Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The civility issue

July 7, 2018

Actor Robert DeNiro shouts “Fuck Trump!” Comedians Samantha Bee and Kathy Griffin, respectively, call Ivanka a “cunt” and pose with a (fake) severed Trump head. Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen is heckled in a Mexican restaurant; Sarah Sanders is refused service in another eatery. And I’ve labeled Trump a “stinking piece of shit.”

Welcome to American political culture 2018.

Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” A fine sentiment. And indeed the candidate against Trump in 2020 must not join him in the gutter, but should instead embody a contrast against the boorish degradation of Trumpism. (Even if the better angels of our nature are out to lunch.)

It’s Trump we can thank for all this. He’s the one who really has pulled American political culture into the sewer; it’s one of the very things that so outrages opponents and provokes them to obscenities. Political nastiness does have a long history; but as a close student of that history, I can say Trump represents a stark discontinuity. It’s bizarre that Trumpists take offense at incivility toward him and his lackeys, such as I’ve mentioned, and even say it strengthens his support; when he, like, invented horrible behavior.

Jordan Klepper’s Comedy Central show, The Opposition, tried to be an over-the-top parody of Trumpism. But it was ended basically because the parody had a hard time topping the grotesque reality.

I never voted for Obama, and often, as a Republican,  harshly criticized him here. That’s politics in a free country. But never in talking of Obama did I use the kind of language I use for Trump. Obama was an honest, virtuous, dignified man who, even when wrong, was a credit to America’s civic culture. Trump is a stinking piece of shit.

Example of a metaphor

Now, when I say this, it is a metaphor. And I am someone for whom language is very important, and I use it with care. My metaphor reflects careful consideration for its verity.

We are endowed with reasoning minds that make judgments, based on facts and evidence (well, some of us). As a longtime political junkie, faced with a phenomenon so dramatically altering our political landscape, I worked hard to learn the facts about Trump. And even before the election, it was clear that he is a very bad man. Far worse than I could ever have imagined in a president. Bad through and through, in every aspect of character and personality. Columnist Thomas Friedman used the words “disgusting human being.”

I have supported that judgment by marshaling facts, and was ringing the alarm bell before the election. Afterward, I was actually prepared to be surprised — hoping Trump might rise to the magnitude of the responsibility thrust upon him. Yet I also warned that power doesn’t make bad men better. Alas, it’s the latter that has proven true.

In contrast to my own carefully considered judgment, grounded in judicious evaluation of all relevant facts, Trump flings around verbal bombs in utter disregard of them. One of his most odious traits. Like his insulting John McCain’s war hero status. Accusing Obama of bugging him. All that “weak on borders, weak on crime” garbage. Calling numerous honest people “liars,” day in and day out. His “spygate” accusation against the FBI, deliberately and falsely undermining public confidence in our institutions of rule of law. The list goes on and on. Res ipsa loquitur.

So —

Kathy Griffin’s severed head? Tasteful it wasn’t. But she’s a comic, after all. And this was another metaphor, for what would be Trump’s just comeuppance for what he’s done to this country — removal from office in humiliation and disgrace.

Nielsen (I tried to find the nastiest looking picture)

The Nielsen episode? In this democracy, public officials — especially the highest — are answerable to citizens. That comes with the job. Calling her out in a restaurant may not have been polite and decorous but those citizens had a right to express disapproval of her official conduct when an opportunity arose. A cabinet member cannot expect to leave it all behind at the office at 5 PM. In this case, the irony of her eating in a Mexican restaurant was too rich. And in the moral balance, does Nielsen’s being shouted at compare with taking children away from parents? (And Trump’s falsely blaming Democrats for it?)

Sanders

The Sanders episode? The 1964 Civil Rights Act assures equal access to public venues for racial minorities and the like. Its protections don’t cover public officials who are bathed in lies. That restaurateur had a right to express her political opinion by kicking Sanders out.

DeNiro? When I call Trump what I call him, it’s always in the context of some specific transgression, my disapproval of which is fully explained (as here), with an effort to persuade readers to my point of view. This was not true of DeNiro’s ejaculation, making it kind of pointless.

But finally, once more, if all this rawness is not your cup of tea, you know who’s to blame. The malodorous defecation product.

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(Part II) Conservative or Republican?

July 4, 2018

Mill

The political philosophy called “liberal” originated in 19th century Britain, with thinkers like John Stuart Mill; it stood for individual human flourishing free from undue constraints — especially imposed by the state. Then the word “liberal” got hijacked, in America, to mean virtually the opposite — social engineering by big government.

Conservatives opposed this; that’s what the Republican party basically represented. (Indeed, its philosophy was classical liberalism.) But now, just like the word “liberal” got perverted, so too “conservative.” David Brooks says that “Today, you can be a conservative or a Republican, but not both.”

