Monday, 3 May 2021

Playing the victim


“As above, so below,” say the mystics, meaning that what we perceive in ourselves has a parallel in the higher realms.

Scaling down a bit from the cosmos, we can see this hoary truth operating in our national psyche and our politics. Victimhood now seems to be a national pastime all along the political spectrum, parallel to the steady message from our leadership that the U.S., with its 800 military bases scattered around the globe, must defend itself against myriad dangers and threats. There is a bit of pathology in the eagerness to squeeze everything that happens in our lives and our world into the terrible you/innocent me paradigm.

Those aggressive Iranians 

But it’s hardly surprising that we default to the martyr/aggressor frame in our daily lives when our leaders paint the world in exactly these terms, no matter what the circumstances. Just days ago, official spokespeople accused “Iranian attack boats” of “harassing” U.S. Coast Guard vessels in the Persian Gulf. Pause and breathe: the shoreline of Iran 7400 miles from Florida is now part of our “coast”?? That needs to be “guarded”?

That is, meanie Iranians keep abusing us by making life difficult for our Navy ships and whatnot tootling around a few miles from their borders. You’d think the Americans were snooping around and plotting to assassinate their national leaders or something nefarious!  But what do you expect from fanatical Muslims in funny outfits who refuse to come to the negotiating table to rewrite the nuclear agreement that the U.S. unilaterally revoked?  

The Iran boogeyman is a remarkable exercise in official victimhood. In this worldview, well-meaning America simply wants everyone to get along peacefully and democratically, as defined by us. Iran “destabilizes” the Middle East, according to the Heritage Foundation and other Beltway clones, by daring to have ballistic missiles and not agreeing to disarm itself and its allies. We are so hard done by.

Those aggressive news media: Derek Chauvin as “lynching” victim

This one is almost too offensive to contemplate, but not for the Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson brigades who whine that Chauvin was declared guilty in the news media long before his trial began. Perhaps that had to do with the availability of a video recording of the murder that anyone who can stomach it is welcome to view—but I digress. By deploying that hyper-laden term, T.S.M. Carlson shifts the metaphorical noose from its historical victims to the necks of the perpetrators. Poor us! he cries. We are so hard done by.

Carlson’s demented rewrite is shocking but not surprising. Any set of profoundly unjust social relations needs a justifying narrative. Any racist or ethno-nationalist system must develop stereotypes, prejudices, and a ready quiver of anecdotal horrors about the inferior and/or dangerous ways of the victimized. Has any genocide in human history ever been launched without a call to “defend” the aggressor ethnicity against an alleged threat from the soon-to-be-massacred Other?

Seeing oneself as the victim of historical events is a comfortable, though not comforting, default position that alleviates the need for any painful self-examination of how one might be not simply the subject of abuse but also a volunteer for it, even a co-instigator. Carlson’s remaining fans will recoil at the suggestion that their blind faith in the police, heroically portrayed in our most popular detective and crime shows, reinforces the carte blanche Derek Chauvin used to kill in front of a dozen bystanders. Their insistence on usurping the victim role is monstrous but hardly unique.

“As above, so below.” Our national leaders live in a like bubble of victimhood that is now so entrenched they probably believe their own propaganda. Its core premise is that the U.S. is the guarantor of proper behavior and the model of everything worthy and necessary. But uncooperative/evil adversaries obstruct our determined efforts to bring about world peace. Evidence to the contrary is rarely addressed because it so infrequently rises into consciousness.

White nationalists famously chanted that “Jews will not replace us” at Charlottesville, ergo their replacement by workers in Honduras and Bangladesh is the fault of the Elders of Zion, not our capitalist overlords. Similarly, suffering workers in the heartland seem convinced that they would thrive if it were not for those shameless minority groups hustling the government for free stuff. In this way, one’s own behavior requires no examination or revision, such as the support one regularly offers to the authorities running things. Instead, the damage comes exclusively from amoral individuals who have learned how to exploit weaknesses and take advantage of virtuous citizens—like ourselves.

Those aggressive Russians

For liberalish and Demo-leaning sorts, the counterpart to Carlson’s mewling tears of victimhood is Putin and the Russians, who brought us Trump and keep failing to cooperate with American plans for worldwide prosperity. The detail that two years of Mueller’s probe based on the allegations of conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and his Russkie friends failed to find a shred of evidence for it is as quickly forgotten as the role of George Bush in lying us into a war of conquest.  (Bush is now an avuncular friend who gives Michelle candy and dislikes “disinformation.” He wrote in Condoleeza Rice on his 2020 ballot—she of the “mushroom cloud” emanating from Baghdad. But he hates Trump, so all is forgiven.) Also, Russia paid bounty money to Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan—oops, no that was the Chinese or maybe Iran. They hacked the DNC servers to weaken Hillary—except that the FBI has never claimed that to this day. Putin just staged a massive build-up of troops on the Ukraine border—the Ukrainian attempt to provoke a firefight goes unremarked. And so on.

