December 29, 2016

A Mercifully Now Past Emergency, and Collapse

At the beginning of December, I was looking forward to doing a lot of writing. Unfortunately, I've been very sick for most of the month. For the last few weeks, I've been unable to do much of anything at all. On many days, I've slept 14 to 16 hours. I think my collapse was largely the result of what had transpired in the previous two months. So, about that ...

In the first half of October, the tenants of my building were notified that there would soon be an inspection of all rental units by the City of Los Angeles. It's part of their regular inspection program, to ensure that living conditions are basically sanitary and safe, that there are no leaks in plumbing, that things are generally "habitable." At first, we believed the inspection would happen just three days after we were notified. That turned out to be a mistake, and the initial inspection didn't happen for two weeks.

That first notification provoked deep panic in me. Over the last several years, as my health continued to decline, it became harder and harder for me to lug garbage to the dumpster. Making even one trip to the dumpster took me longer and longer; I would usually have to rest after five or ten steps, depending on how heavy the bag(s) were. One dumpster trip became the Event of the Day, leaving me unable to do anything else except collapse into bed.

As a result, more and more crap piled up in my apartment. I won't even describe the worst of it to you; it's simply too horrifying. Just recall scenes you may have witnessed in films or news reports of "hoarders" and the like, with huge piles everywhere, when it's difficult to find a path to walk through the apartment. My place was like that. I didn't ask for help for one major reason: I was embarrassed beyond describing to let anyone see how I was living. (I might have considered hiring a stranger to help with the cleanup, but I never had the money to do that, even if I had wanted to.)

But that first notice of inspection jolted me out of my paralysis. I know what City Inspectors can do to tenants when they want to, often regardless of whether conditions merit punitive measures or not. And in my case, there was certainly a lot of cause for genuine concern. In extreme cases, tenants can be evicted. Regular readers know that one of my greatest fears, together with my fears about my health collapsing entirely, is being homeless. So I slowly began cleaning up. I very slowly began making trips to the dumpster. It was taking forever. Blessedly for me, a neighbor pitched in and took over responsibility for lugging all the garbage from the landing outside my apartment to the dumpster. That help was truly a godsend.

By the time of the first inspection (ultimately, October 24), the worst of the flood of garbage had been cleaned up. But a tremendous amount of crap still remained. I knew the Inspector would give me a warning and schedule a followup inspection, to make certain that I was making my apartment "habitable" again. I'm leaving out a lot of details, but that's essentially what happened. The Inspector said he would come back in about a month to see how I was doing; the date of the second inspection was finally set for December 6.

So I spent an inordinate amount of time between the end of October and the beginning of December cleaning up my apartment. Even with the help of my neighbor, it still took a tremendous amount of work on my part. And given my health problems, I had to be very careful about exerting myself too much. If I tried to do too much or carry things that were too heavy, I could be in very serious trouble. Even trying to be careful, there were many days when I simply couldn't do any cleanup work and would have to rest for a day or two to get just a little bit of strength back.

But slowly, very, very slowly, the disaster was cleaned up. I estimate that I threw out roughly four dumpsters' worth of garbage. Yes, there was a lot of crap in my apartment. It's scary how much crap was waiting to be thrown out. (Remember: we're talking about three or four years' worth of accumulated stuff.) When the Inspector came back, he took one look around and said, "Ah." He was pleased and said everything was okay now. There remains quite a lot of straightening up and cleaning to do, but the apartment is basically livable.

That effort over a period of a couple of months took a lot out of me. I'm sure that's why my body basically collapsed in December. My neighbor continues to be wonderfully kind and generous, and I will continue to ask him to lug my garbage to the dumpster a couple of times a week. I've sworn an oath not to let things pile up again, and to beat back the tide of crap that engulfed me before.

So, that's what's been going on. I'm very sorry I haven't published any new posts, but I still look forward to doing new writing -- and using all the notes that I've been keeping all this time. Yes, I've continued to save links to items of interest and make notations about issues I want to discuss.

In the meantime -- and I'm also deeply sorry about this -- I find myself financially in essentially the same situation I was in a month ago. I have only about half of what I need for January rent, and nothing for an electric bill that I'd postponed to early January. And then there are several other first of the month bills, money for food, etc.

I would be profoundly grateful for any donations readers might be able to make. As I said, I very much want to do additional writing. I'm certain there will be a lot to discuss with the Trump administration coming to power, although I have to confess that I often find the reactions to Trump more revealing and intriguing than Trump himself. Trump is obviously quite different in certain respects from the standard-issue politician, and it is fascinating to see how those differences cause many other people, including some of Trump's severest critics, to reveal more about themselves than they intended. I very much want to explore those issues, among others.

Many thanks for listening to this tale of woe, and for any help you may want to provide. Here's to a much happier -- and cleaner! -- New Year for all of us. And blessings on all of you who are still out there.

November 27, 2016

The Usual (Sorry)

Regular readers know that I have no source of income other than donations to the blog. As has been true for an unfortunately long period of time, I'm forced to put up donation posts much more frequently than I (and you, undoubtedly) would prefer. I have to, because my readership has decreased substantially due to the infrequency of posting over the last few years; as a result, those donations I receive are few in number and only cover immediate needs. It's very rare that I have any funds left over as a cushion for the following month's expenses.

December will be here in just a few short days. I only have about half of what I need for rent, and nothing at all for several other first of the month bills, as well as for food. Donations in any amount will be most gratefully received! In the past, I've sometimes made donation posts sound a bit too casual, and then almost no one responds. This is not casual. If I don't get at least some additional funds by mid-week, I'm in serious trouble.

