Surly

The Week in Doom, July 15, 2018


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on July 15, 2018

“[The beast] also forced everyone… to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark.”

 ― Revelation 13:16-17  


A friend had a close call this week. A reminder of both the fragility and resilience of life and its tenuousness.

As we consider the trajectory of ecocide, it is easy to become demoralized by how little each of us can do. The earth we leave the next generation will be hotter, dryer, more toxic, less fruitful. Extinctions are reported regularly. Glaciers melt, rivers dry, wildfires rage, even in the Arctic, and the ticking methane hydrate bomb continues to lurk.  What can one person do? We can change our habits, prep up, sell our homes and goods and wander the earth like Cain. And the Universe will still turn. What one individual can do is limited, but we can commit to work for change. Difficult to do, and made harder still by the corporate co-optation of the political process. 

If you are collapse-aware and follow current trends in population, energy and resource consumption,, and concludes they are insupportable at current trajectories, what is the moral and ethical course of action? 

We are impatient people. We expect resolution of most stories in the compact arc of TV. Reality has other ideas.  Our current ecocide is a blip in geologic time, and history of Earth is written in eons. The planet doesn't really care what we think. In the fullness of time, after Earth sloughs off the virus known as humanity, within 10,000 years or so– the blink of Nature's eye– the healing will have begun. The planet will be fine; it's humanity that is well and truly fucked. 

It is a depressing prospect. My course of action is to tend to my knitting, and create some happiness and love for those closest to me, and try to leave some small piece of the world in better shape than I found it. It is not nearly enough.


Population Clock Ticking

This week on r/collapse, someone posted this little diversion: TOP 20 LARGEST COUNTRIES BY POPULATION (LIVE)

On this site you can watch the world population clock tot up births in real time as we rush toward the Seneca cliff of population overshoot. China and India tip the scales at a billion and change, and the US is third with 326M. The world population rate of growth is declining as overall population continues to increase.

Population in the world is currently (2018) growing at a rate of around 1.09% per year (down from 1.12% in 2017 and 1.14% in 2016). The current average population increase is estimated at 83 million people per year.

Annual growth rate reached its peak in the late 1960s, when it was at around 2%. The rate of increase has nearly halved since then, and will continue to decline in the coming years.

Human overpopulation exacerbates all of the key environmental issues. Like so many grasshoppers in a wheat field, we consume finite natural resources like fresh water, arable land and fossil fuels, far faster than they can be replenished. Overpopulation aggravates global warming, pollution, habitat loss, the sixth mass extinction, chemical-intensive farming, etc.

Spend five minutes on this page and consider how sobering the evidence is of a reduced future for the next generation, and the inexorability of massive population increases, all based on easily calculable birth rates.


Whither the economy?

Buoyed by the Trump Tax Cut, the economy is in go-go-go mode. The stock market is up, Even the solons at Marketwatch say so.

Surging sales at retailers is merely part of a broader wave in the economy that’s likely to swell gross domestic product to around 4% growth in the second quarter that runs from April to June.

Times are good. Unemployment is a measly 4%. Companies are hiring so fast they can’t find enough skilled workers. Business investment has strengthened.  And a flood of companies are likely to report heady second-quarter profits in the next few weeks. Americans simply haven’t felt this good about the economy in a few decades.

Happy days are here again! Yet financial journalists sound like touts when you look beyond the low-hanging statistical fruit. For one, the Trump Trade War and escalating tit-for-tat tariffs are not yet priced in. Plus we are at the tail of a prolonged, steady expansion since 2009, the third-longest upward climb on record. Juiced by the tax cut, the United States recorded 111 months without a recession in June. Only the 120-month run in the 1990s, a Golden Age for the U.S. economy created by the end of the Cold War and the rise of the Internet ran longer. 

What goes up…

A personal observation. My business is advertising sales, with revenue highly dependent on auto advertising. The auto sector has lagged projections all year.  Advertising spending is down. After seven straight growth years for domestic new-vehicle sales, manufacturers reported a sales drop of two per cent. 2018 has been equally soft. Edmunds.com predicted in January that domestic auto will be down nearly another two per cent. And when business is in the tank, one of the first things to go is advertising spend. What happens to a banana republic when no one wants bananas?

Zero per cent money helped bankroll the party. That too is ending.  

All this is before Trump's tariffs take that bite. We tend to think of tariffs as transactional, but we forget the ripple effects through the economy.

It's almost as if steel is critical to almost everything made, including… cars. Metals will cost more. Period. Anything manufactured, like soup cans, will cost more. I'm sure Trump is counting on his phalanx of infinitely-re-programmable Fox-watching meatbags to be unable to connect the dots between cause and effect.

American workers will suffer as other countries respond with their own tariffs, meaning that our stuff will become more expensive and/or unwelcome in global markets. Canada, Mexico and China have already announced retaliatory tariffs.

Even Tom Donahoe, President of the US Chamber of Commerce, warns that upwards of two million jobs will be lost.

Donohue wrote according to the Wall Street Journal, which reviewed the memo. “Our businesses will lose customers, workers will lose jobs, and American consumers will lose family income through higher taxes and higher prices.”

America’s relationship with its allies has taken another massive kick in the balls. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on our allies is so unilateral, in violation of existing trade deals, and a breach of protocol that the administration had to invoke "national security," meaning the we had to label our allies as a threat. The Washington Post pointed out on Thursday, the United States is now placing more tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the EU than on China.

The smart money calls for a dip in 2019-20. But auto and related industries are already in a two year dip. For auto a recession is already here. Imagine scenarios that could trigger the "R" word– Democrats win control of the House in 2018 and ignite a long-overdue impeachment. Mueller rolls Manafort or Cohen. The Fed could raise interest rates. China's debt bubble could pop. North Korea could erupt, or Iran could blockade the Straits of Hormuz. 

It only takes one pin to pop a balloon.


Want Chips With That?

The trend for technology to get  smaller and more personal got a boost this week. A story moved about a contraceptive computer chip that can be controlled by remote control. The project, backed by Bill Gates, has resulted in a chip that when Implanted under a woman's skin releases a small dose of hormone. The dosage can be stopped at any time by using a wireless remote control.

No word on what happens when someone else grabs the remote. (They say secure encryption prevents someone from trying to hack your reproductive cycle.)

When microchipping was first advanced as an e-commerce technology in 2004, it was met with wholesale revulsion. It took the place of bar codes as "the mark of the beast" and a sign of pending apocalypse among the tinfoil hat set. 

Now, who knows? There is a real trend among consumers to prioritize convenience. Some say it's inevitable. Over time look for convenience and speed to trump revulsion. I give it 50 years. Glad I'll not live to see it.

As Eddie on the Diner Forum observed, 

And on third world birth control? If women are given a choice, they'll line up around the block top get micro-chipped.

Birth control empowers women, and until now, the major religions and the patriarchal social and political systems in the 3rd world have effectively prevented birth control. If you're chipped, nobody has to know. I predict it'll catch on like you would not believe.

Consider the implications for the abortion fetishists who want to make the fetus property of the State, and the re-chattelization of women a priority. Women's agency is a real threat to these people. What if this technology renders Roe v. Wade moot? What if this normalizes "chipping" and makes it more acceptable, rather than apocalyptic?

Does that "rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ [who] Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born" come with a chip?


Short takes

Trump says the 20-foot-tall angry-baby blimp flying in London makes him feel 'unwelcome'

Maybe it was the 250,000 angry demonstrators.Trump was met by mass protests in Great Britain. Everywhere he went, there they were, although his handlers made sure all of 45's events were outside of the city. 

Strzok: I could have exposed Russia investigation to hurt Trump, but didn’t

In a grueling interrogation in the House, Republican partisans in the House GOP lost all connection to reality and embarrassed themselves in the process. Led around the ninth circle of Hell by Benghazi poster boy Trey Gowdy, the House GOP revealed its abject devotion to all things Trump, and themselves as useful idiots for America’s enemies.

Papa John's Founder Resigns from Board After Using the N-Word on Company Call

Shitty Pizza. Shitty Human being. Papa John's.

Forget Killer Robots: Autonomous Weapons Are Already Online

Unknown to most of us, cyber weapons that operate with great autonomy with the potential to crash financial networks and disable power grids already exist in cyberspace.

Trump pardons Oregon arsonists in case that sparked Malheur refuge occupation

45 sends sovereign citizen fringers an early Christmas present. Depicted as "devoted family men," by the right, the Hammonds set fires to cover up an illegal hunt. This pardon signals a loss for advocates of public lands, and a nod and a wink to theft of the commons by a privileged handful of cowboys. 

Red-hot planet: All-time heat records set across the world last week

From the normally mild summer climes of Ireland, Scotland and Canada to the scorching Middle East to Southern California, numerous locations in the Northern Hemisphere have witnessed their hottest weather ever recorded over the past week. See also:

The sea-level threat is worse than you think

The rate that Antarctica is melting has tripled since 2007, new research shows

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author for Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone, because he paid full retail for everything he has managed to learn.

This Week In Doom, July 8


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on July 8, 2018

“The world that you see is being configured to a probable reality that you haven’t yet chosen.”

 ― Douglas Rushkoff  


What occasioned some collapse-related noise this week on the Diner Forum was an article penned by Douglas Rushkoff entitled, Survival of the Richest–The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind. Worth a peek.

Rushkoff is a writer, documentarian, and lecturer whose work focuses on human autonomy in the digital age.  (See his website. ) He had been invited to an exclusive resort to deliver a keynote speech to investment bankers on the subject of “the future of technology.” The fee was un-turn-down-able for a university professor–he described it as  "about half his annual professor’s salary ."

After he arrived, he was ushered into a room he thought might have been the green room, but was instead the setting for him to meet his REAL audience: five super-wealthy hedge fund bankers with questions of their own.

Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska? Is Google really building Ray Kurzweil a home for his brain, and will his consciousness live through the transition, or will it die and be reborn as a whole new one? Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”

The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.

This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless?

Yes, the rich are different from you and me. They have private security. Plus they know we're doomed and have absolutely no intention of doing anything aside from saving their own skins. This should surprise no one. For them, a "talk about the future of technology" is really about

…preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape. 

There was a time within recent memory when the future seemed inventable and accessible, in Rushkoff's words, " a playground for the counterculture, who saw in it the opportunity to create a more inclusive, distributed, and pro-human future." Now, when Elon Musk is launching cars into space, Peter Thiel reversing aging, or Ray Kurzweil uploading his mind, they saw a digital future with far less to do with making the world a better place than with transcending the human condition altogether.

It's been obvious for years that our technology has far outstripped our ethics, this since the moment the Enola Gay released her cargo. At a time when everything that can be commoditized will be, and all transactions, including moral, ethical, and spiritual, are filtered through the logic of the spreadsheet, we should expect nothing else.

Now we wrestle with the ethical dilemmas presented by unchecked technological development at the behest of corporate capitalism. Dreamed-of digital utopias have waxed into marketplaces that have become exploitative and extractive. Bots and algorithms, and even conversations overheard by your cell phone prompt offers of new deals just over the digital horizon. Workplaces for suppliers become increasingly dehumanized and automated (think Amazon). We collectively wring our hands with each story about jobs lost, exploitations of the gig economy, and collapse of local retail. And tthose about the rest of the world, where we export our trash and poisons, create toxic waste dumps in third world countries picked over by peasant children and their families, who sell recovered materials back to the manufacturers. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Our extractive culture exports our problems: out of sight, out of mind. And once out of sight, we escape to fantasies afforded by new tech baubles and toys– VR fantasy worlds, shooter games, movie franchises based on comic heroes and 3D animation, zombie apocalypses, and so on. The zeitgiest is fairly shrieking at us. Ours is the logic of the junkie: we believe that the next tech fix is just around the corner.

When the hedge funders asked Rushkoff how to best maintain authority over their security forces after “the event,” He suggested should treat those people really well, right now, engage with their security staffs as they would family members. And extend an "ethos of inclusivity" to  business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution…

They were amused by my optimism, but they didn’t really buy it. They were not interested in how to avoid a calamity; they’re convinced we are too far gone. For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future. They are simply accepting the darkest of all scenarios and then bringing whatever money and technology they can employ to insulate themselves.

We should take them at their word.


Short takes:

EPA chief Scott Pruitt resigns amid scandals, blames critics 

Pruitt's 14 scandal investigations finally became too much of a burden even for The Orange Lout to take, and Pruitt did an el-foldo, blaming everyone else on the way out the door. Crying the obligatory "witch-hunt," and pour everyone a round. Pruitt's successor promises to be Pruitt without the serial grifts.

China and Russia hit back at Trump tariffs

45 launched his "easy-to-win" trade war this week. China's commerce ministry lodged a new complaint with the WTO. Russia announced extra duties on US imports in retaliation. Beijing accused the US of starting the "largest trade war in economic history". Evidence mounts that Trump's trade fights will be most harmful to the people who voted for him, especially in states with large exports of soy.

It Was Absurdly Hot in North Africa Thursday

The entire globe is in the grips of an unusual heat wave. Following sweltering temperatures in the U.S. and a hot, smoky Siberia (with temps above 90 degrees F at the Arctic Circle), we have what may be the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Africa. The heat dome over Algeria and the rest of North Africa was “3.5 to 4 standard deviations from normal, meaning highly unusual.”

Intense heat wave shattering temperature records in Iran and the Caucasus

An intense heat wave has shattered temperature records in Iran and the Caucasus nations of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, causing power shortages. Weather experts said the heat wave is the result of a high-pressure dome that formed over the Eurasian region and reaches as far north as southern Russia.


Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone, because he paid full retail for everything he has managed to learn.

Oh Say Can You See?


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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on July 4, 2018

“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

 ― Mark Twain  


As we celebrate the nation's Independence, a virtual pallor seems to hang over the proceedings like a shitmist. There will be parades, fireworks, cookouts and picnics, and the attendant mindlessness of a hot summer day. There will be 21-gun salutes with appropriate solemnity. But in many ways, it's almost as if it's "Bizarro- Fourth of July–" similar, but a bit off. As if our hearts are not fully in it. Given that hundreds of thousands attended over 800 rallies demonstrating against government-sanctioned kidnapping of children and separation of immigrant families, they may not be. Now comes proof we're just not as patriotic as we used to be.


New Low of 52% "Extremely Proud" to Be Americans- Gallup

For the first time in 18 years, a recent Gallup poll shows that a majority of US adults are not "extremely proud” to be Americans. That's an average across political ideologies, with the sort of steep differences on either side of the political aisle you might expect.

As the nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day, 52% of U.S. adults say they are "extremely proud" to be Americans, a new low in Gallup's 16-year trend. Americans' patriotism spiked after 9/11, peaking at 70% in 2003, but has declined since, including an eight-percentage-point drop in early 2005 and a five-point drop since 2013.

                                Trend: How proud are you to be an American -- extremely proud, very proud, moderately proud, only a little proud or not at all proud?

From a peak of 70 percent in 2003, the proportion of those "extremely proud to be Americans" has eroded consistently, leveling during the final years of the Cheney-Bush regime and most of former Obama. A slide started in 2015 and continues.

No surprise the numbers split along age and political affiliation. Young adults today are significantly less patriotic than in 2001. Also no surprise that liberals (36%) join young adults as the least patriotic major subgroup. Independents, Democrats, non-whites and college graduates are also slow to salute. In contrast are those major subgroups most likely to wave the flag:  Republicans (68%), conservatives (61%) and those 50-64 (64%).

The 23-point gap in patriotism between Rs and Ds is now roughly double what it was in January 2001.

What's it all mean? Gallup suggests that Americans' continued frustration with national conditions — likely tied to their concern about the economy and lack of faith in public institutions — are reasons patriotism is at an ebb. Not surprisingly, I can offer some other thoughts.

How about the erosion of the middle class? For years, we've read the headlines: the middle class in the United States has been in decline.

CNN May 18, 2018: “Almost half of US families can’t afford basics like rent and food”
Marketwatch June 2, 2018: “50 million American households can’t even afford basic living expenses”
Wall Street Journal February 13, 2018 : “US households shoulder record $13.15 trillion debt”

In Asia, government policies favor the emergence of a prosperous middle class. In China in 2000, according to McKinsey, just 4% of the population was middle class. By 2012, it had exploded to 68% of the population. 

Meanwhile in the US, The Orange Lout has instituted tariffs against our friends, which will have the net effect of raising prices.  When prices rise faster than wages, the middle class struggles. And that’s what’s been happening. The coming round of price gouges will worsen the buying power of the dollar. Powerless workers will demand wage increases, which will further erode the dollar's worth, producing the inflation which the Fed has so dearly wanted to create. The only ones who will suffer are the wage slaves and retirees. Happy days are here again for the swells and grandees. 

Housing is a powerful example. Simon Black points out:

In late 2011, the average home cost around 3.56 times the average salary in the US, according to data published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. By the end of 2017, the average home cost 4.73 times the average salary, even though mortgage rates were essentially unchanged.

In other words, even when you adjust for the fact that people are earning more, housing became 33% more expensive in just six years– and that doesn’t account for increases in property taxes, home owners association dues, insurance premiums, etc.

And of course, rents follow. So even though people are technically earning more dollars, those increasingly-worthless dollars purchase less and less house. And everything else. And we haven't even addressed the medical-industrial wealth-extraction conduit scheme. Such long term inflation and value extraction is simply theft baked in to the system. 

How about security? Consider that the postwar Marshall plan to rebuild Europe and institute a consensus of mutual trade and defense endured for 70 years. We're busily thumbing our allies in the eye over trade, and toying with the notion of leaving NATO, the better to get those Eurochiselers to pay Their Fair Share.  While Trumpsuckers cheer, "America! Fuck, Yeah!" they ignore the fact that the nuclear-tipped arsenal purchases their standard of living, thus enabling them to have that chrome-plated eight burner Weber grill on the deck of their double-wide.

Reflecting on recent history,  Watergate shocked the system as we were exposed to our first criminal President. Then Reagan, and Iran-Contra, and Ollie North, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, and then Fox News. Plus we elected two Republican Presidents that lost the popular vote, and two Democrats that governed as centrist Republicans. A useless war, a PATRIOT Act, Citizen's United, and the theft of a SCOTUS seat all reinforced by lawmakers who gerrymandered their own voters.

Yet another President-without-a-plurality institutes policies at clear variance with our stated "values" and which flout both international law and human decency, such that hundreds of thousands are moved to take to the streets in sweltering summer heat. Little wonder the 'proud to be a 'Murkin'" contingent continues to shrink.

How about the fact that public sentiment and voting seems to have almost no effect on national policies? A 2015 study shows the US is a corrupt oligarchy where ordinary voters barely matter. As the authors put it, 

"Economic elites and organized interest groups play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence."

Who does? Major donors and lobbyists. Your cynicism is well placed. 

Never forget that Grover Norquist's avowed goal was to shrink government to the point that he "could drown it in the bathtub." A good way to do that is to vitiate support for government, especially among its natural constituency. As well as to demoralize the general populace, the better to depress voter turnout. 

The current adminstration's policies are designed to immiserate and outrage. Border atrocities done in our names, attacks on the rule of law, insulting democratic leaders while praising thugs, and breaking up trade agreements are all about turning American exceptionalism on its head even as our "President" brays the words.  The so-called "leadership of the free world" is something we are gleefully throwing away. For what? And who benefits?

When Trump declares war on Mars, where are the young people whose patriotic ranks will swell the all-volunteer Space Force?


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone, because he paid full retail for everything he has managed to learn.


