Monday, October 23, 2017

Trump Isn't Making America Great Again But He's Sure Making It More Overtly Racist Again


A recent study by Pew concludes that over 58% of Americans believe racism is a "big problem" in society. H. Richard Milner, a noted researcher and expert on race and education at the University of Pittsburgh says that, "education is the key to addressing inequity and racism in society," and if we are not, "working in education to combat racism, we are complicit in maintaining inequity and the status quo." Are educators prepared and willing to take this on? This post by C.M. Rubin, opened up the conversation on racism and the role of education with millennial bloggers around the globe. With Trump "teaching" racism from his bizarro-world bully pulpit, combatting racism and bigotry has taken on a new and, for some, sudden urgency.
Milner notes that teachers “can struggle with tools to advance justice-centered curriculum and instructional opportunities that work against racism” and therefore education programs for teachers must support them “in developing knowledge and skills in ways that centralize race so that students can examine both localized and global perspectives and worldviews.” Additionally, school administrators and policies must be in place that “advance agendas that encourage and expect race-central learning opportunities and especially discourse.” Beyond these stakeholders, Milner recommends that students, community members, families and parents be part of the learning discourse “providing perspectives about their own worlds and experiences.”
The young bloggers from all over the world who Rubin gathered are innovators in entrepreneurship, journalism, education, entertainment, health and well-being and academic scholarship. Her question to them was simple enough: "Do we need to talk more about racism in Education?" Let's take a look at a few of the responses:

Bonnie Chiu, Hong Kong- My personal journey in unlearning race and privilege.
Since an incident in my childhood, I have become very aware of how people may judge each other by their skin colour. I am 100% Chinese, but I just happen to become tanned quite easily. When I was 10 years old, one of my classmates always made fun of my relatively dark skin colour, and called me names that are now deemed politically incorrect.

I felt ashamed, and I blamed my father, who was more tan than my fair-skinned mother. Racial categories are socially constructed rather than innate, according to sociological theories. And perhaps it was this lived experience that made me feel sympathetic to the ethnic minorities in my hometown, Hong Kong. I have made it my mission since to ensure that their voices and stories get heard, on an equal level.

We never talked about racism in education. Yet there were things in my education that helped me unlearn the belief that the lighter the colour of one’s skin, the higher the ‘value.’ When I was 14, in our first class of Literature in English, I remember our teacher saying, rather solemnly, that “our subject is called Literature in English, rather than English Literature.” He took a long pause. I remember not being able to understand what the difference was between the two, even though it should be very obvious.

...When I was 20 and completing my master’s degree, I learnt about critical theory. This includes post-colonialism, which discusses the cultural legacies of colonialism. After I learnt it, I could apply this to the phenomenon in Hong Kong where we often see white people in positions of power, while Chinese people see other non-Whites as less important. But we simply can’t wait until higher education to talk about these issues--  early adolescence are critical years where values are formed.
Francisco Javier Hernandez Jr., USA- Race and Education in America.
The reason why race is so important to discussions about education reform is that the legacy of racism in America is an indelible psychic scar that not only continues to cause pain, it is an active, living force in American social life. Racism was not merely an impolite or inelegant way of looking at the world, racism was not just a collection of bad ideas and sentiments, it was, and continues to be, a social system of unequal distribution and oppression.

In brief: the history of race in America is fundamentally a history of plunder. Basically, it’s all a matter of patterned, systematic extraction of black labor, wealth, and income to the benefit of institutions that operate to their exclusion. The American story of race has a deep history but it is not a relic of history. What began with slavery (the malicious plunder of bodies, labor, and children) begat Jim Crow-- another more complex version of plunder.

During and after Jim Crow, redlining was a way of taking housing opportunities and the possibilities of wealth accumulation through real estate. Segregation was a way of restricting access to vital goods and services. Make no mistake about it, the wealth gape between white and black Americans was a very specific and fine-tuned project of social engineering. “Negro poverty is not white poverty.” (President Johnson)

Not having the right to vote or having that right restricted prevented people from having control over where their tax dollars went. Meaning: voting restrictions are not only unjust in a constitutional sense, they are more importantly a way of stealing wealth and access to resources.

The process of plunder-- the social and psychological mechanisms used to control both black people and poor white people-- manifested deeply held and terrifying side-effects in both black and white America. White supremacy became a religion of sorts. Racial division was very much a consequence of slavery and Jim Crow and not a precondition. So unfortunately, once Jim Crow ended newer and ever more complicated techniques of racial plunder were allowed to spring up in the place where racist ideas, sentiments, and unconscious biases were left fallow, untilled and prime for exploitative profit-seeking and the consolidation of power.

The U.S. Constitution had abolished slavery but allowed one major loophole: crime. Slavery is alive and thriving in America, primarily as punishment for poverty, petty theft, non-citizen status, and nonviolent drug offenses. The current mechanism of plunder is mass incarceration and restricted access to education.

The payoff of this complex form of social control and plunder is pretty straightforward: if you are a young black man in Chicago you are more likely to go to prison than college. However, the mechanisms of the system are manifold and constantly changing. They are not easily identified, summarized, schematized, or theorized over. That is precisely what makes these social systems so dangerous and powerful.

Charter schools destroy the institutional memory of local brick-and-mortar public schools. Get-tough and “no-excuse” tactics groom students for a life of incarceration. Lack of epistemic resources  in ghettos (libraries, bookstores, museums, schools, experts) starve young, growing minds of emotional, educational, and developmental nutrition that effects the rest of their life (i.e. The Bronx has no bookstores and therefore low reading scores.) Overcrowding in poor, metropolitan areas restricts access to one-on-one time with teachers. Bad schools breed truancy which lowers enrollment rates and sucks out funds from public institutions. Institutionalization (meaning the psychic legacy of intergenerational incarceration) manufactures an entrenched culture lacking a sense of self-respect and cultivates maladapted responses to conflict, which furthers the cycle of violence and incarceration.

The problem here is that these very complex set of social systems are only a small fraction of the ones that continue to perpetuate the legacy of racism today. This stuff is, frankly, incredibly hard to talk about. It’s all as equally depressing as it is complex and therefore not very conducive to kitchen table conversation.

However, the brutal reality is that if we can’t find the inner courage to talk about race, racism will win. Racism survived the bloodiest conflict in the history of America (bloodier than every other conflict combined), it survived the heroism of the civil rights leaders, it survived the election of the first black president, and it did so with a vengeance.

The fact is that we can’t afford to defer the conversation about white supremacy for even a single moment longer. It has proven itself to be the most obstinate social institution in the entire history of America. How could we even possibly think we could fight something so tough if we can’t even talk about what it means to fight it?

White supremacy never sleeps-- it never slows of its own accord-- so, neither can we.
Harmony Siganporia, India- Why We're Broken.
India is rabidly racist-- one has only to think of the horrendous treatment we mete out to students from elsewhere, particularly ones from African nations-- but how could we possibly not be? Any nation that can stomach the principle of caste, which is the most brutal "classification" of human beings based on birth anywhere in the world, cannot help but differentiate, and differentiate repeatedly, on the basis of every parameter society can construct in a desperate and insular bid to separate "us" from "them." Nothing short of critical pedagogical interventions which would overhaul what we consider to be the very purpose of our educational system, and the resources to channel these interventions into more meaningful curricular design, can help us change these terms of engagement...