Brooks

In a recent column, he approaches the matter from first principles. Thomas Hobbes posited the idea of the social contract. Free people get together and agree to exchange some of their liberty — basically, the liberty to prey upon others — for freedom from predation. It’s not a literal contract, but an implicit one; it’s why we have governments and obey their laws.

But, says Brooks, individuals do not come to this self-formed. Instead we are shaped by family, religion, local community, local culture, arts, schools, literature, manners, etc. All of which he calls collectively a “sacred space,”  which traditional conservatism venerated (to promote the kind of human flourishing Mill sought). In contrast, ideologies like communism, fascism, socialism, and (American) liberalism all, to a greater or lesser degree, sought to supplant those “sacred space” societal structures with the state.

But today, says Brooks, “the primary threat to the sacred order is no longer the state. It is a radical individualism that leads to vicious tribalism.” It’s the “evil twin” of community feeling. Grounded not in the positive, cooperative, humanistic vibe that community feeling should ideally propagate but, rather, in “hatred, us/them thinking, conspiracy-mongering and distrust.”

This ain’t your daddy’s conservatism (that I identified with for 50+ years). Brooks calls it “an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear — the habits and institutions that cultivate sympathy, honesty, faithfulness and friendship.”

A previous Brooks column spotlighted just what this means in practice. Conservatives always used to argue that statism tended “to become brutalist and inhumane . . . caus[ing] horrific suffering because in the mind of the statists, the abstract rule is more important than the human in front of them. The person must be crushed for the sake of the abstraction.”

That’s a good description of a communist system. Likewise Trump administration immigration policies. This so-called “conservative” regime has “become exactly the kind of monster that conservatism has always warned against,” writes Brooks.

Separating children from asylum-seeking parents is an inhuman moral obscenity.* Mocking the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty and in the Declaration of Independence. These latter-day “conservatives” have lost the thread of what America means; of what conservatism means; what it’s all about; what it is for.

It goes beyond even what Brooks talked about. It’s across the board — from fiscal irresponsibility to trade war to undermining our institutions of rule of law, cozying up to dictators, excusing personal vileness, and abetting racism. And all of it shot through with pervasive lying. Trumpism is a grotesque perversion of what conservatism used to be.

But in truth philosophy or principles have nothing to do with this. It’s tribal behavior run amok. These Republican so-called “conservatives” back their tribe; nothing else matters. Not truth, not principle, not basic human decency. It’s Lord of the Flies time. “Conservative” is just a word, a label, a tribal signifier like a team name emblazoned on their jerseys.

Or their red hats, displaying just as big a lie.

* Ordered by a court to reunite those families, the administration is charging them for the airfare to do so.

The Grotesque Odious Party (Part I)

July 1, 2018

Recently on the NewsHour it was noted that Trump’s approval percentage among Republicans has reached record highs. “Yeah,” I said to myself, “because people like me have left the party.” Then pollster Stuart Rothenberg came on, making the same point. And when an arch-conservative pundit like George Will declares we must now vote for Democrats — any and all Democrats — you know how out-of-kilter politics has become.

Not just in America. Britain voted for national suicide with Brexit; its Conservative party embraces it totally while being flummoxed over how to limit the damage; and the opposition Labour Party, having failed with a very leftist platform, has gone extreme left/Marxist. Italian voters deserted the center and put in power two parties of crazies at odds with each other. Large votes for German fringe parties made it hell for Angela Merkel to assemble a governing coalition, and now it’s cracking apart over immigration. Mexico is about to elect as president a populist rabble-rouser contemptuous of rule of law. A retrograde populist creep leads the polls in Brazil. I could go on.

Only Canada and France seem redoubts of sanity.

During the 2016 campaign I kept telling my wife, “He’s got the asshole vote but that’s not enough to elect him.” I was wrong. Enough others threw civic responsibility to the winds.

Of course some voters have always been pretty clueless, motivated by base instincts, simultaneously both cynical and credulous, thus manipulable by demagogues. But demagoguery doesn’t begin to describe this; America has plunged into a moral cesspool, of cruel policies saturated in hate and lies.

I have been struggling to understand this tragedy. I’ve written much about tribalism. The “us versus them” factor looms very large and has long been building. But what caused it to become so extreme (mainly on the GOP side)?

Tribalism is part of human nature. This actually helped our early ancestors’ survival. It also provides a sense of belonging, of security, and identity. But in the big sweep of history, casting other tribes as enemies has been diminishing, reducing conflict and violence, as Pinker documented with facts and figures in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

However, is something about modern life making such tribalism recrudesce? The word “alienation” has long been a staple of sociology discourse. Robert Putnam wrote of Bowling Alone. Many aspects of technology fray social ties. Surveys report people saying they have fewer friends nowadays. Many have hundreds of Facebook “friends” but that’s not the same thing, maybe actually undermining genuine friendship.

