Thursday, January 18, 2018

Censorship Is As Censorship Does

The mass media just can't get enough of Donald Trump's ludicrous "fake news" awards, posted on Wednesday night only to almost instantaneously crash due to all that eager traffic.

That, and other important stories like #GirtherGate and Congress's annual contrived government shutdown threat, have apparently filled the news-holes so densely that there was no room to cover the Wednesday Senate hearing in which groveling reps of the tech giants Google, Facebook and Twitter outlined all the nifty ways they're censoring online content from users they've deemed undesirable or displeasing to the political establishment

The ostensible purpose of the hearing was "terrorism" and sex trafficking, but then it devolved quickly to generalized Content Moderation, which is postmodern Newspeak for censorship under that silly old First Amendment.

Social media's failure to crack down on what Senator John Thune (R-SD) called "extremist groups (that) recruit and radicalize folks that (sic) will commit violent acts against Americans" could well lead to fines and other punitive measures against the tech giants, he warned. He didn't bother to specify what exactly constitutes "extremist groups."

  Eager to show how diligently they're cooperating with Congress and the US intelligence "community," Facebook Global Policy Director Monica Bickert bragged that her company now employs 7,500 people whose sole function is to monitor and remove allegedly dicey content. This censoring workforce, which includes alumni of spy agencies and law enforcement, will double by the end of year, she vowed. 

Just as the 17-agency federal intelligence Borg is a form of bureaucratic overkill which misses more "terrorist plots" than it uncovers or manufactures, Facebook says it has now "partnered" with more than a dozen other private corporations to devise a permanent blacklist based upon certain digital fingerprints which only they, the patriotic nerds of America, can spot. Suspicion of subversion could therefore get a user banned from the entire Internet, with no hope of appeal or any other form of due process. Suspects shall be presumed guilty before they even know they're suspected of anything. 

Google is taking it a step further by actively promoting content from "acceptable" news sources in an Orwellian initiative which it dubs Counter-Speech.

Clint Watts, a former FBI official who has glided through the revolving door to Censorship, Inc. added to the paranoia at the Wednesday Senate hearing as he described various far-fetched scenarios for the end of the world via the Internet. One of them is "Anwar Awlaki Meets PizzaGate." (Awlaki was the radical Muslim cleric who was droned to death on the extra-judicial orders of Barack Obama, while "PizzaGate" was the alt-right agitprop campaign which linked Hillary Clinton to a pedophile ring run out of a D.C. pizza parlor, and which led to a true believer firing his weapon at the eatery's threatening ceiling.)

The danger, schmoozed Watts to the senators, is not so much the homegrown white supremacy resurgence, but the possibility that Russians are fooling the "lesser-educated" white American supremacists into wreaking havoc.

 Twitter, for its own patriotic part, is so gung-ho about the assault on the First Amendment that it euphemistically calls its own censorship rep "the director of public policy and philanthropy."

As reported by Gizmodo,
 Sen. Brian Schatz, for example, wanted to know if Twitter is taking care of its fake news problem and if we can be sure that it is “going to get this right, and before the midterms.” For the record, Twitter is more prepared this time around than it’s ever been, (Carlos) Monje said. And that’s not surprising because it’s never really had to think about the elections all that much until last year.
Monje, despite being a nerd and a charity geek, must be one of those thoughtless dudes whom the FBI guy was complaining about. So it's good to know that the US Senate is such a great teacher. Twitter is not yet so patriotically savvy, however, that it has any immediate plans to ban Trump's own Twitter account and the reckless nuclear threats contained therein.

Meanwhile, the same US Senate which purports to be so worried about social media subversion today voted, by a grotesque two-to-one margin, to give the dangerous Donald "Fake News" Trump six more years of totally awesome and unfettered power to continue spying on anybody he feels like.


In case you missed it, the World Socialist Website hosted a very interesting (and so far uncensored) discussion with Chris Hedges about censorship.

Although I can't prove it (lacking the necessary tools and expertise) I suspect that Sardonicky also has been censored. Google, which actually hosts me on its platform, had already discontinued the Google +  feature, which effectively boosted search rankings according to the number of times a post was up-voted by readers. That absence did affect my traffic somewhat. But in just the last month, Google analytics informs me, my readership has plummeted by a drastic 60 percent. I assumed at first that people were too busy to drop by during the winter holidays. Then I wondered if it was a glitch on Google's end. Then I wondered if readers had simply grown bored, or had caught the nasty Flu bug, or got outrage-fatigued, or just plain sick of my contrarian "content."  But to lose more than half your audience, all in the space of just four short weeks?  

Then I decided not to take it seriously. Life is far too short to fret about blog traffic instead of worrying about the ongoing threat to pretty much the whole Bill of Rights.


P.S., 1/19: I was alerted by "Clueless It Seems" in comments under my previous post that the commenting section of this post was gone. Sure enough, the cartoon I'd appended of Natasha the Spy had obliterated the commenting button. That'll teach me not to make graphic Russian jokes if I want to continue enjoying the privilege of using the Google blogging platform!

