Counterpunch Articles

Sinn Fein’s Victory is Ireland’s ‘Brexit Moment’ When Left-Out Voters Turn on the Elite

“People wanted to kick the government and Sinn Fein provided the shoe to do the kicking,” says Christy Parker, a journalist from the beautiful but de-industrialised town of Youghal in county Cork. He speaks of the “chasm” between the elite benefiting from Ireland’s impressive economic progress and the large part of the population that has been left behind.

Youghal never recovered from the loss of its carpet and textile factories that flourished when I grew up there in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, surveys show that many of its people still yearn for the return of the factories that once provided good jobs. One can see why: the main street is today lined with closed shops, though the cost of renting a flat is high and has doubled over the last eight or nine years.

The town is one of many places in Ireland untouched by the original Celtic Tiger or the economic recovery from the 2008 recession. “Every week people are hearing some new shocking story about the homeless trying to live off food banks somewhere in the country,” says Parker.

I have heard exactly the same phrases being used in the UK to explain why people voted for Brexit. In former coal mining and steel making towns in the Welsh Valleys, I was told that they felt betrayed by everybody in authority from the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff to Westminster and Brussels, “but it was the EU against which people decided to push back.” A man from Walsall said that people there did not care if the GDP of the UK went up or down after Brexit, because they did not consider it “to be their GDP”.

The general election on 8 February was Ireland’s “Brexit moment” when a wide variety of establishment chickens came home to roost, as many voters expressed deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. An exit poll showed that 63 per cent of voters believed that they had not benefited from recent economic improvements.

Politicians and commentators on all sides confirmed the exit poll evidence that the issues which mattered most to voters were health care, housing and homelessness. This is true but tends to obscure the fact that in Ireland, as in the UK and US, voters chose a vociferously nationalist party as the vehicle through which they expressed their rejection of the status quo. In Ireland, Sinn Fein stumbled on a winning political formula whose potency it at first underrated but raised its share of the vote from 9.5 to 24.5 per cent between disastrous local council elections last May and the triumphant general election nine months later. The change in the party’s political prospects may have been astonishing, but nobody believes them to be a flash in the pan protest vote. There is a general assumption that, if there is another general election, and Sinn Fein makes no calamitous mistakes, the party will field enough candidates, as it failed to do this time around, and will win a more complete victory.

The motives of the Irish voters may have been social and economic, but the fact that a quarter of them plumped for Sinn Fein will have a profound influence on Northern Ireland and Ireland’s relations with Britain. For the first time a single party, Sinn Fein, will be politically powerful on both sides of the border, a partner with the DUP in Belfast and potentially either a leading partner in the next Irish government in Dublin or the main opposition to it. This creates a degree of de facto Irish unity never experienced before and will be deeply resented by unionists who see the balance of power swinging against them.

Sinn Fein’s political dominance in the nationalist/Catholic community in the north, that had been showing signs of faltering, will be reinforced. But the unionist/Protestant community, which last year saw Boris Johnson renege on his promises of support, by agreeing to a customs barrier separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, is feeling the ground beginning to give way under its feet.

Brian Feeney, a columnist for the Irish News in Belfast, says history shows that northern nationalists “like republican politics, but they don’t like republican violence”. Destabilisation is most likely to come from the unionist side and a sign of this may be hoax bomb threats against nationalist targets in Belfast in recent days.

A further cause of instability is the British government itself: the highly regarded Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith was summarily dismissed in the cabinet reshuffle this week, despite winning plaudits from all sides for brokering the power-sharing deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP that reopened the assembly at Stormont. Smith’s was reportedly sacked due to pledging to investigate alleged crimes committed by British soldiers during the Troubles.

Getting rid of Smith may be an early sign that, under Johnson, English nationalist sensitivities will get priority over keeping Northern Ireland stable. The arrogance and ignorance of Brexiteers when it comes to Ireland has infuriated Irish opinion over the last few years with the Home Secretary Priti Patel famously suggesting that the Irish, who have vivid memories of the Great Famine, could be starved into making concessions.

Voters say that Brexit was not a significant influence on the way they cast their vote in the election, probably because they wrongly supposed that the problem was solved. But Ireland remains the EU’s front line state, which gives it influence in Brussels but ensures constant friction with the UK.

From Sinn Fein’s point of view, it has been a successful 40 years’ march since it first started winning elections during the hunger strikes of 1980/81 as Daniel Finn describes in his important book One Man’s Terrorist: A Political History of the IRA. The initial slogan was that “Will anyone here object if, with a ballot box in this hand and an Armalite in this hand, we take power in Ireland?” These are not words that Sinn Fein’s many enemies are likely to allow it to forget, but during the election campaign just finished, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil claims that the shadow of the gunman still tainted Sinn Fein were mostly ignored. The accusation may resonate with older voters, but not with younger ones with no experience of “physical force” republicanism.

Constitutional action has worked too well for Sinn Fein to try anything else. It has also cut the ground from under dissident republicans seeking to return to violence. Northern nationalists know that demographic change is propelling them towards a voting majority. In the south, they are no longer hobbled politically by memories of The Troubles.

Sinn Fein may well congratulate itself that years of struggle have produced its present successes. But it has also been extremely lucky: after trying and failing to make Irish partition an international issue for almost a century, the Brexit vote in 2016 automatically did so by potentially turning the border into an international frontier between the UK and the EU. Sinn Fein chose the right issues on which to campaign in the general election, but it was also the almost accidental beneficiary of disillusionment with traditional parties, and that disillusionment has been leading to these parties’ shock defeat in elections across the world.

 

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“Democratic Socialism” – Bring it on Corporate Socialists!

Crooked Donald Trump, the erstwhile failed gambling czar and corporate welfare king, is assailing Bernie Sanders for his “radical socialism.” How ludicrous given Trump’s three-year giveaway of taxpayer assets and authorities to giant corporations – a perfect portrait of crony capitalism.

Others are joining the socialist labeling bandwagon, including corporatist right wing radio talk show blowhards, themselves freeloaders, profitably using the public airwaves. This pack includes Lloyd Blankfein, former lawbreaking chairman of Goldman Sachs.

Bernie knows, of course, how to rebut this distorted interpretation of “democratic socialism.” But will his rebuttals be enough given that the Biden-Bloomberg-Klobuchar wing of the Democratic Party is determined to label Bernie “unelectable” against the boastful Don the Con?

Some suggestions for Bernie and others to use in this upcoming back and forth on “democratic socialism” vs. “corporate socialism” of the super-rich corporations:

1. Go after the corporate socialists who have invited Wall Street and Big Business to socialize the means of government against the peoples’ necessities and freedoms. It is a government of, by, and for the dominant corporations. Such private power dominating our government in so many reported ways was called “fascism” in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a formal message to Congress. This is a fertile field for taking the offensive.

2. “Democratic socialism is a political force in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, sometimes Canada, and others. In these places, it means all the people in those countries get their taxes returned in the form of improved livelihoods, economic security, and peace of mind. Democratic socialism means better pay, universal healthcare, pensions, day care, family sick leave, vacations, tuition-free higher education, robust public transit and parks, and many other amenities backed by stronger unions, denied the American people in the “land of the free and home of the brave.” Since World War II, the European political movements were led by “social democratic” parties.

3. Back to our country. Corporatists and right-wing Wall Street Democrats are inferring that “democratic socialism” is un-American, ruinous for our economy. These demonizers argue that a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” is a sure loser in the election against Donald Trump – a self-enriching crook, outlaw, boastful, savage sexual predator, bigot/racist in his policies, inciter of violence, and a serial, delusionary liar. Trump, the Electoral College-selected tool of the super-rich and corporate powers should be easy to defeat given his disgraceful presidency.

The American people of all backgrounds like their public libraries, public local control water works, municipal fire departments, police precincts, and public schools. They seem okay with government highways, bridges, public transit, and want their taxes spent to repair and upgrade these vital pieces of our infrastructure. Taxpayer’s don’t want our commonwealth being owned by tax-escaping, gouging corporations.

There are over 1,000 municipal public utilities providing electricity. The “Red” states of Tennessee and Alabama would fight any corporatization of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which 87 years ago, brought electricity to a large poor region that the private electric companies didn’t think was profitable enough.

The unfairly maligned Veterans Administration brought free hospitals and health care to millions of veterans. Millions of Americans are favorably disposed to life-saving Medicare and Medicaid and are economically saved by Social Security and unemployment compensation. Hey! There must be a lot of “democratic socialists” out there in “blue” and “red” states. New Hampshirites are mostly okay with state-owned, revenue-producing, hard-liquor retail stores.

At a meeting long ago with top medical officials at the Walter Reed Army hospital, I was told that after learning the second leading cause of hospitalization for U.S. soldiers in Vietnam was malaria, the U.S. Army asked the drug companies to develop remedies. The negative response was that developing medicines to deal with malaria wasn’t profitable enough.  In response, the Pentagon brought together skilled doctors and scientists and started its own “drug company” inside Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospitals. For less than 10 percent of what the big drug companies say it costs, our government developed three out of four of the leading anti-malarial drugs in the world and made them available everywhere without any patents producing big pharma-like profits.

If the political and corporate Trumpsters and the Clintonite Democrats snort at all this, tell them that they do agree on one thing. Those in both these camps have been eager to have collapsing capitalism, as during the 2008 Wall Street dive, always saved by reliable socialism – aka – trillions of taxpayer dollars via Washington, D.C. funding the bailout of the reckless bankers and speculators.

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Every Day’s a Holiday for the Oil Business in Colorado

Fracking operation near subdivision in Erie, Colorado. (Cut the Plastic.)

Though it’s not on the official Colorado state calendar, every day’s a holiday for the oil industry in this state.

News surfaced last week that the oil industry has been dodging its state taxes, and not just now and then, but systematically.  The tax, called a severance tax, is based on a small percentage of the gross proceeds from oil and gas sales each year.  A recent state audit, the source of these revelations, shows that in the years 2015 through 2018 roughly 85 percent of the 420 active operators in the state failed to turn in the required monthly production reports.  In all, over 55,000 reports are said to be missing.

Jeff Robbins, the self-anointed “Czar” of all things oil and gas in the state, and also, officially, the less regally designated Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, COGCC, expressed surprise the production reports were necessary for tax calculations.  This is a jaw-dropping admission for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that the COCGG’s budget is derived from severance tax revenues.  In recent years the COGCC has had to go to the legislature for funding since the severance tax was inadequate to fund its budget of roughly $14 million.

Enquiring minds, even those of a Czar-like nature, might wonder why an industry that assures us it contributes billions to the state’s economy each year didn’t pay enough in taxes to fund a small agency that primarily keeps the industry’s oil rigs clanging and the oil and gas pipelines flowing to points of use outside the state.  Little of it is used here.  Colorado is very much an oil colony.

Czar Robbins went on to say that he didn’t think the lost tax revenues could be recovered because of a one-year statute of limitations.  Perhaps that is why he showed no interest in how many years this big-time swindle had been going on. The present severance tax law has been in effect since 1978.

He went on to say that the $308 million the State Auditor said could have been collected in fines for non-reporting was unthinkable because that isn’t the relationship the state has with the industry.  Lacking any sense of irony or self-awareness, his is the clear leader for headbanger understatement of the year.  As ex-governor Hickenlooper liked to say, the relationship between the state and the industry was more a business partnership based on mutual respect.  It was not that of a regulator.  That philosophy lives on.

Neither did Robbins express much interest in recapturing what was unpaid within the last year.  On this, like so many other things, Czar Robbins is perhaps a little confused.  Defrauding the government is considered serious business in most jurisdictions, and the clock doesn’t start running until the crime is exposed.  That was last week.  We could wait for Attorney General Phil Weiser to intercede, for he promised to be a lion in defense of the people.  But his report card is marked with absence after absence.  It may be that the people will have to sue both the state and the industry.

The audit report also showed that the effective tax rate for the severance tax in Colorado is .54 percent.  But this is old news.  A state audit several years ago showed the state’s severance tax rate was the lowest of all western states.  It was 18 times lower than North Dakota’s, which has an effective rate of 9 percent.  Had the state an effective 9 percent rate last year the tax would have been well over one half billion dollars.  The actual average tax has wavered around $60 million in the last few years., though in at least one of those years most of the tax was returned to the industry because of a state supreme court decision awarding them more subsidies.

The grassroots group I belong to, Be the Change, drafted legislation in 2018 in response to the earlier audit report on the severance tax rate.

We recommended an effective 9 percent tax rate.  The primary motivation was concern over the closing and maintenance costs of the roughly 100,000 wells in the state, only 40,000 of which are producing.  The present bonding is totally inadequate, $100,000 for all wells in an ownership.  Noble Energy owns about 7000 wells and Anadarko about 6500.  The state closed a few abandoned wells last year, reportedly at an average cost of over $200,000 apiece.  Recently, one well in Canada cost about $5 million to close.

The money generated from this tax money we recommended be deposited in a trust fund to cover all future closing costs of old wells that are abandoned or need rehabbing.  Engineering studies show wells have to be reclosed on an average of every 20 years—cement breaks down and steel corrodes.  The legislation called for the establishment of a state green bank to hold and loan these monies out for green projects within the state until needed for well closing.

We also recommended that the tax exemption for small producing wells, called stripper wells, be eliminated.  Last week Czar Robbins announced that about 88 percent of all wells in the state were now stripper wells—horizontal wells start to peter out rapidly, usually in less than 2 years.  By definition strippers are wells that produce less than 15 barrel of oil or 90 thousand cubic feet of gas on a daily average over the course of a year.  There is obviously much room for gaming in such a formula.

Given present oil and gas prices each stripper well could theoretically produce gross revenues in the $300,000 range, provided production for both oil and gas was at the legal maximum.  Add to this, that the state does not aggregate these wells for tax assessment purposes.  Thus, if Noble, out of its 7000 wells, had even 50 percent of its wells that were strippers, each producing $300,000 in gross revenue, that would come to over $1 billion in gross revenue escaping just taxation.

See if you can get this deal.  You don’t pay any state income tax on your first $300,000 of income.  Your spouse can even make $300,000, as can each of your 4 children through a trust, and none of it is taxed.  Only the value of your property is taxed.  Wait for the gimlet-eyed taxman, if his type still exists, to break out the cuffs for the whole family if you were to even propose such a cockamamie scheme.

Thinking even bigger about the larceny afoot, if 88 percent of the wells in the state are stripper wells as Czar Robbins declares, all producing to their maximum, and the inventory of all producing wells is 40,000, then the theoretical maximum gross revenues escaping any state taxation might total about $10.6 billion annually.

Of course many wells are not producing at their stripper maximum, for various reasons, so the actual tax subsidy to the oil industry is less by some unknown quantity for any one year, but, since this subsidy has been in place for many decades, the actual subsidy over time is much, much greater.

Our legislation would also have stopped any severance tax from going back to the counties of origin or to the state water fund.   Yes, some of the severance tax goes to keep water buffalo fantasies alive at public expense.

Local governments already assess a property tax on the industry.  Weld County, for instance a few years back, collected about $500 million from the industry in property taxes.  The state collected about $45 million in severance tax that year.

State law allows the industry to deduct most of these local property tax payments from their state severance tax bill.  As a result, oil producers in Weld County have paid nothing in state severance taxes in some years; yet, the county always received severance tax returns from the state.  Weld is by far the largest oil and gas producing county in the state.

We brought this legislation to the attention of certain legislators in 2018.  It was not welcome.  The excuse was SB 181, then being debated, was a major environmental bill, and there simply was no room for more environmental law making in the session.  SB 181 is the much-ballyhooed oil and gas reform act that promised oil development would only be allowed if it could be demonstrated the people and the environment were being protected.  It is being slowly drowned in a sea of incompetence and fear biting by a  bungling administration.

Had the severance tax bill not become a victim of political calculation it might have brought in as much as $1 billion in deposits to the proposed state trust fund over last year and this.

Now the excuse at the legislature is that the public would never support it.  Since the bill is a tax increase, it would have to be referred to the pubic for approval on the ballot.  The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, TABOR, requires it.  This excuse may have more to do with the Democratic leadership’s blind hate of TABOR as destructive of representative government than it does with public approval.  The argument in a nutshell is that TABOR took away the legislature’s right to tax as representatives of the people.

Admittedly, TABOR is flawed. It has elements that need serious reform.  But TABOR is a constitutional amendment, by initiative, by a direct vote of the people, expressing their desire to have a vote on whether their taxes are to be increased.  In this state the right of the people to legislate via the initiative is a first right, superior even to that of the legislatures.  The people-as-sovereigns is the real burr under the saddle for many Solons.  They would be well advised to work for reform of TABOR rather than its repeal, for the public is not likely to give up its first right to participate directly in government.  The narrative herein partly explains why.

Plus, everybody hates being taken for a ride, but people won’t know about the ride their being take on, for it’s a figurative one, unless you tell them and provide a remedy.  A just increase in the severance tax and the elimination of unjustifiable subsidies is a remedy.

Perhaps, the Solons at Denver’s Colfax and Broadway need a little Fireside Chat with FDR so they could be reminded that the only thing they have to fear is fear itself—and that the state could achieve long-enduring insolvency if something serious isn’t done to protect the pubic from the prospect that many of the frackers will go belly up and leave their poisonous legacy behind for future generations to manage.

The brain numbs at the maze of deals carved out by the legislature and hidden inside the state tax system for the oil industry.  Why wasn’t the miniscule tax rate and numerous operational subsidies enough? Why would the industry risk exposure of this rotten, sweetheart deal making by not reporting honestly on the little it did owe?  Lord Acton, often quoted, said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The oil industry is in the absolute quadrant, with devoted assistance from state government.

 

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Fashion Fetishism, Surgical Masks and Coronavirus

Entering Singapore’s Changi Airport gives the visitor a glimpse of a mask fetish. Security guards wear it. As do the nurses and the various personnel who man cameras like anti-aircraft batteries, noting the approaching passenger in transit with due suspicion. The passenger, in turn, wishes to avoid showing anything that might be construed as a suspect symptom. Whatever you do, do not cough, splutter or sweat in nervousness. Best to wear a mask then: neither party can accurately gauge the disposition of the other.

Witnessing the profusion of disease paraphernalia furnishes us a salient reminder that opportunity lurks where fears of a pandemic lie. Pharmaceutical companies await a rush for certain drugs that might come in handy battling the next pathogen; producers of equipment that might stem the advantage of the viral monster tick off orders to satisfy demand. In the case of the Coronavirus, now given its “novel” title as COVID-19, a global symbol of its stretch and influence, actual or otherwise, is the face mask.

In parts of Southeast Asia and in China, the mask was already ubiquitous. Preventing particles and dirt from entering the respiratory system, such layers provide a modicum of protection against such undue inhalation. But the coronavirus “business” has seen their purpose obscured in favour of solutions that are, at best, varnished hopes or selfish aims.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for instance, insists in a factsheet on respiratory infection control that, “Surgical masks are not designed to seal tightly against the user’s face. During inhalation, much of the potentially contaminated air can pass through the gaps between the face and the surgical mask and not be pulled through the filter of the mask.”

The advisory does, however, claim that using surgical masks “may reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission between infected and non-infected persons”, conceding that “historical information” on their effectiveness in controlling, for instance, influenza, remains limited.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also warned against donning the facemask in unnecessary circumstances. “CDC does not recommend the people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory viruses, including 2019-nCoV. You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it.” Only those exposed to the virus and showing symptoms should wear one. Those involved in providing health services, be they health workers “and other people who are taking care of someone infected with 2019-nCov in close settings (at home or in a health care facility)” are also encouraged to wear them.