I have written too about Tom Friedman’s latest book, arguing that technological and societal change is now so fast that people have a hard time keeping up with it, and making sense of the world.

Maybe all these factors drive people to cling more tightly to tribal identity. And that it’s happening more on the right is understandable. Those with traditionalist mindsets see themselves and their social verities under assault — from ethnic minorities, women’s empowerment, irreligion, and what they see as sexual sin. In this whirlwind, tribal identity is a kind of anchor and security blanket.

What’s particularly startling is how this political tribalism even trumps religion. You might have thought religious faith would be the stronger. Yet most fundamentalist Christians back Trump, a man steeped in sin, with policies the very antithesis of “love thy neighbor.” Their political loyalties seem impervious to their supposed religious scruples.

Well, I suppose if you can believe fairy tales like God, Heaven, and Hell, it’s not so hard to believe the liar in the White House. And that you’re somehow still, despite all the hateful cruelty, on the side of the angels.

(To be continued)

Modern life: the big challenge we face

June 23, 2018

Tom Friedman’s latest book made my head spin. It’s Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. He’s a bigger optimist than me.

The “accelerations” in question concern technology, globalization, and climate change, all transforming the world at breakneck speed. Faster, indeed, than human psychology and culture can keep up with.

Friedman

What spun my head was Friedman’s rundown of technology’s acceleration. He sees 2007 as an inflection point, with the iPhone and a host of other advances creating a newly powerful platform that he calls not the Cloud but the “Supernova.” For instance there’s Hadoop. Ever heard of it? I hadn’t. It’s a company, that also emerged in 2007, revolutionizing the storage and organization of “Big Data” (as best I understand it), making possible explosions in other technologies. And GitHub — 2007 again — blasting open the ability to create software.*

All this is great — for people able to swim in it. But that’s not everybody. A lot of people are thrown for a loop, disoriented, left behind. Bringing them up to speed is what Friedman says we must do. Otherwise, we’ll need a level of income redistribution that’s politically impossible.

The age-old fear (starting with the Luddites) is “automation” making people obsolete and killing jobs. It’s never happened — yet. Productivity improvements have always made society richer and created more jobs than those lost. But Friedman stresses that the new jobs are of a different sort now. No longer can routine capabilities produce a good income — those capabilities are being roboticized. However, what robots can’t substitute for is human social skills, which are increasingly what jobs require. AI programs can, for example, perform medical diagnoses better than human doctors, so the role of a doctor will become more oriented toward patient relations, where humans will continue to outperform machines.

But schools aren’t teaching that. Our education system is totally mismatched to the needs of the Twenty-first Century. And I can’t see it undergoing the kind of radical overhaul required.

I’ve often written how America’s true inequality is between the better educated and the less educated, which have become two separate cultures. Friedman says a college degree is now an almost indispensable requirement for the prosperous class, but it’s something children of the other class find ever harder to obtain. All the affirmative action to help them barely nibbles at the problem.

On NPR’s This American Life I heard a revealing profile of an apparently bright African-American kid who did make it into a good college, with a scholarship no less. But he had no idea how to navigate in that unfamiliar environment, and got no help there, left to sink or swim on his own. He sank.

Friedman talks up various exciting innovative tools available to such people not born into the privileged class, to close the gap. But to take advantage of them you have to be pretty smart and clued in. I keep thinking about all the people who aren’t, with no idea how they might thrive, or even just get by, in the new world whooshing up around them. I’ve written about them in discussing books like The End of Men and Hillbilly Elegy. It wasn’t just “hillbillies” Vance was talking about there, but a big swath of the U.S. population. A harsh observer might call them losers; throw-away people.

I’m enraged when charter schools are demonized as a threat to public education. That’s a Democrat/liberal counterpart to Republican magical thinking. These liberals who spout about inequality and concern for the disadvantaged are in denial about how the education system is part of the problem. Public schools do fine in leafy white suburbs; schools full of poor and minority kids do not. For those kids, charter school lotteries offer virtually the only hope.

Of course, the problem of people unfitted for modernity isn’t unique to America. There are billions more in other countries. Yet most of us don’t realize how fast an awful lot of those people are actually coming up to speed. But there’s still going to be a hard core who just cannot do it, and no conceivable government initiatives or other innovations will be a magic wand turning them into fairies. Instead it seems we’re headed toward one of those future-dystopia sci-fi films where humanity is riven between two virtually distinct species — the golden ones who live beautiful lives, forever, and the rest who sink into immiseration. I do think most people can be in the former group. And I hope they’ll be generous enough to carry the others at least partway to the Eden.

