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    My Reparations

    August 2, 2020 // 2 Comments »


     
    My great grandfather was a slave. He died May 7, 1943 alongside most of his loved ones in the Sobibor concentration camp, about 120 miles from Warsaw. So I’ve been thinking a lot about reparations.
     
    One son and his family escaped  years earlier to America. Ernst and Julinka (pictured) arrived with no special skills, and proved to be imperfect people, with their marriage falling apart not long after arrival in New York. About the best we can say is they brought their five-year-old son with them. My father. He naturalized as a teen, making me the first native born American in the family and later, the first to get an advanced degree. Immigrants, we get the job done, right?

    Through a happenstance discussion with a former German diplomat, a change in German law dealing with loss of citizenship under Nazi persecution may mean I am a German citizen by birth, transmitted through my father. The adjudication process is complex and success not assured decades after the fact, but as the diplomat said, “We cannot undo the past. We cannot raise the dead. But we can offer you this, citizenship, something we hold dear.” A reparation.

     

    Nazi reparations, with well over $60 billion paid out, are the gold standard, and fall into three broad categories.

    The first leg of reparation was financial support to the Israel. By 1956 Germany was supplying over 87 percent of Israel’s state revenue.

    The second leg was direct payments. There are multiple programs, established through the ongoing NGO-like Claims Conference, to payments to elderly survivors, those needing medical care, payments to children swept up with their parents, payments to victims of medical experiments, claims for looted art, and more. The payments vary, but are modest, thousands of dollars. The amounts are unlikely to change many lives economically, but they are symbols. As one head of the Claims Conference said, “It has never been about the money. It was always about recognition.”

    These payments are directed at those who directly suffered.  Though payments continue for the life of the victim, they are not given to later generations (though in some cases surviving spouses continue to be paid.) So I have no claim to Holocaust money. Reparations went to the individuals harmed, not to the dead and not to the living generations removed. My extended family got nothing; they were all dead.

    The final leg of German reparations is what might be called atonement. Germany’s postwar Constitution outlawed hate symbols, specifically the swastika. In 1952 Germany officially apologized for Nazi crimes. The explicit story of WWII is taught in schools and memorials and museums expose the horrors of the Third Reich. Modern Germans know their history. And for me, the possibility of being extended German citizenship makes for a small part of all that.

    Another important element of the financial side of Nazi reparations is much of the money comes from direct perpetrators of the crimes. French and Swiss banks had held funds deposited by now dead Jews seeking to hide them from the Nazis. After the war the banks tried to keep the money but were forced to pay it into reparation accounts. Insurance companies that refused to pay beneficiaries on the specious ground that premiums were not kept current while policyholders were in concentration camps were made to contribute. Hundreds of German and Austrian companies that employed slave laborers paid up. It was an imperfect process; in 1999, class action lawsuits against slave users Deutsche Bank, Siemens, BMW, Volkswagen, and Opel failed, though the German government and industrial groups agreed separately to compensate former slaves for forced labor they performed during the war. Again the amounts were small, in the thousands of dollars.

     

    And so we come to America, where BLM and others are demanding reparations for slavery reaching back as far as 400 years. Unlike the Nazi system, as well as the reparations the U.S. paid to Japanese-American internees (payments went to survivors and a very limited number of descendants) and to victims of horrid syphilis experiments at Tuskegee University (payments went to survivors, spouses, and children), financial reparations are envisioned on a broad scale, as wide as paying something to the 37 million blacks in America, not a single one of which is closer than multiple generations to enslavement. The majority who believe they are descendants of slaves do so based on family lore; how many can documentarily connect back 400 years to a slave without a last name who was told he’d be called “George” after he waded ashore in Virginia?

    The scale of slavery reparations and the amount of time passed since enslavement also means unlike Germany, 100 percent of America’s reparations would be paid out of the general pool of Federal taxes collected from 21st century relatives of slave owners, recent immigrants, minority business owners, and ironically from descendents of slaves themselves. Does anything say “white supremacy” clearer than forcing modern blacks to pay for their own reparations? The money large or small otherwise has about as much meaning to those from whom it is taken as a spoonful of hot spit. Divided among so many descendants with vague connections to their distant enslaved relatives, it is like figuring how many inches of interstate highway your taxes paid for. Modern reparations are as separated from the reality of ownership and of being owned as 400 years will allow. If reparations are symbolic, these would be near meaningless.

    There isn’t space here to discuss the reparations inherent in the Civil Rights Acts and the Great Society, trillions spent on benefits to blacks, as well as existing racial preferences in federal contracting, affirmative action, job quotas, and educational admissions. There isn’t space here to talk about the massive practical problems of raising additional reparations money and creating a distribution system for payments. Nor is there room to enlarge the story as it needs to be and ask what amends are owed by Arab, African, and European slavers, shipping companies, and banks, never mind the European textile manufacturers who profited mightily off cheap cotton. Few are ready to talk about the slave trade of the Portuguese supported by American and European companies, which sent forced laborers into the cane fields of the Caribbean and South America to profit in part American sugar refiners and rum makers. Less than five percent of African slaves went to the U.S. Slavery was a massive interconnected global system.

    In reality any reparations for slavery will need to be of the atonal kind we see in Germany. Much of this is already hard on the ground. We have the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. America’s commitment to free speech makes it unlikely hate symbols, such as the Confederate flag and swastika, will ever be banned outright (the Supreme Court consistently refuses to create a “hate speech” carve out in the 1A) but clearly a cultural corner has been turned which will see those symbols have less and less place in mainstream society.

    An apology is overdue; just words of course, but words are sometimes all we have. President Reagan apologized to Japanese-American internees in 1988. Bill Clinton in 1997 apologized to the people affected by government medical experiments conducted at Tuskegee University in the 1930s. Though nine states, including Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia, have formally apologized for slavery, during the Obama administration the House and Senate passed bipartisan resolutions of apology but failed to reconcile the two versions. Obama, a coward when courage called, chose not to apologize without that political support.

     

    So the question is: does BLM want to move forward or remain in the past? Financial reparations at this point accomplish nothing. They do not compensate the victims, they do not punish the slavers, they would be in any amount too little too late, an almost shallow act. The form reparations must take, atonement, is partially underway and will someday include a formal apology. The problem is that such actions are meant to — their actual purpose is to — provide closure, an endpoint to allow a new starting point. One never forgets the past, the dead are always with us and we build memorials and tell their stories to ensure that, but we accept some sort of ending to empower the living to shoulder the responsibility of going on.

    Will BLM do that, or is there still political fodder in ensuring slavery remains a scab to be picked as necessary, crisscrossing the same lines like a figure skater, to be blamed for everything from COVID deaths to low SAT scores, to forever remain a collar? Are they ready to stop being victims, responsibility of their fate outside their control? Reparations carries with it an agreement to heal; the line is not never forgive, it is never forget.

    It will be a long time before I hear whether I qualify for German citizenship. Nothing will replace an extended family I will never know, nothing will displace the dark spaces inside my complex father, but I am anxious to see what does change if I become a German citizen. So I’ve been thinking a lot about reparations.

      

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    Posted in Democracy

    How Much Do Black LIves Matter?

    July 18, 2020 // 4 Comments »


     
    James Powell was 15-years-old when one hard summer the NYPD killed him.
     
    He’d been sitting on a apartment building stoop with some other black teenagers when the building superintendent grew frustrated and sprayed them with a garden hose after the kids refused to leave. A cop arrived, claimed Powell had a knife, and shot him twice. No one saw a knife but the cop. A quick ambulance response might have saved Powell’s life but ambulances don’t arrive quickly in that part of town. The cop was cleared by a grand jury. He’d previously shot two other people in the line of duty.

    If you don’t recognize the name James Powell it might be because he was killed in 1964, just two weeks after the Civil Rights Act passed . His death lead to Project Uplift, which you also are unlikely to have heard of, a War on Poverty program to create jobs in Harlem. A few years later the streets not far from where Powell was killed were renamed for Adam Clayton Powell, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King. In 2020 “Black Lives Matter” was painted in bold letters on one of the streets nearby. You can now even ask Alexa and she will respond, “Black lives matter. I believe in racial equality.”

    That black people’s lives matter isn’t debatable, but how much do they really matter is a real question. It would be beyond cynical to make a Groundhog Day remark out of James Powell’s life and aftermath but not beyond the truth.

     

    The rioting and protests across New York City has in a way succeeded in one of its specific goals, to defund the police. On June 15 the city closed down the NYPD’s plainclothes anti-crime unit, 600 cops tasked with preventing violent street crime. Once described as elite by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the unit responsible for the choke hold that killed Eric Garner was seen by the black community as a left-over from the stop-and-frisk era. They were the successor to the Street Crimes Unit closed down in 2002 following the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo. A federal probe found they profiled people of color along the road to ending the destruction of the city during the 1980s.

    Two days after the latest unit fell victim to BLM, party DJ Jomo Glasgow was gunned down at a house party in Brooklyn. His shooting was part of a 205 percent increase in shootings in NYC so far in 2020, the bloodiest toll since 1996.

    Adding to the current day carnage are two other fulfilled BLM demands, the mass release of prisoners due to COVID risks in city jails and the ending of bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Persons released under bail reform went on to commit 299 additional major crimes. The shootings in NYC are in predominantly black neighborhoods. And there lies the failure of BLM successes: they take black lives that matter.

     

    Other BLM demands center on money for food, housing, and justice. Over the last 50 years (federal, state and local) governments spent more than $16 trillion to fight poverty. In 2012 that amounted to $20,610 for every poor person in America. Here in NYC, one out of every 14 people already lives in public housing, with the average resident staying 18 years. In a city where the overall population is 26 percent black, 45 percent of those in public housing are black. Food aid? Predominantly in black areas. More than 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers (the average for all other groups is 41 percent.) Children in a single parent family are five times more likely to be poor than children growing up in married‐​couple families. Black lives matter of course but maybe not to many black fathers. Poverty levels among blacks are largely unchanged over decades. The money didn’t help because it was supposed to be a helping hand, not create a victim’s lifestyle, and no one wants to admit the cash outlays from the Great Society and War on Poverty are the only reparations which will ever be paid.

    The modern case for more reparations is made by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a hero of BLM after her work in the NYT’s alt-history 1619 Project. Hannah-Jones, where those before her stumbled, has found the specific thing reparations is going to fix: economic inequality for blacks. In What Is Owed she writes “While unchecked discrimination still plays a significant role in shunting opportunities for black Americans, it is white Americans’ centuries-long economic head start that most effectively maintains racial caste today.” To fix that means to her reparations.

    Hannah-Jones is going to need a helluva lot of money. There are some 37 million blacks in America. Offer each $20,000 in reparations. That’s $740,000,000,000, about a thousand times the current defense budget. And it won’t pay much rent in NYC, where the median household income is $63,000, never mind close any gap in economic inequality. There is no case for reparations resolving any real-world problem except maybe white guilt.

     

    The basic ideology of BLM is flawed. Blacks killing blacks is called a distraction. Single families are irrelevant. Mountains of money spent just seem to mean more money is needed. But the biggest flaw is BLM removes responsibility from the black community. Nikole Hannah-Jones inadvertently sums it up best: “There are no actions that black Americans can take unilaterally that will have much of an effect on reducing the wealth gap.”

    The BLM narrative is following the Civil War systemic racism was willfully instituted across the nation to keep blacks oppressed. The splay of problems, especially multi-generational poverty and crime, is not the fault of black people. It is something created (and thus the “fault”) of white people and it must be resolved by white people. BLM is a “to do” list of things white people must do. Protests are designed to get whytepiople working on that.

    Coupled with the lack of personal responsibility is the BLM emphasis on pranks and symbols.  Streets are renamed, BLM painted on murals, Gone With the Wind sent down the memory hole, and every TV show, movie, and ad seeded by boycott threats with an ever-growing palette of POC. Go ahead, keep going: show us videos of Karens calling 911, teach history from Broadway musicals, cancel all celebrities, tear down all the statues, rename Columbus, Ohio to Wakanda, rename everything. History shows it all means nothing because it has changed little. James Powell was killed in 1964.

    The BLM narrative is a sweeping view of 400 years of history where the parts fit together like Legos from that first slave wading ashore in 1619 to killing in Minneapolis in 2020, some sort of Protocols of the Elders of White Bread. It ignores how an alleged white supremacist society has over time made its peace to accommodate and promote other minorities, Asians, people from the Indian subcontinent, Cubans and Hispanics among them, albeit unequally, and overcome waves of hate and racism against, in no particular order, the Irish, the Jews, the Catholics, the Italians, women, gays, and streams of refugees, never mind comfortably elect a black president twice and give him two black attorneys general. If we are white supremacists with systemic armor, we have done a really bad job of it.

    One would think a fundamentally racist society worried about losing majority control would not be so generous. The argument that none of those groups grandfathered into the American Dream were ever slaves — the supposed one thing which sets blacks apart — depends on all of us believing a society of immigrants recreates racism anew with each generation, holding a grudge for 400 years over something none of their relatives had anything to do with.

    In NYC, Spanish Harlem is full of warm mom and pop cuchifritos restaurants while black Harlem is infected with corporate fast food. The corner store bodegas which straddle neighborhood borders were once owned by Eastern European Jews who gave way to the Italians, then Indians, Koreans, and now Yemenis. Whole Dominican families run dry goods shops in black neighborhoods. Are they all racist? Is everyone in on it? The whole BLM narrative rejects Dr. King’s dream of insistence on content of character. Skin color is everything and race goes from being one important issue to something that matters more than anything else. Being black becomes so controlling of destiny it can only be fixed by whites.

     

    The horrors of slavery are endless, made worse because no matter how many times retold, history frustratingly cannot be changed. Discrimination is part of American society as it is in every society and must be fought. But a narrative that says black people have little personal responsibility when a random white guy with no historical or family connection to slavery does, one which demands someone else fix things (mostly with free money), one which is so childishly and regularly diverted by ultimately empty symbolic gestures, cannot succeed.

    James Powell was killed in 1964 and everyone is still saying and doing the same thing expecting different results. That’s what matters.

      

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    Posted in Democracy

    Notes from the American Cultural Revolution

    July 11, 2020 // 1 Comment »


     
    Is America on the edge of a cultural revolution? After the failure to change so many times (say their names for a complete list) is society ready to take action against racism? Or is it just about statues again?

     

    I’m ambivalent about statues being torn down per se, but terrified of the thought process behind the destruction. Decisions should never be made by mobs. That happens alongside the rewriting of history to fit a narrative (see The 1619 Project) and the banning of books which challenge the conformist view of Blue Check Twitter. To hell with the statues of J.K. Rowling, but fear the thought which destroys them.

    The historical namesake and obvious parallel for all this is the Cultural Revolution in China, 1966-1976. Its stated goal was to purge capitalist and revisionist/traditional elements from society, and to substitute a new way of thinking based on Mao’s own thoughts. The epic struggle for control and power used the currency of the way people thought, seeking to emulsify meaning by waging war against anybody on the wrong side of an idea.

    To set the mobs on someone one would only have to tie him to an official blacklist like the Four Olds (old customs, culture, habits, and ideas.) China’s young people and urban workers formed Red Guard units to go after whomever was outed. Violence? Yes, please. When Mao launched the movement in May 1966 he told his mobs to “bombard the headquarters” and made clear “to rebel is justified.” He said “revisionists should be removed through violent class struggle.” The old thinkers were everywhere and were systematically trying to preserve the elements of their power, subjugation of the people through culture being one of them.

    Whetted, the mobs took the task to heart: Red Guards destroyed historical relics, statues, and artifacts, and ransacked cultural and religious sites. Libraries were burned. Religion was considered a tool of capitalists so churches were destroyed, and even the Temple of Confucius was wrecked. Eventually the Red Guards moved on to openly killing people who did not think as they determined. Where were the police? The cops were told not to intervene in Red Guard activities. Enforcement hardly mattered; the national police chief pardoned Red Guards for their crimes anyway.

    Education was singled out, as it was the way the old values were preserved and transmitted. Teachers, particularly those at universities, were considered the “Stinking Old Ninth” and were widely persecuted. The lucky ones just suffered the public humiliation of shaved heads while others were tortured. Many were slaughtered or harassed into suicide. Schools and universities were eventually just closed down and over 10 million former students were sent to the countryside to perform hard labor in the Down to the Countryside Movement. A lost generation was left to fester, uneducated.

    The Red Guard pogroms eventually included cannibalization of revisionists in Guangxi. After all, as Mao said, a revolution is not a dinner party.

     

    The Cultural Revolution destroyed China’s economy and traditional culture, leaving behind a death toll ranging from one to 20 million. Nobody really knows. The Revolution was a war on the way people could think, and the Red Guard a mob set loose as its warriors. It failed. One immediate consequence of the Revolution’s failure was the rise in power of the military when regular people had had enough and wanted order restored. And oh yeah, China became even more of a capitalist society than it ever imagined in pre-Revolution days. Oh well.

    That’s probably a longer version of events than a column like this would usually feature. A tragedy on the scale of the Holocaust in terms of human lives, an attempt to destroy culture on a level that would embarrass the Taliban and titillate BLM, this topic is not widely taught in American colleges. I had the honor of speaking to an elderly Chinese academic who had been forced out of her classroom to the countryside and made to sleep outside with the animals during the Revolution. She recalled long forced self-criticism sessions which required her to guess at her crimes, as she had done nothing more than teach literature, a kind of systematic revisionism in that it espoused beliefs her tormentors thought contributed to the rotten society. She also had to write out long apologies for being who she was. She personally was held responsible for four thousand years of oppression of the masses. Our meeting was last year, before white guilt became a whole category on Netflix, but I wonder if she’d see how similar it all is.

    And small world — students in China are again outing teachers, sometimes via cellphone video, for “improper speech,”  teaching hurtful things from the past using the wrong vocabulary. Other Chinese intellectuals are harassed online for holding outlier positions, or lose jobs for teaching novels with the wrong values. Once shunned as anti-free speech, most UC Berkeley students would likely now agree such steps are proper. And in Minnesota To Kill A Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn are banned because in historical settings fictional characters use a racial slur sadly common then.

    There are no statues to the Cultural Revolution here or in China to trigger a discussion. Nobody builds monuments to chaos. But it’s never really about the statues anyway. In America we moved quickly from demands to tear down the statues of Robert E. Lee to Thomas Jefferson to basically any Caucasian, including “White Jesus.” It was never going to stop with confederate generals because it was not really about racism, any more than the Cultural Revolution was really about capitalism. This is about rewriting history for political ends, both short-term power grabs (Not Trump for 2020!) and longer term societal changes one critic calls the “successor ideology,” the melange of academic radicalism now seeking hegemony throughout American institutions. Author Douglas Murray is more succinct. The purpose “is to embed a new metaphysics into our societies: a new religion.” The ideas — centered on there being only one accepted way of thought — are not noble. They are a cynical tool of control.

     

    It remains to be seen where America goes next in its own nascent cultural revolution. Like slow dancing in 8th grade, maybe nothing is going to come of it. These early stages, where the victims are Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, someone losing her temper while walking a dog in Central Park, and canceled celebrities, are a far cry from the millions murdered for the same goals in China. Much of what appears revolutionary today is just Internet pranking and common looting amplified by an agendaized media. One writer sees “cancel culture as a game, the point of which is to impose unemployment on people as a form of recreation.” B-list celebs and Karens in the parking lot are easy enough targets. Ask the Red Guards; it’s fun to break things.

    Still, the intellectual roots of our revolution and China’s seem similar: the hate of the old, the need for unacceptable ideas to be disappeared in the name of social progress, intolerance toward dissent, violence to enforce conformity. In America these are well-set in our universities, and spreading outward so that everywhere today — movies, TV, publishing, news, ads, sports — is an Oberlin where in the name of free speech “hate speech” is banned, and in the name of creating safety dangerous ideas and the people who hold them are not only not discussed, they are canceled, shot down via the projectile of the heckler’s veto, unfriended, demonetized, deleted, deplatformed, demeaned, chased after by mobs real and online in a horrible blend of self-righteousness and cyber bullying. They don’t believe in a marketplace of ideas. Ideas to the mob are right or wrong and the “wrong” ones must be banished. The choices to survive the mobs are conformity or silence. In China you showed conformity by carrying around Mao’s Little Red Book. In America you wear a soiled surgical mask.

    The philosophical spadework for an American Cultural Revolution is done. Switch the terms capitalism and revisionism with racism and white supremacy in some of Mao’s speeches and you have a decent stump speech text for a Black Lives Matter rally. Actually, you can actually keep Mao’s references to destroying capitalism, they track pretty closely with progressive thought in 2020 America.

    History is not there to make anyone feel safe or justify current theories about policing. History exists so we can learn from it, and for us to learn from it it has to exist for us to study it, to be offended and uncomfortable with it, to bathe in it, to taste it bitter or sweet. When you wash your hands of an idea you also lose all the ideas which grew to challenge it. Think of those as antibodies fighting a disease. What happens when they are no longer at the ready? What happens when a body forgets how to fight an illness? What happens when a society forgets how to challenge a bad idea with a better one? Ask the dead in China.

      

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    Posted in Democracy

    Will Trump EVER Leave?

    July 3, 2020 // 3 Comments »

    I’ve got a list of bookmarks as long as my fave drug store receipts declaring threats to the republic, end of democracy, and the arrival of dictatorship. When I turn on cable news, the end of America as we know it — the literal end, as in North Korean-style lives for us — is nearly a regular feature alongside weather and sports when we had sports. I’ve tried to make a little career out of debunking that fear mongering. But now I’m scared.

    Joe Biden announced his plans: Biden (who despite appearances is the Democratic candidate for president) said he is “absolutely convinced” the military may have to remove President Trump from the White House if he refuses to leave after losing November’s election. Joe warned “This president is going to try to steal this election… It’s my greatest concern.” Asked whether he’s thought about what would happen if he wins but Trump decides not to leave the White House, Biden responded: “Yes I have.” After mentioning the high-ranking former military officers who spoke out about Trump’s response to BLM protests, he went on: “I’m absolutely convinced they will escort him from the White House.” Biden has been saying this now for months.

    It’s one thing when for clicks goofy Michael Moore, Donny Deutsch or Bill Maher muse Trump will not leave if he loses, or an Op-Ed worries Trump will unleash nuclear apocalypse in some Strangelovian bid to stay in office. Nearly everyone on Autonomous Free Twitter knows the voting will be rigged. Some knucklehead wrote a book about it based on a fan fiction reading of the 12th Amendment. TDS poster child Lawrence Tribe even said it about the midterm elections two years ago. Democrats have voiced “concerns” Trump would use the coronavirus crisis to delay or delegitimize the election.

    But this is Joe Biden saying it: Trump will attempt some sort of unconstitutional coup. Joe Biden who was vice president twice. Joe Biden, Lion of the Senate, and for several centuries the gray representative of the credit card industry. Joe Biden who is not stupid, naive or dramatic.

     

    Biden is, however, just a pawn in the game. They’re setting it up, aren’t they?

    The NYT, as is its role, already fired several signal flares. They characterize Trump as a cornered despot, capable of anything to avoid losing. In another one article the Times announced “Trump Sows Doubt on Voting. It Keeps Some People Up at Night,” quoting a Georgetown University law professor “reactions have gone from, ‘Don’t be silly, that won’t happen,’ to an increasing sense of, ‘You know, that could happen.’” The professor even convened a group to brainstorm how Trump could disrupt the election and to think about ways to prevent it. They speculate Trump could declare a state of emergency, maybe COVID-related, in battleground states, banning polling places from opening. Or Attorney General Barr could Comey-like announce a criminal investigation into Biden.

    The online comment responses to the NYT articles were amazing. People are ready for this. They are convinced Trump is defunding the post office so no one can mail-in absentee ballots (which the left somehow imagines will all be for Biden), and that Trump is sending out coded signals to his militias to take to the streets if it looks like he is losing. One reader is more confident: “We have a National Guard to deal with Trump’s 2nd amendment people” though more than a few claim what happens in November “will depend on where the military’s loyalty lies.” Many think the Supreme Court is a tool in all this, with Kavanaugh a grateful lickspittle linchpin to enable a November coup through some sort of judicial invalidation of the election. Many seem certain Trump will face jail if he leaves office and thus will illegally stay in office to stay out of jail; one says “DJT knows that once voted out he will still have to answer to Putin.”

    That Americans think this way is scary enough. But here’s my nightmare.

    After a long October of rumors from sources about some Surprise (war with Iran, martial law in Seattle) fails to produce a surge in Never Trump voters, the media pivots to the cheating narrative. Trump is doing something with mail in ballots, black people can’t get to the polls in Georgia, the Attorney General in Kentucky will undercount urban areas. The media will explode like a ripe zit, splattering fake news, exaggerations, and experts, all with a single point to make: the results on election day will not be valid if Trump wins. Academics will fan the flames, bleating on about the importance of the popular vote and rehashing old arguments from 2016 about the invalidity of the Electoral College.

    All will be forgotten faster than Robert-What’s-His-Name-Mueller if Biden wins. But if by pre-2016 standards Trump is the winner, boom! The media will refuse to concede. The Dems will put a little lipstick on it with strident local court challenges, demands for recounts, emergency hearings in the House, but keep it out of the Supreme Court. Democrats don’t want a conclusion, they want a crisis. Trump will fulfill his standard role as his own worst enemy and hold rallies to re-declare victory over and over. But the story everywhere else will be Trump is not the president-elect, the election was not legitimate, and that orange bastard’s presence in the White House after January 20 will be a Konstitutional Krisis. Privately the Democratic power brokers will whisper something remarkably undemocratic other than accepting the results of the election has to be done to save our democracy.

    What happens after that is beyond guessing. A best case scenario is some party graybeards get through to an exhausted and befuddled Biden and talk him out of it. A bad scenario has Obama emerge under the guise of being a neutral party to negotiate a (Democratic Party) conclusion. A very bad scenario has the same third party actors who whipped Black Lives Matter protesters into a looting mob repeat the performance. By that point nearly everyone will demand the military step in for different reasons. A very, very bad scenario will have a real-world event intervene, like an enemy abroad taking advantage of the chaos. The need to act expeditiously will slip a “temporary” military government into place faster than CNN can play the Breaking News music.

     

    You believed Trump was a Russian sleeper agent but you’re calling me paranoid? In 2016 learned scholars tested legal theories the Electoral College was invalid, and created a Constitutional Frankenstein where the electors voted for Hillary based on the popular vote. The idea the election was invalid due to foreign influence sullies discussion still today, and one political writer continues to place an asterisk next to the term “President Trump*” to denote questionable claim to the title.

    For nearly four years the same forces that may declare 2020 invalid tried very hard to convince us 2016 already was. There are plenty of Hillary people (including Hillary) who have not accepted 2016. Has Stacey Adams really accepted her defeat yet? Think back to everything that happened during the last election, the gaming done by Comey and the FBI to influence results. Remember how the intelligence community manipulated Russiagate. Why wait for November 2020 to have a coup? We’re been in what Matt Taibbi calls a permanent coup for years. They’ve been practicing to declare 2020 illegitimate, trying out the arguments, teeing them up, trial balloons.

    Any of the those things would have been considered crazy talk only a few years ago. None would have ever passed into the mainstream. Compare Russiagate to the Great Obama Birth Certificate kerfuffle. The idea Obama was ineligible for office festered in right wing talk radio. It was dismissed as factless by just about everyone else. Fast forward to 2016+ and America’s paper of record is happy to front a story the president is subject to blackmail over a pee tape based on nothing but desperate hope it might be true.

     

    The critical tool for a potential end of democracy is peoples’ new conditioned readiness to believe almost anything. The media tells the world what’s important using a very narrow range of truth if available, or just makes things up if truth is not around to be manipulated. When outed, the MSM switches to something else, and though the specific previous topic no longer exists as fact, it devolves into as one part of a broad idea — Trump is bad. Like summing up a range of experiences to say “Yeah, good vacation to Italy.” The people remain on call to be upset about whatever the news says to be upset about next, such as “Trump stole the election.” It’s really very easy. Remember literally overnight the media had people convinced  protesting during lockdown was deadly and then (whoosh, silence=violence) not protesting during lockdown was deadly.

    We end up living exhausted, on knife’s edge, neck deep in cynicism, decline, and distrust. And scared. There are no facts anymore, only what people can be made to believe. That power was not well understood in 2016 and clumsily applied. Today it is ripe for exploitation far beyond generating clicks and ad revenue. I don’t think Trump will try to stay in office if he loses. But there are people who will tell us that to try and play on our fears to steal this election. That’s why I am finally scared.

