Thursday, October 19, 2017

Oafs At the Funeral

No bereaved person can avoid the inevitable encounter with a condoler who is congenitally incapable of sympathy. There will always be oafs at the funeral, people who blurt out something really horrible instead of murmuring something suitably comforting.

Myeshia Johnson, the newly widowed spouse of Green Beret La David T. Johnson, got an oaf for the ages when, as she rode to the airport to greet her husband's body, President Trump called and gruffly told her that her "guy" probably "knew what he was signing up for... but it still probably hurts."

At my own young husband's wake three decades ago, one mourner chirped, "Don't worry, you'll get over it sooner than you think and get married again," while a contrarian noted "You'd better not get married again, Karen. After all, the first one left you and the second one died on you!" 

There were many more condolences of that clumsy and insensitive but well-meaning ilk. But since none of them came from the president of the United States, they didn't make the front-page news as the latest chapter in Political Distraction Theater.

The Emily Posts of political etiquette in the Age of Trump are universally incensed that he so sorely lacks the fake empathy skills of his predecessors. Other presidents have actually stuck to their boilerplate scripts and recited not only the names, but the entire life stories of dead soldiers as if they'd known them intimately their entire lives. They even developed such acting skills as the quavering voice and the tear-filled eye.

 Donald Trump doesn't believe in either crocodile tears or in sticking to scripts. So when he probably meant to tell Myeshia Johnson that "despite the dangers he knew were lurking everywhere, your husband was very brave to protect our country and preserve our freedoms by making the ultimate sacrifice," he came out instead with the equivalent of "War is hell. Shit happens."

The bereaved were rendered sadder by the fact that Trump didn't even remember to say Sgt. Johnson's name in his condolence call. And they'll be rendered sadder still by the fact that political and media critics are making this story more about Trump's poor social skills than they are about Johnson and his surviving family members. In its own front page story, headlined as an "imbroglio," the New York Times itself didn't get around to mentioning Johnson's name until the third paragraph (after putting Trump in the first graf, and John McCain in the second.) It didn't acknowledge Myeshia Johnson by name until the seventh paragraph.

What I suspect is really bothering the political establishment more than Trump's crude words is that his crude words will discourage young people from volunteering for military service. The commander in chief just committed the ultimate faux pas of admitting that people in uniform are nothing but human meat in buffer zones between the poor citizens of resource-rich countries and the US-based corporations which want to plunder those rich resources. Rather than tell recruits that the military is a great place to get job training, college tuition and other lifetime benefits, Trump just brayed out that you have a very good chance of getting killed if you join up. Presidents are supposed to celebrate and mourn and gloss over deaths, not throw a shadow over the rosy patriotic glow of it all.

And of course, Trump had also brought the latest criticism upon himself when, days before his clumsy phone call, he'd boastfully compared the frequency of his own personal condolence calls to those of his predecessors.

This latest Trump outrage, this slap in the face to everything that is stylish and sacred, also distracts attention from why the United States has troops in Niger and other parts of Africa in the first place. 

As Phillip Carter, of the liberal think tank Center for a New American Security, writes in Slate,

  Thirteen days after their deaths, we lack any real explanation for why and how Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright died in combat on Oct. 4. In a wide-ranging press conference, senior Pentagon officials said they were in Niger to train and advise the country’s security forces, which have partnered with the U.S. to root out al-Qaida-linked elements in Africa. The efforts in Niger appear broadly linked to the global U.S. counterterrorism campaign, which began after 9/11, an effort that now continues to expand and grind on under an  amorphous blend of legal authorities.
 Sgts. Black, Johnson, Johnson, and Wright died while accompanying Nigerien forces on a patrol near the border with Mali. Similar patrols had been conducted some 30 times previously without incident. And yet, on Oct. 4, al-Qaida-linked militants ambushed the American Green Berets and their Nigerien teammates. The ambush—and American fatalities—punctured the lie that American troops were simply in Niger for a training mission, just as American casualties have done for decades of similar missions in Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Training and advising missions frequently include combat, too; the enemy gets an important vote on deciding when and where they make the switch. Insisting otherwise insults those who conduct these missions, and the memories of those who die during them.

Since Trump became president and elevated the military to even the highest echelons of his civilian cabinet, ground troops have been granted unprecedented leeway all around the world. The Guardian quotes one unnamed former official as saying "Decisions about when and what to engage have been devolved right down to unit level. Any soldier knows that if you give guys on the ground more independence, then they will be that much more aggressive and will take more risks.”

Trump has given his "guys" all the freedom in the world to protect the freedoms of the global oligarchy. If they didn't know what they were getting into then, they probably are getting a nasty reality check right about now, thanks to his unabashed oafishness.
 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Taking the Einstein Pledge

It shouldn't take an Einstein to figure out that the ongoing RussiaGate propaganda campaign is, as one wag injudiciously put it recently, a nothing-burger. Nor must you be an Einstein to observe that Hillary Clinton is as much a paranoid liar in her way as Donald Trump is in his. These two characters just can't quit each other, and they want to make sure that we can't quit them not quitting each other either. That is one of our assigned tasks as citizen-consumers in the continuous political spectacle that substitutes for participatory democracy.

Because even otherwise intelligent people are swallowing whole the lie that Vladimir Putin "hacked" the last presidential election and continues to hack our very minds by stirring up dissent against the US establishment, we need a little Einstein, right this very minute. We should Just Say No to any number of the lies we're being fed by the leaders of a crumbling empire. Our survival and our sanity depend on us using more of our little gray cells to cut through all the crap.

