Thursday, January 30, 2020

Adventures In Celebrity Death Etiquette

Trump Derangement Syndrome knows no bounds. Even the helicopter crash death of basketball star Kobe Bryant on Sunday has managed to stir up its own Trump controversy.

One of the weirdest sidebars in a whole series of weird sidebars in the saturated and overwrought media coverage of the tragedy is the accusation that Donald Trump plagiarized Barack Obama's anodyne sympathy tweet. It wasn't copied word for word, but the sentiments and the cadence were just too suspiciously similar for comfort, according to one alert reporter whose observation then spread like a flash flood throughout the parched corporate media landscape. 

Obama's tweet:

“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
Trump's tweet:
Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life. He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating. Melania and I send our warmest condolences to Vanessa and the wonderful Bryant family. May God be with you all!”
These facile bursts of condolence are standard fare. Both tweets draw freely from the long human history of sympathy sentiment - which after awhile begins  to sound unoriginal even among the best of scribes. Whenever I read one of these presidential missives claiming that "Laura and I," "Michelle and I" or "Melania and I" feel this or that, I've always imagined the wives hovering in the background, duct tape over their mouths. This is despite the fact that these guys have publicists who actually write this stuff and get the sentiments straight from some computer-generated sympathy tweet program. An algorithm would ensure that similar words and phrases would be jumbled around a lot and never used more than three times in a row.

We should probably give Trump just a little bit of credit in the sympathy tweet etiquette department, though. He somehow managed to restrain himself from copying Obama's brilliant sending of prayers to the grieving Bryant family.

The one similarity between the two tweets that struck me in a particularly bad way was their mutual dismay that Kobe Bryant's "second act" had been cut short. This was an oblique reference to his parlaying of the hundreds of millions of dollars he had earned as a basketball player into a financial and media empire. In other words, Kobe Bryant was well on his way to becoming a billionaire. His "just getting started" in venture capitalism actually took precedence over family in both Trump's and Obama's tweets - although Obama did hasten to add that the loss of the 13-year-old was "even more heartbreaking."

When it comes to plutocrats having sympathy for the financial setbacks of other plutocrats, originality and creativity do have a way of becoming extremely limited.

The other disturbing sidebar in the Kobe Bryant celebrity death saga is the controversy about whether it's proper to bring up his arrest on charges of raping a teenage hotel worker in 2003. The victim's refusal to testify after being hounded by the press and lawyers and an undisclosed financial settlement and apology from the superstar seemed to placate everybody at the time.

As one Washington Post editor discovered to her chagrin, the #MeToo movement does not apply when it comes to the newly-deceased Kobe Bryant. When she linked to (in what else but a tweet) a story about the rape charge only hours after the crash,  a Twitter backlash ensued, Felicia Sonmez was then very publicly suspended from her job. And when a newsroom staff backlash against the suspension ensued, Sonmez was reinstated.

But not without the Post brass still insisting that Sonmez, despite not having violated the paper's social media policy, had still exhibited "poor judgment."

And rather than issue an apology to Sonmez, the Post proclaimed in a headline that it had "cleared her" as regards the rape allegation link: in effect, linking her to a crime or insinuating that she was an accessory to a crime.

Managing Editor Tracy Grant stressed that although Sonmez was cleared on a technicality, she is still guilty of a breach of celebrity death etiquette:
 “Reporters on social media represent The Washington Post, and our policy states ‘we must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of The Washington Post for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence.’ We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths. We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter.”
Meanwhile, the Kobe Bryant Death Cult and its various factions show no signs of backing down or letting go. Not only has it become the latest linchpin of the #MeToo movement, it has also exposed the class aspect of the #MeToo movement. If Kobe Bryant had been accused of raping a fellow celebrity, or an aspiring celebrity, rather than an unknown hotel concierge, would his career and reputation have not only survived, but thrived and mushroomed into a "second act" of movies, philanthrocapitalism, corporate branding, and untold riches and fame? 

Call Kobe Bryant a rapist at your own peril, particularly if #YouToo are a plutocrat or work for one and you dare to be a traitor to your own class.  Heiress Abigail Disney is only the latest to face criticism for her own breach of celebrity death etiquette, after defending fellow celebrity Evan Rachel Wood from the backlash that she has received for defending the suspended Washington Post editor.

I don't know about you, but I'm getting whiplash from all this backlash.

The lashing goes something like this: if you point out that Bryant was an accused rapist, then you also deny and ignore that he was a good father and philanthropist. It's the same argument that wealthy celebrities like Ellen de Generes and Michelle Obama use when defending war criminal George W. Bush and their "shared values" and especially his bizarre habit of sharing candy with his fellow plutocrats at celebrity funerals.

It's all about the worship and defense of extreme wealth and power.

It only falls apart when the wealthy powerful man in question behaves so egregiously and so blatantly over a period of so many decades that his various friends, associates, fans and hangers-on can no longer defend him. Doing so would irreparably harm their own reputations. Thus the self-serving and very calculated lack of mourning for dead serial predator Jeffrey Epstein. Ditto the lack of class empathy for Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein.

Kobe Bryant only (allegedly) raped and throttled one lowly hotel worker lacking any money and power and celebrity of her own. In her case, #MeToo apparently does not apply.

People need to sanctify Kobe Bryant in death. Consumer Nation is trying to come together and heal as it ghoulishly devours all the grisly footage and the audio distress recordings.  So give the guy a reputational break already, and stop spoiling our outpouring of self-righteous and ever so enjoyable grief!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

It's Their Party and They'll Cry If They Want To

They don't call it the Big Tent for nothing. But with the clowder of pedigreed fat cats straining its gilded threads to bursting from within, and the hordes of Bernie Bros of all genders clamoring from without, is it any wonder that the hosts of the Democratic Party are in full-fledged panic mode?

It's such an epidemic of paranoia, it's impossible to call out all the elite victims by name. It would also be unfairly piling on - because do they really need my or anyone else's help to point out how morally diseased they are? They're doing a fine job all by themselves.

