyny and reputed history of serial sexual predation, his cruelty to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Ricans, his planned cuts to food stamps and government health insurance, or his deadly assaults on the environment. 

As Simone Weil wrote, amidst the last outbreak of global fascism, in "On the Abolition of All Political Parties":

  "In principle, a party is an instrument to serve a certain conception of the public interest. This is true even for parties which represent the interests of one particular social group, for there is always a conception of the public interest according to which the public interest and these particular interests should coincide. Yet this conception is extremely vague.... No man, even if he had conducted advanced research in political studies, would ever be able to provide a clear and precise description of the doctrine of any party, including (should he himself belong to one) his own.... A doctrine cannot be a collective product."
There's the public (non-elite) sentiment and the private (elite) sentiment. Or, as the possible 2020 Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton once assured Goldman Sachs bankers in a paid speech, there is a "public position and a private position."

Pelosi's task, and that of her media couriers, is to meld the public with the private just long enough to gain back the power they crave. And then it's back to The Same Old Story. 

So wouldn't it be great if people took the streets and expanded the elites' astroturfed movement for Trump's impeachment into a general strike to stop capitalism right in its tracks, even if for only a day or a week? 

They're doing it in Hong Kong, Haiti, Chile, Bolivia, France. They're doing it all over the world. So how about we give non-sanctioned political protest a chance here as well? It seems like it should only be a matter of time before most of the people here in the USA get miserable most of the time, with no longer even a moldy old couch to be a potato on, or a smart TV to absorb claptrap from. Suddenly and magically they will discover that not only do they have feet, they still have brains that function independently.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Bolton Meets Beckett

Or as Peter Baker, the New York Times scribe of the rich and powerful puts it, all of Washington, D.C. is anxiously Waiting for Bolton.

But bringing Samuel Beckett's Theater of the Absurd to a whole new level, this production will probably not be held in a public venue, but in the same Secure Room that all the previous impeachment playlets and teasers have been performed. 

 It goes something like this: the actors recite their lines to a small group of directors, who then impart their analyses to the news people lingering outside in the hall, and then the news people report what they only heard second-hand to

an audience waiting in vain for the real thing.

"It's not the same thing," as Vladimir bitterly complains to his friend Estragon in the Beckett classic, Waiting For Godot, before repeating the essential motif of the tragi-comic play: "Nothing to be done." 

But Baker strives nonetheless to impart to his readers a "you are there" feeling of excitement and suspense to make you feel like you're an integral part of the whole dark surrealistic spectacle:

As the House impeachment inquiry enters its second month, there may be no witness investigators want to question more than John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser....
Mr. Bolton implicitly criticized Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, declaring that “despite all the friendly notes and photo ops, North Korea isn’t our friend and never will be.” But he also wrote that the nation’s security “is under attack from within,” citing “radicalized Democrats.”
The conflicting signals were maddening. After either resigning or being fired last month depending on whose version is to be believed, is Mr. Bolton so estranged from Mr. Trump that he might provide damaging testimony to House investigators? Or does he share the president’s view of out-of-control Democrats pursuing an illegitimate impeachment out of partisan excess?
Bolton threatens to become as beloved of liberals as his former boss, George W. Bush, who has been successfully rehabbed by the likes of Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, and just about the entire consolidated media hive, a/k/a Resistance, Inc. When it comes to getting rid of Donald Trump, neither the illegal invasion of Iraq, nor torture, nor Fox News neocon propaganda gigs, nor even the elevation of Bush's lawyer Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court can stand in the way of doing the moral thing to return the country to its righteous imperialistic and pluto-normative roots.

Bolton and Bush Bromance

Acknowledging this sordid truth is Rep. Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey, who dished to Baker: "What it (the opaque impeachment inquiry) says is this is not about competing Republican versus Democratic visions of American foreign policy. This is about whether our foreign policy should be made in the national interest or in the personal political interests of the president."

Translation: it's not fair to let one oafish outlier of an oligarch ruin the profitable business of war and plunder for the rest of the pathologically greedy Forbes 400 billionaires, the life-destroying oil companies, and the sociopathic weapons manufacturers.

I forgot to mention that along with the rehabilitation of George W. Bush, the rehabilitation of his prime torture architect, lawyer John Yoo, also continues apace. Not only has Yoo been granted regular self-serving op-ed space in the New York Times as a bona fide member of Resistance, Inc., he is near the top of every star national security reporter's speed dial.

Baker writes, coyly omitting any talk of torture, indefinite detention, or the antidemocratic "unitary executive" agenda espoused by Yoo and which is now so outlandishly benefiting Trump:

According to the testimony given to Congress so far, Bolton was a central figure in trying to prevent any delay in releasing foreign aid to Ukraine,” said John Yoo, a University of Berkeley law school professor and senior Justice Department official under President George W. Bush. “I cannot see how any responsible investigation would not seek Bolton’s appearance.”
But he added that the White House would presumably “go to the mat” to fight any effort to interview Mr. Bolton. “If the White House were to fight the House impeachment on executive privilege grounds, Bolton would be the hill on which to die,” Mr. Yoo said. “The Trump White House could claim not just that the impeachment investigation is illegitimate, which is its current line of defense, but that it is defending the right of future presidents to have an effective White House and to conduct a successful foreign policy.
Whenever the mainstream media want to impart the aura of legitimacy and goodness to their tainted sources, they gratuitously include their sources' elite academic bona fides and professional credentials. We are supposed to be cowed and impressed.