But what Friedman keeps stressing is the need for culture, especially in politics, to change along with the landscape. He applies what he says is the real lesson of biological evolution: it’s not the strongest that thrive, but the most adaptable. In many ways America does fulfill this criterion. Yet in other ways we’re doing the opposite, especially in the political realm where so much of the problem needs to be addressed. The mentioned need for radical education reform is just one example. Our constitution worked great for two centuries; now, not so much. Our political life has become sclerotic, frozen. Add to that our inhabiting a post-truth world where facts don’t matter. Can’t really address any problems that way.

Friedman enumerates an 18-point to-do list for American public policy. Mostly no-brainers. But almost none of it looks remotely do-able today. In fact, on a lot of the points — like opening up more to globalized trade — we’re going the wrong way.

He concludes with an extended look at the Minnesota community where he grew up in the ’50s and ’60s. It echoed Robert Putnam’s describing his own childhood community in Our Kids. Both were indeed communities, full of broad-based community spirit. Friedman contrasts the poisonously fractious Middle East where he spent much of his reporting career. He also reported a lot about Washington — and sees U.S. politics increasingly resembling the Middle East with its intractable tribal conflicts.

I’ve seen this change too in my lifetime — remembering when, for all our serious political disagreements, adversaries respected each other and strove to solve problems in a spirit of goodwill. Most politicians (and their supporters) embodied civic-mindedness, sincerity, and a basic honesty. No longer. Especially, sadly, on the Republican side, which for decades I strongly supported. Now it’s dived to the dark side, the road to perdition.

Friedman wrote before the 2016 election — where America turned its back on all he’s saying. Can we repent, and veer toward a better road, before it’s too late?

*Microsoft has just bought GitHub.

Cynthia Nixon for Governor — What is wrong with “progressives”

June 8, 2018

I switched enrollment from Republican to Democrat when the GOP went off the rails, to the dark side; I wanted to use my primary vote to keep at least one party on the rails. And I was glad when actor Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City”) challenged vile Governor Andrew Cuomo — even though from the left.

The other night Nixon was on The Daily Show.

At the start, the question was whether she’s really out to become governor, rather than just making a point.

Someone serious about the governorship might focus on the state’s real problems — like its weak economy beset by high taxes, a lousy business climate, and crumbling infrastructure. Instead, Nixon was all pet “progressive” memes. Such as inequality, $15 minimum wage, and “women’s issues.” Repeatedly chanting the word “progressive” as a talisman.

Cuomo himself has been doing the same, leaving little space to squeeze into on his left. But Nixon is trying, calling Cuomo insufficiently progressive. Like on the $15 minimum wage, being introduced gradually rather than immediately.

This kind of left-wing purity trial will kill the Democratic party for 2020. There’s already a big debate within the party over whether to countenance anyone not 100% for abortion. Are these people out of their minds?

Republicans have left vacant a vast territory in the American political center. But instead of moving briskly to seize that territory, Democrats like Nixon (and Cuomo) are fleeing it too.

Meantime, Andrew Cuomo is a very strong candidate, still basking in his father’s glow, with the party organization locked up, and a huge campaign war chest. How will Nixon compete with that?

I’m reminded how last year, a guy sought me out who wanted to run for Albany Mayor on the Republican line. The Democratic incumbent, Kathy Sheehan, had done reasonably well, and, mind you, the city is something like ten-to-one Democratic. No Republican had been elected to anything in almost a century. So this guy starts telling me all his nifty ideas for how Albany could be spruced up. One was something about bike paths.

Finally I stopped him and said, “All very nice. But is Sheehan going to lose to a Republican on the issue of bike paths?

The point being that to defeat a powerful incumbent you need a powerful issue. And Cynthia Nixon actually has one: public corruption. Andrew Cuomo is drenched in slime. His top honcho, Percoco (his “third brother”) was convicted of taking bribes, peddling his influence with the governor, and mis-using his position right under Cuomo’s nose. While another top Cuomo guy, Percoco’s partner in crime, pled guilty and testified against him while being revealed as a comic book sleazeball.

State government corruption was already so odoriferous in 2013 that Cuomo convened a special blue-ribbon “Moreland Act” commission to investigate and take action. Then he pulled the plug, disbanding the commission — when it started looking at the governor’s office. Eeewww. To her credit, Cynthia Nixon has pledged a new Moreland Act commission.

But did she mention any of this on The Daily Show? Not a word. The word “corruption” did not pass her lips. Instead she hammered the word “progressive” and stuff like “women’s issues.”

At the very end, Cuomo’s $31 million campaign kitty did come up. As something Nixon would have to overcome. I literally shouted at the TV: “Tell us how he got the money!”