Similst views can also be found in assessments from biosecurity wonks such as Professor C. Raina MacIntyre of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute based at the University of New South Wales. In a co-authored piece for The Conversation, MacIntyre takes some gloss off the use of such preventive measures by noting that surgical masks “do not provide a seal around the face or filtration of airborne particles, like those that may carry coronavirus.” But some “limited barrier against you transferring the virus from your hand to the face, or from large droplets and splashes of fluid” is provided.

The aims behind such use are distinct. Use them for evacuation flights out of the disease zone. Use them in cities where ongoing transmission is taking place. But in areas where there is no crisis to speak of, extensive use or stockpiling by members of the general public can only be deemed to be disproportionate. In the words of MacIntyre and her co-author Abrar Ahmad Chungtai, “countries where transmission is not widespread and there are only a handful of cases being treated in hospital isolation rooms, masks serve no purpose in the community.”

Again, as with their colleagues in the field of medical science, the issue was different for those at the coal face of disease prevention. Health workers had to be preserved; “if they get sick or die, we lose our ability to fight the epidemic.”

The literature on the effectiveness of such masks can be found, though littered with the necessary caveats that come with the field. A study examining facemask usage and effect in reducing the number of influenza A (H1N1) cases published in 2010 used mathematical modelling to conclude that, “if worn properly”, they could constitute “an effective intervention strategy in reducing the spread of pandemic (H1N1) 2009.”

The central purpose, then, is for the mask to act as some sort of diligent disease concierge: to keep the germs in while ensuring that particles and matter, be they dust or blood, are kept out. But commercial instinct is indifferent to such nuances. Where there is money to be made and social media accounts to be co-opted, along with those vulgar irritants known as “influencers”, the issue is making the product appealing, not questioning it use.

A profusion of online images show the scantily clad, the demure, the enticing, sporting the masks as they pose. Companies such as AusAir stress local design and themes in their production: Tasmanian lavender, eucalypt varieties. A similarity with other protective devices – flavoured prophylactics, for instance – can be drawn. There is no reason not to be fashionable when being protected, though it lends a certain crassness to the whole enterprise. Monetised as such, the masks have become accessories rather than necessities, notably in countries least affected. The mask, for instance, can serve to cover perceived facial imperfections or even emotions in the public gaze. The medical quack has been replaced by the fashion guru.

To that end, the medical mask has spurred a global surge in demand. A shortage in supply has eventuated, causing more than a mild panic. In 2009, a similar shortage of masks was precipitated by the influenza H1N1 pandemic, despite WHO recommendations against general public use. The shortage has had a somewhat nasty effect of running down what is available for those practitioners who need them in their ongoing work with patients. As in instances of war and conflict, the opportunists and profiteers have made their inevitable, and dreaded appearance.

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The Democrats’ New Chapter

Now that the impeachment of President Donald Trump hasn’t reached the Democrats’ expected goal, it is time for them to change gears facing the coming presidential elections. Until now, the Democrats have let the Republicans take the initiative, using techniques not always politically correct, or right, and in the process losing elections that they should never have lost.

For some time, the Democratic presidential candidates have been fighting against each other rather than focusing their actions to be more effective. It is time to plan new strategies that will allow them to regain power. They will have to regain momentum after the voting fiasco in Iowa and Trump’s effective State of the Union address which, despite its many misinformation of facts, has resulted in an increase in Trump’s popularity.

The Democrats have an ample array of arguments to offer as an alternative to a Republican agenda that disproportionately favors the rich and hurts the environment and, as a result, the quality of life of all people in the world, including the rich. In that regard, the complicity of Republican legislators with legislation that hurts their own and their children’s health is beyond comprehension.

The last few years have seen an unprecedented attack on the environment, from loosening restrictions on regulations, to failing to keep a clean environment, to denying what is now accepted by most scientists in the world: climate change is bad and, unless it is contained soon, it will irrevocably damage health and cause enormous economic loses worldwide.

As an immigrant from Argentina, I have benefitted considerably from American openness and of welcoming to foreigners. This is the America I, and the world, admires and respects. Not the America that puts innocent immigrant children in cages as dangerous animals and separates them from their parents, a policy of unprecedented cruelty.

Aft a recent visit to the Matamoros migrant encampment in Mexico -where migrants are forced to wait for weeks and months while their asylum cases are processed, Dr. Ranit Mishori, a Senior Medical Advisor for Physicians for Human rights said, “As doctor, as a human being, I am shocked by the conditions at Matamoros and other camps at the border where thousands of asylum seekers are trapped. And I’m outraged because I know that their suffering is a direct result of the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP) policy, which forces any person seeking asylum to wait in Mexico, in limbo, were conditions are dangerous and often deadly.”

In 1961, television advertising pioneer Rosser Reeves, developed the concept of unique selling proposition (USP) to explain why some advertising campaigns were successful in the early 1940s. One of the USP basic rules is that the proposition should be one that the competition cannot or does not offer.

The Democrats have a unique proposition: to implement policies to improve the health and wellbeing of most Americans and promote peace in the world. They can do that by strengthening legislation to improve the climate, make health care accessible to all, create effective and fair immigration policies, and reach international agreements to stop countries from developing nuclear weapons and truly promote peace in the Middle East, one of the most contentious regions in the world today.

These issues mentioned above could all be an important rallying cry for the Democratic candidates. Instead, they prefer to focus their message on defeating Trump, thus keeping him relevant, rather than trying to advance their own agenda. The main goal of the Democrats is not only to defeat Donald Trump.

Their main goal is to regain power to establish an agenda to improve the environment, increase Americans’ access to quality health care, and create immigration policies that would take advantage of the best things immigrants can offer while respecting their basic rights. They should frame their message using these basic concepts, at a moment of unrelenting attacks against people’s basic rights. Otherwise, they will lose a unique opportunity to implement a truly progressive social agenda, more in agreement with true democratic values.

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Time to Retire the “He Can’t Beat Trump” Trope

Now that polls show Bernie Sanders the clear front-runner in this race, leading the pack by 8 points and ready to win New Hampshire, it’s time to clear up one of the main Corporate Media myths about him: that “he can’t beat Trump.”

First, pro-Israel fanatics like Alan Dershowitz and propagandists for the Corporate State don’t hate Sanders (and yes, they HATE Sanders) because he can’t beat Trump: they hate him because he threatens the classist and racist orders that they defend. “He can’t beat Trump” is simply the best way they have to scare people into not voting for him.

Second, the polls show us otherwise. In the run-up to the 2016 Convention, Sanders was leading Trump in matchup polls by 10-20%, while Hillary was leading Trump by 0-5% and even losing in some polls. The paid propagandists in our corporate media like Mathews told us then to ignore the polls, the DNC nominated the candidate who was doing worse against Trump and the polls turned out to be right. Once again, the 2020 polls show Sanders killing Trump and way ahead of all other Democratic candidates against him. So are we going to be stupid enough to listen to our paid pundits who so dislike Sanders and ignore the polls again?

Now they’ll tell us the polls don’t matter because once the race comes down to Sanders-Trump, Trump will eat Sanders alive in debates. Sanders, they tell us, has never had to face truly tough criticism or debate. Really? Sanders has been in tough political fights longer than most of us have been alive. He is almost universally hated by the Democratic establishment and their “friends” (Chuck Schumer’s term) in the Liberal Media. When has he not gotten curveball questions, vicious attacks from opponents and downright slanderous misrepresentations of his positions? With mainstream Democrats calling him a “sexist” and saying he’d be applauding executions in the former Soviet Union, what exactly can Trump do that hasn’t been done to him already? The fact is that he’s incredibly comfortable and cool-headed when faced with such attacks because he’s so used to it. So when Trump comes with simplistic put-downs of Sander’s policies, Sanders will be ready with actual clear, reasonable, fact-based answers – and a few zingers. When Sanders says he can’t wait to take on Trump, I don’t doubt him for a second.

One more thing the DNC-CNN-NYT crowd won’t tell you. Sanders is missing the one attribute that makes politicians vulnerable to attack by Trump: he’s not fake.

That’s right: Trump detonated the entire field of insincere RNC hacks because he has an uncanny ability to hone in on the least sincere part of a person and bring it to light. That’s one of the reasons why, even though he’s a pathological liar, so many people see him as a truth-teller: he actually is a truth-teller when it’s comes to other people’s insincerity. And fake is the one thing Bernie isn’t. Unlike Hillary, Warren, Bloomberg and Trump himself, Bernie has never changed his basic political views. Unlike Biden and others, he’s got no racist skeletons in his closet, but was arrested protesting for Civil Rights before he ever ran for office. Calling him a sexist didn’t work. He has no shady conflict of interest issues. He hasn’t worked for some of the most immoral companies on the planet. Whatever else you may think of him, Sanders is the real deal: he’s even derided in the Liberal Media for having the basically same message all his life. But consistency and integrity are things people respond instinctively, regardless of their politics. And in a time when Congress, both Parties and the “Mainstream Media” are so deeply disliked, someone who has let their career be defined by their ideals rather than their personal ambitions comes across as fresh and inspiring.

Finally, Sanders is a “radical,” they tell us, when only a “Centrist” can win. Funny, a centrist didn’t win in 2016. And in 2008 we all voted for a guy who promised “change,” even though he didn’t deliver. Does anyone seriously believe, with 40% of Americans near the Poverty Line, and most of the rest just one illness away from bankruptcy, with young people leaving college saddled with a lifetime of debt, few families able to afford a home without the debt of a mortgage, and many only getting by on credit card debt, that voters are looking for the status quo? If you do believe this, chances are you’re one of the comfortable few, maybe one of the top 10%, and you are not representative of most of the people in this country.

Liberal Media would have us believe that the country is evenly divided into Democrats and Republicans – well, in a way it is. According to Gallup, Democrats and Republicans are tied 27% of likely voters each. That leaves 45% of Independents and those are the people who will decide this election. They will not vote for a Democrat out of Party loyalty or even in many cases simply because they are not Trump. These are people who don’t want to be affiliated with either Party. This is a group that repeatedly repudiated the uninspired Party careerists like Gore (at the time, at least), Kerry, McCain, Romney, Jeb, Clinton and Biden. They will not have gone heavily for Sanders in polls and they elected Trump – many of the same people who voted for Trump said they would have voted for Sanders had he won the Nomination.

So as the DNC prepares us for another loss (and is probably already flailing around for someone to blame it on), please consider these points. please think about the fact that the pro-Democrat media bubble does not represent the majority of this country and that its narratives have failed us in the past. Sanders may well be the only Democratic candidate who can beat Trump. And the truth is that anti-Sanders Democrats aren’t afraid that he can’t win: they’re afraid that he CAN.

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Another Five Lessons for Democrats to Defeat Trump in 2020

As part of my last two essays on how Democrats can beat President Donald J. Trump, click here and here, I’ve added another five lessons. As an independent, as noted in my last essay, I’ve consistently been critical (to the present) of Democrats and Republicans in the areas of race, class, place, immigration, etc., as documented in my most recent book on defending Latina/o immigrants. Also, since I’m offering these perils of wisdom to the Democrats on a pro bono basis, don’t blow it!

African American and Latina/o support key to win the White House

Without the majority support and enthusiasm of African American and Latina/o voters, the ultimate Democratic candidate to take on Trump will lose. Let’s not get confused or bothered by the recent Iowa caucus fiasco or the New Hampshire primary. These primarily white states, where Iowa is at 91% white and New Hampshire is at 93% white, will not determine who wins the White House given the importance of more diverse states with large populations of African Americans, Latinas/os, Asian & Pacific Islanders and others. At 94% white, a state like Vermont might as well be next to make sure that we secure the whitest possible candidate! For Democratic leaders and voters, this should be part of the criteria to defeat Trump, mimicking former President Barack Obama’s diverse coalition.

That said, given that former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Mayor/billionaire Michael Bloomberg, businessman Andrew Yang and philanthropist/billionaire Tom Steyer don’t have a strong record with African Americans and Latinas/os, they should all drop out now! That includes the Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Senator Michael Bennet and former governor Deval Patrick. Not sure why Gabbard, Bennet and Patrick are still in the race since they’re polling in the subzero range?

What makes Buttigieg think that he can fix this country’s structural racial problem if he couldn’t get the job done at the local level? In terms of Bloomberg, he’ll never secure the majority support of African Americans and Latinas/os due to his racist stop-and-frisk policy. A convenient and self-serving apology won’t help! This also explains why Senator Kamala Harris never had a chance, given her background as a prosecutor with America’s incarceration problem related to African American and Latinas/os.

From eleven candidate to three

As of early February, 2020, there should only be three candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren. I’m not implying here that these candidates have strong records in terms of race or racial justice issues. For example, while Biden was part of Obama’s Deporter-in-Chief campaign, Sanders and Warren focus too much on class issues. While class is very important, so is race!

Given the importance of the 2020 president election, we can’t have too many Democratic candidates at this stage when Trump doesn’t have to deal with internal competition. In short, while the existing Democratic candidates compete against each other for individual donations and voters, Trump has the field all to himself.

This is a recipe for disaster for Democrats!

Stop with the cannibalism

By attacking each other during primary debates and on the campaign trail, Democrats are only increasing Trump’s chances to get re-elected! While I believe in debate and differences of opinion, this is not the time to engage in WWE takedowns, where the ultimate Democratic candidate will be hobbled going against Trump. Why give Trump more ammunition? This makes no sense to me. Given that Trump has solidified his white nationalist base and agenda, like any tyrannical leader in world history, he’s consistently espousing and implementing his draconian agenda with limited or no obstacles. With the help of the GOP-led Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his racist base, Trump can actually “stand in the middle of Fight Avenue and shoot somebody” without political repercussions. If this were to occur, I wonder if U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr will just look the other way, like a good subordinate in the mafia?

Money does matter in elections!

If billionaires, like Bloomberg and Steyer, want to help the country (and world!), they should invest their billions in helping defeat Trump through donations to the ultimate Democratic candidate, direct ads against Trump and other legal avenues. This includes recruiting other billionaires and millionaires to pitch in. If they give away half their wealth or more, they’ll still be rich!

While the existing Democratic candidates are dividing the American donation pie among each other, Trump is raking in millions of dollars solely for himself and his white nationalist agenda. This includes the RNC, which, like the GOP-dominated Senate, is beholden to Trump. With millions of dollars at his disposal, Trump will continue to hold his white nationalist rallies and buy ads on television, radio and social media to secure his re-election.

This is another recipe for disaster for Democrats!

Unity and clear message on progressive values to win the White House

In order for Democrats to win the White House in 2020, they must immediately unify around one candidate (with a strong VP candidate from a diverse background) and advance an agenda based on progressive values. This includes access to health care for all Americans residents/citizens, affordable housing, good-paying jobs and opportunity to pursue higher education without getting into massive debt. This also includes no brown kids in cages! While there are more issues, Democrats should keep the message clear and simple for all open-minded voters to understand.

In short, the ultimate Democratic candidate (and VP candidate) must speak in a language that most voters understand, energizing millions of Americans (state-by-state) to get to the ballot box on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

 

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Donald Trump’s Plan for America: Make it Ignorant

On February 10th, the White House released its budget for the fiscal year 2021. It broadly showcases the values promoted by Donald Trump and the vision he has for the future of the United States of America. Budgets are the practical extension of genuine commitments. Politicians, as a group, are famous for making promises that they do not deliver on. Empty promises are often rhetorical flourishes meant to generate votes.

The proposed budget is alarming in what it presents as the actual priorities of the White House. Trump’s budget for 2021 includes funding “for the orderly closure of the [National Endowment for the Humanities].” Eliminating the NEH does not fit a fiscal purpose but an ideological one. This is to say that it has been a staple to Republicans and Democrats since its founding in 1965, its cost is modest and easily funded, its 65,000 grants have high levels of success, but it’s being cut, because the White House prefers ignorant subjects, not informed citizens.

Trump’s budget gives about $2 million to the military budget every minute, 24/7/366 (it’s a leap year). That means every two hours around the clock military expenses well exceed the entire annual budget for the NEH.

The NEH has supported numerous life-enhancing projects. This includes more than 7,000 books (16 Pulitzer Prize and 20 Bancroft Prize winners among them). It is a commitment to increasing and strengthening teaching and learning. To stimulating original research and scholarship, and creating opportunities for lifelong learning. The NEH is dedicated to the preservation and access to American culture and its artifacts and the understanding of humanity as a whole.

Donald Trump is intentionally ignoring the essential records of American history, including the papers of American Presidents like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, of significant writers, thinkers, and heroes like Martin Luther King Jr.

Why would Trump want to prevent 2,400 teachers a year from attending workshops that cover important topics on American history and enhance the educational experience of 350,000 students? Why would Trump stifle the chronicling of America through the database of newspapers at the Library of Congress? Why would the dialogues on the Experiences of War project, which uses humanities to help military veterans and their families talk about difficult issues raised by war and military service, threaten Trump?

Trump sees democracy as a thorn in his side, he is threatened by checks and balances, and truth and knowledge undermine and expose his lies. Facts and history expose his corruption at every turn. When the public learns from the past it makes it harder for him to lie. Trump hates the NEH because it is effective in preserving the past and in educating the public, and both of these public goods are obstacles to his dishonest goals and the predictability of his persistent failures.

Wisdom is the ultimate protection of democracy, and with Trump as President it is under attack. If we do not start protecting America’s history, we will lose it. Even worse, we risk undermining the great thinking and principles that have promoted equality and championed peace. The attacks are not just on the national treasures and the institutional norms and values they support; it is an attack on the American Dream itself. Can we make the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” great again? Can well push back against and stop the destructive force of Trump’s plans and policies? The lessons of history have told us how to overcome reckless tyrants, it is time to save America.

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You Tube’s Trump Predicament

Most of the change we think we see in life  is due to truths being in and out of favor.

– Robert Frost The Black Cottage

It must have been a bit of a downer for the trump.  It came just three days before his acquittal of charges of misconduct that had been brought in the House and were being tried in the Senate where his acquittal by  jellyfish-like  Republicans in the United States Senate was assured.  It came just the day before he was to make his  “trumpfant” State of the Union speech in which he would brag about his accomplishments and non-accomplishments with equal ease.  It came just 2 months after YouTube made it clear that it would not ban the trump’s misleading ads on YouTube about Joe Biden.

It all happened when, in an earlier interview on 60 Minutes, Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, had been  asked by Leslie Stahl, whether YouTube would continue to air a fake trump ad that attacked Joe Biden.  In response Ms. Wojcicki said:  “So that is an ad that, um, right now would not be a violation of our policies.”

It came less than three weeks after the trump had posted a photoshopped image of Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wearing a turban and a head scarf respectively in front of an Iranian flag with an accompanying legend saying the image showed “the corrupted Dems trying their best to come to the Ayatollah’s rescue.”  Although that image had not been posted on YouTube it was the sort of fake image that the trump took delight in and that as the result of the new policies, may no longer be acceptable on YouTube.

The downer for the trump was the announcement from YouTube that it planned to begin removing from its site misleading election content that can cause “serious risk of egregious harm.” According to a statement in a blog post from Leslie Miller, the vice president of government affairs and public policy at YouTube,  “Over the last few years, we’ve increased our efforts to make YouTube a more reliable source for news and information, as well as an open platform for healthy political discourse. . . . She said the policy would apply “without regard to a video’s political viewpoint.”

Since by all accounts we now live in a world where misinformation  spreads quickly on the internet un the guise of “true facts,” the hope is that the new policy will slightly slow, if not stop, the spread of “fake” news.”  For the trump that has to come as something of a disappointment.

The report says the site will remove altered videos or videos that attempt to mislead readers about the voting process.  Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokesperson, said that a video’s content will determine whether a video is permitted to remain on the site or must be taken down.