Every time they open their mouths, aggrieved Hillary Clinton-fashion, and utter such rote complaints as "Bernie is getting away with murder and there's nobody to stop him!" or "Bernie is Trump!" the more people are finally kicking the habit of skulking like pitiful strays around the Big Gilded Tent, and the more they begin to flee to Bernieville. The hungry and the desperate have been hanging around the gentry gates for far too long, waiting for the occasional pat on the head or the random rancid leftover. They're finally giving up in disgust.

The Gilded Tent dwellers are noticing. And they are very, very offended. But rather than try and entice the downtrodden back with more wholesome and  egalitarian offerings, they're kicking them in the ribs with renewed abandon and wondering why they're so damned ungrateful for this attention. 

The Democratic Party elites think all they really need is a more effective abuser-in-chief candidate with which to herd a nation full of starving cats as they themselves continue to recline on their cushions of luxury.

The abuse is continuing with renewed gusto, evidenced by the Democratic Party's 2020  committee lists of party invitees, gatekeepers and bouncers. Jonathan Swift himself could not have come up with a more hilarious satire, using some of the most reviled names in the history of the modern American oligarchy. Journalist Kevin Gosztola has the rundown of the names here.

We should probably take a little solace from the fact that, unlike in 2016, the party bosses are more open and honest about their pre-rigging of the nominating process and openly boasting that the Party of the People is ruled by wealth and corporate power brokers. They're offering us a jumbo tainted can of Nine Lives and kicking us in the ribs with their diamond-toed jackboots even as they serve it. They really don't care whether we stick around to get sickened and abused. They don't even seem to care whether their faux-nemesis, Donald Trump, gets another term. His continued presence would only continue to enrich them, personally.

To that end, they are engaging in the sham impeachment trial over in the Senate in a passive-aggressive attempt to elicit public sympathy for their corrupt front-runner, Joe Biden. I say passive-aggressive, because they are also effectively throwing him under the bus by making impeachment all about his son Hunter's lucrative gig at Burisma, the Ukraine gas company, at the same time that Biden was running Ukraine foreign policy. Monday's testimony, in fact, was one long Republican attack ad against Biden in particular and the Democrats in general. 

You know you're in trouble when neocon villain John Bolton is designated the Democratic Party's latest action hero.The New York Times actually frames his tell-all book as "Bolton Has the Goods." It's reached the point where we should be happy if one of the world's most notorious war-mongering bad guys makes another bad guy look worse.

Mr. Bolton, a hard-line conservative with decades of service in Republican administrations, is no anti-Trump zealot, which makes his allegations against the president that much more devastating. And his decision to tell these stories publicly nearly certainly waives any claims of executive privilege Mr. Trump might try to assert over their communications.
Translation: Bolton is no pink pussy hat, so you gotta believe him.

 Pick a side, any side. Heads they win, tails you lose.

In a sane, just world, Bernie Sanders would win the presidential nomination. But since it is not a sane, just world, look for worse Democratic Party machinations in the coming months, with the paranoid punditry enhanced by primary voter registration purges as the electoral season enters its final stages.

Then steel yourselves for a contested convention, regardless of the delegate count and regardless of Bernie's national popularity.

When a physically and mentally ailing FDR was running for the fourth time in 1944, it was widely acknowledged that he would not outlive his term. The vice presidency thus became the crux of the contest. Democratic machine bosses didn't want the progressive incumbent, Henry A. Wallace, to be the successor. The popular Wallace that July was polling at more than 60 percent nationally while the elite machine choice, Harry Truman, was at a dismal nine percent. 

As Wallace's biographers John Culver and John Hyde recount in their book American Dreamer, just as he was about to be renominated by raucous acclaim at the Chicago convention, Boss Bob Hannegan ordered his minions to fling open the doors, allowing hundreds of people into the already packed arena. A city worker was dispatched with an ax in order to cut power cables. if necessary. Liberal Florida Senator Claude Pepper had his own microphone cut off and path blocked just as he was about to take the stage and formally place Wallace's name in nomination.

The convention was abruptly ordered adjourned on grounds of the fire hazard which the bosses themselves had deliberately created by overcrowding the building. From American Dreamer:

Overnight the bosses worked feverishly to secure Truman's nomination. Ambassadorships were offered. Postmaster positions were handed out. Cold cash exchanged hands... (On the following night when the convention reopened) Chicago policemen strictly limited admission to the stadium. Thousands of Wallace supporters were denied entrance and those who made it were scattered hither and yon.... 'Some of them were so far apart they had to signal each other with flashlights,' said a radio newsman. Large portions of the galleries were left altogether empty."
After nine grueling hours and a procession of "favorite son" nominations, Wallace won by a too-slim hundred or so votes on the first ballot. But during the second ballot, as was foreordained, delegates began falling like dominoes in favor of Truman.

Look for a similar scenario in Milwaukee this summer. Since technology has advanced far beyond hand-held axes to cut off electricity, we might look for a mysterious computer crash to impede the voting. Or maybe a terror threat will adjourn the proceedings until they can reconvene for sausage making in a closed room in the interests of public safety and "national security."  The bribery and backroom dealings will still be at their usual retrograde levels, as will the massive police presence.

The stacking of the 2020 Democratic Party leadership with oligarchs and lobbyists and warmongers and centrist think tankers (and a few token pro-business union bosses) is only the beginning. Now, as in 1944, a brokered convention looks all but inevitable. Bernie Sanders could win, or appear to be winning, on a first ballot and still be denied the nomination on the superdelegate-heavy second. The bribery as well as the nominating committee is already a done deal.

So forewarned is forearmed. This is going to be very, very ugly.

Maybe DNC Chair Tom Perez can enhance the mood and score another coup for the McCarthyite Democrats by getting John Bolton a prime-time speaking spot at the convention. It would be a great way to boost the party's neoconservative war-happy cred and swell its coffers with even more weapons and oil industry support. Since the tainted cat food of the past four transpartisan decades of neoliberal austerity doesn't attract stray voters any more, the bosses might as well add the seductive stench of blood to their mass-marketing of fear.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Fighting Dirty vs. Playing It Straight

The main criticism of Bernie Sanders from the left is that he's too nice to survive in this cutthroat, backstabbing world of politics. He gallantly told Hillary Clinton at a 2016 primary debate that Americans are "sick and tired of hearing about your damned emails" and later he let bygones be bygones when it emerged that the Clinton-controlled Democratic machine had, indeed, rigged the process against him. He even appeared at numerous rallies for Clinton after she was crowned the nominee by undemocratic acclaim.

