Saturday, December 9, 2017

My Al Franken Mind-Split

I am uncomfortably on the fence regarding the Al Franken resignation.

The feminist part of me applauds his forcing-out at the hands of female senators. Maybe he posed for that dumb picture with a fellow entertainer for what he sincerely thought were harmless entertainment reasons. Nonetheless, the image did send a harmful message to immature males everywhere. That message is that women are objects of harmless fun, particularly women who are unconscious and helpless. So perhaps Franken's forced ouster will send its own message to immature men of all ages: Better think twice before playfully thrusting your tongue into an unwilling mouth, or affectionately pinching a bottom during a routine photo op.

The traditional (small d) democrat in me abhors his forced resignation by a handful of female senators. The voters of Minnesota put Al Franken into office, and they should be the ones to take him out, by recall, if they wanted to. Franken was railroaded out of The Swamp even before the ethically challenged Senate ethics committee got the chance to drag out another investigation. Franken absolutely does have a right to feel very bitter about the whole thing. The last thing a powerful man expects is to made an example of by a bunch of women. He must have felt like the hog-tied boss in Nine to Five as he delivered his bitter farewell speech.

Our Cathartic Moment of Zen

Meanwhile, the traditional democrat part of me also finds it very hard to be sympathetic to Al Franken, given my previous longstanding disenchantment with him. Despite the fact that his Minnesota constituents overwhelmingly chose Bernie Sanders in last year's Democratic Party caucuses, Franken, as a committed Hillary Clinton super-delegate, refused to change his own support. He explained that, since those same caucus voters had also elected him to the Senate, they "trusted" him to be the ultimate decider.

As a sort of precursor to his not remembering his well-meaning attacks on women the same way the women remembered them, Franken stressed that he didn't actually mean to imply that he thinks he is smarter than his constituents. He simply ignored them for their own good.

Meanwhile, both the democratic and feminist sides of me absolutely believe that my senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, railroaded Al Franken out of office for her own self-serving political purposes. Still something of a starlet among the overcrowded roster of rising Democratic stars, she knew a wedge issue opportunity when she saw it. Since the party slogan, "A Better Deal" was going nowhere fast, ambitious Democrats are hastily co-opting the #MeToo movement to differentiate themselves from the slimy Republicans, particularly alleged pedophile Roy Moore of Alabama and the admitted serial abuser in the White House. If the Democrats can't and won't run a campaign of economic justice for all, they'll grasp at any convenient straw they can. It'll be a war against the men who wage war against women.

Although the socialist part of me thinks that selective Me-Tooism is deeply reactionary as well as threatening to devolve into another McCarthyite cult, there's that other part of me who, still feeling the sting of my own prior victimization, is absolutely thrilled by the Fall of the Great Hogs as well as some of the lesser oinkers. 

True, Gillibrand was a conservative upstate New York Blue Dog long before she became an overnight opportunistic New York City-style progressive. But she has been known to buck bellicose male tradition from time to time. She dared to criticize Barack Obama for refusing to take sex assaults outside the chain of military command. And although she eventually tried to walk back her heretical disownment of the Clintons after suggesting that Bill should have resigned the presidency for his own sexual sleaze, she was the first member of her party in the Age of Hillary to do so. Regardless of ulterior motives, you have to admit that took some chutzpah.

So I'm ambivalent about Gillibrand too. Would it be better for her and other female lawmakers to just shut up about congressional predators? Of course not. But then I get hung up on due process, and I also can't help thinking about The Scarlet Letter with Kirsten Gillibrand starring as Roger Chillingworth. And then I think about how stone-cold silent she and her fellow legislators have been about the still-pending corruption charges against Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. His first trial ended in a hung jury last month, but he's calling it an acquittal, and he's still sitting pretty in his own legislative seat.

Of course, the other problem with the #MeToo movement is that, thus far anyway, the media coverage has been largely confined to men in high places abusing women (and men) in somewhat less-high places, or at least those who ambitiously aspire to high places. For the most part, the Narrative is about  elites vs. elite wannabes. We haven't heard too many stories of working class women and men getting abused and/or fired, without the cushion of lucrative "settlement" deals to soften the blow of their low-wage job losses. There is no  corporate or taxpayer-funded hush money slush fund set aside for waitresses and office temps and Uber drivers.

And with so many liberals now turning on Gillibrand for ruining Al Franken's life for the good of a weak and corrupt Democratic Party, the dreaded backlash has already begun. The #MeToo movement, which so quickly advanced to a cult-like status thanks to the crusading journalism of the New York Times, threatens to go the way of the pink pussy-hat: into the discontinued yarn bin of history.

The irony is that the movement started out as a proxy fight against Donald Trump. The destruction of Harvey Weinstein, a vile proxy for the ages, got the whole bandwagon morphing into a runaway freight train. There are new accusations against new men every day, and the media prints them as hastily as their routine vetting procedures permit. Actual time, though, is not of the essence; some of the stories, such as those involving famed conductor James Levine, go back half a century.

And Donald Trump is not only still sitting pretty, he even champions his fellow predators with absolute impunity. In endorsing Alabama's Ray Moore, he's outed himself as a pedophile-phile, and proud of it. So, apparently, are a slim polled majority of Alabama's voters.

Also ironic is the possibility that, had Al Franken not gone against the wishes of voters and clung to the flawed and fatal campaign of Hillary Clinton, he might still be sitting pretty in his own Senate seat. It is now a truth universally acknowledged (at least by Donna Brazile and the leaked Podesta and DNC emails) that the primary process was rigged against Bernie Sanders. If he had secured the nomination, many believe that his left-wing populism could easily have trounced Trump's right-wing populism.