The Washington Post, which is a follower of such things, reported that as of December 16, 2019, the trump has made 15,413 false or misleading claims since he was sworn in as president.  That comes to 14.6 such claims each day.   For a person who has grown accustomed to being dishonest multiple times on a daily basis, the news that one of the major channels for imparting such falsehoods to his adoring followers has to come as a shock and a disappointment.  It may almost seem as though the world is conspiring against him when it starts refusing to promote his  lies.

It is, of course, impossible to conjure up all the sorts of lies that the trump will no longer be able to promote.  A couple come to mind, thanks to the State of the Union message that he delivered to warm praise and applause from the spineless Republican multitude.

Referring to the “long, tall and very powerful wall” he was building,  he bragged about 100 miles already completed and over 500 miles to be completed in a very short time.  The latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection say new border wall construction has accounted for a total of 105 miles of which all but one mile was used to replace dilapidated barriers that were already in place.   Under the new policy that braggadocio as part of a political message might be deleted by YouTube.

Elsewhere in his speech he said:  “We will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions.”  In fact, as pointed out by those fact checking his speech, many of his actions have weakened or eliminated protections enjoyed by those with pre-existing conditions.  Among those efforts is the administration’s continued attempts to have the courts declare the Affordable Care Act that protects those with pre-existing conditions, unconstitutional.

The new YouTube policy may or may not make it more difficult for the trump to propagate his lies.  It will certainly offer a challenge to those at YouTube who are trying to make sure that their policies are faithfully adhered to.  By the time the election takes place they will probably, thanks to the trump, have been able to develop an approach determining what is and is not acceptable to post.  Don’t count on it.

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Trump Shoots Romney at Prayer Breakfast; GOP Shrugs

President Donald Trump pulled out a handgun at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning and shot Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, fatally wounding him. A day earlier, Romney had become the first senator in history to vote to convict a president of his own party in an impeachment trial.

After the shooting law professor Alan Dershowitz persuaded federal marshals at the event not to apprehend Trump. “He believes it’s in the nation’s interest,” Dershowitz shouted. “The president cannot be charged or prosecuted.”

Trump began his appearance by grinning broadly and waving newspapers with headlines declaring “Trump Acquitted” before the crowd of elected officials and religious leaders at the event. He followed speakers who had urged everyone to forgive their enemies, but Trump said, “I’m not sure I agree with you,” before producing the gun from his suit jacket and aiming it at Romney.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham defended Trump after the shooting. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Romney was an agent of the Democrats,” he charged. “The president’s enemies will stop at nothing to keep him from being re-elected.”

Back at the White House, Trump tweeted, “Lots of people are saying Treacherous Mitt conspired to throw the 2012 election to Barack HUSSEIN Obama! What I did was perfect. Now Total Exoneration!”

Democrats quickly huddled to consider new articles of impeachment, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fighting back tears, conceded, “We’re not finding anything in the Constitution that states premeditated murder is a direct cause for impeachment. We already know how the Senate feels about ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.'”

Authors and presidential scholars Jon Meacham and Michael Bechsloff agreed in a joint statement declaring the situation unprecedented: “These are extraordinary circumstances. We have never seen anything like this before in the behavior of a president of the United States.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to evade reporters requesting a reaction, but when cornered in an elevator, he shrugged and said, “In the immortal words of Dick Cheney, ‘So?'”

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Ode to the City Bus 

Ode to the City Bus 

Ride the bus
The city bus
We ride the bus for fun
Take it to the park
To the museum
For a really good time
Take the B48
Not to get anyplace
But for its own sake
Look out the window
That isn’t snow
It’s the ice they throw
From the fish shop‬
On the sidewalk
And the steps of stoops
of brownstones
Those old neon signs
Lighting people walking by
Sometimes you sit on the left
of the bus
Other times sit on the right
Or else you won’t see half the sights
The city sliding past outside
And at night,
After you’ve turned out the lights,
You think about the buses flashing
Rolling along down the route
Past the library branch
The domes of the sewage treatment plant
Four hundred billion millimeters
Underneath the moon

 

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Mayor Mike, Worse Than Mayor Pete

The good news out of New Hampshire was, of course, that Bernie Sanders won – not by much, but by enough to leave no doubt as to who the winner was. There was more good news as well: Joe Biden, the former king of the moderates, is on his way to becoming toast.

The bad news is that the campaign of the only candidate besides Bernie worth taking seriously, Elizabeth Warren, is now on life support. Worse still, Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy shows no signs of tanking.

If there must be moderates nipping at Sanders’ heels, better Amy Klobushar than Mayor Pete. Her politics may even be worse than his, but she has more experience, more gravitas, more of the common touch, and, best of all, she is a she.

Hard as they are to stomach, it is probably a good thing that moderates are still in the running and also that they are divided among themselves. As long as one or another of them could still take over the role formerly played by Biden, and as long as it remains unclear which one it will be, the worse Mike Bloomberg’s prospects become. Better division than unity in the moderate camp, and, of the moderates still in contention, better any of them than he.

Their politics is mainstream Democratic; Bloomberg is essentially an old school Republican.

He hates Trump, the worst American president ever, but he loved George W. Bush, the second worst president in modern times. He may honestly think that black and brown lives matter, but, as mayor of New York City, he showed, time and again, that, for him gentrification – and its concomitants, mass incarceration of young black and Latino men, and brutal “law and order” policing — matter more.

Were he to become the Democratic nominee, it would be bad for democracy and bad for the Democratic Party; and unless his politics has lately taken a hundred and eighty degree turn, bad for the poor, bad for African Americans, and bad for less well-off persons of color generally.

All that is on him. That his candidacy would also be bad for Jews is mainly on Trump.

Remarkably, and to their shame, alarmingly many African Americans now seem to be jumping off the Biden bandwagon and onto Bloomberg’s. The word, from the commentariat, is that they think that they have no choice, if they want the Democrats to nominate someone whom they can count on to send Trump packing.

They are dead wrong, of course; anybody this side of Hillary Clinton, running on the Democratic line, could do that as well. But just to be sure, mainstream media, eager to stop Bernie’s rise, and functioning for all intents and purposes as the DNC’s propaganda arm, are now falling all over themselves, making excuses for the racism inherent in what Bloomberg has said and done in the past.

The stain left by “stop and frisk” will not go away, no matter how vehemently Bloomberg opportunistically apologizes; and there is so much more than that. And yet, many African Americans, especially ones who are getting long in the tooth, seem willing to give him a pass. But this cannot last as the spotlight turns Bloomberg’s way. With his birthday just past, we can take comfort in the fact that, as our greatest president famously put it: “you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

In addition to all the reasons to oppose Bloomberg that he has brought upon himself, there is another reason for which he cannot be blamed, but that ought to be factored in nevertheless.

Through no fault of his own, a Bloomberg candidacy would likely exacerbate the rising tide of anti-Semitism that Trump’s presidency has conjured back into being. Bloomberg can hardly be blamed for this, but it is yet another reason why it would be well to quash his candidacy.

His billions could do a lot of good if used to purchase anti-Trump ads on television and elsewhere in support of Sanders or Warren or of no one in particular, or if used to fund down-ticket national and state races.

However, if used to promote his own presidential ambitions, they would do no good at all – not least because of all the moderates still in the running, he is the worst, the most pre-Trump Republican-lite, in the bunch.

In this electoral season, with an aroused public demanding change, the very idea of a Bloomberg candidacy would be a total and complete non-starter but for one reason alone: that, for all practical purposes, his campaign has no budget constraint.

The sad fact is that, in the Land of the Free, money, if there is enough of it, can turn a non-starter into a front-runner in the wink of a news cycle. There is no need, however, to despair; at least, not yet. If progressives mobilize against him, he can be stopped

***

To hear their media toadies tell it, “moderates” and “progressives” are essentially on the same page; the moderates, however, are wiser – more practical, more “pragmatic,” more aware of the myriad ways that public opinion and financial realities constrain political possibilities. Progressives, on the other hand, are pie-in-the-sky dreamers.

Some commentators, Paul Krugman is an example, conclude from this that it hardly matters whether a progressive or a moderate runs against Trump, because, even with a Democratic House and Senate, those constraints will still be in place – thanks partly to the “realities” moderates invoke, and partly thanks to the continuing predominance, even if the next election goes as well as it possibly could, of Democratic House members and Senators who are confirmed stalwarts of moderation.

It would be less civil but more accurate to say that a lot of the Democrats on Capitol Hill are bought and paid for, and that there are therefore limits to how far their venality will allow them to stray from the mainstream fold.

One might also mention the deleterious effects on public opinion of the current surfeit of drivel about the virtues of “bipartisanship.” Republicans are a lost cause, but that doesn’t stop Democrats, especially the more moderate ones, from pulling their already feeble punches, the better to facilitate “working across the aisle.”

Sometimes, as they go on about this, I cannot help but think of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1568 masterpiece “The Blind Leading the Blind.” Nowadays, it is the Right, the GOP, leading the Right or, as they call it on NPR, MSNBC and CNN, the Center Left.

The one is for Trump, the other for the conditions that made Trump and Trumpism inevitable. The former is the greater evil, of course, but the other side is evil too. The “pragmatism” they promote is a snare and a delusion. They may be all for sweetness and light. But the last thing they want is to set a new course; one that would make the Democratic Party something other than the perennial lesser evil it has been for roughly the past hundred years.

As a recovering academic philosopher, I feel compelled to take umbrage at the way mainstream Democrats praise the moderates’ “pragmatism.”

That currently abused and degraded word denotes a school of thought that was one of the glories of nineteenth and twentieth century American philosophy. From the likes of Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, George Herbert Meade, John Dewey, and later Willard Van Orman Quine and many other distinguished thinkers to – Hillary Clinton. Or to the moderates running for the Democratic nomination; Biden is the worst of the lot, but they are all bad news. When they and others like them are called “pragmatists,” I feel that the earth should shake with convulsions.

But let that pass. In a political universe in which House and Senate Republicans, and Trump himself and his base and servile cronies, are called “conservatives,” this is only par for the course.

Many, maybe most, potential voters who revile Trump, and who desperately want to see him defeated in November, sincerely believe that moderation is the way to go. I think they are dead wrong; that they ignore pertinent evidence, including evidence arising out of the 2016 election, and that they fail to grasp the importance, in the election ahead, of voter turnout and therefore of voter enthusiasm.

Subjectively, as Marxists and others used to say, the motives of those who defend moderation for electability’s sake can be and often are laudable. Objectively, though, they are on the wrong side of the most consequential political – indeed, class — struggle immediately ahead.

Unlike their intra-party rivals, moderates defend the interests not of the several constituencies that Democrats mainly depend upon for votes, but of the Democratic and broader anti-Trump wing of the ruling class.

With the Sanders campaign flourishing and growing bigger day by day, Democratic Party donors and political elites, along with the media that serve them, are becoming desperate. The fact that they are still unable to settle on who their Great Moderate Hope will be adds to their distress.

Witness how after just a few bad days – a botched Iowa caucus, Trump’s inevitable Senate acquittal, and poll results that suggest that the more transparently odious Trump is, the more popular he becomes — it is front page news in The New York Times and Washington Post that Trump is on a roll, and that there will be no stopping him unless and until a moderate savior emerges from the fray.

It is not clear why the other billionaire in the race, Tom Steyer, isn’t, by now, the Chosen One. Inasmuch as our “democratic” elections are basically sales campaigns, and inasmuch as good sales campaigns take money, lots of it, to run, one would expect people to be talking about him in the same way that so many now are talking about Bloomberg. And yet his campaign has yet to gain any significant traction at all.

Could it be because his express views are too liberal to relieve the anxiety of the Democratic Party establishment and its “donor class?”

Bloomberg could buy and sell a garden variety billionaire like Steyer ten times over. Could that be why, if the pieces fall into place in just the right way, he could end up his party’s nominee while, come what may, Steyer doesn’t seem to have a chance?

This seems unlikely, but in the Trump era, so does nearly everything else.

A more pressing question is how did it come to this – how is a Bloomberg versus Trump election, a contest in which a mega-billionaire and whatever Trump is, vie for control over the Imperium, be anything more than a theoretical possibility in a functioning democracy, much less a self-proclaimed “City on a Hill?”

Even if Vladimir Putin’s attacks on our purportedly democratic institutions are as far-reaching as Cold War revivalists contend – or, rather, since there is no evidence of anything of significance actually having happened in 2016 or subsequently, worse than anything they insinuate – he could hardly do worse than our own plutocrats have already done and are continuing to do.

A Bloomberg candidacy would, in effect, proclaim to the world that democracy in America is finished; that, “we, the people” have lost out entirely to the Almighty Dollar.

We are not there yet, however. If all goes well, we never will be. To that end, the time to squelch Bloomberg’s efforts to buy his way in was yesterday; but today will have to do.

Bloomberg has more money than God, but he comes with a lot more baggage than Klobuchar or Buttigieg or any of the others. It isn’t just “stop and frisk”; thanks to some reporting by the Intercept, it even seems that he could even be called to account for what undid Plagiarism Joe’s run for the White House in 1988. What a lovely irony that would be!

**

Trump starts nothing, but he does make everything worse; sometimes much worse.

Also, “the darker angels of our nature” are always there. Prosperity, decent governance, and sound liberal institutions are generally enough to keep them at bay or, better yet, to cause them to lie dormant for long periods of time. But vigilance is necessary, even when times are good, because shocks to the system can and sometimes will draw them out.

The Great Recession was experienced as a severe shock by many, the most vulnerable among us taking the severest hits. Its cause, ultimately, was what Marx called “the laws of motion of capitalist society.” Three decades of neoliberal economic policies were a more immediate and more easily avoidable cause.

The Clintons, both of them, have much to answer for in that regard. Their support for liberal imperialist foreign policy initiatives helped roust the darker angels as well.

For her overall cluelessness and ineptitude, her role in the Obama administration’s continuing implementation of the Bush-Cheney Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, her regime change machinations in Libya, and her botched reactions to the Arab Spring in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere, Hillary is especially culpable.

Western support for politicized religious fanaticism in the Muslim world didn’t start with the Clintons. Blame Zbigniew Brzezinski for that, and Jimmy Carter for not reining him in. But the Clintons were not beyond adding their own two cents.

These were all factors of great importance for getting the refugee crisis in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa going. Hillary was less responsible for the refugee crisis along our southern border, but her support for the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, one of her first nefarious machinations as Secretary of State, didn’t help.

Refugee crises generate humanitarian crises – typically, of monumental proportions. They are also politically destabilizing. These latest examples have made xenophobic nationalism and rightwing populism a blot across the political landscape of the entire planet.

For this, of the two major candidates contending for the presidency in 2016, Clinton was by far the more culpable. It was she, not Trump himself, who made the onset of Trumpism in America and of similar phenomena in Europe and elsewhere all but inevitable.

This is why it would be ridiculously foolish for Democrats to nominate a Clintonite – a neoliberal, liberal imperialist, “moderate” – again.

Thanks to Trump’s increasingly manifest odiousness, even a moderate should be able to send him packing in November. But then insofar as she or he will go on to recreate the conditions that caused Trumpism to afflict us in the first place, we will only have bought time. The point is not just to defeat Trump, important as that surely is; it is also to vanquish Trumpism as definitively as can be, by setting the country on a different and better path.

***

Of all the demons that crawled out from under the rocks Trump overturned, anti-Semitism had been perhaps the most profoundly dormant. It remained a problem in central and eastern Europe, but in the United States and other Western countries, it had long been little more than a historical memory.

Then came Trump. He may not be good for much, but his foul embrace awakens the dead.

Under his aegis, suddenly, “Jews will not replace us” became a slogan some of “the good people on both sides” would rally around, hate crimes directed at Jews multiplied, and, in Pittsburgh, eleven people were killed and six more wounded at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill. In the United States, nothing anywhere near that lethal had ever happened to Jews before.

Latinos, regardless of citizenship status, were at risk in Trump’s America, except perhaps for those with lots of money. So too were Muslims and black and brown people generally. Jews, however, seemed as safe as the he whitest of the white.

Ironically, there was, or seemed to be, protection in the transparently spurious notion that Zionists have spent decades promoting — that opposition to the Zionist project and even to some of the egregious injustices Israel imposes on Palestinians, and to all but the most trivial misdeeds of Israeli governments, is anti-Semitic. Ironically, “Anti-Semitism,” still has a bad press in Western countries, even in anti-Semitic circles.

By “the Zionist project,” I mean the effort to establish a Jewish state – Benjamin Netanyahu calls it “the nation state of the Jewish people” — in all or most of mandate Palestine. A Jewish state could be secular or religious, but only Jews can enjoy full citizenship rights in it. For historical and political reasons, the situation is complicated and not always clear, but, in the end, “Jew,” in this context, has more of an ethnic than a theological connotation.

It is generally and rightly agreed that nations and ethnic groups are what Benedict Anderson called “imagined communities.” Because the Jews Zionists had in mind did not share a common land or language or culture, and because claims of common descent are, at best, tendentiously exaggerated – because the main or perhaps the only factor that joins the Jews of the world together is an historical connection to the Jewish religion — Jewish nationality or ethnicity is a good deal more imagined than most.

For a variety of historical and theological reasons, practitioners of the Jewish religion have occupied subaltern positions in both the Christian and Muslim worlds for as long as Christianity and Islam have been present on the world stage. For most of that period, roughly from the fifth and sixth centuries up to the time when the first secular, liberal societies arose in Western Europe and North America, Jews generally fared far better in the Muslim world than in Christendom.

Nevertheless, it was in modern secular Europe that anti-Semitism, hatred of “ethnic” Jews as such, as opposed to theologically driven anti-Judaism, emerged.

For more than half a century after the historic defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, it seemed that true anti-Semitism — as distinct from anti-Zionism, which, for obvious reasons, continued to appeal to subaltern Muslim populations around the world — had burned itself out. This was nowhere more true than in the United States.

Even Trump, it seemed, would not and probably could not undo that. That notions was more than just an idle hope; there were good reasons to think that Jews would remain immune from the afflictions Trump visited upon Muslims, Hispanics, and others.

For one, the hard-Right loves Israel precisely for its ethnocentrism, and because, for many years but especially after 9/11, Islamophobia had come to fill the role that anti-Semitism once played in their thinking.

Inasmuch as the neo-fascists of the twenty-first century are as inclined as mainstream Democrats – and their counterparts in the UK, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand — to buy into the pernicious and obviously false idea that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism, the hard Right’s Zionism functioned as a shield against the true anti-Semitism that had, for so long, been emblematic of rightwing politics in Europe and the Americas.

Christian Evangelicals comprise a very large segment of the Trump base, and they love Israel too; they think that its existence fulfills Biblical prophecies and that its role in the End Times is indispensable. Israel, in their view, is where world Jewry will be in-gathered before the Second Coming, when Jews will either accept Christ or be consigned to suffer the torments of Hell for all eternity.

It would be hard to deny that there is more than a whiff of real anti-Semitism in their madness. It is also hard to deny that it puts evangelicals and Hard Right anti-anti-Semites in the same camp.

And then, of course, there are the Jewish Zionist plutocrats, the Trump and Kushner families’ friends and soulmates, whose money Trump loves most of all.

None of these shields have been quite enough to rein in the demons Trump let loose. And so, real anti-Semitism has once again become a factor in American life.

As the likelihood of a Sanders victory in the contest to become the Democratic Party’s nominee, and the far greater likelihood, if he is the nominee, that he will send Trump packing, becomes increasingly clear to the Democratic Party’s grandees, donors, and media hacks, the anti-Sanders onslaught that is already underway will likely grow to monstrous proportions. The knives are even now being drawn.