She just repaid that misplaced gallantry by trashing him once again, in what could be the opening salvo of a shadow campaign for a second nomination on a second ballot at a brokered convention.

Bernie needs to get over his dual loyalties in a hurry. He's always seemed to have one foot in the Senate and one foot in the rest of the United States. He is loath to criticize his opponents, even going  so far as to preface even mild criticisms of their often cruel policies with "So and So is a good friend of mine." When he says that Joe Biden is a good friend of his, that is an insult to everybody whom Biden has damaged throughout his overlong neoliberal career. When Sanders says he will even support Michael Bloomberg should he win the nomination, even appearing arm in arm with him on Martin Luther King Day, that is a slap in the face to every black or brown man who was ever rousted by cops on Bloomberg's direct orders, just for the crime of existing. It was an insult to all the desperate people that "Mayor Mike" had ordered fingerprinted when they began applying for food stamps in near record numbers after the 2008 financial collapse.

Since Sanders's campaign slogan is "Not me, us," he needs to define his terms. Too frequently, the "us" seems to include people like Biden. Sanders, by any standard of logic, cannot define Biden as a good friend at the same time that he rails against the billionaires that Biden has faithfully served. He certainly cannot, or should not, vow to support Bloomberg, whose obscene net worth is estimated at more than $50 billion.

At the same time, those urging Sanders to "fight dirty" are also wrong. Playing dirty implies engaging in smears and hit jobs, which are dishonest to the core. Criticizing Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or Michael Bloomberg for their policies and history is not "attacking" them. Pointing out their lies is not trashing them. It is playing it straight and honest to say that Biden has always wanted to gut Social Security and that Elizabeth Warren was a life-long Republican who is a wholehearted proponent of American militarism and imperialism.

The Democratic machine is carefully keeping Sanders imprisoned in the Senate for the duration of its sham impeachment trial, which is nothing less than an extended campaign commercial for Biden and a gruesome propaganda  extension of the Russiagate excuse for Hillary Clinton's ignominious loss to Trump. It is an open declaration of the neoconservative bent of the Democratic Party, with Chief Prosecutor Adam Schiff channeling George Bush and actually saying that "we have to fight Russia over there so we don't have to fight them over here."

This kind of mendacious rhetoric is the very definition of playing dirty. It doesn't matter that the Republicans are a hundred times worse, when both parties come to the staged event with unclean hands.

The artificially restricted impeachment articles also tacitly assert that the president does not have the inherent right to formulate foreign policy. They nakedly assert that foreign policy is the sole purview of the permanent security and military apparatus, made up of the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon. They transparently claim that foreign policy is for the ultimate benefit of weapons manufacturers, oil companies and other extractors and exploiters and evictors.

That Trump was partying and bloviating at Davos, and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in Jerusalem crafting foreign policy even as the Senate trial was getting underway are testament to the corruption and widespread bipartisan complicity in the corruption. Each of these dirty plutocrats knows, or think they know, exactly how this show is going to end.

If Bernie Sanders does indeed win the nomination, and if he does indeed defeat Trump in November, his struggles will only be just beginning. He'd better consider who his friends are, and that for the most part, they do not reside in Washington, D.C. Martha's Vineyard, Hollywood, the Hamptons or Davos, Switzerland.

The CIA and the State Department and the congressional intelligence committees funding them and protecting them will still be exerting utmost control. We'll still be living under an oligarchy for the foreseeable future. 

We'll just have to wait and see whether a President Sanders repeats what Barack Obama did once he won the White House: disband his grassroots movement under very friendly pressure and non-refusable offers.

Now is the time to brace ourselves and to prepare for all kinds of dirty possibilities. As Howard Zinn said, it's not who's occupying the White House that matters, but who is out in the streets.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Commentariat Central: Part Two

This is how desperate the Democratic establishment is getting: One of Bernie Sanders's campaign officials recently circulated a clip of Joe Biden seeming to make nice with that notorious Ayn Rand fanboy, former House Speaker Paul Ryan.  The subject was Social Security. Since Biden used the coded language of  Social Security "reform," rather than calling for outright cuts, the clip is being widely - and wildly - construed as Bernie "smearing" Biden.

Granted, the clip was taken out of context. But compared to the buckets of mud they're slinging at Bernie, it was but the gentle flicking of a few grains of sand at a corrupt politician who isn't getting anywhere near the media criticism he so richly deserves. The kid glove treatment is largely due to Donald Trump's own smearing of Biden and the Biden-centric Articles of Impeachment now before the Senate.

Paul Krugman is among the righteously incensed about the latest manufactured scandal, and he demands in his latest column that Sanders apologize to Biden, "abjectly" and pronto (I believe Sanders might even have already caved to this demand by the time the column appeared, but I could be wrong.)

Krugman effectively says it's worse to be falsely accused of saying nice things about Paul Ryan than it is to have spent your entire political career, as Biden did, in making the lives of millions of people nasty, brutish and short. 

Biden did make a misstep in his counterattack, mislabeling the misrepresented video clip as “doctored,” but that doesn’t mean he’s not still due an abject apology. Instead, however, the Sanders campaign has doubled down. Rather than admitting that it smeared a rival, the campaign is going around claiming that Biden has a long record of trying to cut Social Security. There is, unfortunately, some truth in that claim — but it doesn’t excuse either the original lie or the refusal to admit error.
Unfortunate that Biden has tried to cut Social Security, or unfortunate that the Sanders team refuses to retreat from its fact-based claims? It seems to really hurt Krugman that although the tactics might have been wrong, the essential truth of the matter is not.