In case you're wondering why I don't just migrate to WordPress, I checked into it a long time ago. Because it would not allow me to transfer any of the art accompanying my posts, I decided against the move. Also, creating my own unique website would cost me money I don't have. So I'll continue muddling through at this free (at least in the monetary sense) venue for as long as I am able. Since I don't allow ads on this site, any cash they're making off me is probably minimal to none.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Gray Lady Wants You To Cool the "Race-talk"

How can you tell when the ruling elites have sunk into a moral cesspit? When the Paper of Record, acting on behalf of the Democratic Party, warns liberal politicians and pundits not to talk about Donald Trump's or anybody else's racism past a certain, self-serving point.

You see, it's not about doing or saying what's right. It's about doing or saying whatever it takes for your political party to win.  Calling out the evil of racism apparently has a sell-by date, especially in a campaign year.

Of course, the New York Times posits it a bit more delicately than that, as it coyly headlines David Leonhardt's column Is All This Talk of Racism Bad for Democrats?

The short answer is "Yes, You Idiot!", but since this is liberalism talking, there are the usual "pragmatic" excuses for ignoring both the historical and contemporary racism in this country. It's all about clawing back power by any means necessary. You see, although the Democrats thought they they could win in 2016 by harping about the Trumpian sexism targeting Hillary Clinton, similar talk of Trumpian racism should be off-limits as we approach the 2018 midterms. Identity politics is largely a matter of the class and status of the identity symbol they're talking about and elevating on any given day.

(As just one recent example of this basic truth, the recently-announced Senate candidacy of transgender whistleblower Chelsea Manning has elicited howls of outrage from corporate Democrats. She is simply not the "right" kind of identity politics symbol for them, because she exposed their war crimes and otherwise embarrassed the ruling elites when she furnished their self-serving correspondence to Wikileaks.)

For his own pragmatic part, meanwhile, Donald Trump certainly wants 2018 to be all about race, the better to whip up the estimated third of the electorate which still supports him. He needs them to continue believing that even the lowest white man is superior to the highest black man, That was, and is, a winning strategy for him. He wants Democrats to continue accusing him of racism.

Therefore, it follows that the Democrats should fight this strategy by ignoring racism itself.  After all, this is the reality-based community, in which facts have a well-known liberal bias.

Of course, racism really sucks, "but" as David Leonhardt worries:
 It's  also important to distinguish between the current moment and the remainder of 2018. Calling out Trump as a racist is the right thing to do in the days immediately following comments like his vulgar denigration of Haitians and others last week. It should not become the centerpiece of the Democrats’ 2018 strategy.

That centerpiece needs to be a principled populism that causes voters — white, black, Latino and Asian — to think about their economic interests. Trump certainly can be a huge part of the strategy. The president is almost always the central issue in a midterm election. The key is how Democrats talk about him.

Emphasizing the ways he’s hurting the middle class and working class has almost no downside. It turns off no substantial group of voters. It can win over swing voters and motivate reliably progressive ones.
Well, at least he had the decency to wait till after the Martin Luther King holiday to publish his cautionary screed.

You might agree with Leonhardt - after all, he sounds reasonable and caring and even class-conscious - but read the subtext. He is not suggesting that the Democratic Party actually push policies that will make people's lives better. He is simply suggesting that the candidates talk a good game and get the voters to just "think about" about their economic interests - by making the mid-term campaigns All About Trump. His tax plan and other assaults on everyday Americans are so horrible, who needs an actual plan of one's own? All that Democrats need are better bullshitting skills as they carefully ignore the "shit hole" rhetoric they are currently in a frenzy of co-opting to death. 

In other words, rather than open up the whole can of worms about the American imperialistic origins of "shit hole countries," the Democrats want to dial it back to the same old "We Suck Less" strategy. As Leonhardt enthuses, ignoring Trump's race-baiting in favor of his economic assaults "turns off no substantial group of voters. It can win over swing voters and motivate reliably progressive ones." 

In other words, those wily Democrats think they can seduce white people into the voting booth by making them worry more about money than they worry about black people, who shall not be mentioned in certain polite bourgeois company. Pander, rinse, repeat, ignore, pander some more. And besides ignoring racism, Dems must studiously avoid all mention of the class war and the politically-manufactured wealth inequality, now at its most extreme level since the last Gilded Age.