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    Am I a Racist? Are You?

    June 27, 2020 // 4 Comments »


     
     
    Am I a racist? Are you?

    People tell me I sort of have to be a racist, it’s really not my choice. Today if you’re old, white, from the midwest, a bit conservative? Racist. Maybe you don’t say racist things specifically, and maybe you never did anything to disadvantage a black person yourself, but you’re by original sin part of “systematic racism.

    Now maybe your immigrant parents arrived in the U.S. 75 years after slavery, or you as a white racist have trouble finding a privileged job that pays a living wage. No matter, you’re still privileging from a system going back 400 years whether you like it or not. You can’t change what you are and people hate you for that. That’s the systematic part, defined as “not something that a few people choose to practice. Instead it has been a feature of the social, economic, and political systems in which we all exist.” Dang, ya’ caught me.

     

    I’d like to say most of that was from the news, but in the past days I heard most of that from a close relative, and the rest from a friend of many years, neither of whom want to interact with me anymore. I sent one checks since her birthdays were in single digits. I grew up alongside the other in our education. They have both taken themselves from my life because the Internet told them I am a racist and we all are more alone.

    Crowd-sourced (what old timers call a mob) leftist fundamentalism has given us a country where everyone can be called a Nazi, er, racist, and dismissed. Once the red line was only those damn Nazis, so no “Thank you, Elie Wiesel for that moving account. Now in rebuttal, Hitler’s deputy, Martin Bormann…” But you had to be an actual Nazi to hold an opinion outside the boundary of legitimacy.

    Not any more. Racism scholar Ibram Kendi says one is either racist or anti-racist, there is no room for such thing as a “non-racist.” The NYT said white allies should “Text your relatives and loved ones telling them you will not be visiting them or answering phone calls until they take significant action in supporting black lives.” Another article described my own situation, claiming “BLM protesters are breaking up with their racist, Facebook-addled relatives.” A Twitter thread about one such family dissolution had over 800,000 likes. HuffPo ran an article from a biracial woman eviscerating her white mother for being too white.

     

    High school debate clubs used to propose a topic in advance but not assign a “side” until just before the match. The idea was you would vigorously support or attack a position you may not personally agree with. You were supposed to learn something intellectual from all this along with the ability to see things from another point of view. It is a vision of the world a long way from calling someone a witch, er, racist, and dismissing them whole.

    We don’t understand debate, or its cousin compromise, anymore. There is no longer any tolerance for others’ views because the current fascism of the left does not see views and opinions as such; they are not acquired thoughts as much as they are innate to who we are, the inside and the outside fixed by color and class. You can’t change, only apologize, before being ignored at family gatherings, unfriended, and canceled. From the NYT firing an editor for running an op-ed by a Senator to me wondering about the practicality of defunding the police and losing a friend over it, there is no legitimate other side. So I can’t speak, I can only whitesplain (used to be mansplain.) People arbitrate my intent before I open my slack jaw. It’s even a job title — a writer at a black news site calls himself a “wypipologist.”

     

    I am unsure where all these woke white people came from. The world around me, since George Floyd’s death, is flooded with overzealous sympathy, the media a waste can for guilt, and people who never heard of the idea a week ago pronouncing themselves deeply committed to defunding the police.

    Companies are stumbling over each other like those who only just found Jesus at an AA meeting to add Black Lives Matter to their web site just above the Sale banner. WaPo reports African Americans have said they’ve been overwhelmed by the number of white friends checking in, with some sending cash because guilt is an expensive hobby. White celebs are swarming to confess their past ignorance on race. In what may be the ultimate expression of shallowness, someone who calls themselves an influencer and life coach posted an Instagram guide on “how to check in on your black friends.” Which corner was everyone standing in solidarity on last week?

    The Slack for a hospitality company I worked for pre-Covid exploded last week when a benign HR data request went out on #BlackOutTuesday. The almost all white staff went insane with accusations of racism. Of course the blind-sided (and now racist) HR drone didn’t think about Tuesday being some private racial Ramadan when we all fasted from reality; she doesn’t follow the right people on Twitter. The mob, in words which sounded like they’d drunk a human growth hormone and Adderall smoothie, barked until the company to issue a sort-of apology. They celebrated as if they’d brought George Floyd back to life.

    It shouldn’t have caught HR so off guard. The unemployees live in a world where “journalism is a profession of agitation.” They were taught nothing matters more than starting a sentence “As a… (woman, harassment survivor, deep sea diver)” because no argument, and certainly no assembled historical fact could be more important than a single lived experience. They were brought up on TV shows that juxtaposed white and black characters like someone was stringing magic diversity beads. They made the boss apologize even though nothing really was different except that made-up racial “holidays” are now on the list of things where there is only one allowable opinion. Soon enough we’ll all be asked over the P.A. to take a knee for the national anthem at sporting events.

     

    The harsh self-righteousness oozed. It sounded very much like people wanted to imagine they were on the cutting edge of revolution, the long-awaited (well, for four years) Reichstag fire. So what makes this moment into a turning point and that $25 donation to a bail fund them into a freedom fighter?

    Not much. Less like taking a stand, it feels more like radical chic from people who have been cooped up for months, cut off from bars and the gym. They don’t seem to know we’ve had this week before. The deaths of Rodney King in 1992, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown under Obama. The protests like the last round of BLM, Occupy, Pink Hats, March for Our Lives, even Live Aid in 1986 when Queen sang for everyone’s racist parents to end hunger forever. Remember in 1970 when Leonard Bernstein threw a cocktail party for the Black Panthers Defense Fund and Tom Wolfe wrote about it? That changed everything; I mean, people used to say “Negro” back then. But I’m pretty sure a year from now there will still be funded police departments.

    It took some rough nights to work out the rules and root out the looters, but even as the protests fade the whole thing became a set piece: the protesters arrive with water bottles to stay properly hydrated and healthy snacks as the route is established with the police a long way from “by any means necessary” boulevard. As long as everyone enjoys their revolutionary cosplay inside the white lines the cops don’t have to spank anyone with pepper spray. The AP describes the once violent protests outside the White House now as having a “street fair vibe.” See, it got complicated explaining how looting beer from a convenience run by Yemeni refugees was connected to racial justice.

    It all reveals itself as hollow because this fight isn’t between racism and anti-racism. It’s Black Rage versus White Guilt. The cops quickly quiet down the former and the media slowly wears out the latter. That means little of the action will have much to do with the real issues but everyone will feel righteously better. Until next time.

    Along the way, however, the collateral damage of wokeness is producing the totalitarianism it purports to challenge by denying any view that challenges it. Ideas are redefined by one side as the bad -isms of racism, sexism, fascism and pulled out of the marketplace along with the people who want to talk about them. No invite to the barbecue, no seat at the Thanksgiving table. In a political system built on compromise I’m not sure how we can get things done in a world like that.

    For me, I’m a good enough man. I am not a racist. I’ll get over my problem with lost friends. America, I’m not so sure.

     

     

     

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    The Search for Heroes

    June 13, 2020 // 9 Comments »

     

    These are your new heroes: people who invoke the grace of Dr. King to label riots as lawful protests, looting as reparations. To be fair, most of that labeling is not by the thugs themselves, but by the media who elevate them to hero status hoping once again this will bring Trump down. Citing the freedom fighters in the streets, former labor secretary Robert Reich proclaimed “Trump’s presidency is over.”

    Not quite yet. So the MSM report on fires outside the White House with a wink; maybe they’ll burn the place down. The Trump family taking shelter in their bunker was met with articles calling the president a coward for not facing down the mob shouting “Get off my lawn!” The implied hope was there — if we can’t impeach him, maybe we can just have someone kill him. They will deny it, but the media encouraged violence. They hoped for it, they egged it on. “Destroying property which can be replaced is not violence,” NYT’s Nikole Hannah-Jones said. “I think any reasonable person would say we shouldn’t be destroying other people’s property. But these are not reasonable times.”

     

    Meanwhile the media met the prospect of the military’s arrival on mixed ground. The big story was not the standard “order will be restored but my God at what price?!?” but that Trump had “declared war on the American people.” Though 58 percent of voters support the deployment of the military to respond to protests, with only 30 percent opposing, the web is awash in uninformed fear mongering over martial law, posse comitatus, the Insurrection Act, and whatever else a Wikipedia search churns up.

    But underlying was a subtext: you know, maybe a military coup, maybe via martial law, would be OK. We’ve heard that actually for four years, with hopes expressed one of the ex-military men in the White House, maybe Mad Dog, John Kelly, or H.R. McMaster would hero up and assume control. If not directly, then maybe by running the country as the patriot behind the throne. Upon General Mattis’ departure, the The New York Times asked “Who will protect America now?” juxtaposing the warrior-monk with the Commander-in-Cheeto.

    The search for Trump-smiting heroes has strayed far from anyone deserving the title even as the qualification for the job remained hilariously low. Felon Michael Avenatti was a contender, anal porn star Stormy Daniels, and felon Michael Cohen, too. Along the way James Comey, John Brennan, Michael Hayden, Christopher Steele, and James Clapper were all given some hero time, and of course the run by Robert Mueller as Savior-in-Chief. There was the anonymous whistleblower and a handful of State Department drones at the impeachment hearings whose names are so long forgotten they might as well have been anonymous. Even the virus was given the chance at hero status if it would have been horrible enough to end this presidency.

    There were also the mini-heroes like Colin Kaepernick or the women’s soccer team, whose minor protests were turned into national moments by the MSM. They do keep trying for relevancy; pink haired soccer starlet Megan Rapinoe is threatening to run for some office, and joined other minor celebs in signing a petition to defund police forces. Kaepernick started a defense fund for protesters, quoting Malcolm X to warn “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”

     

    The hero-seeking media partnered them with every Democratic black candidate of any type or plain white woman who could check boxes (single mom, lesbian, HIV+, veteran, etc.) The high point of this low point was reached with AOC and her Squad, whose only real accomplishments have been relentless self-promotion and helping push Nancy Pelosi into an impeachment process that squandered the Blue Wave.

    But rioters as the new heroes? That’s who is left? No one wants bad cops, and every day America suffers for its original sin of slavery and 200 year failure to find repentance. The only answer the country seems to have come up with is to allow rioters to run amuck every few years to let the pressure reset. Pick your favorite — the TV version following Rodney King, the blast from Ferguson, or something old school from the 1970s out of Watts or the Bronx.

    In New York City we face an 8 pm everyone-off-the streets curfew, the first in 75 years (the COVID lockdown is also concurrently still in effect.) But the protests continue, with several hundred people last night closing down streets adjacent to my apartment building. Many stores in this part of America’s richest city had already been boarded up; the men putting up the plywood coming in from white working class neighborhoods in nearby Queens said to me they’re grateful for the work post-COVID, “but if I ever have to do this for my own neighborhood some mf is gonna suffer.”

     

    The protesters themselves were about two-thirds white, uniformly in their mid-to-late twenties. People wearing Bernie t-shirts outnumbered those still practicing social distancing by about 6:1. Everyone who would tell me where they lived said Brooklyn but if you live here you would have already guessed that. The blacks in the group appeared to be joining spontaneously from the surrounding public housing blocks and not mingling. Their chants weren’t the organized ones of the white kids, mostly “f*ck the police” accompanied by gang signs or middle fingers, just rage cleansed of politics.

    None of the black protesters would speak to me, but the white protesters wouldn’t stop. They knew media and my notebook drew them like shadows to a lamp. Asked what they wanted, everyone had their lines down — it was justice and peace — but no one really had an answer to how this demonstration would help create those things. What law could Congress pass to fix any of this? Raising awareness seemed to be the closest anyone could get.

     

    Some apartments in the area have hired private security, those beefy guys you usually see checking IDs at night clubs. One hotel employee said his five-star place had former SEALS at the door. Two NYPD helicopters were overhead for almost two hours, top cover Baghdad-style, watching the rooftops. People living nearby are angry and afraid, and such people will defend themselves, and that will be a terrible, terrible thing. It seems leaders on all sides are setting us against each other and we are embracing that as a new way of life. When was your last pleasant but intense political discussion with friends?

    It was hard to connect the odd collection of images and impressions from the street with a new theme among the righteous but uneducated on social media. They seem to think burning a Target is the modern equivalent of the American Revolution against the British. I listened to the Hamilton score twice now, and even read the Klassic Komics version of Federalist Papers, and can’t find anywhere the American side whined about the British being too rough. Instead, they understood a revolution meant risking their lives, their honor, and their sacred fortunes. Denied representation under an undemocratic system, they fought.

    The Founders took to the streets with none of the protections of the Bill of Rights. It was only after they won those early heroes created a Bill of Rights. It came as a package deal, because the Founders wanted to create a society where peaceful change was written into the law and so another bloody revolution was something their children would not have to undertake.

    That fundamental message was missed by the Democratic Party of Fairfax, Virginia. They tweeted (now deleted but the sentiment is widely shared) “Riots are an integral part of this country’s march towards progress.” No. Riots are not a vehicle for political change in a democracy. They are the antithesis of democratic change, change by force with no desire for compromise.

    It was only a week ago people said protests against government (specifically COVID restrictions) were wrong and dangerous, we should listen to the authorities, and were glad the cops were out there enforcing social distancing and masking. The people I saw at yesterday’s protest looked a lot like the people hissing at me in Whole Foods for not wearing a mask. They likely believe the 1A protects their protests but not those of the rednecks at the statehouse. To them every offense is a lynching, every day the apocalypse, every Tweet another final blow to democracy, every misunderstanding another example of systematic racism if not sexism, every non-white non-male non-straight American another victim.

    Once you understand how shallow and and tiresome and hypocritical such views are you will understand the 2016 election, and in about 150 very long days from now, the 2020 election. No heroes, or Russians for that matter, necessary.
      

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    The Neverending Trump Story

    June 6, 2020 // 5 Comments »


     
    If you get to the end of this and think all it’s doing is defending Trump, you’ve missed the point.

    For the first time in months there is no front page COVID story. The replacement is the police killing in Minneapolis and chaos everywhere else. But the repurposing is familiar: blame Trump for the tragedy to defeat him in November.

    For months there were ran charts and tickers of COVID infections, deaths, missing ventilators, anything countable that made things look bad. When the stock market was hemorrhaging money those numbers were in red up front. Today, if it’s COVID info you seek, look for it where it started, before it was rebooted from Wuhan’s Virus to Trump’s Virus, back in the business section. Somebody else’s blood is going to have to rescue Biden.

     

    The precipitating news peg is the death of another black man at the hands of another white cop under another set of dubious circumstances. If 100,000 COVID deaths can’t shake your faith in Trump, maybe one more of these will. In the eyes of the media, it is of course all Trump’s fault. The problem with that is former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, now charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, previously shot one suspect, was involved in the fatal shooting of another, and received at least 17 complaints during his nearly two decades with the department.

    Nobody prosecuted him for any of that, including never-gonna-be-VP Amy Klobuchar, as a county prosecutor. Klobuchar also did not criminally charge other cops in the more than two dozen officer-involved fatalities during her time as prosecutor. She punted those decisions to a grand jury. Current Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who was a lawyer and state legislator when Klobuchar was prosecutor, defended Klobuchar’s record as “a practice that was common at the time.” That’s another way of saying systematic.

    One person Klobuchar systematically declined to prosecute was today’s villian Derek Chauvin. In 2006 he was one of six officers who shot Wayne Reyes after Reyes aimed a shotgun at police after stabbing two people. Small world. And that’s before anyone looks again at Biden’s own record on these things, from Cornpop on forward.

    See, this week happened before. George Bush had Rodney King. Under Bill Clinton it was Amadou Diallo shot 41 times, remembered in the Springsteen song American Skin (41 Shots). For George W. Bush, it was Sean Bell. Eric Garner was strangled by police during the Obama term, alongside the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

    Barack Obama said what happened last week in Minnesota “shouldn’t be normal in 2020 America” when in fact it has been normal for some time now, including under his watch. After the police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in 2015, Obama called the protesters “criminals.” Oops. But the media has him covered now; Vox jumped in this round with “being a former president is different. Now that he is out of office, Obama is more free to try to lead the social change his candidacy once promised.” Change? Leadership? Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Eric Gardner’s killer. Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Michael Brown’s killer. So today there is still no justice, no peace. Blame Trump.

    If that Minnesota cop was a violent racist, he certainly didn’t take the red pill from Trump’s hand, not with two decades of personal complaints and two decades of signature national violence and two decades of prosecutorial somnolence behind him. Remind us again, who was the black Democratic president of the United States during most of that time? Who was his black Democratic attorney general? And someone is trying to use racism in 2020 to take down Trump?

    Wait, breaking news! Trump is threatening to kill Americans! In what the New York Times characterized as “an overtly violent ultimatum to protesters,” Trump tweeted the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” and threatened to deploy the National Guard to Minneapolis.

    Now of course the Times knows but didn’t let on to the rubes it knows that it is very, very close to impossible for the president to federalize the National Guard for domestic law enforcement (we slogged through the explanations two years ago in another faux-panic Trump was going to order the Guard to enforce immigration laws.) The Guard generally answers to its state governor, and in the case of Minnesota, Governor Walz already called for full mobilization. It was just a tweet, carrying the weight of a feather. So it’s fitting the punishment is a tagged violation of Twitter rules and not impeachment this time.

     

    The problem with COVID as the Trump Killer was the wrong people ended up dying, and not enough of them. Had the early predictions of millions of deaths sweeping across the nation had any truth in them, that would be hard to ignore. Had the early predictions of COVID zombies using their last strength to fight  over the remaining ventilators come to pass, that would have landed a knockout punch.

    COVID also killed the wrong people. One can imagine Democratic strategists shouting “Find me some white cheerleaders in Wisconsin who will never realize their dreams, dammit!” Instead, the dead were a majority poor and black, with about half of all COVID deaths in the U.S. in ravaged and neglected parts of the New York City area no one really cared much about before all this. You can see some of those areas on TV today, filled with protesters fighting cops. A few efforts at trying to tie COVID into a greater tapestry of economic inequality didn’t get very far; nobody had much concern for Amazon warehouse workers when they themselves were out of work and waiting on packages of Nutter Butters.

    COVID was fundamentally a crisis of economic inequality; the bodies in New York City are the proof. If it was a failure of leadership, then that failure must be traced back some 50 years, and has less to do with a lack of PPE in 2020 than it does with a lack of national healthcare and a living wage contact traced from Nixon to whoever the next guy turns out to be, because both candidates have promised to do nothing new enough to fix those things.

    It is sad and cruel and horrible to say no one cared in the end enough for the virus to beat Trump but that is what happened. Remember it in a few weeks when the news has forgotten George Floyd.

    The failure of Trump not failing as a leader during COVID, or with police violence, follows a long string of similar stuff, beginning even before his inauguration. For three years we were told the president was literally a Kremlin agent doing Putin’s business out of the Oval Office based on blackmail. Then there was something about the Ukraine that rose to the level of actual impeachment that is still hard to explain and seemed to implicate Biden as much as Trump. Trump will kill us all was a meme Democrats threw against the wall multiple times, with various North Korean and Iranian wars and of course the virus. And now, forget all that. It’s racism, stupid.

     

    Former cop Derek Chauvin didn’t wait for Trump to send out a tweet, or even take office, before becoming violent. He’d been at that for two decades. The systematic racism in Minnesota has roots deep into (d/D)emocratic governance, and wasn’t enabled by a few tweets. This is the same answer for the virus; the economic inequality which drove the virus in places like New York City has very little to do with Trump or his supposed lack of leadership, same as it had nothing to do with the made-up ventilator shortage. It is no surprise in 2020 two leading causes of death among the poor and black are police shooting and COVID.

    These things run deep within our society. How obvious does it need to be, it’s not Him, it is Us. The media trying to bundle the latest crisis up and slap a “Trump” label on it, like before with Russia, Ukraine, war, and COVID, will do little to hurt his election chances, and do much to make it clear everyone continues to look the other way. If it is just a Trump problem (or a he’s on Twitter problem), it lives and dies with Trump, whenever that is. That assures us following Biden or Trump this year, or Donald Duck in 2024, there will be another virus which reapers through the poor, and long before then another street killing in a place that should be as far away as Minnesota.

    If all we do is play politics with tragedy that’s all we’ll ever do toward resolving tragedy. Resolution lies in looking forward to seeking fundamental solutions over looking backward to assign blame. People in the comments below will claim this is defending Trump. That is as wrong as it is irrelevant. If anyone thinks more violence is the answer, or that this will elect Biden, or that his administration will change things, you’re missing the most important point: the revolution has been televised. You’ve watched it already, you just don’t realize which side won.

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    Letter from New York

    June 1, 2020 // 1 Comment »

    New York City remains locked down while America seeks the bloom of spring.

    No wrinkles then around my eyes the first time I saw her, and she wasn’t just a bubble tea shop then. When people could roam the streets of New York City without harassment for failing to tie a talisman of a mask across their face, I used to walk regularly, often without specific purpose, past the old San Remo Cafe in Greenwich Village.

    In the 1950s and 60s the regulars included giants like James Agee, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, William S. Burroughs, Miles Davis, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock, William Styron, Dylan Thomas, Gore Vidal, and Judith Malina. Imagine the conversations, the dirty jokes, the warm beer.

    If you don’t recognize all the names, Google a couple. James Baldwin. A black, gay man, he wrote about victims without victimizing. Because he was a black gay man he understood the failings of humanity not just towards black gay men, but towards men. Modern writers in his genre always seem to start off their work with “AS a ____” demanding your sympathy on line one. Baldwin was better than that. He saw hope, not profit, in anger.

    Woody Guthrie played in the neighborhood around the San Remo and certainly must have stopped in, as did Bob Dylan.

     

    The cafe closed long ago. The property was most recently a bubble tea shop and its clientele about 99 percent Asian tourists who I do doubt ever read James Agee. Irony is a character in this story. Do history a favor and skip the abomination of the tea; just down Bleecker Street is Fiore’s Pizza, named after a New York firefighter killed on 9/11. It’s hard not to remember those sharp blue September days when we took care of each other, briefly, before we became so afraid. Heat can forge, or it can melt. Men who ran into a fire were NY’s heroes instead of people who, however necessary, stock shelves.

    Bob Dylan lived nearby on West 4th Street, having come to the neighborhood in large part because he wanted to meet Woody Guthrie. Neither man would be newly successful today. Both were in their primes imperfect men, perfect for #MeToo entrapment by those who have likely since graduated into masked tattletales (irony again; they hide themselves with facemasks while judging you.) The poets made you pay attention to the words because they wrote prayers, not songs. The words mattered because words once mattered as more than sounds that just rhymed well to a beat. Dylan wrote “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man” in this neighborhood about some NYC-type who often kept him awake at odd hours wandering around like we once could do. The sleepless Dylan never imagined what we see now when he wrote the lyric “the empty street’s too dead for dreaming.”

    The last war had been fought up the street, at the White Horse Tavern in the 1930s with the reds, and the place would make a comeback in the later gasps of the 1960s. At San Remo were the children of World War II too young to have experienced the bloodshed but damn aware of the price war took on their fathers, awake in the affluence of the 1950s and 60s alienated by the Cold War. Americans never really made peace with all that. It’s quite a neighborhood.

     

    The cafe can’t be there anymore, nor the Asian tourists, and neither can I because a good idea to implement social measures to slow the virus in line with our capacity to deal with it morphed into a fear driven shelter in place mania until we achieve zero-death plan. New York City has a dirty little secret it isn’t talking about. Arbitrary standards have been set for the whole of the place (available hospital beds to reopen the city must be 30 percent; it’s now at 29 percent. Number of hospitalizations misses the market by two-thirds of a person) , some eight million people. But there is little of the virus in Manhattan, including near the cafe. Most of the deaths are clustered in in the Bronx and distant Brooklyn, separated by class and money. The rich areas are held hostage in lockdown now to the poor areas. Yet to go out for milk now I have to look like Billy the Kid about to knock off the 10:15 train.

    I miss New York, the idea of New York, because the real place barely ever existed. The city always goes too far — too many handouts, too much poverty displaced by too much wealth, too much real art pushed aside by garbage, too much multi-generational public housing. Everybody knows the city always goes too far, and periodically it has to be culled back like weeds out of control.

    The 1970s and early 80s saw it turn into Beruit, with hard lines those stuck here learned to navigate. There is OK during the day, up there never, over near the park only if you had a good reason and some street smarts. The Bronx burned, the cops windshield wipered between giving up and turning vigilante. We did it again not too long later, with stop and frisk and broken window policing. Then back down to where a year ago or so the mayor ordered the police to stop arresting people of color for what he defined as minor crimes in the subway and then declared the subways safe (again) while minor crimes enmassed into just crime. Again. Each of those cuts through life here and the city walks around with the scars.

    The deal with New York was that you put up with stuff like that, grad school liberal poli-sci think pieces actually acted out (free methadone to replace cheap heroin, what could go wrong when a “clinic” replaces a grocery store in a neighborhood) in return for the old San Remo Cafe you could not get in South Bend or Allentown in return for putting up with what you did not have to navigate in South Bend or Allentown. The city is like a sunset, you don’t expect it to admire you back.

     

    Then it all went to hell in 2020. Those same political think pieces said they needed to put the city into a medically-induced economic coma to top the virus. The solution hit hardest on the poor. They need to become poorer to save them, that irony thing again.

    The public school system, which in another social experiment gone too far had been largely turned into a massive outbox for free meals, free daycare, free menstrual products, free birth control, and free medical care, just gave up education as a function completely and closed. The one single only solitary thing that has any chance of helping someone do better than their parents, education, was shut down. The city’s “public advocate” even wants penalties waived for skipping online school. So that’s OK. One imagines the immigrants on the Lower East Side a hundred years ago working extra hours on top of a 60 hour regular week to send one of their four kids to school to give the whole family a chance. Thanks, Grandpa.

    A good friend taught public high school in the deranged and ravaged South Bronx for several years under “Teach for America,” another grad school project which theorized anybody in front of a classroom was basically better than nobody, and hoped if you rolled the dice enough and stuck enough privileged kids in front of enough poor kids something decent might come of it. My friend eventually quit, realizing how much time he spent in his classroom on things not related to teaching science. His conclusion — you can’t fix the schools in the South Bronx until you fix the South Bronx — isn’t anyone’s current project. One imagines the minimum wage Amazon frontline worker thinking about the flyover honoring him about the same way he thought about people thanking him for his service after Afghanistan.

    Somehow Bill Gates is now deeply involved. What does he know, but he means well and he is a rich tech prince, about what in New York passes today as civic virtue. It reminds me of my nation-building days in Iraq, when any dumb idea could find a sponsor only the people in NY care even less about the results.

    New York is generally content with the system it has, a bizarre mashup of pseudo-socialism inside the greatest concentration of capitalism ever known enforced by near-fascist decree to enact the social experiments while the cops keep the rich and poor safely apart. Extreme forms of mitigation can have diminishing returns, but only in real life. The virus saw New York in the name of a liberal experiment to save New York from the virus shut down the jobs and the schools. Projections are more comfortable. Charter schools, no grades, more computers, more African history and art, free college for all, lockdowns, quarantines, masks, let’s try it. A virus will crush an already broken society faster and more efficiently than a working one. What’s happening now is a culmination not an event.

     

    We are most certainly not all in this together. Across the rest of the city, people are here without being here, with the richest areas about 40 percent empty. They have other homes to retreat to, suburban panic rooms from which to see how long this time it will take NYC to surface again. You can track their flight by the drop off in garbage collected in certain neighborhoods. Less people, less trash. The real rich toughing it out with the proles have private speakeasies to ease the pain.

    One thing the rich will be watching is where this time the economic (and thus safety) fault lines will settle in. On my side of town, the bad streets had receded above 96th. They’re working their way back to 93rd now. Google up real estate values and statistics for burglaries of old people and street assaults and you’ll know. The rich abandoned the public school system long ago. They also had the comfort of closing their public schools earlier to protect themselves from the early days of the virus (their schools being used primarily for education not as charity distribution centers; a mega-irony was that the schools still being part of the last social experiment meant they had to stay open longer until alternate food distribution could be worked out) and will exercise the option of reopening their private schools sooner, as the virus statistically is far away from them.