From the Black Lives Matter movement, to refusing to honor the flag, to anti-war criticism, to independent thought itself: it seems that everything has become fair game for the 21st Century Inquisition.

You even have to read those handy self-help guides to thinking with a healthy dose of skepticism. My bullshit detector went off when I picked up "The Hacking of the American Mind: the Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains" the other night, and right in the introduction, author Robert Lustig bemoans the Russian "hacking" of John Podesta's emails which, he unquestioningly asserts, were leaked to "humiliate or blackmail" Hillary Clinton, and not to elucidate voters about Democratic Party machinations.

"And similar to the Russian hack of the 2016 election," he goes on, "this plot has been and continues to be executed by private interests with government support."

Hillary Clinton, the failed presidential candidate and the proven instigator of RussiaGate, has now taken the paranoia on the road, wackily telling British and Australian audiences this week that since she lost the election because of Wikileaks' release of Democratic Party and campaign emails, it logically follows that Wikileaks director Julian Assange is a tool of the Kremlin. She stated, moreover, that he has never published any information detrimental to the Kremlin, a baldfaced lie which largely went unchallenged.

She even falsely implied that leaked emails themselves were frauds:
In the interview, Clinton rejected reporter Sarah Ferguson’s proposition that Assange was simply performing a journalist’s role by publishing information.
 "There was a concerted operation between WikiLeaks and Russia and most likely people in the United States to, as I say, weaponize that information, to make up stories, outlandish, often terrible stories that had no basis in fact, no basis even in the emails themselves, but which were used to denigrate me, my campaign, people who supported me, and to help (Donald) Trump,” Clinton said. “WikiLeaks is unfortunately now practically a fully owned subsidiary of Russian intelligence,” she said.
As I've written before, I can personally attest that at least one of the emails in the leaked John Podestra stash is legitimate, because it embeds an article that I wrote, republished by Truthout, and forwarded to John Podesta. I swear on the Bible that I wrote it myself, and that "Russian intelligence" did not force me to write it. The fact that Clinton refuses outright to address the content of the damaging leaked emails, even separate the real from the allegedly fake, is suspect on its very face.

 It should be so easy to simply ignore Hillary Clinton's Russophobic nonsense, just as it should have been so easy to ignore Senator Joe McCarthy's nonsense back in the day - but for the fact that the mass media and Congress are again making sure that the latest official witch-hunt cannot and will not be ignored. RussiaGate has taken on a life of its own. No facts are required, and evidence is purely optional. To doubt is again to be chastised as un-American. 

And using Hillary Clinton's own twisted logic, we might also assume that if Assange is indeed an agent of Putin, then we should also congratulate Mother Russia for instigating the democratic Arab Spring. 

As I wrote in 2012, Hillary grudgingly credited Julian Assange for helping to overthrow Tunisian dictator Zini Ben Abi by publishing some gossipy State Department cables mocking his thievery and corruption. She confided to journalist David Sanger, “I think the openness of the social media, I think WikiLeaks, in great detail, describing the lavishness of the Ben Ali family and cronies was a big douse of gasoline on the smoldering fire.”

Albert Einstein would most certainly have something to say to the mendacious and inconsistent and hypocritical Hillary Clinton and her enablers. The man known for his scientific genius was also a humanist, a socialist, a pacifist, and an early critic of McCarthyism. He called for an end, not only to the witch-hunts of his day, but to all future Congressional investigatory "fishing expedition" committees. He publicly announced his intention to refuse to testify before any such committee if ever called upon to do so. This vow and call to action only inspired the FBI to add even more documents to the 1,427-page surveillance dossier it had been keeping on him for more than two decades. From reading his mail and going through his trash, the government concluded, among other zany subversions, that Einstein was simultaneously a German spy and a Russian spy who was secretly working on a death ray machine in his spare time when he wasn't busy leading a Communist conspiracy to take over Hollywood. And perhaps most suspiciously of all, Einstein was an independent thinker who refused to join a political party.

 The New York Times, then as now ever the faithful establishment mouthpiece, actually took Albert Einstein to task for failing to acquiesce to the Inquisition, and for exercising his right to civil disobedience. "Too wrongs never did add up to one right," the editorial board cleverly tut-tutted at him.

I.F. Stone, the great independent journalist, also would most certainly have something to say to Hillary Clinton and the New York Times and other corporate media giants about their current coordinated campaigns against the "fake news" and "Russian ads" on the Internet and social media. Just because an inquisition is wrapped up in a facade of virtue and truth-seeking doesn't make it right. Inquisitions, even when headed by qualified lawyer-politicians rather than by a demagogue like McCarthy, still have no place in a putative democracy. This isn't Oz. The way to do battle against wicked witch-hunts is not with "good" witch-hunts.
The need for such defiance is illustrated by the objections advanced against it. "One cannot start," the New York Times said, "from the premise that Congressional committees have no right to question teachers and scientists or to seek out subversives wherever they can find them; what is profoundly wrong is the way some of them have been exercising it." The fact is that one cannot start from any other premise without making defeat inevitable....

The New York Times says "An investigation which has no taint of witch-hunting, no bias of anti-intellectualism, no prejudice, no distorted ideas of what is guilt and subversion would be irreproachable." A censorship of such immaculate virtues would be irreproachable, but the Framers of the Bill of Rights thought it safer to rely on free discussion than on the miraculous possibility that the Archangel Gabriel might decide to take the civil service exam for the office of censor."
The current Congressional investigations and op-eds all have an anti-democracy agenda at their very cores. CNN talking head Gloria Borger actually enthused last week that RussiaGate is a solid legitimate effort merely by virtue of it being cooperatively pursued by both Republicans and Democrats. Under this twisted logic, a witch-hunt is a lot like Smuckers preserves: if it's bipartisan, it's just got to be good!

