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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

No Confidence!

The big losers in the recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist confidence polling (January 08-10-2018) are Congress, the two parties, and the media. Based on the poll, most people in the US have “not very much” or “no confidence” in the legislative body, corporate news and entertainment, or the Democratic or Republican parties. In fact, over two-thirds of those surveyed lack confidence in the media and nearly three-fourths show little or no confidence in Congress!

In light of these numbers, one can only wonder when the pitchforks are coming out. Clearly, dissatisfaction with major US institutions extends very broadly. Yet these results are not new. Nearly a decade ago, a similar Gallup poll showed that only 11% of respondents had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in 2014 showed that both parties earned a decidedly more negative than a positive image. That same poll put the approval rate for Congress at 12%.

Those pundits and political operatives who discount the depth of dissatisfaction and disregard the festering anger in the US are doomed to misread the meaning of past and most-recent elections. The mainstream media mock Trump’s “fake news” charges while blithely ignoring the negative sentiments of the population toward the news industry. Don’t media elites see that “lack of confidence” is, in fact, a scathing indictment of their own collective performance in delivering the truth?

Failure to recognize the widespread disdain for core US political institutions hinders the understanding that Trumpism is not merely a malignant political alternative, but the consequence of a long history of malignant political alternatives; Trump isn't the cause of the problem, he's the result of the problem. As much as Trump disgusts with his vulgarity, he openly expresses thoughts shared by other powerful people who voice them only behind the walls of their mansions or private clubs. As much as Trump attacks the living standards of working people and degrades their safety net, he stands at the end of a relentless, unrelieved half-century of assault on the gains won in the New Deal era. As much as Trump has embraced belligerence and aggression in his foreign policy, he has only belatedly and somewhat reluctantly fallen in line with the imperialist agenda crafted and executed by his predecessors in the post-Soviet era.

He has Defense Secretary ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis to remind him of the agenda. The Wall Street Journal tells us (January 19, 2018) that Trump recently proposed to call off joint ROK/US military exercises as a pacifying gesture to Kim Jung Un. Mattis stepped in and purportedly flattered him with “Your instincts are absolutely correct,” while cajoling him into betraying those same instincts and going forward with the exercises. Incredibly, Mattis is the figure that many liberals cite as the restraining force in the Trump White House.

Making America Great Again” is the mark of an empire facing increasingly effective threats from imperialist rivals as well as anti-imperialist resistance. While the dream of a Pax Americana imposed on the world is now discredited, Trumpism clings to the illusion that robust, blustery nationalism is the answer to an increasingly fruitless globalism.

Last year, in his lengthy, candid valedictory interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic magazine, one will find many hints of Obama’s lost confidence in the aggressive reordering of the world that he inherited and that was represented in his administration by Clinton, Rice, Power, and Rhodes. Mattis and General Kelly play that same role of sabre-rattlers and war-instigators in the Trump administration despite the popular caricature of them as wise counsel to a wild man.

With Trump, the missionary mask, so long a feature of US imperialism, is cast off. The “humanitarian, human rights” pose used so skillfully by Clinton and Obama’s war makers is of little interest to Trump and his consort. Any renegade thoughts Trump may have of exercising his self-proclaimed “deal” skills or imagined “charm” in negotiating with rivals are quickly squashed by the two pillars of militarism (Mattis and Kelly) within the Trump administration.

In better times, one could count on a sizeable segment of activist liberals to stand with the anti-imperialist left against US militarism and aggression. But, today, they have been mesmerized by a phantasmagoric anti-Russia campaign framed to distract attention away from real issues and the chronically flawed democratic process.

Apart from the demonstrated thinness of liberal principles, the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll explains exactly why RussiaGate could gain traction despite a lack of evidence. Behind the hysteria are two institutions that retain a great deal of misplaced confidence with the public: the FBI and the military. And behind that confidence is a glorifying and romanticizing of the two in popular culture, especially since the onset of the Mission Impossible-like War on Terror. Network and cable television feature drama of attractive, upright, and diligent FBI agents standing between the US public and chaos, night after night. Similarly, the military enjoys a heroic stature nourished by the media, the entertainment industry, and the chicken-hawk elites whose children never see the enlistment office.

Glenn Greenwald clarifies the self-deception lurking behind this cult of self-righteousness, while speaking in Santa Fe recently: “Every time Trump says or does something that is xenophobic, or bigoted, or militaristic, or threatening, people always say, ‘This is not what America is about,’... I always react to that by saying, ‘It’s not?’”

The RussiaGate mania is now runaway paranoia, perfectly suited to turn the populace from its real problems. Democratic Party operatives have crossed over to insanity, detecting Russia behind the announced candidacy of Chelsea Manning for US Senate. Neera Tanden, prominent head of the Center for American Progress, smelled a Kremlin plot behind Manning running against a corporate Democratic Senator. It may be a long wait for the soft left and the identity Democrats to render support to the heroic Manning. But then they wouldn’t comprehend the real heroism of serving jail time for exposing US war atrocities.