Fearing Russia and hating on Putin is the version of victimhood for those shuddering in horror at the red-state version and laughing at the QAnons, those whose eyes glisten with tears during Lunchbucket Joe’s speeches. That way, it’s easier to forget that Biden’s Pentagon budget is higher than Trump’s.

As above, so below. We all feel badly used from time to time and resent people who appeared along our life paths to do us dirty. It’s a cozy way to explain why things didn’t go exactly as we hoped and desired, but it leaves out a key element: what part did we ourselves play in it? We’re taught not to ask that question because if we did, we might address the same one to the guys in charge.

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Monday, 29 March 2021

Josephus Bidenus Gracchus

 History never repeats itself, but Mark Twain noticed that it often rhymes.

We are currently distracted by the new Biden government slowly taking shape, and with so much being reported and opined about that process, I haven’t been moved to add yet more verbiage. But after listening to an episode of Mike Duncan’s delightful History of Rome podcast, I saw how a bird’s-eye view of broader structural changes might give us not only important insights into what is taking place around us, but also some relief from the relentlessly divisive pseudo-debates that, in important ways, entirely miss the point. 

Tiberius Gracchus was consul twice during the late Republic (in 177 and 163 BCE) and was a key figure in the first actions that eventually led to its demise and replacement by an absolutist monarchy in all but name. (He is not to be confused with Emperor Tiberius who shows up nearly 200 years later.) Power in Rome had changed hands more or less peacefully and by election for centuries, but within 100 years of Tiberius G, that tradition would crash with the coup by Julius Caesar followed by the civil wars that squeezed the last breath out of the Republic.

TG was a “populist” reformer (and the term rightly applies to him as that’s where it comes from). He promoted land reform and antagonized the hoary elites of Roman society who had grown rich and fat from the empire’s triumphs in North Africa, Spain, and Greece.

That’s where our own reality offers an intriguing parallel: the Romans had remained unified throughout the middle period of the Republic, despite their often deadly internal power struggles, because they had plenty of external enemies to keep them focused. But once settled as the undisputed masters of the Mediterranean, Rome found its domestic stability wrecked by success. The massive import of slaves won in their victories drove free Romans into penury as landowners could reduce labor costs to zero while also buying up—or forcing out—small-holders by using the vast riches gained in foreign conquests. They were, in short, early globalizers albeit not of the neoliberal variety.

The United States enjoyed the bounty of the post-Cold War period as the only game in town and promptly used the advantage to impoverish its own citizens by shifting labor costs onto Chinese, Cambodian, or Mexican quasi-slaves toiling under their respective dictatorships. Any corporate manager who didn’t rush to cash in on the neo-feudal conditions available for exploitation if he dismantled his factories and shipped them to China or wherever would be promptly undersold by the competition who did. Why pay factory workers in Indiana $20 an hour when you can replace them with overseas peons for that much per day?

The political opportunities for an ambitious 2nd century BCE Roman leader were obvious. The ruined citizens were primed for the rhetoric of a leader promising them relief. As consul, Tiberius forced through a cap on the amount of land a single owner could amass, bypassing the Senate dominated by these very owners of giant estates in their sweaty togas. When the Senate got a tribune to block the measure with a veto—which tribunes could do by law—Tiberius staged a “Stop the Steal” moment that succeeded: he had the offending official physically carried out of the Senate. As consul, Tiberius was immune to prosecution for this breach, but once his consulship ended, he was legally exposed—and so had to get himself re-elected, which was yet another break with tradition.

Tiberius ended badly, Roman-style: when his partisans clashed with opposing mobs, he was clubbed to death. But Rome saw how easily its centuries of tradition could be tossed aside and how useful the suffering masses could be when recruited to anti-elitism. In addition, despite everyone’s fervent rhetoric about respecting the republican traditions and rules, no one really cared all that much about them when pursuing their immediate self-interests, neither the patrician poohbahs defending their estates nor the demagogues whipping up support from people unsure of where they would get their next meal.

The solution, obvious enough in hindsight, would have been to break up the oversized estates, stop driving landless workers into near-slave status, and otherwise adjust to the sudden influx of untold riches to improve everyone’s lot rather than making the fattest cats even fatter. But that would have required a radical overhaul of the Roman economy and its ideological underpinnings.