Expect too to see a homegrown version of the anti-Corbyn smear campaign that defiled the last UK election, even though Sanders’ liberal Zionist views on Israel-Palestine are hardly as far-reaching or principled as Corbyn’s anti-imperialist take on this and all other comparably vexed situations.

It will be spearheaded by the mainstream Democratic Party and their media flunkies, even though Sanders’ views on Israel-Palestine and Corbyn’s hardly compare. Sanders is a liberal Zionist with a strong sense of justice, not an anti-imperialist. But this is about as good as it gets in American politics at the national level, and it is more than enough to rattle the cages of AIPAC and other core institutions of the Israel lobby. Aided and abetted by rightwing (“centrist”) Democrats, expect them to go after Bernie with all they’ve got.

Thus, he will be the target of a Pincer movement, besieged from both sides – by anti-Semites and pro-Zionists alike.

Zionist stalwarts will attack him for speaking out for justice for Palestinians, not just for Israeli Jews, calling Sanders a self-hating Jew, and his non-Jewish supporters “anti-Semites,” even as real anti-Semites, will crawl out into the open, spreading vileness wherever they go.

That vileness will multiply many times over, as the yahoos in the Trump base come to realize that the alternative to Sanders is another Jew, one who is richer than Croesus and who really does want to take their guns away.

Mayor Pete may be a feckless twit, but at least he doesn’t set those demons off.

And to think – the line on Bloomberg is that, if Joe can’t do it, as he plainly cannot, and if Pete and Amy falter, as they likely will, then the world needs Mike to restore equanimity to the political scene. Really? Through no fault of his own, but inexorably even so, equanimity is the last thing Bloomberg would restore in a political universe defiled by Trump and his cronies and set adrift.

A month or so from now, the choice will be even clearer than it already is: Democrats can move forward with Sanders or, if the moderates can’t do better than Bloomberg, backwards to a place where no one in their right mind would want to be.

The post Mayor Mike, Worse Than Mayor Pete appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

“Sublime Madness”: Anarchists, Psychiatric Survivors, Emma Goldman & Harriet Tubman

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

When the state becomes chillingly evil—enacting a Fugitive Slave Act to criminalize those helping to free slaves, or financing prisons and wars for the benefit of sociopathic profiteers—and when dissent is impotent and defiance is required, we need the sublimely mad. For his 2013 piece “A Time for ‘Sublime Madness’” (and his 2015 book Wages of Rebellion), Chris Hedges invokes William Shakespeare, William Faulkner, James Baldwin, James Cone, Black Elk, and Crazy Horse. Hedges cites Reinhold Niebuhr, who explained why “a sublime madness in the soul” is essential when the forces of repression are so powerful that liberal intellectualism results in capitulation.

I am personally familiar with two different groups whose members instinctively grasp the power of madness to both destroy and create, and these two groups appear to me so similar that when I speak to one, I try to acquaint them with the other.

I recently addressed one of these groups at the 10th Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair on December 14, 2019, organized by Humboldt Grassroots in the Arcata/Eureka area of Northern California. What was striking to me was how similar these anarchists attendees were in temperament and values to another group that I have greater personal familiarity with—self-identified “psychiatric survivor” activists who I’ve gotten to know at conferences organized by the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy, the National Empowerment Center, the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry, and MindFreedom.

Anarchists generally agree that externally imposed government and the state are illegitimate authorities; and psychiatric survivor activists generally agree that the externally imposed institution of psychiatry is an illegitimate authority. Both groups vehemently oppose coercion and hierarchy, and both passionately advocate for freedom of choice and mutual aid. Beyond these ideological agreements, my experience is that many members in each of these groups have not only achieved the sublime state of not giving a damn about convention and authorities but, at times, have acted on that sensibility.

Members of both groups have anger over oppression and injustices forced on them and their friends. Among the anarchist attendees at my last talk, some have been beaten by cops, interrogated by the FBI, and jailed. Among psychiatric survivors I’ve known, it is common to have had coerced “treatments” that include drugs, electroshock, and lengthy psychiatric hospitalizations forced on them against their wishes.

With both groups, I routinely talk about the anarchist Emma Goldman ((1869–1940), who lived a cinematic life that included international travel, public speaking fame, multiple imprisonments, and deportation; as she built an enviable resumé of enemies that included J. Edgar Hoover and Vladimir Lenin. At psychiatric survivor activist conferences, I routinely meet women who—though not self-identifying as anarchists—remind me of Goldman in terms of personality, grit, and intelligence; they, unlike Goldman, have been previously stigmatized with mental illness labels such as oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and bipolar disorder.

Given that Goldman, as a teenager and young woman, had the “symptoms” for all the above so-called “disorders,” anarchists and psychiatric survivors immediately recognize that in today’s world—rather than becoming the most famous anarchist woman in US history—she would likely have become a psychiatric patient (and then a survivor activist). Nowadays, many anti-authoritarian women, for their anger and rebellious behaviors—almost always far less violent than Emma’s—are labeled with various serious psychiatric disorders and heavily medicated. Similar to Goldman, their “symptoms” have often been fueled by the physical and emotional abuse of various authorities—experiences which taught them to distrust authorities.

Growing up in the Russian Empire, Emma’s father would regularly beat her and her siblings for disobeying him, and the rebellious Emma would get beaten the most. Emma’s interest in boys provoked rage in her father, and she recounted, “He pounded me with his fists, shouted that he would not tolerate a loose daughter,” but Emma disregarded him. School teachers also abused Emma. Her geography instructor sexually molested her, and Emma fought back and got him fired. A religious instructor beat the palms of students’ hands with a ruler; in response, Goldman recounted, “I used to organize schemes to annoy him: stick pins in his upholstered chair . . . anything I could think of to pay him back for the pain of this ruler. He knew I was the ringleader and he beat me the more for it.”

When Emma was 16, she desperately wanted to join her sister who had made plans to immigrate to the United States, but Emma’s father refused to allow her to do so. Emma threatened to throw herself into the Neva River and commit suicide—a ploy that today could well get a U.S. teenage girl not only a couple of the above diagnoses, but admission to a psychiatric hospital. Instead, her strategy worked.

Soon after arriving in the United States, Goldman became a passionate anarchist. As a young woman, Emma was not averse to violence. In her late teens, she threw a pitcher of water at the face of a woman who was happy with the 1887 execution of the Haymarket martyrs. In her early twenties in 1892, Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and his cousin planned an assassination of steel plant manager Henry Clay Frick during the steelworkers strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania. When Goldman’s anarchist mentor, Johann Most, condemned Berkman’s assassination attempt, Goldman used a horsewhip to publicly lash Most. In 1893, then 24, after a speech got her arrested for “inciting a riot,” the police offered to drop charges and pay her a “substantial sum of money” if she would become an informer, to which Goldman recounted, “I gulped down some ice-water from my glass and threw what was left into the detective’s face.”

While Goldman’s passionate radicalism never waned, her violent actions diminished and ultimately disappeared. Without any psychiatric “treatment” but rather through life experience, she gained wisdom that authoritarians relish violence to justify their authoritarianism.

A third group where one can find the sublimely mad is a group that I have had little personal familiarity with—the devoutly religious who have acquired fearlessness through a belief that they have God’s protection. There is no better example than Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) who, even more assuredly than Emma Goldman, would today be labeled with serious mental illness—at best, “organic psychosis” caused by temporal lobe epilepsy resulting from being struck in the head by a heavy object thrown by an overseer; or more likely, being an African American woman, “paranoid schizophrenia.”

Tubman “seemed wholly devoid of personal fear,” was the observation of William Still, an African American abolitionist who chronicled the Underground Railroad. Tubman often spoke about “consulting with God” and had complete confidence that God would keep her safe. Abolitionist Thomas Garrett reported that he “never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul.”

In today’s world, what would happen to an African American woman who announced that she heard God’s voice, spoke to God, and believed that she was her era’s Moses? What would happen if she camped outside an office in New York City asking for donations (as Tubman did outside the NYC anti-slavery office)? What would happen if she packed a revolver, claiming she needed it for both protection against slave catchers as well as to threaten those who she was rescuing if they tried to turn back? Given such “symptoms,” in today’s world, instead of having to be ever vigilant for slave catchers, she would have to be ever vigilant for psychiatrists—most of whom are clueless to the reality that when we experience extreme oppression, visions and voices may well be our only antidotes to psychological powerlessness.

In “A Time for ‘Sublime Madness,’” Hedges reports:

Niebuhr wrote that “nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’” This sublime madness, as Niebuhr understood, is dangerous, but it is vital. Without it, “truth is obscured.” And Niebuhr also knew that traditional liberalism was a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism, Niebuhr said, “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.”

Tubman was a brilliant strategist, as her sublime madness was a powerful fuel that provided her with courage but which did not subvert her astute judgement about the consequences of her actions. However, madness can be dangerously debilitating. While anger over injustice can be a useful fuel, humiliations that create rage and ego trips can subvert judgment, fueling a violence that is welcomed by authoritarians as justification for greater authoritarianism. There are many examples in U.S. history of madness that is not sublime at all.

In 1969, a group later called the Weather Underground splintered off from the nonviolent Students for a Democratic Society. The 2002 film documentary The Weather Underground portrays how their rage over the injustice of the Vietnam War along with powerlessness in stopping the war through peaceful means made them “crazy,” as acknowledged later by a former Weather Underground member. Their madness was not at all sublime, as they resorted to violence, including multiple bombings. The rage-impotency combination acted like a disinhibiting drug enabling moral and strategic justifications for violent actions that, as some former Weather Underground members ultimately acknowledged, did not later seem moral or strategic at all. The greatest beneficiaries of the Weather Underground violence were U.S. authoritarians, particularly Richard Nixon, as it provided him with ammunition for his “law-and-order” presidential re-election campaign and aided his 1972 landslide victory.

We human beings have the capacity for denial and cowardice, and we also have the capacity for madness, both sublime and dangerous. If we are unashamed of the totality of our humanity, we can dialogue with the passionately mad. My experience is that when our madness is loved, we are better able to discern between sublime and dangerous madness.

To be clear, I don’t romanticize madness, but without sublime madness, there is no Harriet Tubman crazy enough to return some thirteen times to slave territory to free more slaves. Without sublime madness, we will accept the reality that capital trumps life, and we will go extinct.

The post “Sublime Madness”: Anarchists, Psychiatric Survivors, Emma Goldman & Harriet Tubman appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Roaming Charges: Leader of the Pack

Arctic Wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+It’s amusing as hell to see Nate Silver forced to eat his numbers and grudgingly declare Bernie the frontrunner. But if you’re a Sandernista you have to wrestle with the fact that it’s February and Nate Silver, one of the few people on the planet who has been wrong about more things than Bill Kristol, just said your guy’s the frontrunner.

+ The former Supremo of Goldman Sachs was handling the prospect of a Sanders presidency very well. This just in from the person who made billions off of ruining the American economy and looting the homeless, wounded and dying.

+ Here’s the MSDNC crew “discussing” whether or not the Sanders movement resembles Nazi brownshirts. This is after Matthews screaming about how Fidel & Che would have executive people in Central Park…

This is disgusting. Chuck Todd just called Bernie supporters his “brown shirt brigade.” Bernie Sanders’ family members were murdered in the Holocaust. @chucktodd must apologize immediately. pic.twitter.com/2HSWfEqcjd

— 29 U.S.C. § 157 (@OrganizingPower) February 10, 2020

+ Yet, according to a Washington Post exit poll: 6-in-10 New Hampshire Democratic primary voters support eliminating all private health insurance in favor of a single-payer plan for everyone. 57 percent agreed with that position in Iowa, too.

+ In 2016, Sanders crushed HRC in New Hampshire, winning 60.1% to Clinton’s 37.7%. In what may be warning sign for what’s to come, four years later the so-called progressive bloc was only able to muster 43% of the vote combined.

+ Percentage of the popular vote in New Hampshire…

Sanders + Warren + Gabbard + Steyer = 43%
PeteBot + Klobocop + Biden = 52%

I’m confounded about where to pin Yang’s three percent on the ideological spectrum. He’s essentially a technocrat, like PeteBot, with some quirky socialistic ideas, like the Universal Basic Income.

+ Despite the hoopla and hysterics, the primary turned out to be pretty much of a wash. Delegates won in New Hampshire…

Sanders 9
PeteBot 9
Klobocop 6

+ I’ll leave it to hardcore Sandernistas to explain how beating PeteBot by 2% points is a more decisive victory than crushing HRC by 23% 4 years ago. I take solace in seeing just how deeply HRC was despised by those who knew her best–white NH liberals. Her loss to Trump was foretold in the Democratic primaries…

+ Has anyone spoken less inspirationally about how inspired he is than PeteBot?

+ Listening to Petebot is like hearing an Obama speech read by a beta version of Siri….

+ Joe Biden has never finished higher than 4th in any primary or caucus in 32 years of running for president.

+ The most Buttigieg thing of the day: “James Mueller ran for mayor to ‘Keep South Bend Moving Forward’; touted work of friend & boss, Pete Buttigieg. Was hand-picked successor. But endorse in presidential race? Not sure, Mueller says; wants fresh start, and ‘number of great candidates’ running…”

+ From Pete Seeger to PeteBot, the arc of the American left…

+ During Stop-and-Frisk’s peak in 2011, nearly 90 percent of those stopped were black and Latino, and nearly 90 percent were innocent, according to date from the ACLU of New York.

+ Stop and Frisk stats over the course of Mike Bloomberg’s 12 years as NYC mayor:

2002: 97,296
2003: 160,851
2004: 313,523
2005: 352,348
2006: 506,491
2007: 472,096
2008: 540,302
2009: 581,168
2010: 601,285
2011: 685,724
2012: 532,911
2013: 191,851

+ Watching Mayor Stop-and-Frisk be forced to interact with the angry plebes will be one of the true pleasures of this otherwise dreary campaign season…

+ Michael Bloomberg’s guide to success: “Make sure you’re the first one in there every day and the last one to leave. Don’t ever take a lunch break or go to the bathroom. You keep working.” And, kids, don’t forget to BYOC (Bring Your Own Catheter) to work!

+ Michael Bloomberg, the people’s mayor…the people who own Manhattan, that is: “Bloomberg wanted to fingerprint more than 600,000 NYC public housing residents to make them prove they really lived there.”

+ As recently as 2018, Bloomberg, who continues to oppose minimum wage laws, defended his policy of fingerprinting welfare and food stamp recipients. By 2012, New York City was one of only two places to fingerprint food-stamp applicants.

+ Bloomberg says he doesn’t regret backing Iraq war: “I think the people that made the mistake did it honestly.” Just an honest mistake, that they keep making over and over again….Bloomberg/Rumsfeld 2020!

+ MSDNC’s Joy Reid making the case for Bloomberg: “If you wanna beat a Republican you have to know how to fight like a Republican. And he IS a Republican.”

+ The late, great Wayne Barrett, who exposed Trump as a malignant fraud, gave the same merciless dissection of Bloomberg in this piece in The Village Voice, published a few weeks before he became mayor of NYC…

+ I wish I could have gotten away this in High School algebra and calculus classes…“The incorrect math on the Caucus Math Worksheets must not be changed to ensure the integrity of the process,” wrote the Iowa Democratic Party’s lawyer, Shayla McCormally, to its central committee members. McCormally said correcting the math would introduce “personal opinion” into the official record of results.

+ South Carolina Democratic Joe Cunningham warned Bernie Sanders to stay out of his state, saying “South Carolina doesn’t want socialism!” Maybe Sanders can “reframe” his message in SC to “Socialism … If You Want It” and see how many takers there are. Quite a few more than Rep. Cunningham (D) suspects, I’d wager.

+ Klobocop: “We must have Order at the Border!”

Here's Amy Klobuchar in 2006 talking taking a hardline stance on immigration, supporting a border fence and even criticizing the Bush administration for not cracking down on companies hiring illegal immigrants.

"We need to get order at the border." pic.twitter.com/bJcsfCQlON

— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) February 12, 2020

+ In 1964, the Democrats got 61.1 percent of the presidential popular vote. In ’68, its support fell to 42.7 percent. By ’72, the Democratic vote shrank to a mere 37.5 percent. What drove the collapse? The war, the assassinations, Nixon’s Southern Strategy & the DNC’s sabotage of the McGovern campaign. Are we about to see history repeat itself, again?

+ Arun Gupta: “An organizer for a large union told me recently they asked their manager why they union didn’t support M4A, and the manager said, ‘What else could we offer the workers?’ Most unions see no role beyond being a health insurance provider.”

+ In 2016, Rep. Chris Stewart, the Republican from Utah, compared Trump to Mussolini. Now he wants a gig with the secret police

+ It’s pretty clear after the unceremonious ouster of Col. Alexander Vindman and his twin brother from the White House that the only “men in uniform” Trump has any respect for are the ones who dress up on Saturday mornings to re-enact the Second Battle of Manassas…

+ There are few real heroes in Congress. Betty McCollum, who just put out a statement
that refers to AIPAC as a “hate group,” is one of them. Her comments come just days after AIPAC pulled ads that targeted pro-Palestine lawmakers and implied they were worse than the terrorist group ISIS.

+ Some countries not only meddle in US domestic politics but are openly celebrated for doing so…

+ US Air Force suicides rose to their highest level in 30 years in 2019…a grim consequence of three decades of wars that start but don’t end.

+ US is the supplier for 79% of the world’s weapons trade, 4 times more than the next 9 countries combined…

+ Lou Dobbs should host SNL…

Lou Dobbs attacks Bill Barr, suggests he's part of the "deep state," calls the Justice Department "rancid, corrupt" pic.twitter.com/PzjnieGrlK

— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) February 14, 2020

+ Our latest Medal of Freedom winner is back at work, ridiculing Mayor Pete: “Gay guy, 37 years old, loves kissing his husband on debate stages. Can you see Trump have fun with that?..they’re saying, OK, how’s this going to look, 37-year-old gay guy kissing his husband on stage next to Mr. Man Donald Trump?”

+ From Public Citizen’s analysis of Trump’s budget cuts

Medicare, Medicaid & Social Security: $1,000,000,000,000+

SNAP: $182,000,000,000

K-12 education: $85,000,000,000

Section 8 rental assistance: $79,000,000,000

NIH funding: $77,000,000,000

26% cut to EPA

Eliminates HUD affordable housing program

$ 1.4  trillion in new tax cuts

+ Why payday usury outlets are one of the US’s only growth industries…One in three Americans run out of money before their next paycheck, including people who make more than $100,000 per year.

+ US households more indebted than ever (over $14 trillion).

+ Job openings are down by more than 1 million from last December…

+ A county in Kansas is jailing over unpaid medical debt:  “You wouldn’t think you’d go to jail over medical bills”.

+ Bong Joon Ho pretty much sums up our predicament…

+ Bloomberg (Net worth $60 billion): “No program to reduce the deficit makes any sense whatsoever unless you address the issue of entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, interest payment on the debt…and defense spending. Everything else is tiny compared to that.”

+ PeteBot, deficit hawk: “The time has come for my party to get a lot more comfortable owning this issue… It’s not fashionable in progressive circles to talk too much about the debt.”

+ Trump used his State of the Union to award a scholarship to black 4th grader  to get out of a “failing government school”. But it turns out she wasn’t in one

+ Biden: “You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier.” The most revealing part of this episode is that Biden not only watches John Wayne movies but knows them well enough that he can misquote (or even make up) slurs from them…

Joe Biden to New Hampshire voter asking about why he lost in Iowa “you’re a lying dog-faced pony solider” pic.twitter.com/H7F6zwjLkL

— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) February 9, 2020

+ The slur, which Biden has invoked several times on the campaign trail, seems to be a misquote from a Tyrone Power movie called “Pony Soldier“…

+ Wally Shawn: “If we look at reality for more than an instant, if we look at the human beings passing us on the street, it’s not bearable. It’s not bearable to watch while the talents and the abilities of infants and children are crushed and destroyed.”

