Monday, January 16, 2017

Searching for a Counterweight

The hour is late; the clock of destiny is ticking out.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I will not watch the Trump inauguration later this week, not even out of morbid curiosity, but I do wonder how many times during his address Trump will refer to himself, his greatness, his intelligence, his manliness, etc. How many times will Trump bring up his ridiculous promise to make America great again? Will he talk about his Wall along our southern border? Will he threaten China? Who knows? As Chris Hedges said in a recent interview, Trump is protean, malleable, lacking in core convictions; all Trump understands is the power that money confers.

Every year on this day I think about Martin Luther King’s short life and the treasure trove of writings and speeches he left us; the words are as relevant today as they ever were. The arguments King made against militarism, racism and poverty still resonate, because America abounds in all those evils. The progress earned in the 1950’s and 1960’s with sweat and blood and broken bones has been systematically eroded by the owners of the corporate state and their political enablers. Income inequality is off the charts, civil liberties dangle by a slim thread, and for almost two decades this misguided nation has been engaged in continuous warfare. We’ve made the abnormal, normal.

King recognized class warfare when he saw it. Americans are conditioned by propaganda to deny the existence of class, but there’s no denying that the last 40 years have been a full on assault by the wealthy and well-to-do against the poor and working class; as a result, a staggering amount of wealth has flowed from the bottom and middle to the top. Ordinary Americans, most invisible and ignored and without voice in the halls of power, are understandably angry at the decline in their prospects. Donald Trump rode that anger, used it to manipulate voters into thinking he was their savior.  

Yes, Dr. King, the hour is late and the clock is winding down. In less than a week a fatally flawed man will become president and usher in a frightening era of kleptocracy. Trump will start his reign of terror with a dismal approval rating. Not that this matters because Trump simply ignores truths he doesn’t like. He’ll claim, “No president has ever been as popular as me. People are saying I’m very, very popular,” and the corporate media will report it without challenge. There is no counterweight to balance Trump’s madness or that of the stooges he is bringing with him.

I’m going to read some of Dr. King’s words today, find solace in the thoughts of a man who was taken from his country way before his time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Parliament of Thieves

“Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

We can see the outline of how the next four years are going to play. Someone will criticize Trump and thin-skinned, small-hands Donald will take to Twitter to attack them, and in doing so he will either distort the truth, ignore the truth or tell an outright lie. Trump’s tweet will drive coverage by the lapdog corporate media.

Actors and artists are also citizens, and some actors and artists are well informed, engaged, and eloquent: George Clooney, Mark Ruffalo, Rosario Dawson, Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep come to mind. Trump took aim at Streep over remarks she made at the Golden Globe awards about Trump’s mocking of a reporter who suffers from a physical disability. Naturally, Trump denied that he ever mocked the reporter, even though video tape evidence of him doing just that exists. Here we step into Trump’s Orwellian world, where up is down, black is white, war is peace, ignorance is knowledge, and The Donald is infallible.

Trump called Streep “overrated.” Let’s correct the record. Streep has been nominated for Academy Awards nineteen times, with fifteen of those nominations for Best Actress, an unparalleled feat. Streep has won three Oscars and eight Golden Globe awards. Streep is the Michael Jordan of Hollywood. Donald Trump is an idiot.

January 20 is the day America plunges into the abyss. Yeah, when Trump raises his tiny hand and swears to uphold the Constitution, a document he’s hardly familiar with and has little respect for, it’s over the edge and into the black. And I’m only going to say this once: if Big Bad Vladimir Putin somehow -- and I think this is a shibboleth concocted by the CIA or the NSA -- tipped the election to Trump, then it’s just payback for the many elections the United States has disrupted in countries from Chile to Iran. The US dollar is still the world’s reserve currency, and the US has the largest, most sophisticated military ever assembled, but we also lead the world -- by a wide margin -- in pure hypocrisy. We subvert democratic outcomes in sovereign nations all the time; we spy on allies and enemies alike; we prop up dictators and murderers when it suits our purpose; we ignore national borders; we kidnap and torture; and we lie, distort, and dissemble.  

But how we hate it when the Lazy Susan spins and we are on the receiving end of dirty political tricks! The outrage that surges through our body politic! We forget our own crimes, the misery we have caused, the hordes of people we have killed; our self-righteousness and indignation caroms off the charts.