Einstein would, of course, have something to say to CNN and all the establishment media today:
The problem with which the intellectuals of this country are confronted is very serious.The reactionary politicians have managed to instill suspicion of all intellectual efforts into the public by dangling before their eyes a danger from without . .
What ought the minority of intellectuals to do against this evil? I can only see the revolutionary way of non-co-operation, in Gandhi’s sense... based on the assertion that it is shameful for a blameless citizen to submit to such an inquisition.
Instead of simply celebrating the athletes and others who "take a knee" to the pledge to the flag, we should go a step further and follow I.F. Stone's advice "to take the Einstein Pledge and throw down a fundamental challenge to the establishment of an inquisition in America."

And it wouldn't hurt to inject a little disrespectful Einsteinian humor into the equation either. 



Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fear & Loathing in Tinseltown-on-Potomac

"I've got two words for you, Harvey. Predator drones. You'll never see it coming."

That's what I imagine Barack Obama schmoozing to Harvey Weinstein as the two alpha males bonded one night over bundles of Hollywood campaign cash at a $34,000-a-plate dinner.  Burnishing each other's brands with money and influence was all well and good. But just imagine the dividends from an actual blending of the two powerhouse firms via a subsidized internship at Weinstein's company for Obama's elder daughter. Just imagine a lucrative niche for Weinstein at Obama's planned $500 million post-presidential shrine and luxury entertainment complex.

They were ruling members of the same extended clan anyway. And despite the "open secret" of Weinstein's decades-long history of sexual predation of women, he probably wasn't about to touch a young woman who arrived for work every day with her own armed Secret Service detail. It would have been akin to incest, and as far as we know, Harvey isn't into that.

Harvey most likely remembered the Kill List president's grotesque remarks to the Jonas Brothers at one of those annual Washington press dinners where media stars and political stars and Hollywood stars become more indistinguishable from one another than usual.





  Yours truly called Weinstein out as a predator on this blog more than two years ago. At around the same time that Wikileaks was dumping a stash of Sony emails to and from Hollywood insiders and Obama insiders, the New York tabloids (but not the New York Times) were salaciously splashing Weinstein's groping of an Italian model all over their front pages.


Those leaked emails revealed just how closely intertwined the Democratic Party and Hollywood truly are.

One of the sleazier reveals was how, in exchange for the millions of dollars the movie mogul gave to the party and to the Obama war chest, First Friend Valerie Jarrett arranged with Harvard's Henry Louis Gates for Weinstein to receive a Harvard medal named after civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois. At the same time, the 2014 emails show, Jarrett also finagled a spot for herself on Gates's fawning PBS series which explores the genetic roots of Hollywood stars. The only problem they encountered in the deal-making was getting somebody important in Hollywood to fly all the way out to Boston to personally bestow the fake award upon Harvey Weinstein.

Sony CEO Michael Lynton refused outright, voicing disgust that Weinstein was actually being honored for anything even remotely resembling human rights. Gates, the master of ceremonies for the event, allowed that he, too, had his "issues" with Weinstein.

Where Harvey was concerned, there was a battle royal between fear and loathing even among the most loyal Democrats. As far as the awards show was concerned, loathing won that particular round, because Jarrett and Gates couldn't get one single A-Lister to stoop so low as to actually call Harvey Weinstein a civil rights icon in exchange for future wads of his cash to the Democrats. They ended up using a mere Harvard student to pay Weinstein off with the medal.

Besides that contrived award, and Michelle Obama selling access to herself for $34,000 to Hollywood high rollers, the Sony emails revealed that Obama's relentless championship of the now-moribund Transpacific Partnership was fueled largely by Hollywood moguls anxious to keep their profits high through strict intellectual property rules to be applicable all over the world. The pact would have given them the right to sue foreign countries where their movies and TV shows and hit songs were being pirated. These suits would be prosecuted in secret courts, and any judgments would be as secret and as final as Weinstein's alleged confidentiality agreements with his victims. Had the TPP passed, it would have been the citizens of largely poor countries, like Indonesia and Vietnam, who would have been paying extortion to the likes of Harvey Weinstein - even if they themselves had never illegally downloaded a copy of one of his films.

As a matter of fact, emails in the Sony cache revealed that Hollywood insiders were so upset about previous Wikileaks documents revealing their own roles in secretly crafting the TPP that they flocked to the Oval Office to plot further public relations strategy with Obama himself.

And then Obama went on national TV to tell the public that an alleged North Korea revenge hack on Sony had been a virtual assault on US national security itself.  Obama's "intelligence community" absolutely did collude with Hollywood in order to "assassinate" Kim Jung Un in a spy spoof, and thus make audiences more amenable to an eventual regime change. And they say that Donald Trump is a reckless provocateur for calling the North Korea dictator "Rocket Man"? I wouldn't be surprised if Trump got his own inspiration for wackily whacking the foreign dictator from watching The Interview.