Emboldened by its success in fabricating RussiaGate from nothing, the FBI has turned its scrutiny on the People's Republic of China. Our intrepid spy hunters are casting their vigilance on Rupert Murdoch’s ex-trophy wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch, a prominent DC socialite. According to “sources” friendly to The Wall Street Journal, Ms Murdoch lobbied for a Chinese garden funded by the PRC at the National Arboretum. The FBI explained that the Arboretum was less than 5 miles from the White House and the Capitol. And, if that were not enough, the plan included a 70-foot tower that the FBI feared might be used for surveillance!

As if the Chinese could not rent a room in a six- or seven-story building in downtown DC to further their nefarious plot without spending $100 million on a Chinese garden.

So, we have a prominent figure who might have lobbied for a project that might have served PRC intelligence purposes by constructing a 70-foot tower that might have a surveillance purpose. But this twisted conspiracy tale goes further-- Ms Murdoch socialized with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner! The FBI has a picture of them together! Of course, that is the point of this inane exercise: meddling in US politics. Let’s see if deranged liberals buy this, too.

And we have the NBC story that reports that a CIA agent who retired in 2007 has been arrested for collaborating with the PRC. But there is a hitch: “U.S. officials told NBC News they don't believe Lee ever will be charged as a spy, in part because they don't have all the proof they might need, and in part because they would not want to air the evidence they do have in a public courtroom.” A careful read of the NBC article might lead one to believe that the CIA is embarrassed because their PRC counterparts broke the secret communication system that the CIA used to communicate with their covert agents. One might further surmise that Jerry Chun Shing Lee is the patsy for this failure. But the uncritical, trusting media report the damaging charge even though sources admit that “...they don't have all the proof they might need…” A fine example of a responsible press in the age of Trump!

As the US empire undergoes further and further stress, more and more dysfunction, the search for scapegoats and distractions will only intensify, and the barbarism of apocalyptical conflict will grow even more probable.

It is not enough to take a small step or two back from the brink, as liberals and the compromised left would like. Delivering a world two steps from catastrophe is a feckless award to future generations.

An angry, disappointed public that has lost confidence in its institutions is searching for a new, more promising road forward. Isn’t it the time to bring the promise of democracy and social justice embedded in socialism before the US public?

Greg Godels

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Looking Back

The year 2017 was not entirely a bad one in the US. We learned that, despite the fact that we have no serious, mass party for socialism, millions of US citizens have a favorable, positive view of socialism. Actually, we first learned that fact from a Gallup poll in mid-2016. To the surprise of many and the alarm of others, Gallup found that over half of 18-29 year olds had a favorable view of socialism. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll discovered a year later that over half of every age group thought that “To help people, government should do more.” This result is perhaps an even more significant finding since it provides some meaning to what people want when they endorse socialism, as well as what they want even with their fear of the word “socialism.” In that poll, nearly two-thirds of 18-29 year olds agreed with the statement.

The fact that interest in “socialism” is growing dramatically though there is no mass socialist or communist party is a paradoxical reflection on US political life (though not only that of the US). Part of the reason for this paradox, of course, is the enormous effort that US elites, corporations, academic institutions, security services, media, and politicians have made to intensely demonize all but the most benign expressions of socialist thought and organization.

But much blame must be shared by our own left, which has been shattered into a thousand sects, cults, and tendencies and cowed into submission from fear of red-baiting. The Cold War anti-Communist mentality remains deeply embedded in the generations that preceded the more open-minded millennials. Anything-but-Communism (ABC) constitutes an attitude that promotes “respectable” socialisms like utopian cooperatives, socialism through the backdoor of the Democratic Party, trickle-down socialism, armchair academic socialism, socialism of the soul, and a host of socialisms that dissolve into tepid reformism or socialism over the horizon. No wonder the ruling class sleeps well at night.

Death to the NFL!

Another change that came into sharp relief in 2017 was the persistent loss of fan support for professional football. In 2016, TV viewership dropped by 8%. And last year, TV numbers dropped another 9.7%, a precipitous two-year decline!

Given that professional football represents almost everything that is wrong with the US and combines all of the elements, from other sports, that are socially harmful, I would like to think that the NFL decline is inversely proportional to the growth of interest in socialism.

The NFL transmits violence and bullying to our youth. It celebrates the victory of power over weakness, without any respect for compassion, pity, fair play, or empathy. The business-posing-as-a-sport pillages municipal and regional coffers for stadia and amenities while paying little or no taxes. The teams glorify militarism and the cult of the hero. The owners are super wealthy, including a nasty group of right-wing racists. And Black gladiators risk limb and life to fill the owners’ coffers.

It’s no wonder that no other country shows a serious interest in an NFL franchise.

Of course, we must credit the disgusting blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick for some of the decline in interest.

Let’s hope that a similar disconnect from Dr. Phil, celebrity-worship, British royalty, and zombies will bring further interest in socialism in 2018.

2017 was not Pro-Life

For the first time since the early 1960s (before Medicare and Medicaid), life expectancy in the US dropped for two consecutive years. The head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention attributes the drop to the increase in opioid use, a phenomenon that correlates pretty closely with desperation, poverty, and alienation.