+ The police chief in Egypt, Arkansas forged his high school diploma and training certificate, then arrested the man who expose the fraud, charging him with “harassment.” The chief resigned, but the prosecutor who pushed the bogus charges remains on the job.

+ Trump wants summary executions for drug dealers: “Countries with a powerful death penalty, with a fair but quick trial, they have very little if any drug problem. That includes China.”

+ How bad will the Covid-19 outbreak get? A leading epidemiologist has claimed it could infect 60% of the world’s population. It seems to be more contagious than 2009 swine flu, which it is estimated infected 24% of the world’s population.

+ On February 10, the Mauna Loa observatory detected the highest level of atmospheric carbon dioxide ever recorded…

+ Texas is No. 1…in billion-dollar climate and weather disasters since 1980.

+ Eve Ottenberg: “This week a Malta-sized iceberg broke off Antarctica and floated away; temperatures there hit 65 degrees. Australia burned for months. The oceans have absorbed anthropogenic warming equivalent to the heat from over 3.6 billion Hiroshima-sized bombs. We humans better fix this.”

+ In a leaked audio from a meeting held by Robert Rice, a former consultant for the Dakota Access Pipeline security company TigerSwan, he suggests locals start an org called Moms Against Violent Activists.

Who could fund it?

“Cough – oil – cough,” Rice replies.

+ Here’s film of DHS contractors blasting holes into sacred land, near an Apache burial site, on Monument Hill in Organ Pipe National Monument. Where’s Earth First! when you need them?

Footage of @DHSgov contractors blast hole drilling into Monument Hill to pack explosives. This is a sacred site to multiple tribes and is a Native American burial site in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. How is blasting cultural sites not a crime? pic.twitter.com/4w6eWGzwhS

— Russ McSpadden (@PeccaryNotPig) February 12, 2020

+ They’re our ancestors,” said Ned Norris Jr., tribal chair of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “They’re our remnants of who we are as a people, throughout this whole area. And it’s our obligation, it’s our duty to do what is necessary to protect that.”

+ Trump wants to create a “uranium reserve,” where the feds would spend $150 million a year for the next 10 years to buy “domestically” mined uranium, most of it from Utah, where they still haven’t “cleaned up” the uranium tailings pile outside of Moab left behind from the last “uranium boom.” The cost of the cleanup for Moab alone:  a cool (or I guess HOT) billion dollars.

+ Meanwhile, Trump is drastically slashing funding for the cleanup of the world’s most toxic site, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation…

+ The temperature in Antarctica rose above 20C (68F) for first time on record this week. The Brazilian scientists, who registered the new high of 20.75C on Seymour Island, describe warming as “incredible and abnormal”.

+ s climate change makes cities warmer, low-income neighborhoods of color can be up to 13°F hotter than their wealthier, whiter counterparts.

+ Car-devouring rats are doing more to fight climate change than the past four presidential administrations and the World Wildlife Fund combined…

+ An attorney for a BLM whistleblower in Nevada says, “the laws of the United States are being disregarded for the professional expediency of his superiors and the benefit of private parties, and that a culture of lawlessness has been engendered.”

+ Now the “green consumer” icons are talking about sustainable “harvesting” of gold and diamonds. How long will it take for them to grow back, Jane?

+ Maybe they harvest it from the teeth of the dead (vegans only). There’s always a fresh supply…

+ In Bismarck, ND, oil & gas workers threatened to vandalize a local bakery if landlord went ahead with plans for a Greta Thunberg mural on the builldingg.

+ My friend Nicky Smith, who writes about film for Splice, has found that Fassbinder’s incredible 1978 film In a Year of 13 Moons is now up on Youtube, though who knows for how long. You should stop what you’re doing and watch it before the censors strip it off. As someone who’d rush around DC & NYC watching 2 or 3 films a day on Fri, Sat & Suns in the late 70s, I gradually lost interest in “cinema” after Fassbinder died. Few films (or film-makers) have seemed as fresh, as provoking, as confounding, as feverish, as alive, as relevant since….

+ I know it’s uncouth to say so, but is any filmmaker more emblematic of the infantilization of high-brow American culture than Wes Anderson, the man who drained all of the toxic sting from Stefan Zweig and replaced it with a depoliticized dollhouse of twee jokes & personal fetishes?

+ Watching the excellent Netflix documentary Who Killed Malcolm X, I was struck by this statement by Malcolm about Elijah Muhammad and it elicited certain resonances with the current predicament of our nation in the hands of a man, who at the time Malcolm spoke these words was living not all that far away from him in Queens: “It [the Nation] has gotten into the possession of a man who’s become senile in his old age and perhaps doesn’t realize it. And then he has surrounded himself by his children, who are now in power and want nothing but luxury and will do anything to safeguard their own interests.”

+ As the Malcolm X documentary demonstrates once again, William Kunstler was the real “Perry Mason” of the American defense bar. How many “liberal” defense lawyers would have had the guts to represent one of the admitted conspirators in the assassination of Malcom X and in doing so discover the innocence of two wrongfully convicted men, the identity of the other killers and the complicity of the NYPD and FBI?

+ How convenient for Cory Booker that he ended his sputtering presidential bid before it was revealed that he knew the probable assassin of Malcolm X and featured him in a TV ad for his re-election campaign as mayor of Newark…

+ Here’s the image of Malcolm X’s probable assassin, William Bradley, shaking hands with a cop in a Cory Booker reelection campaign ad, where Booker brags about how he added 300 police to the streets of Newark…

Still from Who Killed Malcolm X? (Netflix)

+ Jimmy Cobb is one of the greatest drummers who ever lived. He kept the time on one of the greatest recordings ever made, Kind of Blue, for which he was paid a total of $66. Now he has to crowdsource his medical expenses…American shame.

+ I had blast on Monday night at the Doug Fir lounge on Portland’s newly swankified near eastside watching our friends in Luna play their trenchant album Penthouse (the “Deluxe” version, including a killer cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s Bonnie and Clyde). Here are a few pix of Dean, Sean, Britta and Lee at work and play…

+ Was James Brown murdered?

+ Trump koan of the week: “A lot of people think that it [coronavirus] goes away in April with the heat. As the heat comes in. Typically that will go away in April. We’re in great shape, though.”

Working All Day and the Sun Don’t Shine…

Booked Up
What I’m reading to this week…

Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump and an Epic Trail of Destruction
David Enrich
(Custom House)

Why You Should be a Socialist
Nathan J. Robinson
(All Points Books)

Erosion: Essays of Undoing
Terry Tempest Williams
(Sarah Crichton Books)


Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Texas Sun
Leon Bridges & Khruangbin
(Dead Oceans)

We’re New Again: a Reimagining
Makaya McCraven / Gil Scott-Heron
(XL)

Never Not Together
Nada Surf
(Barsuk)

Of Butchers and Grocers

“There may be a logical or historical reason why mid-Victorian English butchers should have been predominantly Conservative (a link with agriculture?) and grocers overwhelmingly Liberal (a link with overseas trade?), but none has been established, and perhaps what needs explaining is not this, but why these two omnipresent types of shopkeeper refused to share the same opinions, whatever they were.” (Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital)

 

The post Roaming Charges: Leader of the Pack appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Doomsday Cuckoo Clock

Photograph Source: Robin Davies – CC BY 2.0

Even when he’s losing, Donald Trump wins (and bigly!) every time. His secret? He knows how to tap into our nihilism with the same technique he used to milk investors of his real estate schemes. If greed is the stated ideology of capitalism, then nihilism is its less overt philosophical underpinning. A system of mass murder will eventually turn its blood lust inward, having expended itself in the endless pursuit of prey. Unlike his more technocratic cohorts across the aisle, Trump has the charisma to turn a collective death wish into a raucous, bloody spectator sport. No gradual march off the proverbial cliff, but a gleeful nosedive into the abyss. His high rise mausoleums across a mostly submerged Manhattan skyline will someday stand testament to yet another victory.

The dream that a slain civil rights leader had in 1963 was supplanted in 2001 by the radical vision of his assassins. Inequality and unchecked state power are its underlying doctrine, and privatization the means of transitioning from a nation state into a “borderless” National Security apparatus. The undead architects of the national nightmare wasted no time dismantling the institutional frameworks of Dr King’s legacy, replacing them with a televised spectacle. Donald Trump rose from the ashes of the World Trade Center like a Macy’s parade balloon, an airborne disease headed for the White House, guided by the same forces that launch Republican airstrikes and Democrat drones. It’s there he serves as an exalted ribbon cutter at the epicenter of a nation-wide Ground Zero.

Today, he functions as the explosive device that our overlords implanted into the electoral system to ensure the destruction of its last remaining democratic relics. For proof, look no further than Bernie Sanders at the Iowa Caucus. Once again, deliberate fiasco as a well-honed political tool wielded by the popular candidate’s own party to secure defeat in November. This deliberate strategy of failure is a win/win for future DNC fundraising efforts. Why cure cancer when you can rake in the cash by pretending that you are trying to eradicate it? Why bother, in fact, adhere to any democratic principals when you can gerrymander an outcome with a calculator that does the alternative math?

We grow to accept these assaults on our reasoning, eventually normalizing all the atrocities of the ruling class. We justify them, often cynically, as the price we have to pay for gas. No use pondering those “charred Panda bears in Austria” while you are filling up the tank. Now that reasoning has been supplanted by “intelligence” and knowledge replaced with information, our time here on earth is done. The Slumlord-in-Chief has served us all an eviction notice to make way for a retail/prison/casino complex, manned by automatons equipped with surveillance cameras seeking out faces in a void, and recording devices picking up only static.

Trump is the last human stand against continuing life on the planet. What he can’t singlehandedly rubbish and burn with the sheer force of his Trumpness, the autonomous systems in place to print money and wage endless war will ensure its eventual destruction. Capitalism makes it impossible to imagine an alternative to a kleptocracy on autopilot. Our neoliberal overlords have seen to that by installing us into their networks and making us all data providers for its expanding matrix.

There is no Trump, only Trumpness; a dense, sulfurous fog that hangs over the earth and eats at our sanity like it was a bowl of pretzels to snack on during Super Bowl. He is capitalism as it gnaws at its own flesh, having devoured everything external to it. His tweets are the cuckoo sounds of the Doomsday clock striking midnight at every hour. Trumpness itself is the unmentionable gas released from the corpse of Empire. Its colored contours no longer a map but a blinking grid that traces a transnational supply route through melted ice caps encircled by war ships. The world is his plague ground.

Freedom, he understands, is being unshackled from life itself. It takes a scorched earth policy at home to maintain his own pristine Astroturf lawns and golf courses around the world. What bombs can’t obliterate, the weather can. He is the match lit under it, ignited by the arsonists tools of the bipartisan establishment that launched him into the White House.

With the sheer force of his Trumpness, he raises global temperatures and sea levels, rallies Wall Street and hurricanes with the same oafish glee that he conducts a Super Bowl national anthem. He maintains the chaos necessary for new markets to emerge from the ashes and rubble of soon-to-be-buried continents.

This is his swamp, and these are his people, the buried millions beneath a morass of debt, addiction and the sort of despair that unleashes Armageddon while keeping the pitchforks aimed squarely at themselves. His acolytes see their own doom as deliverance outside the fixed parameters of a predatory state, and into a rapturous realm fortified against it with a physical wall, separating themselves from others like them. This enclosure fence isn’t high enough yet to contain their rage, but ‘smart’ enough to electronically harvest it.

Meanwhile, his ‘real’ people are raising their champagne flutes at their annual gathering of inter-terrestrial replicants known colloquially as the National Prayer Breakfast. Here they praise the infernal engines of growth and capital, exhorting the now exhausted Beast Machine to continue belching out its blessings to the class that created it in their own image.

Elites on the other side of the aisle seek refuge within the State apparatus that serves and protects their class against internal threats to its own survival, upholding these spook agencies and military brass as protective barriers against Trump and the fungal spread of Trumpness into their yachts and vineyards. They conspire in their wine caves – not against Trump but against the only candidate in their own party who can unseat him. With the same bug-ridden app they used to plug a failed Venezuelan coup leader into their “backyard” power grid, they reverse the process to disconnect the Sanders’ campaign from the DNC, and impose a nation wide blackout on its media coverage.

Trump has sown the seeds of our own self-destruction whether we vote for him or don’t vote for him. For the first time in his life, his business is succeeding – the business of harvesting outrage, the single most valuable currency of the oligarchy – and spinning it into the kind of confusion that allows a blood-spattered perpetrator with a smoking gun in her hand to stand over a crime scene and declare herself “above suspicion”. We applaud as she tears up the arrest warrant. We celebrate each pre-determined outcome in political productions staged every four years by masked plutocrats.

In this particular one, understudy Pete Buttigieg enters stage right as the finale approaches. He serves as its Deus ex Machina – literally a God from a machine – reimposing the neoliberal order to the chaos engendered by the ham lead playing the tyrant. The curtain comes down, and the players take center stage. The ham takes a bow, and the curtain delineating the spectacle from the crowd once again descends, this time forever.

The post The Doomsday Cuckoo Clock appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Things Said in Confidence to 4000 Close Friends This Week

A medical issue on the [L] tracks” (I’m guessing someone collided with a front-car) kicked me and others off the CTA Red Line. A toothless old white woman who spoke like a poor Black woman cursed out loud for one minute straight to the disgust of most. I admired her fire and creativity.

I ended up walking through the Near North Side and the Rush Street area, where masses of well-dressed white folks out for dinner and drinks reminded me that many live comfortably under authoritarian regimes. I tried to count how many waiters, waitresses, bartenders, hostesses, bellhops, busboys. and valets (invisible people) I saw for four blocks. There were beggars on every corner, old Black men wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags.

I stopped on the Clark Street bridge across the river where 800-plus died on the capsized SS Eastland in 1915. With a full moon camped out between clouds somewhere over the lake, the city’s giant Merchandise Mart shone red. Imperial towers of capital gleamed against the darkening sky. “Decorative” colored urban structure-lighting gives the city a strangely dystopian glow.

Below the river, on State Street, there were more beggars and many fewer happy Caucasian bourgeois (real or wannabe). It reminded me of the old nighttime Loop, avoided by white folks who weren’t cops or Streets and Sanitation workers. I walked past packs of smiling young Black Men speaking loudly in the name of “The Twelve Tribes of Israel.” Six white cops. jumped out of their blue and white SUVs and bore down on two large young Black men dressed in flannel coats in front of a drugstore. An old Black officer was screaming at the pair, as if they were his special responsibility. As far I could tell the young men’s’ “crime” was loitering (it takes three to trigger the gang ordinance).

A middle-aged couple speaking Polish came out of a health club with cleaning equipment. I thought briefly of Richard Wright and Nelson Algren. I love Chicago almost as much as I hate it.

Monday, February 10th

Bernie Sanders’ Call for Mass Executions

+ World-class Jackass Chris Matthews has got to go. Thanks to Ted Sirota for altering me to this write-up on an insane rant from the ever more unhinged Ted Baxter of MSDNC: Peter Wade, Rolling Stone, “Chris Matthews Connects a Bernie Sanders Win with Public Executions.”

“The Most Dangerous Criminal in History”

+ Thousands of white-Amerikaner Christians have made a pilgrimage to cheer the neofascistic and ecocidal Antichrist Donald Trump as he smites the supposedly “Radical Left” Democrats in New Hampshire tonight. Antichrist’s Handiwork. The W76-2: “Trump’s New Nuclear Weapon Has Been Deplored,” Defense News.

+ From a recent Noam Chomsky interview:

“Are the [UkraineGate] crimes discussed a basis for impeachment. Seems so to me. Has Trump vastly more serious crimes? That is hardly debatable. What might be debatable is whether he is indeed the most dangerous criminal in history (which happens to be my personal view). Hitler had been perhaps the leading candidate for this honor. His goal was to rid the German-run world of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other ‘deviants,’ along with tens of millions of Slav ‘Untermenschen.’ But Hitler was not dedicated with fervor to destroying the prospects of organized human life on Earth in the not-distant future (along with millions of other species). Trump is.”

True dat.

Bannon, Bernie, and Bloomberg

+ FOX News had global fascist organizer and grinning bastard Steve Bannon on saying that the Dems are screwing Sanders, that he “likes Bernie,” and that Bernie supporters need to come over to the “populist” Trump. Someone who never samples the rightmost cable network might be surprised at how much of that sort of talk one hears there.

+ Demented Orange would love to run against Bloomberg and go again and again with “the Bernie got screwed” theme to keep Dem turnout down. Imagine seriously progressive anti-“billionaire class” Bernie supporters trying to vote for billionaire Bloomberg.

+ I firmly believe that Bloomberg would be sexually assaulted by Demented Orange within the first 5 minutes of his first debate with Donald Trump. He would never recover as the nationally televised piss tape went viral. Millions of anti-Semitic Trumpenvolk will praise the president’s stream and then make and post piss tapes of their own, eating American beets to color their urine orange.

+ The media is asking if Bloomberg is really an “oligarch” like Nina Turner said he was. A related question: do bears defecate in forests?

Where the Real Crime Is

+ No, Mini-Mike Bloomberg, you transparent racist police-statist arch-plutocratic oligarch, the real crime is in the corporate suites of the billionaire class.

“Dog-Faced Pony Soldiers”

+ The MSDNC game is clear: admit that Sanders will win New Hampshire but set it up to look like a loss if he doesn’t win by like 20 points.

+ Cone Pop done lost his shit for real: Joe “Never Called me Boy” Biden called a young woman in New Hampshire “a lying, dog-faced pony-soldier.” Get this man to a care facility. He’s been showing numerous signs of dementia, including a loss of impulse control, verbal and otherwise, for quite a while.

“Pragmatic Solutions”

+ I feel a twinge of flashback nausea every time I hear Barack von Obamenburg’s clipped neoliberal voice say “pragmatic solutions” in the ads Bloomberg is flooding Chicago with. Obama’s “pragmatic” approach was to give the rich what they wanted, bail out capital but not the working-class, expand oil and gas production, exonerate torturers and other perpetrators of crimes against humanity, blow-up Libya and North Africa, deport 3 million people, betray the labor movement, betray Black America, roll-back social programs, punish whistle-blowers, set new drone-kill and targeted assassination records, crush Occupy, expand surveillance and… the list goes on. Bloomberg is wrapping himself in the flag of emperor Obama, who opened the door for the neofascist Trump and then ran off to collect millions from the ruling-class he so obediently served.

Like a Pig in Shit

+ Where Amerika is now: “Don Jr. Calls Sen. Mitt Romney a ‘Pussy’ for Announcing Vote to Convict Trump.” The asshole son of the world’s biggest asshole posted a creepy picture of Romney in “Mom Jeans.”

+F[ascist]OX News/Trump TV is saying that the Dear Leader is getting rid of 70 “Obama holdovers” at the NSC. Will there be purge trials?

+ After all their high-decibel bitching about Sanders not being “a real Democrat,” a nasty mess of centrist Dems are ready to go with a Republican oligarch – the racist mega-billionaire Mike Bloomberg – as their candidate! If you like absurdity, U.S. presidential politics will make you feel like a pig in shit.