But don't tell that to the Democratic Party's elite faction. Pundit Paul Krugman, among others, is still artificially and uselessly confining his angst to the far-right wing of the reactionary Uniparty. His latest op-ed oh so originally points out that "Facts Have a Well-Known Liberal Bias." In other words, if the GOP says the moon is made of green cheese, and the Democrats say it is made of moon rocks, it therefore follows that the Democrats own the moral high ground, even as they gleefully appropriate three quarters of a trillion dollars to the war machine of their predatory faux-nemesis, Donald Trump. Krugman righteously writes in the New York Times:
Surveys done by the University of Minnesota and George Mason University have shown that the supposedly impartial “fact checking” news organization rates Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims and twice as much, respectively.
Notice the implicit assumption here – namely, that impartial fact-checking would find an equal number of false claims from each party. But what if – bear with me a minute – Republicans actually make more false claims than Democrats?....
....Whatever the deep explanation, however, the parties are not the same. And trying to pretend that they are the same isn’t just foolish, it’s deeply destructive. Indeed, it’s one important reason Donald Trump sits in the White House.
My published response: 
The relentlessness of the GOP's lies has a "gaslighting" effect, serving to block normal minds from perceiving the actual truth. Since it's human nature to search for the "middle ground" between the truth and its opposite, too many of us end up settling for a counterfeit compromise. And this is precisely the intent of the liars and their media enablers.
They serve up their "news" not to keep us informed, but to ensure that we remain comfortable consumers in a very pathological situation.
It's like trying to find a magical healthy spot between stage 4 cancer and a benign tumor. Rather than calling the terminal disease a terminal disease, and rather than admit that a cancer-free body is the ideal, they settle for the stage 2 disease and pronounce it as healthy as can be expected.
Of course the Republicans and the Democrats aren't the same. But the Dems have to do more than indignantly moralize against the GOP pathocrats. They have to do more than point to "Russia" as the root of our divisiveness. They have to do more than brag about getting rid of their own in-house predators while pointing their virtue-signaling fingers at Trump and Roy Moore.
 They have to prescribe an actual cure to what ails this sick society. They have to champion Medicare for All, college debt relief, strong public education and housing policies, and living wage legislation. Maybe then they can start winning back some of the thousand seats they've lost to the GOP liars over the past decade.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Bill Clinton's Ruling Class Lament

As part of the great national wokeness serving to expose and shame the predators in the highest echelons of media and political power, the New York Times has graciously allowed former President Bill Clinton to perform his own reckoning, in his own words.

Clinton reckons that the biggest problem America faces is not that the powerful and the rich and the criminal are exploiting and assaulting the poor and the defenseless. It's that defenseless Americans like you and me just can't seem to get along with one another. Forget about coming clean about his own sordid past as an accused rapist. This man won't even come clean about how his administration's neoliberal, wealth-serving policies have directly created some of the worst human misery in the history of our young republic.

Regular readers of this blog might remember that one of my regular features was the deconstruction of Barack Obama's weekly addresses to the nation. Unlike Donald Trump's self-centered bombast, Obama's messages sounded,  on the surface, very reasonable and eloquent  and even empathetic - until you carefully read between the lines, and realized that they were largely dog-whistles of support to Wall Street and jingoistic drumbeats for the perpetual war machine.

So, when I read Clinton's op-ed in the New York Times, it was like deja vu all over again. Let the deconstruction begin!

Americans Must Decide Who We Really Are, by Bill Clinton.
America has a lot going for it.
We are in the second year of rising incomes across all income groups. Our work force is relatively young, hardworking and productive. America’s universities and other research institutions are strong in areas like materials science, software development, nanotechnology, biotechnology, genomics and many other fields that are important to our future economic growth and employment. We continue to move toward more energy independence and cleaner energy, with advances in battery storage for solar and wind power and a vast untapped capacity to generate electricity from both.
This sounds like a subtle dig at Obama, who oversaw the greatest transfer of wealth from the working classes to the rich in all of American history, as well as a subtle compliment to Trump's second year in office coinciding with the second year of allegedly rising incomes. If any low-income workers have gotten slight raises in the past few years, it's been largely the result of their own Fight for 15 movement and not the result of any beneficence of employers like the Walton family. This retail dynasty now owns as much wealth as the entire bottom half of the population combined, but their workers rely on government-funded programs like Medicaid and SNAP to barely survive. Of course, it helps that the Walton clan have been big funders of the Clinton clan over the past several decades.

Bill Clinton fails to mention that the technological research being conducted in public universities is for the ultimate benefit of private corporations, which, thanks to patent laws written by their lobbyists, will continue to milk the public for generations to come. Meanwhile, the skilled but onerously indebted graduates of such institutions will work until they drop.

And that's the good news. Clinton now proceeds to give lip service to his neoliberal version of the dark side:
 We also face serious economic challenges: severe inequalities in income and wealth; low work force participation by adults without college degrees, especially white men; dramatic differences in growth between prosperous urban and suburban regions and counties full of small towns and rural areas; gaping shortfalls in our national infrastructure, from inadequate roads and bridges, to rusty, dangerous water pipes, to an electrical grid incapable of moving the cleanest, cheapest energy from where it can be produced most efficiently to where it is most needed, to the absence of affordable, rapid broadband internet in areas that desperately need to be included in the national economy.
Whenever neoliberals want to avoid a true reckoning, they employ the weasel word "challenges." This allows them to avoid the reality that it has been their own policies (deregulation of the financial sector; privatization of public spaces, and housing stock, and public schools; the deliberate creation of a carceral state in which one out of every three black men now spends part of his life locked up in prison; the bipartisan whittling away of social insurance benefits) which have created the "challenge" of so many millions of people now needlessly suffering. These "challenges" have come about precisely because of leaders like him. Rather than admit this, Clinton blames the victims by pointing to the convenient "skills gap" canard.  This malarkey suggests that only a costly college education can ever bring neoliberalism's victims out of their own doldrums. Oh, and maybe a little broadband rural Internet. That should keep the "folks" hoping against all hope and against all reason. Maybe they'll vote Democrat next time, instead of for Republican demagogues like Donald Trump. Right?
There are human resource challenges, too. Our K-12 education system includes some of the world’s best schools, but that excellence has been hard to replicate across districts and states with widely varying conditions.
Bill Clinton would not be the loyal neoliberal ideologue he is if he didn't define human beings in purely market-based terms. We are not people - we are "human resources"  who must be ready, willing and able to be mined to our very depths. Never mind that these "challenges" will get even worse with the new tax legislation. Among its other atrocities, the GOP plan is expressly designed to destroy public education as we know it, by limiting the local and state property tax deduction to a measly $10,000, and thereby depriving neighborhood schools of most of their revenue for infrastructure and teacher salaries.