It took the Obamas five days, with a newly-fired Weinstein safely esconced in a luxury sex addiction therapy resort, to respond to the Hollywood scandal. They carefully crafted their words, saying they were disgusted by the reports about Weinstein. They didn't go so far as to claim disgust at the man himself. They didn't go so far as to return all his campaign donations, or pledge them to charity, as other Democratic politicians have done. They left it at a typically smarmy and meaningless "And we all need to build a culture -- including by empowering our girls and teaching our boys decency and respect -- so we can make such behavior less prevalent in the future."

Maybe they can raise more funds from Hollywood to build a virtue-signaling decency and empowerment wing at their new Chicago inspiration-industrial complex.

Tellingly, it was only the Hillary half of the Clinton duo which tweeted out some belated boilerplate shock and awe, also glaringly minus any cash donation to charity.(Update: on second thought, Hillary says, she will after all give the money to charity, because as she so humbly reminds us, she already gives away 10 percent of her annual income anyway.)


The Sensuous Art of the Political Ma$$age


As Wikileaks founder Julian Assange wrote concurrently with the release of the Sony emails, there is not only a co-equal partnership between Hollywood and the Democratic Party, Hollywood is an integral part of the military-industrial complex itself. Hollywood makes the surveillance state look sexy, and it makes war crimes seem glamorous. It can even try to make the CIA killing a North Korean dictator look zany and fun.
 Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton is on the board of trustees of RAND Corporation, an organisation specialising in research and development for the United States military and intelligence sector. The Sony Archives show the flow of contacts and information between these two major US industries, whether it is RAND wanting to invite George Clooney and Kevin Spacey to events, or Lynton offering contact to Valerie Jarrett (a close advisor to Obama) or RAND desiring a partnership with IMAX for digital archiving. With this close tie to the military-industrial complex it is no surprise that Sony reached out to RAND for advice regarding its North Korea film The Interview. RAND provided an analyst specialised in North Korea and suggested Sony reach out to the State Department and the NSA regarding North Korea's complaints about the upcoming film. The Sony documents also show Sony being in possession of a brochure for an NSA-evaluated online cloud security set-up called INTEGRITY.
As regards the New York Times and other establishment media suddenly all ganging up on their pal Weinstein after so many decades of giving him a free pass, who knows what their agenda really is? It could simply be the realization that maximum sleaze attracts maximum eyeballs, and they desperatey need maximum clicks to stay in business.  Or maybe Weinstein overstepped his bounds and groped not only the top actresses now fighting their way for a top spot in the accusation publicity sweepstakes, but someone so important that she shall not be named. I don't know, and I don't care. Because this would not be a scandal if it were a $40,000 McDonald's franchise owner groping his whole crew of $9-an-hour wage slaves between hamburger flips and milkshake runs. These scandals happen every hour and every day to the working class women the Obamas wouldn't empower if their new luxe lives depended on it.

I haven't been clicking on all of the sleaze myself, although I couldn't resist Times pundit Ross Douthat's hysterical piece last week about Weinstein and "liberalism's" creation of a whole stinky sty of man-pigs. Apparently, Republican pigs are not as disgusting as Democratic pigs, because Republicans grope women conservatively and Democrats grope them liberally. Everything must boil down to tribal affinity and tribal loyalty. Avoid nuance and depth as if your very careers depended on it.

My published comment:
Predatory behavior has more to do with power than it does with ideology. Creeps can be alt-right, libertarian, liberal, progressive, white, black, brown, or in one case, orange.

The one common denominator in the decades-long, consequence-free careers of serial predators is extreme wealth. It helps if the offender is also a media star or mogul, like Trump and Weinstein. Lack of clout is probably the main reason that Anthony Weiner, their brother in predation, is going to jail, and they're not. Perhaps if he'd been elected mayor of NYC, things would have turned out very differently for him. He would have been owed, big-time.

Weinstein did end up in the tabloids in 2015 when an Italian model accused him of groping her. Naturally, the media cast her as a bimbo with an accent. Provocative pics of her modeling sexy underwear duly accompanied all the articles, which were filed under "gossip" and "entertainment."

The NYPD pretended to care by setting up a "sting" phone call, in which a previously warned Weinstein readily admitted the groping. No charges were filed, because he came clean about the whole "misunderstanding." And then he gave Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr.'s campaign a nice $10,000 donation to show how nice he really is.

This is the same DA who, it was just revealed, dropped pending fraud charges against Ivanka and Don Jr.

It's a small world after all - especially when money begetting power begetting more money begetting more power is the oily engine that makes it spin.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

PBS Still Insists That Climate Change Is Debatable

No matter that the United States has been hit by four hurricanes in just a little over a month, or that northern California is burning up right before our very eyes. In the interest of fairness to the predatory polluters of unfettered capitalism, PBS gave a platform to the worst of the worst on its News Hour Tuesday night.

The occasion was the Trump administration's announcement that it will "scale back" the Obama administration's own largely aspirational and relatively weak rollback of carbon emissions from existing power plants by the year 2030. The modest goal was merely to reduce emissions to 66 percent of 2005 levels.

PBS had originally invited EPA Director Scott Pruitt to appear on its program to help sell asthma, emphysema, cancer, black lung disease and other maladies to the public in a balanced attempt to counter the science facts offered by former EPA Director Gina McCarthy. But since Pruitt was allegedly either on another private jet junket or holed up in his soundproof bunker, he couldn't make it. And since the prospect of appearing on any TV network containing the word "public" probably makes him feel like vomiting, his notorious coal baron pal Robert Murray appeared in his stead. You could tell that it was on very short notice by the way Murray stumbled all over the script of talking points he was handed at the very last minute.

Here's Thumb In Your Eye, Proles!