My response to Krugman's specious claim that poor goofy old Joe was simply "swept along" by the overpowering austerity craze afflicting the Washington establishment:

Joe Biden didn't simply go along with the "consensus." As a founding member of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, he was one of the architects of the consensus to cut Medicare, Social Security and other New Deal/Great Society programs. 
  The DLC Agenda would not be so crass as to openly pummel the poor and minorities while they were down, or call single Black mothers "Cadillac welfare queens." Instead they would distort the egalitarian rhetoric and policies of FDR's New Deal by conflating representative democracy with consumer capitalism. This new definition wholeheartedly adopted Reagan's "government is the problem" dog-whistled means to demonize the poor and minorities while downplaying the cruel agenda with their own meaningless platitudes about acceptance and inclusivity. 
As Goldwater-style movement conservatism was gaining traction during the 1970s, Democratic leaders looked at this new rising star, Biden, and realized how well he could co-opt his own working class background and put some of his down-home rhetoric into the service of the corporations. Biden was considered a natural to pander to the blue-collar white voters who had fled to the GOP in droves, thanks largely to Reagan's fear-mongering on race. That populist mystique still clings to him, despite the harsh reality of every reactionary thing he has accomplished politically in the last nearly half-century. 
And Bernie comes along and 'unfairly' links him to Paul Ryan?  
Come on, man.

Krugman's previous column was even worse, because he used children as the weapon with which to attack Sanders. His twisted logic is that because Bernie's signature campaign issue is Medicare For All, he thereby is willfully ignoring the way America treats "our children."

Most readers didn't seem to get that particular Bernie smear, because he nonchalantly tacked it on at the very end of his piece after spending numerous paragraphs doing what he does best: shooting diseased Republican fish in a polluted barrel. Krugman actually sounds a bit like Paul Ryan himself, with his open sneering at desperate people (rainbow and unicorn-chasers) who can't afford basic health care. He writes:
So we should be talking a lot more about helping America's children. Why aren't we?
At least part of the blame rests with Bernie Sanders, who made Medicare For All both a progressive purity test and a bright shiny object chased by the news media at the expense of other policies that could greatly improve American lives, and are far more likely to become law. But it's not too late to refocus.
My published response, along with some follow-up comments in response to other readers:
Well, if you're going to accuse Sanders of sexism, you might as well accuse him of child neglect while you're at it.
 The whole premise of this column is fallacious. To wit: since Bernie is for Medicare For All, it naturally follows that he doesn't care about kids.
The fact is, M4A would help moms, dads and kids. If parents can't afford to see a doctor when they get sick, their kids suffer as well. If parents spend thousands of dollars on co-pays, premiums and deductibles, there's less money to feed, clothe and educate the kids. How can you say that calling for M4A is neglecting kids when it would provide them with a good start and quality of life for both them and their parents?
 Times are so hard and good paying jobs are so few that adults can no longer afford to have babies, let alone afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment in most areas of the country.
Warren's plan is good, but the catch is that the states would administer the programs and disburse the funds. Bain Capital, for instance, already runs a billion dollar-plus chain of day care centers. With more federal money possibly on the horizon should Warren's plan pass. look for Goldman Sachs and Evercore and KKR Little Tots Schools to pop up all over this land, raking in the cash while parents slave away at precarious low wage jobs with no health insurance.
 This is not an "either/or" thing. If we spend a trillion bucks a year on war, we can afford to take care of our people.... cradle to grave.
My follow-up comment to a reader echoing the establishment talking point that Medicare For All unfairly takes attention away from women's issues and reproductive rights:
True, Sanders doesn't do pigeonholing of issues as wonkishly as some might prefer.
Despite all the media claims. he also doesn't harp on M4A to the exclusion of everything else. On the contrary, he has stated many times that climate change is the critical issue of our time, with myriad repercussions on the economy and health. This usually gets drowned out by the media concern trolls demanding "But how you gonna pay for Medicare For All?!"
 Poor and minority women are disproportionately adversely affected by both climate change and our highly restrictive health care marketplace, particularly in states which have barred the ACA's Medicaid expansion.
M4A by definition IS reproductive health care. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has long included abortion rights and birth control in their definition of reproductive health care. They also don't pigeonhole women's medical issues into a separate category that becomes ripe for ideological and moral arguments and misogyny by the right wing.
 As a single mom facing my own share of child care issues and emergencies through the years, we absolutely do need relief. But it needs to be simple, guaranteed and universal relief, administered at the nonprofit, public, federal level and designed to be as repeal- proof as we can make it.
And my reply to another reader who really liked Krugman's column and was bemused by my reaction to it:
Krugman took a perfectly good column advocating for children and managed to turn it into a smear of Bernie. He comes right out and says that Sanders "bears part of the blame" for "us" not talking about our children.
 True, Krugman doesn't get together with his fellow pundits to plot strategy, but they do feed off one another's discourse. You can see the same talking points all across the A to B spectrum of centrist neoliberal narrative. One common trope is "you can't have this or that program because then Ivanka and her spawn would only take advantage of it."
We should have guaranteed universal programs for everybody, both rich and poor. Warren's child care plan is certainly better than nothing, but parents would have to jump through many bureaucratic hoops to get approved, the govt would not build new centers or train and pay providers -- and the biggest catch of all, as I mentioned before, is that it's voucherized. Red states, especially, would find ways to re-allocate the money for other programs or just use it to reward cronies and private equity vultures. We saw this with Clinton's welfare reform package. The job training money that went along with kicking people off the rolls went to subsidizing businesses. Moms got zilch and the poverty rate skyrocketed in the ensuing decades.
Warren's plan is capitalist to the bone, which is not so much of a good thing when the whole point of capitalism is to extract resources and dispossess people.

This week's adventure in commenting-land concludes with Maureen Dowd's observation that Trump's misogyny is infiltrating the Senate impeachment trial by way of his two attorneys, Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz -who themselves have been joined at the pervert hip by defending Jeffrey Epstein. Therefore, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar should stop "whingeing" and start acting as tough as Nancy Pelosi.

Why even bother joining in this kind of simplistic, identity-politics shallowness? 