Clinton goes on to complain that although the Affordable Care Act has brought a modicum of medical coverage to a select and lucky portion of the population,  
... we have wasted too much time fighting over efforts to repeal that progress when we should be fixing the problems that remain and preparing for the aging of our population. 
 He studiously avoids any mention of Medicare for All, the true government-sponsored single payer health care being touted by progressives like Bernie Sanders, and which is widely supported by the public. On the contrary: what Clinton vaguely calls preparing for those old folks sounds ominously like a willingness to wheel and deal with the GOP on just how much funding it might be feasible to cut from Medicare for the Few.
 The future of undocumented immigrants — including the “Dreamers” and millions of people who are working hard and paying taxes — is uncertain at a time when our work force cannot grow without them; the birthrate among native-born Americans is barely at replacement levels.
Again, Clinton simply cannot resist couching social policies and problems in strictly economic terms. Only those immigrants who "work hard and pay taxes" are deserving immigrants. He does not mention the global refugee humanitarian crisis at all, probably because by doing so he would have to admit that American wars, both direct and proxy, are responsible for it.  He complains about the declining American birthrate without mentioning that people who do not make a living wage at a steady job simply cannot afford to have children  - especially when they are burdened by lifelong college debt. He also doesn't mention that the highly skilled foreign workers he wants to enter the country usually earn much lower salaries than native-born workers.
From Charleston to Charlottesville, we are reminded that the racial divide remains a curse that can be revived with devastating consequences. And the opioid crisis and its progeny, heroin and fentanyl, are killing and disabling Americans at a staggering rate. For several years we’ve known it’s a huge public health challenge, yet almost nowhere do we have the resources and organization necessary to turn the tide.
That was a very Obamesque alliteration - Charleston to Charlottesille. Its glibness masks the reality that our "racial divide" was actually just the ticket for Clinton's victory in 1992. He ran on a racist platform of "ending welfare as we know it," and he also championed the Crime Bill, which has sent record numbers of black men to prison on minor drug charges. Hillary Clinton's own "super predator" rhetoric did its own racist, ultra-right, placatory part.

As economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case have established, the opioid epidemic and worsening death rate are largely the result of working class despair - a despair partly engendered by the offshoring of jobs and the closing of factories brought about by Clinton's North American Free Trade Agreement. (NAFTA) But to Clinton, it's just one more "challenge." And as a sop to the centrist deficit hawk crowd, "almost nowhere do we have the resources to turn the tide."  If he were honest, he would acknowledge that the "resources" are there, but they've been earmarked for providing billionaires and corporations with more tax reductions, more art collections, more luxury homes, more private jets, and more super-yachts.
Finally, we have a serious set of security challenges, from nuclear proliferation, to terrorism, to climate change, to cybersecurity, the last of which may prove the most daunting because it puts all the systems we need to deal with the other problems, and our very democracy, at risk.
This, unbelievably, is how Bill Clinton ends his op-ed. It's as if by glossing over nukes and terrorism and climate change, he is deliberately avoiding the fact that the US itself has committed a trillion dollars' worth of our allegedly dwindling "resources" into modernizing our nukes. It's as if he can't bear to admit that the US has deliberately exempted itself not only from accountability before international war crimes tribunals, but exempted the military from environmental standards meant to reduce America's giant carbon footprint all over the world. The Pentagon is a major contributor to man-made climate change.

Clinton hilariously complains that breaches in our cybersecurity system put our  "democracy" at risk. If he were truly honest, he'd just complain that an upstart billionaire named Donald Trump has put Clinton's faction of the oligarchy at risk. If he were being extra, extra honest, he'd just cut to the chase and say that he's still mad as hell that Hillary lost, and that there has been no Clinton Restoration.

This is the same guy Donna Brazile thinks can help save the Democratic Party by going around the country and campaigning for all the challengers to Republican seats.

Maybe if the Democrats could refrain for a minute from calling people and all kinds of deliberately manufactured human misery mere "challenges," then they might actually start to claw back a few of those thousand seats they've lost in the past decade. Otherwise, they'll end up not with a bang, but with the same kind of whimper with which Bill Clinton concluded his insipidly awful Times op-ed.

Reading it to completion was like a depressing slog through mental quicksand. It was a real challenge.


Party On


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Clinging To the Guns and Religion of RussiaGate

The Democrats are not so incensed about the biggest tax increase in American history that their whole raison d'ĂȘtre isn't still the alleged Russian meddling in our already-tainted electoral process.

Just as Barack Obama once derided generic Heartland voters for "clinging to their guns and religion," the affluent and willfully ignorant liberal class are still clinging to #RussiaGate while they also half-heartedly exert themselves to jump on the #MeToo bandwagon.

I say half-heartedly, because Al Franken is still sitting in the Senate despite that sophomoric photo of his 55-year-old self pretending to grope the breasts of a sleeping fellow entertainer, and despite several other complaints about his Russian rushin' hands and roamin' fingers doing their slimy work at more mundane photo-ops.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did a Party-serving 180 last week, pivoting from praising reputed predator Rep. John Conyers as a Democratic "icon" into demanding his resignation just days later. Perhaps the ease of her about-face had something to do with him being the creator of H.R. 676, the original Medicare for All legislation. His proposed bill, which had been moldering in the House for many years, had recently gotten new life and sponsorship on the resurgent wave of left-wing populism. What better way to kill a bill than for its author to be exposed as a creep?

Professional victim Hillary Clinton, seeing an opening, is also co-opting #MeToo in her perpetual Blame Game Tour. Thank goodness, there are now so many more creeps to pretend to kick around besides just her good pal Harvey Weinstein and her hubby Bill Clinton. It has finally become safe for her to take a stand. Of course, she is making this brave stand all about herself.  