Tuesday, February 11th (New Hampshire Primary Day_

Thrills Up the Leg and Other Nonsense

+ MSDNC’s Stephanie Class-Ruhle and Lawrence O’Donnell got thrills up their legs listening to Kevin Costner childishly fail to explain his love for Alfred E. Wine Cave (AEOC).

+ Trump apparently claimed that New Hampshire Democrats brought in busloads of illegal voters from Radical Left Massachusetts in 2016.

+ Black voters are starting to poll more and more for Michael Stop&Frisk Bloomberg, who opposed the settlement paid to the Central Park Five.

+ “Liberal” talking heads are explaining that “far left” Sanders will really have lost in New Hampshire unless he wins it by 20 points or more.

In Other News

+ In other news, 700,000 needy Americans are being kicked off Food Stamps, the vicious Nativist-classist “public charge” (wealth-test) rule will adversely affect 4 million immigrants, Trump is rolling back regulations that protect children against mercury poisoning, Trump has slashed funding and programs for disease control prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, Trump is destroying nuclear arms control, and Trump has just deployed a deadly new “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapon in U.S. submarines.

+ For those of you who care about the problem of human self-extinction, gossip columnists are citing NASA data showing that Antarctica’s massive Thwaites Glacier is melting faster than anyone knew thanks to warming undercurrents unmentionably heated by global capitalism and

+ Trump told the Masters of the Universe in Davos not to be “alarmist” about little old climate change.

Antichrist, to Block Socialism

+ Asked why he has aligned himself with the neofascist child-caging bully and ecocidal racist-sexist monster Donald Trump on CNN last night, New Hampshire’s mild-mannered Governor Chris Sununu explained that the Democratic Party is advancing “socialism “and that “socialism is very scary to the good people of New Hampshire.”

+ Sununu didn’t like it when Trump called New Hampshire a drug-infested shithole but he understood that Antichrist Trump was really worked up about the opioid epidemic and that Trumpism-fascism is necessary to keep the specter of socialism at bay. “He might the Antichrist but he’s our Antichrist,” Sununu said.

The Worst Americans

+ The worst Americans to me are the often professional-class white fake-“liberals” who don’t have the elementary common decency to back something as basically human and decent as Medicare for All and who vote for arrogant centrist neoliberal-imperialist assholes like Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. I loathe these folks more than I loathe the Trumpenvolk — and that’s saying a lot. If the moderately social-democratish neo-New Deal progressive Bernie Sanders is “too far left” for you, then you are truly dead to me, so to speak.

+ Alfred E. Wine Cave (AEWC), the neoliberal son of a leading Gramsci scholar, is certainly channeling the great Italian Marxist in an inverted way, running on bourgeois hegemony by calling Sanders “too radical” for America

+ Mayo Pete’s Marxian dad translated The Prison Notebooks and apparently was a good friend of the great Left spiritual and political leader Cornel West.

+ Like Obama (with whom Brother West tangled), Buttigieg has a hidden Marxian understanding of the sick bourgeois and neoliberal game he’s playing. I know for a fact (from my Chicago Urban League days – 2000-2005) that Obama liked to joke knowingly among confidants about where he fit in the great games of class and imperial rule. He laughed all the way to the bank. Obama wasn’t stupid; he was evil. Same with Pete.

+ I’ll take AOC over AEWC any day.

+ I remember doorstep conversations in 2007 with University of Iowa liberal academics who were not bamboozled one bit by Obama’s nasty neoliberal fake-progressivism. They saw it clearly and loved it. He was one of them, they thought.

+ I have a special loathing for people like that.

+ From a smart left Sanders door-knocker in Iowa: “I met one of these types you describe while canvassing in Dubuque. She would not support Sanders (or Warren), given that they advocated free tuition, which would put the private college she’s faculty at, at a disadvantage. Had to appreciate her candor. Most would be too ashamed to air that view.”

+ I guess the Dubuque professor is not too impressed with Sanders’ slogan “Not me. Us.”

Dead Joe Walking

+ By early reports, Joe “Record Players for the Poor” Biden is a Dead Man Walking in New Hampshire. “Lunch Bucket Joe” got 5% in blue-collar Dover. Single-digit Corn Pop has already fled for South Carolina. Maybe he’ll get surpassed in New Hampshire by regime-change war opponent Tulsi Gabbard.

+ Professor Elizabeth “Capitalist in my Bones” Warren continues to surprise by not doing better with a claim that she alone could unite the fractured Dems. She’s in single digits in her neighbor state New Hampshire. If Sen. Warren was actually a “left”-leaning “progressive” she would step down and endorse Sanders. She isn’t and she won’t.

+ An old white New Hampshire lady told an arrogant MSNBC talking head that’s MSNBC’s “cynical” reporting on Sanders motivated her at the last minute to vote for Sanders!

+ MSDNC is running wild with Amy K. exit polls.

+ My guess is that the bourgeois panic shifts its Stop Sanders hopes to Bloomberg. And of course pro-big business super-delegates are waiting to do their capitalist work at the DNC[onvention] if necessary/possible.

+ Strangest electoral story I’ve heard tonight: “Tom Steyer is moving up with Black voters in South Carolina.”

Beyond the Rule of Law Some More: A Bigger Deal Than Bernie Edging Pete

+ Cable news keeps running b-roll of Roger Stone in a wild white suit and his doting weirdo of a bouncy wife. Nixonian thug Stone will probably be pardoned by the Midtown Mussolini.

+ Rachel Maddow is awkwardly trying to break in on the New Hampshire election news with the story of Trump taking new steps in assaulting the rule of law. “That whole thing,” a learned friend writes me, “may be a bigger deal than Bernie edging Mayo Pete. Filled with all sorts of ugly implications.”

+ The demented fascist oligarch and his sick puppy AG are using the New Hampshire primary as cover to pull an openly perverse assault on what’s left of the rule of law.

+ Trump’s fat and frumpy Roy Cohn William Barr is on board with Trump’s twitter tampering with the sentencing of Stone. DOJ prosecutors are resigning in protest!

+ “I just saw those silly Democrats are calling on Barr to resign,” Terry Thomas writes. “and they are demanding documents related to this most recent outrage. I doubt Barr will resign, and I doubt they will get documents. These guys have to come up with a new response to their ritual humiliations.”

+ Also in the category of “politicizing Justice,” Attorney Trump Counsel General Barr is considering mob lawyer Giuliani’s investigation of Hunter, Corn Pop, and Burisma.

+ Did anyone else notice that Demented Orange paired “drug addicts” – yes, drug addicts, not drug-dealers – alongside “murderers” in his complaint that DOJ prosecutors were trying to over-sentence his syndicate underling Roger Stone? How Duterte of the Donald.

+ The constitutional transition to fascism will be televised, drip by accelerating drip.

Stop Sanders, ctd.

+ All in the manufacturing consent game: “MSNBC Anchor Chuck Todd Is Under Fire for Comparing Sanders Supporters to Nazis.”

+ Republican-led voter suppression (residency shenanigans with college students) is costing Sanders votes in New Hampshire.

+ Sanders is up in early returns. MSDNC should try to blame this on criminal interference by the Maduro regime. I hope Chris Matthews has doubled up on his Depends.

A Bernie Speech We Won’t Hear

+ When will Bernie Sanders call for the reign of the associated producers? Workers’ control aside, this is what would really impress me: if Bernie in his victory speech (assuming that happens) would take time to mention the dark fascist shit Trump is doing and tweeting today and call for millions of people to take to the streets beneath and beyond the election cycle. This vile Trump-Pence regime is committing horrible crimes right now and not just this DOJ bullshit. Going into voting booths for two minutes once or twice every two or four years is not remotely close to the citizen engagement and activism required to confront the authoritarian darkness that is enveloping this nation and world.

So Obama

+ What’s with Alfred E. Butt Cave’s victory speech? He hasn’t won the state, Sanders has. But hey AEBC declared victory at zero precincts reporting in Iowa so what the Hell.

+ He sounds so much like Obama, so transparent in his mimicry of Obama’s clipped intonation, strategic pauses, and fake-progressive center-right “pragmatism.” Claiming to represent the “middle” and “third” way between scary ‘’revolution” (supposedly the Sanders path) and “status quo” (Trump and Biden). He’s denouncing “ideological purity” (that’s a shot at Sanders’ and his fathers’ “Marxism” as well as Trump’s white nationalism, which they just can call fascism or at least neofascism).

+ A key part of this stale old Clinton-Obama-Blair-Macron game is to call this neoliberal centrism “fresh” and “new” —- this in a very canned way.

Wednesday, February 12th

“In Any Sane Country”

+ I have this vague memory of being in a coffee shop yesterday and seeing a cable news headline that Demented Orange had told folks not to worry about the Coronavirus cuz coming warm weather in April will wipe it out….or was that just in a dream l had last night? (So the four DOJ prosecutors dropping out of the Stone case after Trump tweeted and Barr intervened wasn’t a dream either, I’m guessing.)

+ This neo-fascistic Beelzebub Donald Trump is literally trying to kill you — here is one of many ways: “Amid Coranavirus Outbreak, Trump Proposes Slashing Center for Disease Control Budget.”

+ “Cutting the CDC in the middle of a pandemic,” writes Esquire’s Charles Pierce, “is not viable in a functioning republic. We do not currently have one.” (A functioning democracy went down the memory hole so long ago we can’t remember ever having had one.)

+ The title of the article in which Pierce made his dark observation: “In Any Sane Country, Trump’s Budget Would be Political Suicide.” Indeed.

+ The budget also steals from Medicare and Social Security and slashes the Environmental Protection Agency by 25%. Insane.

Once Every 1,460 Days!

+ Trump can do anything he wants and Dems and their media will just say, “well, there’s an election coming up and you’ll get your once-every 1460-day 2 minutes in a booth to vote for somebody so just stay home and go to work and keep calm.”

Denial

+ People are in denial about how bad the current situation is, If you seriously think you can justify just sitting around and waiting for the quadrennial extravaganza and some neoliberal asshole like Pete Buttigieg or Mike Bloomberg — or even an often decent social democratish progressive like Sanders — to magically fix things you are completely insane. You have lost your mind. Just one recent example of what unbridled bourgeois class rule is doing to livable ecology: NASA, Earth Observatory: “Thwaites Glacier Transformed.”

What Doesn’t Kill Trump Strengthens Trump

+ My nomination for either the stupidest or the most cynical thing said by a U.S, Senator so far this year (and that’s saying a lot to say the least) is Susan Collins’ ridiculous statement that Trump will change his ways since his impeachment by the House taught him “a pretty big lesson.” As the Trump presidency’s astute chronicler Michael Wolff observes in his latest book Siege: Trump Under Fire:

“One of the many odd aspects of Trump’s presidency was that he did not see being president, either the responsibilities or the exposure, as being all that different from his pre-presidential life. He had endured almost countless investigations in his long career. He had been involved in various kinds of litigation for the better part of forty-five years. He was a fighter who, with brazenness and aggression, got out of fixes that would have ruined a weaker, less wily player. That was his essential business strategy: what doesn’t kill me strengthens me. Though he was wounded again and again, he never bled out” (emphasis added).

Aspirational Thinking

+ As Chomsky recently noted, Trump is trying to wipe out all living things. It sounds like a crazy charge until you examine the climate and nuclear weapons policies this demented fascistic oligarch is advancing. If people have elementary natural, social, and political intelligence linked to willpower there will soon be millions upon millions in the streets demanding the end of this regime and the system it both reflects and serves. The passivity and resignation in the face of this deadly freakshow so far is frankly soul numbing. S

+ Chomsky’s recent must-read Truthout interview on Donald worse-then-Hitler (I agree on that) Trump ends by praising Sanders for sparking a movement that “would proceed beyond the narrow realm of electoral politics to far broader and constant activism and engagement in public affairs.” That strikes me as more of an aspirational than an accurate description of the Sanders phenomenon, which by my observation is 97% electoralist so far.

+ The sooner it goes beyond that and becomes what Chomsky says it is, the better. Nothing Sanders is calling for will have a snowball’s chance in Hell without massive mobilization beneath and beyond the election cycle

Remember That?

+ Hey, remember this – Masha Gessen, “The Russia Conspiracy Trap,” New York Review of Books, March 6, 2017, where Gessen wrote the following:

“The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. If that happens, it will have resulted largely from a media campaign orchestrated by members of the intelligence community [!]—setting a dangerous political precedent that will have corrupted the public sphere and promoted paranoia. And that is the best-case outcome…More likely, the Russia allegations will not bring down Trump [!!] He may sacrifice more of his people, as he sacrificed Flynn, as further leaks discredit them. Various investigations may drag on for months, drowning out other, far more urgent issues. In the end, Congressional Republicans will likely conclude that their constituents don’t care enough about Trump’s Russian ties to warrant trying to impeach the Republican president [!!!] Meanwhile, while Russia continues to dominate the front pages, Trump will continue waging war on immigrants, cutting funding for everything that’s not the military, assembling his cabinet of deplorables—with six Democrats voting to confirm Ben Carson for Housing, for example, and ten to confirm Rick Perry for Energy [!!!!] According to the Trump plan, each of these seems intent on destroying the agency he or she is chosen to run—to carry out what Steve Bannon calls the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state.’ [!!!!!] As for Sessions, in his first speech as attorney general he promised to cut back civil rights enforcement and he has already abandoned a Justice Department case against a discriminatory Texas voter ID law. But it was his Russia lie that grabbed the big headlines” (emphasis and exclamation points added).

+ Hey, as Chris Farley would had said, do you remember when Gessen wrote that, to paraphrase Chris Farley?

+ Here’s another one: does anyone remember when Adam Gopnik wrote this about Trump and Trumpism in The New Yorker in May of 2016:

“There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word “fascist.” The sum may be crypto-fascist, neo-fascist, latent fascist, proto-fascist, or American-variety fascist—one of that kind, all the same. Future political scientists will analyze (let us hope in amused retrospect, rather than in exile in New Zealand or Alberta) the precise elements of Poujadisme, Peronism and Huck Finn’s Pap that compound in Trump’s ‘ideology.’ But his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government, whether Léon Blum’s or Barack Obama’s, is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and “success.” It is always alike, and always leads inexorably to the same place: failure, met not by self-correction but by an inflation of the original program of grievances, and so then on to catastrophe. The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history (emphasis added).” [Adam Gopnik, “Going There With Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, May 11, 2016].

+ Remember that?

Red-Baited/Baiting Dems and Their False Dichotomy

+ CNN, MSDNC, NYT, WaPo, Politico etc have run religiously and consistently with a false dichotomy: either progressivism or electability. While I suppose capital and legions of moron centrists would undermine Sanders in a general election, it’s also true that a centrist Dem creep is going to be badly hurt by the inability of many if not most Sanders supporters to vote for some Wall Street plaything or plutocrat like Cornpopa-bin Biden, Alfred E. Wine Cave Amy “I Pretend to Know You” Klobocop or Mini Mike the Megabillionaire Oligarch…not to mention the unwillingness of millions and millions of ordinary lower and working- class people to vote for yet another dismal, dollar-drenched Dem running on behalf of the Party of Fake Resistance.

+ Half of Sanders’ backers will not vote for the Dem if it isn’t Sanders according to a recent poll. That # will come down as November and specter of a second and worse Trump term looms if Sanders isn’t the nominee but the alienation will still be too great to be overcome. Dems need to get it that they nominate and get behind Sanders or they lose. As my readers know, I think the evidence is clear that the Democratic Party establishment and its bankrollers would rather lose to the neofascistic right-wing party than lose to the moderate left in their own party.

+ All the centrist fake-progressive fake-liberal snotbags who play along with the reactionary nonsense about Sanders being “too left” and how Trump will be able to win by going all anti-socialist/-communist on Sanders can kiss off. I am a left-socialist and have been since the late 1970s and I’ve got to report from the actual Left that Sanders is not all that left. He’s a social-democratish neo-New Deal progressive.

+ The fake-progressives afraid of “socialism” are enabling neo-McCarthyism and putting me and many others like me at risk by playing along with the right’s red-baiting. They should speak up against neo-McCarthyism, which screws over everybody, including them.

+ Those “liberal” Dems who play along with the notion that Single Payer and free public college and green jobs programs are “too expensive” in the world’s richest nation should admit that they are actually less progressive than an Eisenhower Republican.

+ Maybe capital can chill over the big bad Judeo-Bolshevik Bernie Sanders: Nir Kaissar, “Bernie Sanders Could be the Stock Market’s Best Friend,” Bloomberg (no less), February 12, 2020.

What Can We Do? What Can We Do?

+ Rachel Maddow Maddow did this almost semi-eloquent rant about the nation’s transition to full-on authoritarianism (the word “fascism” was even thrown in to her long heartfelt and no-commercial talk along with other variants of the disease) in which she just kept lamely saying “so what can we do, what can do?” The answer apparently was to (1) herald Georgetown University professors and students for giving that fired US lady ambassador to Ukraine (I won’t try to spell the name) a standing ovation; (2) have on a lady law professor who reminded viewers that there are still some good judges and that Trump would have been removed in a more normal time; (3) bring on Amy Klobuchar to say that “there are Republicans and independents out there who don’t like what the president is doing.”

+ It is beyond the pale for these neoliberal professional class know-it-all Know Nothings to call for real popular resistance to the creep of American fascism. “What do we do? What do we do?” We go to lectures at Georgetown and we applaud good bourgeois judges and we vote for centrist neoliberals!

+ I never cease to be amazed by how passive and resigned liberal and left academics and other intellectuals are. The British tea would have never gone into Boston Harbor if these sorts had led the “resistance” in December of 1774!

“Prepare for the Coming Civil War”

+ “It is no great leap,” writes Bill Lueders in the latest issue of The Progressive, “from threatening violence against the Constitutional remedy of impeachment to employing it to overturn the results of an election. If, as is likely, Trump survives the ordeal of impeachment over his efforts to compel a foreign leader to assist his campaign, he quite possibly will continue to solicit interference in the 2020 election. And, if that is not enough to overcome his historic unpopularity, he may proclaim the result fraudulent and urge his supporters to nullify it, guns in hand.” Further:

“Normally, discussion about a President and his supporters either stealing an election or refusing to accept the result would register as crazy talk. But in this case, there are two countervailing factors that make these things a real possibility: the President and his supporters…Trump is a lawless President, unbound by the norms that have governed others, unmindful of appearances, and utterly amoral. He has been a liar and a cheater his entire life. He has cavalierly violated the Constitution, especially the emoluments clause that prevents federal officials from using their office for personal gain. (In a testament to his penchant for creating his own reality, Trump has labeled the clause itself ‘phony.’) He has routinely condoned violence, and even encouraged his supporters to engage in it.”

“And his base has been all-too-happy to oblige. The Guardian compiled a list of more than fifty instances in which Trump supporters have committed or threatened acts of violence either against his critics, or while explicitly stating that they support or were moved to act by him. One Trump admirer, Cesar Sayoc, sent sixteen pipe bombs to media and others the President counts among his enemies. Others have bombed mosques or threatened Muslims. A pair of brothers in Boston beat and urinated on a homeless Latinx man, telling police, ‘Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.’ Their victim was a permanent U.S. resident.”

“So the violence is real, as is the possibility that it will be unleashed on a much larger scale in 2020…”

+ Smart fellow, Bill Lueders. His article is titled “Prepare for the Coming Civil War.”

+ If people respond to losing an election by declaring Civil War does it become legal to kill them? How does that work? Any legal precedent on that? Please advance citations…

Thursday, February 13th

“There Need to be Mass Protests”

+ Affluent white, urban, and older male Marxists I know continue to lecture me on how fascism isn’t really something to worry about in the U.S! They know who they are. These sheltered old men who won’t suffer the worst consequences should take a trip out of their metropolitan bunkers to a flyover zone and/or attend a Trump Hate Rally!