A year ago, when The New York Times reported the 2016 decrease, its sources were puzzled. Yes, they saw the increase in deaths from opioid abuse, but eight out of the top ten causes of death were also up, as was the infant mortality rate. The Times discovered a more revealing datum, a finding that cut to the heart of the matter: a Brookings Institute study found that a man in the lowest 10% of incomes born in 1950 will live fourteen years less than his counterpart with earnings in the top 10%.


Clearly, the Obama jewel, the ACA, has done less than nothing to address this great cause of premature death.

And yet the chief battle of 2017 was a semi-successful struggle waged by the leaders of Labor, the Democratic Party, and a host of “progressive” organizations to save this bloated, corporate-friendly, drug company-sponsored, bureaucratically bewildering sham of a healthcare program.

How far we have fallen!

Deplore the Deplorables

Certainly 2017, like the run-up to the 2016 election, was the climax of willful blindness to the plight of vast numbers of the working class and the working poor in the small towns and cities outside of the major metropolises. Hillary Clinton famously stubbed her presumptive Presidential toe on this neglect when she characterized the group as “deplorables.” For petty bourgeois liberals, a best-selling book gave sustenance to their elitist contempt for the decimated working class in the US heartland. Venture capitalist J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir of his early years, hit the top of The New York Times best-seller list in both 2016 and 2017. Vance, telling a modern-day Horatio Alger story, titillated the burghers with his tales of abuse, failed character, and backwardness. Vance paints the deplorables as, indeed, deplorable.

A Fordham University professor published a scholarly rejoinder to Hillbilly Elegy at the end of 2017. Based on extensive research and historical backgrounding, Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia tells a story of capitalist exploitation, neglect, and political chicanery that refutes the blame-the-victim anecdotes of Vance. Author Steven Stoll offers context and nuance, compassion and respect, where Vance projects arrogant contempt. Given its unlikely appeal to jaded liberals, Ramp Hollow will likely not make the best-sellers list.

...the First Time as Tragedy, the Second Time as Farce

It is impossible to leave 2017 without reflecting on the new Red-less “Red Scare.” The old Red scare was a mid-century ruling class reign of terror in response to the Soviet victory over fascism and its painfully won respect with the world’s millions. The perceived threat of socialism ascendant brought a hysterical panic in the bastions of capitalism. A tragic, ruthless clampdown followed.

The farcical RussiaGate of 2017 reignites the old Russia fears, but this time against a capitalist rival. The perpetrators of this giant scam count on the public’s faulty memory and mass confusion of a Cold War adversary with the current government of Russia. To any disinterested follower of recent Russian history, Russia looks like a junior version of the US, with similar great power aspirations, hopes of imperial penetration of new markets, and rampant militarism. History teaches, for those not contemptuous of history, that these tendencies are features of every developed capitalist state. Similarly, Russian “democracy” more and more resembles its US counterpart which is dominated by wealthy, powerful elites and sustained by a gutless, fawning media.

We can, however, rejoice that Russian interests often conflict with the most belligerent, arrogant policies of US elites (Syria, for example) in ways that neutralize or forestall US aggression. But only a fool would mistake checking the US internationally with embodying the cause of anti-imperialism.

But vilifying Russia is useful. For US ruling elites, portraying Russia as an enemy prepares the public for confrontations to come. Much as the Maine debacle of 1898 set the stage in the US for a war for Spain’s colonies, the endless tales of Russian intrigue and mischief justify the saber-rattling and aggressive sanctions that follow.

The Democratic Party and the media eagerly join this project for their own purposes. RussiaGate has revitalized cable news and breathed life back into the print media and the news services. Sensationalized stories and fear-mongering are the stock-in-trade of the modern entertainment-oriented monopoly media.

Of course, RussiaGate is tailor-made for a political party suffering huge electoral setbacks despite overwhelming resources, especially if it can link its loss to external factors like Russian interference. The Democrats-- ideologically hollow-- have pulled every trick to link Russia to the sitting Republican President, Donald Trump. Unwilling to project a peoples’ program, the Democrats intend to win the 2018 interim elections by simply attacking Trump and his vaporous Russia connections. For the Democrats, Trump’s propensity towards arrogance, outrageousness, and lies is the gift that keeps on giving. They plan to run on Trump and Trump alone, nothing substantial.  

While most people find their living standards stagnant or sinking, and while climate change, rising inequality, racism, and foreign killing go ignored in the corporate media, the RussiaGate theatrics dominate the news.

RussiaGate does serve as a reminder of the thinness of liberal commitment to ‘liberal’ values. In the Red Scare era, liberal devotion to the Bill of Rights collapsed like a house of cards in the face of the McCarthyite onslaught. Today, liberals are leading the charge in an assault on fair play, due process, and the rules of evidence. Innuendo, anonymous sources, and hearsay form the tissue that supports the daily Russia insanity. And the glorification of the odious-- the FBI, CIA, and NSA-- is shameless.

The fact that the celebrated Mueller investigation has produced nothing substantial beyond an obvious fact-- Israel meddles in our elections-- should calm the unhinged. But it doesn’t. The Democrats need both Trump and Russia at least until the November elections.

May we all survive 2018!

Greg Godels