 

This Week in Doom June 25, 2018


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 25, 2018

“We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”

 ― Donald J. Trump, June 20, 2018


This was a week for visceral outrage in the face of unspeakable human rights atrocities. The Orange Lout signed an executive order countering the effects of his previous decision separarting children and infants from their parents, then scattering them to the winds.  The Trump message, scrawled clear as day and quite literally on  the back of Melania Trump, was that the Trump administration could not care less. Independent artists, students, and even actor Jim Carrey, created striking visuals that surfaced on covers of TIME and the New Yorker. (See examples.) The U.S. withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council, Trump ordered the creation of a new Space Force. The gnomes running the Dow Jones Index removed General Electric, the last 19th century holdover, from its ranks. Open season on black Americans by cops continued, in an episode with personal relevance. 

In spite of the wholesale revulsion expressed by a distraught populace, over the weekend Donald Trump continued to use fear of MS-13 to justify his ‘zero-tolerance’ immigration policy, but only 180 of the 187,000 people apprehended at a major border crossing are connected to the violent criminal group.

It is essential to remember that Trump’s executive order was not a reversal or a capitulation. The administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, under which everyone crossing the border illegally, even those who present themselves as seeking asylum, is subject to criminal prosecution, remains in place. Only the kidnapping of children has been held in abeyance. For now.


Creating a Crisis

Time Magazine Cover, July 2, 2018 Edition New Yorker Magazine Cover, July 2, 2018 Edition          

In pursuit of his singleminded objective to control each day's narrative and the news cycle, thus to suppress his pending exposure of the world's largest money-laundering operation, the current White House incumbent doubled down on crazy. Trump’s inhumane "zero-tolerance" policy forcibly removed children, toddlers and babies as young as three months old from their immigrant parents attempting to enter the United States at our southern border, even those seeking asylum. The Trump ruling junta executed this policy in a move designed to outrage, to alienate, and most important, drive the name "Robert Mueller" from the front pages. Trump reverses course, signs order to keep families together

This heinous operation has been condemned by everyone from the Pope to Fox TV producers to foreign leaders like  Theresa May to top corporate CEOs like Apple’s Tim Cook to U.S. airlines (who learned they may have unwittingly transported such children to destinations hundreds of miles away from their parents.) 

The outcry and revulsion from kidnapping without due process, and incarcerating them in internment camp conditions caused schisms in the solid Republican Congressional majority. Even longtime GOP strategist Steve Schmidt threw in the towel.

“Make no mistake about it when you’re ripping breastfeeding children away from their mothers and putting them in detention facilities, that’s an evil policy. To see the Republican Party break up the way it has, to lose its moral compass, it is tragic. It’s tragic for me personally, but I won’t be part of it. I won’t share a party label with people who think it’s all right to put babies in internment camps. My fidelity is to my country, not my political party. Country first.”

The optics were terrible, and the sound was worse. News networks played the sounds of crying infants ripped from their mothers. Outrage mounted across the country, and burst into flame in Portland, where an Occupy-style protest shuttered the local ICE facility. Oregon Public Broadcasting:

“Demonstrators have also been camping outside the building and festooning the area with signs with slogans like “Kick out ICE” and “Will trade racists for refugees.” Two tents on Monday evening had increased to six by Tuesday morning. Twenty-four hours later, nearly 30 tents had been erected…

Tents line trolley tracks outside the ICE facility in Southwest Portland, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. Dirk VanderHart/OPB

“The encampment — largely grassroots, but supported by a coalition of local groups — also has a medical tent and a kitchen area overflowing with donated water and food.”

Classic Occupy. The facility reopened, but the backlash continued to grow. The policy credited to Goebbels cosplayer Stephen Miller started to smell like dead fish within 24 hours, and by Wednesday Trump had signed an executive order modifying his earlier decision.

Here is what the executive order does: It keeps families together, keeps them under DHS control, does nothing to reunite families already separated, seeks indefinite detention with a DOJ challenge to Flores v. Reno, a consent decree that limits government detention of immigrant children to 20 days. If successful, they’ll be able to hold families indefinitely. It enlists military facilities as concentration camps. It also blames Congress, since Congress failed to pass immigration legislation, leaving the administration no choice, even as it reversed course.

If these policies seem irredeemably cruel, and the characterization of would-be immigrants as "insects" and "vermin" spectacularly racist, remember that from the beginning, cruelty was the whole point.


Trump Administration Withdraws U.S. From U.N. Human Rights Council

On Tuesday, The FSoA withdrew from the world’s most important human rights body in protest of that body's frequent criticism of Israel’s brutal and genocidal treatment of Palestinians. In other words, for telling the truth. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, that counter of sustaining votes, scrivener of dissenters and settler of scores, announced this latest effort by the Trump administration to withdraw and diminish those international organizations and agreements it finds unsuitable to the reward of cronies and punishment of opponents.

It was the first time a member has voluntarily left the United Nations Human Rights Council. With one deft foreign policy stroke, the US now joins other rogue states such as Iran, North Korea and Eritrea, as the only countries that refuse to participate.

“If the Human Rights Council is going to attack countries that uphold human rights and shield countries that abuse human rights, then America should not provide it with any credibility,” Ms. Haley said.

Human rights advocates denounced the decision. 

“All this administration seems to care about when it comes to the council is defending Israel,” said John Sifton, an advocacy director at Human Rights Watch “If the Trump administration’s complaint is that the council is biased and flawed, they’ve just made it more so.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel welcomed the decision. “The U.S. decision to leave this prejudiced body is an unequivocal statement that enough is enough,” he wrote on Tuesday.

The withdrawal came as the administration faced worldwide condemnation from rights groups and governments. Your tax dollars at work. Done in your name.


Victory on Mars

On Monday, the floundering Orange Lout found yet another subject to which to attempt to change the subject from #TrumpRussia.

And this one is really bigly. He ordered the Pentagon to establish a stand-alone Space Force as a new branch of the armed forces.

"We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal," Trump said at a meeting of the National Space Council at the White House.

"It is going to be something so important."

"Our destiny beyond the earth is not only a matter of national identity, but a matter of national security, so important for our military and people don’t talk about it," Trump said. "When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space."

Of course, this order, like so many that bubble from the porcine lips of the Prevaricator-in-Chief, is patently illegal and meant to mollify his base of droolers and window-lickers. Establishing a new military branch requires congressional action and corresponding funding, as pointed out by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio):

"Congress has asked DoD to study how we handle space. We still don’t know what a Space Force would do, who is going to be in it, or how much is it going to cost," Turner said. "After we get the report that we required as a legislative body and the president signed off on, then this issue can be appropriately evaluated for what’s best for national security."

But boy, it changes the hell out of a subject. At least for a news cycle.


And Stay Out!  GE Kicked To Curb, Last 19th Century DJI Member Removed 

General Electric added shame to suffering on Tuesday as overseers of the Dow Jones Industrial Average kicked the company out of the benchmark index it had inhabited for more than a century. GE will be replaced by Walgreens. The slippage is just another trailing indicator for what was once the world’s most valuable company.

“It was an issue not of if, but when,” said Quincy Krosby, the chief market strategist at Prudential Financial Inc. “The GE that was dominant in the Dow in the ’70s and ’80s is no longer the same GE.”

Down 26 percent, GE had been the Dow's worst performer in 2018, as it had been last year. Once an embodiment of American industry and managerial know-how, GE had arguably died some time ago. The DJI announcement was just the first shovel of dirt on an open grave.


State Terror Comes Home

Antwon Rose, 17, was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nickole Nesby via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

On Wednesday, local police executed 17-year-old Antwon Rose in East Pittsburgh, PA. The boy was fleeing from a traffic stop and and unarmed when he was shot in the back by a cop who had been sworn onto the force mere hours earlier. This story had particular resonance for me because it happened on the next hill over from where I was raised, and I was visiting friends in the area when it occurred.

A bystander’s video showed the officer opening fire as Rose fled from police. In terms of seeking justice, video is the great equalizer. Video does nothing to stem the tide of summary executions of black Americans by rogue cops, but it marginally increases the likelihood of survivors successfully seeking accountability.  

According to the Allegheny County Police Department, police initially responded to reports of a shooting around 8:20 pm on Tuesday, finding a 22-year-old man who had been shot but was taken to the hospital and survived. Police put out a call for a vehicle that was seen fleeing the scene, and officers stopped a car that they said matched the description. While they were detaining the driver of the car, two people jumped out. An officer opened fire, killing a 17-year-old. 

The 17-year-old was Antwon Rose, a student at Woodland Hills School District, according to Shelly Bradbury and Andrew Goldstein at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said Rose was unarmed, although officers found two guns in the vehicle he fled from.

The 20-year-old driver of the vehicle was released after he was questioned by police. The third occupant of the car remains at large.

A bystander captured a video of the police shooting and posted it on Facebook. It shows two people running away from police cars, with their backs to the officers, as police open fire. Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting. 

On Wednesday night, four of us were driving to a pizza restaurant in East Pittsburgh, a favorite from childhood and adolescence. We'd been planning it all week. We drove east in what for Pittsburgh is a serious storm event, but in coastal Virginia is known as "rain." About half a mile from our destination, we came to a red light where several cop cars were parked, lights flashing. A large trailer truck was trying around in the intersection and reversing field. Another cop car drove toward us and against traffic, parked his car at a slant directly at us. WTF? I moved to turn around by moving to the left lane and asked a cop what the issue was. (This area had previously received national notoriety some weeks ago when landslides demolished houses and blocked PA Route 30, so another rain-induced landslide calamity was by no means out of the question.) The cop said people ahead were demonstrating. In a driving rain. I wondered what they could be possibly demonstrating about in such conditions, as we were not yet aware of the shooting.

We tried to reach our destination another way, by navigating through the rain-slicked streets of our old neighborhood and going back down the hill and approaching from the other direction. The cut-through I recalled from adolescence had been removed at some point in the past forty years. With no other recourse, we turned around and left. 

Only when we got back to my friend's house did I learned of the execution by cop. Antwon Rose was from all accounts a good, bright kid. He attended the same high school we did. The cop is reported to be being treated for "shock," a ruse doubtless from the police union manual on how to execute the unarmed black American without consequence. I expect he will be placed on "administrative (meaning paid) leave,"  and receive a vacation for several months, before his pro forma hearing and exoneration a la Ferguson, Cleveland, et al.

The demonstrations in East Pittsburgh have continued for at least four straight days.


Other short takes worth mentioning as they whiz by include the passing of conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer,  the introduction of retaliatory tariffs on US goods  by the European Union in an attack on Trump's trade war, Disney raised their bid for Fox assets to $71.3 billion in cash and stock, topping Comcast, Instagram hit 1 billion monthly users, SCOTUS punted on its biggest decision of its term so far regarding partisan gerrymandering, and a sporting event called the World Cup began group play.

Another week as we spin toward Seneca's cliff.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone, because he paid full retail for everything he has managed to learn.

This Week in Doom June 10, 2018


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 10, 2018

“It’s like these guys take pride in being ignorant.” ― Barack Obama  


This was a week in which The Orange Turd blasted our allies and trading partners, gave aid and succor to Russia, declared himself above the law and that he can pardon himself, called the special counsel unconstitutional and otherwise appealed to his rump base of hard core supporters and tagalong stupids. This stuff would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. Anti-intellectualism has been the glue holding together the Republican platform, and is normalized for a third of the electorate, such that we are unequipped to deal with the complex problems we hasten to create all over the world. 

Right-wingers label intelligence and being well-informed as “elite,” implying that ignorance is somehow both valuable and under attack, because a sense of continued victimhood  is necessary to stoke the flames of grievance.  Richard Hofstadter described our anti-intellectualism as “older than our national identity” in his 1963 classic, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Observers from Tocqueville on noted American ignorance as an essential element of the national character, never found far from its running buddy, nativism. Yet our founders established a form of government that requires an informed citizenry. Hard to do when television prefers simplistic arguments, solutions, answers, and a story arc that resolves in 22 minutes. And even TV is losing the attention battle to the smartphone.

We can't agree on what constitutes a "fact." Trump's War on Truth starts with "No Collusion," and proceeds to denying climate change, asserting widespread voter fraud, and asserting evidence doesn't matter. Evidence-based communities are under attack — the intelligence community, law enforcement, think tanks and journalists. Such attacks come in various forms — disregard for data, ad hom attacks on messengers and motives, deflections and false analogies. And outright lying. Now any theory is valid if it sells books, earns ratings, or moves units, anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough, and fact is whatever enough people believe, determined by how fervently they believe it. Praise Jesus.

American 15-year-olds rank 24th out of 29 countries in math literacy, and their parents are as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution; roughly 30 to 40 percent believe in each. Almost half of Americans can’t name even one of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. 35 percent think gay people can choose to become straight. 29 percent say that a bloody fight against the U.S. government “isn’t just imminent but imperative.” A late-night comic interviewed a Georgia Rep about the bill she co-sponsored  that would require display of the Ten Commandments in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. When asked, she couldn't actually name the commandments. Apparently we don't need to know anything because, hey, we can look it up on the Internet.

Just don't lose your phone.


Trump cuts and runs from G7. End of the world order?

The G7 (G6?) is in apparent disarray after Trump rejected a joint communique and attacked Canada's Justin Trudeau as 'weak.' In a PR offensive meant to bring his low IQ voter base of to full erection, The Orange Lout managed to threaten new trade wars, insult our friends, coddle our enemies and call for Russia to be reinstated to the G7. He arrived late to a meeting on human rights, signaling his disdain for the proceedings, and then left early in case anyone missed the point.

Yet for all that, the US had appeared to agree a version of a draft statement on contentious issues thanks to an all-night negotiating session by officials from all sides. But then Trump's personal Iago, John Bolton, went to work on his erratic, easily swayed charge.

But after leaving for Singapore, Trump tweeted personal attacks on Trudeau and said that he had told his representatives not to sign the summit communique, turning what had already been a tense meeting of the world’s leading industrialized democracies into a fiasco.

A few minutes before Trump sent out his inflammatory tweets, his hawkish national security security adviser, John Bolton, appeared to anticipate them by sending a tweet of his own, deriding the G7 summit he had just attended.

“Just another G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank. The President made it clear today. No more,” Bolton said.

On meeting Trump, Trudeau made a gift of a framed photo of The Orange Turd's  grandfather’s Canadian brothel in British Columbia, where Friedrich Drumpf made the fortune that was the foundation of the Trump family real estate empire. Orange Julius seemed happy with the gift, even bragging about it on Twitter. Some speculate it was a brilliant troll. 

Apparently this was not the only viral slight from Trudeau to Trump. In the released photo of the world leaders together, the two leaders also stood side-by-side and clearly showed that Trudeau is visibly taller than The Orange Lout. Trudeau is listed as 6-foot-2 while Trump was comically listed on his official White House physical as 6-foot-3. Compared to Trudeau, he appears to be at least two inches shorter than his listed height, which would classify him as obese.

It is not known whether the point of the gift slowly dawned on The Orange One only later, or whether that helped fuel his tantrum. In a related rumor, Vladimir Putin was heard singing a happy tune.


How Singapore, Astana and St Petersburg preview a new world order

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a meeting of a diffreent kind took place. Pepe Escobar outlines how Russia-China are now well-placed to have Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India join them along with the central Asian stans, in a new mega trading bloc, even as the  US/Japan/EU western bloc is collapsing and divided.

The Astana Economic Forum in Kazakhstan centered on how mega-partnerships are changing world trade. Participants included the president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Eurasian Development Bank, the president of the EU Commission, the deputy director-general of the WTO, and academics. You may ask, "who cares?" 

In a nutshell; this New Great Game installment revolves around “Russia’s strategy to enhance its bargaining power with the West by pivoting to the East.”


While Putin's Man in the White House left the G7 early in a snit, he  left behind a giant turd in the punch bowl, demanding that Russia be re-admitted to the G-7. 

Cui bono?

Join now in another rousing chorus of "No Kollusion!"

As the New Silk Road initiative continues, along with mega-partnerships changing world trade, meetings like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) occurring soon, the US is quickly becoming a pariah state.

Cui bono?

Maybe you missed this as well:

Add to the debate the crucial Astana headline, ignored by Western corporate media: Iran signed a provisional free-trade-zone agreement with the EAEU, lowering or abolishing customs duties, and opening the way for a final deal in 2021. For Iran, that will be a golden ticket to do business way beyond Southwest Asia, integrating it further with Russia and also Kazakhstan, which happens to be a key member of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The rest of the world is going its own way, and will be doing so without the US. Let's review the bidding: Trump hollows out the State department, and surrounds himself with "my generals." Military acumen replaces statecraft. Ambassadorships go unfilled. Wary of "globalists," the US retreats from the world, and China rushes in the fill the vacuum. Trump picks unnecessary fights with allies, who consider other trade and strategic options. Putin and Xi offer options. America become increasingly isolated as Trump Makes China Great Again.

Once again: cui bono?

We all like to forget that "the American standard of living" is financed by foreign debt, backed by the full faith and credit of the US nuclear arsenal and delivery systems. Which mean less ability to burden the rest of the world with all those troublesome dollars, and when all that debt comes home to roost, great will be the hue and cry therefrom. The "average American" will suffer a bigly shock to his and her standard of living, and our children might be able to afford a chicken for Sunday Dinner luxury once a month… Maybe only then will we put all the goddamn phones down.


Trump: 'I have the absolute right to pardon myself'

It's hard to think back thus far and realize that this happened within this week, such are the serial insults to our attention, but the Orange Lout continue to make his above-the Law-assertions that he could, indeed, pardon himself. He was quick to add that He didn't need to do that, because he had done nothing wrong. Just ignore all those indictments…

The DOJ ruled 44 years ago that the president cannot pardon himself

Trump took to Twitter on Monday to claim his "absolute right" to grant himself a presidential pardon, though he said it would be unnecessary as he has "done nothing wrong." He cited "numerous legal scholars" to back his claim.

However, as Bloomberg reporter Steven Dennis pointed out, that wasn't the case at the end of former President Richard Nixon's time in office. "Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the president cannot pardon himself," the Department of Justice declared in 1974. The DOJ spelled it out just four days before Nixon resigned, explaining that the president's pardoning power "does not extend to the president himself."

Even his designated TV legal rodeo clown, Rudy "9-11" Giuliani, added that Trump pardoning himself is "unthinkable" and "would lead to probably an immediate impeachment."

As we have already seen,the fact that this course of action may be illegal in no way precludes Trump from taking it and saying, in effect, "What are you going to do about it?" The Republican majority has proven themselves to be as craven a bunch of lickspittles as ever gathered together to submit to serial forcible sodomy, so expect no "rule of law" relief from that quarter.

Along those lines, Charlie Pierce submitted an article, Trump Has Access to Everything a Dictator Could Want, in which he outlines how Trump consolidates power based on deceit at an alarming rate, and is becoming more popular for doing so among the only voters that matter to him. They care only about winning at all costs, and immiserating godless "libruls" is just an added lagniappe.

The president*, installed at least in part by ratfckers in the employ of a former KGB thug now running a murderous kleptocracy, has at his easy disposal everything a dictator could possibly want. He has combined an instinctive contempt for democratic government with a swindler’s nose for easy cash and a junkie knifepoint robber’s reckless disregard for consequences. He has a tight, loyal cabal of flunkies who’d be chasing ambulances if it weren’t for their talents as sycophants. He has a largely impotent political opposition and a largely supine congressional majority. He is one vote away from a rubber-stamp Supreme Court…

The prion disease began when the party ate the monkeybrains provided by Ronald Reagan, who served up crackpot economics leavened with a cynical alliance with splinter American Protestantism. It has gathered strength within the party, its symptoms becoming more and more obvious year after year. 