Education is political: if it does not challenge status quo, it reinforces it.

Who gets to study is no longer a question we ask in India-- at least on paper, everyone does. With the passage of the RTE Act (Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009), education is now a fundamental right for all children in India between the ages of 6 and 14. Where do they get to study, though? For how long? How far must they travel to access the nearest school or college? How many teachers actually show up at aforesaid school or college? What are their qualifications (and no, I don't mean merely degrees: everyone knows there are several ways to acquire these pieces of paper)? Is the school in question guilty of upholding caste norms in its seating arrangements/access to amenities/treatment of students, regardless of whether we're talking about rural or urban settings (because, increasingly, the contours of both ideas-- though especially 'rural' as a category-- are being renegotiated, in sometimes contentious ways)? These are the questions which ought to animate and inform public discourse and policy decisions about the education system. Instead, the current right-wing hegemons appear interested only in rewriting history altogether-- renaming roads, cities, schools and other institutions; recasting ancillary figures on the far-right like Deendayal Upadhyay as important 'national' figures, while suggesting travesties like the fact that Emperor Akbar did *not* win a battle we know he did; suggesting that the RSS had a role to play in India's Independence movement (mpppfffftt-- it's tough to not snigger at the thought of this bizarre inversion of historical facts)-- all so as to recast Hindutva as a principle foundational to the idea of India. News flash: it simply wasn't.
Dominique Dryding, South Africa- But My Parents Worked Hard.
23 years since liberation and South African schools and higher education institutions have been increasingly marred by controversy surrounding racism of students, faculty and school policies. In the more overt racist incidents, names are called, fights break out, ‘jokes’ are made with the purpose of excluding or belittling others based purely on skin colour. While many South Africans have experienced overt racism, many more have been victim to more subtle forms of racism, which, due to its subtly, are more difficult to identify and act upon. It’s the feeling and reality of having to work twice as hard to gain the same recognition as your white peers, it’s about being taught by white educators in white-dominated spaces which make you question your belonging and worthiness of being in a particular space… It’s that feeling of being uncomfortable when you don’t see anyone that looks like you… and the moment you get a couple of stares that last a bit too long for your liking and you end up asking yourself: ‘should I be here’? While these moments can always be denied by those who contributed to you feeling this way, you know that as a person of colour in that space, you make them feel uncomfortable and in turn, they make you feel unwelcome.

I am South African. Born in 1992 (2 years before the first democratic election). I am racially classified as coloured (in South Africa, coloured is not an offensive term but rather a racial identity that many people have accepted). I was awarded a scholarship to go to one of the most prestigious schools in Cape Town. The racial demographic of the school was predominantly white (if I had to make a rough estimate, I would say 80% of the students were white while the remaining 20% included every other racial group that makes up our diverse nation) and wealthy (which helped me recognise the inextricable link between racism and privilege from very early on). Given our history, race is something that we, as South Africans, cannot ignore. However, despite awareness about the concept and overt forms of racism, racism in the education system is still rife.

Racism cannot be explained or understood properly without incorporating a discussion about privilege. Racism is often simplified in order not address institutional racism which is inextricably linked to privilege. Education institutions should therefore incorporate discussions of privilege into discussions about racism. Students need to realise the privilege that is inherent with being part of certain racial groups. With the should come an intersectional understanding of oppression and a further intersection of the power dynamics between racial groups, sexual orientation, dis/ability, class and gender (to name a few). Until educational institutions take the lived experiences of their student bodies seriously and recognise that racism does not only include name calling and physical exclusion, racism in schools and universities will not end.
Salathia Carr, USA- Where was your first talk about racism?
America likes to claim that we are this “post-racial” country that has progressed so much since the Civil Rights Era. But, can you list 3 things that are proven to be better now? Why don’t we talk about this in school? Racism needs to be discussed in every branch of life and schooling is not excluded. Your first encounter with racism as a person of color should not be through a slur. Your first encounter as a White person should not be that fear that makes you lock your doors when a Black person walks near your car. Your first talks about racism should be in school and in the home. It should be taught by telling you that Christopher Columbus was no hero. It should be told that slaves were not indentured servants. It should detail stories of redlining properties and the 16th street Baptist Church Bombing. You should know about the Tulsa riots. You should know the effects of colonization on Native Americans in present day. You should know about DACA and the DREAMers. You should know how brutal Asian internment camps were. You should know how hard it is to get citizenship. You should know the pay wage gap among races. This is where the United States education has failed us all.

The reason learning about racism in education is so important is because it does not allow the country to ignore its history. Textbooks pick and choose what is important to learn, even going so far as to saying slaves came over here as migration workers. If we try to erase the past of the United States, we will continue on the same path. The same path that made President Obama the worst, but our current president is only doing what is best. Racism is not something that can be swept under the rug. After so much sweeping, your rug becomes distorted. People have become so desensitized regarding racism and injustices because they truly do not know what it is like. Judgment is very easy to make when you’re not living that way. But, if we force discussions about inequality from the very first history class we take, you cannot avoid it. You will make everyone feel uncomfortable but will create an understanding of why it is wrong.

The question I want to know is: will this ever happen? I am hopeful but I am realistic. The way this country is going right now is a strong indicator of that answer being no.

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Unless One Starts Openly Wearing Nazi Insignia, How Do You Keep Score Of Which GOP Candidate Is More Right-Wing?


Earlier today we talked about the increasingly out of control Republican Civil War. It ties together the deterioration of the adherence of the GOP base to GOP congressional leaders, the toxicity of Ryan and McConnell, the neo-fascist jihad launched by the Mercers and their boy Bannon against the Republican establishment and Trump's reverse Midas touch in Republican politics. We looked at a random North Carolina congressional race, a proxy war between Bannon and Rove that has Ryan peeing in his panties. Now let's turn to the same dynamics in Mississippi and a whole other cockamamie Senate race shaping up in Tennessee.

Jeremy Peters covered the incipient mayhem shaping up in Mississippi for the NY Times. Last cycle far right crackpot, neo-Nazi state Senator Chris McDaniel was cheated out of a sure win against GOP basket case Thad Cochran. He's back this year, with a vengeance... and Steve Bannon, who, Peters writes, "is hoping to make Mississippi the next domino to fall in an insurgency that would remake the Senate-- and the Republican Party."
If Mr. McDaniel runs, as expected, he will face Senator Roger Wicker in a primary in June-- the first election next year in which Republican Senate candidates would square off. The race could offer an early answer to a question that is vital to the party’s future: Does the effort to replace sitting Republicans with populist conservatives in the mold of Mr. Trump have a credible chance of maturing into a national movement?

Its backers are already plotting a course across the South and then westward to states like Nevada, Arizona, Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah. In all of those states, the insurgents have a rallying cry in Mr. Trump’s name and a villain in the Washington’s Republican leadership, especially in the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“We sensed the anger in ’13 and ’14,” Mr. McDaniel said in an interview at his law practice in downtown Laurel. “That anger,” he added, “reached its apex, it seemed, with Trump’s election. But now that McConnell and his merry band of yes men like Wicker have stood in the way of Trump, that anger has escalated again.”

“I’ve never seen this type of environment,” he concluded.

...On policy, Mr. McDaniel and Mr. Wicker are not very far apart. They have both been supportive of Mr. Trump’s more controversial acts, like the travel ban on foreigners from predominantly Muslim countries. Both hold consistently conservative positions on gun rights and abortion. The biggest difference between the two is the matter of incumbency, which Mr. McDaniel hopes to turn into an unsurmountable liability for Mr. Wicker.