Jill Filopovic, who's run loyal feminist interference for Hillary Clinton in the past, has a new piece up in Sunday's New York Times asserting that, besides the mythical BernieBros, it was Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer and other male journalists who actually cost Clinton the election by constantly bringing up that whole trustworthiness and likeability thing. It makes you wonder: had Hillary been victorious, would Filopovic have written a similar column congratulating Rose and Lauer for carrying Hillary over the finish line?

It also makes you wonder why Barack Obama, who'd demeaned Hillary in a 2008 primary debate by snidely calling her "likeable enough," is not also being called to task for his own sexism. Oh, I forgot -  as the spiritual leader of a soul-less party which lost nearly a thousand seats during his White House tenure, he is immune. As a matter of fact, the liberal class maintains an absolute hunger for him. They're so smitten, they've even been sadly reduced to fawning over fawning coffee table books about him.

The most valuable aspect of #RussiaGate, and selective Me-Tooism, and #HillaryWuzRobbed, and #BarackHunger for the establishment Democrats is that they deflect the public's attention from the recent clamoring, by the majority of US citizens, for true universal health care and other socialist things like free college tuition and debt jubilees. The party elders aim to take the public's attention away from Bernie Sanders and his railing against the same "billionaire class"  which continues to enrich the party while it robs the rest of us blind. Sanders, the most popular politician in America, is already threatening  to usurp the presidential nomination from their preferred roster of "rising stars," including centrists Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.

  Other than opportunistic fund-raising appeals from party veal pen clicktivist organizations, you aren't seeing an inordinate number of Tweets from the usual outraged liberal suspects about the GOP's blatant theft of the public purse in the dead of night. And that's for a very good and pragmatic reason. The millionaires and billionaires who run the Democratic Party will themselves benefit very nicely from the package, and thus they'll have more spare cash to donate to the liberal politicians who give them such cozy, discreet cover. These politicians, if they do win back power next year, will likely claw back only a portion of the GOP's tax cuts for the rich, just as Obama delayed letting the Bush tax cuts expire for his own re-election purposes. And they'll call it a victory.

 It's so much more lucrative to confine one's outrage to Donald Trump's misogyny, to slimy sex predators, and to Vladimir Putin's reputed personal placement of $100,000 worth of cheesy ads on Facebook. Heaven forbid that Democrats speak out against their own wealth-serving neoliberal policies, which have so graciously ushered in a de facto oligarchy.

Of course, they would have preferred to cut Medicare and Social Security and other people-friendly programs under their own smokescreen of "fiscal responsibility" and "shared sacrifice" rather than having the whole rotten can of worms exposed by the ultra-right wing of the Uniparty for all of us to see. They would have preferred a more gradual immersion of the frogs into the slowly boiling water rather than tossing hundreds of millions of lesser critters off the gangplank in one fell swoop. They need the bad things they allow to happen to good people to be gradual, because that is the only thing that keeps their false, futuristic message of hope alive, and most importantly, keeps some people still  fooled enough to vote an ever-dwindling number of them into political office.

So, look over there, voters! - it's Michael Flynn, pleading guilty to lying to the federal cops about talking to "the Russians" as if they were space aliens fixing to blow us all up in our beds. In case you'd forgotten, it is as much a crime to lie to G-men in America as it is to lie to the police in a totalitarian society. You are considered to be under oath in a federal police interrogation as much as you are under oath in an official court proceeding. And if you happen to lie to the inquisitors, either by commission or by omission, the FBI always has surveillance data furnished by other branches of the Intelligence Community and the secret FISA court to catch you out.

So let what happened to Michael Flynn be a lesson to us all.

Naturally, the powers-that-be try to cover themselves by inventing a few sacrificial lambs to show the public just how above-board their ongoing palace coup is. One "highly regarded" FBI agent was yanked off the RussiaGate investigation after some of his personal emails criticizing Donald Trump were exposed. ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross was suspended for four weeks without pay for falsely reporting that Trump had ordered Flynn to contact the Russians while still only a candidate. He was, in fact, the president-elect when he issued the order. That's quite a difference. Oops. But since Trump obliged his critics by unleashing his usual tweet-storm in defense of Flynn and railing against "fake news", that's all the proof you should need that Trump is a traitor to his country as well as a financial swindler who serendipitously wound up in the White House.

And lest Democrats still be accused of clinging as insanely to their Russophobia  as the right-wing yahoos cling to their guns and religion, the New York Times has even published a gossipy piece about how the NRA itself might be involved in Russian collusion.
A conservative operative trumpeting his close ties to the National Rifle Association and Russia told a Trump campaign adviser last year that he could arrange a back-channel meeting between Donald J. Trump and Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, according to an email sent to the Trump campaign.
A May 2016 email to the campaign adviser, Rick Dearborn, bore the subject line “Kremlin Connection.” In it, the N.R.A. member said he wanted the advice of Mr. Dearborn and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, then a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump and Mr. Dearborn’s longtime boss, about how to proceed in connecting the two leaders.
This might sound like an disingenuous question, but what conservative operative doesn't have close ties to the money provided by the National Rifle Association? The fact that such an email even bears the title "Kremlin Connection" sounds suspiciously... oh, I don't know - suspicious? 

Also suspicious is that the Times doesn't even possess this alleged email; rather, its "contents" were merely described to the newspaper by an anonymous source "close to the investigation." To further cement the Narrative, it seems that the email was also forwarded to certain evangelical leaders. Thus are guns and religion so neatly tied up into one propaganda package.

Only at the very end of the piece, written by Nicholas Fandos, do we off-handedly learn that the Russian mafia might have ties to the NRA. And why not, given the impunity with which the international weapons cartel has long operated? There is truly nothing like burying the lede when one has a specific agenda. In other words, this whole #RussiaGate brouhaha is really nothing more than a mob war among a bunch of crime families vying for power.

The modern-day mobs euphemistically call themselves "public-private partnerships" and "Congress." And they essentially run the world. Donald Trump is too much of a loudmouth Tweety Bird for the tastes of the more discreet Dons, whose own political prestige and protection rackets and front organizations he so seriously endangers with his big, fat, unfiltered mouth. A pretender to the Godfather throne, he threatens to ruin the whole Racket. The neoliberal fat cats are desperate to swallow this demented, off-key canary. Not for the greater public good, of course, but to save their own feral skins.