Iran-Contra. Willie Horton. Atwater. Rove. Falwell. Graham. Luntz. Bauer. Gingrich. The Impeachment Kabuki. Florida. The lies undermining the Iraq War. Gay-baiting in the 2004 elections. The U.S. Attorneys scandal. Phony charges of voter fraud. The barbaric use of Terri Schiavo for political gain. The unprecedented obstruction, based in overt racism, of Barack Obama. The tolerance of Louie Gohmert, Steve King, Blake Fahrenhold, and Michele Bachmann. The endless flogging of the events at Benghazi. 

And, finally, confronted with genuine, uncut, unfiltered, un-consulted authoritarianism, these people affect surprise that their party was ready for this president* or someone like him? Or that their party was helpless to stop him, or to confront him once in office? The Republican party abandoned its political innocence long ago. It’s only now just noticing.

This administration is the culmination of 40 years of conservative Republican politics melded with an atavistic, fringe Christopathy. The executive is accumulating unchecked power at a breakneck pace, and it is debatable whether he can even be stopped. If you don't like it, get thee to the polls in November. And if you DO like it, eat a bullet.


Suicide Is Painless

The deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have called attention is rising suicide rates in The Home of the Brave, Land of the Free. NBC reports that US suicide rates are up 30 percent since 1999, according to the CDC. Only half of people who died by suicide had diagnosed mental health conditions.

That may be in part because it’s so difficult to get mental health care, said Dr. Jack Rozel, medical director of the Allegheny crisis services facility in Pittsburgh and president-elect of the American Association for Emergency Psychiatry.

“I run a major crisis center. We have 150 staff. We provide almost 150,000 services every year,” Rozel, also a psychiatry professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said.

Yet even his team sometimes has problems finding help for people.

“I think I am reasonably well-connected. About a year ago a friend of mine reached out to me. He was feeling more sad, more anxious, than usual," Rozel said.

"It took me days to get him an appointment with someone. It’s a problem.”

AA calls suicide a "permanent solution to a temporary problem." Who among us really knows what the other guy is going through?

A couple of trends here: In the Reagan years, we de-funded and closed mental hospitals, and in one fell swoop created a homeless problem of off-their-meds schizophrenics wandering the streets, to swell the ranks of other unfortunates. Which was then exacerbated by a casino economy that picks winners, and criminalizes poverty. (Being poor in America is really the only unforgivable sin. My city has jerked up benches in almost every park , even at the airport, and recently fenced off a vacant lot in which Food Not Bombs fed the homeless.)

Another trend has been the pharmacologing of mental illness. Therapists are expensive; pills are cheap. No paychecks needed for pills, which we can make for $.05 and sell for $10 the each. And who gives a fuck about the problems of a handful of muppets? Bad for profits.

Who knows what private torments someone otherwise enjoying the fruits of fame may suffer. But when you look behind the headlines, many thousands of people suffer with depression, with mental illness, and other ills, and our solution is to throw medications at them to paper over the problem, and then blame them for "being weak." Weakness being a sin almost  as unforgivable as poverty.

In the search for answers, we'll look it up on the Internet on our phone. Everywhere except in a mirror. 



banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone, because he paid full retail for everything he has managed to learn.

This Week In Doom June 4, 2018


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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@doomstead666
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 4, 2018

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

 ― Nemesis  


Madness in DC is certainly in evidence, with the Lout-in-Chief hurling tweets like Zeus' thunderbolts, with the primary intention being suspension of the rule of law. Trump further weaponized the pardon power as a political tool, issuing a presidential pardon for confessed felon and right wing ideologue Dinesh D'Souza to the delight of right wingers and the annoyance of those who care about the rule of law. On Monday Morning, Trump tweeted, “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” Melania was still missing after 22 days, prompting speculation as to her whereabouts and safety.  Rumors that she had been renditioned to a black site in Thailand for threatening divorce remain unproven at press time.

Each week seems to have a day bruised by a flurry of Trump rage-tweets. His bouts of fury are well-documented. In Trump's 81 weeks as POTUS, has threatened individuals, institutions, businesses and countries, including the media, the NFL, NATO member countries, allies and enemies with bluster and braggadocio. He’s even promised Joe Biden a physical beat-down for challenging him.

Morris Berman in his blog Dark Ages America, has said it best:

Trump's historical mission is to dismantle the country, and he couldn't be doing a better job. John Kiriakou is worried about the state of the American soul (see his essay…), as though the jury was out on that one. In fact, it can be summarized in a single word: rotten. As he notes, 67% of the American public approves of torture, and Trump's approval rating continues to rise.

It's all over but the shouting.

Two-thirds of Americans support torture. The same number believe in guardian angel who keeps them safe from spiders and muslims. As one raised Roman Catholic who left the church after learning about the Spanish Inquisition, I’m appalled that anyone can think such a thing is even remotely acceptable. And now it is policy, part of the Trump governing ethic of putting a fox in charge of every henhouse. There is a dark terror and viciousness in the American soul, given full expression by the Lout-in-Chief. D.H Lawrence one wrote, "The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” And the magisterial American historian Richard Hofstadter acknowledged that “Americans certainly have reason to inquire whether, when compared with other advanced industrial nations, they are not a people of exceptional violence.” Make that "they" a "we."

Meanwhile, the shouting continues. As Shakespeare once said, “Words, words, words.” 


On Again, On Again

The North Korea Summit Is Back On—But Don’t Expect Miracles

Trump says Kim meeting is back on: ‘We’re getting along’

In a triumph of low expectations, the once-off "summit" with North Korea is back on again. “It went very well,” Trump declaimed, “And now we’re going to deal.”

This did America's greatest showman arrange to receive a letter delivered from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, in a symbolic show of good intentions. The delivery boy, one Kim Yong Chol, a former spymaster still legally sanctioned by the United States and reputedly the second-most powerful man in North Korea, was there to provide the photo op that the Koreans are savvy enough to know that the figurehead and loose cannon needs.

Just the week before, Trump cancelled the first ever summit between American and North Korean leaders in a dramatic letter to Kim, whose government had not been picking up the phone regarding summit preps and terms.

Some speculate that Trump appears to have recognized that diplomacy is more complex, more nuanced, and potentially takes much longer than a business deal. After all, it's not like Trump can make a phone call and get someone to lean on some troub lesome unions working on a high rise. And in diplomacy there are no sub-contractors to stiff.

“We‘ll be meeting on June 12 in Singapore,“ Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House after escorting Chol to his vehicle.

Trump tempered expectations for what the meeting in Singapore will yield, saying nothing would be signed during the summit and that it would simply be the beginning of a process toward denuclearizing North Korea.

“It‘s a process. … We're not going to go in and sign something on June 12 and we never will,“ the president said. “We‘re going to start a process.“

Trump just can't get enough of those chants of, "Nobel! Nobel! Nobel!"


Roseanne and the Art of War

If you're not living on an island, by now you are aware that Roseanne Barr has been fired from ABC and her hit show canceled after making a particularly egregious series of racist tweets. ABC abruptly canceled their top-rated show “Roseanne,” bringing an end to one of Hollywood’s boldest efforts to reach out to red-state viewers in the Trump era.

“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said in a statement.

Added Disney chief Robert Iger: “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.”

In an article that informs the title of this segment, Kevin Tully puts the episode is a larger, useful perspective. The entire soul of Trumpism and thus what passes for Republicanism/ conservatism is bound up in Roseanne's compulsion to tweet and the white nationalist, racist impulses she has been empowered to vent.. She couldn't suppress her bigotry, anger and racism and more than her pole star, The Orange Lout, is able to. Last summer in Charlottesville, we saw the consequences of white nationalist rhetoric. Last week, we saw that although speech is "free" in this country, it does carry commercial consequences.

Republicans talk about taxes, deficits, defense and on and on — but what do they really talk about in a significant way? The Trump phenomenon has absolutely nothing to do with government, just as Roseanne's rant had nothing to do with governing — it was selfish, personal garbage wrapped in political clothing. This is what ninety percent of Republican/conservative rhetoric is. The pretense that the Republican party continues as a political party is ridiculous. It is a cult. It is a cult of destruction — it has traded a rudder for a hammer. Roseanne just used that hammer on the "family" that depended upon her.


Ireland overturns abortion ban

Ireland repealed a constitutional amendment that banned abortion by a two-to-one margin. The vote was to overturn the abortion ban by 66.4% to 33.6%. The referendum held on Friday resulted in a landslide win for the repeal side.

Currently, abortion is only allowed when a woman's life is at risk. The Eighth Amendment, which grants an equal right to life to the mother and unborn, will be replaced.

Some think that  Ireland’s “Yes” Vote on Abortion Changes Everything. The historic vote to enshrine reproductive rights is the result of decades of organizing by Irish women—and its impact will be felt in countries across the globe. This follows another vote signaliing the loosensing of the Roman catholic Church's grip on Irish politics: in 2015 the country voted overwhelmingly to legalise same-sex marriage in a historic referendum.

The decades-long battle to repeal Ireland’s eighth amendment—the 1983 law that gave equal value to the lives of a pregnant woman and a fetus—may be the biggest news to hit Catholic-majority Ireland since the country gained majority independence from England in 1922 (and that battle took 800 years).

The winning “yes” vote comes as welcomed vindication not just for the 170,000 Irish women who have obtained overseas abortions since 1980, but for everyone who supports human rights.

“This is a celebration of women’s equality,” says Susy Freelove, an artist who lives in Ballydehob, County Cork. She says Irish women who have openly shared their experiences of traveling to London to terminate their pregnancies can now finally feel a weight has been lifted.

“It’s a real sea change in Ireland in terms of how we view sexuality,” says Beth Wallace, a therapist who was born in a Dublin home for unwed mothers. “Generations of shame are falling away.”


Media Lies, That's Their Job

News provided by mainstream media properties is delivered on a two-edged sword. On one hand, professional media organizations have resources, reporting assetsand a reach far beyond the solitary scribbler. And they also have editorial staffs devoted to fact checking and source-vetting. Their occasional stumbles are much publicized, but for many stories  they are excellent. The problem comes with the editors and publishers, strategically placed with a thumb close to the scale to soften language, change verbs, reframe or even spike coverage of stories that challenge the current regime's status quo. Such it is with these:

With More Gaza Protests Planned, Don’t Believe the Mainstream Media’s Lies

 The one lobby that may not be flouted in the USA is the Israel lobby. Well funded and interlocked, it provides the political underpinning for a base of American support for any Israeli policy, no matter how inhumane.  

And it in stories about Israel, or Gaza, that the heavy thump, of editorial censorhip and influence cna be most readily seen in the American press. By any measure, the Palestinians in Gaza or horribly oppressed. It is inhumane to expect a massacred population not to resist their own decimation, like the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto.

Since the beginning of the Great March of Return on March 30, Israel has killed over 100 Palestinians and injured over 12,000. Only one Israeli, a soldier, has been injured in the context of the march. 

Most mainstream western media coverage of Gaza’s march has systematically decontextualized the mass civilian protest, brushed off Israel’s weekly massacres as “clashes,” reified the boundary fence between Gaza and Israel a “border,” presented Palestinian protesters as “Hamas pawns” passively “dying for photo ops” and deployed other strategic falsehoods to dehumanize Palestinians fighting for their freedom. The net effect is the demonization of the march and the absolution of Israel of its murderous assault.

Since Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007, it has waged routine invasions that level infrastructure and kill thousands—a policy described by some Israeli analysists and politicians as “mowing the lawn.” According to the UN, Israel’s attacks, coupled with the siege, have rendered Gaza “unlivable.” Over 96 percent of Gaza’s water is unsafe for drinking and 57 percent of households are food insecure.

The Gaza Strip is often called the world’s largest open-air prison. Israel controls the maritime, aerospace and land borders of the coastal enclave.

Israel determines who and what can enter or exit Gaza. They control shipments of fuel, medicine, building supplies, and food—at one point allowing only the minimum calories each person in the strip could consume without starving.

There are details rarely mentioned in America's MSM. There was a time when America attempted to influence and shape Israel's policy. Now the shoe is on the other foot.Veneuuela is often also lied about, in accordance with policy. Newly re-elected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

The real Venezuela is not what you think– The U.S. press doesn't tell you what Maduro has done for the poor.

Venezuela also gets the red pencil treatment, in large measure because the avowed socialist economy spends more money on "the people" then the avatars of austerity" think prudent. Never forget that every penny spent on a crust for a poor child comes out of the pocket of a multinational construction company or an international banker.

Daniel Kovalik, who teaches international human rights at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, published the linked article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Kovalik recently visited during the recent election. Did you know that Jimmy Carter has called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world?” Me, neither. Prior to the election on May 20,  which included an opposition candidate, Henri Falcon, from the business community, the U.S. government announced that it would not recognize the outcome, no matter who won. It also threatened Mr. Falcon with sanctions if he even ran in the election, and  threatened further economic sanctions on Venezuela if incumbent leftist Nicolas Maduro won. After Maduro's victory, the trump administration wasted no time imposing yet additional sanctions, further immiserating the Venezuelan people. 

How about another chorus of "Home of the Brave?"

First, the true patriots of Venezuela, not surprisingly, resent the United States’ devastating economic sanctions as well its constant call for regime change. Some U.S. officials even talk of military intervention to overthrow Mr. Maduro. In part, the vote for Mr. Maduro was a vote against U.S. meddling in the affairs of Venezuela.

In addition, despite the real hardships in Venezuela — for which the U.S. is largely to blame — most of Venezuela’s poor are better off now than they were before the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. For example, over the past 7 years, the government has built 2 million units of housing for low-income Venezuelans. In a country of only some 30 million people, these units are now home to a large proportion of the Venezuelan population. The current government also has provided free health care and subsidized food.

Many of us read blogs like these to try to find a voice in the wilderness, in Leonard Cohen's lyric, "a crack where the light gets through." The Venezuela report reminds us that while poor people have been given a voice in Venezuela, their voice remains muzzled in this country, and by a press which passes off pro-intervention and pro-war propaganda as journalism. Little wonder the United States continues to careen into one disastrous military adventure after another.


Immiseration At Home

The U.S. immigration and border complex has never been particularly rational or humane. Yet with the latest iteration of “zero tolerance” border policing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has brought a disgraceful legacy to a new low.

As Debbie Nathan reports, Sessions’s cruel policy of deliberately separating immigrant parents from their children as a deterrent to would-be border crossers has even outraged a federal judge in south Texas.

Time was when It used to be rare to charge migrants seeking asylum with crimes. Those so charged would be put into detention with their children while they pursued their claims. Or they were released with supervision — along with their children. The best interests of the children were considered paramount, and those interests included keeping families together.

No more.

Such asylum-seekers now find themselves charged with “illegal entry,” and now the Trump administration's policy  is breaking up families, sending children to detention centers, often hundreds of miles from their mothers and fathers, or to distant foster homes.

In practice, this means that even parents fleeing violence to protect their young children will be deemed smugglers — that is, criminals. Sessions’s announcement came just two weeks after an official with the Department of Health and Human Services told Congress that the agency had lost track of 1,475 unaccompanied migrant children it had placed with sponsors.

The anguish that parents communicated in Morgan’s courtroom, and the spectacle of dozens of migrants being convicted and sentenced en masse, in proceedings lasting just a few minutes and with only the most perfunctory legal representation, has shocked courthouse employees. …

A young father then said he’d been separated from his 6-year-old and was very worried.

The judge tried to assume his crisp air. But he seemed overwhelmed, with the parents’ worry and with suspicion that the government was misrepresenting to him what was really happening to the children.

“The way it’s supposed to work,” he told the parents, “you’re going to be sent to a camp where your child will be allowed to join you. That’s my understanding of how it’s supposed to work.”

“They told me they were going to take her away,” a mother interjected about her young daughter.

“Well, let’s hope they don’t,” said Morgan. “You and your daughter, you should be joined together.”

And then, for many seconds, he was silent.

This the freedom our young men and women in uniform are fighting and dying to protect? Oh, right, it's about corporate interests.


Short takes:

Same cancer, worse results and twice the cost in the US

No War Like a Trade War– U.S. hits E.U., Canada and Mexico with steel, aluminum tariffs, sparking trade war

"This is not about the American people. We have to believe that at some point their common sense will prevail," said Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau.

Corporations Are Profiting From Immigrant Detainees’ Labor. Some Say It’s Slavery.

At privately run detention centers, immigrants say they're forced to work for $1 a day.

We Made Plastic. We Depend On It. Now We're Drowning In It.

The miracle material has made modern life possible. But more than 40 percent of it is used just once, and it’s choking our waterways.


That's more than enough for one week. Every story here demonstrates that Americans do not understand that the country is addicted to economic growth, and cannot account fo, what is happening as the pyramid scheme is approaching its limits. These are the stories that sadly mark the "days of our lives," as America's final decades consist of an increasingly frenzied no-holds-barred focus on keeping its economy from collapsing.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and is the proud parent of a recent college graduate. He will have failed if not prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.

Dulce Et Decorum Est…

From the keyboard of Surly1
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 28, 2018

“If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”

 ― Wilfred Owen


As we observe yet another Memorial Day, it is at this time of year that thoughts turn to those who have served, those lost, those gone. At a time when the NFL make rules to enforce compulsory public worship of militarism (let's not call it patriotism, shall we?), the better to stifle the protest of domestic oppression, it is well to remember a time when grace and magnanimity softened hearts. Today marks the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day's official nationwide observance. The annual commemoration was born in the former Confederate States in 1866 and adopted by the United States in 1868.

Although not widely known today, the early evolution of the Memorial Day holiday grew from a Southern expression of magnanimity. An article by Richard Gardiner, The Forgotten History of Memorial Day,  traces the holiday's beginnings. 

During 1866, the first year of this annual observance in the South, a feature of the holiday emerged that made awareness, admiration and eventually imitation of it spread quickly to the North. During the inaugural Memorial Day observances which were conceived in Columbus, Georgia, many Southern participants – especially women – decorated graves of Confederate soldiers as well as, unexpectedly, those of their former enemies who fought for the Union. 

Shortly after those first Memorial Day observances all across the South, newspaper coverage in the North was highly favorable to the ex-Confederates. 

“The action of the ladies on this occasion, in burying whatever animosities or ill-feeling may have been engendered in the late war towards those who fought against them, is worthy of all praise and commendation,” wrote one paper

On May 9, 1866, the Cleveland Daily Leader lauded the Southern women during their first Memorial Day. 

“The act was as beautiful as it was unselfish, and will be appreciated in the North.”

Newspapers spread word of the magnanimous deeds of the southern women on "Decoration Day,", and it was memorialized in a popular poem, "The Blue and the Grey," often learned and recited by schoolchildren. With the ritual repeated on both sides of thre Mason-Dixon line, the holiday became a part of binding the wounds of a fratricidal war. It was a visible manifestation of Lincoln’s hope for reconciliation between North and South.

Somehow, the revulsion to war was lost as late nineteenth America grew in commercial and economic power. By the time a marine named Smedley Butler appeared in the US military, American was already flexing its muscles for entry as a player on the world stage.

Those not familiar with the career of Butler have missed a fascinating chapter of US history.