Instead, the unequal distribution of income and wealth weakened the core foundations of the state, and Rome lumbered into oligarchy. Career-minded citizens always had to have money, but soon leadership would be dictated by wealth at levels of magnitude far greater than ever previously known. The republic could not resist the ruins of an economic polity distorted beyond recognition.

We have left behind our glory days as a powerful industrial capitalist society and now dedicate the bulk of our national income flows to the financier class, the FIRE (Fire, Insurance, Real Estate) sector that extracts rent in the form of housing costs, insurance, pension taxes, and interest on debt while a huge slice of available resources is diverted into the maintenance of the Imperium. Because the cost structure of our economy makes it entirely uncompetitive with the new industrial states of Asia, there is no road back to being a nation that produces goods and provides its workers with the means to purchase them. 

As the master economist Michael Hudson told Consortium News in a recent interview, China has adopted the strategy of the long-gone industrial America: “[The government] funds basic infrastructure. It provides low-cost education. It invests in high-speed railroads and airports, in the building of cities. So, the government bears most of the costs and, that means that employers don’t have to pay workers enough to pay a student loan debt. They don’t have to pay workers enough to pay enormous rent such as you have in the United States.  They don’t have to pay workers to save for a pension fund, to pay the pension later on. And most of all the Chinese economy doesn’t have to pay a banking class because banking is the most important public utility of all. Banking is kept in the hands of government.

“When workers have to go into debt in order to live, they need much higher wages to keep solvent. When they have to pay for their own health insurance, they have to earn more. The same is true of education and student debt. So much of what Americans seem to be earning—more than workers in other countries—goes right through their hands to the FIRE sector. So what seem to be “low wages” in China go a lot further than higher wages in the United States.”

These are the structural forces at work that operate far above the petty squabbles between reds and blues playing out in our national politics. Neither Biden nor his rivals in the Trumpian camp have any intention of taking a lesson from history by whittling the mega-fortunes of today down to size or forcing redistribution onto our senatorial toga-wearers and the plutocrats behind them. As they fight over the spoils, they will recruit partisan plebes to their respective camps and even offer us occasional concrete rewards while emitting hurricanes of patriotic rhetoric. Power may alternate between and among the rivals, but in the long run all are equally likely to prove incapable of dislodging the oligarchic power and will be equally discredited. We should not mourn their loss of legitimacy out of clannish loyalties to red or blue teams.

Instead, we should set our sights on a new social contract, perhaps even a global one, based on a radical rethinking of the role of our species on our planet. The collapse of this or that band of visionless tinkerers should not alarm us unduly, despite the very real possibilities of ugly death throes during the failed imperio-capitalist experiment.

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Saturday, 23 January 2021

An Out-Of-The-Body-Politic Experience


Experts say repeated exposure to contradictory, abusive, or crazy behavior, especially when one is unable to resist or withdraw, leads to trauma and that the imprint of trauma on the psyche then interferes with healthy functioning. Children experiencing extremes of hostile, hurtful, or simply negligent actions by caregivers may compensate by escaping mentally from the situation and are prime candidates for addiction as adults.

My dear, late friend Miguel had exactly this life trajectory. His overburdened and detached parents were unaware that he was being sexualized at age 9 by an older teen; he described to me how he learned to leave his body and in his 20s developed both a cocaine addiction and unusual psychic abilities. 

The metaphor for our collective experience as Americans over the last four years writes itself. Week after week, month after month, we were relentlessly assaulted with ever-escalating doses of madness and gaslighting. The source, himself permanently intoxicated with the trappings of faux adulation that accompany power, rewrote the script of our tentatively shared reality in such staccato bursts that we could scarcely digest one irrational claim when a dozen more came raining down on us out of the Twittersphere. The effect was the same as that perfected by the CIA in its far-flung empire of dungeons: disassociation and learned helplessness. Some of us self-medicated with news fixations, substances, Russiagate fantasies, or blogposts.

As adults, we could at least step back and apply our analytical tools, see what was happening to us, consult our peers for grounding and reorientation. Yet, the effort involved in the constant struggle to remain standing during this never-ending turdstorm sapped our energies and imbued our cells with stress hormones. Now we know what it’s like to live as an abused minority, fearing for our children and constantly pouring our psychic resources into staying sane and not flying off the handle. When we failed out of exhaustion, we could do no better than to float our beleaguered social souls upward and away from the body politic to a magical inner realm where people behave humanely and resentment and rancor do not rule. Our collective dissociation, while providing needed relief, came at a cost.