Another inside-baseball piece by The Hill's Amie Parnes puts it even more bluntly. The Democrats once again plan to follow the winning 2006 Rahm Emanuel strategy by going after the white suburban voters who propelled Trump to his slim victory one year ago. They will also continue harping on their own witch-hunting, xenophobic agenda of Russia, Russia, Russia:
Emanuel benefited from the political climate of 2006. 
The election was driven by opposition to an unpopular President George W. Bush, who was drowning in headlines about the Iraq war and his handling of Hurricane Katrina. Congressional Republicans—including former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (D-Texas) and Rep. Mark Foley (D-Fla.), were also rocked by scandal in the months leading up to the election.  
Democrats say the political climate is even more poisonous for Republicans now. For one thing, Trump’s White House is shrouded in the Russia investigation. And Republican incumbents “are dropping like flies,” in the words of one Democratic strategist helping to win back the House. 
“They’re imploding,” the Democrat said. “All we need to do is let them unravel while holding firm to our issues.”
 Squelching talk of race and racism under the centrist Democratic bromide "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" also lets them ignore their own right-wing policies of endless war, bombings of dark-skinned people in foreign lands under Obama, deportations of record numbers of dark-skinned people under Obama, the warrantless surveillance of American citizens approved by Obama, the bailouts of Wall Street and corporations at the expense of Main Street under Obama, the privatization of public education and the closings of schools in minority neighborhoods under Obama, as well as the militarized police brutality against black and brown people in these same poor neighborhoods.

The upshot of the Democrats' argument is this: let poor people continue to be victimized under our more beneficent watch while we continue to court our wealthy donors and co-opt the support of the people who must continue to believe they "have nowhere else to go."

Remember, this is not about you and your hard lives. This is all about a preferred slate of oligarchic lackeys gaining back power by pretending to care about you for one magical moment every two, four, or six years.

If they think telling people to shut up about uncomfortable topics is a winning strategy for them as they attempt to control the "narrative," maybe they should rethink their entire careers.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Trump the Spellbinder

The Salvador Dali Painting in Hitchcock's Spellbound

 Minority Whip Dick Durbin's head must have been spinning to the point of whiplash from all that awesome proximity to power in the Oval Office. Because when Donald Trump repeatedly described Haiti and African countries as "shitholes," the senior senator from Illinois apparently did not confront him. He was rendered as mute as a Democrat can be when negotiating how many expulsions of black and brown people might be acceptable without opening up the United States to charges of overt racism and xenophobia.

Just as Trump was ironically issuing a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on his upcoming birthday, he found himself in the awkward position of insisting that although his language may have been "tough" during immigration talks, he certainly Did. Not. Have. Verbal. Relations. With. That. Word. Period.

Meanwhile, it's finally become acceptable to call Trump a racist as well as a senile ignoramus. It's even become acceptable to print and say the word "shithole" and for the media to pretend to agonize over all the deep soul-searching involved in finally deciding to print and say the word "shithole," despite the fact that newsrooms all over the country are notorious hotbeds of unabashed profanity.

"It is exceedingly rare," writes the New York Times's Michael A. Grynbaum, "for the country’s biggest news organizations to publish a quote that includes an expletive; usually, they employ a censored or blanked-out version. On Thursday’s network evening newscasts, NBC News was the only organization that quoted Mr. Trump in full. Anchors at ABC and CBS used the word “blank” instead. But several media executives said on Thursday that the news value of Mr. Trump’s remarks, which the White House did not dispute, was undeniable."

Donald Trump is not only the Gaslighter-in-Chief. He is also the Spellbinder-in-Chief, and his audience is behaving like the typical Ingrid Bergman damsel in distress. Just witness the supposedly powerful Dick Durbin's helpless shock and awe in the face of it.

Andrew Lobaczewski, the late clinical psychologist and author of Political Ponerology, the study of contagious societal evil, described the  paralyzing effect that the spellbinding Trumps of the world can have on the people around them: 
'Persons with an innate talent for intuiting psychological situations tend to take advantage of this gift in an egotistical and ruthless fashion. In the thought process of such people, a short cut way develops which bypasses the handicapped (brain) function, thus leading from associations directly to words, deeds, and decisions which are not subject to any dissuasion. Such individuals interpret their talent for intuiting situations and making split-second oversimplified decisions a sign of their superiority compared to normal people, who need to think for a long time, experiencing self-doubt and conflicting motivations.

"Such characters traumatize and actively spellbind others, and their influence finds it exceptionally easy to bypass the controls of common sense. A large proportion of people tend to credit such individuals with special powers, thereby succumbing to their egotistic beliefs. If a parent manifests such a defect, no matter how minimal, all the children in the family evidence anomalies in personality development.

"Subordinating a normal person to psychologically abnormal individuals has severe and deforming effects on his or her personality: it engenders trauma and neurosis. This is accomplished in a manner which generally evades conscious controls. Such a situation deprives a person of his natural rights: to practice his own mental hygiene, develop a sufficiently autonomous personality, and utilize his common sense. In the light of natural law, it thus constitutes a kind of crime - which can appear at any social scale, in any context - although it is not mentioned in any code of law."
In a healthy society, Lobaczewski wrote, the activities of spellbinders can usually be stifled fairly quickly. But in an unhealthy society, riven by extreme wealth and social inequalities, the spellbinder finds that people are amenable to his influence. And all that "normal" people like Dick Durbin can do in response is to moralize and express disgust, rather than do anything concrete to stop the madness. That would necessarily include acknowledging the evil of their own policies, which gave rise to Trump in the first place.