Smedley Darlington Butler was at the time of his death, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. He was a welter of contradictions: a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, an outspoken critic of U.S. military adventurism; a high school dropout who became a major general, a Quaker and devout family man who was among the toughest of Marines; an aristocrat who championed the common man; a leader who thought of himself as striving to help the oppressed of the countries he occupied as commander of an imperial fighting force. During a 34-year career he participated in actions in the Philippines, China, Central America, the Caribbean, and France in World War I. He twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor, as well as numerous other U.S. and foreign medals. Our age has not seen the like of this larger-than-life soldier, but ours is not an age that produces heroes as readily as louts.

After he retired, Butler became a well-known and outspoken critic of the US military-industrial complex. His most well known work is his 1935 book "War is a Racket", in which he described war as a money making enterprise.

In "War is a Racket" he described and criticized the foreign actions and wars of the United States including his own, as so much gangsterism, not sparing American corporations and the politicians who enable them.

Butler's words have resonated through our day, when the interstices used by the interlocking nexus of international banks, construction companies, corrupt politicians and "foreign policy professionals" have combine to inflict a new, less straightforward version of colonialism on smaller, weaker countries or those (e.g. Greece) inclined to go their own way. Many of his memorable phrases are still quoted today, as they remain eternally true.

"War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes."

Near the end, Butler has some modest proposals for making war unprofitable, thus less likely.

It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war. The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labour before the nation's manhood can be conscripted.

One can imagine bow unpopular this prescription was to the war profiteers. 

In an interesting codicil to an outstanding career, Butler was recruited to be a member of what came to be knows as the Business Plot. He later told a congressional committee that a group of wealthy industrialists were planning a military coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Butler would be selected to lead a veterans march to become dictator, along the lines of other Fascist regimes emerging in Europe. The conspirators had picked the wrong man. All involved denied the existence of a plot and the media ridiculed the allegations. But a final report by a special House of Representatives Committee confirmed some of Butler's testimony. The incident was forgetten. 

The techniques Butler describes are updated decades later by John Perkins, who wrote Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, published in 2004. In it Perkins describes his role as to convince leaders of underdeveloped countries to accept substantial development loans for large construction and engineering projects that would primarily benefit the richest families and local elites, rather than the poor. And the projects would be contracted to U.S. construction companies. Such loans would give the U.S. additional leverage for access to estract the host country's natural resources at favorable rates. Indeed, the business of America is business.

Just another reason Why People Hate Us. A nation immune to history has no recollection of its own history of intervention and interference. Saddam Hussein and Khaddafi were undoubtedly bad actors, and many believe that regime change was rightly forced upon those countries. But via the CIA, America has been busily replacing democracies with dictatorships in countries all over the world for more than 30 years. The justification was often to counter Soviet influence, but in many cases there was little or no evidence.

So why would the rest of the wrld hate us? Simply because Americans act like we are the center of the universe, we have to win everything all the time, we eat everything, Nukes, your country's natural resources are our birthright, and so is your energy– only 5 percent of the world’s population, we consume 26 percent of the world’s energy. We meddle all over the world, the scream to high heaven when other countries meddle back, we export trash materialistic culture, and we act unilaterally whenever and wherever we want, because American Exceptionalism. 

Now as Twitler advances a foreign policy of brinksmanship, there is talk in some quarters of reinstating the draft, since the time may come when the prospect of being the first to rush into the breach to die for the Trump corporate brand may be insufficiently motivating for enlistments.

Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and  will have failed if not prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.

This Week In Doom May 27, 2018


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 27, 2018

“–nor had I understood til then how the shameless vanity of utter fools can so strongly determine the fate of others.”

 ― Philip Roth, The Plot Against America  

 


Once again, we get out the bike pump and re-inflate this occasional feature. If you're interested in doom or impending collapse, you got your nickel's worth this week. 

Trump tweets, knowing that the media leaps to follow like Pavlov's dogs to the bell. In this way he controls the news cycle and accomplishes two important objectives: to constantly feed red meat to his base, who must be kept in high dudgeon in order to maintain his approval ratings above 30 per cent. (Never forget that Nixon still maintained a 28% approval rating when he stepped onto the helicopter, and into richly deserved but only temporary shame.) This has been Trump's strategy since the beginning, evident and plain to see, and a look at polls illustrates that it works. This artificially high approval rating is ably assisted by the crew at FOX News, almost all of whom seem to have signed onto the white nationalist agenda. It is what it is.

And while the media rushes to cover the fresh tweeted outrages, the real business of this administration occurs mentioned only on the back pages, if at all. Remember Steve Bannon's desire to "deconstruct the administrative state?" Bannon may be gone, but the agenda remains, and you can see it enacted every week if you look beyond the headlines and the contrived cable news panels.

Trump tweets because it works. It really is that simple.


The big news this week was that Trump "canceled" the pending summit with North Korea. What is truly amusing is that there're actually people who believe the summit was actually going to happen. Many of them were in a recent Trump "campaign rally,"(read yet another fund raiser to pay legal fees) and were heard chanting,"Nobel! Nobel!"

The Washington Post's article  got the high points.

President Trump’s abrupt decision Thursday to abort a summit next month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left the White House scrambling to explain the outcome to allies amid fears that the collapse of talks would mean a return to heightened tensions between nuclear powers in East Asia.

Trump announced he was pulling out of the planned meeting in Singapore on June 12 in a letter to Kim that came less than 12 hours after a North Korean official had personally disparaged Vice President Pence and warned of a nuclear showdown if the United States did not alter its tone ahead of the summit.

Ostensibly, Trump's purpose was to teach the younger man something about the "real balance of power" on the Korean Peninsula. The entire notion of the summit came about because Trump, who mightily believes in playing from his gut, blew through all the warning signs offered by aids and advisers. Trump rushed headlong into the summit process, ignoring warnings that North Korea has long been an unreliable negotiating partner.

Meanwhile, as John "Yosemite Sam" Bolton urged Trump to scuttle the talks, Kim destroyed his nuclear testing facility hours prior to Trump's announcement

TOKYO —  North Korea claimed Thursday it destroyed its key nuclear weapons testing site, setting off explosions to collapse underground tunnels hours before President Trump called off a planned June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 

The North had used the site, tucked into a remote, mountainous area, to detonate six increasingly large nuclear bombs over 11 years. 

The apparent demolition was widely seen as a diplomatic gesture toward Washington, even as it remained unclear whether the made-for-TV blasts marked any significant change in the North’s nuclear capabilities.

At a subsequent  White House briefing an anonymous source revealed on background that negotiations continued, and the summit might be on again. Trump fumed and fulminated otherwise.

Mr. Trump posted on Twitter to denounce part of the article, which reported in the 10th paragraph that “a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.”

In a tweet, the president took issue with that sentence, saying, “WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.”

It is not clear whether the president was simply unaware of the actions of his own senior staff or if he knowingly ignored the truth. The source of that sentence was a White House official who held a briefing on Thursday afternoon in the White House briefing room that was attended by about 50 reporters, with about 200 or so more on a conference call.

Trump grabbed his cell phone with his famously small hands, and tweeted out this was not so, and the "failing New York Times" was manufacturing sources. Facts dictte otherwise. In other news, 35% of the population doesn't know or care.

Meanwhile, as Trump spluttered and Tweeted, back in Korea the leaders of North and South Korea held their own surprise meeting Saturday. One wonders what Bolton made of the news.

The two "exchanged opinions" on several things successfully carrying out a future US-North Korea summit, according to a released statement.

It was said Moon would  announce the result of his meeting with Kim on Sunday morning local time, according to the South Korean statement.

The report went on to say that Moon called for an emergency meeting with Kim in the middle of the night after Trump called off the June summit. In canceling, Trump cited hostile comments from top North Korean officials, including that a North Korean Foreign Ministry official called Vice President Mike Pence a "political dummy"  Clearly, the North Koreans have not the lesson learned by all mass media in the United States: that under no circumstances may you ever utter the actual, unvarnished truth about an American political figure, especially a Republican.


 

On Wednesday, the owners of teams in the National Football League, as lily-white, male, and privileged a group as ever occupied a luxury box, took an action more craven than any before, which is saying a lot. They voted to mandate a new national anthem policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance, but gives them the option to remain in the locker room. The owners may think that they are "getting out in front" of this issue, but they are trailing well behind, especially in the court of public opinion. But the truth is they are terrified of Trump and the effect he can have on their precious bottom-lines.

There's reportedly one big reason why the NFL took sweeping action Wednesday in adopting a new national anthem policy prior to the start of the 2018 season. And he resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington.

“Our league is f—–g terrified of Trump. We're scared of him,” one unnamed source told Bleacher Report as reaction to the plan poured in.

Which is just the way Trump likes it. Like any bully.

After a tumultuous 2017 season, which saw NFL attendance and TV ratings drop as President Trump and others criticized on-field protests by many of the league's players, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced this week that the league would fine any team or league employee if they failed “to stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.”

Trump came out in support of the NFL’s decision Thursday and blasted players who kneel during the anthem.

"I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still I think it’s good,” Trump told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade in an exclusive interview. “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. You shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

Reaction was swift.

As ESPN puts it,

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith reacted with displeasure in a series of tweets Wednesday.

"History has taught us that both patriotism and protest are like water; if the force is strong enough it cannot be suppressed. Today, the CEO's of the NFL created a rule that people who hate autocracies should reject," Smith tweeted.

"Management has chosen to quash the same freedom of speech that protects someone who wants to salute the flag in an effort to prevent someone who does not wish to do so. The sad irony of this rule is that anyone who wants to express their patriotism is subject to the whim of a person who calls himself an "Owner."

Chris Long, a defensive end with the Philadelphia Eagles with a firmly established track record for charitable work, wrote the following on Twitter:

The NBA is a far more progressive league with different attitudes (and a more heavily African-American fan base). The league boasts some thoughtful coaches, such as Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors:

I think it’s just typical of the NFL. They’re just playing to their fan base and they’re basically trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic, but that’s how the NFL has handled their business. I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech and about peacefully protesting.

I think our leadership in the NBA understands when the NFL players were kneeling, they were kneeling to protest police brutality, to protest racial inequality. They weren’t disrespecting the flag or the military, but our president decided to make it about that. That NFL followed suit, pandered to their fan base, created this hysteria.

This is kind of what’s wrong with our country right now. People in high places are trying to divide us, divide loyalties, make this about the flag, as if the flag is something other than what it really is. It’s a representation of what we’re really about, which is diversity, and peaceful protest and right to free speech. 

The owners may think that by taking this action, they have put this issue to bed. I am willing to bet (now legal, thanks to the Gorsuch Supreme Court) that this issue will flame up again once the season starts. Another example of how Trump is remaking this country in his own image.


Already far too long, here are some short takes on other news that occurred this past week:

Trump signs the biggest rollback of bank rules since the financial crisis

  • President Donald Trump signs a bill rolling back certain bank regulations into law. 
  • The law, which Congress passed with bipartisan support, eases rules on all but the largest institutions.
  • Proponents argue the measures will help community lenders, while opponents contend it went too far to help mid-sized and regional firms.

China Makes Massive Cut to Car Tariffs After Truce With Trump

  • Tariff reduced to 15% from 25%, boosting automaker shares
  • Expected shift comes after truce in the U.S.-China trade war

MH17 missile owned by Russian brigade, investigators say

  • The missile that downed a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014 belonged to a Russian brigade, international investigators say.
  • For the first time, the Dutch-led team said the missile had come from a unit based in western Russia. All 298 people on board the Boeing 777 died when it broke apart in mid-air flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Philip Roth dies at 85; novelist both probed and skewered Jewish American culture

Author Philip Roth, who tackled self-perception, sexual freedom, his own Jewish identity and the conflict between modern and traditional morals through novels that he once described as "hypothetical autobiographies," has died. He was 85.

  • Roth was one of America's preeminent 20th century novelists in a career that began in the 1950s and continued up until nearly the end of his life, resulting in more than 30 novels and short-story collections over seven decades. His work persistently blurred the lines between fiction and memoir, and often left readers both smitten and outraged… There is a good Vanity Fair article on Roth here

 

“The pleasure isn't in owning the person. The pleasure is this. Having another contender in the room with you.” 
― Philip RothThe Human Stain

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and  will have failed if not prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.

This Week In Doom, April 8, 2018


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on April 8, 2018

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

 ― Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  


It was a week much like any other week in the Age of Trump. We've been desensitized by the antics of the Tantrumish Manbaby in the White House, and the chaos comes so hard and so fast there is barely time to make sense of it. We saw the full-bore co-optation of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his murder…  the full-bore breakdown and digestion of the retail sector as the Trump Economy takes hold, the end products of digestion to eventually fill those MAGA hats…an on-again, off gain Trade War depending on who you talk to… Trumptantrums re Amazon… dark turns in AI including Killer Robots… and we're drowning in our own crap. Another perfect week.


White Martin

This week saw the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sarah Huckabee Sanders commemorated the occasion by by profaning the memory of the murdered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by reading at few paragraphs of his “mountaintop” speech on Wednesday.

It should be noted that Dr. MLK Jr. was a socialist and a real radical, although his legacy has been sufficiently stripped, sanitized and dry-cleaned for consumption by white America as to be unrecognizable. It is sufficient to remember that even his sharp criticism of the War in Vietnam, which alienated and frightened many of his supporters, was not enough to get him killed.

The estimable Charlie Pierce has it best:

Watching SHS, functioning as the official voice of a president* who started his road to the White House by spreading lies and slander about the first African-American president, reading those words in her dead-eyed Weekend-Anchor-in-Fort-Smith voice was enough to make me feel radically non-non-violent, which really is not the proper way to feel on this solemn occasion.

When King started talking economic issues and organizing Poor People, he moved into that column of those that had to be silenced and removed. The income inequality King decried today operates at crisis levels, unleavened by morality or human decency. One can criticize war with impunity, but risk not one word against Profits. Let's give Pierce the last word:

(King's) whole philosophy was based on breaking unjust laws. His whole career was made up of acts of lawbreaking. That’s who he was. That was his job. That was his mission, and that should be his memory. Non-violence is not the opposite of anger. It never has been. It is the repurposing of anger to constructive purpose, and that constructive purpose was the destruction of systems of oppression. If that’s a profound contradiction then, dammit, this country came into being as a profound contradiction. "How is it," sniped Samuel Johnson, "that we hear the loudest yelps for liberties from the drivers of negroes?" We are a people of contradictions. So was Martin Luther King, Jr. We should make the most of that.


Brick & Mortar Retail Meltdown, March Update

More bad news this week from the retail sector of the American economy, where bricks-and-mortar stores and chains that own them endure economic peristalsis as they are digested by the inexorable forces of automation. The mom and pop stores of youth have been gone ever since they built the mall in the 80s. We're now seeing the medium sized fish that ate the smaller fish turn up in the nets. Wolf Richter reports:

March was a busy month for the brick-and-mortar retail meltdown which kicked off in 2015 and has since picked up speed. We’ve followed this progression from the early days. This year, there was a brutal January, an even more brutal February, and here’s March.

Southeastern Grocers, parent of Winn-Dixie, filed for bankruptcy on March 28. It’s buckling under its debts…Michaels Companies, largest US crafts retailer with about 1,300 stores in the US and Canada, announced on March 22 that it would shutter all its 94 Aaron Brothers framing and art supplies stores… Claire’s Stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 19, suffocating under $1.9 billion in debt… Toys “R” Us filed for liquidation… Bon Ton stores faces liquidation if it cannot find a buyer… Guitar Center is buckling under its debts… Signet Jewelers, whose brands include Kay Jewelers, Zales, and Jared, announced on March 14 that it would close 200 Stores over the next 12 months… Foot Locker, with over 3,300 stores globally, announced on March 2 that it plans to close about 110 stores this year…

And in the centerpiece of hedge-fund vulture capitalism, Eddie Lampert, the billionaire majority shareholder of Sears and Kmart who married the two brands together in 2003, ostensibly to run them but now seemingly stripping them for parts. Under Lampert's management the number of Sears and Kmart stores nationwide has shrunk to 1,207 from high of 5,670, and at least 200,000 Sears and Kmart employees have lost their jobs. He's sold off signature brands like Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard, as well as Lands’ End, Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores, Sears Canada, and Orchard Supply. The sales have generate cash, which Lampert has generously returned to the shareholders.

Guess who owns 60 percent of Sear Holdings stock?

Of course, if you a a wretch who works in the hell-on-earth that is retail sales, you deserve your ignoble fate, unlike those Favored by God, the investor class. How are they doing? The Sears Holdings stock price has slumped to $2 a share, down from a high of $134 per share 11 years ago.  Wolf Richter:

Sears Holdings is reporting ever more horrid quarters. On March 14, it reported results for Q4, ended February 3, which covered the crucial holiday sales period. Revenues plunged 28% year-over-year to 4.4 billion. According to my projections and my beautiful chart, at the rate of declines over the past four years, revenues will drop below zero in 2020, even as CEO and hedge-fund owner Eddie Lampert is still touting “progress” in SEC filings. This thing is cooked and waiting to be carved up.

Some observers think that Sears Holdings is “a total shit show” that is in “secret liquidation” mode. For more, see the Vanity Fair article and profile of Eddie Lambert. Good stuff.

The demise of retail dovetails with the demise of the middle class into poverty as we increasingly struggle to pay for the necessities of life with salaries and savings are eroded by inflation and debasement of the money via debt. It is one sign that collapse is already in progress, and that we are frogs being slowly cooked. It will remain imperceptible to most for a long time until it's not, and then it's going to get ugly.


Trade War? Is there is or is there ain't?

Trump: Trade Wars Are Easy to Win. Also Trump: We Lost the Trade War with China.

Remember who said how easy trade wars are to win? It was the same guy who said we already lost. We're getting killed by Mexico,  We're getting "raped" by China. And recall when he told Justin Trudeau the US was running a trade deficit even though he knew otherwise? Oh, what a great kidder. On Tuesday Trump announced tariffs on Chinese products to the tune of $50 billion that include "robotics, information technology, communication technology and aerospace." China responded  the next day with $50 billion in tariffs on 106 different U.S. products, including cars, chemicals, and ag products including soy. China's selections seemed precisely calibrated to affect Trump country.

Not surprisingly, the market was off 500 points the next day, and another 600 the day after tht, before a rally to close higher as Trump's smoothers and handlers were our whispering sweet nothings in the ears of Real Money about how this was a "negotiation." They woke Wilbur Ross and wheeled him out to defend the moves, saying Trump is a lifelong deal maker" and China's tariffs are not the "first controversy he's gone into," Ross said. "This is not World War III."

We are to be reassured because human beings are not dying. Yet.

But not to worry– Mr. He Alone Can Fix It is on the case, and you should remember he had a book written for him entitled "The Art of the Deal." Just remember that everyone who came before Trump was a moron, but he is a business genius. And a stable genius at that.


Take Bezos, Give the Points

In a series of tweets, The Stable Genius picked a fight with Amazon owner Jeff Bezos because he could. Yes, the guy who bragged that he was "smart" for not paying taxes during a presidential debate and who refuses to release his tax returns, as every major-party candidate since Watergate has done, accused Amazon of somehow gaming the US Postal Service. From all accounts, the Amazon contract is profitable for the USPS, and has to be by law. In most Tweets, Trump refers to the "Amazon Washington Post," although Bezos owns The Washington Post outright.

Trump's contempt is is rooted in the fact that the Post has driven Trump to impotent rage with its persistent reporting of facts about him and his administration. 

