This week, liberal activist Amy Siskin tweeted this message of yearning nostalgia for the good old days before the Orange Ogre befouled the sacred temple of the Oval Office: “I miss our country. I miss normal and days of non-crisis. I will be so grateful when we take our country back, every single day. Future generations will read about this frightening and tragic time we are living now.”
I read that whilst drinking my morning coffee in a café (or was it my morning caffè in a covovfe?), and to quote Mel Brooks quoting Joe Schrank, I could hardly believe my hearing aid. (So to speak.) Quickly I fired up my Twitterator and dashed off a few lines in response, which I’ve threaded together below. Naturally, my listing of more than half a century of horrors omits much, but I hope you get the general drift.
When were those normal days? The first public event I remember was the JFK killing. Then war, riots, oil embargo, Watergate, Reagan's depredations: fuelling slaughter in CentAm, James Watt, corruption, Bitburg, Iran-Contra. Then Gulf War, hundreds of thousands killed by Clinton sanctions, impeachment, 2000 election crisis, Enron, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq invasion, torture, death squads, drone wars, mass surveillance, Gitmo, Tea Party, continuing death lists & drone wars under "liberal" management, Wall St bailout, torturers and war criminals embraced, Honduras coup, Libya, Somalia, the US-backed atrocity in Yemen, militarization of police, rise of far-right violence & hatred, the brutality of bipartisan neoliberalism, mass deportations, corporate news media giving endless airtime to a fascist clown and admitting they did it for ratings and cash, etc etc.
I'll soon be in my seventh decade and I've never known any of these normal days you pine for. I do remember days when I didn't *notice*many of the evils being done in my name, often by people I fervently supported and defended. I remember days of willful blindness and selective outrage colored by partisanship. Is this the kind of nostalgia you're actually talking about?
Even so, I can’t remember anything "normal" about any of it. I don't deny that Trump is a new level of threat, but our collective blindness to the bipartisan abnormality of our history is a key reason why an absurd monstrosity could rise to power in the first place.Add a comment
The US has passed another historic week focused on some of the most burning issues of our time, complex and contentious matters that have rightfully provoked many hours of nuanced analysis and intellectual discussion throughout every form of news media: print, video and digital. We refer, of course, to those twin peaks of public concern, embodied in a pair of vital but mystery-shrouded questions that might never fully be resolved:
1. Is Trump fatter than he says he is?
2. Is Trump a foul-mouthed, knee-jerk racist?
Loath as I am to turn anyone’s attention away from these unfathomable enigmas, I would like, with your pardon, to point out a bit of news that is of course far less important than Trump’s pants size or the question of whether, after 40 years of repeatedly belching crude bigotry in public forums, he could perhaps be said to hold somewhat less than completely enlightened views on racial equality. But I do think it is worth noting, at least in passing, that this week also saw the United States commit itself to an open-ended military occupation of territory in a foreign country with which it is not at war — in a region which has been turned into a tinderbox of violence and extremism by open-ended US military invasion, occupation and intervention.
This week, Secretary of State Rex Ex-Exxon Tillerson made a formal announcement that the United States — which has several thousand troops on the ground in Syria — will keep its forces there until the government of President Bashar al-Assad is overthrown. In other words, the United States has now embarked on a military regime change operation in Syria — in flagrant contradiction of Donald Trump’s repeated promises not to do such a thing. (I’m sure you join me in astonishment at the idea that Donald Trump would ever lie or break his word about anything.) As Buzzfeed reports:
The speech represents the most comprehensive case Tillerson has ever made for a lasting US military presence in the war-torn country and marks a departure from language drafted between the US and Russian officials in Vietnam in November.
The remarks also are a significant departure from President Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric, which maintained that the only objective the US should have in Syria is fighting ISIS, and are likely to revive debates in Congress between staunch advocates of regime change and those who fear an open-ended commitment to a US presence in Syria.
‘What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria,” Trump said in October 2016. ‘You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton.”
Tillerson said this week that the “regime is corrupt, and its methods of governance and economic development have increasingly excluded certain ethnic and religious groups.” Well, he should know; he’s a leading player in just such a regime. And he and Trump work in close partnership with another such regime — Saudi Arabia — especially in their extensive collusion with the Saudis (first launched by Obama) to wage a war of berserking aggression against Yemen, killing many thousands of innocent people and plunging millions into starvation and famine. But in this case, Tillerson was apparently talking about the Syrian regime, which is indeed full of bad hombres, but is nowhere near as exclusionary and corrupt — and dangerous to the world — as our bipartisan elite’s buddies in Riyadh.
Early on, we were told that US warplanes were attacking Syria to root out the ISIS forces trying to take over the country, but there would be no “boots on the ground.” Then we were told a small number of boots (and the soldiers wearing them) would be required to help target the air attacks. Then we were told, belatedly, that at least 2,000 (many put the figure as high as 5,000) pairs of US boots (with accompanying soldiers) had somehow been installed on Syrian territory while no one was looking. (Or rather, while everyone was looking at the latest emissions from Trump’s nightly sessions of playing with his Tweeter on the toilet.) But all of this, we were told — first by Obama, then by Trump — was simply in service of a single goal: defeating ISIS in Syria.
To accomplish this singular mission, the US supported rebel fighters made up largely of Islamic fundamentalists, some of whom were even from Syria. The US-backed militias often worked closely with another rebel group, Al-Nusra, a franchise of al-Qaeda. It’s undisputed that millions of dollars worth of US weaponry somehow ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda during the course of the war, most of it passed through or sold by the rebel groups backed directly by the US. This particular noble effort of aligning with al-Qaeda and other extremists to overthrow yet another secular government in the Muslim world (Iraq, Libya, and reaching back to the days of good old godly Jimmy Carter, Afghanistan) began under the noble administration of the entirely scandal-free Obama, and has been accelerated by Trump.