So I tried tor a little more perspective in my published response:
The devolution may not even be televised. Whenever King Donald looks vulnerable, his courtiers have the power to kick the cameras and the reporters right out of the room. This archaic rule makes the Starr Chamber description all the more apt.
 It's gotten to the point where even the National Archives is censoring photos of Women's March anti-Trump signs,
Since Trump has been getting away with high crimes and misdemeanors his entire adult life, nobody's gonna stop him now. His rise to infamy coincided with the dawn of neoliberal austerity during the New York City debt crisis in the 70s, ushering in a second gilded age of obscene wealth inequality. The corrupt Empire State political machine allowed him to commit real estate and tax fraud with impunity, in the hopes that his flamboyance would attract even more speculators to the Big Apple.
  Trump always thrived at the direct expense of the poor and working class. He got his welfare, and the unions gave up their pensions to save NYC from bankruptcy. He helped turn it into the wealth disparity capital of the country.
The media rarely challenged Trump, and if they did, it was with a grudging admiration. He's always been a ratings bonanza.
 Dershowitz and Starr, both of whom should have been disbarred long ago, are more fiendish proof that this is a full fledged oligarchy.
In a subversive nod to Nathan Hale. Trump is essentially saying: "I only regret I had but one Roy Cohn to give to my country!"

Monday, January 20, 2020

Commentariat Central: Social Justice Edition (Part One)

Today the country honors Martin Luther King Jr. on his official birthday, which is conveniently tacked on to the end of a long weekend so as to remove as much meaning and actual history from the occasion as possible. Rather than emulating King's civil disobedience, anti-consumerism and economic boycotts, antiwar activism and championship of organized labor strikes, we are urged to partake in contrived "days of service." We are urged to emulate celebrities like Barack and Michelle Obama as they flock to their local soup kitchens, personal videographers in tow, to inspire (shame) us to forgo our supposedly privileged lifestyles for just an hour or two in order to "give back."

Not that the poor and the hungry and the oppressed will receive the "give-back" of guaranteed health care, housing, and food that they can actually prepare and eat in their own homes. They will get at most some collateral publicity as the extras in the annual show - mere fleeting targets of the tiniest possible spurts of noblesse oblige,

And come to think of it, all that the elite social influence class really has to do these days is send out an innocuous tweet lauding Dr. King on his very special day. It only takes a minute, as Obama so ably demonstrated today:

Every so often, I re-read Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. While some of the injustices may have changed, his poetic brilliance, moral clarity, and tests of conscience still reverberate today. Take a moment to reflect on his righteous call.
And for those feeling especially virtuous, the New York Times tops its digital Martin Luther King Jr. coverage with instructions on how to bake a bourbon pecan pie in his honor, along with expert advice to use your day off to try out that instant pot ($79, Amazon choice) you got for Christmas. You can even take a moment to reverently read something that Dr. King wrote while you are cooking and feasting.

But as New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes, way below the digital fold:
I had been taught only the "Dream" King. That is what America wants King to remain: Frozen in perpetual optimism, urging more than demanding, appealing to America's better angels rather than ruthlessly calling out its persistent demons.
 But that must not be done. That must not be done.
As King put it about his Poor People's Campaign, "Now, when we come to Washington in this campaign. we're coming to get our check."
 King was assassinated a month before the campaign was supposed to head to Washington.
While touching upon King's inherent radicalism, Blow doesn't tell his readers what the civil rights leader really had in mind.

My submitted (still unpublished) response:

From Dr. King's Massey Lecture Series, here's what our leaders don't want us to remember:
  "The dispossessed of this nation -- the poor, both white and Negro -- live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty."
  With that rhetoric, were he alive today, he'd probably be rotting in jail with Chelsea Manning and other political dissidents. He'd planned the literal occupation and takeover of the Capitol, with protesters setting up camp and refusing to leave until politicians voted in a living wage law and a jobs bill.
  "If you're poor, or if you're unemployed anyway, you can choose to stay in Washington as long as the struggle needs you." he said. "And if that official says, 'But Congress would have to approve this,' or 'But the President would have to be consulted on that,' you can say, 'All right, we'll wait.' And you can settle down in his office as long a stay as necessary."
And then he was conveniently assassinated, supposedly by a lone gunman, right in the middle of a Memphis sanitation workers' strike. 
Did he envision a bona fide,violence-fomenting fascist in the White House. or a nation full of militarized police and a whole gulag of private prisons with quotas to fill? He likely saw it coming, but his "admirers" have nonetheless preferred to bury their own heads in the sand.
  May the truth as King spoke it set us free, and soon.


"The New Jim Crow" author Michelle Alexander marked the tenth anniversary of her groundbreaking book's publication with a Times column that forcefully pushes back against Joe Biden's insistence that the Trump presidency is just an "aberration."

Without mentioning the leading Democratic presidential contender by name, she is unflinching in her criticism of his boss, Barack Obama and the damaging "colorblind" policies he implemented - policies such as mass deportations and drone killings that were and still are largely immune from criticism by the liberal class.

I was right to worry about the aftermath of Obama's election. After he was inaugurated, our nation was awash in 'post-racialism.".Black History Month events revolved around 'how far we've come. Many in the black community felt that, if Obama could win the presidency, anything was possible. Few people wanted to hear the message I felt desperate to convey: Despite appearances, our nation remains trapped in a cycle of racial reform, backlash, and re-formation of systems of racial and social control.
From that stage of feel-good denialism comes the apparent polar-opposite of Donald Trump, who has unabashedly made America feel safe to hate again. "But," Alexander continues,"contrary to what many people would have us believe, what our nation is experiencing is not an 'aberration.' The politics of Trumpism and 'fake news' are not new. They are as old as the nation itself."

I wonder if her essay had initially mentioned Joseph Biden by name, but the Times edited it out.

My submitted (in the holding bin for the past 24 hours) comment did mention Biden by name:

The common wisdom floating around is that if we can only get rid of Trump and get back to the good old days of Obama, everything will be fine.
What a return to "norms" really means is that we'd be able to once again bury our heads in the sand with another president skilled enough to pay lip service to anti-racism while continuing, as Ms. Alexander notes, the same - if not brand new - Jim Crow policies. As she noted in her book, these policies are always evolving, and they're never in favor of brown and black-skinned people.
 Look at the current angst over #OscarsSoWhite and #DemocraticPrimarySoWhite. As if more minority actresses or another minority president can erase racism by dint of sheer personal identity. In fact, these "winners" still serve a system ruled by oligarchs, who for the most part are white and male.
Some pundits and party operatives are talking up Stacey Abrams as Joe Biden's running mate. This is a cringe-worthy attempt to erase his own outsize role in creating the modern Jim Crow carceral state.
 Most telling of all is that Trump is not being impeached for what is his worst crime of all: the kidnapping and imprisonment of thousands of migrant and refugee children at the border. Perhaps that's because for Congress to indict him for this crime against humanity, they'd also have to indict themselves.