The American republic is still an experiment that can fail; progress is never guaranteed, a concept we will learn over the next four terrible years, as Trump and his band of thieves dismantle and dismember what remains of the New Deal and Great Society. Forget ethics, forget the rule of law, forget moderation, forget compassion, forget justice.

Welcome to the Parliament of Thieves.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Coping Strategies

-I imagine Paul Ryan sitting in his study in his underwear late at night, furiously jerking himself off while reading The Fountainhead.

-How often does it come to pass that those who never served in the military are quick to send others to fight our corporate wars in far flung corners of the empire? The same people are usually among the loudest and most energetic cheerleaders for the military.

-Truth will be a first casualty of the incoming Trump regime. Lie big, lie often, will be the mantra -- in fact, it already is -- as Trump and his vice president claim a mandate to unleash the wolves on the American commons. It’s important that we remember that Trump and Pence lost the popular vote by a solid margin, and their “victory” in the un-democratic Electoral College was modest by historical measures.

-Repeat 5X every day: Trump has no mandate.

-That he can’t recruit any A-list entertainers to perform at his inauguration party must be killing Trump. Maybe he can order the Marine Corps band to play a medley of patriotic tunes, some background music appropriate for a wannabe dictator, or he might enlist Ted Nugent to wail Cat Scratch Fever over and over.

-I know this for sure: Barack Obama failed and fucked us. Don’t be fooled by the encomiums to how wonderful the Obama years have been.

-Why are Republicans so hellbent and crazed about repealing the Affordable Care Act? The entire scheme was hatched in one of their conservative think tanks, and gives the private insurance industry guaranteed customers and profits. The title of the act itself is something of a joke because health care in America is hardly affordable, even when one is insured.

-The poor will always be made to pay for the errors of the rich.

-Paul Ryan finishes jerking off, lays The Fountainhead down, thinks about privatizing Social Security and Medicare, and immediately becomes erect again.

-Trump will govern by Tweet. Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln -- literate men who revered language -- will convulse in their graves.

-Neoliberalism retarded America’s soul. We are a crass, callous, and cruel nation now.  

-The corporate media will continue to regale viewers with stories of amazing rescues, cute pets, the latest celebrity divorce, a 60 car pile-up on a frozen stretch of Interstate 95, or freak weather “events,” (none of them the result of climate change).

-America, we are truly screwed, unless we take a page from the French and flood the streets, until we learn to put the fear of the mob in the oligarchs. Turn the computer and the TV off, set your phone down, take the earphones from your ears, get mad, become outraged at the greedy bastards who stole your future, shackled your kids with debt, bankrupted your parents, poisoned the water in your city or town, or sent your son or daughter to die in Afghanistan or Iraq.

-We are better than our diseased political system, better than our corrupt political leaders, better than avaricious CEO’s and hedge fund bosses, better than the talking heads who try to make us afraid.

-Time to stand up, time to be counted, time to say, No More.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Seven Bowls of Wrath

Our powerful weapons are the voices, the feet, and the bodies of dedicated, united people, moving without rest toward a just goal.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This isn’t my favorite time of year. The “Christmas season” is too long, too frenzied, and more often than not, too stressful. In the US, at least, the reason for the season is obscured by commerce and non-stop advertising. I don’t have patience for Christmas shopping and leave that chore to my wife. I’m no help whatsoever when it comes to wrapping presents, as my work resembles something a chimpanzee with two left hands might produce.

And, of course, after the election of Donald Trump, all I see hanging over Christmas in America is a dark cloud. My wife tells me that I have been impatient, caustic, and short-tempered since November 8, and I can’t disagree. Depression has plagued me for more than a month. Frankly, I’m afraid of the damage the Trump gang might do, at home primarily, but also abroad; as it stands, Trump already seems dead set on stirring up trouble with China, and his cabinet picks demonstrate contempt for the very idea of public service.

I don’t feel any nostalgia for the outgoing Obama administration. I lost faith in Obama during his first term, when he appointed many of the usual suspects, like Tim Geithner, to key cabinet positions, and failed to prosecute any Wall Street executives who crashed the economy in 2008. Forgotten in most of the feel good stories about Obama is how he squandered the congressional majority he enjoyed during his first two years in office by constant efforts to appease the GOP. During those first two years Obama appeared weak and rudderless, and he let the opposition run the narrative. This led to a crushing defeat for the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, to the tune of six lost Senate seats and 63 lost in the House. While Obama dithered, the GOP obstructed and distracted.