Are we going to let the likes of Jill Stein outdo us? She's raised around $5 million for her recount effort. Here's a grimly amusing post about how the amount Stein claims to need keeps rising even as she raises more and more money. Now, I don't need anywhere close to $5 million. A cool million would be more than sufficient. I kid, I kid. Compared to amounts like what Stein is raising, what I need is a microscopic speck. But for me, the amount needed, while trivial in absolute terms, is critical and urgent.

I'll have more about Stein in an upcoming post. God, she is truly awful -- to be accurate, she's beyond awful, more on the order of contemptible and vile. I'll deal with that soon, among other matters. I'm tremendously happy and relieved that I'm writing again, and that it seems I can still do it. This essay was kind of like old times. Lots more coming up; my list of topics I want to cover keeps getting longer.

And just think what fun we'll have! Recounts! And a red under every bed, just like the 1950s! So says The Washington Post, and we know the Post is a serious newspaper that would never peddle "fake news." I'll soon have more on this "red scare," too. You'll need someone like me, who will give it to you straight, with four-letter words and everything.

Many thanks for reading here, and I remain tremendously grateful to all those who help keep me going. Without your support, I'd be out of this game altogether. Actually, I'd be out of all games. That would be sad and scary, and generally not nice.

Thank you again!

November 25, 2016

Thanks, Comrade!

Thank you, indeed (via The Rancid Honeytrap). I have a few comments to add to that immensely enjoyable post. Not only does it justly mock and humiliate intellectually and morally bankrupt liberals who offer ludicrous and self-contradictory arguments, but it also makes several points of critical importance.

For example, this:
Now I do want to remind you that the alleged rig was done via hacking, liberation and dissemination of actual, true information about the clownishly disingenuous, war criminal Hillary Clinton. Nobody serious is actually talking about the direct hacking by Russia of the actual voting machines, just of unjust influence via enlightenment upon the lowly scum we allow into a small, usually meaningless part of our political process.
As proof of this contention, we can turn to that reliable source of propaganda -- i.e., "fake news" -- The Washington Post. Today, the Post is touting this story: "Russian propaganda effort helped spread 'fake news' during election, experts say":
The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.
A few paragraphs on, the article states:
There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. The tactics included penetrating the computers of election officials in several states and releasing troves of hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton in the final months of her campaign.
Got that? The "hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton" were an integral part of a fake news campaign.

Any semiconscious observer knows, because we've seen this game played countless times before, that if the hacked emails had embarrassed Trump, the Post and all the whiny liberals would have leapt on them with the bloodthirsty savagery of a starving man attacking his first meal in a month. Similarly, because we are nothing if not evenhanded and just in our observations, we know that all those who were thrilled to exploit the hacked emails to make the case against Clinton -- which group was comprised primarily of conservatives and their fellow travelers -- are precisely those people who offered the most brutal criticisms of "traitorous Wikileaks" when that organization first appeared on the scene. At that point in distant history, the leaks embarrassed the Death State also known as the United States government, and they particularly embarrassed the military in connection with the U.S.'s nonstop campaign of criminal and murderous international aggression.

I assume it must be distant history since it appears that everyone, and most particularly those who mercilessly attacked Wikileaks several years ago, has failed to grasp that the views of Wikileaks have been reversed in this latest episode. We can therefore conclude with full confidence that neither the liberals nor the conservatives hold their positions vis-a-vis Wikileaks on the basis of any kind of principle. How old-fashioned and quaint such a concern would be. Can a principle fix your broken leg? No. Will a principle buy you dinner? Of course not. Will a principle help the candidate you prefer get elected? No siree.

In other words, and to speak in broad terms: liberals and conservatives frequently adopt positions primarily, and sometimes solely, for the perceived partisan advantage those positions confer. Logic, consistency and facts, along with highfalutin concepts such as justice, are discarded entirely. This is one of the basest and most contemptible results of primitive political tribalism. You can read much more about that here. With regard to the ease with which liberals and conservatives will adopt the position of the "other side" when doing so is to their momentary advantage, particularly note this statement from that post: "The basic dynamics of all tribes are the same."

I must offer a brief comment about a real howler in the second paragraph of the Post story:
Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.
No one -- and I mean no one -- did more "to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia" than Hillary Clinton herself. After the second Clinton-Trump debate, I commented to some friends that it was genuinely unnerving to witness the degree to which Clinton was jonesing for war with Russia. She conveyed her insatiable longing for military confrontation on numerous occasions throughout the campaign. She reminded me of this: "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

Reagan said that as a joke, and he didn't, you know, actually do it. But I pay Hillary Clinton the compliment of believing that she means what she says. Clinton's longstanding love affair with visiting death and destruction on helpless populations around the globe is one of the more sickening symptoms of the evil that suffuses the U.S. government at the highest levels.

In this context, Sassy's most urgent and compelling point comes in the next to last paragraph of the post:
But I just want to say this loud and clear right now. If Vladimir Putin and Russia had anything at all to do with the successful rigging — the actual hacking of the vote tallies — of the elections of this rotten, disgusting country, nothing short of tripping over a big currency war-devalued sack of rubles would make me happier. Nothing. If for once someone hit back at the United States successfully, I as an anti-imperialist must only cheer, and that’s even if it were just in a vindictive, destructive fashion. But if Putin were worried, as many were, that Clinton would go to war with Russia starting in Syria, then Russians AND AMERICANS owe a huge debt of gratitude to this great leader of men. He has not only kicked the empire in the nuts, he has potentially saved his people, and us, from a disastrous conflict. Not to mention the crossfire that would certainly be primarily borne by the tortured citizens of the Middle East.
I want to add one final point. Besides the flood of State propaganda that flows from all the major news organizations -- see my recent post for a detailed discussion of how these news organizations function as devoted adjuncts of the State -- the United States has one further card to play. In fact, the U.S. has been playing it for decades. And the U.S. doesn't hide it. To the contrary, the U.S. government proudly boasts of its actions and views its actions as entirely honorable. Because our enemies are just that bad.

