Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Schlaraffenland

Schlaraffenland is a mythical land of milk and honey and idleness. The kind of thing charismatic tyrants promise the peasantry to keep them docile and obedient.












Promises are a kind of narcotic. Democracies do their own promising but because the people are in charge of their government and have to pay for the things they enact they tend to be less lavish. This self-denial can be redirected to withhold the good life from the people who work for a living and deliver it only to those who own for a living. The wealthy few become the inhabitants of this utopia we meant for ourselves. This has been the end-result of Reagan's sunny promises, a wonderland for the lucky few and a diminished reality for the many.

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Verblendungszusammenhang

Reading about tyrannies past you can find useful words for defining and explaining the current tyranny.

Verblendungszusammenhang: the word used during the postwar period to describe Hitler's "system of total delusion."

Opposition to tyranny is helpless if the opponents cannot understand or explain what they are opposed to, if they cannot understand what is happening.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

The New Normal: Trump Isn't Crazy, We Are

This piece in the Guardian got me thinking. It’s worth reading, even if psychiatrists do tend to get a bit wonky and longwinded.

My eyebrows shot up in the first paragraph:

"Prof Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the book (or at least the diagnostic criteria) on narcissistic personality disorder has penned a letter to the New York Times stating that although Trump is a “world-class narcissist” he does not have a mental illness as he suffers no personal distress or impairment from his condition, which is a prerequisite for the diagnosis.”

Translated into the vernacular this psychiatrist is agreeing with this other psychiatrist that the subject (Trump) is not mentally ill because he “suffers no personal distress or impairment from his condition.”

This should alarm us. He is telling us not to worry because Trump is not a deranged individual––because Trump is not "personally distressed or impaired”––because he is in a position, and we gave him the power, to rearrange reality to suit his own deranged view of reality.

So, according to the guidebook on insanity, if we see someone behaving irrationally we let him alone as long as he is happy and nothing is impairing him? If he is wealthy enough and powerful enough, yes. The word “impair” means to weaken or limit function. What would impair the man with the most power in the world? We obviously cannot impair his behavior. He is impairing ours. So we are the impaired ones. We are the ones who are crazy.

He is the man barricaded in the house with high powered weapons and hostages and we are to believe he is only controlling his situation using the means at his disposal. I have a problem with that. We are the hostages. We are not the people watching from behind the barricades and live-tweeting about it.

Trump is reordering reality to conform to his bizarre mindset. He is using the vast power of our democracy to shut that democracy down because it annoys him. We are supposed to say that is fine? Even in psychiatric terms that is debatable.

There is the other possibility, raised by Trevor Noah last night, that Trump is actually a vulnerable adult, a senior citizen who is being taken advantage of by his guardians, presumably Steve Bannon and Vladimir Putin and the Russian mobsters he owes millions to. Other memes on social media depict Trump as a toddler because his behavior resembles what we have to deal with in small children. I think there is something seriously wrong when irrational behavior is OK and our problem with irrational behavior is seen as irrational.

Trump is reordering reality to fit how he thinks because he can. He can because he is rich. He can because of the vast power of his new office, which he is already working feverishly to expand further. He can do this because we let him.

The psychiatrists seem to be saying this is OK because he is not impaired or distressed. No, we are impaired and distressed. Our sudden impairment and distress should trigger alarms. It’s even got a name: Post Trump Stress Disorder. Workplaces nationwide are confronting loss of productivity and focus because of this. it is not OK.

Post Trump Stress Disorder discussed in Psychology Today

Post Trump Distress Disorder defined by the man who coined the phrase

In November, Jeff Gillenkirk, the man who diagnosed this sudden trauma the nation was experiencing, died of a heart attack. But Trump sails on undisturbed and unimpeded and undistressed.

We are suffering from the president’s disorder. He is not.

According to the best psychiatric thinking this is OK, but how is it OK? I think I understand how this is unfolding.

Psychiatrists are expensive. Only rich people can afford personal service and help. Average people who are acting and thinking in an antisocial and dangerous way are locked away in an asylum but the wealthy person suffering from mental derangement can lie down and get the personal love and attention he needs by the hour and then go out and mess with people’s lives.

Because of who pays them, the psychiatric profession has adjusted its criteria to accommodate rich and powerful people like Trump as if they are normal––thus making them normative. Normal is defined by how rich people behave and think. Since the election the definition of normal has once again shifted and conformed to the abnormality of someone with immense power who not long ago was derided as cuckoo.

Economists, who are also employed by people with lots of money, do the same thing. They defer to the feelings and priorities of people with lots of money, deferring even more to those with more. They have readjusted the norms of our economy to fit this rule. Our economy once functioned in an efficient and useful way to serve the people who worked and lived in it, but since around 1980 it has shifted to a new normal where it serves the people according to how much money they have, giving more money and choice and opportunity to those with more money, choice and opportunity.