Despite these efforts, ISIS (which also somehow ended up with scads of US weaponry) was not defeated until Russian forces combined with the Syrian army in a brutal, mass-slaughtering campaign very reminiscent of the US invasion of Iraq under the now-huggable George W. Bush. In any case, ISIS is pretty much gone — but Trump has planted his rump firmly on the Syrian sand irregardless.
So indefinite intervention and occupation are now on the cards. I’m so old I can remember when cynical nay-sayers were taken fiercely to task by the most thoroughly vetted and verified true-blue liberals for suggesting that this was the intention all along — even during the days of Obama, who has such a nice family and loves dogs and who was (as the NYT solemnly told us) as prayerful and mindful and godly as St. Thomas Aquinas when he met with his security apparatchiks in the White House every blessed week to go over the lists of people to be assassinated around the world on the basis of secret “intelligence” whose provenance and credibility remains forever shrouded in mystery. (Although I think we can safely assume it was at least as credible as the “intelligence” that led to the aforementioned mass-slaughtering war of aggression launched by the noted portrait painter George Bush.)
I suppose it’s not really surprising that our vetted and verified professional progressive liberals were largely untroubled by the fact that their hero and champion was running a death squad out of the Oval Office; as we all know, partisanship is thicker than blood. (Although to be fair, our verified progressives weren’t really all that bothered even when Bush was running the presidential death squad.) But given such thick, oozing partisan gooeyness, I guess it’s no surprise they didn’t object to Obama’s ever-expanding intervention in Syria. (Just as they said doodly squat about Obama’s essential role in the Saudi assault on Yemen — the second greatest war crime of this atrocity-choked century.)
But given their revulsion to every aspect of Trump’s corporeal being, you’d think they would find — or at least fake — a modicum of outrage over Tillerson’s announcement of an armed regime change operation in the white-hot center of the Middle East cauldron, with the armies and militias of Russia, Syria,Turkey, Iran, the Kurds and various Saudi-backed extremists all thrashing around in the pot: a situation that some trenchant analysts say could easily “end up in World War III.”
Yet once again, it’s all quiet on the progressive front. Democratic leaders — I’m sorry, “Resistance” leaders – like Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Dianne Feinstein, Mark Warner and newly minted progressive liberal hero Doug Jones have all found ample time to give Trump (and that cute-as-a-little-bug enforcer of his, Jeff Beauregard Yezhov Sessions) vastly expanded surveillance powers over American citizens. But thus far the Democratic resistance has not said one word about this new declaration of a permanent commitment to use US military power to force regime change on yet another nation.
Why, it’s almost as if their “Resistance” is mostly just for show, a profusion of poses and soundbites, signifying nothing. It’s almost as if they are trying to do the barest minimum possible to get back into power without really offending or threatening the elite interests — corporations, Wall Street and, above all, the ever-growing, all-devouring, insatiable maw of the War Profiteering Complex — in which the Democratic Party now lives and moves and has its being.
But I’ve taken up enough of your time with such minor concerns. Yes, the new Syrian policy will exacerbate and extend the continually widening circles of death, hatred, extremism, revenge and corruption that our bipartisan elites have set in motion — a horrific, ruinous legacy that will doubtless bring even more evil fruit to bear for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and the unnumbered and ignored multitudes of our victims in shattered countries across the world … but forget all that! Did you hear the latest? It turns out that the porn star Trump paid to keep quiet about their affair said she used to spank him with a rolled-up copy of Forbes magazine! Now watch the mighty Resistance spring into action with outrage and umbrage and hilarious memes! That’ll show the Trumpster Dumpster!!Add a comment
I'm ashamed, but I'll go ahead and admit it: For years, I thought Rupert Murdoch was the single worst poisoner of our political system. I thought the Civil Rights movement was a remarkable manifestation of the human spirit. But now, thanks to our sensible Democratic centrists, I know how wrong I was.
Over the course of the past year, I've finally seen the light. Now I know that Vladimir Putin is behind every malign element in today's political scene. What's more, I've finally realized that Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and all those other malcontents who moaned about social and economic and racial "injustice" in America were just dupes – or agents! – of the Russians, sowing dissent and disruption in our exceptional land.
With the Russians stirring up all that bother in the Fifties and Sixties, we forgot that we are great because we are good. Any "protest" about US society could only be caused by dezinformatsiya spread by wicked foreigners and their unwitting (or oh-so-witting!) tools. But now, praise God, I'm a good centrist again! If anyone challenges incremental, corporate-funded, hyper-militaristic neoliberalism in any way, I know what to do: Denounce them! And denounce their master, Putin.
I don't have to worry anymore about Murdoch or Mercers or Kochs, about religious cranks or Randian kooks. I don't have to worry anymore about centuries of endemic, deliberately fomented white supremacy used to divide working people from each other so the wealthy few can gorge their fill! I don't have to do the most painful thing of all: look at our actual history and see how Democratic support – and advancement – of a rapacious economic system and all-devouring war machine has been absolutely crucial to the decay and disintegration of US society, and the destabilization and impoverishment of the world at large.
No, I'm here to tell you that I have laid that burden down. Now I know that all our troubles, yesterday, today and tomorrow, are due to the eternal machinations of the Russians. (Why, I bet it was the Czar who baited Abe Lincoln and good ole Jeff Davis into the Civil War!) It was Putin who made Bush invade Iraq, establish death squads and institute systematic torture. It was Putin who tricked Bill Clinton into deregulating Wall Street, expanding the death penatly, gutting welfare and killing half a million Iraqi children with sanctions. It was Putin who cannily lured Obama into arming and supporting Saudi Arabia as it killed thousands of innocent people and caused starvation and deadly epidemics in Yemen. And today it's Putin who is behind BLM & NODAPL, behind antifa, the push for single payer and the Take a Knee campaign. It's Putin who's behind each and every election challenge to corporate-approved Democrats.