His funniest talking point of all was that since "poor moms on fixed incomes" can't afford clean energy (or anything else, for that matter), we should at least let them stay warm with his cheap, dirty coal-fired energy.

 Murray wheezed:
 My stand is that the endangerment finding needs to be repealed, that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.
I have 4,000 scientists that tell me that it is not a pollutant. A lot of people, John, have made money off of promoting the politics of climate change and the politics of the Democrat Party, in promoting their windmills, their solar panels, and all other restraints and alarmist restraints on low-cost reliable electricity. And they have. And so we’re trying to put it back now and put it right. I believe that there needs to be a lot of discussion as to what the effects are of any climate change on the society, on our standard of living. We have an energy poverty problem. We do not have a climate change problem.
His claim of "4,000 scientists" advising him was not challenged at all by PBS personality John Yang. Nor was Murray asked about much money he himself has made from dirty fuel. Nor was he asked to explain how there can be climate change without it being a climate change problem.

   JOHN YANG: You don’t see climate change as an issue or a problem at all, despite what other scientists say?
 BOB MURRAY: I do not. I do not, because I listen to 4,000 scientists, and who tell me that mankind is not affecting climate change.

 JOHN YANG: Robert Murray, the founder and chairman of Murray Energy, thank you very much for joining us.
Perhaps Yang and his PBS employer are afraid of the litigation-happy Murray, and censored themselves rather than practice anything remotely resembling adversarial journalism. Murray most recently sued comedian John Oliver for daring to make fun of him, not only for his greed and mendacity, but for "looking like a geriatric Dr. Evil." Even before the show aired, Murray had threatened a lawsuit. The coal baron, who might as well be named an official member of the Trump administration, did not want the story of nine of his employees dying in a Utah mine collapse mentioned, even though a government investigation concluded that Murray's company was to blame. Murray still insists that an earthquake was the cause of the disaster, despite no seismic activity being reported at the time. Maybe the 4,000 invisible scientists he has in his pocket told him what he wanted to hear.

As the ACLU warns broadcasters and other media outlets, "you'd better stick to Bob Murray's script unless you want to face him in court." So when Scott Pruitt sent Murray to PBS to fill in for him, it was an offer that PBS apparently could not refuse.

Bob Murray is the Harvey Weinstein of the pollution lobbying industry. One dirty old man is just like another dirty old man, especially when he's as filthy rich as sin and has the power to spook politicians and the media into a state of total and abject complicity.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Observing Indigenous Peoples Day

The push to scrub Columbus Day once and for all from the secular religious calendar of the United States is gaining momentum, thanks to three things that happened in the past year.

First came the widely-publicized protests of the water protectors of North Dakota's Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Even military veterans joined in solidarity to protest the construction of a polluting oil pipeline on sacred land. Despite some setbacks, resistance is on the ascendant.



Second is the popular demand, from all over the country, for the removal of statues and flags which celebrate white supremacy. 



And third has been the refusal of professional athletes and others to stand for the jingoistic rituals of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star-Spangled Banner. This is a direct rebuke to the militarism and racism which are the founding principles of the United States, not to mention the integral ethos of professional football.



All of this public "wokeness" in such a relatively short span of time is a giant leap in the direction of some long-overdue historical truth and reconciliation. And this reckoning isn't coming a moment too soon. Not only are we condemned to repeat the past if we won't remember it (Santayana), the past isn't dead because it's not even past. (Faulkner)

There is an absolute straight line from the plunder of the Americas by the Spanish in 1492 to the present-day terroristic war on a global battlefield. Donald Trump is the end-product of late capitalism and American imperialism, a mass psychosis on a crack cocaine high.

"Our nation was born in genocide," wrote Martin Luther King Jr. "We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode."  

It wasn't until nearly a quarter century after King's murder that Indigenous People's Day in the US got its official start. In 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus's landing in the Caribbean islands,  the city of Berkeley, California officially voted to mark the second Monday in October as a day of solidarity with aboriginal communities and as a protest against colonialism.

The late historian Howard Zinn wrote that the glorification of Columbus, a mass murderer for the ages, as a hero in the American creation myth is just the start of the continuous propaganda fed to us both in textbooks and by our political leaders:

To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to de-emphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves- unwittingly-to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)-that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.
 The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)-the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.
Slaughter of the Arawaks
 
Although many school districts and municipalities are also increasingly refusing to honor Columbus on his very specious day, only four state legislatures have taken the plunge so far: Hawaii (whose native populations were robbed and slaughtered by sugar and pineapple barons under cover of militant Christianity); South Dakota (home of many a US cavalry land grab and massacre of indigenous peoples); Oregon (end-point of Lewis and Clark's manifest march to exceptionally bloody American destiny); and Alaska (Seward's Folly, and oil and gold-despoiled home to many a plundered aboriginal resident.)

People are finally beginning to challenge the archaic but stubborn legal concept of Terra nullius, or the Discovery Doctrine.

It all started with the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. By papal writ, Spain and Portugal agreed that all non-Christian territory was as good as unpopulated and fair game for plunder and enslavement. Other European countries then followed this same legalistic theory for their own settler initiatives. Thomas Jefferson himself declared the Doctrine of Discovery to be international law, a declaration which was later upheld by the Supreme Court. 