I will not forget other key Obama failures, like the fact that he continued, and even expanded, our failed War on Terror, chipped away at civil liberties in the same manner as George W. Bush, and provided lukewarm leadership on climate change. Pundits call the Affordable Care Act a singular Obama accomplishment, which I would agree with if Obama had first proposed a single-payer system. But that’s not what Obama did; single-payer, the only sane way to provide medical care, never got a hearing. Too radical for the incremental Obama. Better to leave the insurance industry in charge.

I do give Obama credit for negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran and for opening relations with Cuba.

Unemployment fell during Obama’s terms and the stock market rebounded, as was much ballyhooed in the corporate media, but no one asked the big questions, such as: what kind of jobs were created in the past eight years, permanent or contingent, high wage or subsistence wage, full time or part time? Same goes for the stock market. What has the rising stock market done for working people? Very little. But don’t tell the corporate media.

I’m depressed because no political party represents people like me who work for wages. The Democrats have had a 30 year lovefest with the professional class and affluent donors, to the detriment of working people, and this is one reason -- not the only reason -- that many working people stayed home on election day or decided to roll the dice with Trump.

To become viable again, the Democrats must purge every last vestige of Clintonism from the party, run Clinton loyalists out, and figure out who and what they stand for, and then, most important of all, learn to communicate with voters on an emotional level. Real jobs, economic, social, environmental and racial justice. Blocking and thwarting Trump’s mean-spirited, fear-inspired agenda is important and must be done, but it’s more important for the left and progressives and moderate conservatives to offer a coherent vision of something better. We know what we don’t want. The question is -- can we articulate what we do want?

As the year comes to a close I’m reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, a fantastic non-fiction account of the great migration of black people out of the American south. I’m learning history that I was only vaguely aware of.

I want to thank all the people in Russia, Poland, France and Germany who read this blog. Happy Christmas to you all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Smoking And Sputtering

“But what does it say about our so-called leadership when they slip into nostalgia for the past when facing the rubble and ruin of their modern ideology? That neoliberalism has peaked and is accelerating toward its inglorious finale?” Jason Hirthler

What and who to believe? Ambiguous claims made by anonymous sources? Mainstream media outlets owned by corporations? Internet crackpots? The CIA?

Why would Russia want to disrupt the American election when it was absolutely clear that we had accomplished this feat all on our own? Our perverted system required no help when it puked up Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And let’s not forget that the e-mails from the DNC -- whether leaked or hacked -- showed that the Clinton Machine wanted to face Donald Trump more than any other GOP candidate. The Machine’s polling and focus groups and experts and triangulation all pointed to a comfortable victory if Trump was the opponent. Hubris blinds absolutely.

The US establishment seems convinced that Vladimir Putin -- the latest, not-so-new world bogeyman, the reinvigorated Red Menace -- somehow tipped the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. Why Putin would do this is speculated on but never verified with evidence. Maybe the CIA knows, but why would any American trust the pronouncements of the CIA? Hillary Clinton -- desperate to find an excuse for her failure -- believes that Putin harbored dislike for her personally. Then how to explain the fact the Clinton easily won the popular vote? Are we to believe that Putin’s operation was so sophisticated that it only influenced the vote in states that Trump won?

Now that the establishment is obsessed with Putin and Russia, does this mean an end to our war on Islam, the war that goes on and on and on, with never a declaration by Congress? We are killing people -- directly or by proxy -- in countries that never attacked us, like Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, and never far from unleashing our military might on Iran. Of course, when the self-proclaimed indispensable nation does the killing, it is justified on the grounds that we are maintaining the peace, halting a humanitarian tragedy, or advancing democracy. The corporate media and its stenographers echo this sentiment without question. Of course the US is righteous and just.

Donald Trump is a symptom of internal gangrene. Our neoliberal, market-obsessed, financialized economy and bloated military and surveillance machine is smoking and sputtering like a 1963 VW bus ascending a steep grade, and the public is choking on lies and myths and fantasy. We are buckling under the weight of empire. Trump and his gang will accelerate this trend.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Trump's Royal Scam

“But some of us are not content to have a gap in opportunity and income that drives a wedge between rich and poor, causing the rich to become ever more callous and complacent and the poor to become ever more wretched…” Alice Walker

With every Trump Cabinet or advisory appointment I become more convinced that we are in for an orgy of crony capitalism. As if the oligarchs needed more power than they have already, corporations, hedge fund managers, the finance, insurance and real estate industry, and resource extractors, will wade into the public sphere up to their chests, and squeeze even more private gain from public assets.