She did not. Did not mention he got it by selling favors to contributors, paid for by taxpayers. Like the real estate developer who gave Cuomo’s campaign big bucks, and then was repaid many times over with a huge unnecessary public subsidy for a project which was already underway.

On all this Nixon was silent. She has one issue, and one issue only, that could conceivably elect her, and she ignored it — so wrapped up was she in her “progressive” shtick. Corruption isn’t an issue with a satisfying ideological thwack.

Last time around, Cuomo was similarly challenged from the left by Zephyr Teachout — who got a third of the vote. A lot of her votes, ironically, did not come from ideological “progressives” but rather upstaters angry over Cuomo’s gun control legislation. That’s why Teachout carried around 30 rural counties (while being crushed downstate).

Nixon will get all the votes Teachout got. And not one vote more.

Correction: one vote more. Mine.

Code Red: Guest column by Thomas Friedman

June 5, 2018

I’m not one for reblogging and sharing what others say, preferring my own words. But I’m making an exception for Thomas Friedman’s May 29 column, which expresses so well my thinking. I’ve taken the liberty of shortening it considerably (find the full text here). His title is Sounding Code Red: Electing the Trump Resistance:

This election is not about what you may think. Not a choice between the particular basket of policies offered by candidates for House or Senate in your district or state — policies like gun control, right to choose, free trade or fiscal discipline.

No, what this election is about is your first chance since 2016 to vote against Trump. Or are you in favor of another two years of unfettered control by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?

Friedman

The worst Democrat on the ballot for the House or Senate is preferable to the best Republican, because the best Republicans have consistently refused to take a moral stand against Trump’s undermining of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Civil Service, the basic norms of our public life and the integrity of our elections.

It is up to the Democrats to protect America from Trump’s worst impulses. To oust the most corrupt Republican lawmakers who lead key committees, to properly oversee the most reckless cabinet secretaries, like Scott Pruitt, and to protect the F.B.I., the Justice Department and Robert Mueller from Trump’s intimidation.

I don’t write this easily. On many issues, I’m not a card-carrying Democrat. I favor free trade, fiscal discipline, pro-business regulations, a democracy-expanding foreign policy, and I have an aversion to identity politics.

But all of that is on hold for me now, because something more fundamental is at stake: It’s not what we do — it’s who we are, how we talk to one another, what we model to the world, how we respect our institutions and just how warped our society and government can get in only a few years from a president who lies every day, peddles conspiracy theories from the bully pulpit of the White House and dares to call our F.B.I. and Justice Department a “criminal deep state” for doing their job.

So that’s why I have only one thought for this election: Get a lever of power that can curb Trump. Nothing else matters now.

Still, Democrats can’t count on winning by just showing up. They still have to connect with some centrist and conservative voters — and that means understanding that some things are true even if Trump believes them: We do have a trade issue with China that needs addressing; we cannot accept every immigrant, because so many people today want to escape the world of disorder into our world of order; people want a president who is going to grow the pie, not just redivide it; political correctness on some college campuses is out of control; people want to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country in an age where globalization can wash out those identities.

Democrats need to connect with some voters on those issues but then take them in a constructive direction, in contrast with Trump’s destructive direction.

I want to see, and I want the world to see, a majority of Americans vote to curtail his power for the next two years — not to push a specific agenda over his but because they want to protect America, its ideals and institutions, from him — until our next presidential election gives us a chance to end this cancer and to birth a new G.O.P. that promotes the best instincts of conservatives, not the worst, so Americans can again have two decent choices.

Again, this is Code Red: American democracy is truly threatened today — by the man sitting in the Oval Office and the lawmakers giving him a free pass.

Trump’s “spygate” — biggest scandal in political history

May 31, 2018

In a personal conversation, journalist Lesley Stahl asked Trump why he says bad things about the press. He answered candidly: “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”

Straight out of the would-be dictator’s playbook. Trump can’t (yet) lock up journalists and shut down newspapers and TV stations, like in Turkey, Russia, or Venezuela. But what he can do is neutralize them by undermining their credibility. If the public stops believing them, they might as well be shut down.

That gets rid of one key check upon his power. Another comes from within the government itself. Indeed, that was a foundational concept of our system (remembering King George) — rule of law rather than by men.

Trump wars against that too — our infrastructure of internal accountability — the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Mueller investigation which, recall, was started because Trump fired the FBI director to squelch the Russia investigation. An independent probe was considered needed. Trump’s strategy is not to actually refute any eventual charges but to get them disregarded.

His weapons? Lies, lies, and more lies.

Previously it was alleged political bias. Simply a lie (Mueller is a Republican).