There are many psychopaths behind the scenes who steer and/or enable Trump even as they pretend to condemn his words. Even the "good" Democrats seem  increasingly exhausted by the futile effort of telling the president he ought to behave himself so that the quiet work of the oligarchy can proceed apace, and they can pretend that droning people to death in foreign countries and sending thousands of American troops to Africa is not also a form of hideous racism.

Trump's deviant personality is no more deviant than American hegemony itself. He is simply the exception to the unwritten rule that it's the skillfully discreet psychopaths who, after careful corporate vetting, win high office because, as Lobaczewski wrote, "they have thought-processes more similar to the world of normal people; in general, they are sufficiently connected to the pathological system to provide a guarantee of loyalty."

Since Trump threatens the ruling elites by oafishly ripping the mask right off of them, the only weapons they have left in their arsenal are hapless outrage and helpless moralizing. There's no putting the mask of democracy and freedom and equality back on the face of Ruling Class America once it's been exposed in all its ugliness.

So we ordinary people have to protect ourselves both from Trump and from the equally dangerous, reactionary, self-righteous and ineffectual ruling class reactions to Trump. Our own psychological health as individuals and as members of society depends upon it.

We should be neither the helpless Ingrid Bergman wife in Gaslight nor the hapless Ingrid Bergman therapist in Spellbound. We can't play the part of analysts and critics only to succumb and let our emotions of fear and disgust rise above our intellects. We can't be good citizens if we criticize the villainous Trump one minute, and then besottedly fall for the next slick political marketing campaign and neoliberal savior the next.

Howard Zinn was right: "The really critical thing isn't who's sitting in he White House, but who is sitting in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating? Those are the things that determine what happens."

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Island of Misfit Fashionistas

Barely one year after it first hit the red carpets at fashion shows and in the Trump Tower section of Fifth Avenue and at the D.C. Women's March, the pussy hat has already gone the way of the poodle skirt. Where it's not gathering dust in the back of a closet, it's being showcased in museums as a quaint little curio of a bygone age.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London managed to snag one as early as last spring. Still, the pussy hat craze continued on to International Woman's Day in May, with a mass knit-a-thon during a session of the Swiss Parliament. No word as to whether Clinton fans who were so outraged by Vanity Fair's recent suggestion that Hillary take up knitting boycotted those kinds of sewing circle events in solidarity with their heroine.

Not to be outdone by Victoria and Albert, the founder of the original Pussyhat Project plans an actual stand-alone museum of pussy hats from all over the world. Hollywood stars like Madonna and Julianne Moore were said to be donating their own castaway hats to the permanent exhibit, to be located on the grounds of Michigan State University.

That the pussy hat craze was relatively short-lived is quite understandable, given that the mass outpourings of anger over Donald Trump's election constituted not so much a social justice protest movement as a coordinated venting of support for the vanquished Hillary Clinton. In fact, the pink pussy hat turned out to be the precursor of the more "woke" and expensive black protest-dress debuting of the Golden Globes.  The Great Pussy Hat Rebellion of 2017 has morphed seamlessly into the #MeToo craze, which itself is a proxy fight against Donald Trump in the persona of Harvey Weinstein and other celebrity predators.

Since there is really not that much cultural distance between the spectacle of Hollywood and the spectacle of Washington, the black dress protest movement still has a little life left in it. It's currently gliding high above dystopian Trump Country to make its soft and silky landing at the upcoming State of the Union extravaganza. In just a few short weeks, Democratic congresswomen will make their own bold prime-time fashion statements in solidarity with their fellow actresses.

The Hill reports:
Female Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plan to wear black to show solidarity with victims of sexual misconduct, just as Hollywood stars did at an awards show over the weekend.
Members of the Democratic Women’s Working Group had been discussing ideas for a coordinated effort around the State of the Union after wearing white — the color of suffragettes — to Trump’s first joint address to Congress last year. They settled on wearing black after watching the Golden Globes on Sunday.Female Democrats are hoping that their display of black will help bring the “Me Too” conversation about rooting out sexual misconduct and women’s issues to Trump’s State of the Union on Jan. 30.
After failing to ram through equal pay/living wage legislation during their Obama-era supermajority, the best that the women legislators can now hope for is to "continue the conversation" about how unfair it all is while they show "solidarity" with their fellow millionaire-victims on the Other Coast.

This is not to say that the Democratic men won't also be making their own statements.

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, for one, delivered a rousing House speech to boldly announce that he will bravely plunk himself down right in the middle of the chamber this year instead of doing what he usually does: arriving early to get in prime position to shake the president's hand in front of the TV cameras. His act of passive resistance is sure to light a fire under his constituents, many of whom are finding it increasingly hard to meet the rent and the heating bills in their gentrifying city neighborhoods.

A few of Engel's colleagues will be even bolder, and not show up at all.