Now that I know this, a great weight has been lifted from me. The scales have fallen from my eyes. Now I can say with every decent liberal: Yes indeed, we are great because we are good! Yes, our goodness can never fail; it can only be foiled by our enemies! So no more guilt, no more doubts, no more badmouthing our blessed land! I have thrown off the Russian yoke and can finally sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Take that, Vladimir!Add a comment
I was dreaming of her offering
of the perfume on her wrist
the sweetness and the nearness
of her skin just like a kiss
The pang as it’s withdrawn and
disappears into the mist
the yearning and the burning
to be more, much more than this
The love that outlasts love’s withering away
The light that lives on when night swallows the day
The soul that remains when all faith in the soul is dead
The hope that's still there when all hope has fled
I was driving through the forest
where they made the atom bomb
out of clay and stone and timber
and the universal thrum
I heard my father singing
in the bare and ruined choir
the echoes of existence
in the ashes and the fire
The love that outlasts love’s withering away
The light that lives on when night swallows the day
The soul that remains when all faith in the soul is dead
The hope that's still there when all hope has fled
Lyrics ©2018 by Chris Floyd/Music ©2018 by Nick KulukundisAdd a comment
(My latest column for CounterPunch Magazine.)
Her spinal column was fusing. Arthritis was clutching at her joints, balking every movement, filling it with pain. Her insides were a wreck, and had been for 40 years, after an unnecessary hysterectomy in the days when that operation was ordered for every mild form of "women's troubles."
Pain filled her mind as well, the bitter, implacable anger at a life gone wrong and now slipping away. Her husband had died. One son had lost his mind then died. Her life had been lived in servitude to others, from her girlhood slopping hogs on sharecropper farms to the middle-class treadmill of office work and motherhood to this wretched curdling in a dark house in a backwater town she'd always hated.
She had no appetite. Some days she forgot to eat until late at night, when she'd spoon a few bites of ice cream while watching re-runs on the channel she never changed because she didn't know how to navigate the cable system with its myriad choices. Pain in the body, pain in the soul; the pain of the past, the pain of the now; the pain of the future in the endless dark.
People tried to help: they did chores, ran errands, made repairs on the failing house. But for the most part, she rebuffed them. Her mind had been addled by a series of mini-strokes – messing with her memory, confusing her checkbook – but she remained competent enough to resist any effort to take control of her life and get her into a better situation. She would remain alone, aloof, untended in her bitterness and sadness and self-torment and affliction. Except for one person.
She had been raised in an isolated rural hollow so racist that the boys would go down to the crossroads and throw rocks at the railroad trains rattling past because the train company employed black men. The black midwife who'd brought her and all her many siblings into the world of sharecropper penury had to leave their house before sundown every day lest she be caught out after dark, when she'd be fair game to be attacked or killed.
But now, in her long, slow lacerating crawl toward the end, there was only one person she'd allow to help her, one person she trusted, one person she would let herself love: the "colored woman" who had cleaned for her each week for decades. In the 21st century, they re-enacted the old template of faithful black servant and benevolent white mistress. There was sincerity in the feelings that ran both ways, but perhaps what sealed the relation most firmly was the fact that the cleaner could alleviate her pain: she could obtain the illegal opioids that her employer required in ever greater quantities to dull the anguish of her living death.
She had legal prescriptions for the bodily degeneration that was devouring her: but these were a paltry balm, used up within days each month. The cleaner knew how to get more. Doctors bribed and wooed by gilded, respectable Big Pharma firms were throwing out prescriptions like V-E Day confetti. Pills were flooding the streets; if you needed them, and could pay, you could get all you needed. And you always needed more.
Addiction took hold. Hallucinations followed. A spectral family had taken up residence in the basement , and beguiled her and bored her for hours on end with convoluted tales of their woes. Her grandson apparently came to visit on his way to Mexico, running from the law after beating up the senator he worked for in Wisconsin. Someone kept stealing her money. She was stuck on the roof and couldn't get down, and railed at anyone who told her she was safe in her bed.
Near-starved, undone, fallen on the floor, she refused to press the panic button she wore around her neck. Someone found her at last and took her to the hospital. She was de-toxed, came back to herself for a few brief weeks, pouring out the story of her painful life as she had never done before. She went out and had her hair done one last time – then died.
She was a staunch Southern Baptist and a fanatical Democrat. A proud Confederate descendant who loved Obama and Michelle. A Bible-believer who spent her last happy day on earth with her gay hairdresser and his transgender partner, admiring the drag queen friends her granddaughter showed her on her phone. ("Oh, how pretty! I wish I had those legs.") A woman of passion and ambition thwarted by religion and convention and her own personal damage, who lived the empty middle-class dream and died as a dope addict killed by corporate drug pushers. A sharecropper's daughter, a little girl rising in the pre-dawn darkness to break the ice on the trough so the hogs could drink.
Who can tell us what it means to be an American? Who can untangle all these threads that bind us without and strangle us within? I say damn to all savvy analysis, all reductive categories – and damn to every profiteer of blood and pain.
She refused to have a funeral. No service, no family, no goodbye. She told her two remaining sons to take her ashes to the ocean, to Myrtle Beach, where she'd been a newlywed. We took her miles out to sea and there we poured her out, in waters that belonged to the whole world.Add a comment
This is indeed alarming -- but the headline isn't true. Jeremy Hunt is not "failing" in any way. He is succeeding very well at his true job: destroying the NHS so it can finally be sold off to American conglomerates. There's no question that this is his goal, the mission for which he was appointed by the Tories. Like the extremists in the US Congress and White House, they have a deep, visceral, ideological objection to the very notion of a public service being operated for the greater common good. It offends their religious principles: their ardent, abject worship of Mammon, which puts the private profit of the privileged few above all other considerations -- and certainly above the lives of ordinary people, the worthless rabble they despise so much.