Miguel wandered very young into a new life in Argentina and found a boyfriend who introduced him to injection drug use. He relates that when he came back from the doctor with a positive HIV diagnosis, his first thought was, “At least now Charlie cannot leave me.” Nonetheless, Charlie did.

One effect of Miguel’s traumatic life was his ability to pay extra-corporeal visits to anyone he was thinking about. I once heard him relate an entire conversation that had taken place between an ex of his and the ex’s new lover across town, later confirmed in its details. He didn’t develop this ability further nor make anything of it.

Miguel never lamented his fate nor wasted his short time on blaming anyone, including the injecting “friend” who had failed to inform him of his own HIV-positive status before sharing a syringe. In our brief friendship, I only once, late in his illness, heard him say something that hinted that he wished things had turned out differently: “I’m so young!”

The body politic is damaged by what it has been put through. Nonetheless, it has acquired uncanny perceptivities of its own, perhaps not including astral travel but certainly a sharper eye for the aural presentations of public figures. It’s no accident that Bernie’s mittens are attracting nearly as much attention as Biden’s entire 100-days program. Bernie’s now-famous grumpy-uncle photo, known by some as the Jewish yoga posture “Waiting for the Wife Shopping at Loehmann’s,” aptly reflects our crouching, self-protective national spirit, the mittens themselves an offhand populist rebuke to the purpled elites on the elevated platform.

Miguel shook off his cocaine habit though he slipped into unrecognized alcoholism, which killed him. He was a spiritual giant and died a hero. The trauma never embittered him, never distracted him from making the most of his 31 years on earth. He had a vision of better things; everything he had been through he alchemized into wisdom, compassion, and solidarity.

As we emerge from the chaotic mental landscape left behind by the raging id that permanently tasered us these last years, we can and should hold the perpetrators to account. Magnanimity cannot be a cover for impunity. At the same time, we now have a keener sense of the dangerous forces left to seethe just below the surface of our social body and cannot pretend that the millions of people abandoned by the depredations of capitalism have nothing to do with us or our comfortable lives. Perhaps the new body politic can travel to a higher plane; after all, we have new, trauma-enhanced powers. The violent explosion at the Capitol shows us where we are headed if we do not use them to reset and renew.

Thursday, 14 January 2021


The grounds are shifting, and an earthquake may follow. 

Ten Republicans defied their cult and accepted the prospect of having to go shopping with bodyguards for the foreseeable future to join in the vote to impeach. 

While the decision to eject Trump from office remains a minority view in the GOP, it is also unlikely that the hirsute vandals hooting around the halls of Congress represent the cultural and stylistic inclinations of the people in rural Wyoming and the Chicago suburbs who just tried to give Trump a second term. 

Nor are they indifferent to the decision to beat a uniformed police officer to death with a fire extinguisher nor, for that matter, lesser crimes like shedding armpit hairs over Nancy Pelosi’s stationery with your feet propped up on her desk. 

Mitch McConnell’s stunning signal that he’s undecided on the impeachment vote is a warning to the president that he’d better STFU and go quietly or he may find himself heading for the Arctic Circle on an ice floe.

According to a new poll (by "Avalanche Insights," no less), 44 percent of Republicans think Trump’s gang “betrayed American values,” and 29 percent think their actions were treasonous. His approval rating has dipped to its lowest point ever. 

In the coming weeks and months, we will be treated to a steady stream of arrests, indictments, and trials, all of which will repeatedly remind us in excruciating detail of the behaviors on display Jan. 6. 

Remarkably and almost sadly, the frat-boy perpetrators seem to be struck dumb by the fact that after they faithfully responded to a clarion call issued by the chief legal authority of the country, they nonetheless find themselves utterly defenseless and facing hefty prison sentences for doing so. We the citizenry are like schoolmarms confronting misbehavior at recess only to hear the familiar excuse that “Johnny dared me to do it!” “Johnny,” in this case, being the principal. 

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats must be rubbing their hands over the prospect of the reverse-Benghazi that they can and probably will play on their meathead counterparts across the aisle. Count on months of relentlessly tedious and yet explosive hearings on who undermined Capitol security, what orders were or were not given, how many sitting members colluded with the Chewbacca brigades, up to and including possible criminal acts. 

Add to that the possibility of a revealing exploration of racism within the Capitol Police itself, which left many nonwhite officers facing down an armed mob sporting Auschwitz tee shirts and Confederate flags. 