Continuing with that trope, Baker respectfully describes Bolton as a "Yale-trained lawyer" who "brought years of experience when Mr. Trump made him his third national security adviser in March 2018."

He "served in" the Justice Department - as opposed to subverting it and bending US law to the whims of invaders and torturers and thieves. And he is currently making money hand over fist doing his own deals with foreign governments while raising dark PAC money, both for his fellow reactionary politicians and for his own possible run for the presidency. Since Bolton is not Trump, this is totally cool, as Peter Baker gushes approvingly:

The combination of his pedigree and the possibility that he really does have incriminating information about Mr. Trump makes him a particularly appealing witness to Democrats. The prospect of one of the nation’s most visible foreign policy conservatives testifying against his former boss would, in their view, underscore the significance of Mr. Trump’s transgressions.
It's the law of the political Mob. If one boss is willing to spill the beans on another boss, he will go down in history as one of the good guys -- especially if he paves the way for a Democratic sweep in 2020. This is what hypocrites describe as "pragmatism."

So will Bolton show up to testify, or won't he? Neither he nor his lawyer (whose firm's macabre motto is "Victory Or Death") are saying. Like the original CIA "Ukrainegate" informant before him, whose identity will never be made public and who will never have to testify before Congress in open session because his testimony allegedly has been corroborated by other secret testimony, Bolton is coming uncomfortably close to being cast as an actual victim-hero in the Impeachment Follies narrative.


 So now Mr. Bolton has been left in the middle, a key witness in the unfolding impeachment drama. His friend, Thomas M. Boyd, an assistant attorney general in the Reagan and Bush administrations, said Mr. Bolton understands his obligations to guard the confidentiality of communications with the president but will also be prepared to give his unvarnished views if it comes to it.
This sympathetic portrait of Bolton in the Times is about the same man who once threatened to kidnap and physically harm any justice from the International criminal tribunal in The Hague who dared prosecute Americans for war crimes committed in Afghanistan. This is the same man who helped orchestrate the phony casus belli for the US invasion of Iraq. This is the same man who has championed the Apartheid state of Israel and its genocidal crimes against Palestinians.

John Bolton's going from the dark side to another dark side is probably contingent upon the same factors that Beckett's Estragon and Vladimir posited for whether or not the mysterious Godot would ever show up for a reason that is never even explained.

"He couldn't promise anything... he'd have to think it over... in the quiet of his home... consult his family... his friends... his agents... his correspondents... his books... his bank account... before taking a decision... it's the normal thing... is it not?...I think it is..."

"And where do we come in? ... On our hands and knees.... As bad as that?.... We've no rights any more?.... You'd make me laugh if it wasn't prohibited."  

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Smell of Astroturf in the Morning

I'm sure I'm not the only one getting carpet-bombed with impeachment emails from one Democratic Party offshoot after another, asking for money, phone calls to Congress, and my participation in a protest march demanding the ouster of Donald J. Trump from the White House.

MoveOn, the group originally formed in 1996 to corral voters for Democrats by urging them to "move on" from the impeachment of Bill Clinton, is now seeking "crisis" donations to pay for professional organizers to travel to battleground states to corral voters to demand the impeachment of Trump.

I got one email this morning from a Brent J. Cohen, executive director of "Generation Progress". It was addressed to "Joe," the same pseudonym I used when I signed up several years ago to handsy Joe Biden's "It's On Us" campaign to combat campus sexual assaults.

In case you're wondering why I didn't use my real name, it's because, suspicious person that I am, the use of multiple names to sign up for these various enterprises is how I keep track of who's sharing my email address with whom. So I immediately assumed that "Generation Progress" is simply one of the many names given to the Democratic Veal Pen network, names invented to make people believe that they're being bombarded by myriad independent groups instead of by one gigantic, corporate party-affiliated, mother of all bunker busting missiles.

Not that they try that hard to disguise themselves, mind you. For one thing, they use their real names. For another thing, the fonts and designs they use on their various websites are eerily similar to one another. 

(Hillary Clinton's PAC)

Let me quote from the Brent Cohen "Generation Progress" email that landed in my inbox this morning.

"We the people should be a reality, not just a quote," the pitch begins. "Tell Congress that Trump compromises our morals and values. It's past time to remove him from office." --
Joe-- Democracy is one of the most fundamental American values. Our democracy isn't, and never has been, perfect, but we aspire to reach a place where 'We the People' is a reality and not just a quote. Right now, Donald Trump is attacking our democracy. By pressuring the president of Ukraine to intervene in American elections and on his behalf, Trump has taken his attacks to a new level. This is an abuse of presidential power and an impeachable offense. It's vital that Congress hears from you on this: tell them it is time to take action." 
Cohen helpfully provides a link my congress-critter's email address and phone number. But I have to say, I find it really hard to get all fired up about democratic morals and values and UkraineGate when the congressional intelligence committee hearings on the scandal are all being undemocratically held behind closed doors.  All we're getting are third-hand dribs and drabs of whatever damning revelations the secret tribunal feeds to the cooperative establishment media to then regurgitate to us. We don't get to watch the testimony live and unfiltered on TV the way we did in the Watergate impeachment hearings back in the 70s.