Trump took to Twitter Wednesday to attack America’s most trusted brand: “Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers. Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt – many jobs being lost!” And, 

Most of the financial sites agree: Donald Trump Will Not Get the Best of Jeff Bezos. Through canny marketing and making the services easy to use,  Bezos has managed to integrate Amazon so thoroughly into the lives of customers that many can’t imagine living without its affordability and convenience. Oh, and lobbying. Virginia Postrel from BloombergView:

In fact, Trump’s irritation isn’t really with Amazon. Rather, he is obsessed with Jeff Bezos, whom he keeps denouncing by name. The guy clearly gets under his skin.

The obvious reason is that Bezos — not Amazon, Mr. President — owns the Washington Post. But Trump’s obsession seems a little too personal to be about the Post alone…

Rather, the very existence of Bezos seems to drive Trump crazy. Trump’s image, to himself and his fans, is that of alpha male — the dominant primate in the room. Simply by going about his business (and largely ignoring Trump), Bezos refutes that claim. He is a far more admired and influential businessman than Trump and, of course, immeasurably richer.

Start with appearance. Trump, who likes his staff to have the right “look,” would never cast a wiry guy who doesn’t hide his lack of hair as a big-time businessman. How can someone only five-foot-nine intimidate people into submission? In Trumpworld, intimidation, not value-creation, is what business is all about.

Bezos also has a sense of humor, often at his own expense, and a famously raucous laugh. Trump is humorless. He certainly doesn’t laugh at himself.

We'll leave consideration of the fine points, such as the probity of a sitting president* using the bully pulpit to damage a private company for pure political gain, as well as direct attacks on the free press and the independent judiciary, to the judgments of history. Which is apparently Bezos' attitude as well. The response from Amazon HQ has been silence. Which will prove to be golden. Amazon shares initially fell but are now trading higher. 


AI: Threat or Menace, Redux

Last week I waxed rhapsodic about Artifical Intelligence. I cited that fact that some Smart People have warned us about the implications. Some scoff and say that macines can never truly be "intelligent" because creativity. To which I reply tht the creativity of artificial intelligence can potentially look very different from that of humans. This week, there's this interview with Sophia, the AI robot that's now a citizen of Saudi Arabia:

Thanks to reader Kim Lambert for this one. And then there's the malign intelligence named "Norman." Meet 'Norman,' the Darkest, Most Disturbed AI the World Has Ever Seen

Housed at MIT Media Lab, a research laboratory that investigates AI and machine learning, Norman's computer brain was allegedly warped by exposure to "the darkest corners of Reddit" during its early training, leaving the AI with "chronic hallucinatory disorder," according to a description published April 1 (yes, April Fools' Day) on the project's website.

MIT Media Lab representatives described the presence of "something fundamentally evil in Norman's architecture that makes his re-training impossible…"

Time to open up another big can of "nothing-to-see-here-citizen," right? And in another light-hearted frolic this week, Elon Musk warns that creation of 'god-like' AI could doom mankind to an eternity of robot dictatorship:

If one company or small group of people manage to develop god-like super intelligence, they could take over the world," Musk said in the film.

He continued: "At least when there is an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for AI there will be no death, it would live forever and then you would have an immortal dictator from which we could never escape….

We are rapidly heading towards digital superintelligence that far exceeds any human. I think it's very obvious. We have five years. I think digital superintelligence will happen in our lifetime, 100%," Musk said.

And such concerns have informed the consciences of at least some scientists.

'Killer Robot' Lab Faces Boycott from Artificial Intelligence Experts

Nearly 60 AI and robotics experts from almost 30 countries have signed an open letter calling for a boycott against KAIST, a public university in Daejeon, South Korea, that has been reported to be "develop[ing] artificial intelligence technologies to be applied to military weapons, joining the global competition to develop autonomous arms," the open letter said.

To strongly discourage KAIST's new mission, the researchers are boycotting the university until its president makes clear that the center will not develop "autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control," the letter writers said.

But nothing to worry about since AI is "not creative."


Who's crap? Our crap.

And now we're drowning in our own crap as China has decided that they are going to treat our recycled waste like they treat the US Dollar: "We don't want it."

For decades, China has used recyclables from around the world to supply its manufacturing boom. But this summer it declared that this "foreign waste" includes too many other nonrecyclable materials that are "dirty," even "hazardous." In a filing with the World Trade Organization the country listed 24 kinds of solid wastes it would ban "to protect China's environmental interests and people's health."

The complete ban takes effect Jan. 1, but already some Chinese importers have not had their licenses renewed. That is leaving U.S. recycling companies scrambling to adapt…

For decades, China has sorted through all this and used the recycled goods to propel its manufacturing boom. Now it no longer wants to, so the materials sits here with no place to go.

There is no choice for affected Oregon recyclers but to take all of the recycling to the local landfill. Over a dozen Oregon companies have asked regulators whether they can send recyclable materials to landfills, and that number may grow if they can't find eager buyers elsewhere for our recycled products. So as we slowly cook, we can also enjoy drowning in our own garbage. Just another week in Doom.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and fully expects to be prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.'s Department of Homeland Security.

AI– Threat or Menace?


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on April 2, 2018

“Artificial intelligence will reach human levels by around 2029. Follow that out further to, say, 2045, we will have multiplied the intelligence, the human biological machine intelligence of our civilization a billion-fold.”

—Ray Kurzweil


We came of age imagining New Frontiers, an idyllic time of relative innocence when anything seemed possible: rockets that would travel to the moon like buses,  a permanent space station, and flying cars a la the Jetsons.  It was the go-go 50s and 60s, when an energized Team America sat astride the top of the world, with few limits on dreams and none on ambition. Optimism hung in the air like the scent of roses on a spring morning. 

In the America of the 1950s and 60s, the future was filled to bursting with promise.  A youthful and beloved president set the country a challenge to travel from the earth to the moon in a decade, which we did, though he did not live to see it.

Young people read about ENIAC, the first (room-sized) computer designed to compute artillery tables during WWII (and later used for nukes). Large mainframes followed; in went punchcards, out came reports. Even my high school had one. Science fiction writers, envisioning the future, foresaw robots who would reliably assist humans in a variety of tasks and, of course, adventures. As a boy, I had a toy Robby the Robot, a dutiful servant in the 1956 MGM science fiction film Forbidden Planet. Later on, as I begin to read science fiction, I encountered Isaac Asimov's original three laws of robotics.

Introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround" and included in I, Robot, The Three Laws are:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

These laws provided themes for Asimov's robotic-based fiction, and were devoured by young adults. Intended as a safety feature, The Laws could not be bypassed,. This led to interesting plot twists in many of Asimov's robot-focused stories, as robots react in unusual and counter-intuitive ways as a consequence of how the robot applies the Three Laws to a given situation. Other authors working in Asimov's fictional universe adopted them and over time, we seem to have taken them as a given.

They are not. The utopian futures envisioned to earlier writers have given way to Terminator robots, and Skynet, to say nothing of pilotless drones raining relentless death down on wedding parties. We're a long way from Robby the Robot.


The notion of intelligent automata, a non-human intelligence, dates back to ancient times. More recently, computer technology may trace itself to back to Charles Babbage and his Difference Engine, but "artificial intelligence" can be traced back to 1956 and a conference at Dartmouth where the term was coined. Research in the field ebbed and flowed over decades, and has clearly benefited most recently from in increases in computing power. In 1997, when IBM's Deep Blue defeated Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov, and in 2011, when IBM's Watson won the quiz show "Jeopardy!" by beating reigning champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, a technological Rubicon had been crossed.

It's neither my purpose nor within my ability to trace all of the meaningful developments in AI, but thought it might be useful to consider AI's implications for the future. And yes, I am aware that for much of this discursion I am conflating robotics and AI, but since both rely on vast increases in processing power to be fully realized, keep your rotten vegetables in the bag and bear with me.

“The miraculous has become the norm.” –Jonathan Romney

Sales of manufacturing robots increase each year. According to The International Federation of Robotics, robot sales in 2015 showed a 15% increase over the prior year. The IFR estimates that over 2.5 million industrial robots will be at work in 2019, a growth rate of 12% between 2016 and 2019. Workers have been working side-by-side with robots for decades. My wife's father was a foreman at Ford who worked with robots in the 70s, so robotic work technology is common. But the predicted rate of adoption, coupled with the prospects of driverless fleets, raises the question of what happens to the jobs? And the workers?

No doubt robots increase productivity and competitiveness. This productivity can lead to increased demand and new job opportunities, often in more highly skilled and better-paying jobs. Yet for all this rosy optimism, fear nags. More often, it leads right to profits for the owners and immiseration for the laid off.

Several years ago, author and futurist Ray Kurzweil referred to a point in time known as "the singularity," that point at which machine intelligence exceeds human intelligence. Based on the exponential growth of technology based on Moore's Law (which states that computing processing power doubles approximately every two years), Kurzweil has predicted the singularity will occur by 2045.

“The pace of progress in artificial intelligence is incredibly fast. Unless you have direct exposure to groups like Deepmind, you have no idea how fast—it is growing at a pace close to exponential. The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five-year timeframe. 10 years at most.” —Elon Musk

Several thinkers worth listening to, including the late physicist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk, warn that the development of AI portends cause for concern.

"The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race," Hawking told the BBC, in response to a question about his new voice recognition system, which uses artificial intelligence to predict intended words. (Hawking had a form of the neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, and communicated using specialized speech software.)

And Hawking isn't alone. Musk told an audience at MIT that AI is humanity's "biggest existential threat." He also once tweeted, "We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes."

Despite these high-profile fears, other researchers argue the rise of conscious machines is a long way off. Says Charlie Ortiz, AI head of a Massachusetts-based software company, "I don't see any reason to think that as machines become more intelligent … which is not going to happen tomorrow — they would want to destroy us or do harm. Lots of work needs to be done before computers are anywhere near that level."

Reassured yet?

“By far, the greatest danger of Artificial Intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it.”              —Eliezer Yudkowsky

“Someone on TV has only to say, ‘Alexa,’ and she lights up. She’s always ready for action, the perfect woman, never says, ‘Not tonight, dear.’” —Sybil Sage

"Alexa, make me a cocktail, willya?" Not quite yet, but perhaps soon, as companies are incorporating AI into their products. From smartphone assistants to driverless cars, Google is positioning itself be a major player in the future of AI. Amazon and Apple have staked out their own strong positions, as the ubiquity of digital assistants like Siri and Alexa makes them ghostly familiars… with access to your personal information, internet search histories, text messages and porn habits. And with Facebook and hundreds of apps hoovering up our personal information for resale to unseen third parties for purposes available only on a need to know basis, and you don't need to know…

… because YOU are the product.

"Machine learning" is a term of art referring to computer systems that learn from data. Time was computers followed instructions and performed computations for data crunching. Today's devices use a set of machine-learning algorithms, collectively referred to as "deep learning," that allow a computer to recognize patterns from massive amounts of data. This is a deep and profound change, the implications of which we have not yet grasped. And if we have not grasped it, how can we control it or appreciate its repercussions?

Recently AI developed its own non-human language. Researchers at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research training their chatbot “dialog agents” to negotiate, described how the bots made up their own way of communicating.

At one point, the researchers write, they had to tweak one of their models because otherwise the bot-to-bot conversation “led to divergence from human language as the agents developed their own language for negotiating.” They had to use what’s called a fixed supervised model instead.

In other words, the model that allowed two bots to have a conversation—and use machine learning to constantly iterate strategies for that conversation along the way—led to those bots communicating in their own non-human language… the fact that machines will make up their own non-human ways of conversing is an astonishing reminder of just how little we know, even when people are the ones designing these systems.

So Facebook had to pull the plug because in a short period of time, the robots had developed their own language. Not sure about you, but when I envision a future where I attempt a transaction with online chatbots armed not only with a chip full of predictive algorithms, but also in possession of the entire dossier of personal information gleaned from every keystroke I've ever recorded, well, I'm not liking my odds. Here is your "permanent record" made real.

And then the prospect of the Internet of Things (IoT), a galaxy of sensors embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. This is made possible by more ubiquitous broadband internet is become more widely available, less expensive connection costs, and more devices created with Wi-Fi capabilities and sensors built in.  I already know my phone and TV listen to me; will they next connive against me in concert with the refrigerator and the coffee maker? Encourage the air conditioner to go on strike?

All roads in AI seem to lead to dystopia. Our inability to imagine a more positive future for artificial intelligence may stem from the fact that we've lost faith in ourselves. We're seen the tech companies in action, and they are opaque. And they sell the data mined with impunity to unseen actors. Our morality is defined not by the Church or in civic pride, but by the spreadsheet; our worth found in the lower right-hand corner. Knowing we are cooking the planet, we insist on burning the last few gallons of liquid sunlight left ion the ground to wring the last few dollars of profit. We willingly sacrifice children to the profits of the Slaughter Lobby. We elect louts to lead us, accept sabotage as political business-as-usual, embrace treason as a cost of doing business. Under the circumstances, who would dare possibly envision a happier future?

Who could imagine Asimov's Three Laws emerging from any part of today's debased culture?


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in Occupy. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary in quiet and richly-deserved obscurity. He will have failed if not prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.

Trip to Club Morphine


gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on Dec.9,, 2017

“They tried to make me go to rehab
I said, no, no, no.”

 ― Amy Winehouse  


RE wanted me to blog about some of my recent adventures, which had taken me away from the community of saints in the Diner Forum and set me adrift in the archipelagos of modern medical technology.

Since I once went to Famous Journalism School, I'll not bury the lede: on Thursday, December 1, I had spinal fusion surgery. It is as extreme a procedure as it sounds: a six hour surgery In which one person known to me and a roomful of otherwise strangers open my back for the purposes of relieving the stress on a woefully-pinched spinal cord, and then leave in place a structure designed to relieve the stress permanently. Such surgery comes, of course, with all the risks attendant to spinal surgery as well as prolonged anesthesia.

Not a walk in the park.

This event had been some years in coming. In 2003, I fell down my own stairs while carrying a child, rolled over my ankle and broke it very badly. Repair required surgery.  And then, since I put too much weight on the ankle going up and down stairs, the surgeon told me it had to be redone. This necessitated spending two months in a wheelchair, where I got an up close and personal view of the life of the mobility impaired. And then the screws needed to be removed in a third surgery: the wages of being a "non-compliant patient."

Both of my knees were wearing out from early athletic misuse, and the wear and tear that comes with carrying a person-and-a-half on them for most of my adult life. I had arthroscopic surgery on both knees , and while the first one responded well, the left knee was left bone-on-bone and largely ornamental. 

Which led to a changed gait, as the body adjusts to pain with a variety of subtle stratagems, some conscious, others not. In the fullness of time, my left hip began to ache. Over time it got worse. Cortisone shots in the hip provided some relief from pain, at least for a while. But with each successive shot the relief window shrank. The last shot that I took lasted for a day. at this point, my surgeon suspected that the problem was rooted in pressure on the sciatic nerve, and ordered up an MRI.

The MRI confirmed his suspicions. I can read an MRI with the same assurance I would bring to translating the Rosetta Stone, but I could tell the difference in the appearance of the spine above and below L5. An X-ray confirmed that my left hip is arthritic and pretty well trashed, but that recovery would start with surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves. 

Given that in the last six months, my life has gotten progressively smaller, more sedentary and more painful, opting for the surgery was a clear quality-of-life play.

D-Day came and went. It took me some time to come out of the anesthetic fog, and my ever-dedicated Contrary was waiting for me. I spent most of the first evening in a morphine-induced haze, abetted by a cocktail of painkillers left behind in my spine courtesy of my surgeon. Contrary tells me that in the recovery room, I asked the attending nurse if it was time for me to try to stand and walk a little. Uh, no, bucko, don't jump the gun, she said. I remained in expansive good spirits even though effectively confined to bed. On the second day, I did get up and moved to my chair for about three hours. 

The Friday after surgery, I was still living large off the drugs the doctor had left implanted in my spine. I was laughing, cutting up, and had a good appetite. On Saturday, not so much. They moved me from ICU into the "ortho wing," which featured a room the size of a janitor's closet. It had room for one chair, which was wedged against the wall at the bottom of the bed. To bring equipment into this room, they actually had to move stuff out. I started to go downhill and had lost all appetite. Probably abetted by the fact that they served up some sort of "mystery meat" that looked like a small brick with moss on it.

Then they took away my magic button, the morphine pump, and substituted oral medication. Problem was they failed to tell me I had to ask for it, so I slipped into a slump of woozy pain and a miserable fog.  It was only after what seemed like two weeks of this that I asked a nurse, "Aren't you supposed to be giving me something for pain?" that she replied, "Yes, but you have to ask for it."

Hmph.

Then on Monday, the Three Stooges Ambulance team transferred me to a local rehab facility. The story of the transport is worth retelling sometime, as these three yokels looked like I was the only thing holding them back from their afternoon beers. They strapped my fat ass to a gurney and fed me into the back of an ambulance, and went barrel-assing down the interstate, obviously forgetting or oblivious to the fact they were transporting a spinal surgery patient. BANG! POW! CRASH! OUCH!!!

They moved me into a local "transitional hospital." It is a large rehabilitation facility, with multiple buildings devoted to different kinds of cases. My wing has responsibility for surgical patients.  The staff consists of a number of specialists who are very good at their jobs. As in most medical settings, the heroes are the nurses. My nursing care is absolutely nonpareil. As has been the dedication of my wife, who has spent the equivalent of two fill time jobs sitting with me and managing a household. And at Christmas, to boot.

My most immediate problem is that my wound keeps draining, and requires multiple dressings over the course of the day.  But it does seem to be getting better. Also, as I get in and out of bed, and move around with the assistance of a walker, I have gained strength every day as well. The days, which have flown by, are filled with therapy; an "occupational therapy" session in the morning, and physical therapy in the afternoon. Both types include simple strength building routines which go to buttress the legs and core. It is remarkable how demanding and challenging some of the simplest actions are post-surgery.

I will be discharged on Sunday December 17 according to plan. I don’t expect I’ll be going back to work before February.  It might be sooner than that; I just don’t know, and from now there is no way to tell.

There is nothing like being dependent upon the goodwill of well-intentioned strangers charged with your care and well-being to imbue one with a real sense of humility and gratitude. I am grateful for their everyday professionalism, diligence and good cheer. And their attitude and good huimor made it bearable. I am also grateful to be heading home for the next phase of recovery, and to be sleeping in my own bed with my own wife.

 So that’s my story. All for now.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was once active in Occupy. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and neither bends, lifts nor twists, and has attempted to be a compliant patient in every particular.

Making Nazis Afraid Again


gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on October 17, 2017

“There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part…  And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! ”

 ― Mario Savio, 1964  

 


They say that history runs in cycles. If so, it's fascism's turn at the top of the wheel after an 80-year absence. And in the same way that fascism in the 1930s elicited a counter-reaction, it elicits one today in the form of antifa.

In reports of the recent Catelan bid for independence, one hears echoes of an 80 year old conflict. Catalonia was once a key anarchist/republican hub during the Spanish Civil War, and a locus of anti-Franco sentiment. (For an analysis of the current state of things in Catalonia, see Pepe Escobar here.)

Images of the Catelan election, of bully cops assaulting women, then firefighters protecting voters, remind how Franco pressed fascism on Spain 80 years ago. With nationalism and nativism at high tide, we watch citronella Nazis march with tiki torches in Charlottesville, and remember Father Coughlin and the "America Firsters" of the 1930s. The New Fascism is emboldened by the most baldly authoritarian "president" ever, bolstered by a cabinet full of white supremacists and Goldman Sachs vampires.