None of them apparently plans to loudly disrupt the somber ceremony or to heckle Donald Trump. Small-d democratic acts of dissent would not be in keeping with the solemn decorum of the occasion at all. If the Democrats acted up they'd be going as low as that racist Republican who screeched out "You Lie!" to Barack Obama at one of his SOTU addresses. And as the Dems always say, they like to go high and stay high in order to distance themselves from the low and the impolitic. It's why they forced Al Franken out of the Senate: to send a tacit message to whatever tiny sliver of the electorate they're still trying to impress.

Meanwhile, the edgy crusading New York Times wants to hear from all the regular disgruntled women out there.

They want to know just one thing: What did you do with your pink pussy hat? Did you relegate it to the island of misfit clothes or toys?  

"Show us where it lives!" they gush. They want all the fluffy details, and they especially want cute photos, such as your adorable pet cat wearing it to keep its own little ears warm during this harsh winter of gossip and discontent.

If you're very lucky, a Times editor might even give you a personal call before the nostalgia phase of the pink hat craze reaches its sell-by date.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Cult of Diminished Mental Capacity

It seems like it was only yesterday when your refusal to pledge allegiance to the cult of Russophobia got you branded as, if not downright unpatriotic, then at least the naive tool of Vladimir Putin.

Now that year-long investigations have turned up zero evidence that Russia "hacked" the 2016 presidential elections or that Donald Trump "colluded" with Putin rather than maybe just launder money with the help of the Russian oligarchy, the newest cult revolves around the 25th amendment and the juicy revelations contained in the hastily written and hastily released Fire and Fury.

If you express any doubt that Donald Trump is in the early-to-middle stages of Alzheimer's disease or another form of progressive dementia, then you are a naive fool who refuses to honor the long-distance diagnoses of mental health professionals who possess some sort of remote control PET scanner that sees directly into Trump's Swiss Cheese of a brain. 

Before the new cult of Oprah Winfrey came along the other day to take a little of the psychiatric heat off Trump, his melting brain and deteriorating personality were all that the pundits of CNN and MSNBC could talk about since the book came out last week. Finally, the "open secret" of the president's worsening dementia could be talked about in polite company!  And not just talked about, but weaponized. Knowing full well that Trump watches a lot of TV, they embarked on nothing less than a round-the-clock propaganda campaign to not only convince the public of his incapacity, but to convince Trump himself. He must have felt like Ingrid Bergman to dozens of cable news Charles Boyers. Don't ever dare to defend your sanity, my dear, because it only proves how insane you are. 

"Trump's 'Very Stable Genius' Tweet Proves He Isn't" is the expert opinion of CNN's Chris "Sigmund" Cilizza, with Meta-Narrative Disability as his differential diagnosis:

Trump's lack of strategy is, in an odd sort of way, the most consistent thing about him. Any look at his life tells you that he is someone who just, well, does stuff.
Why has it taken the political world so long to wake up to that fact? Because we tend to view presidents -- and presidencies -- as tied together by some sort of narrative arc. That each statement, each policy decision, each tweet is somehow in support of a broader agenda. That the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That theirs is a story being told to us by the White House -- and it's our job to sniff it out.
Trump's presidency is abnormal in all sorts of ways. But perhaps the most important to understand is that it lacks any sort of meta-narrative. There are just his reactions to things. That's it.
And that, whether you like Trump or hate him, is not the hallmark of a three-dimensional chess-playing super genius.
This is quite a different tune than the one CNN was playing last year at this time. Back before he became so incapacitated, Trump apparently was a master gaslighter in his own right. He was making reality itself become hazy for a whole nation full of Ingrid Bergmans. But of course, it was really Putin who was pulling the gaslighting strings of his Trump puppet:
Russia even tried to gaslight US voters, as intelligence agencies concluded, trying to undermine their faith in the democratic process. And when Moscow thought Trump would lose, it planned to promote the view that the election was stolen, under the #DemocracyRIP banner, a plan whose seeds Trump had already planted.
The challenge will be a steep one for journalists and for all Americans, when so much of what comes from the next president has to be checked and double-checked. The first step is to establish when there is a gaslighting operation in progress.
The media's counter-gaslighting strategy has had an effect all right, but probably not what the pundits had in mind. Instead of reduction, via media torture, to even more of a quivering mess of an old man eating cheeseburgers in his locked bedroom while tweeting increasingly maniacal threats and complaints, the president strategized and decided to go on a full-on mental health campaign of his own. Since, like probably every president before him he is a textbook narcissist, he selfishly made the mental health all about him. He started to ever so carefully over-enunciate his words in public appearances. On Tuesday, he opened to TV cameras what would normally have been a private negotiating session on immigration reform. Not only did his mouth form complete sentences, not once did it hang open or even so much as dribble. Trump performed without incident for over an hour. He even uncharacteristally offered to "take the heat" from critics of his pro-DACA concessions rather than lash out as expected.  He simply was his usual un-meta self, with the Queens accent which makes the fluent media-political complex cringe so self-righteously.