Probably realizing the irony of his democratic pleading, Cohen proceeds to quickly gloss over the secondary reasons to demand Trump's impeachment: his racism and xenophobia, his incitements to violence, his scoffing at the climate crisis, his refusal to take action on gun violence.

No public impeachment hearings are scheduled for those particular crises and affronts to democracy, but if you want to, you can keep them in the back of your mind when you call Congress to demand that Trump be impeached and removed from office. Because it is only with your help and your complicity that the Democrats can sweep these annoying issues right under the rug as they carefully limit their inquiries to UkraineGate. In so doing, they advance the electoral fortunes of Joe Biden and other low-polling centrists who can bat clean-up in case his campaign collapses.

 Cohen signs off his email "in solidarity" to give you the further false impression that not only is he on your side, he's every bit as progressive and community-minded as the striking teachers of Chicago or the Yellow Vests of France.

It is, of course, a scam.

Not only is Cohen, a former Obama White House fellow and adviser, the "executive director" of Generation Progress,  but Generation Progress itself is just a division of the powerful, corporation-funded Clintonian think tank known as the Center For American Progress. Cohen's specific job is to corral young people into the centrist wing of the Democratic Party.

Between his White House gig, where he helped start Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" privatized initiative to get young black men off the streets and out of jail (while ignoring young black women) and close the "opportunity gap," Cohen has been a fellow at the D.C. Policy Center, a "non-partisan think tank working for a strong and vibrant District of Columbia." Its advisory staff includes a senior partner of the ethically challenged McKinsey consulting firm and the chief financial officer of the Emerson Collective, a secretive venture capital organization founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the former Goldman Sachs trader and the billionaire widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

The Board of Directors actually running the D.C. Policy Center mainly come from the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector, along with sports and entertainment venture capital, the Sun Trust oil company foundation, and the Exelon energy company.

I'm telling you all this just to give you a general idea of where these professional impeachment advocates are coming from, who is financing them, and who will ultimately benefit from your unpaid phone-banking and marching efforts and other volunteer activities to remove Trump from office. 

Hint: it won't primarily be you.

Notice that Cohen and all the others importuning and gaslighting you under a pretense of "democracy restoration" are all employed by a tight little network of oligarchs, with the same names and world-destroying corporations popping up over and over again on the Boards of Directors of supposedly liberal philanthropic organizations.

Notice that these people don't ever offer you anything tangible, such as affordable housing or a debt-free education, in return for your controlled activism. They merely offer a return to what they call a moralistic, normative way of keeping you down and out. They simply want the status quo ante, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. They want to keep the lethal, neoliberal, market-based project that spawned Trump alive and kicking.

The propaganda that they're promulgating in the establishment media conglomerate is also quite shameless, with pundits cheer-leading astroturfed impeachment marches and protests as though they were coming up with the ideas all on their own, rather than rewriting press releases from the Democratic Party machine, or desultorily riffling through their Rolodex of reliable think tank sources to get the scoop.

"Want Trump to go? Take to the streets" urged "woke" centrist New York Times columnist David Leonhardt last week, pretending that there is no such thing as astroturfed movements where Democratic corporatists are concerned: 
The impeachment inquiry has reached the stage when it needs an outside game. We all know where the inside game is likely to lead: House Democrats will impeach Trump; Senate Republicans will acquit him; and he will claim vindication. But Trump’s presidency has become too dire for Americans to accept that outcome without trying to change it.... 
As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote last week, public protest “serves as a powerful signal to the rest of society that something extraordinary is happening.” If anything, protest may be more important than in the past, because the elite institutions that helped bring down Richard Nixon, like political parties and the national media, are weaker today.
Leonhardt pretends that there is no organized oligarchy bankrolling this protest movement. He insanely casts the billionaire-run duopoly as too weak and therefore in great need of our warm bodies to give it legitimacy. He approvingly writes that the plutocrat-driven "Indivisible" group that I wrote about last week is some sort of legitimate grassroots undertaking.

The comment that I submitted on his column, in which I exposed the financial power behind the impeachment drive, was rejected. Maybe it was my alternative suggestion calling for a nationwide strike against the whole rotten capitalistic system that doomed it to the ether.

His Times colleague, columnist Michelle Goldberg, then ever so coincidentally came up with own utterly independent idea for "taking to the streets" to impeach Trump.

"1, 2, 3, 4 Trump Can't Rule Us Any More" is the clever slogan that she and her sources dreamed up for the plebs to shout as they march in sedate, civil, plutocracy-sanctioned mobs, sublimely safe from any police tear gas or mass arrests.