    Heat can forge, or it can melt. New York’s mayor is a goofball, a knucklehead, a jaboni who imagines himself a Caucasian blend of Cesar Chavez, Obama, and Dr. King. He wanted to be president even. Nobody really likes him, but the people who vote (by mail, from their second homes) generally endorse his policies even as they wish for someone a bit more elegant. They like the idea of feeling good, and so love the idea of a handful of “lower income” apartments mandated into billion dollar residencial towers. They tolerate a population of several thousand human trolls living homeless in the subway system because it adds “grit” to their city while they take Uber. Quaint shops and bars needed for Instagram are kept alive via GoFundMe and tax breaks, not customers. They mandated a city without public toilets, customers only!, and then seem surprised everything smells like urine. Can’t they eat cake? They act like they discovered the vaccine against irony long ago.

     

    Of course no one talks much about how the good ideas never seem to improve the lives of those they are aimed at. Despite the lockdown, plenty of people keep getting sick and dying in New York. The South Bronx is still poor. Despite the economic coma NYC still has a higher death toll per million in population than any other state in America. New York City also has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country yet we tolerate the death toll which persists. Most of those who die by gunfire are in the same category as the virus deaths, poor and of color and from another part of town walled off by street signs as plain and easy to understand as that wall across the Mexican border.

    The virus takes its victims, but much more of the harm is self-inflicted. It will take researchers years to sort out where the Venn diagram circles overlap among social distancing, natural processes like herd immunity, and just plain exaggeration, but it is clear today the virus is not the most dangerous thing here anymore. This is a dismal city to be in today, ravaged by a virus of bad ideas and self-delusional political experiments that laid in wait for a trigger event, COVID for now, to land some body blows. New York is a place now that misses its younger, happier self. Hard to imagine the poets at the old San Remo Cafe like I am now, wishing away a lovely spring and summer to hurry it up until November.

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    Requiem for the U.S. Department of State, Part I of II

    May 20, 2020 // 1 Comment »


     
    Saying “Mike Pompeo” out loud feels odd, like mouthing the name of an old girlfriend, or shouting out your GMail password. It just feels wrong in your mouth, because what’s Mike or the State Department done lately? As the Trump administration wraps up its first term focused on domestic issues, it occurs the United States has passed almost four years without a foreign policy, and without the need for a Secretary of State or a department of diplomats behind him.
     
    On his first anniversary in the job Pompeo told assembled diplomats “We needed everyone in their place, working on the mission, if we were going to achieve this mission on behalf of the president” but never actually said what that mission was. A Google query shows “Searches related to Mike Pompeo Achievements” include “mike pompeo weight – mike pompeo net worth.” One can easily imagine Pompeo, even pre-COVID, slipping out the side door at Foggy Bottom shouting “I’ll be working from home, check with my deputy if anything comes up” while his wife is waiting in the car for him, Ferris Bueller-style.

    We had high hopes for Mike. He and John Bolton (as National Security Advisor) were the Bad Boys who were supposed to start wars with Iran and North Korea, outdo Cheney and even challenge the legend himself, Henry “Bloody Hands” Kissinger. Pompeo watched as not much happened between the U.S. and North Korea. He watched as the ending of the Iran nuclear treaty caused not much to happen. John Bolton, who liberals expected to see on a throne in Tehran rolling a mullah’s bloody head around his lap, instead sits by the phone hoping a think tank will offer him an intern to listen to his stories, or maybe Dancing with the Stars will ring needing a last-minute. That show on Fox?

    Prior to Pompeo, the Secretary of State was Rex Tillerson. Tillerson couldn’t even come up with an elevator speech of his accomplishments when asked, listing as he left office North Korean sanctions which achieved nothing, alongside his own mea culpas for failing to make progress in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq, where with a straight face he noted there was “more to be done.” A bit hard to blame him, as Trump chose a policy of stasis, not wanting to withdraw the last trooper and forever be the man who lost Afghanistan. Imagine if the U.S. had followed similar political caution and still garrisoned Vietnam?

    Commentators wrote Tillerson would be remembered as the worst secretary of state in history. Wrong. He made no significant blunders, gave away nothing. He just didn’t do much at all. His actual only real accomplishment was a humiliating apology tour of Africa meeting with leaders on the periphery of U.S. foreign affairs grouchy over the president calling their nations sh*tholes.

     

    It would be easy to blame Trump, his open mic night style of making decisions, his decrees by Twitter, sucking all of the diplomatic air out of the room and suffocating up-and-coming diplomats like Mike and Rex before they even had a chance to try on their plumed hats. Unlike his predecessors, Trump never took advantage of his get-one-free foreign incursion along the lines of invading Grenada, occupying Lebanon, or an adventure in Somalia, never mind the big ticket items like Iraq Wars I-III. Sure, Trump did bomb Syria (who hasn’t?) and nipped at Iran, but the tumescence was over before the media could even declare the end of the world again.

    One can imagine meetings with friendly foreign nations in the Age of Trump: “Anything new from your side? No, you? Nah, something on Twitter from POTUS about armageddon, misspelled. Say, Crimea still giving you trouble? A little, whatever, you watching Tiger King? Pretty funny. Quite.”

     

    So turn the page backwards to John Kerry, Obama’s second term Secretary of State. Kerry imagined himself a Kennedy-esque man of action, Flashman at the ready, and had the State Department keep an online tally of how many miles he had traveled doing diplomatic stuff. The Nation called him “One of the Most Significant Secretaries of State in the Last 50 Years,” heady company when you realize the list includes Acheson, Dulles, Rusk, and Kissinger.

    OK, but… Kerry’s signature accomplishment, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, faded quickly. As negotiated the thing was only for ten years anyway, and would be about half over even if Trump had not walked away. And that’s giving Kerry full marks for getting an agreement where the National Security Council did much of the heavy lifting, and one which the Iranians wanted badly enough to help their economy they were willing to trade away a lot of Wonka tickets. Kerry’s work with the TPP and Paris Agreement also showed good effort. We’ll put them up on the fridge next to the one song Ringo got onto each Beatles album. Kerry’s muscular efforts came to little substance (albeit through little fault of his own) but the legacy business is harsh.

    After that, you have John Kerry helping muck up Syria. Kerry floundering in the Ukraine and Crimea. Kerry failing to move the ball forward in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Palestine, or blunting China as it assumed a pivotal role in Asia in every way except militarily (they’re working on it.)

    That Nation article praising Kerry also cites as achievements “the military retaking of Mosul, the sponsorship of an Oceans Conference, the strengthening of the Gulf Cooperation Council…” all of which mean what in 2020? Kerry did sing Happy Birthday to Vladimir Putin at the APEC conference in the midst of a U.S. government shutdown. Kerry’s most significant achievement was leaving many Democratic voters secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush beat Kerry to take on a dismal second term.

     

    But Hillary! Never mind “one of,” Google chair Eric Schmidt called her “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson” (suck it, Kerry.) Secretary of State was only the first half of the prize Hillary got for clearing the way for Obama in 2008 (Barack shooing Joe Biden aside for her in 2016 was the second) and Clinton made the most of it. For herself. Ignoring America’s real foreign policy needs (or was she being ignored?) she turned the State Department into an arm of her Foundation, projecting “soft power” on things like women’s issues and AIDS to match her eventual platform, all the while generating B-roll for the campaign like a chunky Angelina Jolie. She also had the Department obsessively document her constant travels, with formal photos of Secretary Clinton alongside world leaders as well as selfies of Hil letting her hair down among her own diplomats. “Texts from Hillary” predated Instagram. Not a pair of dry panties to be found over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    But in the tally of history, Hillary Clinton accomplished… not much. Time Magazine listed her key accomplishments as “the liberation of Libya, establishment of diplomatic ties with Burma and the assembly of a coalition against Iran.” In a summary piece, USA Today singled out “Clinton convinced Chinese leaders to free blind dissident Chen Guang Cheng,” who returned the favor by joining an American think tank opposing abortion and gay marriage.

    From the horse’s mouth, quoting Hillary Herself, key accomplishments were “hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.” Not resume items as momentous as forever changing the Cold War balance of power by opening China like Henry Kissinger or assembling the first Gulf War coalition like James Baker. Meanwhile, the world owes Hillary for her significant contributions to the failed state of Libya and the subsequent refugee flow, the human misery of Syria, the missed chances of the Arab Spring, and failing to end other wars she helped start or voted for.

    A generation before Hillary we have Colin Powell and Condi Rice, whose only accomplishments as Secretary were to march America into the desert and abandon her there (Colin) and march the State Department into the desert with the guaranteed-to-fail mission to create democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and abandon her there (Condi.)

     

    The good news is the U.S. is experiencing a peace of a sorts not by sweating out the sins of diplomacy, but just by not going around the world throwing matches into buckets of gasoline. Trump has made little use of his Secretaries of State and their Department. No recent president made much use of those diplomats either, so they are unlikely to be missed.

    The next Secretary, whether working for Trump or Biden, will find themself in charge of a Cabinet agency is search of a mission. They may very well end up somewhere between the traditional ceremonial role of the Vice President, attending conferences and funerals, or perhaps simply overseeing a network of embassies to serve as America’s concierge abroad, arranging official visits for fact-finding Members of Congress, and hosting senior Washington policy makers in town to do the heavy lifting of international relations.

    If the U.S. government had to downsize into a smaller capital, the State Department would likely end up on the curb, alongside those boxes of the kids’ elementary school drawings. Cute, sentimental, good times, but why did we keep them all these years?

    How did this happen? In Part II of this article, we’ll look at the factors internal to State and the United States, and those external, global changes, that left the Department adrift.

      

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    I Can’t Do It Again: Hypocrisy, Tara Reade, and Joe Biden

    May 10, 2020 // 12 Comments »

     

    Tara Reade says Joe Biden once grabbed her privates and demanded sex. Will it change the election in November?
     
    The Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings were a turning point, where the presumption of innocence was thrown out in favor of a new standard, “credible accusation.” Evidence was replaced by #BelieveAllWomen. Fierce justice then, but now it’s Biden’s turn. Imagine the same type of proceedings directed at him. Amy Klobuchar repeats her accusations Kavanaugh, er, Biden, is a drunk, with just about as little evidence now as then. Senator Dick Durbin demands Biden demand an FBI investigation into himself on live TV. Durbin fires at Biden as he did to Kavanaugh if he has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear, a line often attributed to Joseph Goebbels. Kamala Harris goes in as bad cop, righteously shouting down whatever is said to her by Biden. The truth? You can’t handle the truth.

    After that show, imagine a second one where Elizabeth Warren, long-shot Biden VP pick Florida Representative Val Demings, Kirsten Gillibrand, Stacey Abrams, and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer all show up to stand by Biden, not believe Reade, say Reade deserves to be heard before she is dismissed, and/or remain silent when asked. That TV show will be shorter.

    To flesh things out maybe on that short TV show women voters could call in to ask those women Democratic leaders how the very serious business of #MeToo got turned into just another political tool by the “party of women.” Alyssa Milano, famous for the #MeToo meme and whose take on the Kavanaugh hearings was she believed all women without the need for due process, could be brought out to explain how now “the notion that this should be disqualifying to Biden in a race against Trump is patently ridiculous. Anybody who claims otherwise is using sexual assault as a political football.”
     
    Well, yes, that is the point. Dems made sexual assault a political football. Problem is now they find themselves on defense for the first time (having ignored successfully Bill Clinton’s hands-on approach.) One article does what I just don’t have the breathe to bother with, pull up exact quotes of what was said about Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser then and compare it to what is being said about Biden and his now. It unveils the total hypocrisy of the #MeToo positions, and how self-righteous Dems are when these techniques were used by them, versus used against them. Watching people force themselves to support Biden under these conditions is what I imagine the Beach Boys look like backstage trying to mix up Viagra and meth so they can get through “Surfin’ USA” one more time.

    Meanwhile, more and more women are realizing Democratic hypocrisy is setting back women’s rights, making it clear women’s concerns are useful and valid only as political weapons, victims only of use to tee up a media storm. The impact on the election will be…

     

    Sorry. I just can’t do it again. It’s the same thing. Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t the false narrative plain? But isn’t it likely very few people care, again? The pattern is beyond the obvious, the addition of new player Joe Biden the only change. I can’t get away from it. People just believe what they want to agree with.

    I even started a story on Politico’s fully debunked claim Trump was beholden to the Bank of China because of some loan. That one fell apart faster then I could type it up. Too many believe when the Democrats and MSM tell us these things. They are all wrong. Why is anyone believing them now? I am tired of being lied to. I am tired of being manipulated in the most obvious ways. After Kavanaugh, the Democrats simply announcing “Biden didn’t do it, nothing to see here, folks” is beyond insulting. I am weary of talking people off the ledge, even more weary of living among people who are convinced they are going to die freedomless in the dark from a new cause each day. I am tired of this:
     
    Trump didn’t win the election.
    The Emoluments Clause will stop Trump from being inaugurated.
    The economy will descend into a depression after he was inaugurated.
    There is a pee tape.
    Trump is a Russian spy, an asset, Putin’s puppet.
    Michael Cohen met with the Russians in Prague.
    (Mohammed Atta met with the Iraqis in Prague.)
    Trump sold out the U.S. to build a hotel in Moscow.
    Trump wants to buy Greenland to build a hotel.
    Trump left the Saudis off the No Fly Muslim list because he had a hotel there.
    Trump will start a war with Iran over moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
    Trump will start a war with Iran over the nuclear treaty.
    Trump will start a war with Iran to distract from COVID.
    The Kurds will all die in a genocide.
    We have to take out Assad (and earlier, Saddam, and Qaddafi,) or there will be a genocide.
    Trump’s trade war with China will bankrupt us.
    Trump will start a nuclear war with North Korea.
    Trump’s peace overtures with North Korea are dangerous.
    Kim Jong Un is dead.
    Trump will invade Venezuela.
    Trump will withdraw from NATO.
    (Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.)
    James Comey will change everything.
    Robert Mueller will change everything.
    SDNY will change everything.
    Michael Avenatti will run for president.
    Papadopoulos, Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, will flip and bring down Trump.
    Beto, Cory Booker, Mayor Pete, Kamala, AOC, Stacey Abrams are the new Obama.
    Diversity is the key to Democratic victory in 2020.
    The rule of law ended in America.
    Democracy died in America.
    It’s Weimar.
    It’s the fall of Rome.
    Impeachment will end Trump’s time in office.
    The 25th Amendment will end Trump’s time in office.
    The Whistleblower will end Trump’s time in office.
    Marie Yovanovitch will end Trump’s time in office with her testimony.
    John Bolton will end Trump’s time in office with his book.
    Ronan Farrow will end trump’s time in office with his book.
    The Parkland Kids will change everything.
    The Covington Kids are racists.
    Two million Americans will die of corona.
    Blocking visitors from China is racist and ineffectual.
    There are not enough ventilators.
    There is not enough PPE.
    There are not enough ICU beds.
    The Chinese supply chain will stop and no more iPhones.
    Trump is going to defund the Post Office to block mail-in ballots so he can steal the election.
    Trump is going to fire Mueller, Barr, Rosenstein, Mattis, Jared, Ivanka, Pence, Bolton, Fauci.
    Trump avoids the press and hasn’t held a briefing in a year, bring him out.
    Networks should not air Trump’s open mic night briefings.
    People will die if my neighbor doesn’t wear a paper mask but lukewarm delivery food is safe.
    People in NYC will die if Starbucks opens but it’s OK for the subway to run.
    The stock market’s historic rise doesn’t matter for Trump’s reelection because most Americans don’t own stock.
    The stock market’s historic decline will destroy Trump’s reelection chances.
    If we end the lockdown too soon everyone is going to die.
     
    Those who fetishize Trump’s lies want to stand on their record above without irony. Lies are truth, what is really true doesn’t matter if people (can be made to) believe it because truth is moral only when it supports the correct side. Hypocrisy just mens choosing the lesser of two evils. Maybe that’s the best we deserve in a world where “do your research” means Google something and accept the first headline you agree with.

    Accountability takes a seat to agenda. The end justifies the means over and over but never leads to good. “Oh, it’s OK, he beats me less than my previous spouse.” Trump’s hidden taxes are bad but Biden’s hidden Senate papers on Tara Reade are acceptable. Ivanka and China? Hold my Tsingtao beer, says Hunter. “You think I’ve got dementia? You should see the other guy!” Never mind Biden mare-nuzzling women’s hair on numerous occasions. Then there’s Anita Hill. Did being Obama’s VP baptize away those sins?

    Same thing in the end, just purposed toward what are sold as radically different ends, Gray Man instead of Orange Man. Choose Joe, he harasses women, gets health draft deferments, plagiarized in law school, cheats on his taxes, is corrupt with his kids’ money, but less. It doesn’t matter what happened to Tara Reade, anymore than it matters what happened with Russia. It wouldn’t matter if Biden sexually harassed someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. As one editorial summarized, “He’s not perfect, but he’s not Donald Trump.”

    I once wrote in reference to the lies we told ourselves about success in the Iraq War if “b.s. was water we’d all have drowned.” Now it appears Democrats and the MSM have not only learned to adjust to a new environment like some prehistoric amphibian but are politically wallowing in it, at least prior to choking come November.

     
     

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    Time to Get Back to Work

    May 8, 2020 // 2 Comments »


     
    If America has a fast forward button on it someone should push it ahead to November. We won’t be done with the virus until we’ve done with the election. Between prudence and overreaction lies politics.

    We bleat about wanting decisions based on science. Then we do the same dumb red-blue thing, even counting the corona dead differently (nothing left certain but taxes now) to make the numbers seem better or worse depending on the shifty politics of better or worse. Something that should not be about Trump at all is All About Trump.

    There is no other country in the world so driven by politics so devoid of science. It’s killing us. Other countries have good leaders, some not so good. But look at us. Our nation is held hostage to protests and counter-protests, lockdowns and open bowling alleys. There is no other nation where so many are convinced their leader is actively trying to kill them with his virus response, even imagining he wants them to drink bleach.

     

    The MSM portrays protesters against government restrictions as dangerous, Trump death cultists who’d rather end up in an ICU that skip a haircut. It is an echo of the things that lost 2016 for the Democrats. The people don’t want haircuts. Such flippancy insults the righteous anger over lost livelihoods. They want to feed their families. They want thought-out targeted restrictions instead of politically driven over-reaction and fear mongering. It’s about deep emotional waters, sense of self, a whole lot more than just how the economy will help Trump win or lose. Many also are concerned that their lives, including the right to assemble, to worship, and to protest, are being controlled by leaders they don’t trust while a media they abandoned years ago mocks them. Beaches open in a red state are #FloridaMorons; in a blue state it’s #SurfsUp.

    But they see this time the Brooklyn elites are going a step further, beyond the deplorable label, to wishing them to catch the virus, figuring the infection will teach them a lesson before they vote wrong again. Wishing death on people you disagree with. It’s almost like cheering for a guy who drives his car into a crowd of BLM protesters.

     

    Elsewhere, medical professionals say the protestors have no right to put others’ lives at risk, and think it is just more than OK to physically stop the rallies. That’s called “the heckler’s veto” by the Supreme Court and is not allowed under the 1A, even if you’re a hero ER nurse or just an abortion protester blocking the door to a clinic. Stopping someone from protesting by shouting them down, driving a car into their crowd, or otherwise trying to stop them from exercising their rights (including the right to hold a dumb opinion or one you disagree with) is disdainfully unconstitutional.

    The medical professionals and their Muppet chorus of journalists sound like some soldiers who felt their sacrifice was made cheap by people who protested the war. Thank you for your service. It does not however allow you to choose which people can exercise their rights. When you choose to serve you serve those you define as worthy and those you don’t. It’s bigger than you, doc.

    Government is not supposed to be able to take away freedoms, even if it’s for “our own good.” Governments always invoke safety and security when they are taking away rights (see the Patriot Act.) The invoke the majority over the minority. It’s an old playbook, joined in this century by our 1A nannies on social media, who electronically block efforts to organize. If you’re screeching about how rights don’t matter when lives are at stake, the same old safety vs. liberty argument people always use, you’ve got company. The KKK used that argument to block blacks from marching, claiming it was a safety issue.

    Protesting against the government taking away your right to assemble is about as fundamental a civil right as you can get. The argument restrictions are needed to keep us safe (“we’ll get the virus!”) are about as fundamentally wrong as you can get. Yet authorities in California will no longer issue permits for anti-lockdown protests at any state properties, including the Capitol.

    Agree? Just remember what you’re saying now about these redneck inbreeding gun nuts the next time someone claims a march permit can’t be issued in the interest of public safety to a group you support. Hint: It’s the same thing. Rights are rights. Because you know what else can spread rapidly if “left unchecked?” Tyranny. Justice Louis Brandeis held free speech is not an abstract virtue but a key element of a democratic society. He ruled even speech likely to result in “violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.” In braver times when Americans challenged the safety vs. liberty argument, the Supreme Court consistently ruled in favor of free speech, reminding us democracy comes with risk. But that was another world ago, before we measured human worth in RTs.

     

    There is science which should be informing decisions. The irony is that while claiming a small rally in Denver will cost lives, or Florida will kill people by opening its beaches, the same voices remain silent as NYC keeps its subway running 24/7. The timing of the public beach versus public transportation debate came as a new study detailed NYC’s “multitentacled subway system was a major disseminator — if not the principal transmission vehicle — of coronavirus infection,” “seeding” the virus throughout the city. Without a superspreader like the subway it can be contained locally. It is tragic when the virus rips through a nursing home or meatpacking plant (it is a virus after all, it will go viral), but all of those together barely touch a week’s body count in New York. Shut down mass transport.

    We can put most people back to work with limited risk; the protesters are right. The virus kills a very specific patient. About half the dead are over age 65. Less than one percent of deaths were under age 44. Almost 94 percent of the dead in any age group had serious underlying medical issues (about half had hypertension and/or were obese, a third had lung problems.) The death toll in NYC under total lockdown: 22,000. Death toll in much more densely populated Tokyo with “smart” lockdown: 93.

    About 22 percent of New Yorkers already have the virus antibody and thus expected immunity. A logical conclusion — large numbers already have or had the virus, and that it is harmless to them — is simply ignored. Quarantine/social distancing is for those most vulnerable so we can stop wrecking all of society with cruder measures. Hospitals should separate patients by age. No need to keep kids from school, especially if that means isolating them inside a multigenerational household. Let them wear soggy paper masks to class, even tin foil on their heads, if it makes things easier. Online classes are lame and America doesn’t need a new generation dumber than the current one.

    The New York-New Jersey area, with roughly half the dead for the entire nation, practices full-on social distancing while Georgia was one of the last states to implement a weaker stay-at-home policy. Yet as Georgia re-opens, the NY/NJ death count is over 27,000. Georgia is 892. NY continues adding around 500 bodies to the pile every day, even with its bowling alleys closed.

    We judge risk versus gain for every other cause of death. We wear condoms. We watch our diets. Time to do the same for the virus. As for lockdowns, we may not even be judging them accurately. Some 22 states have had fewer than 100 deaths. Only 15 states had total deaths for the entire duration of the crisis higher than NYC’s current 500 a day. The original goal of lockdowns, to buy time for the health care system (and most resources were never needed due to over-estimates of the viral impact), has passed. If the new goal is Virus Zero it will never come. If the real goal is harm Trump we’ll have to put up with this without serious discussion until November.

    A Stanford doctor nails it: “Strictly protect the known vulnerable, self-isolate the mildly sick and open most workplaces with some prudent large-group precautions. This would allow the essential socializing to generate immunity among those with minimal risk of serious consequence, while saving lives, preventing overcrowding of hospitals, and limiting the enormous harms compounded by continued total isolation.”

    We are fretting and frittering away our national muscle watching TV about a bigamous tiger keeper. There are too many who want this isolation to continue indefinitely, a pathetic nation whose primary industries for its young people are camming and GoFundMe. We focus on the virus deaths, but the Reaper keeps a more accurate tally: deaths from despair, from hunger (two million new people became food insecure in NYC since the virus), financial losses (26 million Americans have filed for unemployment), mental health issues, and abuse (domestic murders during the viral months in NYC  outstripped the total from 2019.) In some ultimate irony, parents are postponing vaccinations for fear of bringing their kids to medical facilities.

    It is the reaction to the pandemic that exhausts us, not the pandemic itself. So when someone claims it is Money vs. Life they miss the answer: It’s both. It should not be taboo to discuss this. The debate needs to be about human life in full.

     
     

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    Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

    April 18, 2020 // 11 Comments »


     

    The talk in New York is about when to return to normal. But that misses the point; normal never really left, it just changed clothes. We traded economic disparity expressed through poverty for economic disparity expressed through viral death. The real problem isn’t when we’ll return to normal, it is that we will.
     

    All the energy that made this city more than livable, made it desirable, is gone. It’s just a big, empty place now, all the seams showing. The closed stores still have St Patrick’s Day decorations. Time stopped in March. I am a native New Yorker by birth, seven years now returned. I don’t know how many times we can all stand on the ledge and not jump. From 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, Super Storm Sandy. This feels more like the gray of post-war East Germany than the white hot panic of late WWII Berlin.

    New York state has more corona cases than any other country in the world. About half of all U.S. deaths are here in the broader New York area. Sure, there are other hot pockets but while NYC counts the bodies in the thousands there are some states still in single figures and most others in the hundreds. The stars may soon again hold benefit concerts for us, echoing post-9/11’s “ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” When the city talks in its sleep what many remember most is the kindness people showed toward one another that blue September, little courtesies of holding doors and allowing someone to cut the line, half smiles from total strangers in a place where such vulnerability could previously have made you prey.

    Not with the virus. We snap at each other, enemies now, each a potential carrier. This is a not a city which lends itself to personal space without a flash of aggressive eye contact. Walk without a mask and someone will snap at you. Two guys hissing something in Spanish at an Asian woman. Lines to enter the food store with everyone watching like North Korean border guards for sneaks. SNL and late night never mocked Bush in the immediate 9/11 aftermath. If we ever were one we are not now. Because we are for certain not all in this together as Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “Everyone is subject to this virus. I don’t care how smart, how rich, how powerful you think you are.”

    That is not true. The virus is highly concentrated in the poorest Hispanic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx. The viral death rate for Hispanics is 22 people per 100,000; for blacks 20 per 100,000 while the rate for whites is 10 per 100,000. For whites even that is deceptive, given the hot spots in the isolated Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn versus the paucity lack of white deaths in the high-income areas. Poorer people are more likely to die at home than in a hospital, and so the surge in at-home deaths, most never tested, suggests the death rate for the virus is being under-counted. Overall the virus is twice as deadly for Hispanics and blacks than whites in NYC.

    In New York we speak hundreds of languages but not to each other. A map of viral cases neighborhood-by-neighborhood tells the tale. America’s most diverse city, America’s most sanctimonious city about that, is also one of her most segregated on the ground.

    New York City is also the most economically unequal city in the country. It is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. Living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the largest homeless population of any American metropolis. The number of New Yorkers who live below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia or Phoenix, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. The billionaires fund the social services and the poor clean the homes and scavenge the trash of the billionaires.
     

    The reasons are the same reasons. Poor neighborhoods are served by the city’s miserable public hospitals, not its world-class private ones. A virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. The problem is the quality, not the quantity, of healthcare. “We are watching, in real time, racial disparities and the pandemic of poverty,” one assemblyman said.

    Poor people suffer from comorbidities (86 percent of the dead have one), particularly the ones of bad diets like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Hypertension is 3x more prevalent, and diabetes 5x more, in the South Bronx than in well-to-do lower Manhattan. Influenza, which has already killed about twice as many people this season as COVID-19, follows a similar pattern.

    The Elmhurst neighborhood in Queens is “the epicenter within the epicenter,” according to the mayor. Some 64 percent of its residents are Hispanic, and the median household income is three-quarters of that of the metro area. Nearly 11 percent of households there are multigenerational. The grouping of young (who carry the virus without symptoms) and elderly together helps drive the higher infection rates.

    Park Slope, Brooklyn, has some of the city’s lowest rates of COVID-19, 56 percent below average. Two-thirds of its population is white and the median household income is one and a half times greater than average. Less than two percent of households are multigenerational. But when the Surgeon General specifically admonished people of color to stop drinking and using drugs during the pandemic to power up their immune systems he was called a racist.
     

    This is the normal. The economic disparity driving the viral load in NYC was here long before the virus; COVID-19 was superimposed on that sordid base. What is happening now, the deaths, was always happening, albeit slower. This mocks what pundits are calling the big question, how to balance the city’s health and the city’s economic needs, when to re-open for business. Economic inequality has been killing people all along, and keeping poor people from working by decree only makes them poorer and eventually sicker. It is a slow death as opposed to the quick countable deaths from the virus.. Tom Hanks will thank the food delivery guys for their service on SNL but we still won’t pay them a living wage.