As the Fantasyland accusations fade of mass voter frauds that gave Biden millions of fake votes, the dozens of GOP members who backed Trump’s delusions are going to look increasingly seditious as well as silly.

It remains to be seen how much of this rather sudden reversal of momentum will spill over into a broader repudiation of not just Trump but Trumpism, the grotesque continuation of the decades-long upward redistribution of wealth, negligence of our grave ecological crisis, and permanent imperial war-making. 

Trumpism, after all, is less a breach with our recent past than an exaggeration of it taken to explosive new heights. Biden has made it clear that he has no interest in turning the ship of state any more than a few degrees toward sanity, but the Democrats’ control of two branches of government now cuts away convenient excuses about what they can and cannot do. 

The Trumpster fire of last week opens the door for us to catapult the political pendulum back in a humane direction at long last. Since we create our world, it’s an opportunity not to be wasted.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Blacks elect two Deep South senators; lynch mobs descend on the Capitol


Democrats politely returned to their seats. Are we due for another round of loyal bipartisanship?

The most extraordinary scene in the extraordinary episode of January 7 occurred after the dust had settled and the solons had returned to the vandalized chambers to proceed with their deliberations.


The President had just rallied with a band of violent fanatics, some armed, to demand the overturning of the election he lost by 7 million votes. Mobs then broke into the seat of the country’s legislative branch and nearly succeeded in seizing the official records of the Electoral College vote. Members fled for safety.


One person soon lay dead of a gunshot wound. Three others died later in obscure circumstances. A uniformed officer also died of his injuries the next day (Blue Lives Matter!).


No Democrat, female, nonwhite, or insufficiently Trump-toadying Republican member hated by the invading mob was attacked physically or killed. They could have been. One camo-wearing invader was photographed carrying zip ties and other military gear.


The incidents were triggered by a bogus series of objections raised to the voting procedures that had no bearing on the wishes of the nation’s citizens but were instead attempts by the losers to find technical reasons to enable the minority to cling to power.


In a sane country run by sane individuals, this blatant attempt to cheat and interrupt the peaceful transfer of power would result in the utter repudiation of the perpetrators. They would slink away in disgrace and be compelled to apologize for their seditious plotting.


Instead, Democrats returned to their seats and quietly tolerated Lindsey Graham’s further perorations on the alleged instances of voting fraud—exactly the kind of lurid, evidence-free accusations that had stimulated the assault on the Capitol.


None of those legislators who had just escaped harm at the hands of the president’s shock troops dared to shout down the continuation of the white supremacist conspiracy. None angrily left the chamber and refused to be part of the ongoing spectacle of disloyalty to the core democratic principle of majority rule.


However, it does appear that Trump has finally, finally gone too far.


After four years of pious hand-wringing followed by votes authorizing all the key funding measures demanded by the allegedly dangerous Trump, Democrat lawmakers and their leaders are changing their tune—11 days before the end of Trump’s disastrous rule.


They were personally affected. They experienced danger to their own bodies and lives.


I guess that’s what it takes sometimes to rattle sense into people. As long as it’s happening to some other people in some other neighborhoods living some other lives, it remains a “concern.”


Someone else’s 13-year-old kid getting murdered by a trigger-happy cop? Tragic, tsk tsk.


Someone else’s family compound being drone-bombed into smithereens? We should try to avoid “collateral damage” in pursuit of our laudable war goals.


Someone else’s livelihood being threatened by capitalist dysfunction? Yes, but there is no money! We can’t be raising taxes on the middle class!


But when it touched the members of Congress themselves, all hell broke loose. Someone must pay.


Who knows how long this sudden rush of outrage will last. President Biden and his team are itching to take office and announce the End of the Bad Dream. “Looking to the future, not the past” was the slogan of the incoming administration until 48 hours ago.


I can imagine that many criminal defendants would love to employ that approach to their own circumstances: “Your Honor, I ask the court to Look to the Future, not the Past!”


It is a line tailor-made to cover up the convenient crimes that Biden will inherit and exploit. Democrats did not really oppose most of the Trump program, the proof being their control of one chamber of Congress with the power to halt it.


There is too much confluence of interests among the representatives of our ruling oligarchy to expect any sustained challenge to the outgoing Trump crime family. And I have serious doubts about any of the legal issues Trump faces prospering whether or not he tries to pardon himself as rumored.


That said, the breach of the top politicians’ assumed privilege as members of the elite has come as a shock to them. There may yet be consequences. 