She professes herself baffled that Americans aren't rising up against Trump the same way, for example, that Chileans are rising up against high subway fares and austerity. She carefully doesn't suggest that Americans also rise up against the 40 years of neoliberal austerity that led enough desperate people to vote for a phony populist in the first place. That is not part of the plutocracy-sanctioned impeachment narrative.

Instead, Goldberg gaslights American couch potatoes:
So as Donald Trump’s sneering lawlessness and stupefying corruption continue to escalate, it’s confounding, at least to me, that Americans aren’t taking to the streets en masse. This presidency began with the biggest protest in American history, and its first two years were marked by a series of high-profile demonstrations. But three years in, even as the conviction that Trump threatens the Republic unites stolid military heroes and socialist feminists, demonstrations against the administration have faded. Lyndon Johnson was famously tormented by protest chants that could be heard through the walls of the White House. Why isn’t Trump?
Um... I consider myself a socialist feminist, but there is no way in hell that I will ever unite with such "stolid military heroes" as Trump critic James "Mad Dog" Mattis, who has gleefully gloated about the sadistic pleasure he got killing Iraqi civilians. Goldberg, of course, is simply trying to legitimize the right-wing reactionary partnership of the Democratic Party with the Pentagon/CIA de facto fourth branch of government.

Goldberg also conveniently doesn't mention that LBJ-era antiwar protests erupted when we still had the draft. Now that only non-elites sign up for the military, often out of economic desperation, our forever wars are out of sight and out of mind for most of the US population.

The military-industrial complex which Goldberg so hideously valorizes and humanizes has been striving to help Americans overcome their "sickly inhibitions" against war for decades by creating one imaginary outside enemy after another. After the debacle of Vietnam and the fall of the USSR, it became "Muslim terrorists." And with the Mideast now in shambles courtesy of American Exceptionalism, it's right back to Russophobia again and the smearing of antiwar dissidents as "Kremlin assets."

As nauseating as Trump is, the toxicity of liberal McCarthyism and the corporatized jingoistic anti-Trump resistance movement is downright stifling.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Dreadicare For All Elites Who Don't Want It

Second only to the astroturfed impeachment marches threatening to spread like chemical wildfire in the well-off parts of Blue America is the overwhelming anxiety over ascendant candidate Elizabeth Warren.

Members of the neoliberal pundit class are gnashing their collective teeth about Warren's imminent unveiling of her detailed Medicare For All/Some/Who Knows Plan. Will she or won't she advocate for a true single payer program like the one introduced by Bernie Sanders?

The conventional wisdom among the corporate wing of the Democratic Party is that if she does, she's toast. And if she's toast, then Trump wins another term. So be afraid. Be very afraid, all you One Percenters who know full well that your scare tactics are bullshit, given that most Democratic and independent voters,  and even a sizable percentage of Republicans from Trump's own base, favor Medicare For All. It's only when the pollsters and the gaslighting pundits put the fear of losing their employer-based coverage and the prospect of the Great Unknown into their heads that many respondents will then say "well... maybe on second thought I'm not as gung-ho as I thought I was."

This instillation of fear and doubt is, of course, the gist of the grand plan to kill M4A before it ever gets a fact-based hearing. Tax-averse multimillionaire moderators of the so-called Democratic debates always preface their questions with the specter of middle class tax increases, giving left-leaning candidates thirty seconds to respond before the buzzer goes off and the moderators invite a low-ranking corporate centrist to chime in with the industry-approved rebuttal.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a big fan of Warren's based upon their mutual exalted wonkishness, is very worried that she won't be able to keep up her evasive bullshit on M4A very much longer.

Like many policy wonks, I’ll be waiting with bated breath; this could be a make or break moment for her campaign, and possibly for the 2020 election.
Phony talking point #1: all this reckless M4A rhetoric will hand the election right to Trump. 

Single payer has a lot to recommend it.... but we're not starting from scratch... More than half of Americans are covered by private health insurance, mainly through employers.
Industry-approved talking point #2: In theory and on paper, we love, love, love Single Payer. But the people we really need to care about right now are the vulnerable well-paid professionals in our base, whom for propaganda purposes only, we shall now squeamishly dump in with the teeming masses of low-paid workers forced to fork over a chunk of their paychecks for the company insurance plan, which is usually inefficient and limited at best, and pure exploitative junk at worst.
 Most people probably would end up better off under single-payer, but convincing them of that would be a hard sell; polls show much less support for Medicare for all than for a “public option” plan in which people could retain private insurance if they chose to.
Misleading Talking Point #3: It's not that we wonks are against single payer in principal. It's that the Deplorables are so gosh-darn stupid. And we wonks simply don't have either the time or the inclination to try to educate these rubes on all the money they'd save under M4A. Besides, our target audience is restricted to our fellow wonks and to the already well-insured upper middle class readership who can afford a subscription to the New York Times. 
Which brings me to the third point: In reality, single-payer won’t happen any time soon. Even if Democrats win in a landslide in 2020, taking control of the Senate as well as the White House, it’s very unlikely that they will have the votes to eliminate private insurance.Warren, who has made policy seriousness a key part of her political persona — “Warren has a plan for that” — surely knows all of this. And early this year she seemed to recognize the problems with a purist single-payer approach, saying that she was open to different paths toward universal coverage.
Since then, however, she seems to have gone all in for the elimination of private insurance.
Annoying Talking Point #4: People who want to have a healthy life and not die or go bankrupt if they get sick are "purists" who belong to some weird kind of Bernie Bro Cult. They're making impossible, annoying demands on the Elite Class... which has no such worries, thank you veddy much. Now get lost, you bunch of sickos! Because "our side" winning back power is more important than you are.
The plan in the works will presumably try to dispel that fog, but doing so will be tricky. An independent estimate from the Urban Institute (which is, for what it’s worth, left-leaning) suggests that a highly comprehensive Medicare-for-all plan, similar to what Sanders is proposing, would substantially increase overall health spending, although a more modest plan wouldn’t.
Krugman creates some fog of his own by failing to mention that the Urban Institute is funded by such M4A-averse corporations as private health insurer CIGNA and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. So you should probably take their scary cost estimates with a huge hunk of LSD-laced salt.