I'm speaking, of course, of the Voice of America. I offer the opening of Wikipedia's entry because these particular facts are well-known and beyond dispute (numerous internal links omitted; consult the original for the sources listed in the footnotes):
Voice of America (VOA) is a United States government-funded multimedia news source and the official external broadcasting institution of the United States.[1] VOA provides programming for broadcast on radio, television, and the Internet outside of the U.S., in English and some foreign languages. The VOA charter—signed into law in 1976 by President Gerald Ford—requires VOA to "serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news" and "be accurate, objective and comprehensive."[2]

The Voice of America headquarters is located at 330 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C., 20237. The VOA is fully funded by the U.S. government; the Congress appropriates funds for it annually under the same budget for embassies and consulates.

VOA radio and television broadcasts are distributed by satellite, cable and on FM, AM, and shortwave radio frequencies. They are streamed on individual language service websites, social media sites and mobile platforms. VOA has affiliate and contract agreements with radio and television stations and cable networks worldwide.

Some scholars and commentators consider Voice of America to be a form of propaganda, although this label is disputed by others.[3][4]
With this track record -- and this is merely what is disclosed publicly and completely omits similar covert efforts (just as it omits the vital role of "news organizations" such as the Post and the NYT that carry government propaganda day after day) -- it's absolutely hilarious that, in this brouhaha, the U.S. government and a tawdry collection of cognitively impaired liberals mightily puff themselves up in phony moral outrage (now there's something that is undeniably fake). There isn't a thing about "fake news" that the U.S. government doesn't know. Not only does it spend a bloody fortune on it, but it forcibly takes the required funds from its citizens to pay for the "fake news" it disseminates. Ah, freedom! (I will not insult readers' intelligence by examining the claim that the VOA shall "serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news" and "be accurate, objective and comprehensive." I assume you no longer believe that Santa Claus will personally deliver your presents this Christmas. Finis.)

This is one of the more ridiculous controversies of the moment. Desperate times make many people remarkably stupid. At least it has its amusing aspects. So I'll add: Thanks for the laughs, Comrade.

November 20, 2016

In Search of the Axe for the Frozen Sea Within Us

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief. -- Franz Kafka, in a letter to a friend
I came across these remarks by Kafka several months ago; I don't recall seeing them before. It is a memorable passage, striking in its expressiveness and emotional power. I doubt that Kafka intended his prescription for the kind of books he prefers to be an admonition that must be scrupulously followed across the board, with no exceptions whatsoever. Not all of existence, and not all of art, need be in the nature of a hair shirt. Surely there must be a place for fun and diversion. (The other excerpt in the brief article linked above, from another Kafka letter to the same friend, indicates that Kafka enjoyed teasing the friend about matters of this kind.)

However, there is one subject where Kafka's urgent mandate should be ruthlessly adhered to, and that is politics. Politics, by definition and of necessity, concerns the exercise of power, which means the exercise of violence, wielded by those possessing power against all those without it. The powerful utilize violence in this way to maintain and increase their own power, wealth and advantage. The power, wealth and advantage of the ruling class are underwritten by and directly flow from the suffering, destruction and death of the powerless. In such circumstances, a writer who seeks, on however modest a scale, to unmask the true nature of the political enterprise must forever be in search of Kafka's axe. In certain circumstances, if and when events reach the final breaking point in a society, the dispossessed will rise up with their own, non-metaphorical axes.

In what follows, I am concerned with one particular aspect of politics in the United States at present. I was about to write that Kafka's axe is especially needed with regard to political developments in America over the last few decades. But one of the many problems in writing about American politics is that the Empire of Lies that constitutes the American experiment is founded on a monumental lie. The lie will be found in the deepest roots, in the trunk and every branch, and in the newest leaf on the youngest twig. Almost everyone tells us that even our worst problems would be solved if we only returned to the "true" values of the Constitution. The Constitution is the greatest miracle drug known to humankind, and it will cure all ills.

This is a tale for children, and a viciously cruel one. It represents the complete inversion of the truth: "The government established by the Constitution was the indispensable means by which the ruling class established its dominion over the new nation and sought to ensure the continuation of that dominion into the future....The Constitution created a government of, by and for the most wealthy and powerful Americans -- and it made certain (insofar as men can make such things certain) that their rule would never be seriously threatened."

The Empire of Lies that constitutes America infects and corrupts everything it touches. The lies are endlessly repeated by almost everyone, in every form, from TV hosts and TV shows ("entertainment" shows in addition to "news" programs), to "serious" novels, to your next door neighbor and the person you chat with over coffee at work. The lies become a torrent in political coverage. Critically analyzing the reporting and analysis offered by major news outlets becomes an exhausting task, which is one reason most people forgo it. Almost every story and article is replete with equivocations, outright lies as well as lies of omission, and a dedicated determination to avoid stating logically necessitated conclusions.

In the later stages of an increasingly despotic State, a curious aspect of these mechanisms arises. While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment the United States reached this point of deformity in its existence, there is no question that we have reached these later stages now. That we have was established beyond all doubt when the Obama administration chose to publicize the operations surrounding its Kill List. The administration fed its press release to the nation's two leading newspapers, and both The New York Times and The Washington Post published the administration's version of events. Both newspapers were happy to be of service to the State, as they continue to demonstrate every day.