The enrichment of the rich and the empowerment of the powerful is the doctrine of these transatlantic extremists; and they don't care how many people have to die, how badly society degenerates, how low the quality of life becomes, as long as Mammon's will be done. They are vile and wretched creatures, eaters of their own souls, hollowers of their own humanity. We are living in an age when all the masks are coming off and our rulers are showing their true faces at last: rapacious, ravening, cruel and implacable.Add a comment
Good old godly Roy Moore now has a page on his website where you can contact him and tell him if you've been approached by the evil media trying to dig up dirt on him. This follows news that Alabamians have been receiving robocalls from someone claiming to be "Bernie Bernstein of the Washington Post" offering to pay for salacious stories, which, curiously enough, is the same line that Breitbart and other defenders of mall-stalking goobers are taking, i.e., that the media are paying people to smear good old Roy.
Immediately upon hearing of this opportunity, I leapt at the chance to offer my help to this Christian knight-errant, as you can see below. I encourage all good folk who want to make this country safe again for sweaty, jowly goobers to paw teenage girls to do the same.
"Dear Roy, I was sitting in the bathtub trying to calm down after binge-watching reruns of Duck Dynasty when someone knocked on the door. I ran down the steps to answer the door but noticed that I'd forgotten my towel so I grabbed a Kleenex and held it over my privacy and opened the door. Standing there was a man I couldn't absolutely swear was Jewish but you know some of them don't look Jewish like that Ronan Farrow who is Woody Allen's son but looks like Frank Sinatra who I believe was an Italian and not Jewish. Anyway, this man asked me if I would go on the record to the Washington Post and say that Judge Roy Bean Moore had tried to get in my underwear 35 years ago. I said absolutely not I wasn't even in the country 35 years ago I was in Guatemala if that's any of your business. But, I said to him, even if Judge Roy Bean had tried to get into my underwear 35 years ago or 35 days ago I would still vote for him because that's what Jesus would do because of Moslems and fairies. So, I said to him, you can go tell George Soros and Jeff Bozo I'm not going to smear a godly man for doing what any red-blooded American male would do in similar circumstances. He said, OK then but then he said he had to sneeze and because my mama raised me to be polite I handed him my Kleenex and the next thing I know there were CNN cameras filming me and the next thing I know the video went viral and now all the guys at the pool hall look at me funny. So Judge Roy Bean if you get to the Senate like I know God wants you to I hope you will use your pull to get YouTube to take down that video because it was kind of cold that day and it is not really representative of my natural nature. Thank you and God bless. Your pal, C.K. Dexterhaven"Add a comment
So we’ve finally seen some of the social media ads which we are told skewed the entire election in 2016 and constituted a key part of the internet assault on America launched by Vladimir Putin’s “troll army.” Scary stuff, blazoned across front pages and screen scrolls everywhere. But before going on, perhaps we should find out what makes a social media account part of Putin’s invasion force?
Well, according to Twitter, it is ANY account created in Russia. Or any account where the user has a Russian email address. Or if their name contains Cyrillic characters. Or if they ever tweet in Russian. Or if they have ever logged in from any Russian IP address — even a single time. Twitter says: “We considered an account to be Russian-linked if it had even one of the relevant criteria.”
Not even Glenn Beck would draw so many far-fetched connections. One glance at the Twitter criteria tells you that it could enrol every single Russian dissident into Putin’s “troll army.” I personally know several people in Russia who are adamantly opposed to Putin and all he stands for — and have put their lives on the line for their beliefs. According to Twitter — and the US Congress, the mainstream media, the Democratic Party and innumerable liberal commentators — these people are also part of Putin’s “troll army.” Even a single log-in from any Russian IP address makes you part of the troll army. (What if you were visiting Russian dissident friends and checked your Facebook on their computer? Why, you’re a Kremlin stooge, pal, and don’t try to deny it.) Even people who have left Russia — maybe even fled from Putin — but still use their native language in their tweets can now be counted as part of the troll army. Essentially, any social media post that can be remotely tied to Russia in any possible way can be seen as part of Putin’s assault on American democracy — no matter what it says, who wrote it, or where they wrote it, or why.
This is madness. Absolute madness. It demonizes and criminalizes Russians and people connected to Russians far more extensively than we saw even in McCarthyite times. At least in those days, a Russian dissident couldn’t be accused of being a Kremlin stooge for writing a communication in his or her native language. Or using the Russian postal service. But that’s where we are now.
So back to those ads. Congressional committees have released images of “Russian-linked” ads which apparently “reached” 150 million Americans. I assume that means they appeared somewhere on a social media page of 150 million Americans at some point; how many people read them or even noticed them is another matter. Of course, the social media companies like to pretend to advertisers that readers devour every ad and promoted post; that’s how they make their money, after all. But apparently no one in Congress uses social media; if they did, they would know that normal human beings ignore 99 percent of the ad crap that litters their Facebook and Twitter feeds. But anyway, after many months, we’ve at last seen some of these history-changing ads which came, according to criteria that are never quite clear, from Russia’s “troll farms.”
What did we see? Hillary Clinton in a devil costume boxing with Jesus. A Clinton-backing Satan arm-wrestling with Jesus. Pro-gun memes. Anti-immigrant memes. Memes about military-hating Democrats. Basically, the same sort of things your cranky uncle or Foxicated cousin has been sending around on email for the past 20 years.
The idea that someone could be dissuaded from voting for Hillary Clinton because of something like this is absurd. ("Ah was sure gonna vote for Mizzus Clinton until Ah saw Jeeezus didn't like her none! Now Ah'm votin' fer Trump!") Anyone "swayed" by this kind of thing would already be committed to voting for Trump or any rightwing candidate. Yet we're supposed to believe that a handful of crude ads like this were far more effective than Clinton's hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ads. If that's the case, then Madison Avenue should hire Putin; he's the new Don Draper.