Chairing the Urban Institute's Board of plutocrats is Jamie Gorelick, who is also kept busy acting as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's personal lawyer. She defended them, among other grifty things, against nepotism accusations when they first joined the Trump administration. Jared's brother also has a vested interest in killing M4A because he happens to own his own multibillion-dollar health insurance company founded right after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

 Other directors of the Urban Institute are N. Gregory Mankiw, who led George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers and who infamously advocated privatizing Social Security and cutting benefits; former Obama "Catfood" Commissioner and billionaire austerian Erskine Bowles; Diana Farrell, CEO of the JP Morgan Chase Institute; and Facebook executive Marne L. Levine.

So if Krugman is actually calling the Urban Institute "left-leaning" with a crew like that calling the shots, then the Democratic Party has moved even farther right than I thought.

No wonder he's rhetorically wringing his hands over "capitalist to my bones" Elizabeth Warren's mild threat to the ruling class. If she doesn't watch out and mind her wonkish Ps and Qs and "escape the Medicare trap," she might very well turn into Susan Sarandon or heaven forbid, even a dreaded "unwitting Russian asset."

My published New York Times response:

The real question is whether the estimated 87 million people who are uninsured or underinsured can escape premature death, life-long disability through negligence of their medical conditions, or bankruptcy - with the subsequent inability to get a job, rent an apartment or take out a car loan.
 Elizabeth Warren will do what she has to do. So will the congress critters in thrall to the insurance and hospital and pharmaceutical lobbies. So along with taking to the streets to demand the impeachment of Donald Trump, we're also going to need to take to the streets to demand what in every other advanced country on earth is a basic human right. Sure, M4A would cost a bundle and it has to be paid for. But it would cost a heckuva lot less than what we're currently paying to predatory insurance companies, for criminally overpriced drugs, and for obscenely padded hospital bills.
 If people are anxious about losing their employment-based coverage, it's largely because both politicians and pundits don't hammer home the essential fact that any increases in taxes will be at most half of what they now pay for premiums, co-pays and deductibles. Furthermore, employment based coverage is getting more precarious, with employers reducing or discontinuing coverage due to higher costs. Think of the bargaining power that workers will get if their bosses no longer can claim that their health benefits are a huge chunk of their salaries. Sounds like a plan to me. It also sounds extremely humane.


Thanks to all the readers who donated so generously to my fall fund drive. If you didn't get a chance to contribute yet, my PayPal door (upper right corner) is always open. Or, you can contact me at kmgarcia2000@yahoo.com. If you like reading my stuff but can't afford to donate, please don't worry about it and please keep reading! Times are tough for most people.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Yes, Virginia, There Are Girl Soldiers with AR-15s

Just in time for the Halloween pre-Christmas marketing blitz comes word that at long last, women will gain parity as plastic toy soldiers.

This consumer season's first feel-good story is built around little Vivian Lord of Arkansas, who several years ago began precociously writing indignant letters to  toy companies, wondering why the little soldiers in the plastic bags are always men. She didn't want any guy soldiers painted pink pandering to her, either. She wanted plastic women with guns to look like real women! 

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Want

As the New York Times narrates A Very Special Christmas Wish, right jolly old toy-maker Steve Imel of Scranton had been hearing similar complaints for years -- from real-life female soldiers who regretted never having been able to properly and realistically play war games when they were tots.

One retired Navy fleet commander named Ortloff proclaimed herself really bummed that she couldn't give her three-year-old granddaughter realistic female action figures with rifles and helmets and jackboots to play with under the Christmas tree.

The problem was, Imel said, that getting into the girl plastic soldiers biz would be way too expensive and not very profitable. So while sympathetic to Vivian, he just couldn't satisfy her heart's desire. 

And so the years passed, and poor little Vivian remained stuck playing with her olive-drab plastic guys with guns.

But then came The Miracle.  