The stories about the Kill List provided more than sufficient facts to reach certain conclusions. Of course, neither the Times nor the Post stated the most significant of those conclusions; in fact, they diligently avoided drawing conclusions or making judgments about what they "reported." And the stories about the Kill List, as is true of all stories offered by news organizations that are adjuncts of the State, continued to smother the reader with misrepresentations, equivocations, and lies of all kinds. Lies are a vital and necessary part of authoritarian rule. If the truth were identified fully and in plain language that could be easily understood by everyone, the revolution would begin in ten minutes. The ruling class knows this very well, so lies are the gruel we ingest every day.

But the ruling class also wants to know how secure its rule is. Hence, they will dole out certain parts of the truth at critical moments, to determine what degree of resistance might exist, if any. So it was with the stories about the Kill List. Our rulers could not have been more pleased with the result: almost no one gave a damn. Even though the stories laid out facts which necessitated certain horrifying and deeply disturbing conclusions, almost no one identified those conclusions explicitly. The newspapers, as organs of the State, would never do so. But almost no one in the audience for those stories -- which included most people in time, since coverage of the Kill List became widespread -- would draw those conclusions either. Understanding carries numerous responsibilities; nowhere is this more true than in politics. Most people don't want to be bothered. Most people are as described by Sven Lindqvist:
You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.
Trump's unexpected election victory has created a series of dilemmas for news organizations, beyond the fact that almost all of them got so much wrong. Trust in media was already declining at an alarming rate. One hardly reestablishes trust by being consistently and repeatedly in error, in an endless number of stories spread over a substantial period of time. One particular dilemma is especially vexing: what are "responsible" and "serious" news organizations to say when Trump implements policies they abhor, but Trump insists that he relies on precedents established by the Obama administration to justify those policies? What are they to say when Trump's appeal to Obama administration precedents is obviously true? My, my, vexing indeed.

The New York Times decided to tackle this problem early. It screwed up its courage, and put the problem right in its headline: "Harsher Security Tactics? Obama Left Door Ajar, and Donald Trump Is Knocking." The first paragraph reminds us of some of the security measures Trump vigorously endorsed during the campaign, such as targeting mosques for surveillance, and bringing back waterboarding and a "hell of a lot worse." The next two paragraphs lay out the Times' framework for analyzing the problem identified in its headline:
It is hard to know how much of this stark vision for throwing off constraints on the exercise of national security power was merely tough campaign talk. But if the Trump administration follows through on such ideas, it will find some assistance in a surprising source: President Obama’s have-it-both-ways approach to curbing what he saw as overreaching in the war on terrorism.

Over and over, Mr. Obama has imposed limits on his use of such powers but has not closed the door on them — a flexible approach premised on the idea that he and his successors could be trusted to use them prudently. Mr. Trump can now sweep away those limits and open the throttle on policies that Mr. Obama endorsed as lawful and legitimate for sparing use, like targeted killings in drone strikes and the use of indefinite detention and military tribunals for terrorism suspects.
Note the critical phrases: the Trump administration "will find some assistance in a surprising source"; Obama "and his successors could be trusted to use them prudently"; "policies that Mr. Obama endorsed as lawful and legitimate for sparing use." In two brief paragraphs, the article depicts Obama as "prudent," a man of wisdom and restraint who can "be trusted" to use frightening and lethal powers "sparingly." And, of course, Trump is none of those things. For the Times, we should be terrified of the man who would make greater use of these powers, but not of the man who established the legality and legitimacy of such powers in the first instance. Since it was Obama who devoted great time and effort to establishing their legality and legitimacy, why are Obama's policies "a surprising source" for Trump's exercise of such powers? It's not surprising: it's logical and predictable. For those paying close attention, the article explodes its own argument. Fortunately for the Times, not too many readers pay close attention.

Later in the article, some further details about Obama's Murder Program (the name I've given to the operations surrounding the Kill List) are offered:
Mr. Obama followed a similar course [of "leaving the options open"] with several national security practices that became controversial during his first term. After his use of drones to kill terrorism suspects away from war zones led to mounting concerns over civilian casualties and other matters, he issued a “presidential policy guidance” in May 2013 that set stricter limits. They included a requirement that the target pose a threat to Americans — not just to American interests — and that there would be near certainty of no bystander deaths.

But the Obama administration also successfully fought in court to establish that judges would not review the legality of such killing operations, even if an American citizen was the target.
I've read this article several times, and this phrase still takes my breath away: "led to mounting concerns over civilian casualties and other matters." "Other matters." Such as the fact that Obama targets "terrorism suspects," and he therefore is murdering people who may be entirely innocent? Such as the fact that Obama thus asserts a claim to absolute power? There is no power greater than that over life and death. Perhaps these "other matters" include some of these issues:
With the adoption of the Murder Program, a program which the Obama administration seeks to make permanent policy for the United States going into the future, the Obama administration has chosen as the fundamental policy of its governing philosophy the principle of mass murder. I'll say that again: the Obama administration has adopted the principle of mass murder as the fundamental foundation for its governing philosophy. The Obama administration has taken great pains to publicize this principle in the nation's leading newspapers. Almost no one gives a damn.

The Obama administration claims it has the "right" to murder anyone in the world, any time it wishes, for any reason it chooses or invents, and that it need never tell anyone about its actions or the reasoning behind them. The Obama administration claims absolute power, the power of life and death itself. If the Obama administration has the "right" to murder anyone at all, even someone who is entirely innocent of any crime whatsoever, then it has the "right" to murder 20 or 50 people in the same manner. It has already done that. This also means that the Obama administration claims the "right" to murder hundreds of people in this way, or thousands, or even millions of innocent human beings.