What's more, the Democratic bigwigs in the room actually groveled and laughed and joked and preened and expressed great enthusiasm about working with this supposedly deranged man about his cruel plan to build a wall against immigrants. Once they got their seat at the lime-lit table, they couldn't help themselves.

 "Democrats are for security at the border,” Democratic House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer assured Trump during the meeting. “There are obviously differences, however, Mr. President, on how you affect that.” 

Richard Durbin, the Senate minority whip, likewise couldn't contain himself at the utter fascistic sanity of it all, gushing to Trump: "We’re all honored to be part of this conversation.There are elements you’re going to find Democrats support when it comes to border security. We want a safe border in America, period, both when it comes to the issues of illegal migration, but also when it comes to drugs and all these other areas.”

He later schmoozed to the TV cameras that "my head was spinning" over the 90-minute jam session with Trump. Political dementia is, like, so contagious.

As even the New York Times approvingly wrote, the collaborative aura and appearance of civility "were a remarkable break with the divisive messaging that propelled Mr. Trump to the White House and the harsh policies that have defined his first year in office, marked by efforts to demonize and deport immigrants who have entered the country illegally."

I guess you just can't gaslight a gaslighter after all.

It's preferable to the ruling class that cruel policies such as the mass expulsions of human beings be done as quietly and secretly as possible, as was the case under the Obama administration. Despite all his xenophobic rhetoric, Trump is not anywhere close to beating the discreet and intelligent Obama, who deported more people during his tenure than any other president.


I usually profoundly disagree with everything that conservative New York Times pundit Ross Douthat writes. But as he insightfully opined in his Sunday column (days before the Democrats engaged with Trump in that bipartisan matter so beloved of the establishment press): 
But op-ed provocations notwithstanding, the 25th Amendment option isn’t happening — not without some major presidential deterioration in the midst of a major crisis, and probably not even then. And while I blame Republicans for a thousand things that brought us to this pass, it’s too extreme to blame them for not pursuing an option that’s never been tried before, against a president who was recently and (yes) legitimately elected, especially when that option requires extraordinary coordination across the legislative and executive branches and could easily fail … with God-only-knows what kind of consequences. So unless Robert Mueller has more goods than I expect, we are going to live for the next few years in the way that America lived during the waning days of Nixon, the end of the Wilson administration, and perhaps at other moments known only to presidential inner circles — with our own equivalent of the petticoat government, which in this case includes military uniforms, dress suits and whatever outfits Ivanka and Kellyanne Conway favor (but not, any longer, the layering of collared shirts perfected by Steve Bannon).

My published response:
The more the media rails about Trump's mental status, the more the third of the electorate which supports him will feel the vicarious paranoia and outrage against the "elites" who, they feel with some justification, are trying to gaslight him out of office sooner rather than later.

There's cunning method to Trump's madness. After all, it does take a special kind of malevolent brain to be able to con and market your way into the ranks of the Forbes 400. The real scandal is not that he "colluded" with Russia to deny Hillary her coronation, it's that his corrupt way of doing business over the decades has been so rewarded by the very Establishment now seeking his ouster.

As long as the stock market keeps booming and the rich keep growing richer, the #Resistance will continue playing out as a soap opera for our aghast entertainment. Were it not for the fact that Congress has done zilch to take away Trump's capacity to blow us all to smithereens at any time, this whole show would be a work of, like, great comic genius.

The media had their chance to destroy Trump's candidacy. Instead they nourished it with $5 billion worth of free advertising. His TV rallies and debates were ratings bonanzas. Media mogul Les Moonves even gloated that Trump "may not be good for America, but he's damned good for CBS!"

Meanwhile the "demented" Trump is completing plans to destroy Medicaid and snatch health care away from millions of poor people. Where's the media shock and outrage over that?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

#MeMeMeMeToo Hits the Red Carpet

 * 1/8 Updated Below

I must have been asleep at the switch, because until last night I hadn't even noticed that the New York Times now has an actual Gender Desk. It must be the replacement for the defunct and less click-worthy Environment Desk that they got rid of a couple of years ago.

 No possible way would they dub it the "Woman's Page" of newspapers of yore, seeing as how that section was rightly derided as sexist for the plethora of recipes, fashions, mothering tips and how-to-please-your-hubby guilt trips. So now it's morphed to the anodyne and politically correct "Gender" moniker.

As far as the alternately melting and freezing Earth is concerned, who needs coverage of corporate pollution and climate change when our jaded hearts can be warmed by millionaire actresses vying for Best Dressed in Black honors at Sunday night's Golden Globe awards? Some of them are even bringing along honest-to-goddess politicians and activists. It's sort of a reversal of the pre-Trumpian White House Correspondents Dinners, when Hollywood stars came to the Potomac to see and be seen as guests of the corporate media.