Mr. Bannon and the wealthy conservatives underwriting his campaigns believe that Mississippi offers a strikingly similar environment to Alabama, where Senator Luther Strange lost in a primary last month to Roy S. Moore, a former judge who built a large following as a champion of culturally conservative causes. The parallels are enticing: an incumbent close to Mr. McConnell, a well-known challenger with a political constituency of his own and a Republican base that feels betrayed because the party has yet to pass any major conservative legislation since taking control of both Congress and the White House.

...While some of Mr. Wicker’s colleagues have hedged their support for the president or are drawing attention to areas in which they disagree with him, Mr. Wicker is going all in. His Facebook page is full of photos that show him standing with Mr. Trump. Some do not even show Mr. Wicker-- just the president. He also trumpets his “Trump Scorecard” of agreement with the president at 95.9 percent, ahead of conservative stalwarts like Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.

But Mr. Trump may not end up being the most important person in the race whose name is not on the ballot. That could be Mr. McConnell, who has become the focal point for Republican grass-roots ire.

“If Mitch McConnell sends a lot of money down here for Roger Wicker just like he did with Luther Strange, I think it will backfire,” said Michael Bostic, a retired electrician and local Tea Party activist who said he believes Republicans have been giving lip service to campaign promises like repealing the Affordable Care Act. “I’ve tried to believe Republicans most of my life. But when they blatantly lie to you, that just doesn’t cut it.”

Mr. Bostic went to courthouses across the state to inspect voting records looking for evidence of fraud after Mr. McDaniel’s 2014 loss, and he said he believed that Mr. McConnell and his allies in party leadership had rigged that election.

“People are mad,” Mr. Bostic said.

Laura Van Overschelde, a local Tea Party leader, put it this way: “People are pretty hot under the collar. You can imagine the animus that still exists four years later.”

Mr. Cochran’s allies in the state and national party helped defeat Mr. McDaniel by using tactics that infuriated Tea Party groups. They encouraged African-Americans and other Democrats to vote in the primary. They went to great lengths to deny that Mr. Cochran was in an inappropriate relationship with an aide, Kay Webber, even as his wife, Rose, was in a nursing home with dementia. (Mr. Cochran married Ms. Webber not long after his wife’s death.)

After a Tea Party leader was charged with conspiring to photograph Rose Cochran in her nursing home, he committed suicide, triggering still more recriminations.

Mr. McDaniel refused to concede the race and fought the outcome for months in court.

“Remember Mississippi” became a Twitter hashtag and a slogan circulated on conservative email lists, and it is now the name of the “super PAC” supporting Mr. McDaniel, which recently received a $50,000 donation from Robert Mercer, the New York hedge fund investor who finances much of Mr. Bannon’s political activity.

If Mr. McDaniel runs, all of that bitterness is likely to return.

Beyond Mississippi, Mr. Bannon sees races in other states that he believes he and his coalition of conservative donors and activists can reshape next year. And in those states, Mr. Bannon said, he sees two common elements that work to the advantage of insurgent challengers: rural, deeply conservative populations and small, inexpensive media markets.

In Utah, he is plotting a challenge to Senator Orrin G. Hatch, another McConnell ally. Or if Mr. Hatch retires, as many expect, Mr. Bannon will take on the candidate that the party leadership endorses to replace him, which could be Mitt Romney.

In Wyoming, Mr. Bannon is pushing Erik Prince, the founder of the military contractor Blackwater, to run against Senator John Barrasso, a member of Mr. McConnell’s leadership team. In Nebraska, Mr. Bannon is interviewing candidates to run against Senator Deb Fischer. Bannon-backed challengers to Senators Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona have already jumped in.

Mr. Bannon was also encouraged by Senator Bob Corker’s retirement in Tennessee, and the emergence of Representative Marsha Blackburn, a conservative firebrand, as the favorite to succeed him.
Marsha Blackburn is already claiming Farmer Fincher is the Pelosi candidate in Tennessee's madhouse GOP primary

OK, Marsha Blackburn is certifiably insane and as far right as you can be without running around with a Hitler mustache and a white sheet and hood. So she'll take the Senate seat Corker is abandoning, right? Well... probably but there's another kink in all this insanity, the real driving force behind all this packaging anyway-- personal ambition-- although this time it doesn't quite fit into the Bannon vs McConnell narrative. Who remembers the reprehensible Farmer Fincher? His miserable career ended when he was caught taking bribes in a payday lender scheme. Just about 4 years ago, I wrote that "it was hard to watch Tennessee Republican Stephen Fincher, a Methodist gospel singer aside from the congressman for the 8th district (Jackson, Germantown, Dyersburg and the whole western part of the state minus Memphis), voting to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program for the neediest American families. Why was Fincher harder to watch than any of the 217 House Republicans who backed this travesty (all but 15 of them)? Well, there's a special little place in hell for the gospel-singin' Fincher from Frog Jump. Fincher, it turns out, has gobbled up nearly $9 million in farm subsidies from Uncle Sam over the last decade, mostly for his cotton crop. Congressman Fincher also received a $13,650 grant to help buy grain hauling and storage equipment from the state Department of Agriculture in 2009 as part of the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program. Yes, teabagger Stephen Fincher is a welfare queen. And a hypocrite. A pious hypocrite eager to starve poor families who can't get jobs because of economic policies his party used to crash the economy. And it gets worse, according to Forbes magazine. Remember when we were talking about how so many wealthy congressmembers on the House Agriculture Committee were all gung-ho to shave billions of dollars off the food stamps program? That's Fincher's committee. (No conflict of interest there, right?)
Armed with an array of proverbs and quotes from the Holy Bible, Congressman Fincher is pressing his fight to dramatically curtail the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-- better known to most Americans as food stamps-- relied upon by 47 million Americans for some or all of their daily sustenance.


Because the Bible tells him so.

Appearing this past weekend at a gathering at a Memphis Holiday Inn, Fincher explained his position on food stamps by stating, “The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.”
Fincher retired from Congress soon after his scandals started breaking... but he's back to try to claim, absurdly, that open Senate seat.

Fincher, who never went to college, says he’s running to help push Señor Trumopanzee’s agenda and shake up a "do-nothing Congress.... We’re going to get in this race, and we’re going to get in it to win it, and go up there and try to get something done. Let’s stand up with the president on his policies. From what people are telling us, they’re just tired of the status quo career politician, and it’s time we-- to take an old saying from the farm-- plow and turn over Congress and put some new growth up there. I think that’s what people want, so that’s what we’re going to try to do."

Aside from Farmer Fincher and the Bannon-backed Blackburn, another far right sociopath has jumped into the race: Andy Ogles, former head of the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity Tennessee franchise.
Fincher mostly refrained from speaking about Blackburn during his trip. But he pounced on an opening earlier this week after 60 Minutes and the Washington Post reported on a former Drug Enforcement Administration whistleblower who accused Blackburn and other members of Congress of passing a law that led to lax scrutiny over opioid distribution, handcuffing the federal government’s ability to fight the national opioid crisis.

Fincher said it illustrates that politicians in Washington, D.C., are “out of touch.”