To some extent the news media, journalism, is dealing with this same difficulty. Their job is to tell the broader public what is true, what is happening, and what it means. But right now their ability to do so is being "impaired and distressed” by the angry, narcissistic, bullying figure in the White House. Their ability to do their jobs is being restricted. Trump, who seems crazy to many of us, has put them in a strait jacket. They’d better behave or he will sick the FCC on their company. They’d better be nice to him and flatter him and pay attention to him (but only the right kind of attention) or he will sue them or investigate them or encourage his fans to shoot them. Shooting the messenger has been a big part of this presidency already. It was the central idea of the campaign. So we may see the news media normalizing Trump. The media companies cannot afford to fight him and his behaving like a car fire on TV juices their ratings and increases their income. Does anyone criticize a car fire?

What this means is Normal can be bought.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Republicans Block Investigation of Russia Connection, Focus on Whistleblowers

The Republicans are following our founding traditions. We all remember when the Founding Fathers hung Paul Revere for waking everybody up at night. We honor their decision to rat out the revolutionaries to the occupying British. Do we even ask why we celebrate Benedict Arnold's birthday every year? We take a day off to worship his memory without questioning it.

In that tradition the Republicans in Congress, led by Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, have decided to hunt down the people who told us that the president's campaign was collaborating with Russian spy agencies instead of investigating the president's ties to Russian spy agencies.

Reported by VOX

And The Hill

CNN reports

The Salt Lake Tribune

At Politico

Is this diversion or is it a cover up? Howard Baker famously said "It's almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble." In this case it's both. Collusion with a foreign enemy is not a second rate burglary.

Howard Baker was a Republican who helped uncover Watergate. There are no more Republicans like him. Modern Republicans have learned that their failure during Watergate wasn't the crime, it was failing to cover it up better. Covering up is something they have gotten expert at since the '70s.

Shoot the messenger.

What we don't know can't hurt them.

Ignorance is bliss. Consuming fake news instead of factual news is even blissier.

Ignorance is bliss might be the survival mantra of Vice President Pence, who the party is desperately insulating from the Russia treason story. When Trump goes, if he does go, we will be gifted with a man who kept his eyes wide shut for most of the past year.

Deliberate, obedient ignorance is the only way Americans will learn to call their new president Dear Leader the way North Koreans refer to Kim Jong Un. This is how we will become more like North Korea and authoritarian Russia.

Is it treason to deliver our sovereignty into the hands of a foreign power? Or is it treason to warn people that is what is happening?

The Intercept has this take on that.

An opinion piece in the Observer (Trump's son-in-law's publication, ironically) had this surprising view.

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The Republican Drive To Destroy The Environment

Trump plans to run the EPA by executive order. The most ignorant man to ever occupy the White House will now dictate environmental policy.

From Reuters

Republicans have begun their effort to gut the Endangered Species Act which saved the Bald Eagle and the Timber Wolf

Reported by The Week

A bill has been proposed to eliminate the EPA altogether

Reported by CNBC

In early January Jason Chaffetz offered a bill to sell millions of acres of federal land. It was later withdrawn.

From the LATimes

The bright siders say the extremely anti-environmental aggressiveness of the Trump administration and the Republican Congress may galvanize environmentalists.

But why do we need to refight wars? Is it a good thing to redirect energies to saving what was saved already and telling people what everybody has known for the past 20 years?

The world has known about the dangers of climate change for longer than that actually and instead of reaching consensus on it we lost consensus.

Because fossil fuels were simply too profitable and its corporations were too greedy and the politicians they owned were too needy.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Republicans Have A History Of Treason Going Back To Nixon

I keep hearing commentators saying this collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian spy agencies is an unprecedented act of duplicity, and possibly treason.

Unprecedented?

Is it unprecedented for an official from a presidential campaign to undermine the foreign policy of a president who is still in office?

No. It appears to be a Republican habit. There are now three instances where Republican presidential campaigns have committed treason in order to win an election. The first two they got away with. They won their election through treachery. This time they won the election (or partly won the election) but it's unclear how long their "winner" will remain in the White House. His campaign staff and White House staff already are deeply implicated in a pattern of collusion with Russia and the Russian spy agencies. It now appears the Trump campaign and Republican officials were working with the Russians all along.

Reporting from CNN

Reporting from TIME

In 1968 The Johnson administration was close to reaching a peace agreement in Vietnam, which would likely have swung the election to Hubert Humphrey. But Nixon's campaign sent Madame Anna Chennault, a Republican ally with close ties to the president of South Vietnam, to sabotage the peace effort. Chennault was successful. The peace process was set back by several years and thousands more American soldiers were wounded, maimed and killed. But Nixon was elected president.