Trump is loading his Cabinet with millionaires and billionaires, characters like Trump himself, who believe the rich are better and more deserving than the rest of us. Because of this belief, the Trump Gang will hardly bother to disguise their intentions -- they will simply pillage our nation, impoverish our future, and exacerbate human caused climate disruption. Of this I have no doubt. We are in for at least two years of staggering rip-offs and ethical malfeasance.  

Nomi Prins, a writer who knows a few things about Wall Street, calls Trump’s Cabinet picks one of the great bait-and-switch jobs in US history. Like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama -- and Hillary if she had prevailed in the undemocratic electoral college -- Trump says one thing and does the exact opposite. For instance, he talked a lot about bringing jobs back to America, and then nominates for Secretary of Labor a corporatist hostile to workers in general and what’s left of organized labor in particular. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were masters of this bait and switch, gifted orators who made you think they understood your problems, pain, anguish and hopes, so much so that you hardly felt it when they plunged the dagger in your back.

Trump is more direct, less polished and urbane. Trump embodies the worst traits of the capitalist system -- an insatiable hunger for money and power, a hunger that recognizes no boundaries or limits, a hunger incapable of regulating itself.

Someone, I think it was Chris Hedges, said that regardless of who sits in the Oval Office our corporate system functions quite independently, pursues similar neoliberal policies designed to either protect the wealthy from taxes and regulations or transfer money to the wealthy. The challenge for the rest of us -- if we are to mount a credible resistance -- is to critique the system of power and wealth concentration, not the personalities the system vomits up. This will not be easy because the corporate media rarely -- very rarely -- allows any critique of American-style capitalism. Instead, capitalism is deemed to be the only possible system, as sacrosanct and unassailable as the notion of American exceptionalism.

The concentration of wealth into few hands over the past 40 years has strangled our democracy and rendered millions of people disposable. The Trump Gang will deepen our class and racial problems and immiserate even more of our citizens in misery.

Hold on, it’s going to be ugly and mean.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Restocking the Swamp

“When we look back on this sad, pathetic period in American history we will ask the questions all who have slid into despotism ask. Why were we asleep? How did we allow this to happen? Why didn’t we see it coming? Why didn’t we resist?” Chris Hedges

You knew, didn’t you, that Trump would surround himself with odious characters, hacks, and ciphers hostile to the very idea of government, privatizers who see government as a cash register? Trump campaigned on a vague promise to drain the DC swamp -- and now he is busy restocking it.

For what it’s worth, Trump lost the popular vote by a wide margin, so the carnival barker can’t claim a popular mandate -- not that he isn’t doing just that -- the fool went on an ill-fated “victory” tour, after all, the kind of empty spectacle he excels at, but if it wasn’t for our undemocratic, 18th century system, Trump wouldn’t be president-elect.

I mused on this blog a few months ago that maybe America deserved Donald Trump, that Trump was the logical result of our corrupt democracy and our equally corrupt institutions. Accountability is dead. Our leaders can invade other nations on false pretenses, torture prisoners, murder people, even American citizens, without charging them with crimes or affording them a shred of due process. We wage war on the poor and vulnerable. We try to do the impossible and make oligarchy and democracy work. We falsely believe that the hurt we put on others will never come back to haunt us. But is has, or will.

The oligarchs live in a parallel universe and play by a different set of rules. Laws that apply to you and me don’t apply to them. The man that rips-off taxpayers to the tune of millions walks away while the poor person who steals a loaf of bread experiences the full weight and power of the State.

Hard not to despair, harder still to accept that the highest office in our land, an office held by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, will very soon be occupied by Donald Trump. How we have declined.

I heard Chris Hedges say the other day in an interview that the last US president to fear the people was Richard Nixon; perhaps this is why some of Nixon’s policy positions sit to the left of Barack Obama. How far we have moved to the right.

Remember this about the American system: no matter who occupies the White House, Goldman Sachs always wins. Always.

Individually, we are toast; it is only when we act together that we have any agency.

Don’t go near the swamp after sundown.