"This is an issue that shows Tennesseans want someone to stand up against special interests,” Fincher said. “We’re losing lives. Our jails, little towns and communities are broken. People, they go to Washington, and have stayed up there too long and are out of touch with what’s really happening all over this great state.”

Fincher, who was in Congress at the time, was among the House members who unanimously approved the legislation without objection.

On Sunday, a Blackburn campaign spokeswoman criticized Fincher and said the race now has a "clear contrast."

"Now we have a clear contrast between a supporter of President Trump who will drain the swamp in Washington, versus Nancy Pelosi's favorite Republican who champions corporate welfare," Blackburn spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said by email.
Republicans routinely use boogeyman Nancy Pelosi against any Democrat who runs for anything. This was the first time I've ever heard one use her against another Republican in a GOP primary! It is widely thought that if the Republicans rip each other to shreds, popular former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen could walk away with the seat... if he decides to run. How funny would that be... to see the deranged Republicans hoist on their own petard that way?

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Shocking the Shock Doctrine: What Recovery in Puerto Rico Could Look Like


The cover of Naomi Klein's best-seller The Shock Doctrine. The book is available here.

by Gaius Publius

If neoliberalism is the belief that the proper role of government is to enrich the rich — in Democratic circles they call it "wealth creation" to hide the recipients; Republicans are much more blatant — then the "shock doctrine" is its action plan.

Click the link above for more information (or read the book), but in essence the idea is to use any form of disaster, whether earthquake or economic/political crisis, to remake a society in the neoliberal image. To reconstruct the destroyed world, in other words, to the liking of holders of great wealth — by privatizing everything of value held by the public (think water rights, public roads); by forcing austerity on cash-strapped governments as the price for "aid" (think loans, not grants, repaid by unwritten social insurance checks); by putting "managers," or simply loan officers, in charge of democratic decision-making.

In simple, a "shock doctrine" solution always takes this form: "Yes, we'll help you, but we now own your farm and what it produces. Also, your family must work on it for the next 50 years."

This is what happened in Chile after Pinochet and his coup murdered the democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende and took over the government. It's what's happening to Greece, victim of collusion between greedy international bankers and the corrupt Greek politicians they cultivated. And it's what happened in the U.S. during the 2008 bailout of bankers, by which government money was sent in buckets to companies like AIG so they could pay their debts in full to companies like Goldman Sachs. While millions of mortgaged homeowners crashed and burned to the ground.

The populist reaction to neoliberal "reform" is usually social revolt, often or usually ineffective, since creditors are, almost by definition, people with money, and people with money, almost by definition, control most governments. In Greece, the revolt sparked the election of an (ineffective) "socialist" government — plus the rise of the Greek neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn. In the U.S. the revolt still still sparks universal (and ineffective) hatred of the 2008 bank bailout — plus the rise of the failed Sanders candidacy and the successful Trump presidency.

The form this same revolt will take in 2018 and 2020 is still to be determined. 

The Shock Doctrine and Puerto Rico

The "shock doctrine" — the stripping of wealth from the devastated by the already-way-too-wealthy — is now being applied to Puerto Rico. Even before the hurricanes hit it, Puerto Rico was a second-class citizen relative to states of the U.S., even among its non-state territories. In contrast to Puerto Rico, for example, the American Virgin Islands were instantly much better treated when it came to relief from the Jones Act, a sign of already-established prejudice.

The reason should be obvious. In Puerto Rico, English is the primary language of less than 10% of the people, while Spanish is the dominant language of the school system and daily life. In the American Virgin Islands, English is the dominant language, and Spanish is spoken by less than 20% of the population. The fact that two-thirds of the population of the U.S. Virgin Islands is black seems to be lost on most Americans, a fact that likely benefits those inhabitants greatly in times like these.

Thus, to most Americans the citizens of Puerto Rico are conveniently (for neoliberals) easy to paint as "them," the undeserving, which changes what atrocities can be committed in the name of "aid" — much like it did after Hurricane Katrina devastated "them"-inhabited New Orleans.

In Puerto Rico's case, they entered the recent hurricane season burdened with load of debt, much (or most) of it bought on the secondary market and held by the hedge funds and the vulture banks you might expect to hold it. I haven't been able to find specific documentation on this, but I strongly suspect that much (or most) of this debt was purchased for pennies on the dollar by "investors" hoping to make the U.S. government make sure Puerto Rico never defaults on it, thus guaranteeing profit to the tune of many multiples of the original purchase price, profit of many hundreds of percent.

That plan — forcing the U.S. government to force Puerto Rico to make every "investor" whole — was already in effect under the Obama administration, and it's in effect today. Classic bipartisan neoliberals in action.

Then came hurricane season, with the kind of apocalyptic, lingering devastation you've most likely already heard about. Before the storms hit the island, Puerto Rico needed debt relief. Now they need humanitarian relief as well. They need not only to rebuild their economy, they need to rebuild the entire island itself.

Debt "Relief" or Debt Forgiveness?

What's killing the modern world, as I've noted for years and years, is the world-wide overhang of personal debt — not government deficits, which are entirely different, but the mortgage, credit card, payday and student debt that makes it impossible for too many households to return to their pre-2008 "normal," as constrained as even that that likely was.

Put simply, if U.S. government policy is to "make every lender whole" before anything else is done, the mass of the U.S. population will see no recovery in their lifetimes. No economy in the world can grow at more than a snail's pace if every dollar earned is taken to pay unpayable debts — which is were we are today despite the illusory signs of "recovery" in many of our cities.

Remember, debts that cannot be repaid won't be repaid., despite the best effort of creditors to squeeze debtors even to the grave. All that can happen is an escalation of social cruelty. In cases like these, when governments become the creditors' enforcement mechanism, revolts are bound to follow.

In the U.S., we're living with the consequences of that revolt today, in the form of the current presidency. (Imagine the state of that revolt if Sanders had been available, and elected instead. Imagine government as the friend, not the enemy, of the long-suffering debtor class.)

In Puerto Rico, the problem is even worse than on the mainland. The "bankers" — a term I'll use to mean "holders of Puerto Rican debt" — are demanding that Puerto Rico pay them even before it pays its pension obligations, the equivalent of its Social Security checks. 

And now, in response to hurricane devastation, those same "bankers" are inducing the U.S. government to offer hurricane "relief" in the form of even more loans. Put simply, to get out of hurricane trouble, they must make their debt trouble worse or live with the status quo.

Climate writer Naomi Klein and Elizabeth Yeampierre, writing in The Intercept:
[T]he fact that the House-approved relief package contains $5 billion in loans for the island, rather than grants, is a special kind of cruelty. Because on an island already suffering under an un-payable $74 billion debt (and another $49 billion in unfunded pension obligations), Puerto Ricans understand all too well that debt is not relief. On the contrary, it is a potent tool of perpetual impoverishment and control from which relief is urgently needed.

The very fact that the House of Representatives bundled that loan into its sweeping multi-disaster bill (up for a vote in the Senate any day now) is symbolic of a deep fear that has lurked in the background for many Puerto Ricans ever since hurricanes Irma and Maria struck. The fear is that however much islanders are suffering in the midst of their ongoing humanitarian emergency, it’s the phase after the emergency passes that could be even more perilous. That’s when policies marketed as reconstruction could well morph into their own kind of punishment, leaving the island more unequal, indebted, dependent, and polluted than it was before the hurricanes hit.