“Spygate” is another lie. Trump says the FBI “implanted, for political reasons, into my campaign” a “spy,” and this is one of the “biggest scandals in history.” (As if he knows any history.)

I know a lot of history, actually. And what is in fact our worst scandal ever is a president assaulting the pillars of our democratic system and rule of law with a shameless campaign of lies.

It wasn’t a “spy” and he wasn’t “implanted” and it wasn’t “for political reasons.” He was someone who spoke with some Trump campaign operatives which he reported to the FBI, which was already investigating the Russia links. Simply routine law enforcement practice.

Think. If the FBI was really out to screw Trump, they could have simply made public the fact that his campaign was under investigation for criminal Russian involvement. Far more explosive than anything in the Hillary/email investigation — which the FBI did make public before the election — probably sinking her candidacy. The scandal, if anything, was publicizing the Hillary probe and not the Trump one.

“Spygate” is just a Trump smokescreen to obfuscate the basic fact that Russia, not the FBI, messed with our election, on Trump’s behalf; and to discredit the Mueller investigation. So (just like he told Lesley Stahl about the press) when something damning comes out, people won’t believe it.

At least those people he counts on as suckers for his con game. His Republican base, for whom tribal solidarity now trumps everything. There’s no lie they won’t embrace if necessary.

This includes many Republicans in Congress (like Devin Nunes). And those who do know better are so cowed by their partisan voters, they dare not whisper such heresy. They betray America and (what used to be) its fundamental values.

How bad is it? Click here for a GOP fundraising email I just got, with the “spygate” party line: it’s the DOJ and FBI (not Trump) lying; the FBI’s conduct (not Trump’s) that “cuts to the very heart of democracy!”

Right now, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray stand as a kind of Maginot Line shielding our democracy against this attack. An ominous metaphor.

Trump’s blitzkrieg of lies is winning. Confidence in the press and in the Mueller investigation erodes, while Trump’s support edges up toward 50%. (In almost any other country, and in our own past, a leader behaving like him would be in single digits.) So what will happen when Mueller delivers his final verdict? Probably nothing. Democrats will scream, while Republicans dismiss it as fake news. Our worst scandal ever, and justice will not triumph.

And by November 2020, it will all have faded into the background. Voting is swayed most by events closest to the polling date. Democrats will likely pitch their campaign to Boston and Berkeley with Bernie. Trump will be re-elected. Then he’ll be really unbound.

Abby Martin: Burned alive in Venezuela

May 25, 2018

I have strong beliefs. I know many people with different strong beliefs. I don’t lean left, but most who do are good people, sincere in wanting human progress. The “hard left” is another story. These are hard people, of burning passion, burning their souls to cinders.

When I googled “hard left,” Corbyn’s picture was all over the results

These are the ones who spout about “social justice” for downtrodden people whose rights are abused — yet are slavish apologists for some of the world’s worst regimes, that trod people down and abuse their rights — as long as they call themselves “socialist.” Or “anti-imperialist.” Or they’re just hostile toward America. One such character is British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. One such regime is Venezuela’s.

When Venezuela’s opposition won Congress, the Maduro regime simply ignored that body and supplanted it with an assembly of hand-picked loyalists. Then Maduro “won” a fraudulent re-election. The opposition was not allowed to organize or campaign, its leaders were jailed, and the count was faked anyway. No free press survives there.

Maduro

Maduro gets away with this because the courts are packed and the army co-opted. The regime is a criminal gang, which includes the army brass, using guns to crush dissent while looting the country to enrich themselves.

“Socialist” Venezuela went, in less than two decades, from the top of Latin America’s income scale to the bottom. The state oil outfit is stuffed with political operatives; its infrastructure and output have collapsed. A thicket of insane rules makes productive enterprise virtually impossible. Its lack has plunged most of the population into poverty, exacerbated by hyperinflation running thousands of percent monthly, wiping out people’s savings. For most, life has become a daily struggle just to eat. Medicines are largely unobtainable. Widespread protests have been violently suppressed, with hundreds killed, and large numbers jailed and tortured.

A recent PBS on-the-scene report showed a river where previously a few guys had eked out subsistence by sifting the silt for occasional coins or other “treasures.” Now the site is crowded by around a hundred doing it for ever slimmer pickings. But the country’s hottest ticket was seen at the bus depot — a ticket out — with hordes queueing in hopes of snagging one. Many forced to leave loved ones behind.

I have closely followed the Venezuela situation, informed by reports like that one on PBS, NPR, and authoritative news sources like The Economist magazine; my wife monitors Univision in Spanish.

Abby Martin

NPR’s program “Alternative Radio” — far left or hard left radio, really — provides a different perspective. The other night they had journalist Abby Martin. She started talking about her reporting trip to Venezuela, emphasizing telling her editor she would report just exactly what she saw. I wondered what she was expecting to see, that would prompt such a warning.