This has nothing to do with the Trump campaign's obvious scheming for advantage with any dirty dealers they could find, including the Russians. (Although even the worst allegations of Trump's collusion fall far short of the Reagan-Bush pre-election deal with the Iranians to keep holding Americans hostage until after the 1980 vote. There were mountains of credible evidence about this coming out after the equally treasonous Iran-Contra scandal --until Bill Clinton quashed the investigation, as he did other probes into Bush I. Now, of course, George Herbert Groper Bush refers to Clinton as his "son." Yet a company I once worked for had a financial advisor who spent hours bragging how he and his cronies funnelled millions of dollars in dirty money from Europe into Bush I's secret campaign slush fund in '92. I know we’re supposed to love the Bushes now, but the record of their corrupt collusion with dirty dealers, foreign and domestic, to subvert the democratic process could fill a library.)
And no, this is not to say Russia wasn't monkeying around in American politics -- as foreign powers have done since time immemorial, and as the US has done, to the nth degree, in the politics of other countries (including just invading them and overthrowing the government). But this seems to be a dangerous focus to me. First of all, it distracts from the very real and very vast damage that Trump's administration is wreaking on the American system -- and the natural environment -- through the actions of his appointees. What Scott Pruitt is doing at the EPA, for example, far outweighs the negligible (and unprovable) effect of a few Facebook ads.
Second, it is driving us toward more and more constrictions on free speech, while also putting tech companies in charge of deciding on the political "trustworthiness" of websites, news organizations and individuals. Is this what we want? I'm not talking about open hate sites or calls for violence; I'm talking about the parameters we're seeing used by the many groups suddenly springing up to determine “Russian influence.” Some of these guidelines include “material critical of US policy in Syria” or of US policy in general, or even stories about BLM or the pipeline protests. These groups — some of them anonymous, some of them made up of neocons and warhawks — are supplying the “information” being used in most news stories and Congressional hearings on the subject. Is this what we want? Google and a gaggle of anonymous militarists to determine whether we are following the correct political line or not? To be able to accuse anyone who questions US policy of being a Russian dupe or even a Russian agent? Is this really where we want to go? Because that’s where many Democrats are taking us.
It’s all a bit confusing. First we were told that Macedonian teenagers had swayed the election with fake news posts. Then we were told that Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to “hack” the election with his troll army, because he had made a deal with Donald Trump and hated Hillary Clinton. Now it turns out that many of the ads and posts from the nebulously-defined “troll army” also attacked Trump or dealt with controversial (and clickbaity) political topics — guns, BLM, etc. — from all sides of the political spectrum — so we’re told that Putin didn’t want Trump to win either, he just wanted to sow chaos in the United States. (Now, why a Russian leader — even a brutal authoritarian like Putin — would want to see a country with a thousand nuclear missiles pointed right at him break down into unstable chaos where anything might happen, including a nutball president launching a nuclear war, is hard to fathom.)
What really happened in 2016 is this. Hillary Clinton ran a very bad campaign (just as she did in 2008), depending on computer models and vacuous, contentless advertising and celebrity endorsements, playing fast and loose with the nominating process, and offering a nation hankering for major change little more than “it’s my turn now.” She didn’t campaign in the economically ravaged areas where a sliver of voters turned the Electoral College vote. She did have an actual public record (not the rightwing fantasy) that legitimately made actual “progressives” find her candidacy distasteful (although the overwhelming majority of them voted for her anyway). And yes, she faced an onslaught of outrageous lies and scandal-mongering and scabrous misogyny by the powerful rightwing press and rightwing Congress and on social media.
But guess what? She actually won the election anyway. If the United States was not saddled with the 18th-century elitist contraption of the Electoral College, Trump would not be president, no matter how many “Jesus” ads Vladimir Putin posted on Facebook. And if the Democrats had fought with all their might against the years-long Republican campaign to restrict voting among Democratic constituencies, which suppressed hundreds of thousands of votes in key states, then she would have won the Electoral College as well.
The Democrats have lost two presidential elections in this century due to the Electoral College — which means the actual choice of American voters has been overturned twice in past 16 years alone due to that 18th-century elitist contraption expressly designed to prevent the American people from choosing their leader by popular vote. Yet the Democrats do nothing about this. Perhaps because they’re quite willing also to take power even if they lose the popular vote. This actually would have happened in 2004 had the Republicans not illegally skewed the Ohio vote with their machinations to give the state to Bush. If Kerry, who almost certainly actually won the state, had gotten its electoral votes, then he would have been president, despite Bush outpolling him by 3 million in the popular vote.
So Clinton lost because the Democratic Party is not truly committed to the democratic process. They don’t really want to get rid of the Electoral College because it might be to their institutional advantage someday — the popular will be damned. And they apparently aren’t very concerned about the fact that millions of their potential voters have been rigorously disenfranchised, with millions more facing the same fate. Their passivity in the face of this is harder to explain; I honestly can’t understand why they haven’t made this a thundering, constant scandal year after year, or why Barack Obama didn’t use his popularity and his bully pulpit to denounce it and call for change. Trump established a presidential commission to look into the transparently bogus, totally baseless issue of “voter fraud”; couldn’t Obama have appointed a commission to look into the very real, thoroughly documented problem of voter disenfranchisement?
Again: if the US had a genuinely democratic process for electing its leader, Clinton would be president. But she is not president, because of the anti-democratic elitist contraption of the Electoral College. She is not president, because Republicans — not Russians — have systematically disenfranchised millions of likely Democratic voters across the country over the course of several years. Without these factors, she would be president right now — which was the actual choice of the voters.
It seems to me it would be more productive to focus on these thoroughly homegrown factors — the factors that are actually costing the party these elections, the factors that are actually corroding American democracy — instead of the near-total, tunnel-vision focus on Don Draper’s super-magic Facebook ads, where a $100,000 of sporadic Jesus cartoons outweighs $500 million of all-pervasive Hollywood-produced campaign spots.