Eat Me

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Just Fascists Being Fascists

Just when you thought that Donald Trump had really gone too far, that his latest projectile belch was so loud and so toxic that even Congress would finally put its foot down, you were bound to be sorely disappointed. The man who bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still be elected president could probably shoot someone in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and still remain in office.

"Oh, it's just Donald being Donald," they'd yawn, as they eagerly rushed their latest anti-social legislation to his desk for his pudgy-fingered signature.

I don't exaggerate. Because if Trump could re-tweet inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda videos originating from a notorious Britain-based hate group whose leader is under criminal indictment, and all that GOP connivers like Jeff Flake and Lindsay Graham can do is shrug their shoulders and sigh "that's not helpful," then I think that yes, he probably could actually get away with a lot worse than simply instigating violence on an epic domestic and global scale.

 He is, of course, no outlier. Although his drone assassinations and the civilian death tolls of his bombing campaigns already threaten to overtake those of his immediate predecessors, he is only using the lethal and normal unitary executive powers bequeathed to him. His emotional and monetary embrace of the despotic Saudi government, with its mass extermination campaign against Yemenis now vying with Rwanda and the Balkans in genocidal horror, is met with complicit silence from both major political parties. Congress loves war, Congress loves arms sales to authoritarian regimes,  and Congress especially loves the campaign donations and the bases and the Homeland Security fusion centers and the nuclear and "conventional" weapons factories which keep military and civilian constituents alike employed and supportive.

So when the New York Times first published the story of Trump's anti-Muslim tweets and his boosterism of a marginalized far-right British hate group on Wednesday, the media world was still busy reeling from news that NBC superstar Matt Lauer had been fired. The Trump article was initially and discreetly placed about a third of the way down the digital home page.

Only days after publishing a much-maligned puff piece serving to "normalize" an Ohio neo-Nazi, the Times drawled in its initial story: "It is unusual (my bold) to see an American president push out this type of content on such a powerful social media platform."

Is it merely "unusual" for the leader of the free world to spread blatantly fake videos which purport to show a Muslim man attacking a child on crutches, and another Muslim man desecrating a statue of the Virgin Mary, and a Muslim mob pushing a man off a rooftop?

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president's unhinged outburst with the usual disclaimer that facts don't matter as long as effective lies can serve to bolster his regime's fascist message. "Whether it's a real video, the threat is real," she insisted in true Goebbelsian fashion. "The threat is real, the threat needs to be addressed, and the threat needs to be talked about, and that's what the president is doing in bringing it up."

Look, I've been as sanguine as anybody about the sad reality that this president's Twitter habit serves mainly as a diversionary smokescreen from his own legal troubles and the kleptomaniacal attacks which pose as a White House administration. But this one goes way, way beyond the usual quotidian mischief.

My published comment on the original ho-hum Times article:
"It is unusual to see an American president push out this type of content on such a powerful social media platform."

No it's not. It's unprecedented, it's pathological, and it's dangerous. It might even border on the criminal, should it lead directly to someone, or many people, getting killed. It is an incitement to violence.

Trump is breathtaking in his irresponsibility. He knows, deep down within whatever rational part of his brain might still exist, that his presidency is a monumental failure. His solution, therefore, is to bring the rest of the world right down with him.

Thanks, but no thanks. Congress can either impeach this pathocrat, or they can be complicit with his antics. They don't get to have it both ways, not when so many lives are at stake.
Only when British Prime Minister Theresa May and other European politicians expressed shock and outrage did the Times advance the story to the top of the home page, and later completely rewrite it. The paper removed the banal "it is unusual to see an America president" characterization of the Tweet in favor of the more compelling "no modern American president has promoted inflammatory content of this sort from an extremist organization. Mr. Trump’s two most recent predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both made a point of avoiding public messages that were likely to be seen as anti-Muslim and could exacerbate racial and religious animosities, arguing that the war against terrorism was not a war against Islam."

Not that Bush and Obama are exactly friends of Muslims either, given the illegal invasion of Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan, the military-corporatist re-colonization of Africa, the cluster bombings and drone attacks on Yemeni civilians, the drone strikes in the "tribal areas" of AfPac, and the CIA's illegal program of domestic spying against Muslim Americans. Bush and Obama committed their own foul deeds with pretty and false words, while Trump commits his foul deeds with equally foul words. His bloodthirstiness and racist venom are unacceptably outside the "norms" of American bloodthirstiness and venomous exceptionalism.

But not that unacceptably. Because Trump is a very useful idiot indeed, able to convince his fans and fellow xenophobes that the oligarchic plot to financially ruin the lives of hundreds of millions of ordinary Americans under the auspices of "tax reform" is actually manna from heaven for them.

About a third of the voting population which continues to enable him will go happily to their doom, safe in the knowledge that their president feels not their pain, but their hatred.

Trump is a master of the politics of resentment. And if Congress has anything to say about it, he won't be going anywhere for a very long time.  Unless the KFC and the McDonald's fries do him in first, of course.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Enemies R Us

If Congress and its oligarchic masters get their way with their tax reform package, the ultra-rich will attach themselves like leeches on steroids to the body politic. They'll suck the poor and middle class as dry as it is possible to suck them without actually killing off too many their hosts.

There will, sadly, be collateral damage resulting as the Winter Solstice darkness approaches and gives the racketeering revelers necessary cover for their annual orgy of sacrificing the poor as an offering to the rich. But like the Democratic Party enablers always say, "we" must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good...  for the robber barons who already have way more than their share of the public goods. To say otherwise is to be unpatriotic and possibly Russian.

The ruling class racketeers simultaneously care and don't care what the poor and middle classes think of them and their greed. Therefore, regular people have been simultaneously and unwillingly cast in the dual roles of victim and enemy. Measures must be taken by the pathocrats to protect themselves from the annoying rabble.