But, some will object, they would never do that! They're only targeting people who have harmed or seek to harm the United States and its citizens. But those who wield absolute power always offer such arguments; that is how they make the claim of absolute power "acceptable" to their docile subjects. And the alleged justification is patently not true: they have murdered innocent human beings, and their methodology makes certain they will continue to murder innocent human beings. This monumental fact is no deterrence to their commitment to the Murder Program. They view it as simply a problem of public relations. Thus far, it is not a problem they need be concerned about. As I said: they have adopted the principle of mass murder, they have repeatedly announced this fact publicly -- and almost no one gives a damn.
You can appreciate how difficult the truth would make the Times' unceasing efforts to portray Obama as a "prudent," restrained and wise leader, one who can be trusted with all-encompassing power. If the nature and full meaning of Obama's policies are made explicit and if they are genuinely understood, we must conclude that Obama is a monster. When Trump uses the same powers -- and we can be certain he will -- he will be a monster, too. But he won't be the first one. (Although it should be obvious, given the deluge of lies and half-truths on this subject, I feel compelled to note briefly the following. The Times mentions the "stricter limits" that Obama placed on his Murder Program: "that the target pose a threat to Americans -- not just to American interests -- and that there would be near certainty of no bystander deaths." All such "limits" can be manipulated or lied about as required. History, including the history of the drone killing program itself, also tells us that such "limits" will be disregarded when those in charge have what they view as a reason for doing so. Moreover, we will never know whether such limits are observed, since the operations of the Murder Program remain shrouded in secrecy. In short, such "limits," especially in the context of a claim of absolute power, are utterly meaningless.)

The passage from my earlier essay underscores another way in which the Times article whitewashes Obama and his record. While the article makes the point that Obama fought against any legal finding that the policies in question are illegal, a battle which he won, the author works very hard to leave the impression that all would have been well, if only all future presidents were as "prudent" and "restrained" as Obama. With Trump's election, these calculations are invalidated. In this view, Trump is the problem, not Obama. This narrative ignores completely the extent to which Obama devoted himself to making certain that these policies would become a permanent part of State power going forward. For example, from a Washington Post article:
Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it. ...

For an administration that is the first to embrace targeted killing on a wide scale, officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.
Another example, discussing a NYT article (!) published shortly after the 2012 election:
We are told that the Obama administration "accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials." The story repeats several times how urgent and gravely serious the administration considered this particular problem to be.
I offered a translation of this effort "to develop explicit rules" for murder, which has become quite amusing in the wake of Trump's election. Please keep in mind that, as noted above, the methodology utilized for the Murder Program makes certain that innocent people are killed:
Oh, my God! We have to have rules telling everyone exactly how to kill people. If we don't, they're going to go nuts and murder lots of completely innocent human beings! Everyone isn't good and pure the way we are, especially those maniacal Republicans and that monster Romney Trump, so we have to spell out exactly how to do the killing.
"Amusing" may not be precisely the right word. The stark, terrible fact is that Obama worked tirelessly to ensure that these powers, including the absolute power of life and death, would become part of standard operating procedure for future administrations. Obama didn't leave all his "options" open by mistake, just as he didn't fight against any finding of illegality with regard to a number of policies through some oversight or misunderstanding. All of it was deliberate and methodical. Obama wanted to make sure future presidents had these powers -- and he wanted to make damn sure he had all these powers himself. Even though the Times article omits some key history, it still contains sufficient facts to draw this conclusion, among others. Such a conclusion would undercut the portrayal of Obama, the prudent and wise ruler -- so it must remain unidentified. The strongest criticism of Obama offered in the article, and the only criticism that goes to this particular point, comes in the very last paragraph. It's a statement by Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU:
“Obama’s failure to rein in George Bush’s national security policies hands Donald Trump a fully loaded weapon,” Mr. Romero said. “The president’s failure to understand that these powers could not be entrusted in the hands of any president, not even his, have now put us in a position where they are in the hands of Donald Trump.”
"Not even his." Thus, the crucial point, and the issue that might have been the focus of the article (admittedly, a very different article, and not one you would ever find in the Times), finally makes an appearance, but only in three words, only in the very last paragraph. Most people probably never even read that far; those who did might easily miss the import of those three words.

Mention of the ACLU reminds me of a further point I want to make about the Times piece. The article states:
The two areas where Mr. Obama broke most cleanly with Bush-era practices were torture and the indefinite military detention of Americans and other terrorism suspects arrested on domestic soil. Mr. Obama issued an executive order requiring interrogators to use only techniques approved in the Army Field Manual, and he later signed a bill codifying that rule into statute.
Although the author doesn't state it in this fashion, he unmistakably implies that Obama "ended torture" by limiting interrogation techniques to those "approved in the Army Field Manual." Virtually everyone believes that Obama "ended torture." They're all wrong. It's a bloody, goddamned lie. I've been arguing this point for years, but the belief that Obama "ended torture" has become part of the holy writ of American mythology. I consider it a lost cause, but I will continue to maintain that anyone who makes such a claim is a bloody, goddamned liar, or woefully ignorant. For the record: "How the U.S. Army Field Manual Codified Torture -- and Still Does." See also: "Torture Never Stopped Under Obama." The second part of this essay discusses how the ACLU propagated this lie. Here's the text of an ad the ACLU ran in late January 2009:
You ended torture & will close Gitmo.

We are restoring America together!

Let's thank Obama for these bold first steps! Send him thanks!
Ah, "restoring America together." That's what Trump has promised, too ("Make America Great Again," etc.). When everyone offers the same promise, you can be certain of this much, at a minimum: the promise doesn't mean a damned thing.