Monday, 7 December 2020



We urban moderns live in a polarized psychic universe peopled on the one hand by reasonable folks, folks like ourselves, plugged into the world of facts and trusting “The Science” while across a bottomless crevasse we contemplate Them, swayed by myriad loony fantasies, concoctions once flogged only by zanies on late-night cable television who, now empowered and licensed by Trump and his cult followers, no longer amuse. Scorn dies in our throats as no imaginable harvest of facts seems to penetrate the dull shields held up by half our fellows who, like Trump himself, never acknowledge error, concede a point, or stop insulting those who dare to disagree. Dialogue, instead of the mucilage holding our social order together in a misshapen lump, becomes onerous, frustrating, even daring.

This is a comforting narrative that with which to lull ourselves back to sleep. It’s also as false a Melania Christmas card. While we sneer at the cray-cray being peddled and eagerly purchased by the mook brigades, our side has its Revealed Truths, its own BlueAnon consisting of the lies that the powerful have designed not only to get rid of Trump but of us as well. Now that we have performed as required on Nov. 3, the incoming crew wants to hear nothing more from or about us until at least 2022.

Here are a few of the myths and legends comprising Liberal Pizzagate:

Russian interference. Reporters and writers routinely refer to the “Russian interference” in the 2016 election as if that has somehow, somewhere, been demonstrated. It hasn’t. The best Robert Mueller could come up with after three years and millions of research dollars with a horde of investigators was a pathetic Russia-based ad agency fishing for clicks on social media with silly, imperceptible memes and other nonsense that couldn’t have swayed a voter with a working pulse. Mueller’s platoon of lawyers found corrupt practices, sleaze, obstruction of justice, and all-round nastiness—how could they not? And they rustled up some charges here and there. But Russian state “interference”? Zip, nada. Nonetheless, BlueAnon enthusiasts obediently repeat this demonstrably false parable. It’s not true, but it relieves us of thinking about why millions of destitute Americans might opt for a reality-show charlatan instead of the usual diet of mainstream pols—sort of like blaming bad behavior on Satan or a conjunction of the wrong planets.

Then again, foreign interference isn’t always considered a bad thing, depending on which foreigners you are thinking of. Far-rightoperatives from Colombia went to work to swing Florida, successfully, into the Trump column. But we’ll never hear much about those loyal allies, nor even a reference to Colombian or perish-the-thought Israeli “interference.”  

Another form of BlueAnon fantasy fulfillment is the routine nod to Putin-sponsored poisonings dating back to the Skirpals (whatever happened to them, by the way?), or the latest incident in Tomsk involving the obscure dissident Alexander Novolny. Putin may well be responsible for bumping off his rivals and, not being a Mossad agent, is roundly criticized here for it. But the holes in the Skirpal story are large enough to fit an entire Amazon warehouse in it, not that the gazillionaire owner of the Washington Post has any interest in doing so. Evil Boris and Natasha tried to knock off Mr Skirpal and his bystander niece because they did, and because Russia and because Putin, and don’t ask us to explain the messy details, which are of no interest to anyone. We don’t need facts because we believe The Science—as interpreted and fed to us by the U.S./U.K. intelligence agencies like medicine for which we obediently open our infant mouths.

Hunter Biden: Trump and his crew are the limit of corruption and self-dealing, OMG, how has the Republic come to this? So let’s not get distracted by obvious KGB disinformation that might suggest an equivalent sleaze farm emitting its noxious ooze on our team’s side, shall we? Obviously, if a rude, crude piece of work like the Javankas are caught lining their pockets, the team set and ready to take over from them must be given the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, where would we be? Without credible leadership of any sort, and then we might have to take action ourselves. Meanwhile, the authenticity of Hunter’s emails outlining how he cashed in on daddy’s name has never been denied—just don’t mention it in polite company, or we’ll get Neera Tanden to shove you into silence. Loyal BlueAnons already have decided that Putin drummed up that whole story, based on zero evidence and a lot of innuendo, kind of like how Fox News decided Obama was born in Kenya.

Poison gas: no, not referring to the steady stream of propaganda about “America’s place in the world” originating in the war-ready incoming team of Bidenites. We refer to real poison gas, like the kind Assad clearly-obviously-unmistakably used against civilians on numerous occasions during the civil war in Syria. Except that those conveniently timed episodes very likely were a fiction engineered by the spook agencies to further the war aims of the U.S. and its jihadist allies who, suddenly, are paragons of virtue when they carry out the empire’s wishes instead of bombing New York. BlueAnons, however, firmly know that chlorine gas and sarin and kryptonite were definitely totally dropped on Syrian civilians, which means the U.S. has to do whatever it has to do, and let’s not discuss it further.