 To that end, Congress-critters have tacked on some very sneaky companion legislation to their annual fiscal Saturnalia. Every single one of us would be subject to a new provision in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which would explicitly allow the US government to drastically expand its warrantless spying powers against its own citizens. We would lose all rights to appeal if and when we are ever accused of a crime in a secret FISA court proceeding. Suspicion would, potentially, be tantamount to conviction without benefit of a judge and jury of our peers.

Jason Pye and Sean Vitka write in The Hill:
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has marked up the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, S. 2010. The bill, sponsored by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is actually worse than existing law. It explicitly allows the attorney general to use information collected under Section 702 for domestic crimes that have nothing to do with national security and forbids judicial review of that decision.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee has marked up the USA Liberty Act, which, despite or because of painstaking deliberations, does not sufficiently protect innocent Americans from surveillance. The House version of the USA Liberty Act, for instance, has a weak warrant requirement, which would allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct backdoor searches of electronic communications collected by the NSA for domestic, non-terrorism investigations. Additionally, the proposed end of “about” collection, in which the government collects information that is neither to nor from a target, would sunset after six years.
All indications are that the expanded FISA reauthorization bill will pass Congress with little to no debate. And why not, since the media is doing its own complicit part and redirecting the alarm bells to the admittedly heinous sexual harassment scandals and cover-ups in that august body, for whom oversight and accountability are but quaint relics of some misty past.

Meanwhile, the lucrative paranoia stemming from the 9/11 attacks keeps right on growing, and our civil, constitutional rights keep right on shrinking. Net Neutrality looks to be dead in the water on the say-so of a cabal of unelected overseers in the Federal Communications Commission. 

If American journalists employed by RT, a Russia-owned TV station, can now be forced to register as foreign agents, so, potentially, can any writer or broadcaster or activist be decreed an enemy of the state for daring to criticize its leaders and institutions and endless wars. All the proof that the neo-McCarthyites need is to point the finger of "fake news" at anyone they deem to be a threat to their power.

The fog of totalitarianism in America isn't creeping around on little cat feet any more. It's breaking right out into the harsh light of day. It's snarling and it's slobbering like a primeval sabre-toothed tiger.

If that metaphor is too grisly for you, and because it's that most wonderful Saturnalian time of the year, maybe you'd prefer the image of Saturn eating his own children lest they grow up to be lazy poor peaceniks lolling about in their hammocks of dependency.


Hypercapitalist Holiday Greetings From Paul Ryan (graphic by Kat Garcia)


The old excuse that we must give up our rights to privacy and free speech in order to protect some nonexistent entity called "national security" doesn't hold up once we realize that we're under attack by our own leaders. The two-party system and the bicameral legislature and the corporatized media and the "intelligence community" are revealed as nothing but a smokescreen to hide rule of, by, and for the ultra-rich and their profitable wars against humanity, and the earth itself.

 "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" loses all meaning when "the good" entails tens or hundreds of millions of people losing their their health, their jobs, their very lives, just to satisfy the voracious appetites of a very tiny group of sociopathic billionaires.

In order to literally survive, it is incumbent on us to start rejecting, en masse, the limited false choices being offered to us, including but not limited to: We can either be free, or we can be safe, but we can't be both. We must support the troops and cheer for war and plunder and state aggression as the necessary price for our future peace and prosperity. The Lessers must "share the sacrifice" and barely scrape by on the empty promise of some vague, future, trickle-down leftovers from the Masters of the Universe table.




 As Hannah Arendt wrote in the last published collection of her essays, such choices are dangerously fallacious.
 "Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.... If we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of 'the lesser evil' -- far from being raised only from the outside by those who do not belong to the ruling elite -- is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such."
Therefore, what more convenient time than this season of Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men for our rulers to ram through legislation which officially buries our civil rights deep within a terroristic spending package which will literally destroy the lives and livelihoods of the very people who, under the pretense of representative democracy, voted them into power? They rely, correctly, on the inability of many people to think for themselves. The media fog machine keeps belching, and American consumers keep consuming as the unhealthy alternative to active citizenship. And the fat cats keep baring their fangs.

They call it the Omnibus Bill for a very good reason. It aims to throw us right under a runaway killer bus. It aims to render us into roadkill for the voracious billionaire omnivores running the place.


Get Well Soon, America! (photo by Tom Garcia)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Welfare As Trump Knows It and Loves It

Just as news leaked out that Donald Trump's tax returns, a/k/a his corporate welfare award letters, are now locked up in a safe deep within the bowels of the IRS, he vowed that his next big Grab-A-Thon will be "reforming welfare as we know it." As a late Christmas gift to himself, he'll go after Medicaid, food assistance and disability benefits early in 2018. (Since Medicare and Social Security are insurance programs and not means-tested, his crusade to destroy them will be a separate front in the Class War.)

"Welfare for me, but not for thee," he as much as brayed to the nation last week, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Because his faux-nemesis Hillary Clinton bragged in her second memoir that by the time she and Bill left the White House, there were 60 percent fewer women on the welfare rolls, Trump can't leave bad enough alone. He would like to raise that pathetic D grade to a solid A+, or a 100 percent destruction rate, for himself. This will prove that he is both tougher and smarter than Hillary Clinton. He shows no sign of abandoning his insane quest to "win" against her even after he's already beaten her into a pulp. He's actually goading her to run against him in 2020.

(Given that Barack Obama earned a miserable F for his own "Grand Bargain" attempt to raise the Medicare eligibility age and to reduce Social Security benefits through the "chained CPI" gimmick, Trump can afford to ignore that part of the Obama legacy. It's not cruel enough to threaten him. Plus, the mere thought of one more bipartisan cat food commission probably makes him break out in hives.)

Even if he accomplishes nothing else, Trump has had the deplorable effect of making the Clintons seem like the kinder, gentler, more sympathetic and more pragmatic destroyers of poor people. Hillary's personal propaganda shtick during the 90s welfare reform campaign involved co-opting a poor, hardworking (possibly fictional) waitress and pitting her against lazy stay-at-home moms. The coddled poor, she implied, must be punished in order to placate the deserving and slaving poor.