(I'll post Part Two of my Times commentariat stuff either tonight or tomorrow morning.) 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Distraction Inside a Diversion Within a Deflection

I almost feel sorry for CNN, the most mistrusted name in news. As you've probably heard, one of its debate moderators belligerently asked Bernie Sanders why he had told Elizabeth Warren that a woman could never win the presidency rather than if he had told her this.

This tacky episode of desperately obvious collusion between the war industry-financed cable giant and the faltering campaign of Elizabeth Warren puts CNN in a real quandary as Donald Trump's impeachment trial opens in the Senate. How will its reporters juggle the onerous task of breathlessly hyping the drama of Ukrainegate while simultaneously hyping their contrived family feud between Sanders and Warren? Do they break from the testimony to do panel discussions on Warren and Sanders giving each other the side-eye? Do they cover the boring speeches by the "impeachment managers" or do they air Donald Trump bloviating about witch hunts and unfairness on the White House lawn or at another one of his Nuremberg-style rallies? What if another hell of a continent-engulfing fire breaks out just as the climate-denying senators are fretting about the scandal of delayed weapons appropriations in the new Cold War? What if Trump murders another foreign leader right in the middle of his trial while Adam Schiff is discussing foreign terrorism and improving America's reputation?  It's a real dilemma, not just for CNN, but for the whole media borg. 

In normally balanced times of abnormality, we're used to seeing a permanent split screen, images divided between the requisite two manufactured narratives and leading actors. But with the petty partisan politics of impeachment vying for attention with the petty partisan politics of the Warren-Sanders kerfuffle vying with the petty partisan politics of Everyday Trump vying with whatever mass shootings and climate catastrophes are happening in the world, our invisible TV pixels might devolve into visible pixels requiring a magnifying glass to see. Just the chyrons alone, vying for desperate attention on the top, bottom and both sides of the screen, might require the purchase of a whole separate screen to keep us properly informed. Maybe they should start selling smarter TVs with pre-split multiple screens that are bigger than a house... that is, to the lucky few who still live in houses, which are increasingly being used as hiding places for laundered oligarchic loot rather than as actual dwelling places for human beings.

Thus far I've only been able to find a gadget that breaks up your already-small screen into six separate compartments for your enhanced viewing confusion. To be fair, it is not marketed for use by just one viewer, but to multiple family members or housemates who fight over what to watch on their one TV and who can now supposedly get along in blissful cacophonous peace and harmony

Is it me, or are we finally entering the terminal stage of our great national psychosis in unreal real time, what with all these manufactured and unnatural events competing for our ever more divided and shortened attention spans?

But enough of these depressing dystopian musings! Let's talk just a bit more about that way too obvious conspiracy between Elizabeth Warren and CNN to destroy the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. As others have written, this is all for the benefit of Joe Biden, or perhaps for the benefit of Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg. Playing the sexism card against Bernie rather than against Gropey Sniffy Joe is Warren's tacit way of admitting she has no chance to be the nominee. Her task is to prove to Biden and the corrupt Democratic establishment that when they go low, she goes lower. She is a team player and a worthy candidate for the vice presidency or at least for a top-level cabinet position.

If Warren had been truly, sincerely disturbed by Sanders's alleged sexist remark at that private dinner more than a year ago, wouldn't she have spoken up in the immediate aftermath in order to warn progressives and feminists where this guy's head was really at?

Her belated accusation reeks of the Hail Mary pass. Faced with her imminent defeat, she has desperately pivoted from "I've got a plan for that"  to embracing the same old head fake of stale identity politics. She portrays herself - and by extension, all of womanhood -  as the quintessential victim. Of course, the best and the brightest of the victimized will nevertheless  "fight back" against the male sex as a substitute for fighting back against the patriarchal capitalism which afflicts every living thing on earth: men, women, children, flora and fauna.

Abandoning her brand as the populist champion of working class solidarity, Warren is now wholeheartedly embracing the centrist cult of neoliberal individualism. She is a good loyal friend to capitalism. It was always a contradiction for her to claim to be "a capitalist to my bones" from one side of the mouth and to assert that "I'm with Bernie!" with the other. The truth is now out there. Whether her calculated choice succeeds in damaging Sanders and rewarding Biden - and, ultimately, Trump - remains to be seen.

Warren, meanwhile, is using the solemnity of the impeachment to dissociate her own self from the kerfuffle she has caused. But CNN is having none of it, scoffing at the widespread criticism of its anti-Bernie bias and complaining that Warren refused further comment as she was entering the Senate chamber. CNN's Chris Cilizza vows that his network is not giving up the story about Warren's fight without a fight! Because a story is a story and it won't be the end of the story.

Capitalism hates class solidarity - unless, of course, it is plutocratic class solidarity.

 And it certainly does love those lonely individual downtrodden fighters who can beat all the odds and serve as shining examples of grit and fortitude to the rest of us poor slobs. Capitalism loves it when the teeming masses vicariously identify with such downtrodden elites as Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and Meghan Markle... or conversely, with the beleaguered persona of Donald Trump. The more effectively we can be taught to disassociate from our own lives, root for their fortunes and disdain the "haters" who do not, then the less likely it is that we will ever join forces in solidarity with our similarly atomized brothers and sisters.

Capitalism doesn't care a whit about the sincerity of the downtrodden elites that it chooses to market and showcase. It certainly doesn't care whether or not its current star attraction, Donald Trump, is re-elected. In fact, the oligarchs are banking on his re-election, given how this master showman would in all likelihood defeat Biden or Buttigieg or Bloomberg.

Bernie Sanders is their designated enemy. But what really scares them and sends them to their loot-stuffed fainting couches is an informed, angry and motivated populace.