This is a phenomenon we call “the shock doctrine,” and we have seen it play out many times before. A disaster strikes, public sympathy is awakened, and there are grand pledges to “build back better,” bringing justice to those who have just lost everything. And yet almost immediately the emergency atmosphere becomes the pretext to push through a wish list for big polluters, real estate developers, and financiers at the expense of those who have already lost so much. Think of the public schools and public housing closed and torn down in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Think, too, of the way the 2010 earthquake in Haiti became a pretext to push for sweatshops and luxury resorts, while basic housing was neglected and the minimum wage was suppressed.
Neoliberalism at its best — and most obvious. Note the role that racism plays in making this even palatable, here as in New Orleans.

An Anti-Neoliberal Recovery Plan

Which brings us to the real point of Yeampierre and Klein's article: Not only is an anti-neoliberal recovery plan possible, but it's starting to happen. The writers offer two data points — about power generation and agriculture — but there are other areas of restructuring that could have been brought up as well.

First, here's what an anti-neoliberal solution to damaged power facilities looks like — wide-spread installation of distributed solar infrastructure to replace the old fossil fuel generators (emphasis mine):
[T]hese are only the preconditions for the real work [examples include rescinding the Jones Act], which is not reconstructing the island as it was, but reimagining and remaking an economic system that was in direct conflict with both the island’s people and its ecology. Before Irma and Maria knocked out the vast majority of its electricity, Puerto Rico was getting 98 percent of its power from fossil fuels. A just transition would replace that extractive model with a system based on micro-grids of renewable energy generation, a decentralized network that would be more resilient in the face of inevitable weather shocks, while reducing the pollution making our climate go haywire in the first place.

This energy transition is already underway in grassroots relief efforts, thanks to innovative projects, like Resilient Power Puerto Rico, which has been distributing solar-powered generators to some of the most remote parts of the island. The organizers are working toward a full-blown, permanent solar revolution designed and controlled by Puerto Ricans themselves. “Rather than perpetuate the island’s dependence on vulnerable distribution hardware and carbon-heavy fuel,” Resilient Power explains on its website, “we prioritize clean production of energy that allows each household to be self-reliant.”
About the solar solution to rebuilding power generation, note:
  • Decentralized solar generaton helps protect the island against future storm damage by reducing interdependency.
  • Renewable power sources are the inverse of carbon-based sources — they're climate-friendly, not climate-destructive.
  • The "bankers" and others in the world of the wealthy are heavily invested in a carbon bubble they are desperate to get out of before it collapses. Much of the money world's money is tied to unburnable in-the-ground carbon, and they need to sell as much as they can before the bubble collapses — preferably after most of them are dead or otherwise financially secure.

    As a result, most of the world of money will hate this idea and work to make it impossible to implement.
Imagine how our donor-bought government will respond to this, even were the government run by donor-beholden Democrats. This will be an interesting battle to watch.

Next, the anti-neoliberal plan for agricultural recovery looks like this:
Many of the island’s farmers are demanding a similar revolution in agriculture. Farmers report that Maria destroyed almost all of this season’s crops while contaminating much of the soil, providing yet another opportunity to reimagine a system that was broken before the storm. Today, far too much of Puerto Rico’s fertile land goes uncultivated, leading islanders to import roughly 80 percent of their food. Before the hurricanes, there was a growing movement to break this cycle by reviving local agriculture through farming methods, such as “agroecology,” that draw on both indigenous knowledge and modern technology (and include the added bonus of carbon sequestration).

Farmers’ groups are now calling for the proliferation of community-controlled agricultural cooperatives that would grow food for local consumption. Like the renewable energy micro-grids, it’s a model that is far less vulnerable to supply-chain shocks like hurricanes — and it has the additional benefit of generating local wealth and increasing self-sufficiency.

As with the solar-powered generators, Puerto Rico’s farmers aren’t waiting for the emergency to subside before beginning this transition. On the contrary, groups like Boricuá Organization for Ecological Agriculture have “agroecology brigades” traveling from community to community to deliver seeds and soil so that residents can begin planting crops immediately. Katia Avilés-Vázquez, one of Boricuá’s farmers, said of a recent brigade: “Today I saw the Puerto Rico that I dream being born. This week I worked with those who are giving it birth.”
Can you imagine what Monsanto, for example, thinks of the dissemination of free "seeds and soil" as a solution to Puerto Rico's agriculture crisis? Certainly it looks through their lens as the loss of a prime "wealth creating" opportunity. Pay attention to the battle over agriculture recovery in Puerto Rico

As I said, there are other areas that reconstruction could take a decidedly anti-neoliberal shape, but these two show what anti-neoliberal solutions look like.

The Battle for Puerto Rico

The obvious fight in Puerto Rico is the fight to create more seaside golf courses and five-star resorts ("wealth creation") as part of the price for "recovery." But there's so much more to this story. What we're about to witness in Puerto Rico is an island-wide pitched battle for and against broad-stroke neoliberal solutions to the island's combined and massive debt and hurricane crises.

As you watch the battle unfold, watch through this wider lens, not just the lens of loans-for-aid and seaside resorts. If the Puerto Rican residents hold firm, as the writers seem to think they might, this could get very ugly fast, but it's a battle that must be joined everywhere. The Puerto Ricans may not go down easily; and they may even win. Good for them if they do; they deserve all of our help for just that effort alone.


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Will Republican Cannibalism Do What The DCCC And DSCC Are Incapable Of?


A YouGov poll for The Economist last week showed congressional approval at 8% and disapproval at 71%. Yeah, Congress is not popular. An overwhelming majority of Americans see Congress as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. They're right. And congressional leadership is especially loathed by most voters-- all the top leaders' favorability has been underwater in every poll this year. A Morning Consult poll for Politico last month had Ryan's favorability at 32% and hs unfavorability as 45%-- almost as bad as Pelosi's, whose favorability was at 29% and unfavorability at 47%. McConnell was at 22% favorable and 43% unfavorable and Schumer was 26% favorable and 30% unfavorable. Worse yet-- for them and their parties-- voters are starting to say they will take out their dislike for the leaders on their own candidates for Congress. Look at this:

Asking voters the same question for Pelosi and Schumer yield about the same ugly results. On the other hand, registered Democratic voters still back their party’s legislative leaders. 45% said they’d be more likely to vote for a member who supported Pelosi, with 21% saying they’d be less likely. Among registered Republicans, 40% said they would be more likely to support a member of Congress who approves of Ryan Speaker, while 28% said they’d be less likely. Pelosi is facing more and more resistance to her leadership within congressional Democratic ranks. Texas Blue Dog Filemon Vela said that he thinks, "you’d have to be an idiot to think we could win the House with Pelosi at the top. Nancy Pelosi is not the only reason that Ossoff lost. But she certainly is one of the reasons." Since then California Democrat, Linda Sanchez, a member of Pelosi's own leadership team, told her-- quite publicly-- it's time to say goodbye and make room for the next generation of leaders.

Over the weekend, The Hill reported that when Republican candidates for Congress are asked if they'll vote for McConnell they try to avoid answering. (The same dynamic is at play for Ryan and for the Democratic leaders.) Bannon has succeeded into turning McConnell into "a flashpoint" among Republicans.
The Hill asked nearly two-dozen Senate candidates this week if they would support McConnell as leader if elected. Not one campaign said outright that they would support McConnell, although two candidates appear to have expressed support for McConnell in the past.