The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had actually been the first settlers on the mainland to act upon the Discovery Doctrine, using Calvinist Christianity as justification for their plunder just as the Spaniards had used Catholicism. The pilgrims built the foundation for the enduring belief in American Exceptionalism and the prosperity gospel. Certain individuals and groups are just so special that they obviously were chosen by God to be The Elect. Salvation is guaranteed to the materially successful chosen ones, while the poor and unlucky (and dark-skinned) probably deserve damnation.

  Scotch-Irish immigrants scrabbling for a piece of land in the aboriginal territory of the South were the ideological forebears of Donald Trump's base of aggrieved white people. It's no surprise that the supposedly ignorant Trump is a huge fan of populist land speculator, slave owner, and Indian killer Andrew Jackson, who finally ordered the mass expulsion of the Cherokee Nation in the infamous and lethal Trail of Tears.

And Trump is by no means the first or the only president to champion the white supremacy which is at the very core of the Discovery Doctrine rationale for the creation of the American settler state both here and abroad. In his 2009 inaugural address, our first cosmetically black president preached the settler creation myth gospel - unforgiving toil and torture and death as the price of "progress" - with all the regressive eloquence he could muster:
  "In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasure of riches or fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor - who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom. For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

 Time and time again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction. This is the journey we continue today."
He might as well have titled his speech "Greed Is Good." In just those few paragraphs, Barack Obama echoed the bootstrapping Puritan ethos of condemning of the lazy poor, or the "fainthearted."  Whether the pioneers worked for slave wages till they died of exhaustion, or whether they were initially slaves "lashed by the whip," it was all so, so worth it. They did it all for Exceptional Us, the Chosen Ones, the Elect. As Obama revises history in a none-too-subtle appeal to the ultra right wing, even African slaves apparently "chose" to sacrifice for the greater good once they'd adjusted to their kidnappings. And oppressed people all over this great land of ours will gladly continue to serve, at great public cost and for great private profit for the very few.

Nowhere in his address did Obama mention that in order for this "journey" to prosperity to have succeeded, it was necessary for the elites to enlist those hard-working pioneer folk for the mass genocide of indigenous communities all along the way. Aboriginals weren't whipped; they were scalped (this is the original meaning of the term "redskin," by the way.) And of course, the majority of the poor white settlers who pursued their own American dream were doomed to disappointment once the grasping Trumpian precursors of real estate and railroad empires seized up most of the homestead properties for their own speculative purposes. These were the 19th century progenitors of the modern private equity and hedge fund guys.

And as further evidence of what Zinn calls the deliberate creation of false historical memories, Obama actually tacked on the bloodiest battle of the whole bloody Vietnam War -  Khe Sanh - to his litany of militant heroism, ranking right up there with the iconic battles of the Revolution, the Civil War and World War II. Vietnam might have been lost, but that record body count ratio of Vietcong to Americans certainly gave the generals something to brag about (or lie about) - so much so that the legend even made it into Obama's first inaugural speech.

As Roxane Dunbar Ortiz writes in An Indigenous People's History of the United States, the modern US Army had been created specifically to aid the white settler-squatters and militias who, in service to the elites, had already been robbing and exterminating people in the so-called "Indian Wars" since the early colonial days. As a matter of fact, the Second Amendment was written specifically to allow for both the continued killing of indigenous peoples and for the rounding-up of escaped slaves. "The militias were tasked with rubbing out one group of people, and capturing another," Ortiz writes.

The military's modern tactics of "irregular warfare" got their start in the ethnic cleansing of the North American continent. If you watched the recent PBS series on the Vietnam War, you'll have noticed that enemy territory was commonly called "Indian Country" - ripe for pillaging, burning of crops and homes, rape, torture, slaughter of innocent civilians of all ages, and the collection of body parts as trophies. Roxane Dunbar Ortiz noticed striking similarities in the diary entries of soldiers conducting the aboriginal genocide and those who fought in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

And, she continued, black and brown men have always been used disproportionately in American wars, both as a way for them to receive the economic benefits which might otherwise elude them, and to allow the white ruling class and military elites to pit one set of disposable people against another. "The Indian Wars were not fought by the blindingly white American cavalry of John Ford westerns but by African Americans and Irish and German immigrants," she writes.

The US military, in honor of the original ethnic cleansing even gave its relentless bombing campaign in Vietnam the name of a famous medicine man: Operation Rolling Thunder. 

And Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge once quipped at a press conference that "we have to get the Indians away from the fort so the settlers can plant their corn."

As Michael Herr wrote about the debacle of Vietnam, "we might as well say that Vietnam was where the Trail of Tears was headed all along, the turnaround point where it would touch and come back to form a containing perimeter."

  The American military has such a toxic addiction to slurring Indians as aggressive savages that they even co-opt their tribal names as cover for their own savagery. They launch Tomahawk missiles, and they bomb their human targets with Apache attack helicopters. There are Chinook, Lakota, Kiowa and Ute helicopters, along with C-12 Huron airplanes. And who can forget the secret code-name the Obama administration gave to the soon-to-be-assassinated Osama Bin Laden: Geronimo.

Praise the Ammunition & Pass the Popcorn: Armchair Warriors Watch the Geronimo Show

Whenever it's convenient, the American government does not hesitate to rely on historical racist animosity to justify every new atrocity. When Bush lawyer John Yoo wrote his infamous memo "legalizing" torture, he used as precedent an 1873 Supreme Court decision in a case involving the military slaughter of imprisoned Madoc Indians. Since these indigenous people had once been deemed to be subhuman and stateless "enemy combatants," Yoo invoked the principle of homo sacer, which means that anyone defined as a terror suspect may not only be tortured, but killed with impunity.