    One of the things blamed in NYC was the late decision to close the public schools. Many wealthy private schools closed on their own in early March. The mayor kept the massive public school system open until the middle of the month not for educational reasons, but because it doubles as a social service center for poor children, including 114,000 who are homeless.

    More than half of all public students get their meals at school, and for the homeless kids it is the only place they can wash clothing and clean themselves. Birth control and STD testing for kids from strict Hispanic Catholic homes mostly happens surreptitiously through the schools. The schools provide daycare so poor people can work, and are the last hope to keep a few children out of gangs and offer them a break from abusive homes. “Given the alternatives, schools are a safer place for many kids,” one teacher said. Closing the schools was a “last resort,” judged a better option than hiding from the virus at one point. The uptick in child violence and domestic violence in general New York is experiencing now was understood to be coming, collateral damage.

    The city made up its mind a long time ago. During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which killed 30,000 New Yorkers, the Health Commissioner demanded public schools be kept open, believing the risks of gathering kids together were outweighed by the benefits of giving them a break from their crowded and unsanitary tenement apartments. The Commissioner also noted working immigrant parents had no time to care for their kids, better to have them looked after at schools. As he put it, sick people don’t go to the theater when they feel bad but they do go to work.

    Same for the subway system, still running 24/7, a remarkably effective way to spread the virus. As in 1918, poor people can’t work remotely. NYC kept the public schools open, and keeps public transport running, then and now, knowing it would spread the virus, because the alternative hardships seem worse.
     

    I’ve lived in the developing world and you get used to this. You have and they don’t, way it is, beyond one man’s blame and seemingly any man’s fix. The biggest barrier to some sort of “re-opening” in NYC is to figure out how to express that in palatable terms for 2020. Not that we weren’t already already doing it for the last hundred years, but now we need to make rules to govern our apartheid of dollars that sound OK in the Sunday Review section. The rest is just logistics.

     

    BONUS

    New York is not alone. In Chicago, more than 70 percent of the deaths related to the coronavirus were among black residents, though blacks make up only a third of the city’s population. In Michigan, black residents make up just 14 percent of the population, but over 40 percent of the COVID-19 deaths.

    It was always sort of this way, but maybe a slightly better version of it. Up until the 1970s or so, New York had always been about The Deal. You put up with the filth, the crowding, the lack of empathy, and she’ll throw you a bone. If you really make it, the luxuries of the world are available at your fingertips. In the middle, for the plumbers and the clerks, a spring afternoon at the stadium with a hot dog and a beer (or nowadays more commonly, a churro) reached at heaven. For the immigrants, from the 19th century Irish, Germans, Jews, and Italians to today’s Dominicans and Vietnamese, work until you’re running, burned, and near blind, and we’ll educate your kids so they don’t have to.

    We did away with The Deal when we switched to more disposable workers. A janitor I know tells the tale. His father came to New York from Puerto Rico a few Americas ago. Dad worked nights until he bought a house in Queens. Miguel’s brother is out of work with a high fever, but the real worry is dad, diabetic and elderly and living downstairs. Miguel cleans for rich people and “can’t get sick” because he’s now holding the family purse. He’s angry his kids have to “online school,” because he wants them to make the move, third generation, up and out, and online isn’t going to be enough.

     

     

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    The Virus Comes for the Bernie Campaign

    April 15, 2020 // 5 Comments »


     


    RIP the Bernie Campaign. We’re left with Joe Biden, and that means the real race is now between Trump and the Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the panic and political opportunism surrounding it.)

     

    What will be missed in the post-Bernie analysis is the key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017, the Democratic Party and their media lickspittles telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. That strategy eliminated Bernie because whatever Bernie was, he was not a hero. He said it himself many times – “this is about a movement, it was never about one man.” The rest of them, the Beto’s and Pete’s and Kamala’s, were props, K-Pop media creations to satisfy a desire for diversity the media itself had mostly created.

    Twitter isn’t real life, and an important rule of the con is never believe your own bullsh*t. The Dems will ignore this and hope like hell some VP choice will negate all of Biden being Biden without realizing they never should have picked Biden.

    If Bernie ever had a chance in 2020 (and that is very unclear, his moment was in 2016 though the Democratic establishment ignored the yearning he represented because it was Her Turn, the big pay off for sticking with Bill, the second half of the pay off for standing aside for Barack) to move his ideas out of his Facebook friends’ circle into the mainstream. The Virus drove a dying progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. New ideas are scary enough in good times. Nobody wants to reform capitalism or talk about reparations in the middle of the war for survival the MSM told us we were in. AOC who?

    And now Joe Biden stands alone. Usually being the last man standing at the end of a fight means you won. But Biden is a black hole for enthusiasm, a dishrag (can you name one signature Biden proposal?) , a stand-in a candidate who through no fault or promise of his own will be the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.)

    With Trump big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    There’s the major problem of by choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

     

    This is now a one-issue race, the Virus. After more than three years of trying the Democrats (absent Bernie perhaps) have put few ideas forward. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump, while the public remains unmoved as they have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

    Long before anyone votes the Virus is going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we long did with Russiagate) “but just wait!” blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000, many still unused) should embarrass him as only a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Trump scores a win, or he says “the media never gave me a chance but we tried while they just whined it won’t work.”

    The end result is many people will return to sanity and understand, again, disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media preternaturally assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill everyone after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role.

     

    After Russiagate, impeachment, and the imploded primaries, the Virus is the Dems’ last swing at Trump. There won’t be time for another round. It will be a tough sell come November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when all they have to offer is a mistelling of events nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling passed off as journalism. Fauci, Cuomox2, the Hero Docs and Nurses, and whatever still-to-come good guys the media will have created so they don’t have to credit Trump with any success won’t be on the ballot. All the faux controversy, like the impeachment hearings, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America.

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into New York and New Jersey, the other scraping past most of the country. More than half of all cases and deaths nationally are in the New York City area.

    Even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is instead highly concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods; a Virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if the pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and not largely even a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation. Other hot pockets will flash, but the draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if things stay steady.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all this in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will also help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.

    Looking back to Vietnam, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see desperate liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day. Imagine a July 4 Trump rally, him congratulating the crowd for having beaten back the Virus as they shout USA! USA!

     

    The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus, with Joe Biden as a slightly interested bystander.

     

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    It’s Trump vs. The Virus in November

    April 14, 2020 // 1 Comment »

     

    There’s a new variant on an old joke. Trump and Biden are in the woods and see a bear racing toward them. Trump starts to run. Biden says “You can’t outrun a bear!” Trump replies “I only have to outrun you.” The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Approval ratings only measure how fast one guy runs, and miss that’s it is a two-man race. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus to see who the virus, er, bear gets.

     

    The Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the political panic and opportunism surrounding it) drove the progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. No more Parkland Kids, no more Pink Pussy Hats, Beto who? Mayor Pete who? Got a Plan for That who? Articles in HuffPo about how the publishing industry is especially unfair to left handed LGBT disabled Muslim people with eczema seem like Olde English. AOC is an artifact reduced to demanding free stuff from the government not from her ravaged district in the Bronx, but broadcasting from her DC luxe condo. When Bernie finally quits he’ll be lucky to make the “And in other news today…” part of the broadcast.

    Biden is a dishrag, through no fault or promise of his own the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.) By choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system kinda sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden ten years ago and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

    With Trump dominating the media, big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    The key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017 has been the Dems telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. They have put few ideas forward on the road to making this a one issue election. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump does, while the public remains unmoved as they generally have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, Emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, trade crisis that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, ending of abortion rights that never happened, ending of LGBT rights that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork to include appropriating an additional $25 million in salaries and expenses for the Dem-controlled House. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

     

    Long before anyone votes this is all going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we did with Russiagate) the “but just wait” game of blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat that Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000) should embarrass him; a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then the masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill us all after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role. George W. Bush was reelected despite Katrina.

    So it will be a tough sell in November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when they mostly have to offer a mistelling of Trump calling the virus a hoax nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response over those nine months will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling the media passes off as journalism. Cuomo, Fauci, Birx, Cuomox2, and whatever still-to-come good guys and bad guys the media will have created won’t be on the ballot. Might as well recycle those pleas for Michael Avenatti to run for president.

    All the faux controversy as the media tries desperately to create gossip (Are Trump and Fauci fighting?), what did or did not happen “fast enough” in January, like the impeachment hearings that took place alongside that, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America. At what point might the numbers matter? For comparison, here are causes of death in America (2019) not being blamed on Trump as corona reaches 12k: cancer 606k, car accidents 39k, regular flu 34k, and in 2009 due to H1N1, 12k. Some states still have corona deaths in single digits. Now imagine Trump thanking and congratulating all those spared for their sacrifices and efforts at successful social distancing. USA! USA! We did it, together!

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into the New York-New Jersey area, and the other scraping past most of the country. Some half of the cases and deaths for all of the United States are in the New York City area. Hot pockets exist across the nation but there are only relative handfuls of cases in many states. The draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if that stays steady. This could be a NYCish problem, like Super Storm Sandy, devastating but isolated. By September rock stars may be again holding benefit concerts for The People of New York. Think Springsteen revising The Rising (“Come on up for the nurses, come on up wash your hands with mine.”)

    The thing is that even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, scrapping what one writer called post-9/11 “the ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” Because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is highly concentrated in the poorest ethnic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx, along with mini hot spots in Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn. NYC is fighting like hell to hide the demographic data, but studies suggest a Virus patient in the Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and largely not only just a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all that in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.
     
    Looking back to the Vietnam era, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now in April, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day.

      

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    The Monsters Are Due on Pennsylvania Avenue

    April 11, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     

    “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own…”
     

    That’s the closing narration to a classic Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. A summer’s day turns darkly paranoid as a group of neighbors convinces themselves strange doings are part of an alien invasion. Worse yet, one family among them may be aliens in disguise. Their fears escalate until a neighbor is shot and the former friends descend into a mob. The episode ends on a nearby hilltop where real aliens are watching the riot on Maple Street while manipulating the neighborhood’s electricity to encourage the violence. They comment on how simply fiddling with consistency leads people to descend into paranoia, and that this can be exploited to conquer Earth. The message is clear: while there is a real threat, the worst damage is done by ourselves, driven by the search for someone to blame.
     

     
    And oh yes in 2020, in what the NYT calls this “land of denial and death,” we search for someone to blame. Paranoia does not require much grounding in real life. So while a global pandemic unfolds, affecting over 150 countries, the blame for what is happening rests with one man. China, Spain, Canada, wherever, have no Trump. They don’t have America’s grossly commercialized medical system, or the economic inequality, or the the presence/lack of border controls, to exacerbate the virus. Yet they have the virus, statistically flexible enough to be worse than the U.S. where needed (China and Iran, they lie) or better than the U.S. to prove some point (South Korea tests more, Denmark has socialized medicine.)

    The Boston Globe has it clear: Donald Trump “Has Blood On His Hands” over coronavirus. The idea that a global pandemic is not “anyone’s” fault is unthinkable and Trump is a ready foil. The MSM has spent three years seeding our thoughts Trump is deadly. He was a Russian spy selling our secrets even as the #Resistance lead by Alec Baldwin practiced shouting “Wolverines!” He brought us to the brink of civil war, or nuclear war with North Korea, Iran, and China, enroute to climate change death. So what if the MSM got the details wrong — it wasn’t Russiagate or white nationalism or Ukraine — it was, we found it, this.
     
    Look, Trump did away with the “Pandemic Response Team” in 2018. If we had had that Team they would have swatted the virus away. Except there was no Team. What was fired was one man, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who was actually only a bureaucratic coordinator on the NSC. Ziemer was originally a George Bush anti-malaria appointee after his naval aviation career, an evangelical Christian, with little real-world experience with a pandemic. Not a doctor, not a specialist. No matter his team and its duties were reassigned inside the NSC to a new biodefense directorate. And no matter Ziemer still works for the government, at USAID, in case anyone needs his expertise. And no matter he and his position did not exist in 2009, when by most MSM accounts the U.S. successfully handled the swine flu virus.
     
    Well, maybe it is because Trump cut funding to the CDC and NIH! Except that did not happen. The president’s budget proposals called for reducing funding even as Congress said no every time. Joe Biden claimed Trump “tried to defund the NIH” even as lawmakers enacted increases. Not that it matters much, but Trump never called the virus a hoax, though he did call Democratic efforts to tar him with inaction a hoax. And a Johns Hopkins study in 2019 ranked the U.S.  the best-prepared country in the world to handle a pandemic.
     
    But Trump didn’t test! Of course testing has ramped up quickly to the point where the U.S. has tested more people than other countries and is leading the world in deploying the new, faster, antibody test. But blame requires focus on an initial couple of weeks, mid-impeachment proceedings, when testing was not available in large quantities. One typical headline claimed, “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as soon as the stories were written. Within a week, nearly a million tests would be available. The initial testing rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs was unsuccessful because it contained a faulty reagent. CDC quickly backed away from a policy position limiting full testing to its own labs for statistical and quality control purposes, and commercial, university, and state labs gained approval to use their own tests.
     
    The CDC’s actions were standard procedure, and for good reason. When a new disease emerges CDC normally gets the ball rolling because it has the expertise and the biosafety laboratories to handle dangerous novel pathogens. Typically there are few confirmed viral samples at the outset, which researchers need to validate their tests, and CDC has the capability to grow the virus for this critical quality assurance step. You lose that if you allow everyone to test simultaneously. It’s not a “blame,” it is science.

    As for the technical problem with the original CDC kits, here it is: “The key problem with the kits is what’s known as a negative control. CDC’s test uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to find tiny amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in, say, a nose swab. To make sure a test is working properly, kits also include DNA unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. The assay should not react to this negative control, but the CDC reagents did at many, but not all, state labs. The labs where the negative control failed were not allowed to use the test; they have to continue to send their samples to Atlanta.” The CDC has been supplying reagents through the same place for a decade. So if you want to blame Trump for stirring in the wrong DNA in the kits, whatever, go ahead.
     
    Oh, you want someone to really blame? Well, there’s two pandemics’ worth of it to go around.

    But what about the ventilators? The U.S. tried to build a new fleet of ventilators, but the mission failed, leaving us in the present situation. Left out of the discussion was that the failure took place under the Obama administration, following the H1N1 pandemic. It was understood then some 70,000 ventilators should be stockpiled. Yet through a failure of oversight by the Obama administration the project ultimately produced zero ventilators. Last year the Trump administration approved a new design to kickstart the project, with deliveries to start in the summer.

    But didn’t we once have more ventilators? Yes, in California, but Governor Jerry Brown sold them. In 2006, citing the threat of avian flu, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had the state invest $200 million in a powerful set of medical weapons. He created a truck-borne system of some 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators, and 21,000 patient beds. Then in 2011 the new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, cut off the money to maintain the stockpile. The ventilators were given to local hospitals and health agencies without any funding to maintain them. Many were resold to dealers who shipped them abroad. The N95 respirators were allowed to expire without being replaced.
     
    New York, once again Ground Zero for a national tragedy, may not have enough ventilators. After learning in 2015 the state’s stockpile of medical equipment had 16,000 fewer ventilators than New Yorkers would need in a severe pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo could have chosen to buy more ventilators. Instead, he asked his health commissioner to draft rules for rationing the ventilators they already had.

    Governor Cuomo also recognized, but failed to do anything about, a shortage of masks and other protective gear. On March 6, weeks before Trump raised the issue, Cuomo stated people were stealing the equipment out of hospitals in New York. “Not just people taking a couple or three, I mean just actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said. “I’ve asked the state police to do an investigation, look at places that are selling masks, medical equipment, protective wear.” There is no evidence he or the police ever followed up, directly resulting in a shortage today. Cuomo did not restate his order to investigate even after a warehouse with pallets of black market masks was reported.

    Despite the crisis, Cuomo continues to pursue $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts to NY’s hospitals alongside limiting their expansion to save more money. That will end up being a lot of ICU beds missing if needed.

    Elsewhere in New York, city mayor Bill De Blasio’s decision to keep public school open through mid-March, well into the pandemic, is seeing its gruesome legacy play out in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, where multi-generational households are among the hardest visited by death.
     
    What about Congress? Public health experts testified on in 2018 and 2019 asking for over a billion additional dollars as part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, explaining programs created after 9/11 to ready the nation’s health system for any kind of disaster had since been stripped down to dangerously low levels. Congress cut the funding. That decision is “among several key moments over the last few years where experts warned of the likelihood of something like current pandemic and government leaders did not do enough to prepare.”

    The point is not to absolve Trump. The point is not to blame others. There exists among too many an ugly need for things to fail, so we can blame someone. That glee cruel because the desire for a scapegoat coincides with much suffering.
     
    You never defeat a disaster, whether a hurricane in Puerto Rico or a virus. You mitigate it. Success is measured by how well those natural processes are pushed back beyond civilization’s walls and by how much suffering is relieved along the way. The process almost always follows the same path: recognize the disaster (easier with earthquakes, harder with a virus), determine what is needed (time consuming and ever-evolving with the goal being the right help to the right places in order of priority), procure and transport (can take time), and allow the mitigation efforts to go to work. Disaster management specialists know it will never be fast enough, as the response starts in deficit. But a tipping point will take place, and people will start to receive the help they need.
     
    The press conferences, clogged with ritual passive aggressiveness, grow wearisome, do not inform and entertain only in the way slowing down at a car wreck does. It’s not Weimar, it’s not Rome, but it is time to grow up; we’re all on the Diamond Princess now. We’ll have an election soon enough, and the people can decide for themselves what the MSM and Democrats have been trying to force on them for more than three years. Until then, focus on fixing the problems for our neighbors, not the blame.
     
     

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    What We Lost in the Pandemic

    April 4, 2020 // 11 Comments »


     
    A lot of change has taken place in a very short period of time in America, almost all of it undebated and unchallenged, in response to what still has a long way to go to justify it. But the virus is killing us all! Stop. It is not only possible to hold two ideas in mind at once, it is vital. The virus is a threat. At the same time we are immersed in making fundamental changes to society willy-nilly that will outlive the virus.
     
    Only two weeks ago I had an hourly-paid part-time job, my hours subject to my boss’ needs and whims. That made me a lot like the 60 percent of the American workforce who are also hourly employees, not to mention those working as independent contractors, adjuncts, and the massive undocumented labor behind our farms, hotels, and restaurants. The government ordered most of us to stop working and we did. Nobody is entirely sure if “the government” can actually just do this, but it did. Almost none of us can work from home. We wait like baby birds for the government to drop checks into our mouths. Overnight we went from workers, albeit workers at the failing edge of economic inequality, to dependent on government handouts. As the balance of power between Americans and their government changes dramatically, 60 percent of us approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis.

    Perhaps the clearest example of what just happened took place among teachers. Teachers from K-College worked frantically on their own time to eliminate the need for classrooms and move instruction online. Something that might have been rejected as unacceptable six months ago, or expected to take years under normal circumstances, was done at no new cost overnight. No consultants, no arguments from parents or unions, just worker bees radically transforming the American educational system. It won’t take long after this is done for institutions to realize they don’t need so many teachers, classrooms, janitors, etc. anymore. The infrastructure now assembled can be used so one teacher can instruct hundreds or thousands of kids. Why have ten math professors to teach ten sections in ten rooms when one person online can more or less do it? So teachers, thank you for your efforts to iron out the bugs in a mass proof-of-concept experiment. Don’t worry in the future when you’re out of work; there are always alternatives in the free market system. A porn site is offering the unemployed big bucks as cam girls during the pandemic.

    A live classroom teacher (doctor, therapist, consultant, etc.) may someday become yet another luxury available only to a select few. Quality will be what you can afford. That is part of what corona is doing, helping people adjust to a new standard. Remember once most white collar jobs came with a private office with a door, a dedicated secretary, and a formal lunch hour, never mind a pension. Manufacturing jobs paid a living wage, with union benefits and a picnic each summer to honor the American worker. Stuff happens, ya’ know?

     

    For the second time in about only a decade, we are seeing our homes endangered. Rent payments are hard. As mortgage payments slip the banks are sniffing around like hyenas. Some people will fail on rent payments on the same homes they used to own. Occupy Wall Street? No, occupied by Wall Street.

    Like good boys and girls a lot of us did invest our money after the 2008 economic crisis, yet anyone contemplating retirement or college in the near term just saw 20 percent of all that go away. Again. The bailouts are here, in the trillions, again, for the airlines and other businesses. Of course the stock market will go back up, it always does. What occurs in the space between it going down and going back up is the wealthiest Americans, having money in reserve, buy cheaply once-expensive stocks you were forced to sell at the bottom to feed your family. In a few years you’ll start buying in again, you know, when you get back to work, to push up prices and fuel the rich folks’ gains. The wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-2008 financial crisis growth while the bottom 80 percent, whose wealth was in their homes not stocks, became poorer as their missing homes did not “grow.” Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The last recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century.

    What about 2020? Since over half of all Americans now own no stock, the wealth in 2020 will be sucked out of the so-called 10 percent, the remains of what was once the upper middle class. They are the only ones who actually have money for the hyper-wealthy to take. The bottom 90 percent are basically too poor to steal from (except our labor; see above.) A month ago the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 84 percent of the total value of the market. The One Percent are in the process of taking from the Nine Percent below them right now. Fair enough in a way; much of the Nine Percent’s wealth was harvested out of the 2008 crisis.

     

    At least in 2008 it was just our money they took. I sit here in NYC under a multi-layered federal, state, and city state of emergency. I am still sort of free to go out, but since most stores, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms, etc. are closed by fiat, freedom of movement is an illusion, like prisoners circling the rec yard. Adding to the people who now tell me what I can and cannot do, the manager of my local grocery has made up his own rationing rules, choosing which products and which quantities he allows us to purchase.

    Freedom of assembly is gone. No more questions about whether Milo can speak on campus. No more Pink Pussy Hat marches. A month ago if anyone said that to a BLM group, the riot would have been followed by a Supreme Court First Amendment case. In 2020 only three people nationwide have legally challenged anti-assembly orders. Before the virus we made fun of George W. Bush, who in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 seemed to downplay the severity of it all by telling Americans to go shopping, to visit Disney World. That seems generous to a population now cowing in their bedrooms. We are being conditioned to reject the comfort and solidarity of being in the presence of others; one media outlet explains to little JoJo’s and Yorki’s how to report large gatherings to the authorities via an online form.

     

    Politically the progressive movement disappeared with the proverbial whisper, not a bang. Is Bernie still in? All that talk about a brokered convention, third party stuff, whatever, it is gone. Frightened people (they were scared about Bernie’s ideas long before the virus but the end came quick once the virus arrived) want to pull the blanket over their heads. Joe Biden’s campaign slogan seems to be “I Won’t Do Much,” or more succinctly, “Better Things Aren’t Really Possible.” Joe is the political equivalent of an Obama tribute band. You’ve seen them, imitators who look a little like the Rolling Stones. They play only the best hits, competently but not skillfully, showing how wide the gap is between someone who can pull “Honky Tonk Woman” from the ether and someone who can just play the cords with enthusiasm. It’s a way to make a living and for Joe Biden telling everyone things will look like the 1958 it might just be enough. Protip: don’t wager too many dineros on the political future of AOC and The Squad. Even Tulsi endorsed Biden on the way out.

     

    Orwell in 1984 never really explained how it all came to be. He wanted to shock readers with a dystopian society whole on page one, something that felt like it always was and thus always will be. For us, however, living in this time, the evolution is of some interest. Orwell was also an amateur. He imagined freedom as something people would fight for. He did not envision how easy it would be to manipulate fear into learned helplessness such that Americans would in the space of a week voluntarily give up most of their freedoms, along with their actual jobs. Orwell envisioned the need for a Ministry of Truth when in fact all it took was a handful of deaths, some prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling it “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles for the majority not only to go along with the new authoritarianism, but to demand more. Fear is the problem and empowering government is the solution. You have to give some things up for a safe good society. If not, you’re selfish, a thought crime.

    Of all the bell curves, the one of interest is when the cure becomes worse than the disease. When do we as a society cross the line where measures of social control are no longer affecting the spread of the disease but are damaging the life we live. Of course many of the draconian steps taken these past weeks will be pulled back. But some will stick. And the lessons learned by the darkest corners of American life will be jotted down. The same thing happened after 9/11, when frightened by terrorism, Americans gave up their rights to privacy and freedom from search with great enthusiasm. Somewhere Dick Cheney is saying to himself “we could have taken it so much further, we just didn’t realize it would be so easy.”

    Hey, Dick, check it out — we have voluntarily given up our livelihoods and jobs, freedom of assembly, and transferred most of our speech to social media monsters who can edit or block it as they wish. We are heading toward more dependency on government money to eat. Access to medical care, once limited by having “good” insurance, is now limited by medi-bureaucratic decisions — committees who will decide who gets to see a doctor. Remember how even the rumor of such “death panels” under Obamacare set people afire? We understand better now, sorry grandma.

    Unintended consequences? Doubt that. This did not just happen, our governments made it happen near enough to overnight and we wanted them to do that. No one wants to die. But think ahead to how we are going to live.
      

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    Biden My Time as Bernie Burns Out

    March 16, 2020 // 56 Comments »


     

    How did the Democrats end up with Joe Biden their presumptive nominee?
     

    After three years of preparatory media artillery fire about diversity and change, those stupid pink hats, and chumming the electorate with promises of free college alongside all the healthcare-they-care-to-eat, Democrats started with six women, a couple of black people, the gay one, a huge mix of experience and background, and progressive ideas ranging from the necessary to the kooky.

    Here’s the full list of players — Biden, Gabbard, Sanders, Warren, Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Steyer, Patrick, Yang, Bennet, Delaney, Booker, Williamson, Castro, Harris, Bullock, Sestak, Messam, O’Rourke!, Ryan, de Blasio, Gillibrand, Moulton, Inslee, Hickenlooper, Swalwell, Walsh, Sanford, and some guy from West Virginia named Richard Ojeda.

    How many of their faces can you picture?
     

    The Democrat party ended up choosing the only candidate from 1958, 77-year-old Joe Biden. He’s old, he’s tired, he lost the race for president twice already (once for plagiarism and lying about his education), and he appears to be in some state of cognitive decline. Between the hair plugs and too-much botox he looks waxy, like grandpa putting himself out there for one last fling after grandma Obama passed away God rest her soul. That Biden is required to chose a woman as his VP as a sop to the last three years only serves to emphasize the tokenism of the moment — ironically it is the Democratic party which has demonstrated a woman, gay person, or POC can’t be elected president but here, see, we’ll put your photo on the refrigerator so everyone can see how hard you tried.

    The entire premise of the Democratic primary was false. It misunderstood Trump’s election as a fluke if not an outright scam, and that The People wanted a revolution. This was sustained by a relatively small group of disconnected people who through cancelation culture, peer pressure, and the need to fill a 24/7 media vacuum convinced each other they were right. So when a mediagenic Hispanic woman won a nothing race by a few votes against a sleepy incumbent in the Bronx, they told each other they were right and AOC is the proof. The echo chamber made it seem they were always right as they serially proclaimed new saviors, off-stage The Squad, on stage Beto! and Pete predominantly, though Booker, Harris, Klobuchar and others were granted mini-moments after a decent debate performance or some minor event. Some call it the “pundit fallacy,” a belief driven inside the echo chamber that Americans are at heart progressive people who haven’t yet been educated to vote the way they really should.

    The problem was as soon as the actual people were allowed a word it all fell apart. The primary narrowed very quickly. White voters didn’t like the black candidates. Novelty candidates like Yang and Steyer sucked up bandwidth and confused the electorate. Midwesterners were terrified of initiatives aimed at transgender, reparation, and illegal immigrant support blocks that existed only in the minds of candidates who read too much in the Atlantic and The Nation. Everyone wanted better healthcare but very few agreed a massive upheaval of our capitalist economic system was the way forward on that. The candidates went out of their way to ignore public opinion on these issues and alienate voters, especially purple voters. Maybe next time the party can find a progressive thinker who also likes to hunt deer.

    Now quick, name one of Biden’s signature policy initiatives.
     