The Times is sending its own large team of A-List reporters to provide blow-by-blow coverage of the Hollywood event, which it bills as a veritable Town Hall forum for political activists rather than the booze-soaked second-rate advertisement for the big budget film industry it's always been. It's even sending the award-winning photographer who won a Pulitzer for his glam shots of Barack Obama - the star president who not only collected bundles of cash from Harvey Weinstein, but who made performance art a major part of his own governing strategy.  Since everybody who's anybody will be wearing funereal black to send a stern message of solidarity to Harvey Weinstein as they slosh their drinks, it remains to be seen whether the pics themselves will be rendered in serious black and white in order to mirror the grave glitter of it all.

Times star reporter Glenn Thrush, who was just quietly welcomed back to the newspaper after his suspension for drunkenly hitting on and badmouthing young female journalists at his previous job, is apparently not going along on the Hollywood junket. His presence would be an insult to the women reporters who are thoroughly disgusted that their newspaper's scolding of predators does not apply to the in-house predators who rake in so much revenue from their edgy, insidery Trumpworld reporting.

Regarding the Times's edgy new series/newsletter called The#MeToo Moment (as opposed to Movement), reporter Bonnie Wertheim explains that they'll be "switching things this year" and putting the emphasis not so much on "who" the actresses are wearing but on "what" their choice of outfit signifies for them, their careers, and "the future of the industry." In other words, Hollywood will be given a much-needed boost of gravitas by the Gray Lady. Clothing is not only a fashion statement, it's weaponized speech! Who knew? So entertainment journalists are now officially on notice to #AskHerMore.

I can hardly wait for all the self-righteous anti-Trump Alzheimers jokes, the annoying Tom Steyer impeachment ads explaining that an apple is not a banana, the pharmaceutical ads for E.D. and opioid-induced constipation, the anti-aging cosmetics ads, the movie tie-in ads, and of course the numerous political campaign trial balloons sure to be launched this evening. 


I was wrong about a couple of things.

First, only one political trial balloon was launched, and that was from Oprah Winfrey. If her rousing speech on human rights wasn't her debut as a 2020 presidential candidate, I don't know why she even bothered. Donald Trump's empire was and is no impediment to his stint in "public service," so why should Oprah's be?  It's truly a #MeToo moment for billionaires to become more directly involved in politics, rather than just peddling their influence and donating their money. Tom Steyer (whose impeachment ad thankfully did not run during the Golden Globes) is also said to be mulling a run, as is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Ditto for Tom Hanks, who sadly didn't get to give his own rousing speech last night because he didn't win for pretending to be Ben Bradlee. I'd be very surprised if the DNC bigwigs were not actively courting Oprah at this very moment. Because if anyone can pull off a victory based solely upon star power and populist oratory and identity politics, she certainly can. It's just too bad that she delivered her speech while receiving the Cecil B DeMille award, named after the notoriously predatory Hollywood director.

And about those ads. No, Viagra and opioid constipation didn't make the cut, because the sponsors of the #MeToo-centric spectacle were all about selling social responsibility in keeping with the narrowly prescribed theme. The New York Times ran an ad consisting of a page of scrolling print of "He Said, She Said, He Said, She Said, He Said, She Said, She Said, She Said, She Said..." It would have been more effective if Glenn Thrush wasn't the elephant in their newsroom. Mention of due process might have been nice too. Oprah herself added to the righteous flavor when she (perhaps) mistakenly called for more "persecutions" - rather than prosecutions - of offenders.

Facebook ran an Orwellian ad about changing society for the better. L'Oreal continued telling women that we should buy expensive cosmetics from them because we're "worth it." Mass Mutual pretended to be a church with a choir instead of an insurance sales pitch. Discovery appeared in several slots to tell people to be good citizen-consumers and buy more stuff on credit. Why not, since a new Deutsche Bank study shows that the number of American families with more debt than savings is now at its highest point since 1962?

Not once did anybody mention Trump, who already was the butt of all the jokes at the Academy Awards. The social purpose of the evening was as highly scripted and restricted as the Morticia Addams couture. It was all about the #MeToo moment in the approved narrative moment in time.

And is it only me, or does that new hashtag #TimesUp also double as a plug for the New York Times? I smell a Pulitzer ad campaign to go along with Oprah's presidential ad campaign.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Bomb Cyclone For Healthcare

It's January, and it's cold and snowy outside, and therefore, the media tells us, the end of the world is nigh. Iguanas are literally falling out of trees! Wind chills are expected to plunge below zero for the next two whole days!

It's January, and Donald Trump is still president, and therefore the end of the world is nigh. The only new twist in this man-made disaster is that the people who surround him and enable him as he storms and fumes and tweets his way around the White House were willing to spill their guts for a new blockbuster book. They don't seem to realize how venal they themselves look by putting their careers and their fortunes above the good of the country as they gleefully call Boss Trump an idiot and a moron behind his back. The punditocracy is giving new life to the 25th amendment as a backup to the flailing RussiaGate investigation.

These are the bombshell blockbusters dominating the official discourse this week. These are the cyclones in the news cycle.