Smithsonian Magazine published this summary of the Nixon treason

This was never disclosed to the American people, but President Johnson was aware of it and discussed what he called Nixon's treason with Republican Senator Everett Dirksen. Audio from the BBC

In 1980 American diplomatic personnel were being held hostage in Iran. President Cart was working hard to gain their release, and the campaign between Carter and Reagan was too close to call. Reagan's campaign feared what they called "An October Surprise" that would swing the election to Carter. Stories circulated at the time and have circulated ever since that Reagan sent William Casey to Iran to prevent Iran from releasing the hostages. Instead of Carter succeeding, which would likely have helped him win re-election, Reagan got Iran to hold the hostages months longer and release them as he was sworn into office. Which may help explain the easy complicity Reagan was able to achieve with Iran during the Iran Contra period, when he illegally traded arms for hostages and used the proceeds to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua. Bill Casey, who allegedly sabotaged the Iran hostage release in 1980 became Reagan's CIA director in 1981.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on this story in 1991.

The publication Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reported on it in 1987.

Counterpunch's Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero wrote this summary of the Casey-Reagan-Iran treason in 2014.

(Few remember that it was Reagan's quick retreat after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon that emboldened the various terrorist groups in the Middle East for years thereafter. The New Yorker's Jane Mayer called this episode Reagan's Benghazi, but it was far worse and had far more explosive and costly consequences than the attack in Benghazi that obsessed congressional Republicans for years.)

Treason, once it becomes useful, becomes a habit. And that habit has far-reaching consequences. American political history is well-known to our enemies abroad and this knowledge informs their strategy. They know who to approach. They know from history that the Republican Party will commit crimes against their own country to advance their political advantage. At every point that treachery causes great harm. At each point it surrenders pieces of American sovereignty and strength. Are we to the point now where our entire independence, our autonomy of action, has been surrendered by the Republican Party?

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is This White House A Clown Car Or A Shit Show?

Here’s Trump’s National Security Advisor (sic) Michael Flynn rebuking Hillary Clinton for compromising national security and leading the chant to “Lock Her Up!"

Video via Twitter feed from NewYorkMagazine writer Yashar Ali.

Flynn has now resigned for lying about his phone calls to the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. Why is it OK for a Republican president to appoint a Russian mole as his top national security advisor?

Flynn's ouster reported by the Atlantic

The hypocrisy becomes colossal when you consider that President Trump persists in using an unsecured android phone.

Reported by TheHill, Congress's daily newspaper

The hypocrisy begins to gallop when you consider that top White House advisors persist in using unsecured private servers for their email.

Reported by Newsweek

And by TheHill

And then there was this circus in Mar A Lago, Trump’s pleasure dome in Florida, where the President learned of and dealt with a major global security issue on unsecured phones, reading top secret briefs using easily hackable devices in full view of resort guests and unvetted, minimum wage wait staff and busboys.

Report and analysis from the Boston Globe

And from media website Jezebel

At some point it becomes hard to distinguish incompetence from crime. Is the Trump administration a whole performing troupe of Russian puppets? While Trump parties and photobombs people’s wedding snaps can we rest assured that a professional somewhere is handling our national security matters? Is that professional working from the Kremlin?

At what point does the Republican Congress stop providing cover for this White House, protecting and advancing their own partisan interests, and start protecting our national interests?

DailyKos's useful chart comparing the high corruption of Republican presidencies and the low corruption of Democratic ones

Obama’s administration was an indictment free breath of fresh air after the 16 indictments and 16 convictions of Bush administration officials.

The sainted Ronald Reagan’s administration had 26 indictments and 16 convictions.

Nixon had 76 indictments and 55 convictions.

And now the Republican Party has gifted us with the Trump crowd, an ethics nightmare, a national security nightmare, an incompetent circus. Does the GOP bother to vet anyone? They scream about national security and then anoint a man who appears to be in bed with Vladimir Putin.

It’s only been three weeks and there’s been one resignation in disgrace. How much damage was done? I’m not asking how much damage was done to the Republican brand (which is the GOP’s only concern right now) but damage to our national security, our national sovereignty, our global reputation?

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Monday, February 13, 2017

The Lunatic Fringe Running the White House

Watch this startling and blood chilling montage of White House pup Steve Miller appearing on the Sunday news shows. The kid thinks he’s the shit.

Courtesy of Morning Joe on MSNBC

The looks on former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough’s face and Mika Brzezinski’s face say it all.