Several candidates declared their opposition to McConnell and attacked their GOP primary opponents for not taking a stance on the question. Other candidates deflected, or spoke on background about the bind they’re in over the question of McConnell’s leadership. Most candidates were eager to avoid the question entirely, and ignored multiple requests for comment.

The candidate survey underscores the tricky balancing act facing Republican Senate candidates in 2018, which is shaping up to be a proxy war between the party establishment and its grassroots base.

On one side is McConnell and his deep ties to the national party’s donor network, a prized asset for any candidate facing a tough primary. On the other side is Breitbart chairman and former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, the anti-establishment provocateur with the influential news outlet who is asking candidates to oppose the majority leader.

... In primary races in Ohio and Missouri, candidates with crossover appeal between the grassroots and the establishment have both declined to endorse McConnell but are under fire from their Republican opponents nonetheless.

GOP Senate hopeful Mike Gibbons is calling on state Treasurer Josh Mandel, the favorite in the race, to sign his petition demanding that McConnell retire.

Mandel, who received millions of dollars in outside support from the McConnell-aligned group American Crossroads GPS for his failed 2012 bid, ducked the question at a press conference this week and told reporters he’d address it when elected.

“Just like we would expect from the career politician that he is, Josh is refusing to take a position,” Gibbons said in a statement to The Hill.

Mandel’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

In Missouri, Austin Petersen, who is running against state Attorney General Josh Hawley, the favorite, is similarly on the attack. Hawley has dodged the question of whether he would support McConnell, even as Rove publicly boasts about how he and McConnell recruited Hawley to get into the race.

“Hawley refuses to say whether he’ll support him,” Petersen told The Hill. “That’s playing politics. I said two months ago I wouldn’t support McConnell and I had everything to lose when I did that.”

Hawley’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In Arizona and Nevada, insurgent candidates Kelli Ward and Danny Tarkanian are demanding Republicans move on from McConnell as they seek to upset incumbent Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Dean Heller (R-NV), respectively.

So too is Alabama’s Roy Moore, who won his September primary runoff against incumbent Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) even after the Senate Leadership Fund-- another McConnell-aligned group-- poured millions of dollars into the race to oppose Moore.

Wisconsin’s Kevin Nicholson and Pennsylvania’s Jeff Bartos both told The Hill it might be time for new leadership in the Senate. A spokesperson for Nicholson said, “he’s prepared to support new leadership because of the Senate’s failure to pass a conservative agenda,” while Bartos said he’d tie his vote to whether McConnell could “deliver for the people who support the president’s agenda.”

  McConnell’s allies say there is no need for prospective senators to weigh in on hypothetical leadership votes and believe there is more support for the majority leader than is being publicized by the candidates.

They don’t think primary voters care about who the candidates might support for majority leader and are frustrated by what they view as Bannon needlessly sowing division within Republican ranks. Bannon has vowed to put up primary challengers to every incumbent running for reelection with the exception of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, GOP strategist Karl Rove, who oversees the powerful Senate Leadership Fund that seeks to reelect incumbents, attacked Bannon as a “failed presidential adviser and alt-right sympathizer.”

Rove accused Bannon of launching a “jihad against incumbent Republicans” and singled out Ward and Tarkanian as surefire general election losers and part of Bannon’s “collection of misfits and ne’er-do-wells.”

Bannon’s critics say he is getting too much credit for swooping in late in Alabama, where they say Moore was already headed for certain victory over Strange, the McConnell-backed candidate.

They view Bannon’s efforts as a money-making scheme to raise his profile and note that the incumbents he plans to primary have voted with Trump more than 90 percent of the time.

“If you’re a candidate wrapping yourself around an axle of who you’ll support in a leadership election that presumes you’ve already won a Senate seat, you’re doing it wrong,” said Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff.

“Voters don’t have an ounce of interest in who wins a prospective leadership race, they care about jobs. This is nothing more than a vanity project for Steve Bannon and, like all vanity projects, it will go about as far as you can throw a thousand-pound stone. Bannon doesn’t have a movement behind him. The president does and without President Trump, Bannon is a nobody.”

Still, there is roiling anger at McConnell in some conservative quarters and those looking to harness that anti-establishment energy insist that running against the majority leader will be a winning issue for GOP primary candidates.

“Of course primary voters care about leadership elections,” said Adam Brandon, the president of FreedomWorks, which opposes McConnell. “They’ve seen failed leadership in the Senate for years and want to see the member they vote for be able to enact the agenda they ran on.”

The attacks between the two wings of the party are heating up and becoming increasingly personal.

“In 2018 we ought to revisit this question and find out if these people are still happy to be associated with Bannon,” said Holmes. “When you’re facing voters, I’d take one of the most successful majority leaders in history over a white supremacist any day.”

Andy Surabian, an adviser to Bannon, fired back.

“No amount of smearing can change the fact that not a single U.S. Senate candidate was willing to go on the record and say that they supported Mitch McConnell for Majority Leader,” he said. “Everyone can see right through the clearly desperate, unfounded and pathetic attacks coming from McConnell Incorporated.”
On Fox News Sunday yesterday, McConnell told Dana Perino that Bannon and his allies are "specialists at nominating people who lose... They've been out there for a number of years. They cost us five Senate seats in 2010 and 2012. We would have got the majority sooner but for the fact they were able to nominate people who could not win in November. In '14 they were defeated everywhere, in '16 they were defeated everywhere, and the difference is we've been in the majority in 2014 and 2016, two Congresses in a row... The kind of people who are supported by the element that you've just been referring to are specialists in defeating Republican candidates in November. And that's what this inter-party skirmish is about. Our goal is to nominate people in the primaries next year who can actually win, and the people who win will be the ones who enact the president's agenda."

Bannon is expanding his war against the Republican establishment-- and, as we hoped, he's involving himself in House races beyond just backing Mafia goon Mikey Suits against Ryan ally Dan Donovan in Staten Island/Brooklyn NY-11. His new target: former Crusade for Christ activist and North Carolina state Senator Robert Pittenger, who represents a Charlotte metro congressional district that has been largely ethnically-cleansed. Pittinger was elected to Congress in 2012 in this R+8 district that Obama lost both times and that went for Trump last year 54.4% to 42.8%. Pittinger, who has a solidly conservative voting record, has been a target of the Tea Party extremists since 2014 when he said he wouldn't support shutting down the government over defending Obamacare. They ran crackpot Michael Steinberg against him, and Pittenger won with 67%. He faced no Democratic opposition. Last cycle he had two GOP primary challengers from the right, Mark Harris and Todd Johnson, which proved to be a tough race for Pittenger:

Berniecrat Christian Cano ran against him in the general and Pittenger beat him 58-42%. Cano hopes to run again but the DCCC and the Blue Dogs have recruited a Republican-lite candidate named Dan McCready. Harris is primarying Pittenger again, this time, in all likelihood, with Bannon's help. There's even talk of fellow North Carolina Republican, Mark Meadows, head of the neo-fascist Freedom Caucus, endorsing Harris against Pittenger. The race is rapidly becoming part of the proxy war between Bannon and Rove.
Meadows, a deeply conservative North Carolina congressman, has “typically never been involved in Republican primaries against a sitting member, but Dr. Harris, he’s a credible candidate who would be helpful in the majority.” 
Harris is the former pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, who came within 134 votes of unseating Pittenger in last cycle’s congressional primary and outraised him in the last fundraising quarter. He told McClatchy he would like to join Meadows’ Freedom Caucus should he win-- and would “certainly be interested in being engaged and involved.”