There is so much more to the atrocities perpetuated in 300 years of white supremacist rule in North America than there is space to write about in one mere blog-post.

But the very fact that school districts throughout the country, including in my own home town, are beginning to teach American history from the perspective of indigenous communities, is cause for hope. We still live in a settler society, and the vestiges of colonialism are everywhere you look. Besides the untold lives lost, the trillions of dollars spent on our constant wars of aggression are dollars not being spent on universal health care and public education and jobs.

We're incessantly told that the road to happiness lies in consumerism and dog-eat-dog competition. The "faint-hearted" individuals who lose the corporate-sponsored game of life all too often resort to drugs, alcohol, guns and violence. Homelessness, joblessness and hopelessness are leading more people to commit suicide. The death rates in general for Americans, from what should be preventable diseases, are increasing as well. What we are witnessing, as Case and Deaton have demonstrated, are deaths from despair.

So our immediate task, bitter though it may be, is acknowledging that America is never going to be a paradise, a Terra Nullis of possibilities there for the taking, if only we're willing to work hard and play by the rules and wave the flag and support the troops.

The Horatio Alger myth is hazardous to our health. The road to national greatness has been paved with very malign intentions. The American dream was a fairy tale then, and it's a fairy tale now.

Facing reality by educating ourselves about unpleasant truths is the first step toward setting ourselves and our fellow citizens free.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Hypocrisy of Liberal Interventionists

On the very same day that former Vice President Joe Biden tweepily called for legislation to end the gun violence that "tears our families apart," the managing director of his new liberal interventionist think tank published a New York Times editorial calling for even more American guns and violence in the proxy war against Russia in the eastern Ukraine.

Just because the ruling class warriors so easily cry their crocodile tears and tweet their maudlin thoughts and prayers over every pathologically regular outburst of domestic mayhem and death doesn't mean they will ever call a truce in their own international violence - not even for one single day.

There's way too much profit to be made in state-sanctioned death and destruction to ever take a break from it.

Therefore, even as the bodies still littered the Las Vegas killing field, Antony J. Blinken wasted no time trying to manufacture public consent for an even more spectacular theater of blood and gore. A scion of private equity and a product of the Ivy League, Blinken worked for The Atlantic before moving on to speech-writing and national security posts in the Clinton White House, the Obama White House under Biden, and finally in the Clinton State Department before moving through the revolving doors to think tank-land. He even has a side-gig as a regular "contributing op-ed writer" at the Times

Blinken argues, in true Best and The Brightest style, that the perfect way to "stabilize" a situation far, far away is for the USA to intervene in it with lots of guns and ammo. Remember how well that worked out in Vietnam and Afghanistan and.... oh, never mind.

Where there's greed, there's hope. Despite the widespread belief (or pretense of one) among liberal interventionists and Neocons that Donald Trump is a stooge of Vladimir Putin, Blinken makes the facile observation that Trump's own cabinet are certainly not puppets. This editorial, of course, is directed more at them than at us.  As a matter of fact, Trump's team of generals and oligarchs is a well-respected and entrenched part of the ruling class establishment. They all belong to the same Club which, as George Carlin so wryly observed, you ain't in. Blinken writes:
It starts with a united front among Mr. Trump’s senior advisers — Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster. They see Russia’s occupation of eastern Ukraine for what it is: a gross violation of the most basic norms of international conduct that the United States helped establish after World War II. It is not acceptable for one country to change the borders of another by force. It is not O.K. for one sovereignty to dictate to another which countries or organizations it may associate with. It is not all right for Russia to decide Ukraine’s future. Mr. Trump’s team rightly believes that if the United States fails to stand against the abuse of these principles, the international order America built will be weakened.
Translation: it is very much O.K. for the United States to violate international norms as in, say, invading Iraq in an act of unprovoked aggression or maintaining nearly a thousand military bases all over the world. It is O.K. for Blinken and his ilk to dictate to other countries, because the United States has arrogated to itself, and only to itself, the privilege of establishing a "new world order."

Blinken goes on to praise Dick Cheney acolyte Victoria Nuland, who as Hillary Clinton's deputy decided another country's future and orchestrated the coup overthrowing Ukraine's democratically elected president in favor of one willing to be a puppet of the United States. She "gave the Kremlin fits," Blinken gleefully reminisces.

But the economic sanctions that his former boss, Barack Obama, imposed on Russia are not enough. Nor are the US border troops encircling Russia enough. And with the hysterical RussiaGate propaganda campaign faltering badly here at home, the Democratic/Neocon alliance wants to take the last solution left to it in hopes of saving its own faltering imperium: a bloody proxy war against Russia:
For all these continuities in policy, one vital discontinuity would add a timely exclamation point: the senior team’s united recommendation that Mr. Trump lift restrictions on the provision of lethal defensive equipment to Kiev, notably anti-tank weapons.
Not, of course, that these weapons in the hands of strangers (CIA-trained security forces) need ever actually be used. Their mere presence on the battlefield would give Putin pause, Blinken maintains. Everybody knows that guns don't kill people, only people kill people, and that people never, ever arm themselves for bloody aggression, but merely for "protection." That is also the first commandment of the N.R.A., which the Democrats find so easy to malign whenever innocent American citizens become the targets some nut job, or "lone wolf."