No one should be surprised: it's been decades in coming.  Whether it's wealth transfer via  regressive ("trickle-down") economic policies, or via a tireless insistence on empire,  or bottomless spending on "defense," authoritarianism has marched into American life. All endorsed by fully a third of our fellow citizens. Never forget that even as Richard Fucking Nixon boarded the helicopter to eternal disgrace, he still had the backing of 24 per cent of the public.

The self-described "alt-right" is old swill sold in a new bottle. This dark streak of conservatism has been part of the American psyche ever since Nathaniel Bacon's uprising drove Governor Berkeley and his hangers-on to the swamps of Virginia's Eastern Shore. The current flavor pulls together neonazis, republiconfederates, evangelicals, skinheads, white separatists, nationalists, sovereign citizens, klansmen, culture warriors, Christian Identity fuckwits, anti-LGBTs, anti-immigrants, holocaust deniers and haters of all stripes into a fetid hellbroth. They are rebranded and hip, sporting Macklemore "Hitler Youth" fade haircuts, white polos, beige Dockers, and  carefully-crafted language, the better to shun the Nazi tag while hewing to the ideology.

When these people announce their gatherings, opponents gather themselves. Enter antifa. Antifa (short for antifascist or Anti-Fascist Action) can be defined as the confrontational response to fascist groups, rooted in militant left-wing and anarchist politics. I first become aware of antifa on Inauguration Day, when a masked activist punched white-supremacist leader Richard Spencer in the face, an act which spawned many memes and remixes. 

 

You don't sign up for Antifa at the local strip mall. The movement’s secrecy makes tracking its activities difficult, but antifa’s power is growing, as evidenced by social media posts from pearl-clutching right wingers whining and complaining about them. The young people who make up antifa remind me of the brave souls who comprised the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who saw the threat of fascism early on and tried to stop it in the Spanish Civil War.   

Disclaimer: I have no personal experience with Antifa as a member or participant. At this point, I am sufficiently gimpy as to not be able to take part in any street action, and felt fortunate to limp along with Occupy. Many of the tactics of Antifa seem to have sprung from the anarchist or "black bloc" members of Occupy, who were among some of its most committed members.

Antifa traces its roots to the 1920s and ’30s, when militant leftists battled fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain. In 1936, nationalist rebels under General Francisco Franco staged an uprising designed to topple the Spanish government.  The Spanish army split, some supporting the Republican (government side), but most supporting Franco.  Soon Spain was plunged into an open civil war, one that would rage for three years and ultimately lead to a Nationalist dictatorship under Franco.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade were Americans who volunteered to fight the fascists in Spain. In an interview with James Fernandez, professor at New York University and member of the the board of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive, Jeremy Scahill has some light on this little remembered episode of history still relevant today:

Fernandez: The horrors of World War II have totally eclipsed our memory of Spain. But in 1936, ’37, ’38, Spain was Syria, Spain was the place on the map where it looked like the future of the planet was being played out. And all thinking people were talking and thinking and worrying about Spain, in their literature and newsreels and radio broadcasts.

And there were vast communities of intensely mobilized folks that started mainly as pacifists they were, they were, “Against War and Fascism” was the organization and slogan of a lot of these folks up until ’36, let’s say, but once things evolved some more, they realized that the only way to put down fascism was to, in this case, they kind of put brackets around being against war, and actually taking the war to the fascists in Spain.

The volunteers that went is almost 3,000, we think 2,800 is our best guess now. And like I said, they came mostly from intensely mobilized communities all over the United States. A lot of them were immigrants or children of immigrants, most of them were from large cities, they were trade unionists, a lot of them were members of the Communist Party, the socialists, anarchists, but generally leftist folk who saw the menace of fascism and took the incredible step of trying to do something about it.

And they did. Many remember this period today through the lens of Ernest Hemingway's writing. For Whom the Bell Tolls is Hem's opus, set in 1937 with the Spanish Civil War in full swing. Robert Graves, a lantern-jawed Anglo Saxon, was not representative of the thousands who answered the call. Most were immigrants, active leftists, organized. A far cry from Hemingway's hero.

The Lincoln Brigade made up a small part of the International Brigades which included about 45,000 volunteers. Relatively speaking, the Americans were a drop in the bucket. Of the 2800 or so that served in Spain, almost 1/3 lost their lives.  Included were dozens of black Americans, many of whom saw in Spanish Nationalism a reflection of the Jim Crow racism they themselves had experienced in the US.  At a time of legal segregation in the US as a result of the Plessy decision forty years earlier, these black Americans found acceptance as comrades in arms in Spain.  

They engaged the fascists for several years, but the numbers (and war materiel from Germany) proved too difficult to resist. When the war ended with a Franco victory in 1939, Americans who had served in Spain were seen as radicals and troublemakers. The post WWII anti-communist sentiment led to a narrative erasure of these men and their sacrifice.So when elements of "antifa" erupt in response to fascist demonstrations, I take heart. Antifa gives me faith that the upcoming generation has grabbed the baton, and that the will to resist remains strong.

For those who want to read more about antifa, I recommend Natasha Lennard's magnificent article in The Nation here. It inspired the title of the article.

…the history of anti-fascism (antifa) is not one of presuming the good faith of state power. It is not one of asking. It is a history of direct and confrontational intervention—the sort of which is itself often not protected by a rights framework.

We are, to take some liberties with the words of Inglourious Basterds’ inimitable Lt. Aldo Raine, in the fightin’-Nazis business. Antifa is a promise to neo-Nazis and their bedfellows that we will confront them in the streets; we will expose them online and inform their place of employ. We are not asking venues to deny space to far-right events; we are vowing that all far-right events will be bombarded and besieged.

When I read that "Antifa is planning civil war on Nov.4, or "Antifa is planning to kill Christians," I smile, secure in the knowledge that what bullies fear most is the brave soul willing to stand up and call their bluff. Our next generation seems ready and willing. As I remain secure that the great arc of history bends towards justice.

Resist!


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary, and is working to be featured on an enemies list compiled by the administration of Dolt 45.

The Great Eclipse of 2017


gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Composite Eclipse August 21, 2017 Copyright Impact Photography 2017

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on August 27, 2017


"I've seen a total eclipse from every continent – including Antarctica. And it's been a wonderful way to see the world. The eclipses take you to really unusual, off-beat places that you might not normally plan a vacation to, but they're wonderful places to go."
–Fred Espenak​, Goddard Scientist Emeritus, and retired NASA astrophysicist
 


The Great Eclipse of 2017, the first total eclipse visible in the continental U.S. in over 38 years, first intruded upon my awareness toward the end of last year. 

It was only during the spring that my plans began to crystallize. Photography being both my avocation and a part-time job, it occurred to me that if I did not make a good faith effort to get inside the zone of totality with a camera, I would regret it for the rest of my days. What kind of real photographer would not try? The die was cast.

So how do you photograph the sun? You need a filter and a long lens, plus a tripod. I read articles to learn how.

You have to start with a solar filter. Even if 99% of the sun is covered by the moon, the remaining 1% is dangerous to view with the naked eye and can  damage eyes or cause blindness, no matter what Orange Twitler did.

There are several options, including cheap filter sheets. Full-aperture solar filters are preferred because the filter completely covers the front of the lens. Even though  expensive, I decided to suck it up and purchase a 77mm solar filter, an "ND100000," which refers to the neutral density filter factor in play. Welder's visor, indeed. It fit perfectly on my Nikkor 70-200mm lens.

Totality is the only time it is safe to look directly at the event. So when shooting an eclipse it is important to remember that at totality you must REMOVE the filter to make exposures of the sun's corona.

Yes, my lens was only a 200mm. The smart kids or those with deeper pockets recommend shooting at focal lengths from 900mm (for a Nikon DX camera) to 1400mm for an FX (full frame sensor) camera. Longer lenses with good optics are hellishly expense, and someone who weighs whether or not to drop $100 on a filter will clearly balk at a four-figure purchase that will likely get limited use in the future. I even weighed purchasing a Nikkor teleconverter at the time I ordered the solar glasses and filter, but Jefferson on the nickel in my pocket shrieked and clung desperately. Later, when I decided to pull the trigger, none were to be had, all on backorder. So the disk images I would gather would be small.

Thus equipped, we drive to South Carolina. I had hoped to catch Lucid Dreams and Gypsy Mama since we were at least in the same state, but they had relatives visiting and were not available. So we made our way to Fort Mill, SC, near where Contrary's son and family live.

I-85 south was being "improved,"  with traffic restricted to one lane in either direction. We had the opportunity to stand for several hours in this unmoving mess, and as we inched forward, we eventually learned why. Three large SUVs and trucks, all late model, were wedged up against the jersey wall amidst a shower of fiberglass, fenders, torn tires, and broken dreams, an evident case of jockeying for some imaginary advantage due to testosterone poisoning. When we eventually arrived in Fort Mill after the ninth hour of our six hour ride, our hotelier made us welcome with effusive good humor, for which one weary traveler was grateful.

The next day, Contrary's son Adam joined us so the boys could swim in the hotel pool and we could enjoy a civilized cocktail. My original plan, informed only by looking at maps, was to head toward Columbia, nearly dead center in the zone of totality. It dawned on me that I might not be the only person to have that thought, and that the highways might offer a Mad Max traffic scenario. So we determined to head southwest, which would put us more quickly in the zone of totality and might relieve us from some of the crowds. Adam determined that Laurens County in rural SC had a park which might offer a good place to view. A park is important for old people because bathrooms. Also because kids need something to do while waiting. A plan unfolded.

The next day we got there about five hours ahead of the eclipse, and a number of people were already ensconced under tarps and in chairs. We were able to commandeer a picnic table under a large tree, offering shade and proximity to those all-important bathrooms. We unloaded our gear, set up and wait. 

An eclipse is a slow motion phenomenon as the disc of the moon slowly nibbles at the solar orb. I brought the camera out and found myself wrestling with it. One has to point it alost straight up in the air, a position which makes framing problematic. I tried to solve this my using the "live view" (video display) mode on the back of the camera. Viewing an LCD screen in bright sunlight while wearing a white shirt is virtually impossible. So I attempted to re-rig the tripod to shoot in a seated position, a position which worked except for the unfortunate tendency of the tripod to tip backwards towards me at all times. SO I held the tripod in place with one hand, while triggering my remote shutter release with the other. And I made a few images.

One of the things the experts will tell you is the importance of bracketing your exposures. Writing for Nikon, Fred Espenak recommends:

Shoot the mid-day sun at a fixed aperture, (choose an aperture between f/8 and f/16) using every shutter speed from 1/4000 second to 1/30 second. Looking at the exposures, choose the best shutter speed/aperture combination and use them to photograph the partial phases of the solar eclipse. Your camera’s histogram function is an excellent way to evaluate the best exposure. 

And so I did.

Diamond Ring 1 Copyright Impact Photography 2017

 

Near totality Copyright Impact Photography 2017

Totality 8-21 Copyright Impact Photography 2017

The Laurens County location proved a good choice, but on the drive home as we joined a major northbound highway, traffic looked like the road out of Kuwait after the first Gulf War. Siri took us off the beaten path on some old bootlegger roads and around the press of traffic. Contrary and I were having a celebratory toddy before dinner when her son called. He was ahead of us in traffic, and still stuck. They took another 90 minutes to get home. Had the good sense to engage and listen to our onboard AI.

In the scheme of things, a minor adventure and a successful short trip.


So aside from some decent images, what did it all mean? This tally from Inc.:

Travel

Besides the 12 million people who already live in the path of totality, many people were expected to travel to those areas with the best viewing. Estimates in advance of the eclipse were that between 1.8 and 7.4 million people would travel to the eclipse zone. There was concern that this interest would create massive traffic problems.

Overall, the travel industry came out on top as winners. There was a spike in the hotel and other tourism businesses.

Certainly the case for us.

Viewers

Even if you couldn't make it in person, you were able to view the total eclipse as it made its way across the country. This was due to a live broadcast from NASA. According to their reports, as many as 40 million people tuned in on TV or online to watch the event.

Some estimates had 70 million travelers moving in and out of the zone of totality. It seemed that half of them were on the roads in SC.

Eclipse Glasses

It is estimated 207,000 pairs of these glasses were sold just through their network of Amazon sellers. That would mean almost seven million eclipse glasses were sold just through Amazon alone.

SellerCloud also reported the average selling price for each unit was over $7. However, in the days leading up to the eclipse, the price increased due to demand and product scarcity.

I had the good sense to order several sets of eclipse glasses early, enough for us and our family, plus a supplemental paper set for my employees who would be viewing a partial eclipse back home. Am glad I did. In spite of rumors that some were substandard, ours worked fine. 

Scientific Research

The eclipse was also a great opportunity for scientists. This eclipse was the only chance to view the sun's corona, also known as the outer layer. Thousands of scientists traveled to the eclipse path to photograph the sun during totality. This opportunity required billions of dollars' worth of equipment.

Cameras, telescopes, balloons, and supersonic jets were used to conduct experiments and gather data during the few minutes of total darkness.

This bonanza of data gathered will keep scientists busy for years to come.

Future Eclipses

The next visible eclipse in the U.S. is seven years away. It will occur on April 8, 2024. The path of that eclipse will span Texas to Maine, crossing through the South, Midwest, the Great Lakes, and New England.

There will be even people along its path as it crosses major metropolitan areas, such as Dallas, Cleveland, and Buffalo.

Assuming I'm still alive and able to walk, Contrary and I will be in Buffalo in April for the next one.

In speaking with those who stayed home, there is a profound difference from viewing a total eclipse.  In totality the temperature drops, the disc is totally up obscured, and at long last the corona of the sun is visible as the moon blocks old Sol. Even though it only lasts for two minutes and 40 seconds, it is an experience unlike any other. Animals behave oddly; crickets begin chirping in earnest; odd light phenomena occur, and the horizon is lit as if in sunset, but without sunset colors.

A total eclipse is a bucket list item as as moving as it Is ephemeral. If you have the opportunity in 2024, don't miss it.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. He will have failed if not eventually blocked by Twitler.

This Week In Doom August 6, 2017


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SARAH ROGERS/THE DAILY BEAST

 

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on August 6, 2017

“Negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting."
 ― Donald J. Trump  


It's not a premise particularly new or unique, but I will say with some pride that I had it early.

What Donald Trump wants to do above all else is hold onto his base, meaning a roughly 35 per cent approval rating in public polls. No matter how bigly he or his surrogates want to describe his inauguration crowds or his popular vote victory, he is a minority president opposed by well more than half of the country. In that way, he will retain the loyalty of the Congressional "Freedom Causus" of libertarian-tinged free- market fundamentalists, and ride out any legal unpleasantness that may come his way.

Of all the things Trump may or may not be, Trump is most certainly a TV guy. He pays attention to Nielsen ratings, he knows how to promote, to capture attention with outrage, and how to play the media. He made his bones saying,"you're fired!" By now it's axiomatic that every time #TrumpRussia starts to heat up, the the Donald or someone on his staff will drop some fresh outrage in order to change the subject  with a 5 AM shitter tweet.

With Trump and his people, every day is a scrap to win the news cycle. Team Trump only cares about his controlling the daily narrative, and of late is failing badly. This week the Quinnipiac poll had Trump's overall approval rating at 33%. This is an all-time low, and factors in Scaramucci but does not account for other news items that broke later in the week, including Robert Mueller's Grand Jury announcement and the announcement of the subpoena of documents from the White House.

Not a good week for the Trumpkins.

The best article summarizing this miserable week was penned by notorious Republican Rick Wilson in the Daily Beast:

Even before this devastating news, if you wanted to pick a week where the Trump administration got its ass handed to it at virtually every turn, this would be it. At almost every moment in the news cycle, Team Trump was getting beaten like a rented mule. The fallout of the Anthony Scaramucci firing is barely cool to the touch, and already this week’s pile of steaming radioactive waste from this White House is hip-deep.

In the wake of the health care/tax cut bill foundering in the Senate, Trump tweeted his executive displeasure and insisted the solons frog march back to their chambers and get something done. This was met with a collective yawn as Senators prepped for August recess. And as a parting “fuck you” to the White House, they left the Senate technically in session to preclude an untimely recess appointment of, say, a pliant and unrecused attorney general who could spike Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Trump was forced into signing the bipartisan Russian sanctions bill. Passed by overwhelming, veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, Trump was trapped like a Russian mink in a snare. 

Trump was even trolled on Twitter by Dmitry Medvedev for “total weakness.” In Russia, they murder their opponents and even supporters gone past their sell-by date. Where’s your spine, Donzo? The hits just keep on coming:

Another massive loss for Team Trump: the death of the cruel, phony attempt to frame Hillary Clinton and the Democrats for the murder of Seth Rich. Rich wasn’t killed by the Clintons, but Fox News and the White House were apparently delighted to torture his family. The accusations in a new lawsuit against Fox News and subsequent reporting over the withdrawn story of Seth Rich’s murder have already implicated outgoing White House press secretary Sean Spicer—who met with the investigator working on behalf of Trump superfan Ed Butowsky—but may reach Donald Trump himself.

As much as the blowhard-in-chief likes to proclaim any non-fawning story as “fake news,” here are allegations of some of the genuine article being made by hand in the West Wing. And apparently this wasn’t the first such manufacture:

“Donald Trump was also revealed to have personally written his namesake son’s deceptive and false statement about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians who came to New York to offer the Trump team compromising information on Hillary Clinton. You could almost hear the howls of laughter from the special prosecutor’s SCIF. “

And then there is the War on Leaks, led by the obsequious and eager to please AG Sessions, with rounds of investigation and recrimination.  Say nothing of the incipient White House Civil War between the Generals and the Alt Reich. COS Kelly ousted unfireable mystery man Ezra Cohen-Watnick, he of the handing raw intel to disgraced Congressional shitheel Devon Nunes. In response the Breitbart wing of the party has come gunning for McMasters. Grab the popcorn, but take the Generals and give the points.

And while on the subject of pointless efforts going nowhere, a promised trade bill and a promised bill to limit legal immigration will give true believers a little gristle, but will pass to a soundless and forgettable death in Congress. Although the immigration bill did provide us the Goebbels-esque spectacle of certified mole-person Stephen Miller referring to CNN's Jim Acosta as “cosmopolitan,” a term used by extremists to tag people suspected of extra-national allegiances or insufficient "assimilated" because of how they look, speak or live. (The history-challenged should read Charlie Pierce on the ignoble history of cosmopolitan-as-epithet here.)

But to return to Quinnipiac and the Holy Cause of winning the news cycle, at which Team Trump went winless last week. Rick Wilson again:

Increasing numbers of Americans say they believe Trump isn’t honest or capable. As his numbers pass some critical support thresholds, the magic of 2016 starts to morph into the fear of 2018 in the minds of many elected officials. The Great Distancing has begun. To top it all off, even Matt Drudge helpfully pointed out that Trump’s number is lower than Obama ever received.

So one wonders why Quinnipiac has Team Trump at 33 per cent when the normally less rabid Gallup poll had him at 38? It may be that the Congressional Rs have decided that Trump is unsalvageable, and are hoping to get away from a sinking Titanic before it can suck under their re-election hopes. Several weeks ago observers noted the creation of several million Twitter bots, an alt-Reich social media army ready to deploy at the twitch of a Mercer, the better to influence which stories "trend" on Twitter. Should Team Trump continue to sink, watch for the deployment of zombie-bots Making America Grate Again.