But conveniently lost in the swirling vortex are some malevolent plans to force the poorest of the poor to die more quickly than usual. People getting their healthcare through Medicaid will now be forced to work in some states, even though many of them already do work: whether be it toiling away at Walmart and McDonalds, or staying at home to care for children or sick or elderly family members.

What Bill Clinton accomplished by kicking millions of people off cash welfare in the 90s, the Trump administration hopes to finish off by ensuring that the vulnerable fall through the remaining tatters of the safety net. 

As a matter of fact, the supposedly demented Trump and his minions are using Clintonian welfare reform (Temporary Aid to Needy Families, or TANF) as their template for the destruction of Medicaid.

Seema Verma, the arch-conservative ideologue and Hewlett-Packard exec named by Trump to lead the Medicare and Medicaid Services division of HHS, is spewing the old canard that  "able-bodied" adults who get government-funded health care coverage are the victims of a form of bigotry. Unless they are forced to work until they drop, her twisted logic is, they will feel just like slaves, but without the sustaining self-sufficiency. "The days of low expectations are over," she vowed.

But, as a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation on the efficacy of TANF for incentivizing welfare recipients to go to work has proven, people don't work because they're forced to, they work because they want to and they have to in order to live. People are not, as a rule, inherently lazy. People are unemployed for the simple reasons that they can't find work, or because they become too sick to work, or they got laid off, or because they otherwise face insurmountable barriers to employment.

Forcing Medicaid recipients to work will not only not lift them out of poverty, it potentially will have the result of impoverishing them still further, when employee labor costs such as transportation and child and elder care are factored into the Trump administration's proposed draconian requirements.

Furthermore, as the Kaiser study shows, the state administrative offices involved in implementing the TANF work requirement over the past two decades have ended up costing the government more than it ostensibly saves through its mandatory work requirements. It costs money to hire more bureaucrats to keep track of the people it is supposedly trying to "free" from willful idleness. It's also been demonstrated that the children of parents who are forced to work at low-paying jobs in exchange for minimal benefits have more behavioral problems, thus adding to the long-term costs to society of slashing safety net programs. Having Medicaid coverage when working at jobs which provide no health insurance at all actually saves both the government and private business money, because reliable heath care helps people to keep working, especially when their jobs involve repetitive stress and heavy lifting.

The Kaiser report authors add that when the Trump administration shames the "able-bodied adults" it would like to exclude from Medicaid, it doesn't even bother to define that term. It could very well include the mentally ill, the illiterate, the drug-addicted. Nobody knows, probably least of all the incurious and semi-literate Donald J. Trump.

The one silver lining of Seema Verma's hideous agenda is that so far, anyway,  "only" eight states have expressed an interest in seeking a federal waiver for the Medicaid work requirement. Among them is economically hard-hit Kentucky, whose state-run KyNect marketplace and  Medicaid expansion were lauded as the preeminent success story of the Affordable Care Act. The number of insured people there increased by 105% over four years, the largest increase of any state. Put another way, only six percent of Kentuckians remained uninsured last year.

The other seven states opting in to the work requirement are Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Maine, New Hampshire, Utah and Wisconsin, all of them led by conservative officials.

Matt Bevin, the Tea Party governor of Kentucky elected in 2015, at first wanted to completely overturn Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. But such was the uproar that he "softened" his stance somewhat, and is applying for a federal waiver not only for ushering in the work requirement, but for an actual reduction in services, beginning this year.

Among the proposed new requirements for getting a prescription filled, or getting a tooth filled, is passing the high school equivalency exam and enrolling in job training classes, as well as finding the financial means to attend courses dealing with smoking cessation and other health problems. People who've qualified for Medicaid because they meet poverty guidelines will also be monitored under what is dubbed a "My Rewards" account. Health expenditures exceeding $1,000 annually will count as a demerit on one's permanent record, although any actual rewards accruing to the compliant care-avoiding patient remain shrouded in mystery.

As health reform advocate Louise Norris points out, with Bevin's plan almost guaranteed to get quick approval from the unhinged Trump administration, half a million Kentuckians will get kicked off the Medicaid rolls within five years. This will happen in a state which already has one of the highest death rates in the country from opioid overdoses: nearly 30 people out of every 100,000 last year.

Naturally, Medicaid has also become the convenient scapegoat for too many "able-bodied" adults scoring too many opioid prescriptions from unscrupulous pill mills. Carefully missing from these conversations is why people are getting hooked in the first place. Many times it's because they're out of a job, were evicted from their home, and are so bummed out that they will do just about anything to ease both their psychic and their physical pain.

  This front in the class war of rich versus poor is the bomb cyclone which will tear families and workers apart for decades, if not for multiple generations. But to hear the mass media tell it, the real emergency and the real crime is still that Donald Jr. talked to "the Russians", and that fascist provocateur Steve Bannon is calling it treasonous.

Donald Trump is far from the only nut in this party mix.