As a result, direct federal cash aid to the poor stopped in the late 90s, and the program was block-granted to the states. It has resulted in a doubling of the extreme poverty rate in the two decades since its passage. 

Paradoxically, the mass punishment of mainly women and children has not saved the government any of the promised money. For one thing, the block grants ended up being used for other programs which had nothing to do with ameliorating poverty, or helping people kicked off the rolls to find work. Only 23 percent of poor families now receive help from TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families), the state-run programs which replaced the New Deal's Aid to Families With Dependent Children.

Millions of people are now living on less than $2 cash a day, with only the restricted balances on their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program e-cards (food stamps) keeping body and soul together.

This state of affairs had Trump so riled up that when he finally got wind of it, he practically choked on his overdone Mar-a-Lago steak with the catered side of McDonalds fries.

"People are taking advantage of the system!" Trump sputtered between Tweets and mouthfuls last week. But as is usual with him, details are lacking on how he'd like to make people even more insecure than they already are. So the Heritage Foundation, an ultra-right think tank in Washington, is salivating at the chance to fill in all the Trumpian blanks. To deflect attention from the fact that Trump and his kin are epic kleptocratic corporate welfare cheats in their own right, they'll use the tried-and-truthy methods of scapegoating, gaslighting and the politics of resentment.
Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at Heritage, said he would like to see more work requirements for a range of anti-poverty programs and stronger marriage incentives, as well as strategies to improve results for social programs and to limit waste. He said while the administration could make some adjustments through executive order, legislation would be required for any major change.
“This is a good system,” he said. “We just need to make this system better.”
Administration officials have already suggested they are eyeing anti-poverty programs. Trump’s initial 2018 budget proposal, outlined in March, sought to sharply reduce spending for Medicaid, food stamps and student loan subsidies, among other programs.
Budget director Mick Mulvaney said this year, “If you are on food stamps and you are able-bodied, we need you to go to work.”
By sermonizing that the fraying American social safety net is already "a good system" which only needs improvement, Rector hides the ultra-right's real agenda. Far from mending it with stronger thread, the oligarch-controlled Congress will rip it to shreds and then call the remaining tatters the latest cool fashion for style-savvy poor people. Look on the bright side. You will no longer have to pay top dollar for Ivanka Trump's designer distressed jeans and pre-ripped tee shirts. You can get right back to basics, and let your nonexistent clothing budget take its own natural course. Be mindful that plutocrat-manufactured crises always seem beneficent whenever they're accompanied by some positive marketing spin and social solidarity.


You Too Can Feel As Too-Thin & Needy As a Rich Person
  
Grand Bargain Fashion, Obama-Style: Cutting the Waste in Thread & Sleeves

  
Old Pols Never Die, They Just Fashionably Fade Away (Not)


Evangelical Christians won't say a word, because starving people who die a lot quicker will go to heaven a lot quicker. Plus, it will force them to get married if they want to eat. The whole idea is that if they're working for food, they'll be too exhausted to have lots of extramarital sex.

And to help get you through your ordeal, always remember that Mick Mulvaney's needs are very important to you. He needs you to suffer as much as possible as he barges into his next gig of running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau... right into the ground. 

Meanwhile, the Trump Food Stamp Reform Bill reportedly already has a marketing motto: "Let them eat pictures of Trump Steaks!"

 As God is my witness, you'll be too nauseated to ever go hungry again.



Yum, Yum: "I Love the Uneducated"

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

Life got in the way, and I haven't had time to write an original Thanksgiving post this year.This reprise from Turkey Day 2016 hopefully will be the only thing repeating on you today!

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It's that most exceptionally American time of the year, when we bow our heads in thanks, celebrating the birth legend of the great United States imperium. It's time to get all nostalgic about the myth of the libertarian pilgrims who fled British persecution only to co-opt, evict and exterminate the aboriginal people in the name of God and greed and freedom.

Even if you choose to ignore the historical propaganda, and use the day as an excuse to get together with friends and family, this whole Thanksgiving bounty thing is kind of hard to take if you live in Flint, Michigan, and your water is still poisoned by lead. While our president was on his grandiloquent farewell tour of the world last week, singing the praises of American democracy, it took a lawsuit and a federal judge to order the government to deliver more bottled water to Flint residents by a December 16th deadline. Democracy apparently doe not involve the president ordering the Army Corps of Engineers into Flint to begin immediate emergency work to replace the corroded water delivery system.


In the true spirit of the hegemonic holiday, government officials are actually appealing this very modest and humane judicial order, saying that it would be just too hard to deliver life-sustaining water door to door. If residents are too old, too sick, too language-deprived, too transportation-deprived, or too intellectually deprived to get themselves to a bottled water distribution center or to install a cheap ineffectual plastic filter on their faucets, then too bad for them. From the Detroit News:  
State officials argued the court order would require a “Herculean effort” equivalent to a large-scale military operation and cost the state at least $10.45 million a month, or $125 million annually. For more than a year, Flint’s residents have been advised against drinking their tap water without a filter due to dangerously high lead levels.
In a 37-page opinion, Lawson ordered home delivery of four cases of water per resident each week unless state and city officials can verify each resident has a properly installed and maintained faucet water filter.
The delivery order “increases the scope of the state’s emergency response to an unnecessary and insurmountable degree, particularly in light of the injunction’s time constraints,” attorneys wrote.
America's forced colonization and re-colonization by deregulated puritanical plunderers high on crack capitalism continues unabated. Thanks to the 2008 financial collapse that they orchestrated, grim reapers in suits are seizing distressed property for a song and then baiting inviting the distressed multitudes to partake of their leavings. (Drinking water is extra, however, and not only in Flint. If you can't pay your privatized water bill, you'll just have to swallow your stuffing crumbs dry.)