It wasn't really Vivian herself who finally convinced Imel to change his mind and invest in plastic girl soldier power. It was the all-powerful defense industry-sponsored corporate news media that co-opted Vivian, using her to make Imel an offer he couldn't refuse.

The Times reports:
It started with local outlets in Little Rock, after one reporter had seen a copy of Vivian’s letter that Ms. Lord had posted on Facebook. In one story, Ms. Lord mentioned her exchange with Mr. Imel.
CNN and a veterans publication published stories online. Soon, Mr. Imel was getting calls to do interviews on national television networks like CBS.
Mr. Imel said he then realized he had made a “huge mistake” in putting off complaints like Vivian’s and Ms. Ortloff’s.
“All hell broke loose with the media,” he said, “and I haven’t had a chance to catch my breath since.”
Well, they do say war is hell. 

Sadly, the toys will not be ready in time for this Christmas. But where there's endless war, there's always hope. And, of course, sugarplum dreams. And crowdfunding. And publicity. And marketing. And more interviews with the future girl soldiers of America. And military recruiting drives all wrapped up in cozy holiday cheer. 

Mr. Imel said the first group of toys was likely to have 24 figures in five positions: a soldier standing and holding a handgun and binoculars; standing and shooting a rifle; kneeling and shooting a rifle; lying on the ground with a rifle; and kneeling and firing a bazooka.

There's no word yet on whether the girl toy soldiers will also come equipped with rape kits in their old kit bags. They'll need them, because in the past two years alone, there's been a 50 percent increase in sexual assaults on military women by military men.

Although making up only 20 percent of the military, women are targets of 63 percent of assaults, with the youngest and the lowest-ranking women most at risk. One out of every 16 military women reported being groped, raped or otherwise sexually assaulted within the last year, reports the New York Times in a different article published in April.

That War, Incorporated is so aggressively marketing military play-time even to preschool girls makes perfect sense in light of the drastically decreased enlistment rates among young people.  The Pentagon is desperate for warm bodies. And since the Pentagon is desperate, its partners in the media will act as its public relations agents and do everything in their power to promote death and injury and post-traumatic stress disorder - even if they have to sell it to children as a women's rights issue.

As William Arkin reported in The Guardian last April:
And things are going to get worse. This year, for the first time ever, Americans born after 11 September 2001 will be able to enlist in the armed forces. It’s a sobering reminder both of how long we’ve been at war but also how distant those very wars have become from America’s youth. And yet official military polling shows that fewer and fewer young Americans consider the military as a career or as a transitional step – only some 12.5% – the lowest number in a decade.
The 12.5% is bracing, but based on a complex math that balances losses from deaths and injuries, retirements, attrition and discharges, the army and Marine Corps only needs about 100,000 recruits to maintain current force levels. That’s just 2.4% of the 4.2 million Americans who will celebrate their 18th birthday this year. And yet the military is looking at its third or fourth year in a row where it will struggle to even find these numbers.
No wonder the media-political establishment is smearing Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, an Army medic deployed to Iraq who is still an active member of the Hawaii National Guard with the rank of major. She used her national stage time at the Democratic Party presidential debate last week to blast the Duopoly and the media for selling the regime-change wars which are so lucrative for the ruling class.

 And then she was duly slandered by the #Queen of the Warmongers herself (Hillary Clinton) as a traitorous Russian asset for daring to speak the truth that war is nothing but a big, fat, wasteful hell on earth.
Clinton, speaking on the podcast which first aired on Thursday, did not name Gabbard, but her comments appeared aimed at the Hawaii congresswoman.
When asked if the former secretary of state was referring to Gabbard, Clinton’s spokesman said: “If the nesting doll fits.”

Something tells me that Tulsi will not be used as one of the models for the girl plastic soldiers franchise/recruiting drive. 

Maybe they can do likenesses of patriots Chelsea Clinton and Meghan McCain instead. Little girls can pretend that those tiny excess hunks of molded plastic sticking out from Chelsea's and Meghan's designer jackboots are bone spurs. Then they can make believe that Chelsea and Meghan and Hillary go on The View to slime Tulsi Gabbard from the elite sisterhood/armchair warrior safety of the ABC-Disney TV studios.

If the dynastic nest egg fits....

Friday, October 18, 2019

Commentariat Central: New York Times Fake News Edition

In an appearance this week on the "Useful Idiots" podcast hosted by Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper, journalist Chris Hedges nailed it about the trajectory the Paper of Record has taken since Donald Trump's election. "They're morphing into MSNBC in print," he observed.

MSNBC, of course, is not so much in the news business as it is in the plutocratic promotion business and the Russophobic business as marketed by the Democratic Party. Staffed to the rafters with former - and in some cases, current - security and military officials, it preaches hatred of Trump, fear of Putin, and loathing of Bernie Sanders -- all crammed in between commercials for overpriced prescription drugs, wealth management experts, the goodness of oil and gas, the beneficence of for-profit hospital chains, and all manner of antisocial neoliberal claptrap.

The Times, long known for at least a pretense of seriousness and impartiality, has recently branched out into video, including a partnership with Hulu to produce weekly documentaries starring its own reporters, as well as producing its own podcasts. It has, meanwhile, stopped publication of often trenchant political cartoons for the sin of offending too many people.