The cocksureness of this 31 year old "senior" advisor in the White House is astonishing and disturbing. (Point of context: he used to work for Michele Bachmann. Remember her? She's the one who's excited about the End Times coming.)

Notice the comment thread. The far far right End Times GOP base loves cocksureness, especially when that certainty is based on no information.

Then there’s this damning analysis from conservative author and columnist Andrew Sullivan, who explains, for those Republicans who don’t know it, that having a cuckoo as president is not a good thing. Trump is crazy. He is detached from reality.

Sullivan's The Madness of King Donald column in NewYorkMagazine

And Sullivan in an interview on CNN.

The GOP fold appears to be thrilled. A lie shouted is much better than a lie spoken in a normal voice.

What will the consequences be of the White House’s aggressive shredding of our democratic institutions and the whole constitutional precedent and its credibility?

Fortune magazine is reporting that judges are beginning to fear for their safety. Because they know Trump’s supporters are as crazy as he is and they tend to be violent. Thank you GOP.

The Republicans’ goal is to destroy our democratic system. Make it not work. Make Americans not trust it. Persuade Americans to have contempt for it.

In The Nation

This interview with Timothy Snyder, author of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century“ is instructive. Snyder warns: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

In Süddeutsche Zeitung

What does non-stop, bullhorn volume lying eventually do?

From WIRED


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Saturday, February 11, 2017

NeoReaction = NRx–––The New Disguise For American Fascism

The new philosophy shaping White House policy is called neo-reaction. (You can make that an ISM if you like.

Or just call it NRx. (Which makes it sound like a skin treatment. Maybe it is.)

NRx is another way of saying Alt Right. Which means White Supremacy. Which is a pure white All-American variation on German fascism.

All of them are disguises for the old idea that the best government is tyranny by rich white males over the diverse crowd of people who do the work.

The Atlantic reports how Trump's main handler and advisor is deeply invested in NRx.

“White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has been in contact via intermediaries with Curtis Yarvin, Politico reported this week. Yarvin, a software engineer and blogger, writes under the name Mencius Moldbug. His anti-egalitarian arguments have formed the basis for a movement called “neoreaction.”
"The main thrust of Yarvin’s thinking is that democracy is a bust; rule by the people doesn’t work, and doesn’t lead to good governance. He has described it as an “ineffective and destructive” form of government, which he associates with “war, tyranny, destruction and poverty.” Yarvin’s ideas, along with those of the English philosopher Nick Land, have provided a structure of political theory for parts of the white-nationalist movement calling itself the alt-right. The alt-right can be seen as a political movement; neoreaction, which adherents refer to as NRx, is a philosophy. At the core of that philosophy is a rejection of democracy and an embrace of autocratic rule."

Steve Bannon is the murderer planning to kill American democracy. Trump is the weapon he’s using to kill it.

Here's another take on the hard right turn, from The New Republic.

White nationalist groups are showing faster growth than ISIS. Says The Independent.

“Donald Trump is a prominent subject among white nationalists on Twitter. According to the study, white nationalist users are “heavily invested” in the Republican’s candidacy. Tweets mentioned Mr Trump more than other popular topics among the groups.”

New white power groups and groups are forming. Some call for the U.S. to reshape itself more like the old Confederacy.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports on the bullish prospects for an armed white interstate defense force across the South. Somebody play Dixie.

"[T]he League of the South is calling for all able-bodied, traditionalist Southern men to join our organization’s Southern Defense Force for the purpose of helping our State and local magistrates across Dixie combat this growing leftist menace to our historic Christian civilization. As private citizens in a private organization, we will stand ready to protect our own families and friends, our property, and our liberty from leftist chaos. Moreover, we will be ready to assist our local and State authorities in keeping the peace should they find it necessary to “deputize” private citizens for that purpose”

They believe suppression of and violence towards liberals and persons of other races and religions is the central purpose of our government.

There is also a growing atmosphere of intimidation and aggression toward people who disagree with the ascendant right-wing/fascist white people who hold power.

If you say or write anything opposed to their viewpoint expect to receive threats. Here's one writer's story, posted by Bill Moyers.

"By mid-afternoon, I was getting death threats. “I AM GOING TO CUT YOUR HEAD OFF………BITCH!” screamed one email. Other correspondents threatened to hang me, shoot me, deport me, imprison me and/or get me fired (this last one seemed a bit anti-climactic). The dean of Georgetown Law, where I teach, got nasty emails about me. The Georgetown University president’s office received a voicemail from someone threatening to shoot me.”

Then, sometimes, the behavior trends towards simple insult and abuse, as in this case (reported by RawStory) where a student at an elite university taunted a homeless man asking for money by lighting money on fire in front of his face. This happened in the UK, where things have taken a similar Trumpian turn.

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