Water is only free when it is blasted out of a military cannon at the indigenous Americans and environmentalists currently protesting an oil pipeline in sub-freezing North Dakota.
Just in time for Thanksgiving, law enforcers acting in the service of a few greedy oil company millionaires have escalated their attacks on unarmed citizens attempting to block construction of the polluting project. Police injured another 160 people over the weekend with the surplus military grade weaponry provided to them by the Obama administration. They used rubber bullets, percussion grenades, and tear gas, as well as highly pressured water which freezes skin upon contact. One woman was so seriously hurt that she might lose an arm. The Guardian reported:
Sophia Wilansky, an environmental activist from New York, was hospitalized in Minneapolis where surgeons are attempting to repair a severe injury to her left arm that destroyed arteries, nerves, muscle, soft tissue and bone, according to her father. She remains at risk of amputation, and if the arm is salvaged, it will probably have very limited functionality.
Wayne Wilansky, her father, contends that the injury was caused by an exploding concussion grenade thrown by law enforcement, who also deployed teargas, rubber bullets and a water cannon on protesters during a tense standoff on a bridge Sunday night.
But North Dakota law enforcement officers have aggressively countered Wilansky’s account, releasing multiple statements accusing protesters of setting off an explosion.
( Whether it's in Michigan or in North Dakota, or wherever powerful sadists roam free and unaccountable, have you noticed how the technique of victim-blaming is always at the top of their list of talking points?)

The nearly completed pipeline is meant to transport crude oil across the ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, and residents fear that the project will contaminate their drinking water. They're trying, to no avail thus far, to get the Obama administration to deny the Dakota Access company permits to extend the pipeline across the Missouri River. 

In a powerful editorial published today, the New York Times noted that this kind of cruel oppression against indigenous Americans has been going on for centuries. And corporate police state and media efforts to portray the protesters in a bad light is having the exact opposite effect:  
The department’s video was meant to portray the protesters as dangerous troublemakers, but the photos and videos in news reports suggest a more familiar story — an imbalance of power, where law enforcement fiercely defends property rights against protesters’ claims of environmental protection and the rights of indigenous people. American Indians have seen this sort of drama unfold for centuries — native demands meeting brute force against a backdrop of folly — in this case, the pursuit of fossil fuels at a time of sagging oil demand and global climatic peril.
The Army Corps of Engineers has called for more study and input from the tribe before it decides on whether to grant a permit. The pipeline company has asked a federal judge to give it the right to proceed with its plan to lay pipe under the river. There is no firm timeline for either decision.
Obama, meanwhile, cluckily pardoned one last Thanksgiving turkey as he basked in his twilight glow of record high public approval ratings. Cynically ignoring Flint and Standing Rock and the most extreme wealth inequality in modern history, he employed the slimy political tactic of red herring-with-wattles:
Tomorrow is one of the best days of the year to be an American. It’s a day to count our blessings, spend time with the ones we love, and enjoy some good food and some great company. But it’s also one of the worst days of the year to be a turkey. They don’t have it so good.
It could always be worse, proles. Put yourselves in the place of a Butterball, and you'll swear that your Flint drinking water is champagne, and that police blasts from a water cannon are a spa treatment.

Before long, Obama will passive-aggressively hand off the ultimate decisions on Standing Rock and Flint to his successor. Donald Trump, you might remember, wants to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. The new president is as unabashedly all-American as they come. Oh, and he just happens to have some of his own plundered money invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline, whose owners also conveniently donated to his campaign. 

Terrorism as the profiteers' weapon of choice is a grand American tradition that started the minute Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492. Glorious greed is the whole basis of the Thanksgiving Day holiday. It's as bald and ugly as an obese plucked turkey.

  From Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States":

When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory inhabited by tribes of Indians. The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a "vacuum." The Indians, he said, had not "subdued" the land, and therefore had only a "natural" right to it, but not a "civil right." A "natural right" did not have legal standing.
 The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalms 2:8: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." And to justify their use of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."
 The Puritans lived in uneasy truce with the Pequot Indians, who occupied what is now southern Connecticut and Rhode Island. But they wanted them out of the way; they wanted their land. And they seemed to want also to establish their rule firmly over Connecticut settlers in that area. The murder of a white trader, Indian-kidnaper, and troublemaker became an excuse to make war on the Pequots in 1636.
 A punitive expedition left Boston to attack the Narraganset Indians on Block Island, who were lumped with the Pequots. As Governor Winthrop wrote: "They had commission to put to death the men of Block Island, but to spare the women and children, and to bring them away, and to take possession of the island; and from thence to go to the Pequods to demand the murderers of Captain Stone and other English, and one thousand fathom of wampum for damages, etc. and some of their children as hostages, which if they should refuse, they were to obtain it by force." 
The English landed and killed some Indians, but the rest hid in the thick forests of the island and the English went from one deserted village to the next, destroying crops. Then they sailed back to the mainland and raided Pequot villages along the coast, destroying crops again. One of the officers of that expedition, in his account, gives some insight into the Pequots they encountered: "The Indians spying of us came running in multitudes along the water side, crying, What cheer, Englishmen, what cheer, what do you come for? They not thinking we intended war, went on cheerfully... -"
And so it went. Pequot crops were slashed and burned, Pequot people died of European diseases if they didn't starve first, and their homes were razed to the ground, just like in blighted urban areas and foreclosed Rust Belt towns in the re-colonized States of the Homeland. The original assault against the native population was so intense and so thorough that in the end, perhaps a couple dozen inhabitants out of an original population of many thousands remained in any given locale. 

So let's contemplate how it felt, and how it still does feel for so many of us, to actually be on the receiving end of the imperialism that made this country so special.

But since I'm such a sucker for alternative history:






Wednesday (playing "Pocahontas")): Wait!

 Amanda: (a modern lady-who-lunches in the audience) What?


  Wednesday: We cannot break bread with you.


  Amanda: (playing Sarah, a pilgrim lady-who-lunches) Huh? Becky, what's going on?


  Becky: [whispered] Wednesday!


  Wednesday: You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, you will play golf, and enjoy hot hors d'oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, "Do not trust the Pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller."


  Amanda: Gary, she's changing the words.


  Wednesday: And for all these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground. 



*** 

Here's wishing all my readers a very peaceful holiday weekend and a heartfelt thank you for your continuing interest and support.