    The second-to-last man standing, Bernie, was artificial. Unlike everyone else in the field, he started with a pre-built organization, fully-formed policies, and a cash load from 2016. He had a certain glow to him, having been treated so unfairly in 2016 but that did not help much when there was no anti-Hillary vote to glom. But while initial powerups allowed Bernie to survive, he never grew. The new voters he counted on never appeared, at least not for him. Voter turnout did increase on Super Tuesday compared with 2016 but most of those new voters went for Biden. Bernie was the rock band still touring behind its one smash hit; the audiences are the same people who loved them in the 70s, just older now, even as the size of the venues shrunk.

    The process of elimination reality drove forward was nudged by old-fashioned party power plays. Black voters were massed by local pols in South Carolina to come out for Biden. Someone behind the curtain (almost certainly Obama) made the calls to Buttigieg and Klobuchar and told them, as he likely did in 2016 with Biden to clear the way for Hillary, “kid, this ain’t your night.”

    You end up with Joe Biden.
     

    One writer called Biden’s success the product of the “politics of exhaustion,” seeing a Democratic electorate not anxious for change, but one that’s just tired, and tired of being tired. The unrelenting apocalyptic news cycles of the past few years depressed them and finally burned them out, and all they want is to tune out and put someone acceptable enough in charge. When Nancy Pelosi declared the morning of Super Tuesday “Civilization as we know it is at stake in the 2020 election” they had had it.

    Exhausted, you end up with Joe Biden, running on three things: 1) he’s not Trump; 2) maybe he’ll die in office and his VP will take over early in his term and 3) Joe’s cognitive decline appears slightly less than Trump’s in the race for Mr. Alzheimer 2020 but we’re not sure. Not exactly “Hope and Change.”

    Biden candidacy also means sweeping three years of Democratic messaging under the bed. The list of subjects Joe won’t be able to talk about is a long one. Russiagate imploded on its own. Impeachment centered Hunter Biden and ain’t nobody on the Democratic side gonna bring that up.

    President Bone Spurs? Biden received five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War, same as Trump. In 1968 when his student status was wrapping up, Biden was medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma. Yet in his autobiography he described an active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player. He also lied about being on the University of Delaware football team.

    Trump’s naughty finances? After leaving the Obama White House Joe and his wife made more than $15 million, mostly via a sweetheart book deal. Biden and his wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 as they did in the previous 19 years combined. The University of Pennsylvania gave Joe $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to grant him indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching. Biden charged the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on his property so they could protect him. Since leaving office Biden made $2.4 million on speaking engagements, including $10,000 for travel expenses to the University of Buffalo. A speech at Southwestern Michigan in October 2018 included $50,000 in travel expenses (for the rubes out there, travel expenses are not taxable income.)

    Taxes? After failing to close the loophole with Obama, Joe left office to create his own S Corporation, so he receives money for things like book advances and speaking fees not directly, which would cause him to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as with salaries, but laundered as divestitures from a corporation he owns. As corporate money, nasty personal taxes are fully avoided, and the corporation can claim nearly unlimited “business expenses” to be deducted against those profits. Joe’s S Corp also donated his own money back to his PAC. Legal laundering.

    Trump’s sexism and racism? Young people, Google “Anita Hill” now. You’ll be hearing a lot about her come the fall.

    Biden represents to many Democrat voters semi-living proof they will never see healthcare reform in their lifetime (Biden’s comeback drove a $48 billion gain for health insurance stock; they know.) Absent a timely cardiac event, they will not see a woman president for who knows how many years. Income inequality will remain the salient descriptor of our society. To win, Biden will have to break the record for oldest man to be sworn in as president (Trump holds the title now.)

    Biden’s worst enemy heading into November will be low voter turnout. His opponent for Democratic votes will be Mr. Just Stay Home. That’s why those polls which show broad dissatisfaction with Trump are useless. The Trade Joe Moms of Northern Virginia are never going to vote for Donald Trump. But they just might vote for no one. There are ominous signs; polls for several states Biden won on Super Tuesday, including Massachusetts, Texas and several southern states that helped catapult the former vice president into front-runner status found young voters did not show up at the rate they did in 2016. Same problem for disrespected Bernie supporters who just might sit November out.

    The black voters who saved Biden in South Carolina are notoriously fickle when it comes to turn out. Older Americans, who favor Trump, historically turn out at 30 to 40 percent higher rates than the youngest voters. The exaggeration of white privilege that became a cornerstone of the Democratic party — whites are racist, illiterate opioid-soaked gun nuts — is also one of the ways Democrats risk losing the 2020 presidential race, as it leads inexorably to the devaluation of voters needed to clinch the Electoral College.
     

    Biden’s presumptive status as nominee triggered the MSM hive mind to drop any talk of the issues which have dominated their agenda for three years in favor of droning about electability. It makes little sense. Why else vote for someone if not for what he represents and will do? You want electability, run a puppy. Biden represents the end state of a political thinking that literally anyone must be better than Trump. The backup plan seems to be rooting for the coronavirus to  trigger a massive recession.

    That’s betting the whole house on one thin straw. It’s what happens when you settle for Joe Biden.
     

     

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    The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!

    March 3, 2020 // 4 Comments »


     

    The Russians are back, paired alongside the American intelligence agencies playing deep inside our elections again. Who should we worry more about? Hint: Not the Russians.
     

    On February 13 the election security czar in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) briefed the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians were meddling again, and that they favored Trump. A few weeks earlier, the ODNI briefed the Sanders campaign the Russians were also meddling in the primaries, this time in his favor. Both briefings remained secret until this past week, when the former was leaked to the NYT in time to make smear Trump for replacing his DNI, and the latter leaked to the WaPo ahead of the Nevada caucuses to try and damage Sanders.

    Russiagate is back, baby. Russiagate II!
     

    You didn’t think after 2016 those bad boys of the intel “community” (which makes it sound like they all live together down in Florida somewhere) weren’t going to play again, and that they wouldn’t learn from their mistakes. Those mistakes were in retrospect amateurish. A salacious dossier built around a pee tape? Nefarious academics befriending minor Trump campaign staffers who would tell all to an Aussie ambassador trolling London’s pubs looking for young, fit Americans? Falsified FISA applications when it was all too obvious even Trumpkin greenhorns weren’t dumb enough to sleep with FBI honeypots? You’d think after influencing 85 elections across the globe since WWII the community would have be better at it, sure, but you also knew after failing to whomp a bumpkin like Trump once they would keep trying.

    Like any good intel op, you start with a tickle, make it seem like the targets are figuring it out for themselves. Get it out there Trump offered Wikileaks’ Julian Assange a pardon if he would state publicly Russia wasn’t involved in the 2016 DNC leaks. The story was all garbage, not the least of which was because Assange has been clear for years it wasn’t the Russians. And there was actually no offer of a pardon from the White House. And conveniently Assange is locked in a foreign prison and can’t comment. Whatever, time the Assange story to hit the day after Trump pardoned numerous high-profile scum bag white-collar criminals, so even the casual reader had Trump = Russians = Bad on their minds. You could just almost imagine a baritone announcer’s voice intoning “Previously, on Russiagate I…” as they whole thing unfolded.

    Then only a day after the Assange story (why be subtle?), let the sequel hit the theatres with the timed leaks to the NYT and WaPo. Then stand back and watch the MSM descend into free fall.

    CNN concluded “America’s Russia nightmare is back.” Maddow was ecstatic, bleating out “Here we go again” realizing her failed conspiracy theories could be recycled whole. Everybody quoted Have Adam Schiff firing off Trump was “again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling.” Tying it all to the failed impeachment efforts, another writer said “’Let the Voters Decide’ doesn’t work if Trump fires his national security staff so Russia can help him again.” The NYT fretted “Trump is intensifying his efforts to undermine the nation’s intelligence agencies.” Former CIA Director John Brennan (after leaking for a while, most boils dry up and go away) said “we are now in a full-blown national security crisis.” The undead Hillary Clinton tweeted “Putin’s Puppet is at it again, taking Russian help for himself.” It is reportedly clear we’ll be hearing breaking and developing reports about this from sources believed to be close to those in the know through November. Intel community 1, Trump 0.

    Kind of a miss on Bernie. He did very well in Nevada despite the leaks. But the Great Game of Russiagate II has a long way to go. Bernie himself assured us of that. Instead of poo-pooing the idea the Russians would be working for him, he instead gave it cred, saying “Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.” Sanders handed Russiagate II legs, signaling he’ll use it as cover for the Bernie Bros online shenanigans called out at the last debates. That’s playing with fire; it’ll be too easy later on to invoke all this around Comrade Bernie memes in the already wary purple states.
     

    Summary to Date: Everyone is certain the Russians are working to influence the election… (adopts cartoon Russian accent which also sounds a bit like WWII movie Nazi) but who is the cat and who is the mouse?

    Is Putin helping Trump get re-elected to remain his asset in place? Or is Putin helping Bernie “I Honeymooned in the Soviet Union” Sanders to make him look like an asset to help Trump? Or are the Russkies really all-in because Bernie is a True Socialist sleeper agent at heart, the Emma Goldman of his time (Bernie’s old enough to have taken Emma to his high school prom)? Or is it not the Russians but the American intel community helping Bernie to make it look like Putin is helping Bernie to help Trump? Or is it the Deep State saying the Reds are helping Bernie to hurt Bernie to help their man Bloomberg? Are the Russian spies tripping over the American spies in caucus hallways trying to get to the front of the room? Who can tell what is really afoot?
     

    See, the devil is in the details, which is why we don’t have any.

    The world’s greatest intelligence team can’t seem to come up with anything more specific than words like “interfering” and “meddling,” as if pesky Aunt Vladimir is gossiping at the general store again. CBS reported House members pressed the ODNI for evidence, such as phone intercepts or other SIGINT to back up claims Russia is trying to help Trump, but briefers had none to offer. Even Jake Tapper, a Deep State loyalty card holder, raised some doubts. WaPo, who hosted one of the leaks, had to admit deep in its story “It is not clear what form that Russian assistance has taken.” Just take our word for it, it’s Russia.

    Yes, yes, have to protect sources and methods, but of course the quickest way to stop Russian influence is to expose it. Instead, the ODNI dropped the turd in the punchbowl and walked away. Why not tell the public what media is being bought, which outlets are working, willingly or not, with Putin? Will we be left hanging with the claim “it was something something social media” again? Did the Reds buy $100 of Facebook ads or implant a radio chip in Biden’s skull? If you’re going to scream Communist zombies with MAGA hats are inside the house you’re obligated to provide a little bit more information. Why is it when specifics are required the response is only something like “Well, the Russians are sowing distrust and turning Americans against themselves in a way that weakens national unity” as if we’re all not eating enough green vegetables. Why leave us exposed to Russian influence for even a second when it could all be shut down in an instant?

    Because the intel community learned its lesson in Russiagate I. Details can eventually be investigated.  That’s where the old story fell apart. The dossier wasn’t true. Michael Cohen never met the Russians in Prague. Oops. The a-ha discovery was that voters don’t read much anyway, so just make claims. You’ll never really prosecute or impeach anyone, so why bother with evidence. Just throw out accusations and let the media fill it all in for you. After all, they managed to convince a large number of Americans Trump’s primary purpose in running for president was to fill vacant hotel rooms at his properties. Let the nature of the source — the brave lads of the intelligence agencies — legitimize the accusations this time, not facts.
     

    It will take a while to figure out who is playing who. Is the goal to help Trump, help Bernie, or defeat both of them to support Bloomberg? But don’t let the challenge of seeing the whole picture obscure the obvious: the American intelligence agencies are once again inside our election.

    The intel community crossed a line in 2016, albeit clumsily (what was all that with Comey and Hillary?), to play an overt role in the electoral process. When that didn’t work out as planned and Trump was elected, they pivoted and drove us to the brink of all hell breaking loose with Russiagate I. The media welcomed and supported them. The Dems welcomed and supported them. Far too many Americans welcomed and supported them in some elaborate version of the ends justifying the means.

    The good news from 2016 was the Deep State turned out to be less competent than we originally feared. But they have learned much from those mistakes, particularly how deft a tool a compliant MSM is. This election will be a historian’s marker for how a decent nation, fully warned in 2016, fooled itself in 2020 into self-harm. Forget about foreigners influencing our elections from outside; the zombies are already inside the house.

      

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    Navigating the Homeless and Mentally Ill

    February 24, 2020 // 12 Comments »

     

    New York, America’s richest city and Ground Zero in how economic inequality is reshaping every day of our lives.
     
    NYC is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. One apartment building alone, 740 Park Avenue, is home to the highest concentration of billionaires in the United States. Yet living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the highest homeless population of any American metropolis, close to 80,000 and growing. The homeless numbered 24,000 during Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral administration some twenty years ago. Three years after that the homeless population swelled to almost 38,000 under Michael Bloomberg. The number of homeless single adults today is 142 percent higher than it was ten years ago, the highest level since the Great Depression.
     
    The city shelters about 64,000 on any given night. Another 3,000 people make their full-time home in the subway system. Their belongings and their defecation crowd out morning commuters on the platforms. In the winter many never emerge above ground. A visitor from outer space would be forgiven for thinking they weren’t even human, recognizable as just a head emerging from a urine-soaked bundle of clothing, not living really, just waiting. The ones who prefer to ride the trains 20 hours a day or more are like one-celled amoebas that react to heat or light by moving out of the way, in the specific case a transit employee whose inquiry causes some physical shift but no sign of sentient action.

    Don’t be offended — what did you think runaway economic inequality was gonna end up doing to us? Macroeconomics isn’t a morality play. But for most New Yorkers the issue isn’t confronting the reality of inequality, it is navigating the society it has created.

    Navigating income inequality is not a problem for the rich. Public transportation, once the great melting pot, is less so as Uber plays a bigger role. The new super apartments, with their city-required handful of “affordable” units, have separate entrances based on wealth. A someone goes and gets the coffee, does the shopping, delivers the food. Armored cars for personal use are seeing a boom in sales. NYC’s newest mega-development, Hudson Yards, (Jeff Bezos is a fan) has been dubbed the Forbidden City, a mean snub as it is self-contained, literally walled off from the environment around it (there are “service” entrances for workers, and the stores have their primary doors opening into the gated courtyard, not on to Tenth Avenue.) NYC helps its wealthy pay for all this with a generous 40 percent incentive tax break. The city also built Hudson Yards its own subway line and park network for a total expenditure of six billion (the city spends only half that total on the homeless.) Elsewhere private restaurants, private clubs, private entrances, members only-everythings and VIP sections at public events keep the homeless beyond arm’s reach.
     
    For the rest, stuck between middle class and the abyss, navigating the world of economic inequality is more of a contact sport.

    Public libraries are in various degrees off limits, at best shared, with the well-behaved homeless. They are among the tens of thousands who live in the gulag archipelago of NYC’s vast shelter system. Most of the shelters (there some exceptions for women with small children) are only open at night, leaving the residents to find somewhere to physically exist between 7am and 11pm, after which the city cares about them again. There is no daytime plan for this population, so in bad weather they take over the libraries. Regular patrons are on their own if the staff don’t manage it well; the signature main library with the stone lions has guards to send the homeless across the street to a branch, where the homeless are more or less curated like the oversize books on to one particular floor. At the 96th street branch, the library serves no other purpose than homeless daycare, except for a brief period after school when bodies are moved around for an hour or two to accommodate story time.

    How do the non-homeless navigate this? They buy books on Amazon. They buy quiet workspace and WiFi at coffee shops. They buy their way around the homeless same as others buy their way around via ride sharing services.

    Economic inequality is part of life for many New Yorkers. Not homeless but damn poor, 400,000 reside in taxpayer-paid permanent (permanent as in multi-generational, grandmas passing squatter’s rights to grandkids) public housing. Conditions are literally toxic in these “projects,” as well as crime-ridden and just plain Third World crumbling. And yes, New York’s public housing authority is the world’s largest. There are probably fewer no-go zones than in the dark times of the 1970s, but maybe more “why would you want to go there anyway” places.

    Housing prices for who can pay their own way are such that 40 percent of adult renters live with a roommate. The city even has a program to help elderly renters share their homes. Hanging on to the middle in times of economic inequality means shared or public housing, juggling multiple jobs which often pay less than minimum wage (Taskrabbit, Fiverr, who background check their employees and then send them into anonymous homes), living with life-crippling debt, skating on the edges of no healthcare, and snubbing your nose at people who aren’t living that Big Apple dream.

    In a society constantly creating more poor people and depleting its middle class, spending more money on shelters won’t work. Look to Honolulu. It has been overwhelmed with some 7,000 people who became newly homeless in 2019. That number erased the 616 homeless people per month, on average, who were placed into “permanent housing.” They’ll really not ever stop building until, in theory, shelters house about 99 percent of everyone.

    To lighten things up, New York loves irony. Many of the cheaper apartments for young Millenials are in the same parts of town which once housed new immigrants in the early 20th century, that now golden-hued era of open borders celebrated as a democratic ideal when a more accurate vision would realize it was just a massive labor pool for the wealthy to exploit. That’s also a reminder that modern immigrants, particularly from Central America, form the exploitable, discardable labor pool that undergirds New York’s food service and day labor industries, and staffs car repair shops, butcher and delivery businesses.

    Hey, businesses, too, still have to navigate, especially around the homeless. I used to work at a Barnes and Noble near the bus stop out to the main homeless shelters on Randall’s Island. The B&N was open late and in bad weather the homeless came in to wait for their ride. There was actually a store policy created, and the regulars were trained: don’t interfere with commerce, no bathing in the restrooms, no sleeping, use the electrical outlets in the back to charge phones, don’t panhandle in the coffee shop and you can stay. A kind of Darwinian process kept some warm inside while security moved others out into the weather.

    An ecosystem in balance, same as at most Starbucks. People here sometimes refer to the place as a public toilet which also happens to sell coffee because, following charges of discrimination, the chain now claims its space and toilets are open to all, not just customers. Of course in some marginal parts of town those toilets are forever closed to all “under repair,” but in most places the homeless are trained to navigate us, staying out of the way, taking a cup out of the trash to set on the table and pretend they are buying something. Being seen as being nice is important to Starbucks’ customers as they mentally navigate their own place being able to afford expensive coffee alongside those who have less. Awkward!

    As a woke company catering to woke customers who want nice things without guilt, Starbucks has a whole corporate page up about how kind they are to the homeless. Something similar at the new food court at Essex Market (called the “anti-Hudson Yards”), which has full-time staff assigned to monitor the public toilets, allowing the homeless in and nudging them into the boundaries the Market deems acceptable. Essex market, like Starbucks, seems to see faux-humanitarian gestures towards the homeless as part of its marketing plan to Millenials who don’t want to see bag ladies dragged into the street whilst sipping artisanal Tibetan tea. It’s pretty much all just undergrad-level socialist theatre. Different rules and rougher play at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, where the more delicate suburban ladies and fragile tourists still shop pretending like it is 1968. At the end of the day, however, the homeless are still homeless at each place and night comes the same for all.
     
    The urban stories above are only about one part of the homeless population. There are two overlapping populations: those outside capacity of existing systems who depend on businesses and us to navigate, and those so far whacked and gone nothing exists to help them.

    It’s inevitable in a society that is constantly adding to its homeless population while simultaneously lacking any comprehensive way to provide medical treatment, all the while smoothing over the bumps on the street with plentiful supplies of alcohol and opioids (I was in line behind a homeless guy in liquor store paying with sock full of coins. He was 67 cents short for a bottle of no-name gin. What’s the right thing to do? I probably drink as much as he does most nights but it’s OK because I work for my money instead of begging? There are moral hurdles to navigate as well) are the severely mentally ill. These people exist outside the vast shelter system. They live outside, discarded, driven out of the overnights and the daytime Starbucks by violent or paranoid delusions. Even the recent killing of four homeless men by a fifth mentally ill homeless man failed to shock anyone into action.

    Navigating these people requires something more than a benign balancing of company profits and makeshift humanitarian gestures. At the Fulton Center subway station, problems with the mentally ill homeless reached a point where wire rope was installed alongside a made-up “no sitting” law to eliminate places to rest. A team of angry rent-a-cops make the homeless stand, wandering through the space waking up those who tumble, and chase away the worst. The sole working men’s room remains a kind of demilitarized zone, and it is not uncommon to see one man washing his clothes in the sink while another talks to himself as a third vocally struggles with his defecation. Most of the city’s such privately owned public spaces employ guards not against crime per se, but to enforce rules about how much baggage the homeless can bring in, whether they can sit, sleep, or have to pretend to buy something, and act as not gentle referees when a tourist snaps an unwanted photo and angers someone, or a homeless person otherwise becomes too aggressive with himself or another homeless person.

    There are of course other, more profitable, ways to navigate. San Diego created a “toolkit” to help businesses benignly wrangle the homeless without needing to involve the cops. NYC stores are told to invest in barbed grates that homeless can’t lay on comfortably (the hostile architecture of bars, protrusions and spikes that make it impossible to lie down on a park bench or wall are pretty much sculpted into the architecture of the city, markers of the struggle for public space. The idea even has its own Instagram account.) A private security firm offers more comprehensive solutions: advice about restricting access to sidewalk overhangs, alcoves, or other areas protected from inclement weather, remove handles from water spigots, and keep trash dumpsters locked when not being filled or emptied. If things get too bad, the company, for a price, will deploy “remote cameras integrated with military-grade algorithms capable of detecting people in areas they shouldn’t be in.” There are other ways to make money off the homeless, of course. Many of the shelters in NYC are contracted through private companies (fraud criss-crosses the system) , who charge the city about $80 per adult per night for an SRO room without its own indoor plumbing. Food stamps are distributed via Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT (some recipients claim the acronym really means “Eat Better Tonight.”) JPMorgan Chase holds the contracts in half the United States to handle the transactions. In New York that’s worth more than $112 million. But hey, Amazon now accepts EBT online in New York and you don’t even need Prime!

    A concise fable of what economic inequality has done to this city lies in canning, a nice term invented to describe the underground economy of returning aluminum cans for the five cents deposit. What was started in 1982 in hope the deposit would encourage consumer recycling alongside kids picking up cans to supplement their allowances, has become way to make a sort of living for an estimated 8,000 human beings. As the value of a nickel to many faded over the years, the need for a few bucks among the city’s growing homeless population grew. They started picking up cans for the money wealthier people set out as trash. The recycling centers in most food stores, however, hoping for return shoppers, did not want the homeless in their stores. Most set $12 daily redemption limits, often broken up in per can lots that forced the homeless to return two or three times. Streetside automated drop off points devolved into social centers for the homeless, including the infamous Pathway site at 125th Street that was renown as a drug market and dumping spot for the near-dead until it was closed down.
     
    Unable to redeem their cans, the homeless moved on, replaced by highly exploitive canning crews which buy cans in bulk from elderly pickers (many are retired or on disability) for about a $30 nightly haul per person, and who then deal directly with the bulk metal recyclers uptown. A five cent can might be worth only three cents on the street; competition among the people living off my garbage is sharp, where on a late night dog walk just before the bulk trucks arrive can crews run by Chinese organized crime (rumor is those who can’t work off human smuggling fees otherwise work the can routes) tussle with individuals for turf. The cops are uninterested and some local doormen try and intervene but often tire of the guff. It’s not a proud thing to witness.

    We’re a society built around economic inequality. We’ll all just have to learn to navigate our way through.
      

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    Dems, It’s Over. All the Smoking Guns Have Been Firing Blanks.

    February 8, 2020 // 13 Comments »

    We are watching the pathetic ending to one of the most pathetic periods in American politics. All the smoking guns have been firing blanks.

    Following one of the most childish tantrums of denial ever recorded, you Democrats set about destroying the Trump presidency in its crib; a WaPo headline from January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day itself – exclaimed “The Campaign to Impeach President Trump has Begun.” The opening gambit was going to be Emoluments, including rent paid by the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China for its space in Trump Tower in New York.

    After three years, it looks like that attempt finally reached its end game, failure, one gray afternoon. Last Friday the Senate brought impeachment proceedings to their effective conclusion, declaring the witnesses already called before the House were to be the last. The formal vote to acquit Trump is scheduled as an anti-climax for Wednesday.

    It has been ugly and mean. Using the entire apparatus of the American intelligence community, operating fully outside the law, you declared the President of the United States a Russian spy. You forced gentlemen to explain to their elderly mothers what a pee tape was. We had to hear over dinner about Trump’s penis, his sexual mores, and look deeper into Stormy Daniel’s cleavage than our own political souls. You made expedient heroes out of small, dishonest men like Michael Avenatti, John Brennan, and James Comey for perceived political gain. Shame on you, Democrats.

    When Russiagate collapsed you plunged deeper, with a setup “crime” driven by a faux whistleblower, supported by State Department gossips and not much more. Look at the series of plays you tried even within this Hail Mary of a Hail Mary. Back in August your manufactured worry was Trump, by messing with Ukrainian aid, was a threat to national security that would send the Red Army rolling west. Then there was the continued attempt to link up created memes, Trump’s help from the Russians in 2016 and Trump’s help from the Ukrainians in 2020 were part of some whole to damage democracy. At the end it was to be about how not allowing additional witnesses chosen by leaks to the NYT would distort the 2020 election. One reporter called acquittal “the worst day for America since the Civil War.” We had to listen to another round of democracy dying, existential threats, end of the Republic, as repetitive as summer Top 40.

    At your decision the House chose not to wait out a special prosecutor, or even subpoena witnesses back in the fall. Your bleats today about no witnesses ignored how you called 17 witnesses to the House, not a single one of which had first-hand knowledge of the events unless we were willing to believe some State Department Obama fan-boy magically overheard both sides of a cell phone conversation. If you had had a real case a special prosecutor could have sorted through Parnas and Hunter and Bolton, with subpoenas if necessary, and warrants could have shown us exactly what was said in those calls. But that would have come up weaker than Mueller and you knew it.

    You don’t think voters see they were played — again? As with Brett Kavanaugh, when things seemed darkest, you produced a witness that appeared to turn everything around. Back then you unveiled Christine Blasey Ford as the deus ex machina, a woman scorned decades ago by a high school kid, now-Supreme Court judge, you called a drunk. Same with John Bolton and his “manuscript” (shall we call it a dossier?) and instead of dealing with it months ago in a calm fashion, the New York Times drops the leak right into the middle of the impeachment punch bowl so it could create its own sense of urgency saying we can’t wait for thoughtful deliberation or even a court ruling, we must do something right away.

    So really, in the end your game-changer was supposed to be lifelong conservative John Bolton ratting out a Republican administration? That was how you were going to get Trump? Only a week earlier it was going to be Ukrainian grifter Lev Parnas. Before him was it “fixer” Michael Cohen, or Paul “Fredo” Manafort, who was going to flip? Was it taxes or the 25th Amendment which was once upon a time going to be the final blow?

    Do you think voters won’t remember it was Adam Schiff who failed in Russiagate, issuing his infamous Schiff Memo defending as legal the FISA court surveillance of Carter Page now shown to be unconstitutional? The same Schiff who worked with the “whistleblower” to shape the impeachment narrative and then buried the whistleblower from scrutiny? History will remember Schiff poorly, and judge those who put their party’s future in his dirty hands, Nancy, equally poorly.

    As it will Elizabeth Warren, who submitted a “question” at the impeachment proceedings which asked if the proceedings themselves “contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?” Nancy Pelosi picked up the theme saying the president will not be exonerated after the Senate acquits because “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial. And you don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation,” echoing the insanity of saying a victory in the Electoral College isn’t really being elected president. Do Democrats think the Super Bowl victory went to the team with the most yards rushing, or the one with the most points scored?

    Impeachment failed in the Senate, ultimately, because it was phony. Senators are politicians, with their noses always in the wind. They sniffed not a modicum of support for this impeachment, and saw nothing akin to the evidence that would encourage them to return to their constituents and explain their contrary votes as they did confronted, overwhelmingly, with Nixon’s wrongdoings.

    It’s really over now. Our democracy, which you regularly declare so in peril, will be forced to hold an election of all things to determine its next president.

    Democrats, the shock of Trump’s 2016 victory was such that voters were ready to follow you anywhere to defeat him in 2020. You led them off a cliff. As your supporters watched you create false excuses for losing, they watched Republicans confirm judge after judge. As they listened in their sleep to you bark about diversity, they woke up to see mostly a handful of old, white men to lead the party into the election.

    You lied to them repeatedly about Russia and Ukraine. You lied to them over and over about what a danger Trump is, bringing people who once believed in you to believe their own nuclear destruction was imminent over Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela. You continue to try to convince people a strong economy is an illusion and cheer on a recession. You shoved forward as surrogates the anti-semites who organized the Pussy Hat march, the media-abused Parkland Kids, Greta the Amazing Climate Change Girl, flashes-in-the-pan like Beto! Kamala! Cory! AOC! Mayor Pete! Stacey Abrams!