United we stand. Divided by a confusing infinity of split TV screens and manufactured controversies, we fall. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Bernie-Bashing Backlash Bonanza

To say that Elizabeth Warren's accusation of sexism against Bernie Sanders doesn't pass the smell test is the understatement of the year. Even total nostril blockage would not quench the stench of her allegation that he told her at a private dinner that a woman could never win the presidency. What he likely said was that Donald Trump would act like the sexist pig that he is toward any woman candidate.

Likely, given that Bernie has always stood up for women and Elizabeth does have this disturbing history of, ahem, exaggerating stuff, bending the truth, or even making things up.

What really reeks is the desperation in Warren's faltering campaign. It joins in lockstep stinkiness with the desperation of the oligarch-controlled media borg. Right on the eve of the last "debate" prior to the Iowa caucuses, CNN chose to run an anonymously-sourced story about the private dinner setting of his alleged remark, a conversation which Warren initially vowed would remain private, thus only adding to the intrigue. After several hours, she issued a statement confirming the unconfirmed CNN hit job, which was broadcast with glee by the New York Times and the whole crew of usual media suspects.

The themes of sexism and the threat to "party unity" will no doubt be the dramatic manufactured focal points of the "debate." The game show emcees ("moderators") will keep both their nostrils and their ears carefully stuffed with cotton balls as they corral the candidates into the desired tag team whose goal is to stamp Bernie into the ground. Never having had to develop the ability to actually think on the job, their careerist journalistic brains were themselves replaced by wads of cotton stuffing quite a while ago. Their minds have the handy dual function of absorbing the ooze of the plutocratic agenda while at the same time acting as protective barriers against any outside democratic contamination.

Poor Joe Biden will probably not join in the bashing with any great gusto, given his own history of sexism combined with that nasty hair-sniffing habit that the media has long since forgotten in its zeal to protect him from the Ukrainegate-based Trumpian slime machine.

Hopefully Sanders is primed and ready for the buckets of slime that are only beginning to be hurled his way. Hopefully he won't preface his defense with "Elizabeth is a good friend of mine, and she can absolutely win this thing!" 

Because judging from the backlash against Warren, the ears, noses, throats and brains of his base of supporters are absolutely clear and cottonball-free. #RefundWarren, a Twitter campaign demanding that she return donations from her small-dollar supporters, is taking off like a blast of turbo-charged nasal spray. (Notwithstanding the concern-trolling mainstream media package warnings to progressives about about the dangerous pro-Trump "rebound effects" of their righteous indignation)

Stay tuned. The ratings for the contrived slug-fest gleefully marketed by the New York Times as "Mom and Dad Are Fighting!" promise to be better than initially expected.


New York Times columnist and MSNBC personality Michelle Goldberg cloyingly advises liberals to move past the contrived Bernie/Liz battle, which originally started with Warren's accusation that he was "attacking her" via campaign workers pointing to the fact that she has well-heeled support. Goldberg sniffs that this stuff is too silly to even talk about -  before she then proceeds to spend her whole column talking about it. Her essay is essentially a thinly disguised call for Bernie to quit the race because, apparently, Warren is the only candidate who can provide that all-important "party unity"  that the Democratic establishment is so concerned about.

Midway through her piece, she casually mentions that since her husband advises the Warren campaign, she was really, really hesitant about even writing her column endorsing Warren. But needs must, when "party unity" trumps relief for the sick, the jobless, the underpaid, the desperate.

It's still all about the upper middle class pathological grief over Hillary Clinton's defeat:
Attacking another candidates’ supporters rather than her record is kind of obnoxious, but as far as political combat goes, it was pretty mild. The reason it caused a small uproar is that in much of the Democratic Party, there’s tremendous resentment of Sanders left over from 2016. Many believe he weakened Hillary Clinton by dragging out the primary — at one point even threatening acontested convention — and then only halfheartedly rallying his fans behind her when it was over. Warren alluded to this anger in a fund-raising email keyed to the Politico article that said, “We can’t afford to repeat the factionalism of the 2016 primary.”
"Many believe" is the same kind of unsourced weasel-wording smear tactic as the all-purpose "some say."

My published response to Goldberg:
How does the Sanders campaign pointing out Warren's poll-verified voting demographic amount to "attacking" her?
If this little kerfuffle is such a little kerfuffle, by amplifying it Michelle Goldberg only adds to the manufactured hysteria, and just in time for the latest episode of the Gong Show, I mean the "debate." If Warren thinks Bernie is "trashing her" simply by pointing out differences in their bases then I hate to think of a President Warren's epic meltdowns when the Republicans start trashing her for real every two minutes.
  By playing the faux-feminist victim card here, she actually disempowers other female politicians. Worse still, she is playing the crumpled Hillary card. Remember how well that pitiful ploy worked out to achieve "party unity" once upon a time? Bernie campaigned for her as soon as she was nominated. Then he was blamed for not having the magical Svengali touch to entice his supporters to actually vote for her.
The long-awaited smear campaign against Bernie has begun in earnest. The only surprising thing is that Warren has chosen to be an integral part of it.

 Goldberg's colleague Paul Krugman seemingly wrote his own anti-Bernie column before the manufactured kerfuffle over trashing and sexism broke out. Because all his does is drag out the same old narrative about Medicare For All being the terrible thing that's destroying party unity. If you want to overcome "Trump's Plot Against Health Care," then you'd better shut up and vote for somebody who will fight to the death for the restrictive, junky, predatory insurance policy that you might be lucky enough to still actually possess. In the meanwhile, don't get upset about not having guaranteed coverage. Be upset because Trump lied about protecting your pre-existing conditions!