+ Three cheers for Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley, author of the important political-ideological analysis How Fascism Works. “The system is enabling Trump,” Stanley recently told Business Insider. “There need to be mass protests,” he said, adding that “these are historic times. Someone has got to push back…The deeply worrying moment is when you start to become a one-party state,” Stanley added. Stanley said that recent actions by Republicans and Trump were “straight from the literature on authoritarianism.” Stanley thinks there needed to be mass protests in the streets after the Senate vote against witnesses. The absence of significant public outcry was “a further sign to the party in power that they can go ahead and do what they want.”

+ Maybe Rachel Maddow would like to give Stanley a call — I doubt it.

+ “Refuse Fascism” has been in the streets – the only left group in Chicago to consistently call out Trump’s neofascist shit – though all of this and well before.

The post Things Said in Confidence to 4000 Close Friends This Week appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Even With Corbyn Gone, Antisemitism Threats Will Keep Destroying the UK Labour Party

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

If there is one issue that denotes the terminal decline of Labour as a force for change – desperately needed social, economic and environmental change – it is not Brexit. It is the constant furore over an “antisemitism crisis” supposedly plaguing the party for the past five years.

The imminent departure of Jeremy Corbyn as leader will not end the damage that has been done to Labour by such claims. Soon Brexit will become a messy fait accompli. But the shadow of Labour’s so-called “antisemitism problem” will loom over it darkly for the foreseeable future, making sure that Corbyn’s successor dare not incur the same steep price for pursuing a radical political programme. The fear of being smeared as an antisemite will lead, as it was meant to do, to political and economic timidity from whoever takes on the mantle of leader.

In fact, as we shall examine in detail in a moment, the candidates for the Labour leadership are demonstrating just how cowed they already are. But first let’s recap on how we got to the current situation.

Led into a trap

Personifying the political paranoia that now grips Labour is the party’s one-time wunderkind, Owen Jones – possibly the only early champion of Corbyn in the corporate media. He used his Guardian column to fight back against the first wave of slurs – that Corbyn was unpatriotic, unstatesmanlike, a former Soviet spy, and so on.

But then, as the smears failed to inflict significant damage on Corbyn, a second line of attack was pursued. It claimed that Corbyn’s lifelong and very prominent activism as an anti-racist was in fact a cover story. Depending on who was spinning the narrative, Corbyn was either a secret Jew hater or a man who endlessly indulged antisemitism within his inner circle and in the wider party. Jones’ colleagues at the Guardian joined the rest of the corporate media mob in baying for Corbyn’s blood. Long wedded to a rigid form of identity politics, Jones was soon publicly wavering in his support for Corbyn. Then, as an election neared in 2017, he abandoned him entirely.

Unfortunately for the corporate media, the election result did not follow their shared predictions. Far from presiding over an unprecedented electoral disaster, Corbyn came within a hair’s breadth of overturning the Tory parliamentary majority. He also increased the party’s share of the vote by the largest margin of any post-war Labour leader. Jones changed his tune once again, promising to be more wary of the group-think of his corporate media colleagues. Of course, his new-found resolution soon crumbled.

Like a mouse chasing the scent of cheese, Jones headed into the trap set for him. He refused to accuse Corbyn himself of antisemitism, unlike many of his colleagues. Instead he gave his blessing each time a Labour activist was targeted as an antisemite – oftentimes, over their support for Palestinian rights.

Forced onto the back foot

As the media attacks on Labour for supposedly welcoming antisemites into the party’s ranks intensified (flying in the face of all the evidence), Jones acquiesced – either actively or through his silence – in the resulting wave of suspensions and expulsions, even of Jewish members who were hounded out for being too critical of Israel. Jones’ hands may have looked personally clean but he acted as lookout for those, like Labour MP Jess Phillips, who were determined to carry out their promise to “knife Corbyn in the front”.

Undoubtedly, the polarised debate about Brexit – and the increasingly unhinged atmosphere it produced – was the main reason Corbyn crashed in December’s election. But the confected “antisemitism row” played a very significant supporting role. The disastrous consequences of that row are still very much being felt, as Labour prepares to find a new leader.

The issue of antisemitism was probably not much of a priority for most voters, especially when the examples cited so often seemed to be about a state, Israel, rather than Jews. Nonetheless, the smears against Corbyn gradually undermined him, even among supporters.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, the antisemitism furore served chiefly as a shadow war that obscured much deeper, internal ideological divisions. Polarisation over whether Labour was convulsed by antisemitism concealed the real struggle, which was over where the party should head next and who should lead it there.

The party’s Blairite faction – supporters of the former centrist leader Tony Blair – knew that they could not win a straight fight on ideological issues against Corbyn and the hundreds of thousands of members who supported him. The Blairites’ middle-of-the-road, status-quo-embracing triangulation now found little favour with voters. But the Blairites could discredit and weaken Corbyn by highlighting an “antisemitism crisis” he had supposedly provoked in Labour by promoting Palestinian rights and refusing to cheerlead Israel, as the Blairites had always done. Identity politics, the Blairites quickly concluded, was the ground that they could weaponise against him.

As a result, Corbyn was forced endlessly on to the back foot, unable to advance popular leftwing policies because the antisemitism smears sucked all oxygen out of the room. Think of Corbyn’s interview with Andrew Neil shortly before the December election. Not only did Corbyn not get a chance to explain the party’s progressive platform to floating voters, but much worse he was forced into abandoning the very personal traits – openness, honesty, modesty – that had made him unexpectedly popular in the 2017 election. Accusations of antisemitism – like those of being a wife-beater – are impossible to face down in TV soundbites. Corbyn was left looking evasive, shifty and out of touch.

 

Caught in a vicious spiral

These confrontations over an “antisemitism problem” in Labour – repeated every time Corbyn gave an interview – also helped to make him look feeble. It was a winning formula: his constant apologies for a supposed “plague of antisemitism” in Labour (for which there was no evidence) suggested to voters that Corbyn was incapable of exercising control over his party. If he failed in this simple task, they concluded, how could he be trusted to deal with the complexities of running a country?

The smears isolated him within Labour too. His few prominent allies on the left, such as Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson, were improbably picked off as anti-semites, while others went to ground for fear of being attacked too. It was this isolation that forced Corbyn to make constant and damaging compromises with the Blairites, such as agreeing to a second referendum on Brexit. And in a vicious spiral, the more he compromised, the more he looked weak, the more his polling numbers fell, the more he compromised.

All of this was happening in plain view. If the rest of us could see it, so could Owen Jones. And so, of course, could those who are now standing for election to become the next leader of the Labour party. All of them learnt the lessons they were supposed to draw from the party’s “antisemitism crisis”.

Three lessons 

Lesson one: Some crises can be engineered without the need for evidence. And smears can be much more damaging than facts – at least, when the corporate media builds a consensus around them – because the fightback cannot be won or lost on the battlefield of evidence. Indeed, facts become irrelevant. It is about who has the biggest and best battalion of propagandists. And the simple truth is that the billionaires who own the corporate media can buy the most skilled propagandists and can buy the largest platforms to spread their misinformation.

Lesson two: Even if antisemitism is of peripheral interest to most voters – especially when the allegations concern contested “tropes”, often about Israel rather than Jews – claims of antisemitism can still inflict serious damage on a party and its leader. Voters judge a party leader on how they respond to such accusations, especially if they are made to look weak or untrustworthy. And as there is no good way to face down wall-to-wall accusations of antisemitism from the media, however confected, it is wise not to get drawn into this particular, unwinnable fight.

 

Lesson three: The British ruling class does not especially care about antisemitism, or any other form of racism. The establishment uses its power to uphold class privilege, not to promote equality, after all. But that does not mean it has no interest in antisemitism. As with its support for a more general identity politics, the ruling class knows that antisemitism has instrumental uses – it can be exploited to manipulate public discourse and deflect ordinary people from a powerful class struggle into divisive identity and culture wars. Therefore, any Labour leader who wants to engage in the politics of class struggle – a struggle against the billionaire class – is going to face not a fair fight on the terrain of their choosing but a dirty war on the terrain chosen by the billionaires.

 The Board’s 10 diktats

Labour’s leadership challengers learnt those lessons so well because they watched for five years as Corbyn sank ever further into the mire of the antisemitism smears. So when the deeply Conservative (with a capital C) Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) issued a diktat to the candidates last month veiled as “10 Pledges to End the Antisemitism Crisis” they all hurried to sign up, without bothering to read the small print.

The Board’s 10 points were effectively its red lines. Overstep the mark on any one of them, the Board warned the leadership contestants, and we will lend our considerable credibility to a corporate media campaign to smear you and the party as anti-semitic. You will become Corbyn Mark II, and face the same fate.

The 10 demands have one purpose only. Once accepted, and all the candidates have accepted them, the pledges ensure that the Board – and what it defines as the Jewish community’s “main representative groups” – will enjoy an exclusive and incontestable right to decide what is antisemitic, as well as who is allowed to remain in the Labour party and who must be removed.

The pledges create a division of labour between the Board and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), a small faction in Labour of Jews and non-Jews who are vocal advocates for Israel. First, the Board stands surety, supposedly on behalf of Britain’s Jews, for the credibility of the highly controversial redefinition of antisemitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Seven of its 11 examples of antisemitism refer to Israel, not hatred of Jews. Then, the JLM’s task is to enforce the IHRA definition, identifying which party members are antisemites and determining their fate: either contrition and re-education or expulsion.

Judge and jury

The 10 Pledges are actually part of a campaign by Jewish leadership groups like the Board to pervert a well-established principle regulating investigations into racism. The Board and JLM have regularly cited the so-called Macpherson principle, derived from a judicial inquiry into the failings in the 1990s of an institutionally racist British police force as it investigated the murder of a black teenager, Stephen Lawrence.

The Guardian has been among those peddling the Board and the JLM’s mischievous reinterpretation of that principle to suggest that an incident is defined as racist if the victim perceives it to be racist. Therefore, Jews – or in this case, “representative” Jewish organisations like the Board – get to decide exclusively whether Labour has an antisemitism problem and how it manifests itself – for example, by criticising Israel.

Except that is not what Sir William Macpherson decided at all. His principle was simply that institutions like the police were under an obligation to investigate incidents as racist in nature if that is what the victim believed them to be. In other words, Macpherson called on institutions to listen to victims and to take account of the victims’ interpretation of an event.

Very obviously, he did not argue that anyone accused of racism was guilty of it, or that anyone making an accusation of racism must be believed. The accusation had to be investigated on the assumption of racism until the evidence proved whether the accusation was true or not, and whether or not it was motivated by racism.

Further, while the Macpherson principle called for the victim to be given a fair hearing about how they perceived an incident, the Board and the JLM do not want simply to be heard. The 10 Pledges demand that these organisations alone decide what is antisemitism and who is guilty – that they act as judge and jury.

And not only that.

The Board and the JLM also demand an exclusive prerogative to define antisemitism as a new kind of racism – almost unheard of a decade or more ago – that may have nothing to do with hatred or fear of Jews, as it was once defined. The Board and the JLM insist Labour adopt a patently ridiculous – and overtly antisemitic – position that treats many kinds of criticism of Israel as antisemitic because, they argue, Israel represents all Jews. An attack on Israel therefore amounts to an attack on Jews and their identity. (The Board’s argument is itself antisemitic because it requires us to hold all Jews, not just the Israeli government, responsible for Israel’s actions, including its documented war crimes against Palestinians.)

Circular proof

But the problem with the 10 Pledges runs deeper still. The intended effect of the pledges in their entirety is to create a circular, self-reinforcing proof of antisemitism against anyone who dares to disagree with the Board and the JLM. In other times, such circular proofs have been identified for what they are: as witch-hunts and McCarthyism.

The Board not only intends to silence any non-Jews who disagree with its views on antisemitism and Israel, but it also insists on denying a voice to any Jews or Jewish organisations that disagree with it. According to Pledge 8, all Jewish “fringe organisations and individuals” are denied any say on what constitutes antisemitism. Why are they “fringe”? Because they disagree with the Board of Deputies’ definition of antisemitism.

Several writers have noted that the Board’s claim to be “representative” of the “Jewish community” is entirely bogus. It can claim only to be representative of those parts of the 280,000-strong Jewish community it seeks to represent. That amounts to no more than the 56 per cent of Jewish households who belong to a synagogue. These are the most conservative elements of a wider Jewish community. Surveys show that for many years, and long before Corbyn became leader, the vast majority of this section of the Jewish community – those the Board represents – vote for the Conservative party in elections. They also identify very strongly with Israel – and seemingly whatever its does in terms of violating Palestinian rights.

CR: “I am delighted to congratulate Boris Johnson on becoming the next leader of the Conservative Party & our next PM. May he be blessed with the wisdom to successfully navigate the political uncertainties we face & bring healing & prosperity to our great country.” pic.twitter.com/0cyuMIhVXd

— Chief Rabbi Mirvis (@chiefrabbi) July 23, 2019

 

The Board’s very function is to sideline the 44 per cent of Jews it does not represent – including secular, socialist and anti-Zionist Jews – as not really belonging to the “Jewish community”. It thereby silences their views. As Jo Sutton-Klein observes, “While the [Jewish organisational] establishment can’t un-Jewish any person or community, they can invalidate their Jewishness if they decide that their opinions are no longer kosher.” That is precisely what the Board has sought to achieve with its 10 Pledges.

But if the Board’s representative status is highly doubtful, the Jewish Labour Movement’s is even more so. In fact, there is plenty of evidence – including from a 2017 documentary filmed by an undercover reporter for Al Jazeera – that the JLM was a dormant organisation until 2015. As an investigation by journalist Asa Winstanley discovered, it was refounded specifically to bring down Corbyn shortly after he won the leadership election. The JLM was apparently afraid of what Corbyn’s support for the Palestinians might entail for Israel. While claiming to represent Jewish interests in the Labour party, it excludes from membership any Jews that are not Zionist – that is, enthusiastic supporters of Israel.

 

That should not be surprising. The JLM was originally an ideological offshoot of the Israeli Labour party, which oversaw the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, launched the first settlements in the territories it occupied in 1967, and created a system of severe institutionalised racial discrimination against Israel’s large non-Jewish population, its Palestinian citizens. Despite proclaiming its leftwing credentials, the JLM’s ideological outlook closely mirrors the ethnic supremacist worldview of the Israeli Labour Party.

The JLM lacks transparency, but most estimates are that its membership numbers are in triple digits, even after it has allowed non-Jews and non-Labour members to join. 

‘Wrong kind of Jew’

In fact, there is no reason to believe the JLM is any less fringe – and probably more so – than Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a group of Jewish Labour party members who created the organisation to support Corbyn and counter the JLM’s claims that it spoke for Jews in the Labour party.

As I have pointed out many times before, the Board’s position that it alone gets to decide which Jews count is not only deeply ugly but also antisemitic. It dismisses a whole swath of the Jewish community as the “wrong kind of Jews”; it treats their views on the racism they face as of no value; and it strips them of any agency inside the Labour party, leaving the field clear to the JLM. Instead of a necessary dialogue within the Jewish community about what antisemitism means, the Board confers on itself the right to oppress and silence other groups of Jews who disagree with it.

There are two main reasons why the Board wishes to turn these so-called “fringe” groups into outcasts, into political pariahs. First, their very existence reminds us that this is a highly contested political debate, and one taking place inside the Jewish community, about what Jewish identity is and whether Israel has a place in that identity. But at the same time, the existence of socialist Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Labour also disrupts a narrative jointly promoted by the Board, the JLM and Labour’s Blairite faction to discredit the radical social and economic programmes of the left by entwining them with allegations of antisemitism. Severe criticism of neoliberalism, it is implied, is of a piece with severe criticism of Israel. Both are evidence of antisemitism.

The weaponising by the Board and the JLM of the Macpherson principle is easily exposed. This month Labour suspended Jo Bird reportedly over allegations of antisemitism. Bird, who is openly anti-Zionist and on the left wing of the party, had been the only Jewish candidate contesting Labour’s National Executive Committee elections. She is the latest prominent left-wing Jewish party member to have been targeted as an antisemite both for strongly criticising Israel and for challenging the Board and the JLM’s right to speak for all British Jews.

How obscene this all is may be easier to grasp if we do a small thought experiment. Imagine for a moment that a small group of black Labour party activists insist on the expulsion of other black party members as racists for their opposition to an African state accused of war crimes. Would we be comfortable with a largely white Labour party bureaucracy adjudicating as a matter of racism on what is clearly an ideological and political dispute within the black community? Would we want to condone one black group stigmatising another group as racists to silence its political arguments? And would we be happy to expel as racists white Labour party members who sided with one black group against the other in a political debate about an oppressive state?

With the witchfinders

Which brings us back to Owen Jones. Last week Asa Winstanley – the investigative reporter who has done more than anyone to expose what really lies behind the antisemitism smear campaign against Corbyn – resigned from the Labour Party. Like Jo Bird, he has found himself in hot water for questioning the antisemitism narrative promoted by the Board and the JLM. He wrote that he had given up any hope of a fair hearing from party officials who say his journalism championing justice for Palestinians and challenging the Israel lobby’s role in the Labour party amounts to antisemitism.

Jones, as ever, stood squarely with the witchfinders against Winstanley. He argued, as he has done many times before, that is possible both to fight for Palestinian rights and to fight against antisemitism.

Except Jones is plainly wrong – so long as we accede, as he has done, to the Board and the JLM’s demand that anyone who goes further than the most softball criticism of Israel must be defined either as an antisemite, like Winstanley, or as the “wrong kind of Jew”, like Bird.

If we are only allowed to gently chide Israel in ways that cannot meaningfully advance Palestinian rights, if we are prevented from discussing the strategies of staunchly pro-Israel lobbyists to silence Israel’s critics, if we are denied the right to push for an international boycott of Israel of the kind that helped blacks in South Africa end their own oppression, then nothing is going to change for the Palestinians. If those are the unreasonable terms imposed on us by the Board, the JLM and Owen Jones, then no, we cannot do both. We must choose.

The truth is that the support Owen Jones offers Palestinians is worthless. It is no more than virtue signalling – because it is immediately negated by his support for bodies like the JLM that actively terrorise party members, including Jewish members, into silence on crucial debates about Palestinian rights and about how we might deter Israel in future.

The reality is that, if Jewish organisations like the Board and the JLM choose to put the Israeli state as it currently exists at the very heart of their Jewish identity and make proper scrutiny of it off-limits, then they have also chosen to make themselves complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people, made themselves opponents of peace in the Middle East, and have abetted in the erosion of international law. And if we side with them, then we become complicit too.

This essay first appeared on Jonathan Cook’s blog.

The post Even With Corbyn Gone, Antisemitism Threats Will Keep Destroying the UK Labour Party appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Cambridge Analytica: a Salesgirl’s Report

Photograph Source: Book Catalog – CC BY 2.0

Much has been written about the murky world of the UK PR firm Cambridge Analytica – a company acting by stealth which furnished the propaganda behind successes like the election of Donald Trump along with the British vote for Brexit. One of the faces that Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s shadowy boss, liked to push was that of a young American women called Brittnay Kaiser. In her 2019 book, Kaiser admits I was just a glorified salesgirl. The book’s title – Targeted – can easily have two meanings. For one, we – or at least the voters of Donald Trump and the supporters of Brexit – have been targeted by Cambridge Analytica’s manipulative propaganda machine. The title can also mean that Brittnay Kaiser, originally a young Democrat and embued with a hefty dose of naivety, was targeted and lured into the opaque underworld of Cambridge Analytica to do their bidding.