Speaking of what’s not to discuss, absolutely do not breathe a word about the ongoing imprisonment and kangaroo court trial of a reporter who exposed U.S. war crimes and may be put away for life. We BlueAnons defend the Free Press against the horrible not-quite-but-almost-Mussolini Trump who calls reporters “enemies of the people” and would lock up his enemies given half a chance. There is completely no comparison to our disinterest in Julian Assange because he’s creepy, didn’t empty his cat litter box, and isn’t a real journalist because of some explanation or other, who cares? What’s for lunch?

It’s great that we can now get back to smart, decent people in the White House, people who will defend the public interest against the thieving banks, the polluting industries, the planet-endangering fossil fuel companies, the security state, the runaway cops armed to the teeth, and the exploiting landlords threatening to put us all out on the street. And finally, at long last, we can hear solid facts from our esteemed leaders, the ones who know to put The Science first and not peddle us a pack of flimsy lies. BlueAnon forever!

Monday, 9 November 2020

Floridians Voted for Donald Trump and a $15 Minimum Wage: Discuss

Considering our shared pride in the country’s democratic history, there was remarkably little reference during the tedious coverage of the election results last week to a glaring fact: we don’t elect the candidate with the most votes.

There were hours of back-and-forth about whether the counting process for mail-in votes was efficient, fair, clean, even-handed, and auditable. There was mockery of Trump’s evidence-free accusations of fraud and of his partisans’ extraordinary chant of “Stop the Count!”


There was endless parsing of the voting patterns in suburban Atlanta and the margin of Trump’s advantage in Appalachian Pennsylvania. There was ample speculation about what kinds of legal challenges might get a hearing before the Supreme Court now dominated by hard-line Trumpians.


But in my time before the screens of CNN, the networks, the online shows, and a dozen websites, there was not one reference to the fact that the entire election was going to be decided on a technicality, i.e., whether or not certain margins of victory in certain arbitrarily drawn border lines favored one candidate or the other.


No one ever once looked at the camera and said, “The voting citizens of the United States of America prefer, by a convincing majority, Candidate X over Candidate Y.” Not even those appealing to Trump to climb down from his baseless rants ever dared to suggest that Trump should stand aside in the spirit of respect for democracy’s most primordial and defining expression: majority rule.


Of course, the distortions of the Electoral College are long established; everyone knows them from the outset and has no choice but to play by those bizarre rules. Yet the unquestioned agreement to ignore the profoundly anti-democratic nature of these same rules is another form of collective amnesia. (And incidentally, if they consistently favored the D team rather than the R team, you can bet we would be hearing about them plenty.)


But the strange consensus that our most important election is not democratic and doesn’t need to be reflects a deeper reality: that what people want isn’t on the ballot at all. Popular will has no virtually chance of becoming policy. Herein lies not only an insight into why Trump’s 2016 victory was not a fluke but also a clear strategic path toward making sure the Biden presidency does not collapse and pave the way for the rule of Trump II, headed by someone far more adept than Trump and therefore orders of magnitude more dangerous.


Trump won the first time around because neither party had lifted any of its bipartisan fingers to take care of people’s basic needs. They had presided over 40 years of wage deterioration and job destruction, topped off by a massive housing fraud crisis that left 8 million families in foreclosure. They then hastened to let off scot-free those responsible for this debacle while Obama emitted soaring phrases about abstract principles. Trump opportunistically denounced the ruling elite’s corruption, promised to reverse it, and blamed immigrants.


It’s easy to shake one’s weary head in disbelief that anyone, much less 70 million souls, could still consider Trump presidential material four years later after his appalling record and crude racism. That said, how do we explain the comfortable majority in Florida, many of whom were stirred into action by fears of “socialism” and Castro/Ch├ívez-style dictatorship, who voted to establish a $15 minimum wage, one of the key planks of Bernie Sanders’ campaign?


Furthermore, how do we explain the ongoing popularity—depending on how it is phrased—of Medicare for All, i.e., a healthcare system freed from the grip of for-profit insurance companies?


Even easier: how is it that Trump voters not only were unimpressed with the accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 election but also to this day show little enthusiasm for starting a new set of wars? Probably most Biden voters also have no interest in going to war with Russia or China or Iran—will we have our wishes fulfilled? In short, does our voting preference have anything at all to do with the policies that our “representatives” then adopt?


Our history is full of anti-democratic tendencies, from the institution of chattel slavery that deprived people of even autonomous personhood, followed by the systematic disenfranchisement of the Jim Crow era and its more modern forms such as voter ID laws, gerrymandering, purging of the rolls, and precinct restrictions. Women were excluded, and political office still remains largely a male preserve 100 years later. Republicans know that as a minority party representing minority positions they can only remain in control through cheating.