Nowhere in his op-ed does Blinken bother reminding readers that Joe Biden, who pays his salary, has a strong vested interest in maintaining an American presence in Ukraine. Even the New York Times was forced to print the news in late 2015 that Hunter Biden, the lobbyist son of Joe, had magically landed a lucrative seat on the board of Burisma Holdings, Ukraine's biggest gas company, right after the US-led coup. Although there were the usual murmurings of corruption and nepotism, these were quelled by the former Veep himself, who arrived in Ukraine to rail against... you guessed it. Corruption! A gas company spokesman also scoffed at the accusations, saying that "strong corporate governance and transparency are priorities shared both by the United States and the leadership of Burisma. Burisma is working to bring the energy sector into the modern era, which is critical for a free and strong Ukraine.”

Blinken's newest job, as noted above, is running the former veep's Biden Penn  Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.

Its quasi-religious "mission statement" has such a nice, creepy, Brave New World-ish ring to it. As a matter of fact, it reads suspiciously like a gas company press release. Any ad campaign without freedom and strength and modernity in the script is like transparency without sunshine. (the parentheses contain my own interpretation of the dense doublespeak):
U.S. leadership has sustained (its arrogant supremacy) an open world for more than 70  years, enabling virtually every advantage we (only the extremely wealthy) enjoy as (multinational corporations and plutocratic dynasties)Americans and helping to ensure our (gated communities) safety, our (obscene wealth inequality) prosperity, and our way of life (for the privileged few). Comprised of common norms, rules, and institutions, the American-led liberal international order (reliable state intervention in aid of finance capital, at the sole expense of the world's poor and working classes) has facilitated the free movement of (rich) people, (luxury items and weapons) goods, (military/surveillance state propaganda) ideas, and (deregulated) capital; protected the sovereignty and self-determination of  (client states) nations; and promoted basic human rights (of capitalism and corporations) and fundamental freedoms for all peoples.(the freedom of poor people to adapt to the needs of the ruling class and the liberty to work until they die.)
 Today, this order is under threat.(by both ultraright populism and a resurgence of New Deal-style social democracy, or even socialism) and it is being challenged by authoritarians (Trump, Putin) and extremists (Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn) and strained by the pace, scope, and disruptive nature of global change.(deliberate antisocial policies hurting everyday people which we, the Warriors of the Ruling Class, ourselves put into place 40 years ago, and which are now threatening to bite us in the ass) It is in our (self-centered) interest as (privileged) Americans to defend the (neo)liberal international order, even as we work to (viciously quash social unrest and censor free speech on the Internet and stir up fear of Russia) improve it to better (enrich ourselves to the point of bursting) reflect the times in which we live and address the (opportunities for profit at any human cost) new challenges we face.
Second in command at the Penn Biden Center is multimillionaire Steve Ricchetti, whose decades of lobbying for such powerful monoliths as AT&T, the American Hospital Association, Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Eli Lilly, the American Bankers Association and General Motors make him perfectly qualified to conduct foreign policy and ensure that war always stays perpetual and profitable for those privileged few who never have to actually fight in them. As an official in the Clinton Administration, Ricchetti also was instrumental in passing the anti-democratic 1996 Telecommunications Act, which ensured that ruling class power and its relentless propaganda would become consolidated within only six media giants funded by the same corporations which he continues to serve. He is the very epitome of the Revolving Door Continuum.

 And staffer Ariana Berengaut's claim to fame, according to the Penn Biden blurb, was her appointment as the first-ever State Department ambassador (under Hillary Clinton) to the Silicon Valley Empire of billionaires. Yes, Silicon Valley is indeed its own nation-state, requiring the protection and frequent public intervention of the traditional federal government with which it is a full and equal partner.


Biden's think tank is a virtual home away from home for literally dozens of exiled technocrats and propagandists from both the Clinton and Obama administrations.

These kinds of start-ups cost money, so Joe Biden took some precious time out from tweeting his sorrow over the latest gun massacre in order to court and flatter and placate rich people in an in-person speech. Joe is as alarmed as they are over Bernie Sanders's claims that the world's six wealthiest oligarchs (including billionaire Jeff Bezos, owner of the war-hungry Washington Post) are actually cutting the lives of poor people short. Bernie's speaking truth to power was so alarming, in fact, that the Post gave him three Pinocchios for no good reason at all, other than that the rich are different from you and me: they not only have more money, they don't choose to use the Oxfam model for measuring their obscene wealth. 

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy and Research notes that the three-Pinocchio rating dumped on Bernie by the Post is downright hypocritical, given that the newspaper itself is so intent upon whining about the debt and the deficit, and spreading such lies as Social Security is going broke, the old are eating the young, and that austerity and cuts to social programs are really good for healthy economic growth.

But Joe Biden is having none of this reality-checking and truth-telling. In a stump speech in Alabama for Senate Democratic candidate Doug Jones, Biden did his folksy charm reputation very proud. He can co-opt populism in the service of elitism with the best of them:
 “Doug understands about tax fairness,” Biden told the crowd. “Guys, the wealthy are as patriotic as the poor. I know Bernie doesn’t like me saying that, but they are.” 

The comment comes amidst the debate over tax reform, for which President Trump and congressional Republicans last week unveiled a new plan that would both lower the corporate tax rate and cut the number of individual tax rates. 
Sanders has railed against the Republican tax framework and has historically slammed tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations. Both Sanders and Biden are widely viewed as potential contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
Need we say more? The revolving door of the finance-capitalized Brave New World Public-Private Partnership Empire spins at such a dizzying pace that it's hard sometimes to even discern the bump-stock gunfire it generates. We have become too conditioned into not seeing and not hearing the violence which exists at the very highest echelons of power.