    You continue to paint an inaccurate picture of a society with gun nuts, Nazis, and white supremacists on the march. You convinced a generation of young voters they are fundamentally unhappy, awash in racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and when they just can’t see it the way you do, you corrupted movies and TV with dorm room level political piety to insist that is how it is out there. Now, instead of respecting one another at work and school, they tip-toe around as wanna-be defendants looking for targets to sue or complain to HR about. Describe yourself in one word? Offended.

    The hollow shout “It is all unfair!” after things don’t go your way echos from the third grade playground to 2016 to HR to impeachment.

    Would you trust the nation to the people the Democratic party has become? Because that is the question you have thrust into the minds of voters. As you have said many times, this was always more about America than it was about Trump.

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    Lev Parnas is Not the Impeachment Witness You are Looking For…

    January 29, 2020 // 34 Comments »


     

    Lev Parnas is who we all hope is the last “Did too! Did Not!” player in the three year effort to find someway to  drive Trump from office.

     

    Parnas is a Ukrainian-born “businessman” who claims to be the missing link between Trump and evidence needed to impeach. Parnas is also under indictment for breaking campaign-finance laws by disguising donations from foreign entities to unnamed U.S. politicians, and so is singing like the girl from Frozen to be let go. The media christened him the new White Knight of democracy. Is he?
     

    Nah. Parnas is mostly an opportunist, with notes of stalker, groupie, and crazy guy who imagines Jodi Foster is in love with him from afar. He takes his place as the Hail Mary play in the blob that is impeachment now. He joins James Comey, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen, Michael Avenatti and his aggrieved porn stars, Christopher Steele, the tattered Russian oligarchs still waiting for their checks from Christopher Steele, The Masked Whistleblower, and so many others who came before them.

    Though the media label him a Rudy Giuliani henchman, associate, thug, or fixer, and thus by extension a Trump henchman, associate, thug, or fixer, Parnas instead paid Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for “business and legal advice.” He didn’t work for Guliani, Giuliani worked for him. And in the you-can’t-make-this-up category, Parnas’ company is called Fraud Guarantee.

    Parnas was supposedly paying for the privilege of being used to gather dirt on Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, which begs the question of why. As America’s ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch served at the pleasure of the president. Trump did not need a reason to fire her. He did not need dirt gathered. He could simply instruct the State Department to recall her (or any other ambassador) and that’s that. It happens all the time without the need for third party cloak-and-dagger work by a B-grade Clouseau. Yet Parnas has gone on at length about the process of firing Yovanovitch being so difficult the most powerful man in the world with the Article II-guaranteed right to fire someone needed Parnas’ help.

    Actually the only “work” Parnas wanted in return for this generous payments to Rudy was the appearance of access, grip-and-grin photos, a sleazy form of currency in the markets people like him travel through in Eastern Europe and Asia. They decorate the walls of fast talkers across the globe, like the “awards” small town real estate agents and insurance brokers favor. So via his payments to Giuliani and his generous donations, Parnas amassed photos of him and Trump. Those photos are the cornerstone of Democrats’ case against Trump, who says he really does not know Parnas. See, there are pictures, what the media insist now are to be called “receipts.”

    You want some photos with the big boys and girls? Easy. You write a modest check to a campaign. You get invited to a campaign event for a quick picture, maybe at first with a tier-two Trump kid. You write a bigger check, you get invited to another event and maybe are led past the Man himself for a quick snap. More money, better photos. Start to bundle donors, and you get invites to “private” breakfasts attended by dozens of people with a drop-by from the candidate. None of this means you “know” Trump or he knows you. You or may not exchange a word of greeting as the photos are taken in assembly-line fashion. And of course if your politics runs Democrat, these same photos are available with Biden, Bernie, Pete, or whomever. For a price. Now, show us a photo of you with Trump in matching Speedos poolside and you’ll have our attention.

    Along with most of the media and American public, sleazy businesspeople in Eastern Europe don’t seem to grasp the meaningless of these photos, and imagine a guy like Trump isn’t using Parnas as an ATM while a guy like Parnas isn’t using Trump for pretend status. Meanwhile, as con men do, Parnas was going around Ukraine telling everyone, without any evidence, he was working for Giuliani and Trump, gathering dirt on the American ambassador. But there was always a little wiggle room in the actual relationship — note the “like” when Parnas said “I became like Rudy’s assistant, his investigator.” How one works for someone one is paying is, like, unclear. Parnas, like generations of grifters before him, is free to go around claiming he is important and trying to tie himself to important people but none of that makes it true.

    In fact, perhaps having been introduced to the legal term perjury or its vernacular cousin “lying” by his defense attorney John Dowd, a former Trump lawyer he and the media made a big deal out of hiring, Parnas further qualified his relationship with Trump to say “I mean, we’re not friends. Me and him didn’t watch football games together. We didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were.”

    Following his indictment and ahead of impeachment proceedings Parnas has become a one-man media event. He claimed to Federal Elvis-level investigator Rachel Maddow he knew Trump knew everything bad that was going on, though admits he never spoke substantively to Trump and his knowledge is second or third hand at best. To say he was photographed with Trump at fundraisers is miles from claiming Trump directed him in the Ukraine caper which in fact even Parnas does not claim. The media has done that for him, imaging a selfie is a receipt for impeachable offenses.

    And of course there’s more as the story oozes downhill from drama into comedy. Remember how the Russians had Trump on tape with prostitutes? And how the media headlined Michael Cohen had incriminating tapes of Trump no one ever heard? Parnas supposedly has tapes, too! Parnas also introduced a somewhat dubious legal gambit. Without evidence he accused Attorney General Bill Barr of being involved in all things Ukraine, and thus must recuse himself from Parnas’ campaign finance illegal donations case due to this “conflict of interest.” Parnas also accused Vice President Pence of “having to have known” about the Ukraine stuff. Parnas dismissed hints in a text by an alcoholic Trump supporter that Ambassador Yovanovitch was under Giuliani-ordered surveillance and/or the target of assassination. Democrats have called for an investigation anyway. And the fact that Parnas chose to reveal all on the Maddow show, as opposed to a proffer, or under oath anywhere, should not distract from his credibility.

     

    Enough. There is no evidence Parnas ever spoke substantively about Ukraine with Trump. There is no evidence supporting Parnas’ claims he in any way worked with, at the direction of, or otherwise for Trump. His statements now, only after indictment, raise significant questions about his credibility and thus demand supporting evidence. Selfies with Trump are not supporting evidence. Nothing corroborates Parnas but Parnas.

    That ends Parnas’ value as a potential witness in these impeachment hearings. But what about his enablers in the media without whom he’d be telling his tall tales to the cafeteria ladies at some Federal prison facility?

    The old adage about not being able to cheat an honest person extends to the media; a con man can only be elevated to the national stage by a dishonest media willing to ignore his lack of credibility for its own agenda. And so the same people who drove the Russiagate train for years embrace Parnas as the new smoking gun. The NYT’s own queen of that particular swamp, Maggie Haberman, admitted “One of the hallmarks of the Trump era is anybody who is oppositional to Trump gets instant credibility. We’ve seen it over and over again. Michael Avenatti, Cohen even at points, even when he was admitting he was lying to Congress at some point after he pleaded guilty to other charges.” That’s a hell of a thing for Haberman to say given how much credibility she and her paper of record have bestowed on a parade of transparent liars.

    This all started three years ago with Christopher Steele, who at least had a nicely-typed dossier and an MI6 pedigree. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a few of the others probably did know things even if they didn’t snitch out. But now we’re down to the media primping a guy who before he was a recognized as a savior by CNN was called by CNN a radioactive wolf who shook down Ukrainians pretending he had a connection to the White House.

    With impeachment soon to be over and the Democratic primaries starting hopefully there won’t be bandwidth left for another round of this with whoever feeds even further below Lev Parnas. The list of people who have been used by the media to try to bring Trump down is long. Most of them are now in jail, were fired or disgraced, or received Pulitzer Prizes. Time for this to end. Maggie, come get your people, they’re embarrassing themselves out here.

      

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    Defamation: Enter Sandmann v. CNN

    January 25, 2020 // 12 Comments »

    Once again a geopolitical event — this time, the killing of an Iranian General — was falsely blown by agenda-driven journalism into ItIsWWIIIWeAreAllGonnaDieBecauseTrump and then within a handful of days we realize no, not the case. Again.

    The facts never support the media contentions, but the facts seem to matter little. The need to drive an agenda,  Orange Man Bad, controls.

    Remember how Trump will start WWIII with China over Taiwan’s inauguration phone call, Trump will start global economic war with China trade sanctions, Trump will start WWIII by withdrawing from NATO, Trump will start a wider war in Syria bombing Russian bases, Trump will start a  war moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Trump will start WWIII pulling out of Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement, Trump will start WWIII with North Korea, Trump will sell out the U.S. to get peace with North Korea because he wants a cheap Nobel, Trump will start WWIII because he is Hitler, erratic, mentally ill, impulsive, isolated, Trump will ___ to distract from Mueller, Comey, impeachment, Trump will start a war over Venezuela, Trump will start a genocide of Kurds with Turkey, Trump will start a Mideast war after Iran attacked a Saudi oil facility or shot down a drone, Trump will start a civil war inside the U.S. after Charlottesville, or to stop the midterms, or to prevent the next election, or he won’t leave if he loses, Trump is a Russian asset, Trump owes Putin billions, Trump is Putin’s cockholster, Trump is a pee tape sex pervert, Trump will start a recession, Trump will trigger a depression, Trump is rich from emoluments, Trump is almost bankrupt with hidden taxes, the stock market will crash, trade wars will end global capitalism, Trump killed all the Puerto Ricans, Trump will take away health care, Trump will imprison LGBTQXYZ people, Trump will end legal abortion, Trump has America on the brink…

    One can find dozens of articles on any of the subjects above. By my count the NYT’s Paul Krugman predicted LINK a Trump recession 17 individual times, the first even before inauguration, alongside many more instances of the clear and present dangers of tax cuts, market bubbles, tariffs, and more. MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow devoted her entire show for about two years to the walls closing in on Trump, repeating “tick tock” like some modern version of the Rain Man.

    Columnist Max Boot in The Washington Post put into writing what we have all known for some time: real journalism, Jefferson’s informed citizenry and all that, is dead. The job has shifted to agenda writing, just plain made-up stuff to drive events. Boot is at least honest that he writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election, “Much of my journalism for the past four years has been devoted to critiquing President Trump and opposing the spread of Trumpism. But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office… I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.”

    The worst agenda journalism reads like bad anti-Trump fan fiction, worse than the basement Star Wars stuff where Leia always ends up without her golden bikini. Trump is a spy. Trump digs golden showers. Turn around his jest, and if Trump saved a man’s life in the middle of Fifth Avenue Don Lemon would explain that night why that was wrong, and an existential threat to the rest of us if not Democracy itself. If it doesn’t pass even the sniff test, well, it was designed to. When writing for a fan fiction audience one simply need to feed them the raw meat they crave (naked Leia, Orange Man Bad.) Truth, subtlety, challenging thought have no place and indeed no value. That’s kind of what you expect when the goal is basement Solo pleasures, but it is now one of the drivers of the national mainstream media in America.

     

    The giveaway that journalism is near-singularly devoted to an agenda, frightening the public in service of driving Trump somehow from office, is how the mistakes are always wrong in same direction. Meanwhile none of the people who keep track of the lies Trump tells and who are demanding “fact checks” before ads are allowed to run on social media seem to spend any time on the other side of the equation. Who would accept a track record this bad from their doctor, lawyer, their nail technician (“No, seriously, cracked nails are hot this year, it was in the NYT”)? Is there any price to be paid for agenda journalism?

    Assuming credibility, professionalism, and self-respect are apparently worth about zero, the price tag for agenda journalism looks to be about $25 million. That’s what CNN is reported to have paid settling a defamation case brought by Covington High School student Nick Sandmann charging the network “maintained a well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald Trump and established a history of impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president.” The amount is probably half what CNN spends yearly just on botox for Anderson Cooper but as Cooper’s estheticians are prone to say, it’s a start.

    Almost a year ago to the day Sandmann and his Catholic school classmates traveled to Washington, DC to join anti-abortion protests. Sandmann was photographed grinning at a Native American DC protest regular. The media with one mighty flatulent blast knew what to do. Based solely on a YouTube clip, outlets like CNN and WaPo imagined Sandmann, wearing his MAGA cap, as the distillation of everything evil, some redneck crapper from Kentucky a hatin’ women and a protestin’ them abortions and rubbing his smug grin in the face of a noble Native American POC supposedly trying to defuse a tense situation with native drumming. The drummer was also quickly (but wrongly) glorified as a Vietnam Vet.

    Blue Check Twitter suggested Sandmann be punched in the face, and veiled suggestions of mob action led to threats, Sandmann’s family temporarily run out of their home, the kid dropped from school trips, and other disciplinary action to include coerced apologies. The second wave was pearl clutching Op-Eds about what Trump has turned us into, and look, it has spread to The Children. The media implied Sandmann deserved it because of his politics. Contrast that treatment with the beatification bestowed on #Resistance kids like Greta Thunberg, and the good victims of the Parkland shooting (the Parkland kid who supports the Second Amendment meanwhile was media-doxxed out of his Harvard scholarship.)

    Not only was all of that absolutely wrong (Sandmann was never an aggressor, and alongside his peers, said nothing in return to those taunting him, even though CNN claimed they “looked like they were going to lynch” the Black Hebrew Israelites who actually started the whole thing) it wasn’t even news. Students on a field trip, with the media appointing Sandmann their symbolic oberfuhrer, were fashioned into props to fit the characterization people who wear MAGA hats are intolerant. The media cared little for the truth when they had their entire white nationalist anti-Trump agenda as they imagine it exists packaged in one handy snapshot.

    The media counts on America to forget their propaganda fails and move on. Only this time it turned out differently. Sandmann is suing a range of journalists individually, including Maggie Haberman, Ana Navarro, and Shaun King for slurs they threw at him on Twitter, and their employers for directing their massive global platforms to beat up an innocent high school kid. Included in the swath of lawsuits by Sandmann are CNN, MSNBC’s parent company, the AP, Gannett, and the Washington Post. In the words of the suit, they “brought down the full force of [their] corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child.”

    Representative Ilhan Omar, who tweeted the boys yelled “it’s not rape if you enjoy it” when they did not, is exempt from the suit as a public office holder. “Comedian” Bill Maher, who called Sandmann a profane name on TV, also likely enjoys a legal exemption for satire. Maher topped off his coverage of the events by making a child rape joke about Sandmann, stating “I do not get what Catholic priests see in these kids.”

     

    While the many suits are pending, this month CNN independently reached a cash settlement with Sandmann, one of those we-sorta-admit-it but legally do not admit, in the words of the lawsuit, to defaming Sandmann by accusing him of “engaging in racist conduct” without properly investigating the incident. The suits contend CNN and the others would have “known the statements to be untrue had they undertaken any reasonable efforts to verify their accuracy before publication.” In other words, CNN willfully failed to commit journalism, the finding of facts, the asking of questions in lieu of packaging what was actually nothing at all into a steamy piece to fit an existing agenda.

    With a win in Sandmann’s pocket and as his cases against the other media outlets work their way through the courts, others also appear ready to challenge agenda journalism via the defamation laws. Ten more Covington high school students are now suing various media for defamation. Elsewhere, writer Peter Brimelow is suing the NYT for labeling him an “open white nationalist.” Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Donald Trump, filed suit against Fox a month ago claiming defamation. George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, filed a defamation suit against HarperCollins, the Martin family lawyer’s publisher. Trump critic and Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig is suing the NYT, accusing them of publishing “false and defamatory” information about him. Melania is suing all sorts of outlets for defamation. Representative Devin Nunes sued CNN last month claiming the network defamed him with false reports he traveled to Vienna to meet with the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden helped oust in 2016.

    Under current law, most of those suits will fail. Going forward, how powerful a weapon defamation lawsuits might prove to be against agenda journalism will depend on how flexible the courts choose to be. Historically they have given great leeway to anyone, journalist or not, who appears to libel (an untrue defamatory statement in writing) or slander (same, but orally) public figures. The idea is if you put yourself out there as an actor, or a politician, you’re expected to take a few slings and arrows and so the standards of proof are higher. This is what allows tabloids like the National Enquirer to get away with making up stories about popular figures as their basic trade. Defamation as a business practice was once upon a time what they did, and not what places like the media of record are now about.

    The major defenses against defamation are truth, or that the alleged defamatory statement was a statement of opinion. If CNN were to prove Nunes did go to Vienna as reported, that would end his suit. One woman who claims Trump raped her several decades ago is now suing him, claiming his Constitutionally-protected statement of innocence defamed her. Her suit demands he prove the truth of his denial to escape judgement. Opinion is exempt when it is truly some sort of opinion — Nunes is the worst Congressman ever — and not just when it is fudged along the likes of “This reporter’s opinion is Nunes traveled to Vienna.”

    The hope would be justice recognizes a new media environment has crawled out from the mud, one which drags innocent people onto the national stage unnecessarily and without context in a way which is unethical and exploitative. And that even public figures, never mind the voters who select them, deserve accurate, factual reporting.

    Yeah, one can hope. But in the case of CNN and Nick Sandmann, it appears the network would rather pay out a couple of million dollars then to roll the dice to see what a court would say. And hey, small world: Nick Sandmann’s attorney, Lin Wood, is the same person who successfully represented Richard Jewell in his defamation suit against CNN years ago, when the network falsely labeled him the Atlanta Olympic Park bomber.

    In a rare breath of self-examination, columnist David Brooks wrote “Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable. The anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.”

    That CNN has not made any noticeable changes in its stream of agenda journalism since the original incident a year ago, or since settling with Sandmann, suggests what they paid out is to them a reasonable price to continue to lie to the American public. Defamation settlements are just another business expense. The Founders assigned journalism a specific role to ensure that citizens would be able to carry out informed debates. Truth, they understood, is more than an ideal, it is a perspective. Yet over the last three years serious journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush to do away with Trump, not by honest persuasion but by any means necessary. Fear won out, and so objectivity is now #Collusion. Seeking facts before going viral is so 2015. The media picks on kids because they can’t get Trump. We asked for an informed citizenry and we got Mean Girls.

     

     

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    Morning in America Again, or Kristallnacht? The Answer Wins the Election

    January 13, 2020 // 6 Comments »


     

    Just before holiday visits back home to the Midwest, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney explained Trump’s 2020 reelection message will focus on the economy, immigration, and Democratic Party “socialism.”

    The first is straightforward. Some 76 percent of Americans rate economic conditions positively, up from 48 percent at the time of Trump’s election. Stocks are having their best year since 1997, and indexes are at all time highs. Wage growth continues, unemployment is at a half-century low point, holiday spending was up 3.4 percent with an 18.8 rise in online sales, and the media-driven fears of recession and trade war apocalypse yielded to reality. History shows the guy in the White House on Election Day gets the credit.

    The Democrats’ rebuttal is a blurry focus on economic inequality. The drunks at Midwest holiday parties actually agree in large part, but as sober voters are unsure who Bernie Warren is lecturing to about that, as they’ve been well aware of economic inequality for a long time. It was easy to walk them back through the weaker and weaker union contracts (when they still had unions) and  plant downsizings (when they still had plants) to around 1973, the year financial equality in America peaked. The conversation is like watching those YouTube videos showing the Beach Boys singing Surfin’ USA in the Sixties through to their creepy 2019 selves.

    These people are open to hear what Democrats plan to do about it but they do not believe the Robin Hood strategy Elizabeth Sanders proposes. They are also more than aware there are even more exhausted little towns down county wracked by drugs. They know places like that don’t care about Medicare for All, they already have Medicaid for All. Free college isn’t much of a draw because there aren’t a lot of better jobs begging and the places that have had training programs left over from presidential campaigns past already learned the hard lesson education, while a good thing, doesn’t create jobs. Jobs create the need for education. Otherwise it’s empty calories, changing underemployed uneducated people into underemployed educated people. Teaching a million people to code, or weld, even if you could, means nothing if there aren’t a million of those jobs accessible. Actually, if “those in a craphole of debt” are an important electoral demographic for Democrats, the people in these pink houses would welcome some attention to limits on the 24 percent interest rate they pay on credit cards, or the 391 percent interest on payday loans for those who can’t get credit anymore.

    If a Democrat came up with a viable infrastructure plan, he’d have these folks’ ears and if funded more intelligently than “we’ll get rich people whose companies don’t pay taxes now to pay” he’d likely have their votes, too. They’ve struggled enough at the end of a month to know money doesn’t come from nowhere, and the same people promising them something are promising others bribes in the form of slavery reparations, student loan forgiveness, and maybe free ponies. Some might even remember the War on Poverty, which started Medicare and Medicaid, was aimed in part at the Midwest some fifty years ago to help displaced coal miners. These folks are familiar with politician’s promises. This is not an audience easily won over by an argument to trust new and expensive government programs to fix everything.

    Sure there are paradoxical notes on meritocracy, that things are earned, which get scrambled among people who accept food stamps but decry others who do the same as lazy. But what makes sense and what is are not always the same. In 2020 the hint of new taxes to pay for things that aren’t likely to get them a better job is enough to stick with what little the last four years handed over. A job, or a better paying job, is what everyone wanted under the Christmas tree. Trump has not delivered fully as he promised, but things feel better.

     

    More immigration is about as popular as less football. Listening to Democrats talk about open borders, sanctuary cities, benefits for illegals, and admitting more refugees, you would be surprised to learn 77 percent of Americans see illegal immigration as a “critical/important” threat. So people are wondering why fellow Midwesterner Pete Buttigieg wants to deport fewer illegal immigrants. They wonder what happened to the 2016 Bernie, who once claimed open borders were a Koch brothers’ plot to flood the U.S. with cheap labor to depress wages.

    They wonder if Democrats can’t handle the truth. Never mind the sepia Ken Burns documentaries, they know they’re the descendants of immigrants who weren’t always welcomed, who were called Hunkies or Polacks before being exploited as cheap labor by the “whyte people” of the day. They also know damn well the reason wages are down today at many places is because people are coming from countries thousands of miles away to be exploited as cheap labor. Nobody this New Year’s said “our lives would be better if we had more immigrants moving in.” Nobody said “I’m glad some candidates are focused on transgender asylum rights, that’s important.” But nobody said “I hate refugees or trans people” either. Understanding the difference between the two statements is going to help decide the election.

     

    That brings things to Mick Mulvaney’s last Trump campaign point, “Democratic Socialism,” a vision for what America could become under a new administration. It is a story a candidate tells voters. What the Democrats are offering seemed as popular as the burnt crescent rolls even the drunks left alone on the table New Year’s Eve. An “…and in other news” story about how the Bernie Sanders campaign is worried spending too much of their money on office supplies from Amazon is unethical brought forth a consensus opinion locally of “and these people represent who” around here?

    The great campaigners — Reagan, 2008 Obama, first-gen Bill Clinton — had a vision of Morning in America, of Hope, and, of well, also Hope. People vote their pocketbook, but they also vote on that vision of who they are and who they think they want to be. Aspiration is an economic driver same as wages and in America may be more powerful. Trump is good enough at this. He tells people he’s rich, he’s powerful, he can do anything he wants, and what he chooses to do is work for them for free. Look at the faces at a Trump rally. You saw the same in 2008 with Obama, with Reagan in 1984, and it becomes a conversation that ends almost organically with a vote, like a perfect date that slides buttery into breakfast. They don’t really want to stand up and complain at a town hall, they want to see their future. Save the arguments about what is real and what is guff because they don’t matter when you’re telling a good story to an audience that wants to think they’re better people than they’ve been forced to become.

    Meanwhile, the story Democrats are telling is of a crappy place buried in racism and homophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments. It’s not Morning in America in 2020, it’s Kristallnacht. We’re not people of hope and aspiration, we’re bitter and hateful, despised not just for holding a political opinion, but for being the kind of person who holds such an opinion. Nobody takes Michael Moore seriously in a literal way anymore, but he spoke out loud what many Dems think when he said “Two-thirds of all white guys voted for Trump. That means anytime you see three white guys walking at you, down the street towards you, two of them voted for Trump. You need to move over to the other sidewalk because these are not good people that are walking toward you. You should be afraid of them.”

    We’re not even really worthy of our vote — the popular vote, as expressed by New York and California, will allow a more righteous country to emerge over bodies of the rednecks the Russians told to vote Trump.

     

    The only real vision the Dems offer is whichever one of them limps out of the primaries, they are not Trump. They want everyone to forget the three years of lies and conspiracy theories that Trump was working for the Russians. They want everyone to ignore the FBI campaign to overturn the last election, the last gasping efforts of which are an impeachment process even the Democrats seem to wish would just go away now. They want everyone to forget the fear mongering saying Trump would start a war with China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea or just nuke somewhere in a fit of rage when Melania had a headache again. They want everyone to forget the three years of claims Trump is incestous, is mentally ill, subject to the 25th Amendment, a danger to us all, bonkers, unhinged. They don’t know the more they rage about Trump and predict catastrophe the more out of touch it seems when the catastrophes don’t happen. Pssst, people have noticed the pattern, Rachel.

    Dems also want everyone to forget how those actions, consistent and over time, might be a better indication of how they would govern than any “plan” posted on line. So much fuel has been burned pointing out Trump’s ugliness that the Dems think voters won’t notice the party’s own self-righteousness. Everyone has had their good will tested by years worth of movies and TV which eschews plot to shove simplistic versions of wokeness and feminism down everyone’s throat. We get it — commercials feature disproportionate levels of same-sex and mixed race couples, and the moral of the story is the old white guy is wrong. The absurdity of a man with long hair identifying as a woman and setting local high school track records is now drilled in. That is part of the vision ascribed to Democrats, and it is not worth many votes.

     

    Few people listen to the media anymore here and even fewer believe much of what they hear. Polls show 47 percent of Americans believe it’s difficult to know whether the information they encounter is true. Some 60 percent say they regularly see conflicting reports about the same set of facts, and way less than half of Americans have confidence in the media (the number drops to 15 percent when just Republicans are asked.) The ground truth is not hard to tease out, though reality is easier to see when your morning coffee doesn’t cost $6.99. The Millenial pundits from Brooklyn who write the dumb garbage about the Heartland as a infestation of inbred racists wouldn’t even need passports to come out and visit. They might come to realize they spend too much time reporting off social media without knowing they’re talking to themselves. But they wouldn’t be comfortable at the cousins’ homes. When they ask where the coffee is sourced from and is it sustainable, the answer would be “Um, Kroger, and yeah, we got a whole pot on.” It helps to have to have grown up in a place where it was usually too cold to leave the beer outside on New Year’s.

    Still, they might learn the majority of voters in purple states, the ones who likely will decide the election, don’t see America as a hateful place consumed by racism, homophobia, and white supremacy, and they don’t see themselves as racists, homophobes, and white supremacists. A lot of these people voted for Obama when he won Ohio in 2008 and 2012. The people the pundits might meet are also more aware than the media things were not so great during the Obama years progressives now bathe in golden light. These people are tired of being defined and reviled by candidates who have no idea of how they live, yet hate them anyway for not watching PBS. The media’s idea they are Nazis, or support anything close to Nazism, is an insult. Their grandfathers fought the Second World War. They know Facebook is where you post pictures of the kids, not receive marching orders from the Kremlin. Their America hasn’t been taken away from them by blacks or whoever’s; nobody really wants it.

    “Not Trump” will be enough for the Whole Foods/Trader Joe base, but not for places across Ohio and elsewhere further down the food chain. Trump gets this at a visceral level. It is messy out there, but these people understand they have made it three years without a new war, without an economic collapse, that the impeachment matters not a whit, and even Saturday Night Live is sort of funny again.

     
     

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    On the Afghan Papers, Tequila, and Anne Smedinghoff

    January 3, 2020 // 27 Comments »


     

    It’s common this time of year to write review articles making sense of the events of the last 12 months. But what all of them will omit is one of the most important stories of the year. For the first time in some two decades America hasn’t started a new war.

    In 2019 34 American service members died in war. In 2009 it was 459, in 2003 it was 526. A total of 6857 since the post 9/11 wars commenced in 2001 with the invasion of Afghanistan. Bush began that war, then invaded Iraq in 2003. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 then immediately expanded the war in Afghanistan. He went on to restart America’s war in Iraq after it was over the first time, launched a new war to turn Libya into a failed state and trigger the refugee flows still disrupting EU politics, engaged the U.S. in Yemen, abetted a humanitarian crisis in Syria, and set off yet another refugee flow into Europe through military intervention. So three full years without a new war is indeed news.