We know today that Cambridge Analytica was made possible by Facebook’s negligent privacy policy. Access to Facebook data allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest a vast amount of data from Facebook users. These were used against ordinary people in a highly manipulative effort to convince Facebook users towards the goals set by the well paying masters of Cambridge Analytica. The aim of Cambridge Analytica has always been to serve those that pay. Cambridge Analytica follows the Golden Rule – those with the gold makes the rules. Cambridge Analytica sought to put in power presidents and prime ministers and ensure that they stay there. Until its demise, Cambridge Analytica was part of the SCL group. It is a propaganda outfit engineering elections – or at least trying to influence those – usually in the direction of right-wing populism. It’s tool is propaganda or to use the old Soviet era term, agit prop.

Propaganda dates back to the year 1622 and the Catholic Church’s Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith). Four hundred years later, propaganda became important for the American capitalist Rockefeller. After his Ludlow Massacre in which countless workers and their families were killed by Rockefeller’s henchmen, the Rockefeller corporation sought to improve its image. It employed none other than the infamous Poison Ivy – real name Ivy Lee. Poison Ivy was already busy helping Nazi-Germany’s IG Farben that later manufactured Zyklon B used in Auschwitz.

But the new rising star in propaganda was the American Edward Bernays. After World War II, Bernays recognised that propaganda had developed a bad name perhaps because of Goebbels’s Ministry of Propaganda. As a consequence, Bernays simply renamed propaganda into the more tractable and innocently-sounding public relations. Bernays believed that “intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can…bring order out of chaos”. Like Le Bon, he too thought that Rouuseau’s volonté générale is nothing more than a dangerous crowd that brings chaos and chops the head off the ruling elite. This is to be avoided. With this public relations was born and it has been with us ever since.

While marketing’s task is to sell us consumer goods – i.e. expensive landfill – in order to power the machinery of consumer capitalism, public relations’ task is to create a pro-capitalist and a pro-business environment and an atmosphere in which capitalism and marketing can thrive. PR makes us believe that capitalism is good and shopping makes us happy; marketing lives off this unquestioned attitude. Just as there are marketing firms, there are PR firms. While we might know Satchi & Satchi, most of the world’s Top-Ten PR firms – 1. BCW, 2. Edelman, 3. FleishmanHillard, 4. H+K Strategies, 5. Weber Shandwick, 6. Marina Maher Communications, 7. Sard Verbinnen & Co, 8. Narva, 9. APCO Worldwide, 10. IN.FOM – remain unknown to us. This signifies the power of PR.

Compared to PR’s top-ten, Brittnay Kaiser’s outfit – Cambridge Analytica – was a small operation that only became famous because of its quasi-legal activities, its claim to be able to rig elections and its work for Donald Trump and Brexit. Before that, Cambridge Analytica or its parent company SCL had already worked in Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Latvia, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, and more. It also worked with a shadowy organisation called Groundsell to undermine the Obama presidency.

One of the key claims of Cambridge Analytica is micro-targeting. It claims to be able to isolate individuals and literally causes them to think, vote, and act differently form how they had before. In the 1950s, the American scientist Solomon Ash had shown the world how easy it is to influence people. Cambridge Analytica applies this to get people to act differently from how they had acted before – to switch their vote from Democrats to Donald Trump in key US swing states, for example. All Trump needed were merely 107,000 votes. Cambridge Analytica claims to have delivered them or at least helped to deliver them. Since many Americans get their news via Facebook, Cambridge Analytica targets social media to get their message out. Cambridge Analytica rejects the idea of classical marketing and PR because it believes that blanket advertising is just too imprecise.

Cambridge Analytica claims to have hit upon the Holy Grail of communications – when you can actually start to change behaviour. It did no longer see itself as an advertising agency but as a behavioural change agency. For that, Cambridge Analytica uses methods such as psychographics to understand people’s complex personalities and devise ways to trigger their behaviour. These are psychological operations akin to psychological warfare, the infamous PsyOps of the military sciences. Cambridge Analytica’s favourite tool in PsyOps are the “Like”-clicks on Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica can use those few “likes” to predict skin colour, sexual orientation, political party affiliation, drug and alcohol use, and even whether a person had come from an intact or a divorced household. Seventy likes were enough to outdo what a person’s friends knew. 150 likes and Cambridge Analytica can know what your parents know, and 300 likes what your partner knows. More likes can even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves. It used these techniques in its campaign for US Republican Ted Cruz who had set out to conquer the Republican Party in the United States. When this failed, Cambridge Analytica bet on a new horse – Donald Trump. Today and even though no longer in operation, the lasting impact of Cambridge Analytica is that it has achieved what it had set out to achieve. We have Trump. Cambridge Analytica also claims other successes.

The company had just achieved a massive political upset in America, winning an unheard-of thirty-three out of forty-four races in the U.S. midterms. A 75 percent success rate for a communications agency coming in from the outside for the first time was astounding. To achieve this, Cambridge Analytica offered services such as opinion polling, caste and tribe research, opposition research, and even competitive intelligence – that is, state-of-the-art information gathering that could be used to research candidates personal and financial backgrounds and explore historic party dealings or hidden activities.

Much of this borders on what is known as Black Propaganda which is propaganda intended to create the impression that it was created by those it is supposed to discredit. Cambridge Analytica also engaged into negative campaigning. In that, Cambridge Analytica was convinced that native advertising is expensive, but the return on investment is huge. Propaganda or what we now call public relations also means uncovering material that would be useful for counter-operations and oppositional messaging.

Cambridge Analytica was deep into the election-fixing business. Such techniques also meant the doctoring of videos of your opponents shown in the faked video of Nancy Pelosi. The idea behind PsyOps, black propaganda and Cambridge Analytica is getting out as much material as possible and as fast as possible to make as significant an impact as possible. To do that, Cambridge Analytica and other PR firms would often establish a war room. For them, elections are like war. The goal is to destroy the enemy while rallying your troop. To rally their troops, Cambridge broke up Republicans – its target audience in this case – into core Republicans, reliable Republicans, turnout targets, priority Persuasions, and Wildcards. Each receive tailor-made messages. For that the aforementioned psychographics as well as micro-targeting becomes paramount.

Cambridge Analytica used psychographics to determined what motivated individuals to act…in the case of elections, we wanted people to donate money; learn about our candidate and the issues involved in the race; actually get out to the polling booths; and vote for our candidate. Likewise, and most disturbingly, some campaigns also aimed to “deter” some people from going to the polls at all.” On this, Cambridge Analytica used the OCEAN model, the degree to which an individual is O = open; C = conscientious; E = extroverted; A = agreeable; and N = neurotic. For that Cambridge Analytica used data they had gathered from Facebook.

The key is the power of behavioural predictability that can be used in election campaign influence. What helped Cambridge Analytica in this was the fact that – compared to Europe – United States lacked fundamental regulations with data privacy. What might help even more is that billionaire donors like Robert and Rebekah Mercer are relatively unhindered in supporting right-wing causes. They would employ shadowy political operators like Steve Bannon – the Mercers’ Obi-Wan Kenobi – and support radio demagogues who received Medals of Freedom. Much of this supported Donald Trump. It has long been recognized that Donald Trump’s quest for the presidency has been about creating business opportunities. Cambridge Analytica thought that the real reason Donald Trump was running for office…was to create the conditions for the launch of something called Trump TV. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky stuff for a second-rate TV reality-show host.

Similar to the targeted Republicans, in the case of Brexit, Cambridge Analytica segmented its target audience by the following monikers: eager activists, young reformers, disaffected Tories and left behinds. The last category is of interest as it can be found among the Trump voters just as much as among voters for Germany’s right-wing extremists party The AfD. These voters feel increasingly alienated by globalization and society in general. They are suspicious of the establishment, including politicians, banks and corporations. For them, immigration is the central issue. The left-behinders are found to be highly neurotic and hence most reachable when messaging appeals to their fears. In the case of Germany’s left-behinders, access to the Internet is crucial and the use of Facebook as an echo chamber in particular. While many see Facebook as a platform to connect with friends, Cambridge Analytica sees it as a data collection behemoth, monetizing its data assets. Today, Facebook is the world’s most effective advertising corporation.

Cambridge Analytica used Facebook for its persuasion work which means convincing the voter about the appeal of the candidate and his or her policies, to effectively win them over. Not surprisingly, Facebook called its work with the Trump campaign: customer service plus. This could well mean that sensitive data containing personally identifiable information on voters had been transferred to Cambridge Analytica.

In the UK, there was a 52:48 win for Cambridge Analytica. People voted for Brexit. In the UK as in the USA, Cambridge Analytica created what it calls heat maps which included the number of persuadable voters in the areas a politician needed to visit. Crucially, the heat map tells a campaigner where the concentrations of persuadables are located.

The outcome of all this can well be a measurable 3% increase in a politician’s favourability – in some cases that is all what is needed. This is about getting a vote up but there are also PR instruments that get votes down. Trump’s battle, for example, wasn’t against only Hillary Clinton, it had been against the American people. Voter suppression and fear-mongering…had become a part of the playbook.

Like any other propaganda – euphemistically relabelled public relations, Cambridge Analytica sole goal was to influence people. Like an chthonic cult or a fringe religious sect, Cambridge prayed on the fears of vulnerable within the electorate in order to influence their voting behavior. What Cambridge Analytica did happened without anyone noticing. That’s the acme of effective propaganda. Cambridge Analytica preyed upon their deep-seated underlying fears and concerns. When someone asked the boss of Cambridge Analytica, does that mean that the candidate is just a puppet? Alexander Nix replied Always.

 

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Vichy Democrats vs. the Master Voice

Photograph Source: Gage Skidmore – CC BY-SA 2.0

One reading of the present shows us a hyped economic reality but also political and cultural realities hyped so far that simulacra is quite easily digested and regurgitated as reality. In a world of simulacra, reality is not only a vacated former presence, like a former tenant, but unrecognizable in any reappearance. It’s a war of every simulation of reality against every other similar displacement of reality.

And so, a feature of hyperreality is to declare and dismiss this reading as “fake news” or “disinformation.” More accurately, it would be called “fake/false interpretation.” This kind of reaction has legs now in this country, a tweet that flies viral to millions who tweet their own agreement.

Everything – meaning, too much — flies in a society of chaotic spectacle and spin, two outstanding problems in one sentence.

If I were to make a case that it’s too late to save ourselves from this low form of “conversation,” to use pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty’s ideal of how we can communicate with each other, I’d begin with my description in the first paragraph of how we do “communicate.” Not at all, anymore. Or, much less than any time since paintings were drawn in the Lascaux Caves.

Our hyped economic reality, so in need of deep structural changes to an economic system that went off the tracks in the second part of the last century with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, is a foundational bottom to our hyperreality, if such could exist. And it can’t. Hyperreality has no bottom.

The “Voodoo” nature of that economics – shape a vanguard elite that could compete globally and win for all of us and raise all boats, a kind of Neoliberal utopia – was transparent but there was already an empowered top quintile made flush by profits in the Vietnam “conflict” that could obscure that transparency. I mean that we already had in place a power class arising from wealth that was benefitting from “Voodoo” economics, aka, the “efficiency of the market.”

However, such a move on the chess board doomed a middle-class democracy that had been formed after WWII, an electorally powerful class that tempered a wealth divide that had brought Europe to revolution more than once.

The unregulated rule of the market gradually wasted that middle-class democracy and left us with the wealth divide we have now, plus all the consequences of that divide. Not the least of these is the persisting economic immobility of those who were caught at the bottom two quintiles at the moment of the Reagan launch, namely people of color. They were at the bottom while the middle-class democracy went on, economic and resulting social mobility restricted to white males. What a Democratic Keynesian economics did was allow a government intrusion into private markets to relieve an economic distress of an efficient market theory. This was not a direct mending of the inequities long standing.

Neither did a neoliberal economics complete the reconstruction that had failed following the War Between the States but exacerbated a divide between the races as both mediums for advancement — having money or finding a pathway to having money – were denied brown and black skinned people in what had already become quite transparently a plutarchy.

Wealth and the power coming with wealth see no need in redistributing either. That’s not a planned conspiracy; it’s axiomatic and the guiding axiom is return on investment. Le Roi.

What we have had with the Democratic Party over the course of two Democratic presidencies is no direct confrontation with Le Roi primacy but instead a return to unfinished reconstruction of just mercy to people of color, now extended to sexuality and gender equity. It took some time for Bernie Sanders to make a connection between his attack on unbridled capitalism and such an attack’s positive impact on all marginalized groups. Whether he has convinced people of color of this we will discover with the primaries.

Regardless of how single focused Republicans are and how absent such is with Democrats, our politics are now immersed in the hyperreal, immersed in fabrications that suit our chosen economics as well as our politics, all nurtured in the Dark Matter of cyberspace.

The visions of any form of socialism, the end game of an identity politics, or the Vichy-like conciliations of the Democratic Party play sadly and weakly in a hyperreal more dramatically owned by narratives that make no attempt to tack to the winds of reality.

Thus, perceptions of how great Trump’s America is, how like a warrior fighting The Deep State Trump is, how coddled minorities are by Democratic Party governing, and how fearful we are of illegals flooding across the southern border and transforming very rapidly WASP identity into an inconceivable otherness own the hyperreal stage.

Standards of evaluation and judgment regarding how well the country is doing are targeted on how well investors and dividend recipients are doing. Reportages of unemployment, of wages, conditions of employment, retirement security, and benefits are assessed in relation to an absence of workers’ share of profits that has been in place since Reagan. Any movement from nothing to something is a mathematics not a victory.

For example, the Native American population is doing well in all of these from what perspective? Within what historical accounting? The same can be said if we take a woman’s or any racial minority’s perspective.

If a worker formerly had a secure pension, a wage beyond cost of living, employee paid health benefits, membership in unions representing their needs, and the security of knowing that redundancy wasn’t a “new” reality, and then all that collapses so disastrously that a political party can make it a small plank in their platform, run on its recuperation, and a present administration makes a sham show of the same to keep the precariat from revolt, can we say workers are now doing well?

How our economic state appears to us, that is, its phenomenal reality depends on who the “us” might be. It also depends on the ways in which the “appearance arts” have expanded because of the melding of online and offline representations. Such arts have become so forceful in such a short period of time that we remain stunned by a hyperreality that seems always to have been with us. Images replace discourse; narratives replace critical reasoning; opinions replace factual evidence.

We have gone, following Baudrillard’s explanation, from a common recognition of what is truly reflective of reality and what is not to the perversions of reality economically, politically and culturally practiced and personalized by Donald Trump, to an acceptance of his fabrications and reality pretenses to a simulacrum where something is represented/narrated that, in Gilles Deleuze’s words “bears no relation to reality whatsoever.”

Political hyperreal has expanded and deepened since the House’s impeachment went down in a total defeat in the Senate. President Trump is now on a “Baby’s Peeve Purge” campaign, transparently baby peevish Stalinesque, that has elevated his popularity.

“I’d be able to do it if I wanted I have the absolute right to do it,” the President said this week when asked if he had directed Attorney General Barr, his stooge, to intervene in the sentencing of Roger Stone, one of his operatives.

There is now little need to hide the claim to absolute power, or to worry about the Constitutionality of such claims. The President of the United States is going to punish those who impeached him and the expectation that this too will be accepted as “perfect” is unquestioned in the hyperreal in which we find our stunned lives.

The reasoning that “maybe people should pay for that,” meaning impeaching Trump, was expressed by the Press Secretary as if this kind of statement is okay with everyone. This was formerly back room, behind closed doors Nixonian vindictiveness. It is now so totally “perfect” that we just stand by, curious as to who our President will humiliate next in his made for autocrat’s messaging medium, Twitter. Neither Orwell nor Huxley imagined such a fast track from Master Voice to “We, the People.”

There is no fear of outrage in response but rather once again a rise in the President’s popularity, no fewer swarming to his rallies, the intensity of his magnetism increasing as he goes Full Autocrat.

If you juxtapose the Iowa Democratic primary ruin with the President’s Oprah/Ellen State of the Union Reality-TV show, you get a sense of how weak and failing, how enervated any opposition to the President is now and, judging by the candidates vying to run against him in the election, will continue to be right up to that election.

Perhaps it’s not the fault of a party arguing among themselves over “kitchen table” issues, the “Vichy” Democrats like Buttigieg and Klobuchar for example, staking out a middle ground, set against deep structural economic change Bernie. Putting “kitchen table” issues ahead of what Bernie wants is reminiscent of Vichy President Pétain’s call to put work, family and fatherland ahead of continuing to fight the Nazi invasion wherever, whenever and, however. This is a fight Democrats have not engaged in since FDR.

What is clear, however, is that both factions are campaigning in a reality already dismissed by the hyperreal in which Donald J. Trump triumphs.

He’s not alone there. And this take us to our cultural climate which has very steadily and quickly softened us to the point that truth is not the truth in this hyperreal, as Giuliana astutely affirmed, facts are just yours and not mine, opinions are self-authorized and beyond rational challenge, and reality is what I see and say it is in my bubble of “social” updating and awareness.

I don’t know what the middle ground politics is within this regime of diverse and divagate knowing. I call it “Vichy” because its an attempt to live cordially within an encompassing regime focused on the usurpation of democratic power.

Trump earned his spurs in the hyperreal long before he became president. He’s now formidable because his replacement of reality and truth with himself and his tweets runs parallel with the entire culture’s displacement of shared ways of knowing with personalized links, kinks and apps.

This personalization/privatization of traditional ways of knowing, from armchair rational approaches of philosophy to the scientific method, is, ironically, not personal at all but a manufactured product of both a politics and an economics that is threatened by orders of common understanding, much preferring, as does Putin, the disarray of “personalized” realities.

Cyberspace is a too efficient delivery system of such.

This cultural temper then is running in Trump’s direction, not toward any opposition. I don’t know what authority would stand now in this country as a guide to extracting simulacra from reality. Can evidentially based language be reasserted in defiance of tweets?

We are in a reality that is applauded as new because the old was just so old school, not retrievable and who would want to go back to analog reality? We are inured in our wealth divide and careless of its consequences to the same extent that we are inured of our alternate reality lives in cyberspace. The latter carries over into the former and replaces its evils with the fascinations of the Digital Hyperreal.

The political state we are in has been created by the movement of both culture and economics toward conditions it will be difficult to replace because the forces of those movements are ongoing and now impossible to re-imagine.

Sadly, we have difficulty in imagining ourselves in the world that Bernie envisions or the world that Greta Thunberg envisions, nor can we imagine ourselves back in a world unsettled by the disjunctions and chaos of cyberspace.

These failures in the present may not proceed into a future in which other and new conditions force us to burst the hyperreal bubble we are in.

It’s also possible that the “Vichy” choice as Democratic presidential candidate can describe an appeasing, modulated path that will stand against the spectacles and spin of the hyperreal and its voice, Donald J. Trump. I have my doubts.

To have any chance at all the “Vichies” must move rapidly to convince a dividend recipient class that they will not, as Bernie would, erode their dividends, nor will they do anything more than return our “free” enterprise system to what it was before Trump, his tweets and his mano a mano brand of foreign relations, which promises an accidental war from which even the “Industrial/Military Complex” won’t profit.

The “Vichies” must convince those invested in fossil fuels that their dividends will not end because we’ve rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. And what stands as most difficult, they must convince on that hyperreal stage, which is our country now, a stage in which Donald J. Trump is the Master Voice, that there’s truth and reality in their “narrative.”

We must doubt, finally, given the description of our present surround presented here, whether a Vichy Democratic presidency will “cordialize” either the MAGA’s or the Bernie Bros.

More certainly, a re-election of Trump will make it more than difficult to salvage what is being economically, politically and culturally destroyed.

 

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