But there are more subtle forms of voter suppression as well, those at which Democrats excel because they involve avoiding the kinds of voter mobilization that would subject them to pressure to fulfill the few campaign promises they still feel obliged to make. AOC lambasted the party leadership this week by outlining how she offered to help her colleagues with their digital strategy, an offer taken up only by five candidates (who all won). Party bosses were more enthusiastic about the Lincoln Project, which flushed $60-some million down the commode producing TV nastygrams aimed at the elusive Trump-hostile Republicans. Meanwhile, the national party again short-changed the local state races that could have put them in a better position for the redistricting that soon will occur based on the manipulated Trump census.


Here in New York, grassroots operations in Brooklyn again swept a slew of progressive candidates into the statehouse, and the local poobahs don’t like it one bit. They prefer the old system with low turnouts and widespread voter apathy that preserved the control of party power brokers over who got to Albany and what they did there.


But the best example of what mainstream Democrats typically refuse to do and what would happen if they did is the admirable work done by Stacey Abrams in Georgia. Her voter registration campaign brought an estimated 800,000 new voters into play, reversed Republican voter suppression efforts, and clearly turned Georgia for Biden. That would never have happened with the typical reliance on mindless TV ads that enrich the permanent consultant class but don’t impress voters. Her work will take on enormous significance now that two Senate races in Georgia are still up for grabs, which will determine who controls that the upper chamber. If Democrats were a bit more committed to democracy, they would imitate her example across the country—but that would mean having to curry the favor of the energized new voters rather than the financiers and lobbyists who form their real base.


Having elections is undoubtedly better than not having them—I’ve lived under both systems and prefer the former. But the notion that We the People express our will through our and votes and see our wishes carried out in the halls of formal power is a nice dream that bears little resemblance to how we actually live. It might even partly explain why 70 million people continue to support a guy who for four years performed like a crude nightclub act and showed the country his rosy bum at the end of every stand-up.


His voters blame “liberals” or some variation of that title, sometimes including minority populations and Honduran peasants who crept across the Texas border and supposedly have it great. Or perhaps it’s hostility and resentment about prosperous urban woke-oids who take virtuous positions on things that don’t affect them while ignoring the plight of left-behind workers destroyed by de-industrialization, wage suppression, opioids, and mortgage fraud. Maybe they resent the worshipful attitudes toward Barack Obama who had eight years to address all those things and didn’t. Maybe they have racialist attitudes as well, and being Americans that would hardly be surprising. Maybe some of them resent blacks and still voted for Obama twice before turning to a radical new version of Change.


This isn’t a defense of the Trump cult, but rather a call to action to prevent it from morphing into something much scarier than its current goofy manifestation. Florida showed Biden what he might think about doing if he wants to swing the state back into the blue column—serious action on the miserable wages American workers now “enjoy.” And why not add relief from the crushing medical debt that Obamacare barely dented, a lifebuoy for bankrupted college graduates looking for a way out of penury, and a public works program massive enough to place a permanent support under the job market?


A good way to start is with the national COVID plan: why are we shooting ourselves in the collective foot by insisting that we either have to close down economic activity to save ourselves from the pandemic or let Grandma die? Why set up two hostile camps between the public health/safety crowd and the get-us-back-to-work/we’re-going-under crowd? Instead, stop the Federal Reserve money spigots from pumping up overpriced financial assets (further enriching billionaires) and instead turn them onto the working population and the drowning small businesses for the duration of the medical emergency. Yes, this might require federal spending and facing down opposition from Mitch McConnell. So do it! Confront the saboteurs, ream them publicly on national TV night after night, denounce their obstructionism, and call them enemies of the people. You have four years of precedent behind you.


If the election just held were truly an exercise of popular sovereignty, this is exactly what would be happening in Biden’s first weeks. Absent a massive uprising to demand a people-first program, however, Biden is likely to sink into the familiar arena of favoring his rich donors, making pattycake with his old buddies in the Senate, and coasting along on autopilot. It will be called a “return to civility,” and the dissidents like AOC and Bernie will be denounced for creating “division” if they don’t go along. But the Warren Hardingesque “return to normalcy” the pundits now clamor for won’t be enough. If they get their way, they’ll be weeping in 2024 and wondering WTF happened—once again.

P.S. I was way off in my predictions of a decisive repudiation of Trumpism. I still think it will happen sooner or later. 

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