That’s not to say we should ignore Russian meddling in our elections. But here too, I would take a broader focus and also consider meddling by Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, China and other countries who also push pure propaganda through social media.
Even more importantly, I would focus on the meddling of the vast “troll farms” and propaganda mills and astroturf front groups and so-called think tanks and websites and publications controlled by our own, all-American oligarchs: our Kochs, our Mercers, our oil tycoons, etc., who spread so many lies, stoke so much division and manipulate our democratic process at every turn. Can we have some more outrage, some more focus — some more action — about that?Add a comment
From Vanity Fair: “I HATE EVERYONE IN THE WHITE HOUSE!”: TRUMP SEETHES AS ADVISERS FEAR THE PRESIDENT IS “UNRAVELING”
The best solution for Trump personally would be to resign now (citing 'deep state, fake news' persecution). He would immediately be hired by NBC (yes, the one he's threatening now) in a revival of "The Apprentice." He would go on being a big media noise, investigations of his manifest criminality would stop, his 'brand' would be more potent than ever. He'd play the martyr to right-wing crowds, while going on Kimmel, Colbert, even SNL to josh & joke with his fellow celebs, now treating him as a lovable rogue once again.
This is exactly what will happen if he leaves early enough, by his own choice. It's a win-win situation for him; he will probably figure this out soon enough. Meanwhile, the radical extremists in the GOP, Wall Street, Pentagon, the Koch-Mercer oligarchs, etc. will carry on their authoritarian agenda, with Trump still functioning as an effective diversion for them. People will be so glad he's gone they'll be even less inclined to see the reality of what's going on. The "Resistance," now "victorious," will go back to pushing neoliberal nostrums and centrist surrender as the radical extremists and corporate overlords rage on.
Even if Trump is too stupid to take this opportunity while he can, the scenario still might play out as above. An impeached Trump might be pardoned by Pres Pence, a la Ford and Nixon, as a way to bring "closure" to the crisis. Trump won't lay low for years like Nixon, but go off immediately to NBC (or FOX or Breitbart or even his own network) and keep making noise and fomenting strife and chaos.
What we are facing is not just the deadly, sinister antics of a clown but a vast system of oppression that has grown up around us, with bipartisan support, and now has us in a death grip. There are some hopeful counterforces in play, but they face a far more daunting challenge than merely removing Trump - and, as Stan Rogouski points out, with a far more deadened public, more atomized & cowed, less easy to rouse to fight for their own common good, than we saw in the 60s & 70s, and with institutional bulwarks far less powerful and much more compromised by the power system than before. There are long, hard, dark days ahead of us.
I wrote more on this systemic challenge in a Facebook post earlier this week, after Trump's tweet-threat against NBC:
It's way past time to stop treating Trump as a joke, and trying to "resist" him with talk show snark and Alec Baldwin imitations. It's time to take him very, very seriously, to not be distracted by his diversionary tactics but to look closely and carefully at what his administration is actually doing -- and at what he is actually proposing and promoting in tweets like this one. He's not a joke; he's a kleptocratic authoritarian who continues to be supported and excused and empowered by one of the main political parties, by the nation's most powerful financial center, Wall Street (whose denizens fill his cabinet), by the most powerful corporations and oligarchs (Kochs, Mercers) in the country, and by the most powerful military force and most pervasive intelligence apparatus in human history.
It's time to realize he's not just some "loose cannon" who will soon be swept away by "the grown-ups in the room." The so-called grown-ups in the room are the ones who are empowering him. He is working hard to give them everything they've ever dreamed of: unregulated corporate rapine; unlimited military spending; control of the media; control of education; unrestricted police powers to protect their wealth and power from any protest or resistance; restricting or eliminating the right to vote to all sorts of the "wrong" kind of people who might vote to advance the common good instead of elite interests; using ALEC and other far-right "legal" groups to pass laws restricting the rights of states and communities to make their own decisions and cut off the avenues of legal redress for ordinary people; constructing a new kind of society based on fearful obedience, draconian authority, elite control and the subjugation of individual citizens.
Although they may scoff at him behind his back, call him a "moron," sniffily recoil at his vulgarity, they know he's actually their Santa Claus, with a bottomless bag of goodies for them. They know his reality show schtick distracts us from what he is doing for them, makes us blind to the harsh new society rising all around us. They aren't going to get rid of him. We need to be more clear about what we're really facing. It's not just a stupid man-baby tweeting bellicose nonsense on his toilet; it's everything that he is doing and empowering -- and everyone who is empowering him.
A couple of days later, I saw this interview with Noam Chomsky, making many of the same points, with greater detail and scope. There is also much more on the foreign policy aspects. The whole thing is worth reading, but here are a few salient points:
The claims [of Trump’s tweets] themselves don’t really matter. It’s enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the constituency of private power and wealth, “the masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase … Now, while attention is focused on Trump’s latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers’ rights, cripple consumer protections and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.
… Not all of the damage can be blamed on the con man who is nominally in charge, on his outlandish appointments, or on the congressional forces he has unleashed. Some of the most dangerous developments under Trump trace back to Obama initiatives — initiatives passed, to be sure, under pressure from the Republican Congress.
The most dangerous of these has barely been reported. A very important study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published in March 2017, reveals that the Obama nuclear weapons modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” As the analysts point out, this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends.Add a comment
(This is my column from the latest edition of CounterPunch Magazine.)
As the title of this column suggests, I’m an admirer of Bob Dylan’s work, from the world-shaking epics to the off-the-wall obscurities. But I admit that even I quailed this March when I heard he was about to release yet another collection of classic crooner covers — in a three-record set, no less!