What she saw, Martin said, totally contradicted the familiar picture painted by mainstream sources (which I’ve summarized). This, she repeatedly stressed, was what she actually observed.

The Maduro government, Martin said, is in reality very popular, among the poor and blacks. Its opponents are really just the former elites, knocked off their cozy perches. It’s not true that store shelves are bare. Some are, but she reported seeing well-stocked ones. Toilet paper is in short supply, but other paper and hygiene products are plentiful. Martin concluded that (as the Maduro regime claims), Venezuela’s economic troubles are caused by a sabotage campaign mounted by outside forces, mainly America.

As to the violence, Martin said in fact it’s all being perpetrated by protesters themselves. Who are fascists. If anything, Venezuela’s police are too lax in not stopping them. People have been lynched — burned alive. Martin repeated “lynched” and “burned alive” several times. She said she truly feared for her own life, was chased by a lynch mob, and was lucky to get out alive.

While I was still trying to process what I was hearing, Martin switched subjects. Now (as my followers know), I am no Trump fan. But Martin’s anti-Trump rant came out of left field — hard left field. Weirdly echoing Trump’s own claim that some deep-state conspiracy is trying to do him down, Martin said the plutocrats who control the world want to get rid of Trump because he makes their enterprise look bad. Or something like that.

Anyhow, now I had Martin’s number, and could better evaluate her Venezuela reportage. I have pondered it deeply.

The government’s popularity? Even the vilest regimes have their core supporters — those bought off, or who swallow the propaganda. The best available sources put that at around 17% in Venezuela. (It’s over 40% in America.)

Outside forces causing Venezuela’s economic woes? Cuba has been embargoed openly, for far longer, and far more comprehensively, yet Cuba’s economy (wretched though it is), doesn’t compare with Venezuela’s collapse. Its cause in the regime’s own behavior is indisputable.

Regime opponents are fascists? What, were they wearing “Viva Fascismo!” T-shirts? Fascist is the epithet of choice the hard left always hurls at those it doesn’t like. Russian propaganda tried to justify its Ukraine aggression by labeling Ukraine’s government, and the pro-democracy Maidan demonstrators, as fascists, even Nazis. Abby Martin calling “fascist” those Venezuelans protesting destruction of their democracy, and living standard, says more about Martin than the protesters. (I have since learned that Martin previously hosted a show on RT America. “RT” stands for Russia Today, a Putin regime propaganda vehicle.)

And the violence? “Lynching” is another of those favorite leftist words (evoking the true horror of Jim Crow lynchings). “Burning alive” is better yet. But for all her claims to be reporting what she saw, she stopped short of saying she witnessed any burnings.

If Maduro regime opponents burned anyone alive, wouldn’t the regime shout it from the rooftops? It has not.

Reliable reports do confirm that journalists in Venezuela have been victims of mob violence — killing at least one — perpetrated by pro-regime gangs. (In researching this piece, I did see a reference to one person lynched, but the report didn’t say who did it.)

Abby Martin

So — was Abby Martin just simply lying? (As noted, she’s a veteran of Russian propaganda TV.) She was telling the story she went down there to find — that she wanted to be true, and felt ought to have been true. Better for the cause if it were true. But the cause trumps the truth; ends justify means. Perhaps she even believed that her lies embodied, somehow, a deeper truth than the reality which, so perversely, wouldn’t cooperate.

Abby Martin’s fiery hard left ideology has burned her soul to a cinder. She’s been burned alive, you might say.

The Leaker-in-chief condemns leakers

May 21, 2018

The uncanny pattern continues: every insult, accusation or smear Trump flings at others applies more to him than to them.

Now he’s fuming against leaks and leakers, calling them “traitors.” Remember how he himself leaked sensitive classified intelligence information to the Russians? Right in the oval office?! I guess he doesn’t. He also has a documented history of telephoning journalists, pretending to be someone else, bragging about him(self) and disseminating lies, to puff up his (self) image. Not only does he leak, but he leaks lies.

And lies about leaking. Calling other people leakers is a favorite Trump sleaze ploy. (He’s used it on Comey and McCabe.) Recently he called it disgraceful that a list of potential interview questions from the Mueller investigation was leaked. Turns out there’s strong evidence the leaker was Donald J. Trump.

The latest Trump leaker fit concerns White House aide Kelly Sadler’s remark about John McCain, apparently leaked by an insider who heard it. (The story’s truth is (perhaps strangely) not denied. But White House policy is no apologies, about anything, ever.)