Meanwhile, “Bannon now plans to meet with Harris,” said a source close to Bannon, in an interview Thursday after Rove’s op-ed posted. “Bannon has decided to target Pittenger.”

... [Rove] appeared with Pittenger publicly last week at a rally at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant in Charlotte, and headlined two fundraisers for the congressman.

It’s an alliance his challenger is eager to exploit. Indeed, Bannon’s Breitbart already is referring to Pittenger as the “Karl Rove-backed” candidate.

"It, in many ways, draws the lines in this race,” said Harris, who also ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2014. “Karl Rove has certainly represented the establishment. He has been wrong as many times as he's been right in recent elections. Robert Pittenger has decided to set his stakes with the establishment and the status quo.”

Adam Brandon, the president of the conservative group FreedomWorks, said Harris had been his activists’ choice “for a while.”

“But gasoline was poured on the fire when this is becoming a proxy battle between Karl Rove and Steve Bannon,” he continued. “We were getting involved in that race regardless of what was happening, but this is kind of a choice between a typical establishment Republican guy and someone who reflects the grassroots.”

In an interview with McClatchy, Pittenger, a frequent and vocal Trump supporter, laughed when asked about the criticism he faced over his connection to Rove.

“How silly these guys are, grasping for anything,” he said. “Let’s take a reality check, OK? No. 1, look at the record. My record in voting [with] Trump. I have 95.6 percent. Higher than Congressman Mark Meadows, OK? So let’s be clear on that.”

Pittenger was referencing FiveThirtyEight’s “Trump score,” a tally of how frequently a member of Congress votes with Trump (Meadows’ number, by that measure, is 93.3 percent, though he has worked closely with the White House and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, attended a fundraiser for him last month).

Pittenger ticked through a long list of conservative endorsements he’s notched over the years, including the National Rifle Association and National Right to Life, and noted his efforts on economic and anti-abortion measures underway on Capitol Hill right now.

His campaign staff also passed along a document titled “Rep. Robert Pittenger: Unapologetically Pro Trump,” which detailed the “over 200” media appearances, six rallies, nine town halls and other instances in which Pittenger has offered robust defenses of the president.

“My conservative credentials are impeccable,” he said. “This is simply a little power play by a few people who are gaming this. I’ve stood for conservative principles. I will win this election because my positions, what I’ve stood for, will be validated, regardless of what type of smoke other people try to throw up there. Pure nonsense.”

Rove too was dismissive. Asked about Bannon’s reaction to his op-ed, Rove said: “Now he’s just making himself sound unhinged.”

But some conservative groups are paying attention to the contest for reasons that have little to do with Rove and much more to do with Harris’ last electoral performance-- and recent fundraising numbers.

“I can tell you that Mark Harris is a rock-ribbed conservative, and he posted one hell of a third quarter,” said Andy Roth, vice president for government affairs at the conservative Club for Growth. He was referencing Harris’ $251,000 fundraising haul. “That opened our eyes quite a bit.”

Pittenger, who also faces a well-funded potential Democratic opponent, reported raising $242,000, though in the interview, said “we haven’t really started” and added that he is sure he will outraise Harris next time as he ramps up his fundraising focus.

In a recent interview with the Charlotte Observer, Rove praised Pittenger as a “consistent conservative in Congress,” and a “defender of the president’s policies.”
One closing thought that points to the danger-- for Republicans-- of all this in-fighting. As Josh Kraushaar pointed out over the weekend at National Review things are staring to look more desperate for Ryan and his majority than anyone expected. He and his team, wrote Kraushaar, "are growing increasingly alarmed that some of their most vulnerable members aren’t doing the necessary legwork to protect themselves from an emerging Democratic tidal wave. In some of the biggest media markets, where blockbuster fundraising is a prerequisite for political survival-- most notably in New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston-- Republican lawmakers aren’t raising enough money to run aggressive campaigns against up-and-coming Democrats."

He pointed out miserable fundraising numbers for vulnerable Republicans Steve Knight (CA), Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ), John Culberson (TX), Dana Rohrabacher (CA), Claudia Tenney (NY) and Leonard Lance (NJ).

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Midnight Meme Of The Day!


-by Noah

I think we should all send this meme directly to Lord Tiny Hands. Tweet it, email it, snail mail it, skywrite it, stencil it on the sidewalk outside any Trump property in the world. Imagine a world... where 1 million of us surround the People's White House and recite this meme with bullhorns like a modern-day greek chorus from Trump's own personal Hell. Whatever it takes. Do I think he would follow our directions? No, absolutely not, but the abuse sure would get to his massive need for praise and his massive, well-founded insecurities! We have a power to irritate the living fuck out out this demon. He's already two-thirds on the way to being reduced to a completely unable-to-speak or function, screaming, stinking ball of orange-haired blubber anyway. Let's finish the job! Shame on us if we don't use that power.

Sure, we'll end up with Pence, Ryan or some other headcase, but did the allied D-Day troops go home after killing just one German? One step at a time. One step for mankind. It's a great way to start the week.

I don't want to kill this guy. I want him locked up, locked up for the rest of his days, fed nothing but cheetos, carrots and oranges; wearing an orange "Make America Great Again" straitjacket in an orange padded cell. In an act of generosity, I would let him have a gold toilet. Of course, that toilet would be lined with photos of him and his fetid family. Rolls of toilet paper with his grotesque own face would be a nice touch. If he bitches, take away the toilet paper.

Do you think my ranting is harsh? Fine. Just paratroop him and his family, cabinet, and whole white supremacy staff into Somalia and let them fend for themselves.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

This Evening's Word: Kakistocracy... Trump Gives Understanding It A New Sense Of Urgency



Last week, ABC News' Avery Miller did a brief report on Republican commentator Charlie Sykes' assertions about how the Trump circus is turning America into a kakistocracy. Sykes was long Wisconsin's top right-wing talk show host-- who never tired of pushing the odious agendas of Scott Walker, Reince Preibus and Paul Ryan. And then Señor Trumpanzee waddled onto the national stage with his ever-growing and ever more grotesque menagerie of freaks and thieves. And Sykes was suddenly a #NeverTrump lamppost in the encroaching darkness. He has a new book out, How the Right Lost Its Mind, which seeks to explain "how conservative have strayed from their core values. He points a finger at the Trump campaign’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and what he describes as 'revenge of crazy town.'"
Sykes says, “Steve Bannon is so much a part of this Trump story. Here’s a guy who flirted with the ‘alt-right.’ Don’t pass this point-- he was in the White House. He had the ear of the president of the United States. Here’s basically one of the gods of dysfunction, and he was sitting in the White House.”

Now that Bannon has left the White House and returned to the right-wing website Breitbart News, the “worst people in the world” are becoming the faces of the GOP, Sykes says. “It doesn’t look like a strategy to me as much as an unfocused, vindictive rage. It doesn’t even appear to be ideological principled as much as it seems to be ‘Let’s burn it all down. Let’s tear it all down, and let’s see what happens.’”

...“Look at this from Donald Trump’s point of view. Part of the fact of Trump’s success is that he empowered the fringes. This is his base, and I think Trump was rattled a lot by what happened in Alabama because he cannot afford to let someone get to the more populist right than him. You see this back-and-forth, this tug of wanting to get things done but recognizing that these folks from crazy town are the ones that got you the nomination and got you elected. I think he’s going to ping-pong between the two of them.”