I’d enjoyed his first couple of forays into this area, especially the moody “Shadows of the Night,” where he sang with more genuine emotion than he’d shown in years on record. But the thought of 30 more of these seemed a bit much. I’m not one of those fans who requires Dylan to redefine the zeitgeist or hale souls out of men’s bodies every time he strums a chord, but still, I would’ve preferred some new songs — or his long-threatened album of Charley Patton covers — to more mining of the Sinatra seam.
Naturally, I bought the record the day it came out.
And to my surprise, I found I couldn’t stop listening to it. I understood the criticisms of “Triplicate”: too much of a muchness, too creaky of a croakiness, too remote of a removeness from the contemporary world, etc. But the more I listened, the more I sensed something else going on. Not just a lightsome stroll through “the Great American Songbook." Not just an exercise in nostalgia, or a contrarian’s nose-thumbing at his audience’s expectations. Instead, what I heard was the careful construction of an alternative — even radical — worldview: a modern moral code masked (and anonymous) in archaic forms, a sharp counterpart and challenge to the prevailing zeitgeist.
The album concerns itself entirely with demotic themes, the stuff of life for ordinary people: lost love, unrequited love, unfulfilled yearnings, the looming shadows of mortality, with occasional bursts of joy and gentle swagger (“the best is yet to come"). The vocal delivery in most of the songs surpasses “Shadows” — and rivals anything in Dylan’s canon — for emotional depth, emotional reality.
But with the whole “American songbook” to draw from, the selection of cuts on “Triplicate” shows an obvious crafting of a particular vision. Dylan himself described the triple album as a story, beginning with a jaunty fellow lightly repining over a lost girlfriend (regretting the “new blue pajamas” he’d bought for the affair) and ending with a love-broken man wondering why he’d even been born.
At some point it occurred to me that the stories of the album, delivered by a male narrator, were describing — and enacting — nothing less than an alternative view of masculinity: a conception of manhood expressing itself in openness, tenderness and above all, vulnerability. Throughout the album, there is a courageous embrace of emotion and the possibility — and acceptance — of deep emotional pain. Indeed, in many of the songs, there is a sense of surrender: to fate, to time, to mortality, to the fragility of love, to the ending and rending of things.
Here, across a full three albums, there are none of the withering put-downs that Dylan is famous for: no hoodoo women, no backstabbers, no soul-stealers, no Miss Lonely getting her righteous comeuppance from Napoleon in rags. There's just a series of ordinary men in ordinary life, hoping to be worthy of the woman they love or long for, or else ruminating — not raging, not ranting — about a wonderful, beguiling woman they’ve lost.
There’s no place in these songs for the triumph of the will, for braggadocio, for imposing one’s desires through bluster and violence. A greater contrast to the present zeitgeist — especially the imperial burlesque of our preening political, corporate and media elites — can hardly be imagined. In a world where war is the prevailing metaphor and mode of being, where manhood is measured by the throw-weight of missiles and chest-thumping displays of dominance, here comes an old man quietly asserting the primacy – and nobility – of the loving heart, of brokenness and gentleness, of fierce, enduring passions bounded by a respect for the beloved, whatever the outcome of the encounter.
In some ways, it reminded me of a phrase I once used – in my brief stint as a Russian literature teacher – to describe the not-dissimilar Weltanschauung found in the poetry of Boris Pasternak: "a power without the power of resistance" – which in Pasternak's case, as with Tolstoy before him, nonetheless came to stand as a stark rebuke to the powers of their day.
"Triplicate" is not on that level, of course, but it’s striking that Dylan crafted this alternative Weltanschauung from old songs largely written by immigrants or the children of immigrants: survivors of repression, violence, bigotry and persecution. This was not the lineage of the Indian-killers and slavers, the aristocrats and robber barons who gave us the bellowing hoo-rah of "American Exceptionalism," now swelling in a spectacular excrescence in Washington. This was something more universal, more subtle, a work of spiritual depth hidden in a popular song.
I think this is what Dylan meant when he said he wasn't covering the songs but uncovering them. He's brought back those depths in a kind of cultural alchemy, distilling a new sensibility through an old alembic. It's not likely to change the corrupted currents of this world, but it's an alternative worth attending to.Add a comment
In recent days, a disturbing trope has appeared among the self-declared “Resistance” to Trump. Citing “research” that often has the scientific rigor of Donald’s Trump’s investigations of Barack Obama’s birthplace, they say that Russia is fanning the flames of the Black Lives Matter movement and the “Take a Knee” campaign. Some of these progressive Resisters are taking it a step further, tracing Kremlin perfidy in stirring up trouble in God’s perfect American heaven back to the Sixties. Yes, liberals are now aping the John Birchers and Klan goobers and American Nazi goons of old who claimed the Civil Rights movement was just a Commie plot. They really are going there, as Max Blumenthal has pointed out.
A couple of days ago, an Australian journalist named Chris Zappone tweeted a chart put out by the “Alliance for Securing Democracy,” a group of heartfelt patriots including Michael Chertoff, leading security apparatchik from the Bush Regime who cashed in to become the head of a highly profitable fear-mongering consultancy; Bill Kristol, a notorious lover of world peace through military aggression and mass murder; and Michael Morrell, former CIA apparatchik and stout defender of “extrajudicial killing” and torture, who, needless to say, is also now lapping at the “security consultant” gravy train. No one could possibly question the sincere devotion of these fine figures to truth, accuracy, morality and democracy. Together, they have helped bring freedom from all earthly cares to tens of thousands of innocent people all over the world.
They now provide a vital service in “tracking Russian influence on Twitter.” This is actually not as hard as it sounds. You might think it would require extensive technical know-how and spycraft to ferret out the Kremlin’s connection to this nefarious network. But no; all you have to do is find tweets with the theme of “anti-Americanism.” This includes any reference to the Syrian conflict that doesn’t follow Washington’s approved narrative; tweets criticizing Morgan Freeman; any support of secession movements in Catalonia or Kurdistan; and, perhaps most sinister of all, “a travel guide for Crimea.”