Now let’s be clear. Of course Trump’s own leak to the Russians was treasonish. But the leak about Sadler? No. It may have betrayed Trump and his odious administration, but it did not betray America or the public. To the contrary, leaks like that serve the public good. Remember, the government, and everyone in it, works for the public. The public has a right to know what they do and say. Governments — especially this one — are often secretive, not wanting the public to know about their dirty laundry. But particularly where there is dirty laundry, it’s important for citizens to know, so government can be held to account.

When someone like Sadler, working at the highest level of government, is so stupid and depraved as to say what she said, the public has a right to know it. Whoever leaked it, allowing the public to know, deserves praise.

But the issue concerns more important matters than mere offensive remarks. Major misfeasance, and even policy blunders, which government has sought to cover up, have been the subject of leaks. Such whistle-blowers, who act at great personal risk, are heroes.*

Meantime, Trump and his Republican creep squad ratchet up their campaign to discredit with lies the Mueller investigation and our whole justice apparatus. The latest lie is that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign; he’s demanding an investigation of this “scandal.” The truth seems to be that someone in the campaign with a shred of integrity (improbable though that seems) saw something wrong there and blew the whistle with the FBI. Trump wants that “traitor” outed so he or she can be tormented.

Trump has never retracted his related lie that Obama wiretapped him.

Republicans have even mounted an effort to impeach Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s #2, overseeing the Mueller investigation, who refuses to abet their anti-Mueller lie-athon.

Trump and these Republicans call Mueller’s probe a witch hunt. Consistent again with all their accusations, they themselves are the real witch hunters, wanting Mueller burned at the stake.

Do you realize how horrible this whole story is for our democracy? Are you sickened yet?

I guess not. Trump’s approval rating has risen to 50%.

Make America great again!

* Snowden and Manning? Some of what they leaked does fall in that category. But more of it was in fact treasonous, harming America’s legitimate national security and interests; in fact, putting at risk the lives of others who helped America.

Malaysia’s election shocker: good defeats evil

May 10, 2018

In today’s world, with democracy eroding in so many countries, it’s great to see one go the other way. To see some voters, at least, stand up for democratic values, defying extreme efforts to manipulate them otherwise.

Malaysia’s election was expected to follow the trend toward rising authoritarianism, with the ruling party having cynically used every trick to make its ouster a virtual impossibility. Yet it’s been ousted.

I know that happy developments like this can turn sour (like Egypt’s 2011 revolution). Indeed, the Malaysia winner is no knight in shining armor. But still, voters behaved wisely, and this is a good day for believers in “the better angels of our nature.”

Mahathir Mohamad

Here’s the backstory (another of those long-running soap operas playing out on the world stage). Malaysia was ruled since independence (in 1963) by the UMNO party (“United Malays”), its success owing much to racialist coddling of the ethnic Malay majority (as against other ethnicities like Chinese). From 1981 till his 2003 retirement, the Prime Minister was Mahathir Mohamad, who grew increasingly authoritarian.

Anwar Ibrahim

Groomed as Mahathir’s successor was Anwar Ibrahim, until in 1998 Anwar became disenchanted and left the government to found an opposition party. The regime tried to neutralize Anwar by jailing him on what were apparently false charges of “sodomy.” Twice. He’s still in prison.

Nevertheless, Anwar’s opposition coalition remained strong at the polls. In fact, in the previous election, it got more votes than UMNO. But UMNO retained its parliamentary majority by grace of extreme gerrymandering. Malaysia doesn’t have “one man one vote,” and parliamentary districts can vary in population. The regime packed opposition voters into a few huge districts while its own Malay stalwarts are advantageously spread among many small ones.

Najib Razak

UMNO’s latest prime minister was Najib Razak. His regime was noteworthy for billions of dollars going missing from a government development fund, 1MDB. A big chunk of the money showed up in Rajak’s personal bank account. He explained it, straight-faced, as a gift from an unnamed Saudi royal.

So great was the stench that ex-leader Mohamad, now 92, came out of retirement to join, and lead, the opposition in this May’s election. But the government pulled out all the stops to thwart them. Such as a “fake news” law enabling it to jail anyone for saying anything it doesn’t agree with (including, especially, anything about 1MDB; Mohamad was among the first to be prosecuted). And the gerrymandering was made even more outrageously rigged in UMNO’s favor.

Still, for that to work would require some voters to vote UMNO. You can normally count on some voters, at least, taking the party line and doing what they’re told. But in Malaysia, this time, too few did. Despite everything, almost unbelievably, the opposition won a parliamentary majority. Malaysians are celebrating this as a national renewal.

So Mahathir Mohamad has been sworn in as prime minister, again (oldest in the world). He promises that, having little time left, he will use it to clean things up; and that within two years he’ll hand the reins to Anwar Ibrahim. (Well, we’ll see.)

But maybe there’s hope for America too.