Let's end with the question posed by Charlie Pierce in his week-ending article:

What's the only thing worse than being the target of a grand jury called by Robert Mueller?

Being the target of two grand juries called by Robert Mueller!


This being about Doom, etc., here are some short pieces that may amuse while you're waiting for the latest methane hydrate explosion.

Is a Coup Inevitable?

 Yale historian Timothy Snyder, author of the new book "On Tyranny" says we may have one year left to save American democracy…

The fact that democracies usually fail is a rule which”… Americans believe…“can’t apply to us…Donald Trump will have his own version of Hitler’s Reichstag fire to expand his power and take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency…In an authoritarian regime change, at the beginning the individual has a special kind of power because the authoritarian regime depends on a certain kind of consent. Which means that if you are conscious of the moment that you are in, you can find the ways not to express your consent and you can also find the little ways to be a barrier. If enough people do that, it really can make a difference — but again only at the beginning.


Aaahhhhpocalypse Now!: 10 Dark Visions Headed Your Way

For readers of The Doomstead Diner, Apocalyptic visions-R-Us. Alternet recently gathered some of the best—or  worst—apocalyptic thinking in one place. This list contains plenty of bad news on economic, planetary and political fronts, enough to satisfy the doomiest doomer. Here are 10 visions of the apocalypse—coming soon!


This Big Hole in the Sun is Not a Good Thing

And as we gear up for observing the total eclipse of the Sun on August 21, other heliocentric newz is not so good. The sky monster that will eat a hole in the sun on that date has a partner,

 a 75,000-mile-wide hole that’s big enough to be seen from Earth, big enough to be given a name (AR2665), and potentially big enough to produce ‘M-class’ solar flares which can knock out communications satellites, create radiation storms and cause electronic chaos. This is not a good thing.


And at week's end, some proof that yes, there is a God:

Former drug company executive Martin Shkreli is convicted of fraud

NEW YORK, Aug 4 (Reuters) – Former drug company executive Martin Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud by jurors in a U.S. court in Brooklyn on Friday, after a highly publicized, month long trial.

Federal prosecutors had accused the 34-year-old of defrauding investors in his hedge funds and stealing from his old drug company, Retrophin Inc, to pay them back.

Jurors found Shkreli guilty on two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy, on the fifth day of deliberations. 

Here's hoping the boys in Cellblock D are preparing Shkreli a special welcome.


We end this week secure in the knowledge that Robert Mueller has two grand juries working overtime on the Trump Family Grift kept afloat with laundered Russian oligarch cash, plus obstruction of justice, if not just overall being a dick. Suffice it to say that we are grateful to not have a phalanx of FBI gumshoes and mean-spirited prosecutors with a thirst for vengeance crawling all up in our bidness.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and is the proud parent of a recent college graduate. He will have failed if not prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.

This Week In Doom, July 9, 2017


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on July 9, 2017

“Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!”

 ― Robert Burns  


Thinking it might be time to blow the dust off this long-neglected franchise and take a quick tour around the Internetz to see what's new in the world of Doom.


If you trolled this woman, eat a bag of salted dicks

No better place to start than here, with our basic oligarch-instilled and funded inhumanity to one another. Because if you're "the Other," you're not me, you're not worthy of consideration as human, amirite?

Alison Chandra contributed a story via Vox, entitled, I shared my toddler's hospital bill on Twitter. First came supporters — then death threats. It's a story of a Twitter post gone horribly awry– her son, who needed a life saving operation, received the care that he needed, and she posted an image of the $200,000+ bill, with her portion due $500, because medical insurance.

She snapped a picture of the bill and posted it to Twitter, thinking it a useful commentary on why people should care so much about laws that ensure our access to affordable health care, ban lifetime limits and ensure that no one is denied coverage simply because they’d been born with preexisting conditions. A feel good story, yes?

Uh, no. Then her thread blew up. Cue the haters.

The morning after I sent the tweets, I was at the market with my kids, choosing between scones and muffins, when a friend texted me: “That thread of yours really took off!”

I opened my phone, and instead of the usual 10 or so likes, I found my mentions and messages overrun. There were journalists reaching out to me, verified accounts with millions of followers retweeting me, and a few very angry men telling me that I shouldn’t steal from them, that my child was better off dead, that I should have let him just succumb to natural selection.

I was offered a .22 bullet, although I’m still not sure whom he meant it for, me or my child.

I suggest following the link and reading the whole story, although it is anything but edifying. But if you're an old bastard like the author, you'll be amazed at how far we've fallen in the last 60-70 years. A tribute to the ceaseless propaganda commending market fundamentalism and the reduction of everything to the morality of the balance sheet. And if you commented adversely to Alison's post, do the world a favor and eat a bullet. Right now.


Klan and the Antifa

Closer to home, Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Pelham, N.C., received a permit for a demonstration on Saturday, July 8. The ostensible point of the demonstration was to protest the Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. They shouted “white power,” burnished flags, and some wore white robes. Others carried handguns, as they approached the recently renamed "Emancipation Park," (formerly Lee Park.)

Virginia State Police, Albemarle County police and University of Virginia police were on hand to assist Charlottesville police as they escorted an estimated 30-40 Klansmen to and from the rally.  Police in riot gear separated the rallygoers from approximately 1,000 counterprotesters who greeted them with jeers. Attempts by Klan leaders to address the crowd were repeatedly drowned out by boos and chants. 

After the Klan rally ended, police led several people away in handcuffs after a large group of counterprotesters remained near the vicinity of the park. Police asked those still gathered nearby to disperse. Wearing riot gear and gas masks, the police declared the counterprotesters “an unlawful assembly” and used gas canisters to compel them to leave the area.

Because why get dressed in riot gear without making arrests and dispending tear gas, right?

Another hot day in Virginia.


Antarctic iceberg break the size of Delaware 'imminent,' say scientists

 

In the latest news about the global warming that the drooling right insists is not happening, an Antarctic iceberg break is 'imminent.' One of the world's biggest icebergs ever recorded is "hours, days, or weeks" away from breaking off an Antarctic ice shelf, scientists announced Wednesday.

We are told further that could the iceberg calve "within days" or hours, and that the volume of water contained will rival the volume of Lake Michigan. Business Insider reported that this may be the third-largest iceberg recorded since satellites began taking photos of Earth.

"In another sign that the iceberg calving is imminent, the soon-to-be-iceberg part of Larsen C Ice Shelf has tripled in speed to more than 10 meters per day between June 24th and June 27th," said Adrian Luckman of Project MIDAS, a British Antarctic research project that's keeping watch on the ever-growing crack.

"The iceberg remains attached to the ice shelf, but its outer end is moving at the highest speed ever recorded on this ice shelf. We still can’t tell when calving will occur — it could be hours, days or weeks," he added.

Once the iceberg breaks off, it "will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula," he said.

But don't worry, be happy.


Catholic Church: Women are to Blame for Pedophile Priests

And as long as we're being happy, let's consider the latest pose from the Club for Kidfucking Priests that's been operating for 2000 years, ever since Paul and Silas spent "quality time" together: Let's blame the little ladies.

Seems that the problems in the Church don't stem so much from adult men telling young boys, "This is what God's love feels like," and more from the fact that little girls want to participate in the life of the church by being altar girls. 

Cardinal Burke argues that serving mass is a "manly" job, and claims that the participation of women and girls into the daily life of the church has a chilling effect on priests, causing them to turn to "immoral and unpriestly vocations." This is much like Trump complaining that his team's failure to book a hotel at the recently ended G-20 meeting was Obama's fault.

“The radical feminism which has assaulted the Church and society since the 1960s has left men very marginalized,” said the Cardinal, a member of one of the oldest and most enduring men’s groups on earth.

“Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved."

 "The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away over time. I want to emphasize that the practice of having exclusively boys as altar servers has nothing to do with inequality of women in the Church."

Yeah, we get that.

Irish Central reports: So it’s not the international abuse crisis that has most led men to reconsider joining the church, it’s girl cooties. And feminism, of course.

So we have it straight from a Prince of the Church that the problems facing Catholicism today, in particular the epidemic of pedophilia, are the fault of women. And feminism. We thank the good Cardinal for completely unmasking the contempt and hatred with which the institutional Church has long held women. 


And since a consistent theme of this week's Doom Report is man's inhumanity to man, let's end with yet another human sacrifice to the logic of the spreadsheet:

Sending elderly to forests as tiger prey for compensation from government is as savage as it can get

India Today reports that families in Uttar Pradesh are sending the elderly members of their houses into forests as tiger prey to claim compensation worth lakhs from the government, giving the phrase "taking one for the team" to a whole new level.

The website reports that if locals are to be believed, elders of the family willingly go along with this scheme. "They think that since they can't get resources from the forest, this is the only way their families can escape poverty."

 

Authorities surmise that people are sending older members of the family into the tiger reserve for them to become a prey. 

Once killed, their bodies are relocated to fields, and staged as victims of a tiger attack, so that the respective family can claim lakhs in compensation from the government.

On the other hand, if I had sent grandma into the forest, I'd probably say it was her idea as well.

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and once quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. Where he met the woman who now shares his old Virginia home and who, like he, is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap, and like he, will be disappointed to not be prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the incoming administration.

Half A Loaf


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Originally published on Daily Kos on June 17, 2017

“Half a loaf is better than no bread.” —Thomas Jefferson 


I wrote about this briefly last month in a Facebook status update, but recent events suggest that I revisit it. It was the episode wherein a so-called (and former) FB “friend” announced,

“I am unfriending any idiot who calls Trump a Putin puppet. You're hating for all the wrong reasons.”

Didn't know I required a full portfolio of reasons. I thought emolument clause violations, grifts of various sizes, and treason was quite enough.

This person is a Michigan resident who proudly announced her unswerving support for Jill Stein, along with her unwavering hatred for "the Hillbot." She was one of 10,000 Stein voters in a state where the margin for Trump was 10,000, so we can fairly argue that she and voters like her helped elect Trump in Michigan. Because math. And logic.

Finding this thread a target rich environment, I explained how dozens of intelligence agencies had found a reason to investigate Trump before the election, that subpoenas were tumbling out the Eastern Virginia district, and that Trump is in the process of handing over Russian real estate seized by the Obama administration as part of sanctions. This last in direct response to a Russian threat of "countermeasures." Acting like nothing so much as the target of Russian kompromat. And this was before the spate of recent headlines, some of which have Bannon barring WH staffers from leaving the building, and a barking-mad President yelling at TVs.

I added that, in the fullness of time, it would be found at the Trump organization was a grift held afloat by Russian money, for the simple reason that no domestic bank, and no western bank (aside from Deutsche Bank) would touch him due to multiple bankruptcies and a long, slimy tail of lawsuits and mechanics' liens…. Hasn’t Young Eric admitted as much?

That got me blocked. That and my comment, "Enjoy your Trump. You elected him."

I understand voting for principle, and I also understand that many people (including me) justifiably looked askance at the Dem party after the incredibly shabby treatment of Bernie, who was my candidate. My wife and I rallied for him, made calls for him, donated and worked for him. And regretted his loss, and despised the shenagigans pulled on behalf of “Ms. It’s-My-Turn.”

Yet when Bernie came out and supported Hillary, in spite of all the D machine machinations, that was good enough for me. The alternative was unthinkable.

Well think again, motherfucker.

We’ve now come to a place in our party-over-country politics where among the flag-and-cross bearing extreme right now views Russia and Putin more favorably than Germany and Merkel. And view the NATO alliance, which has kept the peace for 60 years whatever its faults, as full of deadbeats sucking off American largesse. And who want to blame intemperate “left wing hatred” for this week’s shooting, even though the right engaged in an eight year orgy of Obama-as-joker and lynching pictures.

And if you want to argue NATO encroachment on Russia’s borders, and the neocon wet dream of a shooting war with Russia, I get that. In fact, the only thing that candidate Trump said that was remotely palatable to me was his stated desire to have a better working relationship with Russia. That was before obstruction, dossiers filled with Russian kompromat, pee tapes, election tampering-for-hire, and the entire sordid apparatus of the Trump money laundering grift grinding to a slow motion foundering in the public prints.

As Robert Mueller follows the money, in time we will find that The Trump Organization of interlocking grifts is held together with Russian oligarch money, just as Eric Trump admitted.

At the time, better relations with Russia sounded better than the several decades of neocon warmongering we have had to endure. To say nothing of the coarsening of our political discourse, and the re-embolding of an ignorant wing of white nationalists and alt-reich types whose presence could curdle milk.

When zero energy is devoted to unity or understanding and all energy is spent on division and demonization, war is inevitable. While Steve Scalise fights for life in a hospital bed, we are told that it is left-wing hatred that is out of control. Even Ivanka' feels were bruised by "a level of viciousness that I was not expecting,” she told Fox News last week, adding that she was “blindsided” by the “ferocity.”

Well.

Remember the wall-to-wall TV coverage and the prayers in the House, and the talk about unity and toning down rhetoric when Rep. Gabby Giffords took a bullet to the brain? Me neither. Let’s review the bidding, shall we?

GOP House candidate Robert Lowry held a campaign event at a Florida gun range in October 2009, where he fired gunshots at a silhouette that had his opponent Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s printed on it.

“You know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.” – Sharon Angle

“If I could issue hunting permits, I would officially declare today opening day for liberals. The season would extend through November 2 and have no limits on how many taken as we desperately need to ‘thin’ the herd.” -Brad Goerhing

“Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office,” read an advertisement for the event called “Shoot a fully automatic M16 With Jesse Kelly.”

“Don’t retreat, instead- RELOAD!” – Sarah Palin after circulating a map with crosshairs over lawmakers who supported the ACA

“You know but other than me going over there with a gun and holding it to their head and maybe killing a couple of them, I don’t think they’re going to listen unless they get beat.” – John Sullivan

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” -Donald Trump

And leading the charge are the bleats, farts and other bodily emanations of one N. Leroy Gingrich, defender of all that is Good and Holy in western civilization, and soon to be know as Mrs. Vatican Ambassador.

A month ago, Gingrich tweeted that Mueller was “a superb choice” whose “reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity.” After it was learned that Mueller would look at potential malfeasance on Trump’s part, Gingrich decided that Mueller is actually “the tip of the deep state spear aimed at destroying or at a minimum undermining and crippling the Trump presidency.” Thus reversing himself on his opinion of Robert Mueller completely within 30 days.

And let’s never forget he is a shameless opportunist who attempted to get his drug-addled wife to sign off on a divorce punch list as she lay in a hospital bed after cancer surgery. To cite Gingrich as an authority on anything except underwear stains is to reveal a lack of critical thinking. A consideration I deem as kind.

The episode with my erstwhile friend shows that the profoundly left can be as stupid and intractable as the drooling right. If the practical effect of your opinions makes you indistinguishable from a Breitbart troll, what good are your beliefs?

Politics is the art of half a loaf. It's the art of compromise. Hillary wasn't my first, second,or third candidate, and it took me a good long while of hostage negotiation with myself before I cast a vote for her. But if you don't believe she would have been a damned sight better than President* Stupid, and that the problems we would have had with her as President would not have been a damned sight better than the ones we have now, unfriend me immediately. And hit yourself in the head with a hammer for me on your way to the airlock.

True believers, Stein voters and single issue enviros keep relitigating the last primary and fighting the last war. Which by the way, people, we lost. In large measure because ever individuals and their feels are more important than a sense of working together for a common purpose.

Look forward, upward, and to the future. Work for change, but deal with reality. Failure to do so means more of what we have now. When you are hungry, half a loaf looks awfully good.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. Author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, he was active in Occupy. He lives in SE Viirginia with Contrary, the woman who now shares his old Virginia home and who, like he, will be disappointed to not be prominently featured on an Trump enemies list.

What’s In A Flag?


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Originally published on Daily Kos June 9, 2017

“In the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activism and new federal laws inspired the same resistance to racial progress and once again led to a spike in the use of Confederate imagery. In fact, it was in the 1950s, after segregation in public schools was declared unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, that many Southern states erected Confederate flags atop their state government buildings.” 
― Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption


Earlier this year, one Corey Stewart, an overcooked potato currently running for Virginia governor against Republican fixer and bagman Ed Gillespie, campaigned at a Confederate-flag-bedecked gedunk on Virginia's Eastern Shore (a home for retrograde politics ever since Governor Berkeley fled Bacon's Rebellion for safety in 1676.)

A few words about Corey Stewart: He is Chair of the Board of Supervisors of Prince William County, Virginia, and drew national media attention for spearheading Prince William County's 2007 crackdown on illegal immigrants. He was hired as the Virginia chairman of the Trump for President campaign in December 2015, and fired in October 2016. He also drew attention for his use of the word "cuckservative" in a Reddit AMA.

Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia, Corey Stewart, at a campaign kickoff rally in Occoquan, Va., AP Photo/Steve Helber

Let's be clear: Stewart hails from Minnesota and has no ties to the Confederacy aside from whiteness. Stewart has made common cause with those Virginians who have elevated the Confederate flag and Civil War monuments to false-god status:

“Over my dead body when I’m governor of Virginia are we ever going to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson or any hero of the commonwealth of Virginia,” he roared in a dance hall plastered with the Stars and Bars. He put in a good word for the flag, too.

“I’m proud to be next to the Confederate flag,” said Stewart, a Minnesota native and chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “That flag is not about racism, folks. It’s not about hatred. It’s not about slavery. It’s about our heritage. … It’s time that we stop running away from our heritage. It’s time that we embrace it.”

Otherwise known as shoveling fresh meat to the base.

Americans have had to endure 150 years of revisionist history from sore losers. I have (hyperbolically) argued with Confederate-flag defenders that, had we as a nation not been beguiled by Lincoln's "soft peace" after the Civil War with paroles for everyone, and executed several thousand Rebel legislators and top-ranking officers, perhaps the many apologists for the so-called "Lost Cause" would not have made so bold with their pens.

And perhaps we would not have had to continue to endure the American swastika as an emblem of the worst instincts of the American experience.

When they say, "heritage, not hate," they lie.

Let's be clear: the Confederate Flag and its derivatives, including the Battle Flag (which is often confused for "the Confederate flag) was created as a symbol of oppression. Period. The Confederacy was founded on the explicit principle that slavery is the “natural and normal condition” of black people. This is not arguable.

The flag’s promoter said:

Our idea is simply to combine the present battle-flag with a pure white standard sheet… As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause it would be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.

If that is not sufficiently convincing, take what Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate government said in the “Cornerstone Address,” specifically addressing America’s belief that all men are created equal:

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.

The problem with the flag, and the monuments, is that they have become rallying images for the worst impulse of illiterate, retrograde types. The Trump era gas given implicit permission to white supremacists, neo-fascists and assorted Nazis to come out of the shadows and rejoin public life.

On May 14, Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer (he of punch-a-nazi meme fame) led a tiki-torch carrying group of demonstrators in Charlottesville to protest plans to remove a Confederate monument.

Via Periscope, Spencer addressed the crowd thus:

“You will not replace us. You will not destroy us.You cannot destroy us. We have awoken. We are here. We are never going away.” 

And as if to prove the point, we learn via The Root this week that the KKK has filed paperwork for a demonstration in Charlottesville on July 8. And a group who call themselves “Unity and Security for America”  have applied to hold another event on Aug. 12.