Krugman sounds the dire warning:
Make no mistake: Health care will be on the ballot this November. But not in the way ardent progressives imagine.Democrats running for president have spent a lot of time debating so-called Medicare for all, with some supporters of Bernie Sanders claiming that any politician who doesn’t demand immediate implementation of single-payer health care is a corporate tool, or something. But the reality is that whatever its merits, universal, government-provided health insurance isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
My published retort:
 The only pre-existing condition Trump saved is that of the top 0.1% owning as much wealth as the bottom 90%.
That grotesque reality is precisely why Medicare For All is such a "tough sell." The oligarchs own our political duopoly as well as corporate media conglomerate. They spread the fear and the misinformation that make people feel nervous about losing their precarious, expensive coverage to a more equitable program covering everybody from cradle to grave with no premiums, deductibles, networks, co-pays or surprise bills from private equity vultures.
  One of the leading questions in polls is "do you know that Medicare For All would make your private coverage disappear?" -- the implication being that there looms a coverage gap of epic proportions.
 Paul Krugman does his own "there is no alternative" part by labeling those of us who demand what exists in every other advanced nation "ardent progressives" who just cannot understand that single payer is impossible even with a Democratic majority. That statement says more about the pundits and politicians in thrall to the oligarchs than it does about the "ardent progressives."
In other words, if we don't adhere to the status quo of 84.2 million of our fellow citizens staying uninsured or underinsured, Trump will up the killing ante even more.
 It's like telling the people of Flint they're better off with the toxic water they already have, what with the uncertainty and the fear that new lead-free pipes might cause.
Harking back to the sexism theme now in vogue, I got a chuckle from a simile-averse mansplaining retort from "Michael" of The Bronx. Here's what the "woke" gender-conscious New York Times, which claims that it moderates every single reader comment, saw fit to publish right below my own comment:

@Karen Garcia: A couple of your statements in your letter reveals a tendency to hysteria, with a zeal that makes you prone to believe false narratives and propaganda. First you say that Krugman's incremental (and realistic) approach "says more about the pundits...", and then you mention the Flint toxic water situation. I suggest that you investigate more thoroughly the lead levels in Flint to the lead levels in other communities and nationally, and the history of the problem. Kevin Drum at Mother Jones would be a good resource.



Sunday, January 12, 2020

Killing the Antiwar Message Along With the Messenger

It's better to hate Tucker Carlson than to hate war.

That's the theme of Frank Bruni's latest New York Times column, in which he accuses naive peace-loving progressives of developing a crush on the Fox News personality for his audacious antiwar messaging and his critique of Donald Trump's assassination of Quassim Soleimani.

Suddenly you’re digging him. At least a little bit. I know, I’ve seen the tweets, read the commentary, heard the chatter, detected the barely suppressed cheer: Hurrah for Tucker Carlson. If only we had more brave, principled Republicans like him.
Right out of the gate, he protested President Trump’s decision to kill Qassim Suleimani, the Iranian military commander, noting that it didn’t square with the president’s determination not to get bogged down in the Middle East and warning of the possibility and horror of full-blown war. Your pulse quickened. You perked up.
Never mind the lack of brave, principled Democrats, whose own opposition to Trump's actions was limited to a nonbinding resolution that only pretends to limit his war powers. Because Fox News regularly and unfairly blasts the Democratic Party, it behooves us to defend establishment Democrats even when the criticism "from the other side" is valid. Therefore, Bruni gushes that Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposed the Iraq invasion but only very grudgingly admits that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer voted for it.

Instead of writing an antiwar column of his own, from a more humanistic point of view, Bruni chooses instead to highlight Tucker Carlson's history of racism and Trump-worship, thereby giving both the liberal interventionists and the neocons a complete pass and tainting antiwar sentiment across the board.

As Matt Gertz of Media Matters perceptively noted, Carlson’s antiwar stance “is not a break from his past support for Trump or his channeling of white nationalist tropes, but a direct a result of both.” Gertz explained that in the mind-set of Carlson and many of his fans on the far right, energy spent on missions in another hemisphere is energy not spent on our southern border. It’s no accident that, in regard to the Middle East, he and (White nationalist Richard) Spencer are on the same page.
See how subtly Bruni simultaneously gaslights and indirectly smears by association the leftist antiwar movement? I'm only surprised he didn't pounce, as other pro-war establishment Democrats have done, on the appearances of Glenn Greenwald and Tulsi Gabbard on Tucker Carlson's show to offer their own more leftist critiques of US imperialism and militarism. 

Bruni's column succeeds in completely changing the subject. It also ticks off the requisite "shoot the messenger" box. If you still think Tucker Carlson might have something valid to say, the warning is, then you'd better think again. You don't want to get caught inadvertently quoting him and then risk getting called a racist or a closet Trumpist by your friends, do you?

  Since Tucker Carlson holds such loathsome views on many social issues, the implicit message is, then it must naturally follow that liberals make up for wars' destruction by being more inclusive and diverse and sincere and well-meaning. All Bruni is saying by omission is, give war a chance. And never mind that the bipartisan bombs dropped in the past two decades on at least eight different countries in Africa and the Middle East are almost exclusively killing and maiming black and brown-skinned people. War and imperialism and colonialism are racist in both thought and in deed. The "good side" of the oligarchic duopoly simply stifles the racist rhetoric more adeptly than the "bad side" does.

My published comment on Bruni's column:

With CNN and MSNBC stuffed to the gills with CIA and Pentagon analysts. it should come as no surprise that one of the few antiwar pundits left standing will attract a certain amount of squeamish liberal enthusiasm.
 Does anybody remember when MSNBC summarily fired Phil Donahue for his own antiwar sentiment during the run-up to the Iraq invasion? Follow the weapons industry/fossil fuel/corporate sponsor money!
An overlap between liberalism and libertarianism is nothing new. Ron Paul, for instance, attracts a fair number of lefties for his opposition to the war/surveillance state despite his connections to the racist John Birch Society and his opposition to government health and welfare programs.
One of the best antiwar analysts writing today is Andrew Bacevich, who contributes regularly to The American Conservative. and who has criticized US wars of aggression from Vietnam to Iraq and beyond. His latest book, "The Age of Illusions," chronicles how the end of the Cold War unleashed a rampage of neoliberal capitalism and neoconservative militarism which have become the subversive new definitions of democracy. It also helped usher in the Trump presidency.
 Of course, Trump himself will likely never read this book or any other book for that matter. So if it disturbs you that a racist antiwar poser like Carlson occasionally stays the itchy trigger finger of our Fox News addict of a president, that's a clue that we need many more progressive antiwar voices in the media.