The Times article is an excellent (which is to say, awful) example of propaganda in our time. The overall effect is to whitewash Obama and his record and, perhaps of even greater moment, to whitewash the American project itself. But the article is critical of Obama! Yes, but only at the margins, and not with regard to the most crucial issues, which remain unnamed and unidentified. If we could only be guaranteed of having prudent, restrained and wise presidents in the future, everything would be fine. America would be fine! But now we have to contend with a maniac like Trump. But Trump isn't the problem; that is, he may and probably will be a problem, but in connection with these specific issues, the problem lies with the policies that Obama has deliberately and with great care cemented into the foundation of the State.

So, be careful out there. Remember: when considering any issue concerning politics, always carry Kafka's axe with you. We desperately require a multitude of such axes. Despite the claims of global warming, it may be that a new Ice Age will come upon us, and the frozen sea will overtake us all.

November 12, 2016

And the Award for Schmuckiest Schmuck Goes to ... Ethan Coen!

I've never been a big fan of the Coen brothers. I've enjoyed some of their films (although I enjoyed "Hail, Caesar!" far less than I expected to ... meh, despite a few bright spots), but none of their films is among my favorites. I don't think I've ever watched a film of theirs a second time; I don't like them enough. Wait, I'm wrong. I did watch "The Big Lebowski" again a year or two ago. I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about (at least in certain quarters). I concluded that all the fuss is largely undeserved, but, hey, it's a free country. Ha ha. Ha.

But I'm sure there are some big Coen brothers fans among my readers. So I strongly advise you not to read this remarkably heavy-handed, not very clever op-ed. This one, right here. Don't read it if you enjoy the Coens' films a lot. This one. I'd avoid it.

I have too many objections to this piece of drivel to catalogue them all. So I'll merely point out that it's fairly amazing to see so many standard, bromidic, dishonest, unthinking liberal talking points crammed into such a short article. Impressive, Ethan! Another big problem -- also a problem in all of their films that I've seen -- is the air of smug self-congratulation. Not only are they the most moral and bravest people in the room -- they're also the cleverest!

Oscar Wilde famously said, when asked by a customs official if he had anything to declare, "I have nothing to declare except my genius." If you make such statements, you had better be a goddamned genius. Wilde could get away with it, and easily; the remark is delightful, clever, and true. The Coen brothers, and Ethan in particular in this piece, makes love to himself for qualities he has yet to attain. At this rate, those qualities will forever elude him. (I regret to note that it appears likely that Wilde never made this comment. Pity.)

Given the impenetrably thick air of moral self-love that suffocates any and all attempts at cleverness in this piece, Coen's first two points are perhaps the most objectionable. He mocks all those who voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson for their feelings of "moral superiority" and "warm self-approval," feelings which he knows -- he just knows, don't ask him how -- are far more important to them than what he considers to be the disastrous political consequences of their choice. It is apparently impossible in Coen's world for anyone to hold political views in a principled and serious manner when those views differ from his. Coen's sneering condescension toward those who dare to disagree with him is utterly sickening.

As for his defense of Hillary Clinton ... well. To admire one's own moral rectitude and courage when one supports a murderer and war criminal, a person who has worked tirelessly to advance the entire program of the ruling class, including the neverending destruction of those abroad and at home who are disfavored and of no value to the monsters who rule us -- what can one say? Also impressive, Ethan!

Oh, yeah, and Clinton is also a vicious racist. I mentioned that in my post yesterday, and Tarzie has a post today that effectively amplifies the point.

Cuddle up with your Schmuck Award, Ethan. You can put it where your soul and mind ought to be. (Line adapted from "All About Eve," for those who might wonder.)

November 11, 2016

Calm Down, for Christ's Sake

So we live in a country (and a world, for that matter) populated by a horrifyingly high proportion of hysterics. If you're one of the many, many people having nervous breakdowns of various kinds and of varying intensity: get a grip. And people accuse me of being a drama queen.

It's bad enough that scads of not terribly bright individuals now display screeching hysteria in the wake of Trump's election. What is worse is that so many of these hysterics proudly flaunt their hysteria: they appear to think it signifies how sensitive they are, how much they care (about racism, misogyny, the climate, the possibility of war, etc. and so forth and so on), how deeply they wish to steer the United States away from disasters that have overtaken other states in the past.

But their hysteria doesn't reveal or confirm any of that. To the contrary, it reveals a deep failure of understanding, beginning with a grasp of the nature of the authoritarian-militarist-corporatist system that now dominates and consumes our lives. Here are a few clues, which I urge you to consider carefully. These examples are, as they say, ripped from the headlines within the last few minutes.

First, Vice President-Elect Pence will now lead the transition, replacing Chris Christie in that role:
The president-elect told advisers he wanted to tap Mr. Pence’s Washington experience and contacts to help move the process along, according to people familiar with the discussions. An executive committee, which will include members of Congress, will advise Mr. Pence as the process moves forward.

Mr. Christie, along with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who has been a top campaign supporter, will serve as vice chairs of the transition, the sources said.
The funniest bit in that story is this:
The latest name to be swept into the speculation maelstrom is Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase. He is said to be a candidate for secretary of the Treasury, according to a report by CNBC, although the banker — who was close to President Obama — has repeatedly denied being interested in the job.
The story goes on to point out several reasons why it may not be Dimon, and it might well be someone else. But I guarantee you this: Trump is not going to pick a Treasury Secretary who is determined to put scads of Wall Street criminals in jail, or even one of them. And he will most likely pick someone who, like Dimon, is intimately familiar with and closely connected to the existing financial regime.

And then there's this: Team Trump is already filled with Washington insiders:
To shape his administration, President-elect Donald Trump is drawing squarely from the "swamp" he has pledged to drain.

Trump's transition team is staffed with long-time Washington experts and lobbyists from K Street, think tanks and political offices.
You can read the rest if you want the bloody details.