In a tasty bit of writing-with-a-flourish, The Root’s Michael Harriot describes organizer Jason Kessler, the blogger too racist for The Daily Caller, as

…one of the many butt-hurt white boys upset over the removal of Confederate monuments—also believes in the bullshit premise of “white genocide,” once writing, “White people are rapidly becoming a minority in the U.S. and Europe,” and adding, “If we’re not able to advocate for ourselves we may go extinct…” 

…neofascists have lately made the statue a symbol of “political correctness gone mad,” because the white man’s ego has lately become as fragile as his toehold at the top of America’s social hierarchy. 

And that’s where we are. The Trump era (Eric Trump: “Democrats aren’t even people”) has unleashed the zombie id of the American right, and it expresses itself in flag and monument-fetish. This is a movement nourished by hatred of the other, as old as wars of extermination of the Native American, enslavement of the African, and hatred of each successive wave of immigrants whose arrival surely announced the defilement of our women and the destruction of our way of life, whatever that means.

Racist ideology runs through the bloodstream of our body politic as surely as does a taste for violence. It has ignorance and fear at its root, and definition of “the other” as dangerous.

Symbols have no inherent meanings, only those people assign them. The Confederate flag (and assorted Confederate monuments) is now assigned many different meanings: a symbol of slavery, an emblem of rebellion, a guidon for white supremacists, an historical artifact,  even a benign display of regional pride. But as white nationalists make bold to reopen old wounds and sow deep divisions, we have to remember the words of Edmund Burke:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.


Note: If you are a history geek like me, and want to know more about Bacon's Rebellion (1676–1677), a litlte known and less understood episode of history, the net effect of which was to codify and rigidify a race-based caste system in British America, I recommend this article by James Douglas Rice in the online Encyclopedia Virginia.

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective, and was active in Occupy. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and is the proud parent of a recent college graduate.

Earth Day 2017


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Photoillustration by Surly1

“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.”   -J.R.R. Tolkien


Saturday marked Earth Day 2017. Across the country, tens of thousands of people took proud part in hundreds of "March for Science" events.  Out in force to protest the anti-science rhetoric and assertively ignorant actions wafting from thankfully-incompetent-but-still-malign trump Administration, a rat's nest full of climate change and science denier billionaires, they sent an unmistakable message of resistance.

In southeastern Virginia, there were four separate events. All well attended.

The President took time out of his busy Saturday grabbing photo-ops wherever he could (such as the one in which he "congratulated" an Army Sergeant who received a Purple Heart for wounds resulting in amputation). Such gaffes used to be politically disfiguring, but in an age without shame or accountability, our reality-show POTUS gallantly soldiered on with his propaganda show designed to change the subject to anything-but-Russia.

Neither shame nor evidence could staunch the borborygmus emerging from trump, as he issued a typically flatulent statement marking the occasion:

"Rigorous science is critical to my administration's efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection.

"My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.

This April 22nd, as we observe Earth Day, I hope that our nation can come together to give thanks for the land we all love and call home,"

Cue the laugh track. Trump made this statement as thousands of marchers filled the streets of DC and elsewhere directly in response to Trump's threats of budget cuts to agencies funding scientific research. 

Protesters cared little and paid attention less to the movements of 45. They found themselves on the streets marching, here in the 21st century, in support of science, reason, evidence, the scientific method.  Along with passion marchers brought incisive and wittily designed signs.  Here's a non-scientifically selected sample from demonstrations across the country and from the march Contrary and I attended.

Science Day Marches Outdraw trump’s Inauguration.

   

        

   

   

   

   

The turnout at this event numbered at least five hundred, and long lines of peaceful marchers were provided with a police escort as they marched the length of Norfolk's Granby St. My wife Contrary could not resist having her picture made with some of Norfolk's finest. The reception from the authorities was markedly different from that which greeted Occupy in November of 2011. In September of that year, Occupy Wall Street sprouted up and gave birth to dozens of like-minded Occupy groups across the country, including Norfolk. In November of that year, the Bush administration's Dept. of Homeland Security coordinated a city-by-city crackdown and evacuation on Occupy encampments.

She noted the fine turnout with a certain amount of wistfulness, recalling the days when we might get 40 people for general assembly and far fewer for a direct action. I replied that Occupy was the tip of the spear, a catalyst that made a change in the political vocabulary of this country, and one that lit a fire of resistance that has spread to thousands of others. It was deeply gratifying to know that the resulting blaze was afire in dozens of cities around the country and the world.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and once quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. Where he met the woman who now shares his old Virginia home and who, like he, is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap, and like he, will be disappointed to not be prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.

This Week in Doom, April 9, 2017


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on April 9, 2017

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

 ― Brian Williams, MSNBC anchor  


It's been a week in which we took several steps toward our own Appointment in Samarra. We are expected to believe that the nation's Chief Executive, who heretofore has demonstrated absolutely no empathy for anyone, reversed his own stated foreign policy based on news pictures of children, ostensibly suffering from a Syrian government gas attack. Just the week before, said executive's Secretary of State had affirmed a new policy in which the US would be content to let the destiny of Bashar Al-Assad be settled by the Syrian people.

And who exactly are we fighting in Syria? Is it ISIS? Al Qaeda? Jabhat al Nusra? But Assad purchased oil from ISIS, yes? How did that work? And now we're bombing Assad? All of the Jihadis in opposition to Assad are Sunni, whereas Assad's regime belongs to the Alawite sect of Islam, related somehow to the Shia branch of Islam. One needs a scorecard…

As difficult as this might be to sort out, when the newest atrocity pictures appeared on FOX News, they hit our non-reading president right in the feels. And like Xanadu, a military action was decreed. Meanwhile, trump's legions of right-wing zealots were discomfited that he had bombed Syria and thus had gone "full neocon." Great was the hue and cry therefrom. Meanwhile, in the West Wing, Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon wrestled for primacy. If you're not the president's son-in-law, I don't like your chances. Mitch McConnell got clean away with the heist of a Supreme Court seat, and, oh yes, in spite of the Trump administration's decision to ban the phrase "climate change", the Arctic north is melting and we are awash in icebergs. Can global sea level rise be far behind?


The Rockets' Red Glare

We are told the short-fingered vulgarian "became president" by sending a volley of Tomahawk missiles, costing $1-1.5 million the each, to light up a Syrian airstrip, the assets of which had been moved by previously-alerted Russians and Syrians who, unlike Congress, had received prior notice. The air show on a virtually deserted airstrip avoided most of the runways, such that Syrian planes are reported to be flying missions as I write. Thus the US spent about $93,810,000, blowing up very little in order to show them that "we mean business."

The Palmer Report estimates that Donald Trump's ineffective Syria attack could have fully funded Meals on Wheels through 2029.

 The MSM, hot on the trail of #trumpRussia connections, were captivated. On MSNBC, which we are constantly reminded is the "left" news network, fake news parolee Brian Williams waxed rhapsodic about the beauty of the rocket launches, if not the tumescence of the manhood which unleashed them. CNN's Fareed Zakaria proudly asserted Trump’s missile strike in Syria shows him emerging from the chrysalis and displaying the same bloodthirsty qualities as America’s past leaders. Friday morning on CNN’s “New Day," I stood openmouthed in astonishment as Zakaria said

“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night. I think this was actually a big moment.”

Making this Zakaria's Van Jones moment, and exposing him as another to-be-ignored careerist. Neocon Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham swooned, and were observed to have rare swellings in their crotches at the audacity of dope. If these last for more than four hours, they should call a doctor. Or a Capitol Hill reporter.

Leading papers published opinions like "Trump’s Chance to Step Into the Global Leadership Vacuum," "Trump Has an Opportunity to Right Obama’s Wrongs in Syria," "Syrian Opposition Leader: Trump Has a Chance to Save Syria" and "Syria Missile Strike Could Lead to Political Solution"–but no pieces opposing an unauthorized military attack against a sovereign nation. Dan Rather had a few choice words.

"War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative," Rather continued. "It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike."

On other news, Raytheon, the company that makes the Tomahawk missiles used in the air strikes, was rising in early stock trading Friday. In related news, Lockheed Martin, helps Raytheon make the Javelin missile launcher system, gained nearly 1%. We may be headed for the End Times, but we're creating some beautiful opportunities for profit in arms.


Pepe nonplussed

Trump's troll army was not pleased, and the alt-right crowd broke with the president over his perfidy. The web-savvy, anti-establishment "alt-right" neo-nazis at the passionate core of Trump’s online support last year, have become apoplectic over the strikes. This "America First" wing, which includes Milo Yiannopolis, Mike Cernovich, Ann Coulter, and the famously punched-in-the-face Richard Spencer, (he of the memes), as well as those basement dwellers on The_Donald subreddit and the /pol/ section of 4Chan, warn of a slippery slope to intervention in Syria.

As recently as last week, they believed Trump would keep the country out of unnecessary wars. Last Thursday on a trip to Turkey, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” And then came the news pictures of Syrian children being gassed. Whereupon, we are told, the president decided to "follow his heart."

Leaving aside for a moment the notion of how a Republican Congress or the American public would react did if a female president had decided to "follow her heart," and launch 59 Tomahawk missiles, we are left to marvel at 180° whipsaw-like change in the direction of American foreign policy.

Meanwhile, about those pictures, and who was responsible for them. Many on the fascist fringe scream that Trump has been duped into a war a "false flag" operation. "The Syrian gas attack was done by deep state agents," tweeted alt right agitator and Pizzagate auteur Mike Cernovich. And other marginal voices, including Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson, as well as Ron Paul, Scott Adams and Michael Savage, have upped the ante, blamed the attack on George Soros, and condemned Trump for surrendering to "Republican hawks."

Plus, Julian Assange, believed to have sole control of the WikiLeaks Twitter account,  shared a video from a Syrian activist in Germany on Thursday that said Islamist extremists were probably behind the chemical attack, not the Syrian government. Even left-wing observers have opined that the chemical strikes may have originated with Syrian rebels. Assessing the truth is to walk in a hall of mirrors.

Speaking of a hall of mirrors, Tina Nguyen of Vanity Fair does exemplary reporting on all things Trump, and made the following salient observation:

The missile strike came only hours after Bannon, the de facto representative of the alt-right in the White House, had been removed from the National Security Council Principals Committee, cutting off his access to military decision-making. His supporters quickly, and not without logic, blamed the Syria situation on the same people they believed were responsible for Bannon’s ouster and diminishing stature in the West Wing: Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and the leader of what a White House source described to Politico as the “West Wing Democrats.”

Few things gladden my heart more that a right wing circular firing squad, as headlines broke on Friday that Bannon had called Kushner "a cuck" and a "globalist." What the Bannon-Kushner tussle portends for the future, and for Trump's relationship with the reclusive Mercer family (which bankrolled his electoral victory)  is anyone's guess. 

 


It Stays Stole

Mitch McConnell and wife in a rare tender moment.

In 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "One of my proudest moments was when I told Obama, 'You will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy,'" and in 2017, he said, "Apparently there's yet a new standard now, which is not to confirm a Supreme Court nominee at all. I think that's something the American people simply will not tolerate."


This week, McConnell invoked a parliamentary maneuver to end the filibuster opposing the nominee, Neil Gorsuch, for the stolen Supreme Court seat, thus clearing the way for Gorsuch to occupy said stolen seat. This legislative coup will ratify the primacy of the corporate state for the next 30 years.

In a related story, hypocrisy stocks were up 12 percent this week.

 


Global melting

A meltwater stream on Greenland’s ice sheet. And in climate change news, which we no longer count anymore because trump, we learn that Greenland’s coastal ice has passed a critical “tipping point,” according to a new study. Which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the island’s ice.

The Greenland ice sheet, which covers about 80 percent of the island’s surface, is the second-largest ice body in the world after the Antarctic ice sheet. The same processes that have caused the accelerated melting of Greenland’s coastal ice bodies could also influence the island’s massive ice sheet — with devastating results, lead study author Bryce Noël said.

“For now, the ice sheet is still safe,” he said. “Its tipping point hasn’t been crossed yet. But if warming continues, it’s very likely that it will be crossed.”

If the entire Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it would cause a global sea level rise of more than 20 feet. 

 

In a related story, The Guardian tells of a swarm of more than 400 icebergs that have drifted into the North Atlantic shipping lanes over the past week, unusually large for so early in the season. 

Most icebergs entering the North Atlantic have “calved” off the Greenland ice sheet. Michael Mann, director of the earth system science center at Pennsylvania State University, said it was possible climate change was leading to more icebergs in the shipping lanes, but wind patterns were also important.

US Coast Guard Commander Gabrielle McGrath, who leads the ice patrol, said she had never seen such a drastic increase in such a short time. Adding to the danger, three icebergs were discovered outside the boundaries of the area the Coast Guard had advised mariners to avoid, she said.

Another week in which we incrementally slip towards the doom which awaits us for our fecklessness and irresponsibility for failing to summon the will to be good stewards of what we have inherited.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and once quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. Where he met the woman who now shares his old Virginia home and who, like he, is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap, and like he, will be disappointed to not be prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the incoming administration.

This Week In Doom: What Muslim Ban?


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Hampton Roads Light Brigade at direct action January 31, 2017

 


Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on February 5, 2016

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

–Pastor Martin Niemoller 


Our foreign policy requires an externalized enemy, as our economy requires a state of permanent war. Were peace to break out across the world, the US economy would shudder to a halt within 60 days.

Ever since Reagan announced "Morning in America" we have been tempted with the promise of returning America to the golden postwar era when white male colossi like Patton, Marshall and MacArthur strode like heroes astride a grateful world. And the corresponding postwar boom in which American industry sold everything it could make to a prostrate world. Who paid for it with money we lent them.

Trump's call to "Make America Great Again," prints nicely on red ball caps but is short on specifics. One example put in practice is the recently announced Muslim Ban, giving color of law to demonization of the Muslim "other." [Note: On Friday night, U.S. District Judge James Robart blocked the entirety of trump’s de facto Muslim ban from taking effect. His ruling, which applies nationwide, froze all relevant provisions of trump's executive order.]

In a recent Harper's article, Lawrence Jackson ruminates about the leaders of the Atlantic-facing victors, usually known as "the West:"

The most arrogant inhabitants of these nations …understood themselves to be the ordained directors of human beings across the globe, across space and time. They were committed to civilization by the sword. Yet not even Reagan was mighty enough to reinstall the American militants who ached to battle the Russians and the Chinese. Reagan took to politics for what he couldn’t achieve in his original profession, acting. He stood in the shadow of John Wayne, a cultural hero who… declared that the problem was that the values of white rule weren’t being exported vigorously enough. Wayne’s films gave audiences a steady dose of what historian Richard Slotkin calls “regeneration through violence.” Both civilization and capitalist bonanza depend on violent encounters and imperial expansion. If the country is to be healthy, it needs some frontier populated by some brand of enemy.

After 9-11, to forestall a "peace dividend" breaking out, America's best minds concocted the Global War on Terror, a concept plastic enough to permit many interpretations, and unwinnable enough to guarantee the Permanent War Economy. Having recently defined that enemy as brown people planet-wide coming for our golfs and guns, now they have infiltrated our borders! Clear and present danger! Wearing hijab! Sharia Law in our streets! Can female genital mutilation for Barbie be far behind?

Enter trump. In our empathy-free times, we think little and care less about what such reckless decisions mean to individuals. Today I am going to challenge you to care.

Demonstrators march from a Department of Homeland Security office through the West Loop on Feb. 1, 2017 against President Donald Trump's ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Several weeks ago, I listened to a Ted Talk by Deeyah Khan, raised in Norway by an Afghan mother and Pakistani father. Khan recounted the rejection and isolation felt by Muslim kids growing up in the West, and the way they get squeezed between two worlds. At a time when executive action careens towards an unconstitutional ban on immigrants fleeing the very countries we bomb, this talk opened my eyes—and ears.

Khan recounted the story of how she had to subsume her own dreams for her life and take on those given her by her father. To be famous, he said, “it's either got to be sports, or it's got to be music." So he threw away her toys and dolls at age seven, and was given a ratty Casio keyboard. She practiced music for hours each day.

Khan started singing and playing, and became good enough to perform before growing audiences. Let her tell it:

I became almost a kind of poster child for Norwegian multiculturalism. I felt very proud, of course. Because even the newspapers at this point were starting to write nice things about brown people, so I could feel that my superpower was growing.

Until one day, she was headed into a store for candy, and found her way blocked by a man intent on making sure she understood who really ran things in Norway.

There was this grown white guy in the doorway blocking my way. So I tried to walk around him, and as I did that, he stopped me and he was staring at me, and he spit in my face, and he said, "Get out of my way you little black bitch, you little Paki bitch, go back home where you came from." I was absolutely horrified. I was staring at him. I was too afraid to wipe the spit off my face, even as it was mixing with my tears. I remember looking around, hoping that any minute now, a grown-up is going to come and make this guy stop. But instead, people kept hurrying past me and pretended not to see me.

So she learned that when faced with persecution of brown people, white people tend to not want to get involved. But her fellow brown people would have her back, right? Not exactly.

Some men in my parent's community felt that it was unacceptable and dishonorable for a woman to be involved in music and to be so present in the media. So very quickly, I was starting to become attacked at my own concerts. I remember one of the concerts, I was onstage, I lean into the audience and the last thing I see is a young brown face and the next thing I know is some sort of chemical is thrown in my eyes and I remember I couldn't really see and my eyes were watering but I kept singing anyway. I was spit in the face in the streets of Oslo, this time by brown men.

The threats continued and the oppression, this time from her fellow Muslims, got worse. And it took the edge that we often hear that the Islamic world visits upon women:

The death threats were endless. I remember one older bearded guy stopped me in the street, and said, "The reason I hate you so much is because you make our daughters think they can do whatever they want." A younger guy warned me to watch my back. He said music is un-Islamic and the job of whores, and if you keep this up, you are going to be raped and your stomach will be cut out so that another whore like you will not be born.

Her family realized they could no longer keep her safe, so they sent her to London. She resumed her music career, but with similar results.

Different place, but unfortunately the same old story. I remember a message sent to me saying that I was going to be killed and that rivers of blood were going to flow and that I was going to be raped many times before I died. By this point, I have to say, I was actually getting used to messages like this, but what became different was that now they started threatening my family.

Eventually after transitioning to work as a maker of films, she moved again, this time to the US. She makes this point:

What most people don't understand is that there are so many of us growing up in Europe who are not free to be ourselves. We're not allowed to be who we are. We are not free to marry or to be in relationships with people that we choose. We can't even pick our own career. This is the norm in the Muslim heartlands of Europe. Even in the freest societies in the world, we're not free. Our lives, our dreams, our future does not belong to us, it belongs to our parents and their community.

So this lack of freedom to choose personal autonomy is what we decry in our conflict with Islam: "Islam is a death cult." "Look how it treats women." Yet compare and contrast with the policies announced and espoused by the current trump/pence regime.

Denying women reproductive freedom has long been the Holy Grail of Christian Dominionists who have never gotten over The Pill. The Pill gave women the ability to control pregnancy, and with it far more autonomy over their lives. Couple these efforts with the assault on programs that combat violence agaist women, and you begin to trace the outlines of a program to re-chattelize women that sounds positively… Islamist.

Consider in the singular example of Deeyah Khan how Islamists treat women, and realize that this story is re-enacted across the world millions of times over. Then compare with announced trump/pence policies designed to deny women access to services won over decades of activism and legislation. It would appear that the difference is merely one of degree. Policies to repress the rights of women stem from the same shrunken root: an insecure manhood and a need for control. Women, beware short fingered vulgarians and the men who serve them.

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and once quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. Where he met the woman who now shares his old Virginia home and who, like he, is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap, and like he, will be disappointed to not be prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the incoming administration.

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