 When Edward Bernays wrote his seminal volume on propaganda in 1928, he estimated that about one-quarter of all the front page articles in the Times were pure propaganda, the contrived "narratives" coming in about equal portions from government, big business. and the various public relations/lobbying outfits currently euphemized as "think tanks."

With the introduction of Russiagate and now Ukrainegate, the mere one-quarter propaganda content has at the very least doubled, especially since the lockstep opinion columnists now receive pride of place on the digital homepage. ("Where do they find these people?" Hedges marveled on the Useful Idiots podcast.)

Exactly one hundred years ago, about a decade before the Bernays book, muckraker Upton Sinclair had described the Times as "the great organ of world capitalism," writing in The Brass Check:
Our newspapers do not represent public interests but private interests; they do not represent humanity but property; they value a man, not because he is great, or good, or wise, or useful, but because he is wealthy, or of service to vested wealth.
The Times not only refused to review Sinclair's book, whose observations and criticisms have held up remarkably well over the past century, it even refused to run paid advertisements for it.

The historic truth of the consolidated media's inherent capitalistic value system has been conveniently muffled by the emergence of Donald Trump and the media's subsequent positioning of itself as "Resistance, Inc." Trump has gifted them with a new opportunity to advance the interests of property in the name of endangered Norms and abused Decency. They relish their roles as the righteous victims of Trump's fascistic "enemies of the people" crusade and as the simultaneous hypocritical enablers of Trump, feverishly covering his every Nuremberg-style rally and republishing his every tweet the minute it emanates from his twitchy thumbs. 

So never mind the brass check. Times columnist Michelle Goldberg was recently given a blank check, or at least a generous expense account, to travel to all the way to Ukraine just to assert that the Democracy which America has always tried so very, very hard to export has been sadly supplanted by the rank corruption that Donald Trump and his mafia minions have been single-handedly forcing down that beleaguered nation's throat.

She didn't personally travel to the Russian border to cover the "proxy war's" skirmishes and battles. She didn't interview ordinary Ukrainians. Instead, she followed the MSNBC echo chamber playbook and interviewed like-minded fellow professionals in trendy Kiev cafes. She even glowingly quoted the discredited neoconservative  Francis "The End of History" Fukayama, who is now trying to rebrand himself as a professional Never-Trump liberal resistance fighter.

According to Goldberg - Bernays and Sinclair notwithstanding - the epidemic of fake news and propaganda is a brand-new, purely TrumPutian phenomenon which only started a few years ago:
Ukrainians are no strangers to post-truth politics. The first time I ever heard the term “fake news” was in 2015, when I learned about the Ukrainian fact-checking organization StopFake. It was created by a group of journalists to push back against the torrents of Russian disinformation sowing chaos in the country’s politics. At the time, it would have been hard to imagine that the United States would soon join Russia as a source of weaponized untruth in Ukraine....
Pro-Western reformers, the Ukrainian philosopher Volodymyr Yermolenko told me, had seen the United States as a “a perfect democracy functioning very well,” with an admirable system of checks and balances. “And now this image is crumbling and that’s very dangerous.”
When you combat alleged fake news with pure propaganda, as Michelle Goldberg does with her column, nothing good can come of it. (It does help, though, that Goldberg's propaganda is so clumsily rendered that it becomes a virtual parody of itself.)

 Not only does she omit any mention of the US-backed Maidan Square coup of 2014, she ignores the entire imperialistic history of the US and its numerous CIA-led regime changes, its aiding and abetting and installation of myriad corrupt and vicious right-wing dictators (Pinochet, the Shah of Iran, Armas, etc.) who are compliant with US corporate interests. Did I mention that her other regular gig is paid MSNBC punditry?

My published comment on her Oct. 12th column: 
My own earliest memory of the term "fake news" was when President Obama used it on a trip to Europe in November 2016, shortly after Trump's election. He called it a "threat to democracy."
 In the Athens leg of his trip, the White House shared a "travel diary" with photos of a pensive Obama at the Parthenon and other ruins in the birthplace of Democracy. He wrote:
"We view ourselves as part of a broader humanity and a community of nations that can work together to solve problems and lift up what’s best in humanity.”
 But what neither he nor most US media outlets saw fit to share were photos and footage of riot police lobbing tear gas at some 7,000 Greek citizens who were protesting and demanding "Yankee go home!" just blocks away from the American embassy where he was dining with officials. People were not only protesting the harsh austerity measures imposed by bank-friendly politicians, but the timing of the presidential visit. It occurred on the anniversary of the 1973 revolt that helped oust the military junta backed by the US.
"Fake news" can also be perpetrated by the deliberate omission of salient facts, giving any "narrative" the desired slant. "Exporting Democracy" is greasing the skids for multinational corporate plunder with the weaponized help of what is commonly euphemized as "the intelligence community."
Corruption is baked right into the system. Maybe we can start to root it out at home by overturning the Citizens United ruling that's made most of it perfectly legal.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Debate & Switch: So On and So Forth

So, am I the only one who found Elizabeth Warren's prefacing every evasive answer to debate questions with the word "So" so very irritating?