...“If I am a Democrat, I am delighted to see Steve Bannon burning down, trying to destroy incumbent Republicans and replace them with rather eccentric folks out there.”

Sykes says he “cringes” when he talks about Ryan, one of his former favorite radio guests, mentioning his “really profound disappointment.”

“I have known him for many years and really did see him as the intellectual leader of the conservative movement and very much the alternative path the conservatives and Republicans could have taken. He had no illusions about who and what Donald Trump was, but he’s made a Faustian bargain.” Sykes says Ryan is “all in” on Trump.

In his book, Sykes describes what he believes is the damage Trump has done to the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

“The reality of Donald Trump is that, even though for the moment he will occasionally adopt conservative values, Donald Trump is not a deeply principled, deep-thinking individual. He is not a lifelong movement conservative. He will throw them under the bus whenever it becomes convenient. And much of his base will go along with him.”
A couple of weeks ago, Norm Ornstein, writing for The Atlantic had gone considerably further pointing out that there’s a case to be made that the United States is governed by the least scrupulous of its citizens. That's the definition of Kakistocracy, "literally, government by the worst and most unscrupulous people among us."

His point is that America is experiencing kakistocracy and it as come into sharp focus this month as a parade of unscrupulous Trump Cabinet members and White House staffers have been "caught spending staggering sums of taxpayer dollars to charter jets, at times to go small distances where cheap commercial transportation was readily available, at times to conveniently visit home areas or have lunch with family members. While Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign after his serial abuse, others-- including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, remain in place."
Awful as the grifterish mentality and behavior may be, worse is the other part of kakistocracy-- inept, corrupt, and disruptive governance. Impulsive, stream-of-consciousness communications from the president by tweet are one thing. Examples like a budget that aims to knock out our weather satellites and cut our ability to respond to a pandemic, along with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) removing from its website information about the disastrous conditions in Puerto Rico while pumping up the good news, are another.

The misguided and reckless travel bans instituted at the beginning of the administration were a harbinger of indifference to norms and practices of government previously embraced by both parties. The moves undertaken now by Trump and his aides to sabotage Obamacare, after the embarrassing failures to enact a bill to repeal and replace it, are sadistic and outrageous. They include cutting off the funding to notify people about the period for enrollment on the health exchanges, and shortening the time to enroll, along with most recently ordering the head of Medicare and Medicaid Services to deny a critical waiver to Iowa which will result in many losing insurance and skyrocketing premiums for others.

More troublesome still is the danger to world stability reflected in the embarrassing contretemps-triangle involving Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Mattis, and Trump. Within the last week, Trump undercut Tillerson via tweet, taking diplomatic talks with North Korea off the table while his secretary of state was in China (after undercutting our vital ally South Korea by attempting to blow up our joint free-trade agreement). Then NBC reported that Tillerson had privately called the president a “moron.” Mattis then told the Senate that America should continue to certify the Iran-nuclear deal, as it is in our national-security interest-- after which the president threatened to decertify the deal, undercutting the credibility of his defense secretary...

Donald Trump campaigned by promising to run government like a business. Unfortunately, that business is Trump University. There are 602 key policy positions in the executive requiring Senate confirmation. Almost nine months into the Trump presidency, only 142-- less than a quarter-- have been filled, and nearly half, 289, have not even had a nominee chosen. The record here is starkly worse than under the previous four presidents, from George H. W. Bush through Obama. At the State Department, we have a secretary and two deputy secretaries in place-- but only two of the nearly 30 critical undersecretaries or assistant secretaries, with none even nominated for the vast majority of the positions. A slew of key ambassadorships remain vacant, including sensitive spots like South Korea, Congo, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Venezuela-- none of which even have a nominee! Rumors have circulated that Tillerson has proposed many experienced Bush hands for some of these posts, which have been blocked by a White House personnel office that screens for early support for Trump, and vetoes those who offered any criticism during the campaign-- which eliminates the vast majority of those with any experience in foreign affairs. [And any sense or integrity.]

...The kakistocracy applies as well to Congress. I have already outlined some of the failures of the confirmation process for Cabinet officers and the abysmal lack of oversight of kleptocratic behavior. Add to those the eleventh hour backdoor effort in the House in January to eviscerate its independent Office of Congressional Ethics and the outrageous attempts by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, unchecked by Speaker Paul Ryan, to collude with the Trump White House to mislead about allegations of its own ties to Russian officials during and after the 2016 campaign. Nunes was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation-- but has continued to try to use his office to influence the process.

Then there is the ineptitude of the policy process in Congress. Despite Speaker Ryan’s boast that this could be the most productive presidency and Congress in our lifetime, the record of Congress in its first nine months is abysmal. Not one of the big goals set by the president or majority congressional leaders-- health repeal and replace, infrastructure, a wall on the border with Mexico, major tax reform-- has been achieved. While the number of bills enacted is about average for new presidents, the number of significant bills is extremely low, especially compared to George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Except for a series of narrow measures to roll back Obama regulations and a bill to increase sanctions on Russia, most of the enactments are minor.

Moreover, Republican leaders, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have blown up most of the remaining norms about how laws are developed, debated, and enacted. The process used to attempt the single most significant congressional promise, repealing and replacing Obamacare, was an embarrassing jumble of ineptitude, casuistry, irregularity, and abnormality. After eight years of promises to offer an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Congress only slapped together careless and unworkable plans after they took the White House and both houses of Congress. In the Senate, the plan was crafted behind closed doors by a small group of older, white male senators without the involvement of experts from the two relevant committees, Health and Finance, and with no input from the most savvy health experts, conservative or otherwise, or any of the stakeholders in the health-policy world. The plan, and its even more embarrassing alternative crafted by Senators Cassidy and Graham after the first one flamed out, were opposed by every major health organization and provider group, and were ripped by Senator John McCain for violating every principle of deliberation and debate. The sponsors lied repeatedly to their colleagues and to journalists and others about what the bills did and did not do, and made ham-handed efforts to throw money or exemptions at individual senators in Maine and Alaska to induce their votes.

The failure to pass any health measure, or to send Trump any significant bills he can use to have lavish Rose Garden victory ceremonies to show how much he is winning, has led to another round of presidential insults aimed at his own party leaders McConnell and Ryan, and at apostates like John McCain and Jeff Flake. The latest is a round of ridiculous and counterproductive attacks by Trump on Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker, who responded with his own broadsides at an unstable president lacking adult supervision. Many observers are now writing and talking about a Republican civil war, with the latest battle being the Senate primary in Alabama that led to the nomination of radical Roy Moore.
Voters want the Democrats to take back the House next year-- by a large margin

So will the voters clean house-- especially The House-- in just over 12 months? Every indicator I look at says yes-- actually, says YES! Trump and his kakistocratic cabinet may be around for a bit longer but if you were to wager that major Republican power players like Paul Ryan (WI), Darrell Issa (CA), Ed Royce (CA), Pete Sessions (TX), Fred Upton (MI), Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ), Lamar Smith (TX) and possibly even Devin Nunes (CA), will be missing from the festivities when Congress reconvenes in January 2019, you'll probably be whole. And the country will be a little less kakistocratic... at least in the legislative branch.

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