So what about all of Trump's talk about "draining the swamp"? Well, he is draining the swamp -- directly into his own office.

All of this was entirely predictable. The system that is killing us -- and if it's not killing you, or at least hurting you a lot, you're probably reading the wrong blog -- has a life of its own, and it places enormous constraints on anyone who becomes even, yes, President. It is indisputably true that Trump is a disgusting, vile human being. It is also true that his election gives tremendous support to certain very ugly strains in our country. But the terrible reasons for which certain people voted for Trump are not the only reasons that other people voted for him.

It may be the case that Trump implements some of his campaign promises about immigration, for example. That would also be disgusting and vile -- but I implore you to remember that our entire national discussion about immigration is disgusting and vile. How could it be otherwise in a nation which is fundamentally racist, and which has its origin in racial genocide? Tragically, that article about immigration and racism is as timely today as it was nine years ago; not so coincidentally, Ann Coulter had a starring role in that long ago post -- and Coulter, of course, has been one of Trump's biggest boosters from the very beginning. Whenever racism seeks to extend its deadly reach, Coulter is sure to be nearby, cheering and whooping for further persecution and destruction to be visited upon those people.

And honestly, people, Hillary Clinton has a vicious racist streak herself, and the same is true of many (most) of those in the ruling class. And if the election had gone the other way, what ugly strains would Clinton's election have served to strengthen and endorse? It is almost certain that a Clinton presidency would have led to military confrontation with Russia at some point. We might actually be safer with Trump on that score. Which is not to say he won't get us into some viciously stupid war of "choice," even though he has promised not to; again, the constraints of the system might well lead him inexorably into conflict. And I seriously doubt he would mind all that much, if at all, since he could demonstrate how manly and strong he is. I also remind you that anyone who wants to be president is deeply and irreparably damaged psychologically. We might say that all such people are deranged. I do not use "deranged" as hyperbole, but in the strict clinical sense.

I have a confession. I had accepted the conventional wisdom that Clinton would win, and shame on me for that. On election night, about 11 PM, when it began to become clear that Trump might win, I felt a small sense of relief. Not that I was or am at all happy that Trump has been elected. I didn't vote at all, since I am Against Voting in a system such as ours, and my strong preference is that the national government dissolve in a fine mist. But I found the prospect of a Clinton presidency unutterably depressing. I didn't know how I would withstand four years of it, let alone the possibility of eight, God help us. And when Trump actually won, I thought: "Well, at least it might be a little more interesting, and perhaps it will offer some unexpected developments in some ways." As indicated above, I think the likelihood for genuine surprise is severely delimited and, if there were to be a genuine surprise, it would probably be an awful one. But Clinton ... years of gray, lightless, airless drudgery, slowly grinding us into the dirt. At least, Trump holds out the promise of not being entirely boring and predictable. Given the nauseating spectacle of our national politics, I admit that that is not nothing to me. Hate me for it if you want to, but there it is.

I'm working on a longer piece about all of this, which I hope to complete in the next few days. But I wanted to get a few initial thoughts down, and I mainly wanted to urge everyone to calm the fuck down. Have a drink. Some some pot. We can do that legally in California now! It's pathetic that change on an issue of that kind should be viewed as a great advance of enlightenment, when it's obvious to a bright six-year-old that such matters are none of the government's goddamned business.

So, much more to come on all this.

(I have a number of posts in the works. I've been slowed down by yet another heat wave, which still continues today. It's been in the nineties most of this week. And then my rotten health, and a few other issues that have distracted me mightily. But I'm writing again now. New posts should be coming fairly regularly at this point. Some will be long; some may be very short. I also happen to be almost completely broke at the moment. Seriously: I'm down to my last hundred dollars. No money for some bills that have to be paid, no money for food when what I have runs out in several days, no money for anything at all. If you have some extra money sloshing around, Sasha and I would be hugely grateful to be its recipients. Yes, Sasha is fine, and wonderful, and sweet beyond description. If any claim to sanity remains to me -- I'll let you be the judge -- Sasha is the reason.)

October 17, 2016

Golly Gee, Thank You, Mr. Snowden!

Snark about the non-disruptiveness of Edward Snowden's non-leak is far too easy at this date. Even to call the non-leak "non-disruptive" fails to capture the putrid core of what has transpired in the last few years: Snowden's non-leak has enhanced and bolstered the existing Security State, which has steadily grown in pervasiveness and reach ever since Snowden first broke into the headlines. As a result, snark on this subject ought to be beneath me. Sadly, and predictably unsurprisingly, it is not. But I have never claimed to be a person of noble character, always ready to extend a helping hand (and, of course, offer a shoulder to lean on) to those who may have erred. As I calculate the benefit or damage caused by a person's actions, certain damages which flow from their choices deserve searing condemnation. To strengthen the already existing Death State and, ultimately, to legitimize it, while simultaneously convincing an audience willing to be deluded yet again that Snowden's non-leak has improved our circumstances ... well.

Those individuals who played critical roles in this charade are lucky to get off with snark. They deserve far worse. On a closely related matter: I continue to be appalled by the number of "dissenters" who still sing the praises of Snowden and his clown posse. I suggest that all such "dissenters" give up their wan attempt at personal bravery, and immediately go to work for the State itself, perhaps in some defense or "intelligence" capacity. It's steady, easy work, and God knows it's a growth industry. I'm sure any feelings of dissonance they might experience -- but in my usual way, I'm probably being too generous in assuming they would feel any dissonance whatever -- would vanish after five or ten minutes. No doubt enjoying a coffee break and swapping jokes and gossip with murderers (or, at minimum, accomplices to murder) and spooks will make them feel cozily at home.