    This year also brought mainstream confirmation of the truth behind the Afghan War. The Washington Post, long an advocate for all the wars everywhere, took a tiny step of penance in publishing the “Afghan Papers,” which show the American public was lied to every step of the way over the past 18 years about progress in Afghanistan and the possibility of some sort of success. Government officials from the president(s) to the grunt(s) issued positive statements they knew to be false and hid evidence the war was unwinnable. The so-called Afghan Papers are actually thousands of pages of notes created by the Special Inspector for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog federal agency created to oversee the spending of close to one trillion dollars in reconstruction money.

    The SIGAR documents (all quotes are from the Post’s Afghan Papers reporting) are blunt. “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking… If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction, 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added. “Who will say this was in vain?” There are plenty of similar sentiments expressed going back a decade, with hints of the same almost to the first months of the conflict. The record of lies is as stark, final, and unambiguous as the death toll itself.

     

    Underlying all these comments given to SIGAR confidentially (WaPo had to fight a hellish FOIA battle to get these Papers released and even then most names were redacted) is a subtheme of what happens when the public finds out they’ve been lied to? The lesson there is a clear one: the public will have it shoved under their noses and ignore it repeatedly. The “secrets” of what was going on in Afghanistan were available for any who cared to call bullsh*t. Everything that failed in Afghanistan was at some level a repeat of what had failed earlier or concurrently in Iraq. The Papers quote an Army brigade commander in eastern Afghanistan who told government interviewers that he often saw nation building proposals that referred to “sheikhs” literally cut-and-pasted from reconstruction projects in Iraq. (“Sheikh” is an Arabic title of respect regularly misused by the military in Iraq but inapplicable across most of Afghanistan.) Many reconstruction personnel on the civilian side were transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan, and senior military leaders followed enlisted sons and fathers in doing deployments in both nations.

    On paper the story was the same. Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks exposed the lies in Iraq, only to face jail time and personal destruction. Whistleblower Matt Hoh, who served in Iraq as a Marine and in Afghanistan with the State Department, resigned in protest and told all as far back as 2010. My own book on Iraq exposed reconstruction was a failure in 2011, as did Chris Coyne’s on reconstruction in Haiti in 2010, or Douglas Wissing or Anand Gopal on Afghanistan or more recently Scott Horton’s in 2017. The Army’s Lt. Col Danny Davis, or even SIGAR’s own reporting over the years told much of the same story if anyone had bothered to read it. If anyone had looked deeper, they would have seen the same errors in reconstruction made many times before, from Somalia to the massive CORDS program in the Vietnam War.

    The Papers also show during the peak of the fighting in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, U.S. politicians and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other projects the faster things would improve. Aid workers told SIGAR from the ground “it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.” One staffer with the Agency for International Development claimed 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.” A contractor explained he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home, and “he said hell no. I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.”

    It was never a question of would it work, but more of a question of finding any example in the past where it did work. The one cited by so many NEOCON believers was the post-WWII Marshall Plan, as if loans to German and Japanese industrialists to rebuild factories and retool from tanks to cars had anything to do with the medieval economy of Afghanistan.

    But perhaps owing to their roots as the watchdog of the reconstruction program, SIGAR saves some of its most laser-like commentary for nation building.

     

    But Afghanistan was always supposed to be more than a “kinetic” war. The real battles were for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, with money as the weapon. Democracyfreedompluralisticsociety would be created from the primeval mud, with roads and bridges and factories as its Adam, and schools for boys and girls as its Eve. One of the core lies told to the public, and to each other on the ground in Afghanistan, was that a large portion of reconstruction money should be spent on education, even though Afghanistan had few jobs for graduates. “We were building schools next to empty schools, and it just didn’t make sense,” a Special Forces officer explained. “The local Afghans made clear they didn’t really want schools. They said they wanted their kids out herding goats.”

    “There was not a willingness to answer questions such as, what is the meaning of this number of schools that you have built? How has that progressed you towards your goal?” said John Garofano, who supported the First Marine Expeditionary Force in its reconstruction spending in Helmand Province. “How do you show this as evidence of success and not just evidence of effort or evidence of just doing a good thing?”

    And it is on that specific bruised prayer of a lie that Anne Smedinghoff, the only State Department Foreign Service officer to lose a life in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, died.

    This is what all those lies detailed in the Afghan Papers translate into on the ground. Anne was a diplomat, just 25 years old, assigned by the State Department to create good press in Afghanistan so the people at home could see we were winning. It was a hard fight, her work was supposed to show, but the sacrifices were worth it because we are accomplishing this. This in the very specific case which destroyed Anne was handing out unneeded books to Afghans who lacked clean water and childhood vaccines twelve years into America’s longest war so she and (important) more senior people could be photographed doing so. Inside the beltway this was called a “happy snap,” photos of Americans doing good with, albeit always in the background, smiling Afghans lapping it up. Through a series of grossly preventable micro-errors in security nested like Russian dolls inside the macro-error of what Anne or any American was doing in rural Zabul, Afghanistan anyway, Anne’s body was blown into pink mush by jagged fragments of steel from an IED.

    The school where Anne was killed was “built” by the U.S. in October 2009, only to enjoy a $135,000 “renovation” a few months later that included “foundation work, installation of new windows and doors, interior and exterior paint, electricity and a garden.” The original contractor did miserable work but got away with it in the we’ll check later Potemkin world where the appearance of success trumped actual results. The Army noted as the school opened “The many smiles on the faces of both men and women showed all were filled with joy and excitement during this special occasion.” That the Afghans in the area likely needed sewage processing to lower infant mortality levels from water borne disease was irrelevant, they got a freaking school.

    The limited official reporting on what happened to Anne bungled most of the details, and State clung (as they later did with Benghazi, some lessons are learned) to a weak tea that the “cause” of Anne’s death were the actions of the bad guys, anything we did up to our very presence on the ground treated as a kind of background. The desire to not look too deep was underscored by then Secretary of State John Kerry, who said “she tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future” and smoothed the media into blending Anne’s death into what the entire world now knows is the fake narrative Anne herself died trying to create.

    Kerry is an easy target because of his Vietnam-era protests, including his famous question to Congress in 1971 “Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

    To the State Department, what mattered in the life and then death of Anne Smedinghoff was damage control to what the Afghan Paper show they secretly knew was an already-failed story.

     

    Anne was only one of thousands of Americans, and, literally-only-God-knows how many Afghans, who died for the lies in the Afghan Papers. Same in the other countries America made war against, Syria and Libya for example, whose “papers” exposing those lies we await. So that’s why the biggest story of 2019 is the one no one seems to want to talk about, that for the first time in decades we seem to be slowing this all down.

    When someone writes now, in light of the reveals of the Afghan Papers, Anne died in vain, someone else will dismiss that as playing politics with a young woman’s death. But if you will read one more sentence, read this: Anne’s presence in Afghanistan was about politics, and her death delivering books for a photo op was a political act in support of lies. Her death thrusts her into the role of symbolism whether anyone likes that or not, and our job is simply to determine what she is indeed a symbol of and try to learn from that.

    For me, I learned on the same day Anne died an airstrike elsewhere in Afghanistan inadvertently killed ten children. I learned on the nights I think too much about things like that it usually takes a fair amount of tequila to abort my thoughts. And I take no pride in admitting I usually just drink from the bottle. But tonight I’ll use a glass, so I can raise it to Anne. I know she won’t be the last, there’ll be another set of “papers,” but there’s always hope at the bottom of a glass, isn’t there?

      

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    Do You Believe In Christmas?

    December 23, 2019 // 9 Comments »


     

    When our kids were little we would make Santa’s magic boot prints from the front door to the Christmas tree by sprinkling baking soda around a crude cardboard cutout of a boot print. This explained how the presents showed up for Christmas morning since we didn’t have the fireplace Santa used in every damn storybook. It was cute to see our daughters when they simply believed it was all true. But as they got older, the world of logic crept forward — How’d Santa get past the locked front door? And why didn’t the dog bark?

    The real world works that way, sad as it is sometimes to see them grow up. Logic overcomes belief. Otherwise you’re 45 and still wondering if it was really Santa who ate the cookies you left out.

    The bad news is the magic is back, at least in terms of politics, as belief takes over from logic. This isn’t the good kind which makes Christmas memories. It is the bad kind which turns rational people into blithering idiots who are ready to believe anything that supports their world view, and who create garbage to fool others. It can get to the point where such folks can be convinced of anything, and that makes them manipulable. After all, if you don’t clean up your room, there’ll be no presents under the tree this year!

    Here’s where wanting to believe something so much that it shuts down thinking leads. Accusations become evidence for impeachment or harassment or Islamophobia or a society gone white nationalist wild, and the more accusations the stronger the evidence is seen to be. Simply filling a bus with people claiming someone did something  should mean nothing but it now means more than ever.

    Same for words. Just calling something a new name not does not change anything. So even as the hive mind agrees a flippant remark is “demanding foreign intervention” or labels an investigation “interference in our democracy” and with even less evidence claims Trump is a Russian agent, Tulsi a Russian plant, Facebook is a Russian tool, and Jill Stein a Russian something or other, it does not make it true. A minimum wage dropout saying something horrible to a fast food customer is indicative of our crappy educational system maybe, but hardly an indictment of “a nation awash in racism,” even if it’s on YouTube. Adding “-gate” to a noun does not create a crime to be investigated. Saying “it’s just like Watergate” over and over does not make it Watergate. Claiming a phone call is bribery, or a tweet is witness intimidation does not negate the need for the law degree that allows you to actually use those words accurately. And kids, I’m sorry, I know how much you wanted to believe in the elves, but it was really Mom and me buying the presents all those years.

    It is sadly no surprise the ambiguously favorable witness Democrats allowed to testify at the Impeachment Gladiatorial Thanksgiving Spectacle, Gordon Sondland, was soon accused of sexual misconduct by not one, but three women, so it has to be true. The allegations are true to form at least, because all of the alleged incidents took places years ago, there were no witnesses or physical evidence, and none of the women found a reason to bring the accusations forward until Sondland emerged as a possible weak point in the Dems’ case against Trump. What they said was fully and forever unprovenable, and can only be “believed” based on what outcome you support.

    Watching those accusations front-paged by a believing media, and with memories of the Kavanaugh confirmation, one can only view Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s deteriorating health with concern. She has been a fine justice, but seems to be using up her share of amazing recoveries from falls and the flu at a rapid pace. The chances are good Trump will name the Ghost of Christmas Past’s replacement. We all can start to feel that pain in our stomach knowing whomever he nominates will be accused of terrible things. For a male nominee, it will be more sexual harassment incidents than Jack the Ripper, dating back to when he pulled Cindy’s pigtails in fourth grade. For a female nominee, it is inevitable something she wrote in a junior high creative writing class will have her labeled a racist. Never mind the hidden horrors in their income taxes, early decisions from their days on the traffic court bench and so on. It will be endless and ugly and it is as inevitable as Santa’s yearly visit.

    What people want to believe is delivered to them. Jessica Kwong was a Newsweek “journalist” fired after she wrote an article claiming Trump was wasting taxpayer money golfing over Thanksgiving when in fact he was serving dinner to the troops in Afghanistan. She just made up a report because it was what she wanted to believe. Wanting to believe accounts for so much of what we call fake news, stuff based on “reports” or anonymous sources who could not possibly know what the president was thinking, or what he said in a closed door meeting, but are quoted anyway because we already know what we want to know is true. Americans are meanwhile still sorting out what they “believe” the Mueller report said. What is true is not a worthy goal. What we believe seemingly is.

    Democratic candidates have felt the reason for the season, outdoing one another in hinting at what might be under the tree simply because we want it to be there however impractical and honey, yes, I still remember the year you believed there’d be a real pony in the back yard and you cried. Elizabeth Sanders will have rich people give us all Amazon gift cards to pay off student loans and provide free healthcare. Mayor Pete will leave a load in stockings through his Douglass Plan, offering $50 billion  (Cory Booker proposes double, $100 billion) for Historically Black Colleges and Universities as just a Christmas Eve teaser. They believe they will find the money under the tree, or in the backyard with the pony. Yeah, we tried to buy our kids’ love with expensive presents, too, but at least we spent equally on each of them.

    Yet despite all that proposed giving, belief works for the negative as well. There is a profound belief things are much worse, almost Biblical, than they really are. Democracy has one more chance, or perhaps the Republic is already done and we’re just waiting on funeral arrangements. First maybe a military coup, or a civil war. Or Trump will simply refuse to leave office (NYT, CNN, MSNBC, Vox, Politico, Newsweek, Atlantic, Slate, Salon, MSN all say so.) Certainly women, POC, and LGBT are done for. When pressed for real specifics, there are none though who can count any “specific” that starts with “Well, Trump tweeted…” and never was followed up with legislation or executive action?

    Driving the sense the End is upon us is a profound ability to not only know little about history, but not even to remember stuff from a few weeks ago. Those End of Days wars with China, Iran, Venezuela, and worst of all, North Korea, what happened to them? The Kurds do OK with that genocide? “Trump will trigger nuclear armageddon” is a stand-by article when WaPo has to fill Op-Ed space. No one seems to know much about the rise of Hitler in any detail, but everyone believes we are seeing it play out again (except there’s no mass party, no Brownshirt vanguard, no overarching ideology, no rearming for world war, no annexation of neighboring territory, no Nuremberg laws, no Dachau, and no exercise of state power like the 1930s). Scale doesn’t seem to matter; Trump cut back on immigration and so did Hitler, so boom, they are the same.

    So it follows a tiny group of Nazi cosplayers in Charlottesville three years ago is proof of sweeping white nationalism, alongside Colin Kaepernick not being able to get a job. It takes a lot of belief to imagine one guy not making the team as proof of much of anything. You get the NYT saying “Trump is president only because a constitutional provision invalidated the choice of the American people,” flippantly referring to the Electoral College created by the Founders in the Constitution to choose 45 presidents over 230 years as a invalidating provision. The same article goes on to say “Democrats and pundits have been bullied into accepting the fiction that he has democratic, and not just constitutional, legitimacy.” Even the clear outcome of an election under the same system in place for centuries is today subject to the belief test.

    Adding to this damp blanket of nihilism is the endless failure of insta-heroes. The mood seems so desperate for a savior that a new one is created regularly. The now-discredited anti-semites who organized the Pink Pussy Hat march, the media-abused Parkland Kids, Greta the Amazing Climate Change Gal, celebrities who announce the boycott-of-the-week and then fade just as fast, it’s almost to the point where you can’t trust anyone anymore. At one point Michael Avenatti announced he was looking into running for president, and remember Beto? He went from the cover of Vanity Fair in an Annie Leibovitz glamor photo to, well, we don’t know what he’s doing, working at Wendy’s with Kamala and the other unemployed elves maybe. People started imagining flooding TV commercials with mixed race couples was somehow lessening racial tensions, same as Wakanda and some black superhero characters were going to inspire youth to succeed where Cosby and OJ failed.

    None of it is real, that is the nature of belief. Having millions of hits is the illusion of accomplishment. Getting your hashtag trending is the illusion of action. Twitter doesn’t elect anyone, or stop anything, or do anything. It is raising awareness! and it is disappointing when nothing changes in the real world after what seems like a lot of effort online. Someone should do a podcast about that. You can make #SantaIsReal the most popular hashtag ever but it won’t make Santa real. The problem is that like Santa, the belief is no organic. It didn’t grow on its own. It was created and sold, much like each new generation of parents resells the Santa myth to a new generation of toddlers.

    Belief has led us to where we don’t just hate ideas, we have come to hate people for holding those ideas because belief is an emotional response not an intellectual one. Hence the flood of articles on “how to get through Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner with your MAGA uncle.” There’s no point in talking, he’s wrong and too ignorant to know it, so the goal is simply to zone out somehow before you can get back to Brooklyn. Thom Hartmann, once a reasonable voice of progressive thought, takes that to its extreme, saying “the parts of America that are still functioning democracies (California comes to mind — there has been discussion of various ‘compacts’ between the three West Coast states, possibly joining with a few Eastern Seaboard states) must consider some form of independence, whether it be ‘soft independence’ like California declared when they established their own air quality standards or some form of partial independence or succession.” Hartmann of course is writing in the context of those Thanksgiving arguments growing into literal violent civil war in America if Trump is re-elected.

    There is an obsession with diversity, to the point where “first black ____” and “first lesbian _____” are celebratory events, even when the achievement under celebration is some minor nothing job and everyone has forgotten we already had the first black president and now we are somehow on the verge of racial war. I’m not sure where everyone gets all these firsts from; is there a secret list? When society checks them all off is there a prize? What happens after that?

    But bringing it all home are not the now-expected pseudo-historical/hysterical screeds about how Thanksgiving is actually a holiday celebrating genocide and white nationalism (Paul Krugman actually thinks the holiday “commemorates the struggle to end slavery”), but as the season begins Salon stating without hesitation “whatever enthusiasm I once felt for Christmas has dissipated entirely in the age of Donald Trump. He ruins everything he touches, and Christmas, for me, is no exception… Forget Tiny Tim declaring, ‘God bless us, every one!’ It’s clear that for that 40 percent of people in the Trump cult, it’s closer to ‘Damn anyone to hell who isn’t exactly like us!’ The point of Christmas is to declare white supremacist America as the only ‘real’ America.”

    And whatever, climate change means we’ll all be washed out to sea before New Year’s anyway. That’s where belief has brought us these few weeks before the holidays. And kids, it was always me who ate the cookies you left out for Santa. Ho ho ho!

      

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    Horowitz Report Shows the FBI Tried to Influence the 2016 Election

    December 14, 2019 // 10 Comments »

     Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’ report, which shows the Democrats, media, and FBI lied about not interfering in an election, will be a historian’s marker for how a decent nation fooled itself into self-harm. Forget about foreigners influencing our elections; it was us.

    The Horowitz Report is being played by the media for its conclusion, that the FBI’s intel op run against the Trump campaign was not politically motivated and thus “legal.” That covers one page of the 476 page document, fits with the Democratic-MSM narrative Trump is a liar, and ignores the rest. “The rest” of course is a detailed description of America’s domestic intelligence apparatus, aided by its overseas intelligence apparatus, and assisted by its Five Eyes allies’ intelligence apparatuses, releasing a full-spectrum spying campaign against a presidential candidate to influence an election and when that failed, delegitimize a president.

     

    We learn from the Horowitz Report it was an Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, a man with ties to his own nation’s intel services and the Clinton Foundation, who was set up with a meeting with a Trump staffer, creating the necessary first bit of info to set the plan in motion. We find the FBI exaggerating, falsifying, and committing wicked sins of omission to buffalo the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts into approving electronic surveillance on Team Trump to overtly or inadvertently monitor the communications of Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Steve Bannon, Rick Gates, Trump transition staffers, and likely Trump himself. Trump officials were also monitored by British GCHQ and the information shared with their NSA partners, a piece of all this still not fully public.

    We learn the FBI greedily consumed the Steele Dossier, opposition “research” bought by the Clinton campaign to smear Trump with allegations of sex parties, pee tapes, and, most notoriously, claims he was a Russian plant, a Manchurian Candidate, owned by Russian intelligence through a combination of treats (land deals in Moscow) and threats (kompromat over Trump’s evil sexual appetites.) The Horowitz Report makes clear the FBI knew the Dossier was bunk, hid that conclusion from the FISA court, and purposefully lied to the court claiming the Dossier was backed up by investigative news reports which themselves were secretly based on the Dossier. The FBI knew Steele had created a classic intel officer’s information loop, secretly becoming his own corroborating source, and gleefully looked the other way because it supported their own goals.

    Horowitz contradicts media claims the Dossier was a small part of the case presented to the FISA court. He finds that it was “central and essential.” And it was garbage: “factual assertions relied upon in the first [FISA] application targeting Carter Page were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation, based upon information the FBI had in its possession at the time the application was filed,” reads the Report. One of Steele’s primary sources, tracked down by FBI, said Steele misreported several of the most troubling allegations of potential Trump blackmail and Trump campaign collusion.

    We find human dangles, what Lisa Page referred to as “our OCONUS lures” (OCONUS is spook-speak for Outside CONtinetal US) in the form of a shady Maltese academic, Joseph Mifsud, with deep ties himself to multiple U.S. intel agencies and the Pentagon albeit not the FBI per se, paying Trump staffers for nothing speeches to buy access to them. We find a female FBI undercover agent inserted into social situations with a Trump staffer (pillow talk is always a spy’s best friend.) It becomes clear the FBI sought to manufacture a foreign counterintelligence threat to import into the United States as an excuse to unleash its surveillance tools against the Trump campaign.

    We learn Trump staffer Carter Page, while under FBI surveillance to discover Trump’s ties to Russia, was actually working for the CIA in Russia. The FBI was told this repeatedly, yet it never reported it to the FISA court approving the secret investigation of Page as a Russian spy. An FBI lawyer even doctored an email to hide the fact Page was working for the Agency and not the Russians; it was that weak a case. The CIA rated Page well as a source, and dismissed the Steele Dossier itself as an “Internet Rumor.” Had that information been available to the FISA court, it is hard to imagine they would have approved the warrant against Page, or further considered the Dossier absent additional information the FBI of course did not have.

     

    The Horowitz Report goes on to find “at least 17 significant errors or omissions” concerning FBI efforts to obtain FISA warrants against Page alone. California Congressman Devin Nunes raised these points almost two years ago, in a memo the MSM widely discredited, even though we now know it was basically true and profoundly prescient. Adam Schiff’s rebuttal memo turns out to have been garbage.

    Much has been made by the MSM about these “mistakes,” in that the Horowitz Report does not conclude they were indices of political bias. Maybe. But if the mistakes were just that, accidents or sloppiness, you’d expect at least some of them to favor Trump’s side. In fact, all of the mistakes favored the FBI’s poor case and that chips away at the idea there was no motivating element behind them.

    Page was a nobody with nothing, but the FBI needed him. Horowitz explains agents “believed at the time they approached the decision point on a second FISA renewal that, based upon the evidence already collected, Carter Page was a distraction in the investigation, not a key player in the Trump campaign, and was not critical to the overarching investigation.” They renewed the warrants anyway, three times, largely due to their value under the “two hop” rule. The FBI can extend surveillance two hops from its target; so if Carter Page called Michael Flynn who called Trump, all of those calls are legally open to monitoring. Page was a handy little bug.

    Carter Page was never charged with any crime. He was a small nobody blown into a big deal by the fictional Steele Dossier, an excuse for the FBI to electronically surveil the Trump campaign.

    When Trump was elected, the take from all this muckery, focused on the uber-lie that Trump was dirty with Russia, was leaked to the press most likely by James Comey and John Brennan in January 2017 (not covered in the Horowitz Report), and a process which is still ongoing tying the president to allegiance to a foreign power began. “With Trump, All Roads Lead to Moscow,” writes the New York Times even today, long after both the Mueller Report and now again the Horowitz Report say unambiguously that is not true. “Monday’s congressional hearing and the inspector general’s report tell a similar story,” bleats the Times, when in fact the long read of both says precisely the opposite.

     

    Michael Horowitz, the author of this current report, should be a familiar name. In January 2017 he opened his probe into the FBI’s Clinton email investigation. In a damning passage, that 568 page report found it “extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors… for the admitted purpose of preventing them from telling him not to make the statement, and to instruct his subordinates in the FBI to do the same. By departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.”

    Horowitz’ Clinton report also criticizes FBI agents and illicit lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who exchanged texts disparaging Trump before moving from the Clinton email to the Russiagate investigation. Those texts “brought discredit” to the FBI and sowed public doubt. They included one exchange reading, “Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Strzok: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

     

    If after reading the Horowitz Report you want to focus only on its page one statement the FBI did not act illegally, you must in turn focus yourself on what is “legal” in America. If you want to follow the headlines saying Trump was proven wrong when he claimed his campaign was spied upon, you really do need to look up that word in a dictionary and frankly compare it to the tangle of surveillance, foreign government agents, undercover operatives, pay offs, and more Horowitz details.

    You may accept the opening lines of the Horowitz Report that the FBI did not act with political bias over the course of its investigation. Or you can find a clearer understanding in Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Report “that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions.” You will need to reconcile the grotesque use the information the FBI gathered was put to after Trump was elected, the fuel for the Mueller investigation and years’ worth of media picking at the Russian scab.

    To claim none of this is politically biased, you must walk away from the details of the Horowitz report, particularly the gross abuses of FISA, happy that what it says is how democracy works in America today. You must be willing to search and replace every instance of “Trump” with “Elizabeth Warren” a couple of years from now, and be happy with that. You have to see every instance in that report where the FBI orders something done as OK if it was Trump issuing the same words. At that point you can say there is no bias.

    The current Horowitz Report, read alongside his previous report on how the FBI played inside the 2016 election vis-a-vis Clinton, should leave no doubt the FBI tried to influence the election of a president in 2016 and then delegitimize Trump when he won. It wasn’t the Russians, it was us. And if you walk away concluding the FBI fumbled things, acted amateurishly, failed to do what some claim they set out to do, well, just wait until next time.

     

    On a personal note, if any of this is news to you, you may want to ask why you are learning about it now. This blog has consistently been one of the few outlets which exposed the Steele Dossier as part of an information op nearly since it was unveiled, and which has explained how the FISA court was manipulated, and which has steadily raised the question of political interference in our last election by the American intelligence services; follow the links above to read some of our past reporting, going back to the election.

    I claim no magic powers or inside information; to any of us who have been in or on the fringes of intelligence work what was obvious just from the publicly available information was, well, obvious. Despite what you think you know about spying from TV and movies, most of the work is done the same way every time, using techniques that go back to ancient times. Honey works better than vinegar, so bribes trump pee tapes. There was no Moscow hotel-land deal is the biggest “tell” here nothing else was true. Be careful, because your enemies will tell you what you want to believe. Make people your friends by paying them. Dangling a cool blonde is always a good gambit. Important agents are run by important intelligence officers. If Putin was pulling Trump’s strings, in real life a little man like Carter Page would not know it.

    If you are reading any of this for the first time, or know people who are reading bastardized versions of it for the first time in MSM sources, you might ask yourself why those places went along with Steele, et al. Their journalists are no dumber or smarter than me. They do write with a different agenda, however. Keep that in mind as we flip the calendar page to 2020.

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    Ladies and Gentlemen of the Real Impeachment Jury…

    December 10, 2019 // 14 Comments »


    Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the election for the next president of the United States is tomorrow, November 3, 2020. It has been a long few months since the Democrats impeached the president in the House, and the Republican-controlled Senate did not convict him. Since neither side really weighed what happened, it is up you, the purple and undecided voters, to serve as the real jury and decide what this all really means.

    Twitter doesn’t decide anything, nor do the Russians. Congress doesn’t elect the president. You do. So please give me your full attention as I sum up my case.
    A warning first, however. Ignore anyone who uses terms like “threat to democracy” or invokes the Federalist Papers. You have heard that malarkey for four years now. Remember all the things they tried to scare you with — wars with Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and China which never happened. Recession, economic collapse, trade wars. Trump is mentally unstable and might blow up the earth. He was a Russian agent. And ignore all the creative writing; just because you call something a shakedown, bribe, strong arm, or crime family, doesn’t mean it is and usually quite the opposite. Nope, this is all just politics.

    You should keep in mind how the Democrats acted when they were given the power to run the impeachment process as a clue to how they would yield power from the White House. This was the only modern impeachment done in a first term, and the only one not preceded by a formal investigation — you know, with rules of evidence and legal protections. It was based on a very select set of witnesses who first testified in secret as a kind of practice session, with curated leaks to soften you up. That’s how you ended up with “witnesses” with no first hand knowledge, and how when you got two of those it was counted as “corroboration.” Imagine the fun a defense lawyer in your home towns would have with a case against her client built around evidence from an overheard phone call a hostile witness shouldn’t have been listening too in the first place.

    Then there was public spectacle side of the impeachment, with a new and improved smoking gun promised daily, a sparkly uniform, and media running out of adjectives to describe the foreign service as if the FSOs were Lassie in pinstripes — brave, loyal, dependable, no accidents inside the house. If anyone questioned them, or raised a point of contention about a fat guy in uniform, they must hate America. You were told military people are loyal and trustworthy except for Mike Pompeo who graduated first in his class at West Point. Anything Trump wanted looked into was dismissed as a debunked conspiracy theory. But when the Dems accused him of being a Russian agent with no evidence, that required three years, falsified FBI records, and the full resources of the intelligence community. Think what that says about the Dems’ own respect for the rule of law, justice, and fairness, because if they are elected tomorrow you’ll get more of the same.