I myself was once accused (by association) of being a Kremlin Commie Putinist Right-Wing Bolshevik Fascist Godless Orthodox Pro-Trump dupe by no less than the Washington Post, which published a list from another similar (although more anonymous) group, denouncing a whole host of “pro-Kremlin” sites — including CounterPunch, where I write a monthly column for the print version. The Post was quickly forced to retract most of the story, but the pattern was clearly set: find something — anything, anywhere — that deviates one inch from whatever is the accepted line of conventional wisdom about America’s good greatness on any given day, then denounce the heretic as a Kremlin tool. The progressive world will beat a path to your door — even if, like the worthies above, you have the blood of innocent children and tortured captives on your hands. Sweet!
As the Alliance of Torturers and Warmongers — sorry — for Securing Democracy puts it: “The charts and graphs here display hashtags, topics and URLs promoted by Russia-linked influence networks on Twitter. Content is not necessarily produced or created by Russian government operatives …Just because the Russia-aligned network monitored here tweets something, that doesn’t mean everyone who tweets the same content is aligned with Russia.” As I said: a veritable Trump-like level of analytic rigor.
Anyway, the Australian journalist tweeted a chart, with the ominous warning that “Pro-Russia social media” (that is, tweets by people “not necessarily…aligned with Russia”) was in “overdrive,” trying to “stoke outrage” about the “Bend a Knee” campaign which is protesting the wanton killing of unarmed people — primarily African-Americans — by unaccountable police departments. Obviously, no one would normally be outraged by this unless they were being “stoked” by Kremlin tricksters. Max Blumenthal jumped in to make this very point – “Yup, Putin is tricking us Americans into being outraged at racism. It's all a Russian op.” – to which Zappone riposted with this zinger:
“Yes, it's not like Russia doesn't have long history of making hay about US race issues.”
And presto, there we are, back in the beer joint with the John Birchers, growling about them Commies stirring up the coons. Now, it so happens I grew up in a time and place where such sentiments were readily heard — and not just from Birchers but from eminently respectable mainstream Republicans … and Democrats. In fact, given the partisan make-up of rural Tennessee at that time, almost ALL the people I heard voicing such notions were Democrats.
Anyway, having stumbled across Mr. Zappone’s Bircher re-hash, I added my own brief contribution to the debate. (I will recast the Twitter breakage into solid text.)
“Oh be fair. Everyone knows there was no racism in the US until Lenin and Putin started tweeting about it in 1917. Growing up in rural TN in the 60s, I remember how Clem the Commissar would come by in his pick-up & force homefolk to protest integration. "Make hay, y'all, make hay!" he'd holler, passing out pointy hoods with the hammer & sickle on top. Then he'd force the aldermen to ban African-Americans from buying property or drinking out of public water fountains. "But we love our black bretheren," homefolk would cry. "No matter," Clem would say, whipping out his Kalashnikov. "Nikita wants y'all to stir up trouble, so get to it." And so, sorrowfully, under the Communist lash, good folks in a land that had never even heard a harsh racial word had to build an entire system of racial bigotry affecting jobs, education, justice, civil rights, medical care, financial services and every other aspect of life. They didn't WANT to, but them damn socialist media Russkie agitators MADE 'em do it. Like Vietnam, it was just another tragedy that FOREIGNERS inflicted on us!”
I too oppose Trump — both for his unique awfulness and for the myriad ways he continues the heinous crimes and corrosive follies of his predecessors (including his immediate predecessor, who bequeathed to Trump a presidential assassination apparatus, numerous undeclared wars, an alliance with an increasingly genocidal Saudi onslaught against Yemen, a free pass for the rapacious corporations and oligarchs whose greed and fraud plunged the world into economic ruin, a free pass for torturers and torture apologists, and so on). But the “Resistance” — especially the part led by Establishment worthies and Hollywood celebrities who act as if Trump is some eruption of unprecedented evil in a previously pure system — is going to some very dark places. They are beginning to equate any criticism of American policy or American society with treasonous foreign influence. People who “stoke outrage” over police killings by supporting the entirely peaceful, silent protest of football players are now part of a Kremlin “network.” And the "Resisters" are working this trope backward into American history, trying to taint any protest movement or action for social change as “anti-Americanism” which was “stoked” by nefarious Russians.
I make this prediction, and it is not ironic or satirical: before the year is out, we will see some prominent “Resistance” figures directly denounce Martin Luther King Jr. as a Kremlin dupe. After all, the Russians “made hay” with the “anti-Americanism” of his Vietnam War protests and his denunciations of racial and economic injustice, didn’t they? Like Zappone, they won’t even think about the implications of what they’re saying; they’ll be too blinded by their need to find pernicious Russian influence everywhere, to “prove” that the Russians — who, as Resistance hero James Clapper (former head of the whole security apparat) said are “almost genetically driven” to deceive, infiltrate and subvert other nations — have always been “at war” with us by stirring up trouble. If they were doing it back then, they’re obviously doing it now. Ipso facto, Trump is a traitor and we can just cancel the results of the 2016 election. (This is another idea actually making the rounds these days, despite the fact that this would require destroying the constitutional system of government just as thoroughly as anything Trump hopes to do.)
The fact that they’re re-animating zombie lies and racist tropes that millions of people fought — and often died — to destroy will be lost on them. But it’s not just a blind hatred of Trump; it’s the even more compelling need to remain blind to the militarist, imperialist, oligarchic, inhumane, unjust, neoliberal horror show that gave rise to Trump in the first place: a show in which they have been willing players or happy cheerleaders for decades. They’ll bring back any lie, besmirch anyone — anything to keep from holding the mirror up to the nation, and seeing the truth.Add a comment