While I firmly push aside any claim of courage or nobility in connection with my political commentary, there are other terms that I hope do apply to me. Here's how I described the issue four years ago:
If you're a person who writes or speaks regularly about politics at this particular moment in the lamentable history of the lamentable United States, and if you are not "mad, bad and dangerous to know," you aren't worth shit. All you are is another prop holding up a constantly expanding, ever worsening system of colossal brutality, oppression, dehumanization and murder.
I reread that article this morning, for the first time in a long time. One quality struck me more than any other: if anything, the major arguments are more true today than they were in 2012. I had the same thought recently about one of my personal favorites among my essays: The Tale that Might Be Told. If ever there was an election for which that fable might have been written, the nauseating spectacle that currently engulfs us is it. I am arrogant enough to note that commentary which becomes more accurate and more relevant with the passage of time is ... well, not bad.

Let us return to the snark we wish to visit upon the radiant Mr. Snowden. How ever can we thank him properly for sharing with us -- but only in bits and pieces, strung out over an extended period of time, carefully selected and redacted by equally radiant and responsible journalists -- information that the State would prefer we not possess? In fact, we now cannot say even that much: one of the lessons of the Snowden charade is that leaks of this kind, which become non-leaks directly as the result of their method of publication, are no threat to the State. Their worst effect might be to cause some temporary, minor discomfort to a few individuals. More significantly, the State is not deterred in the slightest degree from pursuing its chosen goals.

Snowden's focus was surveillance. Here are two examples of recent articles describing where we are with regard to surveillance, post-Snowden. You have probably seen a fair number of similar articles. First, from "No Matter Who's Elected, Surveillance Powers and Programs Unlikely to be Scaled Back":
After the attack in Orlando, Clinton joined Trump in calling for expanded watchlists and denial of Constitutional rights to those placed on them. She has occasionally hinted at vague surveillance reform, but has also made it clear Snowden should hop on the next plane home and spend some time in prison. She has also suggested tech companies partner with the government to create backdoors in encryption -- but in an imaginary "safe" way that won't threaten their customers' security. And she's made it clear that deploying the military is a perfectly acceptable response to state-led cyberattacks.

Either way the election goes, the surveillance business will remain as usual. This is troubling, due to the fact that Section 702 -- which authorizes the NSA's internet backbone-based surveillance dragnet PRISM -- is up for renewal at the end of next year. With recent revelations about Yahoo's very proactive surveillance assistance generating some interesting questions about what the NSA can or can't do under this authority, it would be nice to have someone in the White House that would amplify these concerns, rather than help drown them out.
For more about the Yahoo revelations and their implications, you can take a look at this: "Say 'Hi' to the NSA in Your Next Email":
[I]n early October, Reuters reported that Yahoo secretly allowed a massive government surveillance program to scan all incoming emails to Yahoo accounts. The custom software program was reportedly built by Yahoo at the behest of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI, at the direction of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge. ...

[T]he hacking of Yahoo-user account data is small compared to recent revelations about the company cooperating with government surveillance. It's unclear what exactly the NSA and FBI were looking for, but sources told The New York Times that some Yahoo tools to scan emails for spam and child-pornography had been modified to scan for email signatures linked to a state-sponsored terrorist groups. ...

This represents a novel public-private surveillance partnership. Tech companies have collaborated with government snooping in the past, of course, when required by law. But this has typically been limited to the searching of stored communications or the targeting of a limited number of accounts for detailed scanning. In this situation, Yahoo allegedly allowed software to scan the contents of all emails sent to Yahoo accounts in real time, including those sent from within the United States.

Intelligence agencies are subject to relatively stricter limitations when undertaking surveillance that affects what's called a "U.S. person." Some NSA watchers believe that reports that this program was a "directive" suggests that this program may have been authorized under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which is not supposed to intentionally target communications of U.S. persons.
Anyone who is at all surprised by any of this has not been paying attention for at least the last ten years; if they have been paying attention, they didn't know how to think about the information they learned. (Several friends of mine can tell you that I've "been saying 'hi' to the NSA," and to various agencies and individuals in government, for more than ten years. I concluded long ago that anything and everything I do on the internet is there for the State's perusal, if they're interested.) And given developments of the last decade (and longer), we can be certain of one further fact: if we have now learned these specifics, the truth -- or a version that is closer to the truth -- is much worse, more pervasive, and broader in scope.

So what exactly are we supposed to thank Snowden for? As individuals who value privacy and liberty -- including the right to be left alone -- there is nothing whatsoever for which to thank him. The State, on the other hand, has a great deal for which to be grateful. I described the issue as follows, in a post from almost three years ago, God help me:
Consider the enormous value of the hugely restricted publication of the Snowden documents to the various States involved. Rusbridger, Greenwald, et al. all trumpet the great triumph represented by the "debate" publication has engendered -- the clamor of public voices demands "reform," so committees will be formed, investigations will be undertaken, and when the dust has settled, life for the States involved will go on almost exactly as before (remember: if the NSA were disbanded today, identical surveillance would continue via other agencies and institutions of power) -- and the States will be able to claim that the public knows the "truth," and their activities now have the full blessing of informed public consent.
Gee, it's almost as if someone planned it that way. Thanks, Ed.

Snowden's clown posse of "journalists" have certainly raked in lots of awards (to say nothing of cold cash) because of the non-leak. But I think Ed himself deserves recognition of a different kind. Some people are clamoring for a Snowden pardon before Obama leaves office. That's a non-starter: appearances must be maintained. But if we were to dispense with the concern for appearances, perhaps Obama could properly reward Snowden's invaluable service to the State -- and give him a fucking Medal of Honor.