    That’s what happened. Why it had to happen is also worth your consideration. After the first two weeks of public impeachment hearings, 62 percent of independents — smart people like you — claimed the issue is “more important to politicians than it is to me.” When asked to rank 11 issues as top priorities, impeachment placed last among independents. And what you think matters: independents make up 38 percent of the electorate, greater than both Republicans and Democrats at 30 and 31 percent respectively.

    So you as independents are the most important group, and you don’t see impeachment as a priority, and the Democrats wasted the majority you helped give them in the midterms to do it anyway because Russiagate failed, the Emoluments Clause failed, the 25th Amendment failed, the Stormy-Avenatti-Michael Cohen show failed and they are afraid to let people vote again on the president, so the rule of “by any means necessary” meant setting aside the issues you care about to do this. Keep that in mind, too, tomorrow when you vote.

    But I promised you a look into the evidence, and like with Dorothy in Oz, it has always been with you. The actual moment when the president was to have committed his impeachable act was memorialized in the memorandum of conversation of the July 25 phone call between him and Zelensky. Now of course many of the same people who would not accept this official USG document as proof of what was said accept another guy’s uncorroborated rendering of a call he supposedly overheard in a restaurant. But you’re smarter than that.

    The July 25 memo is the only primary source in this entire case. It tells us what happened. The so-called witnesses only talked about what they think happened, or their opinions of what happened, or what someone else told them happened. Remember, none of the 12 impeachment hearing witnesses actually heard Trump explicitly tie the security aid to the investigations. That is a big, big deal. So it is essential to this case if any of you can point to any portion of the memo which explicitly ties the security aid to the investigations, which after all is the actual crime the president was accused of. But you can’t because it does not say that. That also is a big, big deal.

    And by the way, was any aid actually withheld? Delayed is not withheld, you know that. And since no one proved when the Ukrainians even learned of any delays, even that does not seem to have mattered. And can any of you tell me what investigations took place? Because there were none.

    In sum, there were no witnesses to “the crime.” The only primary document has no explicit evidence of “the crime.” And no aid was withheld and no investigations took place. A smoking gun requires there to be a dead body on the floor. Without the media keeping this all alive, you would be left wondering exactly what it is we’re still talking about.

    That said, there are some things Trump said in the call (“I would like you to do us a favor”), and some titter-tattle Democrats think adds up to an illegal quid pro quo. So let’s talk about that.

    It is always easy to forget the basics. Here they are, and they were established long before Trump. The president makes and conducts foreign policy, and has extraordinary latitude to say what the U.S. national interest is. Not the NSC, not the State Department or its ambassadors, no matter how smart they are, or think they are. Foreign aid is never a gift. It is a policy tool and the U.S. offers it to nations in return for something. As an exasperated Mulvaney told us, of course it has a quid pro quo attached to it — vote our way in the UN, let us have a military base in your country, help us negotiate with your neighbor. The president can and many times before has withheld or delayed aid. An investigation is not meddling. We ask foreign governments to work with us on criminal, financial, and other investigations all the time. The Democrats asked Ukraine to help investigate Trump/Russiagate in 2018. Providing accurate information is not interfering in our democracy. Wordplay.

    Now to the thing Trump supposedly asked for, that investigation of Joe Biden and any Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election. Much has been made of the idea those things benefit Trump personally and not the United States. But if you think this through, can you claim there is no value to the people of the United States, specifically you the undecided voters, in knowing what Biden and his son were up to in Ukraine, that even looking into that is wrong? And you can’t say “there’s no evidence they did anything” because no one has really looked. If it was Ivanka instead of Hunter at that Ukrainian gas company you know we’d all be losing our minds.

    To legitimately believe Trump attempted bribery in asking Ukraine to investigate the Biden family is to claim the American people have no stake whatsoever in knowing whatever the truth is about the Biden’s.

    Almost everything a politician does is done with an eye on how it affects him as a candidate and/or in the history books. While their decisions are usually thought to be for the benefit of the country as well, it is damned hard to find too many times a politician has done something he did not seek to also benefit from. What else do you think Obama meant when he told the Russian president off-mic he’d have more flexibility after he was re-elected?

    Trump might have benefited from the investigation but voters would benefit either way — Biden is clean, Biden is dirty, factor that into your choice. Now of course if an investigation revealed something bad about Biden, that would also benefit Trump as well as the voters. In such a theoretical, would you want to assign a ratio to it, say 51 percent good for Trump and 49 percent good for the voters to know? What if you conclude it was 99:1? You want to impeach over a percentage?

    So you need to look not only at what was done, but whether it fits the seriousness of impeachment. We all have heard how the Constitution is vague on what exactly is an impeachable act, but we do have precedent. Just in the last two decades we had a president who lied us into war, set up a torture program and spied on Americans, and sat on his hands as the economy crashed. No impeachment. We had a president whose military incursions into Libya, Syria, and Yemen set off the worst refugee flows Europe has seen since WWII, who illegally spied on Americans (complete with a whistleblower), who assassinated Americans by drone, and who hid forever the torture program, who gave trillions to Wall Street in bail outs while Main Street floundered, and no impeachment. But an internal power struggle between the careerists and political appointees over not-really-matters Ukraine, now that is what the Founders had in mind?

    That’s where I’m stuck. Because if we can’t answer those questions, then the conclusion this is all a political hit job is unavoidable. Weigh that carefully, , ladies and gentlemen of the real jury, because a lot depends on your answer when you vote tomorrow.

     

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    State Department Shoots Itself in the Foot at Impeachment Hearings

    November 24, 2019 // 23 Comments »


    The State Department, where I worked 24 years as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) and diplomat, reminds me a lot of my current hometown, New York City. Both places spend an inordinate amount of time telling outsiders how great they are while ignoring the obvious garbage piled up around them. It’s almost as if they’re trying to tell themselves more than others everything is OK.

    Like NYC convincing itself the Broadway lights mean you won’t notice the wicked homeless problem and decaying infrastructure, the State Department fully misunderstands how it really appears to others. Across Facebook groups and internal channels, FSOs this week are sending each other little messages tagged #FSProud quoting Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s the closing soliloquy from her impeachment testimony. Yovanovitch’s testimony otherwise read like the HR complaint from hell, as if she was auditioning for a Disgruntled Employee poster child position to cap off her career. She had already been fired by the time the alleged impeachable act took place — during Trump’s July 25 phone call — and was stuck in a placeholder job far removed from Ukrainian policy. She witnessed nothing of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the House is investigating, and basically used her time to complain she knew more than her boss did so he fired her.

    At the end of her testimony Yovanovitch unfurled a large metaphorical flag and wrapped herself and the entire Foreign Service in it. Her lines had nothing to do with Ukraine, and were boilerplate recruiting prose about how FSOs are non-partisan servants of the Constitution, how everyone lives in harm’s way, yada yada. She name checked diplomats from forty freaking years ago held hostage in Iran, and rolled in a couple of CIA contractors when tallying up the “State” death toll in Benghazi. She omitted the we-don’t-talk-about-that-one-death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff in Afghanistan, whose 25-year-old life was destroyed participating in a propaganda photo-op.

    This is the false idol image the State Department holds dear of itself, and people inside the organization today proudly christened Ambassador Yovanovitch as its queen. Vanity Fair summed it up better than the long-winded FSOs bleating across social media: “A hero is born as Yovanovitch gives voice to widespread rage at State. ‘I think people are feeling huge pride in Masha,’ says a former ambassador.” Yovanovitch uses her Russian nickname, Masha, without media comment because of course she does.

    And that’s the good part. Alongside Yovanovitch, bureaucrat-in-a-bow-tie George Kent issued pronouncements against Trump people he never met who ignored his tweedy advice. Ambassador Bill Taylor leaked hoarded text messages with Trump political appointees. Taylor’s deputy, David Holmes, appeared deus ex machina (Holmes had a photo of Yovanovitch as his Facebook page cover photo until recently!) to claim back in the summer he somehow overheard both sides of a phone conversation between Trump and political appointee ambassador Sondland. Holmes eavesdropped on a presidential call and dumped it in the Democrats’ lap and now he’s non-partisan #FSProud, too.

    Interesting the major political events (scandals?) of the last few years have all criss-crossed the State Department: Clinton’s emails and Foundation shenanigans, the Steele Dossier and many things Russiagate, and now impeachment and Ukraine. And never mind two major Democratic presidential candidates-in-waiting, Clinton and Kerry, had a home there. That’s an awful lot of partisanship for an organization bragging about being non-partisan.

     

    Gawd, I need to wash my hands. I am #FSProud that in my 24 years as a diplomat I never perjured myself, or claimed to or actually eavesdropped on someone else’s phone call, then spoon fed the info months later to my boss on TV to take down a president mid-campaign, all the while accepting cheers that I was non-partisan, and thinking my role as a snitch/boot licker was going to help people vision my organization as honorable.

    FSOs see themselves as Marvel superheroes who will take down the Bad Orange Man. The organization flirted with the role before; a 2016 mid-election “dissent” was designed to force the winner into war in Syria. Then another “dissent” by State strayed close to insubordination opposing Trump’s so-called “Muslim Ban.” Everyone remembers the Department’s slow-walking the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails (after helping hide the existence of her private server for years.) The State Department turned a blind eye to Secretary Clinton’s nepotism hiring her campaign aides as State employees (remember Huma?), and use of America’s oldest cabinet position to create B-roll of herself helping women around the globe ahead of her soiled campaign. Hillary of course was handed the Secretary job itself by Barack Obama as a treat for dropping out of the race in 2008.

    Maybe the State Department’s overt support for Candidate Clinton did not make clear enough what happens when the organization betrays itself to politics.

    While FSOs are gleefully allowing themselves to be used today to impeach Trump, they fail to remember nobody likes a snitch. No matter which side you are on, in the end nobody will trust you, Democrat or Republican, after seeing what you really are. What White House staffer of any party will interact openly with his diplomats, knowing they are saving his texts and listening in on his calls, waiting? State thinks it is a pitbull waiting to bite on its master’s command when in fact it is an organization that has betrayed its golden nonpartisan glow and is out of control. Hey, in your high school, did anyone want to have the kids who lived to be hall monitors and teacher’s pet as their lunch buddies?

    The real problems go much deeper, and are either the cause of or a reflection of the current state of things, or a little of both. A Government Accountability Office report showed more than one fourth of all Foreign Service positions were either unfilled or filled with below-grade employees. At the senior levels 36 percent of positions were vacant or filled with people of lower rank and experience pressed into service. At the crucial midranks, the number was 26 percent unfilled.

    The thing is the report is from 2012, and showed similar results to one written in 2008. The State Department has danced with irrelevancy for a long time and its efforts to be The Resistance as a cure today feel more like desperation than heroism. State’s somnolent response, even during the legendary Clinton and Kerry years, to what should have been a crisis call (speculate on what the response might be to a report the military was understaffed by 36 percent) tells the tale. As the world changes, State still has roughly the same number of Portuguese speakers as it does Russian among its FSOs. No other Western country uses private citizens as ambassadors over career diplomats anywhere near the extent the United States does, doling out about a third of the posts as political patronage mainly because what they do doesn’t matter. The Secretary of State hands out lapel buttons reading “Swagger“; imagine a new Secretary of Defense doing the same and then being laughed out of office.

     

    FSOs wade in the shallowest waters of the Deep State. Since the 1950s the heavy lifting of foreign policy, the stuff that ends up in history books, mostly moved into the White House and National Security Council. The increasing role of the military in America’s foreign relations further sidelined State. The regional sweep of the AFRICOM and CENTCOM generals, for example, paints State’s landlocked ambassadors weak.

    State’s sad little attempt during the Bush years to stake out a new role in nation building failed in Iraq, failed in Afghanistan, and failed in Haiti. The organization’s Clinton-Kerry era joblet promoting democracy through social media was a flop. Trade policy has its own bureaucracy outside Foggy Bottom. What was left for State was reporting, its on-the-ground viewpoint that informs policy makers. Even there the intelligence community has eaten State’s sandwiches with the crusts cut off lunch — why hear what some FSO thinks the Prime Minister will do when the NSA can provide the White House with real time audio of him explaining it in bed to his mistress? The uber revelation from the 2010 Wikileaks dump of documents was most of State’s vaunted reporting is of little practical value. State struggled  through the Chelsea Manning trial to convince someone actual harm was done to national security by the disclosures. Some nine years later there hasn’t even been a good book written from them.

    That leaves for the understaffed Department of State pretty much only the role of concierge abroad, the one Ambassadors Taylor, Yovanovitch and their lickspittles Kent and Holmes complained about as their real point during the impeachment hearings. Read their testimony and you learn they had no contact with principals Trump, Giuliani, and Pompeo (which is why they were useless “witnesses,” they didn’t see anything first hand) and bleated about being cut out of the loop, left off calls, not being on the inside. They testified instead based on overheard calls and off screen voices. Taylor complained he had to contact the NSC, not State, to find out if policy had changed, and whined Pompeo ignored his reports.

    Meanwhile, America’s VIPs need their hands held abroad, their motorcades organized, and their receptions handled, all tasks that fall squarely on the Department of State. That is what was really being said underneath it all at the impeachment hearings. It is old news, but it found a greedy audience as it was repurposed to take a whack at Trump. State thinks this is its moment to shine, but all that is happening is a light is being shined on the organization’s partisaness and pettiness in reaction to its own irrelevance.

    Nice bow tie on George Kent though, shows he’s “with it.”

     

    BONUS:

    One of The Blob’s greatest accomplishments has been to convince a large number of Americans everything pre-Trump was normal and everything since is extraordinary. That sets up the idea that extraordinary means are needed to deal with unique threats, and that sets up throwing away the rules because when the Republic is at stake ends justify the means.
     
    No one here is claiming any virtue for Trump. He is a bad president. But he is not uniquely bad such that he is a threat to democracy, etc. That is a myth which is used to justify things that can become threats to the democracy.
     
    Dems want to impeach over… not much because not much is what they have. Ukraine really is not important. Most of us never heard the names outside of Foggy Bottom of the State Dept people now raised to heroic status. But if this process is normalized then it will come back again, against a president “you” do like.

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    Dear Friends: Tell Me How This Ends

    November 20, 2019 // 27 Comments »


    Dear progressive friends, family, those who have unfriended me in real life and online life, deplatformed me, told me I belong to a cult, and everyone who suggested I commit physically impossible acts upon myself:

    I can’t tweet this as I’ve been life-banned, and while currently my Facebook is open I’ve been blocked there before. Places I used to write for won’t look at articles defending the things I defended on their pages three years ago, like free speech, diplomacy with North Korea, and non-intervention in the Middle East. I can’t tell you how many times someone has heard The American Conservative come up alongside my name and sharply ended a conversation. So call this a message in a bottle.

    I don’t support Trump. In Ye Olde Days one could support some of a president’s policies (say free speech, diplomacy with North Korea and non-intervention in the Middle East) without being throw overboard for supporting all of his policies, statements, tweets, and brags. You could once disagree with what someone said without having to destroy him as a human being, such as insisting publically he was mentally ill and should be institutionalized for holding a political stance.

    I could once talk about disagreements over ideas at Thanksgiving, on Fox and CNN, even over a drink in a bar, without me having to swipe the sludge off my face of being called a Nazi. I’m not a Nazi. Nazis were those people who put the numbers on my great Auntie’s arm. As kids at holiday parties we’d hide in ignorance and behind the couch and dare each other to run out and try to touch them. After Auntie died what for all purposes was a second death we learned about Nazis. Our times are not her times. I wish you could hear it from her directly but I doubt you’d listen. And if she didn’t outright call Trump a fascist you’d probably call her one.

     

    And that’s why I worry about you. You’ve quit listening. You’ve quit thinking that listening is important. You have convinced yourself listening is wrong, calling things you don’t want to hear hate speech and dehumanizing those who say them. Nazis don’t deserve to speak and everyone you don’t want to listen to is a Nazi. Ban them from social media, take them off TV, keep them from schools, defund them on YouTube, and peel them off search results. Candidates who touch nerves too directly must be disenfranchised as Russian plants coughing out Putin’s Talking Points. We don’t have to listen to them, we shouldn’t listen to them.

    It would be too ironic in the context of Nazism to use the term ideological purification, but it would work here. You blame too much free speech for electing Trump in 2016. So you support wounding democracy to “save” it, and thus in 2019 welcome Twitter banning political ads so there’s less chance a competing idea might sneak through. You loathe Facebook’s free speech stance allowing political ads and demand they fact check them, barely disguised code for censorship given what “facts” have become. Fact checking used to be verifying an event took place in April 1860, not June 1944. But now facts are things we choose to agree with, or believe, or not, like whether vaccinations work, or what a politician’s intent was when he said certain words. It’s no wonder “influencer” is an actual job today.

    You don’t like evidence, which is what creates “facts.” There’s no evidence Biden did wrong in the Ukraine because no one investigated whether he did and it thus becomes a checkable fact “Biden did no wrong.” Facts have become what anonymous sources you want to believe say they are. You filter those anonymous statements through legacy media so by the second iteration they are not an anonymous source who might actually be a know-nothing disgruntled intern overheard in a bar, they are “The New York Times says.”

    With what you hear limited to what you believe, the need to think is a vestigial limb in society’s evolution. Instead of thinking — critically weighing information, asking hard questions instead of ingesting easy answers — you have been conditioned to simply react. The goal is to keep you in a constant state of manipulable outrage. It is a dangerous thing for us human beings. In Iraq we were told life happens in states of green, yellow, and red. Green is home on the beach, next to your dog. Yellow is watchful, and red is on patrol loaded and charged. The guy who could never back off of red in Iraq had a hard time reaching green later on. For him it’s evenings alone and drunk cleaning his guns in the garage. That’s too much of America today except we’re in different garages and some are drinking Yuengling and others white wine.

     

    An experiment. Here are some of the things you have been outraged about. Remember the last time you read about them?

    — Kids in cages. This was the summer’s prime outrage, and discourse was dominated in August by claims the U.S. was operating concentration camps. They still there? There were mediagenic visits to the border, drama about people drinking from toilets. Congress voted a bunch of money, and some policy changes took place. One major child center was shut down, but it got little coverage. So did we resolve the problem? Anybody know?

    — Obstruction. As recently as July Democrats were to impeach Trump for obstruction in connection with Russiagate and the Mueller investigation. Then the story which dominated our outrage as well as our mindspace, social media, and the MSM for over two full years simply… disappeared. Stormy Daniels, doing OK? Which Home Depot does Michael Avenatti work at? What about the prosecutions that were said to be forthcoming from the SDNY? Those bogus Trump kids’ security clearances? His taxes?

    — Anyone heard from the Kurds lately? Only a week ago they were going to be consumed by genocide and you demanded American troops put their lives at risk to save them. There were claims to thousands dead in Puerto Rico from the storm; anyone find those bodies yet or still just a statistical construct? The Parkland Kids? The last major references clustered around the one year anniversary of the killings, back in February, when the media claimed they “drove the kind of change that has long eluded gun control activists.” That happen?

    — See if you know who these people are: Semyon Kislin, P. Michael McKinley, T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, Fiona Hill, George Kent, Gordon Sondland, Laura Cooper, Marie Yovanovitch, William Taylor, Catherine Croft, Alexander Vindman, Kurt Volkner, Christopher Anderson, Tim Morrison. How many did you correctly identify as witnesses in the Trump impeachment hearings? All of them? Great. Now, can you say in a word or two about what each testified to? How did each add to the question of whether Trump himself withheld aid to the Ukraine in exchange for some investigation? C’mon, each person was a smoking gun, a game changer, or whatever expression Maddow is using now to replace “the walls are closing in tick tock” she wore out during Russiagate.

    And to fill in the gaps between major outrages there are minor outrages over spelling errors on Twitter by the president, panic over what he says about war dogs, rudeness at the World Series, clickbait headlines unconnected to their content, and the latest racist/sexist/transphobic remark by a blind sided celebrity about to be de-careered over a high school era post. We live on knife’s edge neck deep in cynicism, exhaustion, decline, illegitimacy, and distrust.

    If you can’t tell you are being manipulated, you’re being manipulated.

     

    It seems inevitable the House will impeach and the Senate will not convict, dead-ending the Ukraine outrage. And then we just move on to the 2020 campaign? Or do we cycle to a new impeachment theme like the earlier ones never even happened, the way obstruction was ditched cold in favor of Ukraine?

    If a Democrat wins in November, do we similarly agree to just forget this whole ugly era of hate speech and Nazis like a drunken hookup? Or do we switch and Republicans open investigations from Day One of the Elizabeth Sanders or Joe Clinton administration? If Trump wins, is it another four years of being told democracy is dying, the Republic is in peril, civil war, every day day-to-day in Code Red until… until what?

    Some 16 years ago as a young soldier in Iraq, before he was a hero and way before he was a villain, David Petraeus posed the most important question of the war in its earliest days. Consumed by the combat around him but knowing it would soon enough be over, he asked “Tell me how this ends.” Something was going to come next and Petraeus wasn’t sure anyone was thinking about what to do then.

    I understand what’s happening now has to play out. But tell me how this ends.

     

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    What Republicans Must Ask the Whistleblower

    November 19, 2019 // 5 Comments »


    The whistleblower needs to be front and center in the impeachment proceedings on TV. Here’s why.

    As the latest public spectacle unironically displaces daytime soap operas, the picture is starting to become clearer. The people testifying aren’t there to save America. They are a group of neo-somethings inside the administration who disagreed with Trump’s Ukraine policy and decided to derail it.

    The plan was unlikely intended to lead to impeachment when things began to move back in May, after then-Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was fired. Contrary to the president’s policy the taxpayers paid her to represent, she had her own, and promoted confrontation with Russia over Ukraine and sought more military aid. Bill Taylor was then installed as a figurehead in the embassy and Ukraine policy was taken away from hardliners at the State Department and NSC and handed over to America’s favorite knucklehead, Rudy Giuliani, and the inexperienced, Trump-appointee, Gordon Sondland.

    The bureaucracy called a Code Red. They were needed on that wall to stand against Russia. It seemed easy enough. Ukraine was off most of the public’s radar, so some Op-Eds, Trump’s men nudged aside, and the mini-coup over Ukraine policy would have worked. John Bolton, who could have stepped in and told everyone to return to their seats or no snack time, was agog at the amateur efforts by Giuliani, and certainly no fan of a less robust Ukraine policy anyway.

    Things got out of the group’s hands when Democrats, desperate for something to impeach on after Russiagate imploded, seized on the objections over Ukraine policy as slightly more than the nothing they otherwise had (the alternative was resurrecting the Stormy Daniels-Michael Avenatti-Michael Cohen sleaze fest.) An objection over policy and who would run it was transformed into a vague smatter of quid pro quo based on that July 25 phone call, using a whistleblower’s undergrad-level prank “complaint” as the trigger.

    And that’s why the whistleblower is very relevant. He knows nothing first-hand himself (neither does anyone else, see below, but someone had to go first) admitting in his complaint all his information is second hand. He is not anonymous; Google “who is the whistleblower” and you too can know everything official Washington and the media already know about him, back to his college days. So no one needs to fret about his safety, and no one needs to ask him any questions about the July 25 call.

    Here is the question the whistleblower must be asked: how did this jump from policy disagreements among like-minded people (you, Vindman, Taylor, et al) to claims of an impeachable offense? Who engineered that jump? Was it Adam Schiff’s staffers who first met with the whistleblower? Schiff lied about that contact. Or was it a partisan D.C. lawyer who has been trolling Twitter since Trump’s election looking for someone to hand him raw material he’d lawyer into a smoking gun (an organization he is connected with had mobile billboards advertising for whistleblowers circling the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Agency to try to attract clients)?

    Did the whistleblower make himself into a pawn, or was he made into a pawn? The answer is very important because at this point how the whistleblower came to be at the ground zero of electoral politics tells us if this is a legitimate impeachment or a political assassination. The voters will have to judge that in about a year independent of the partisan votes (the weakness of the actual impeachment case is explained here) taken in the House and Senate.

    The popular impression is men like the whistleblower, Bill Taylor, and Alex Vindman are non-partisan, and there is some truth to that. They came up through a system which strongly emphasized service to the president, whomever that is. But it would be wrong to equally claim they are policy agnostic; in fact, likely quite the opposite. They see themselves as experts, and in Vindman’s case, a native son, who know better. That’s why they were hired, to advise, and under Obama their advice (for better or worse, they wanted to bring us to war with Russia) was generally followed.

    They knew they knew better than the Orange Clown who somehow ended up in the Oval Office and ignored them. They knew he was wrong, and talked and texted about it among themselves. That’s OK, normal even. But it appears they came to see Trump not just as wrong but as dangerous. Add in some taint of self-interest on Trump’s part, and he became evil. They convinced themselves it was a matter of conscience, and wrapped their opposition in the flagged courage of a (created?) whistleblower. Certainly if one hadn’t existed it would have been necessary to invent him.

    With their testimony focused mostly on their disagreements with Trump’s Ukraine policy, and their own intellectual superiority, it seems such proclamations of conscience have more to do with what outcomes and policy the witnesses support and less to do with understanding that without an orderly system of government with a functioning chain of command all is chaos. The Trump-deranged public is overlooking the dark significance of serving officials undermining the elected president because of policy disagreements. They hate Trump so much they are tolerating insubordination, even cheering it. Now that’ll bite America back soon enough. You don’t join government to do whatever partisan thing you think is right; you serve under a system and a chain of command. There is no Article 8 in the Constitution saying “but if you really disagree with the president it’s OK to just do what you want.”

    I served 24 years in such a system, joining the State Department under Ronald Reagan and leaving during the Obama era. That splay of political ideologies had plenty of things in it my colleagues and I disagreed with or even believed dangerous. Same for people in the military, who were told who to kill on America’s behalf, a more significant moral issue than a boorish phone call. But we also knew the only way for America to function credibly was for to follow the boss, the system created by the Constitution, and remembering we weren’t the one elected, and that we ultimately worked for those who did the electing. So let’s hear from the whistleblower and all the witnesses about that, not their second hand knowledge of Trump’s motivations, but their first hand knowledge of their own motivations.

    Americans in government and military are mostly decent people. Unlike some who hold power in banana republics, they are unlikely to be convinced to undermine the president for personal gain. But give them a crusade, tell them they are heroes Mueller failed to be, and they will convince themselves anything is justified. Those impure motivations are what transformed the witnesses now driving impeachment from being dissenters to insubordinate into convincing themselves they needed to make a stand. Vindman gives it away, saying he twice “registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine,” out of what he called a “sense of duty.” Duty to what?

    The not very anonymous whistleblower is only 33-years-old, but of the mold. Ivy League, CIA, language guy, a Ukraine specialist who found himself and his knowledge embraced by Obama and Biden — the right guy in the right place — until he was set aside by Trump with new policy. Taylor fancies himself the last honest man, shepherding U.S.-Ukrainian policy through rough waters, having been ambassador to Ukraine 2006-2009. Yovanovitch was a partisan, representing her own vision, not that of the elected leadership, because she was sure she knew better after her years at State. Best and the brightest. They were professional, seasoned dammit, look at their resumes! The uniform!

    If they came to being whistleblowers and then players in politics honestly, then were simply side-slipped into becoming pawns, they should be quietly retired, this generation’s Colin Powell. But if they are agent provocateurs, they need to be fired. That’s why we need to talk to the whistleblower, to understand that difference.

     

    That’s for them, now for us. If this all was just a hearing on bad policy planning and what happens when knuckleheads like Rudy Giuliani get involved, it would make interesting history. If this was a long-overdue review of U.S. relations with Ukraine, it would be welcome. But as an attempt to impeach the president, it is a sordid, empty, brazen, political tactic hardly worthy of the term coup. It sets a terrible example of what we will tolerate from the bureaucracy if we hate the incumbent president enough. It opens the door to political opportunism, and informs real would-be insubordinates how to proceed more effectively. It signals chaos to our allies and opens opportunity to our enemies.

    There’s a fine line between necessary dissent and wicked insubordination, between conscience and disobedience, but there is a line and it appears to have been crossed here. The attack is no longer on policy, on which Taylor and Vindman may lay some claim, it is on the president and only the voters should have that say.

     

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