I started noticing the emergence of the word "so" as a trendy verbal tic several years ago, and it's become a real pet peeve of mine. For starters, its not as anodyne or natural as beginning one's answer with an "um," which merely signals that the respondent is gathering her thoughts. But using "so" to answer a question sends the warning to brace yourselves for a meandering, wildly tangential, off-topic, or evasive reply, or worst of all, a big fat whopper. As a former schoolteacher, Warren should know better than to misuse the word "so" like this. Back in the olden days, it was used mainly to continue one's own narrative or to expound upon one's own preceding thoughts. I personally often use as a synonym for "therefore." But saying it to preface an answer to a clear-cut question not only comes across as an insult to the questioner, it's an insult to good grammar.

As the dictionary says:

  1. 1.
    to such a great extent.
    "the words tumbled out so fast that I could barely hear them"
  2. 2.
    to the same extent (used in comparisons).
    "he isn't so bad as you'd think"
  1. 1.
    and for this reason; therefore.
    "it was still painful so I went to see a specialist"
  2. 2.
    with the aim that; in order that.
    "they whisper to each other so that no one else can hear"

Warren began her answers with the word "so" so many times during the debate that I lost count of them.

But she was particularly evasive when asked if middle class taxes would go up under her alleged Medicare For All/Some/Who Knows plan. She could have explained, like Bernie Sanders managed to so (correct usage) cogently do, that the increased taxes for single payer health care would be far, far less than what the middle class currently pays private insurance predators in premiums, co-pays, and deductibles.

But like Bartleby the Scrivener, she preferred not to.

A prime example:

LACEY: Senator Warren, we've proposed -- you've proposed some sweeping plans, free public college, free universal childcare, eliminating most Americans' college debt. And you've said how you're going to pay for those plans. But you have not specified how you're going to pay for the most expensive plan, Medicare for all. Will you raise taxes on the middle class to pay for it, yes or no?
WARREN: So I have made clear what my principles are here, and that is costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations, and for hard-working middle-class families, costs will go down. You know, the way I see this is, I have been out all around this country. I've done 140 town halls now, been to 27 states and Puerto Rico. Shoot, I've done 70,000 selfies, which must be the new measure of democracy....
And the follow-up:
LACEY: Senator Warren, to be clear, Senator Sanders acknowledges he's going to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for all. You've endorsed his plan. Should you acknowledge it, too?
 WARREN: So the way I see this, it is about what kinds of costs middle-class families are going to face. So let me be clear on this. Costs will go up for the wealthy. They will go up for big corporations. And for middle-class families, they will go down. I will not sign a bill into law that does not lower costs for middle-class families. 
Just An Intimate Modest Fireside Chat With the Folks

And so it went. I have to say, though, that I liked it when Warren began that one sentence with the twangy word "shoot." It simply oozed the down-home heartland sincerity that every voter craves.

I won't give you a blow-by-blow of the rest of the Gong Show, because life is too short. For example, I won't do a recount of how many times Kamala Harris referenced her mother sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of the night. The woman apparently never slept.

 Bernie Sanders looked and did great during the few intervals that he was allowed to talk. Joe Biden was his usual goofy old self. He mumbled something incoherent about "clipping coupons at the stock market." He yelled a lot about his grifting son's honesty and America's mighty reputation as Noble Global Imperium. He also took very false and very paternalistic credit for getting Warren's consumer protection bureau started.

The best performance of the evening, in my view, was Tulsi Gabbard's. She scathingly critiqued the New York Times and CNN moderators and the whole establishment right to their faces for their organizations' smears of her:

"Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hands, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing “regime change” war in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime change war. Not only that but, The New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war. Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist, and all these different smears.

This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia. Completely despicable. As president, I will end these regime change wars by doing two things: ending the draconian sanctions that are really a modern-day siege, the likes of which we are seeing Saudi Arabia wage against Yemen that have caused tens of thousands Syrian civilians to die and to starve, and make sure we stop supporting terrorists like Al Qaeda in Syria, who have been the ground force in this ongoing regime change war."
It's no surprise that in its own coverage of Gabbard's remarks, the Times doubled right down on its original smears while denying that equating her with Trump and questioning her patriotism and the unusual crossover support that she's getting from some conservative voters was even a smear in the first place. Disingenuous is too good a word for this increasingly reactionary Democratic mouthpiece.

The overarching corporate agenda for this debate was to elevate the centrists - Mayor Pete Buttigieg and the very low-polling Amy Klobuchar - by giving them inordinate amounts of time with which to attack an ascendant Warren from the right. They also served as surrogates for the faltering Uncle Joe, who got a bit of a break and less of a chance to mess up or lose his teeth or suffer an embarrassing eye bleed. 

The media-political complex seems to have written Bernie Sanders off at its peril, especially with his latest record fundraising haul and the newly-announced and very coveted endorsements of three members of The Squad: Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

I could be wrong, but I think the bubble-encased pundits might be in for a yuge shock come Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond.