Tin Soljas — Mercenaries against America

July 26th 2020

For some time, rumors had been swirling around that the costumed clowns would-be Dictator Trump was sending into American cities, beginning with Portland were in fact, mercenaries, scummy for-hire bravos, cast-offs and retirees from the military, or just gun-nut yahoos looking to bag a few people they disapprove of. Medium has a major story this week detailing the presence of gunsels from Triple Canopy and Academi, two disguised dependent corporations of the infamous Blackwater. The article states, in part that the so-called Federal Protective Service “..In fact, FPS spends more than $1 billion a year on these contract security guards who are authorized to conduct crowd control at federal properties, such as those in Portland.”

That’s a lot of money to be spending on hired pork meant only to terrorize peaceful demonstrators. In fact, according to Medium, “There are some 13,000 security guards nationwide employed by FPS via contracts with private security firms, a figure that can be expanded through existing and future contracts.”

These are not federal troops. They are not part of any legitimate policing agency. They aren’t even special agents such as exist in the Secret Service or DHS. They are mercenaries. They are for-hire thugs, glorified security guards with weapons of war. They aren’t in American cities to keep the peace: they are there to shatter it. They want riots, confusion and chaos because that is what Donald Trump needs as an excuse to cling to power.

Americans are better than Donald Trump and his rent-a-pigs, and they have been proving it in Portland, with a March of Moms, a line of real American veterans (as opposed to the “Let’s pretend we’re still soljas” in Blackwater) and in a truly magnificent stand, a naked woman performing yoga poses in front of the mercenaries. (They retreated in considerable confusion!). One guy showed up with a hockey stick to (successfully) bat tear gas grenades back at the portapigs. One heroic vet, Christopher David, 53, joined the protest because he was disturbed by reports of federal officers in unmarked cars arresting people without explanation. They beat the hell out of him with batons, breaking his right arm, and tear gassed him at point-blank range. Showing balls of steel, he strode away from the puzzled and defeated assailants.

While I’m deeply contemptuous of these thugs and the morally diseased people who deploy them, I don’t underestimate the danger they pose. Take Iraq, for example.

There were many different reasons why the American invasion and occupation of Iraq failed, but it was Blackwater that made such a complete calamity for America inevitable, even if the Americans had done everything else right.

First there was the 2004 Fallujah ambush. Four Blackwater mercenaries were ambushed, killed, set afire, dragged through the streets of Fallujah and hanged from the struts of a bridge spanning the Euphrates River. The four individuals weren’t believed to be doing anything more sinister than making a food delivery, but they were seen by the locals as symbols of greater problems. America got off to the wrong foot in that city, riding tanks and humvees into town with huge American flags flying, in direct defiance of orders not to fly flags lest they be seen, not as liberators, but invaders. It was a grotesquely stupid display of ooh-rah patriotism.

Americans, both soldiers and mercenaries, did door-to-door searches, and it’s believed that the mercenaries hit on the bright idea of bringing bomb-and-drug sniffing dogs into the households of the residents. Iraq, like many Islamic nations, has a deep taboo against allowing dogs in the home. Scattered reports of viciousness, molestation and even rape of women, and contempt for Allah circulated. The ambush of the mercenaries resulted in great joy in Iraq and a tepid response in America, where people were unenthusiastic about the use of mercenaries. It’s true that America couldn’t have won independence from England without the presence of mercenaries, but those were German mercenaries, hired by the Crown, and hated by the colonists. Mercenaries don’t have a good odor in America, and nor should they.

In the wake of the hanging of the four mercenaries, a popular uprising drove the Americans out, temporarily. But Blackwater influence in Iraq wasn’t done.

In September 2007, Blackwater gunsels, apparently without provocation, opened fire on a crowd of civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, killing 17 and injuring 20. Even though America promptly pulled the mercenaries out of the region, it solidified the opposition in Iraq that eventually lead to the Americans being driven out in disgrace.

Why use mercenaries in the first place? American politicians knew the public wouldn’t count them as part of the deployment, and wouldn’t care as much about casualties amongst private contractors. And the Republicans suffered, then as now, from the mad delusion that things such as military operations should be privatized, even if they cost more (some mercenaries in janitorial positions made more than the officers they cleaned for) and were less easy to control. Eric Prince, owner of Blackwater/Academi/Triple Canopy is, along with his vile sister Betsy DeVos, well-positioned in Republican circles. And both are tight with Trump and his mafioso clan.

Mercenaries aren’t soldiers, or even police. Many have little or no training, and discipline is notoriously shoddy. They have little or no training in keeping the peace, but are very adept at disrupting it. They are pure poison to the discipline and morale of both real soldiers and police. And they are a reckless, direct and immediate danger to the people they are putatively there to contain.

There aren’t there to protect the cities of America. They are there to drive them into chaos, so Trump can end the United States once and for all.

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Down the Rabbit Hole — Alas in Blunderland

July 20th 2020

Not much doubt we’ve stumbled into a meth-driven Hunter S. Thompson fugue state these days. I’ve sometimes wondered what old Hunter would have made of Trumpenstate 2020. He would have been either rolling on the floor, convulsed with laughter and scribbling furiously, or he would have blown his brains out. Can’t really imagine him scratching a cheek and languidly asking, “Wow. How ‘BOUT that?”

But then, it’s not a languid era. You can cry, you can laugh, or you can get your rifle. None of them are particularly good signs of mental health, but our psyches aren’t really equipped to deal with the madness that pervades our lives today.

You have clowns in camo snatching up peaceful protesters and hauling them away in unmarked vans. The Supreme Court has just ruled that those rounded up by the gestapo can be held indefinitely, a system that the Soviet Russians used to refer to as “the Gulag Archipelago.” We have a demented president and a mafioso-corrupt attorney-general praising the gestapo’s actions in Portland, Seattle and now Chicago, and promising to attack other peaceful protesters, presumably in hopes of sparking full-spread rebellion, a Reichstag fire of protest than can justify a Nazi coup against America.

And once they’ve rounded up protesters and thrown them into camps, what next? Well, the administration has been consulting with vicious dirtbag and justifier of torture, John Yoo, on how best to torture their prisoners, and while they’re at it, flout executive law through executive order. Trump wants to issue decrees on healthcare, immigration and “various other plans” over the coming month. He finally had to back way from his preposterously cruel plan to deport all foreign students from the nation’s colleges. A pity. That worked so well for Hitler, ending the war years earlier than if he had maintained a brain trust.

Trump is pushing to open the schools. He’s pretending it’s for the children, but really, he wants to make it possible for parents to return to jobs that may or may not exist. To that end he’s stonewalling on extending unemployment benefits, further cruel coercion meant to prop up an economy that more and more is a vicious joke meant only to serve the very rich. He’ll consider an extension of a month or so if Congress agrees to utterly gut Social Security and Medicare. How fucking kind of him.

Betty DeVos wants to return the kiddies to class, even if it means ten thousand or more of them will die. DeVos, who has never sat in a public classroom and has no educational training of any sort, wants churches and corporations to take over training the brats, and get them past the awkward stage where they’re too little to be of any use in the work camps.

Speaking of demented presidents, we have one that just boasted of “acing” a cognition test. The only time people are administered such tests is when medical personnel are concerned that a person is so far gone mentally that he is a hazard to himself and others. It’s scary enough that they would feel a need to administer such a test to a man in charge of the American military and nuclear weapons, but it’s even scarier that he boasts of “acing” it, even though the final five questions were “very hard.” The sections he found challenging included memory (given five simple words, asked to repeat them back, then and five minutes later) attention (Trump was always notoriously bad at this, and it’s hard to imagine him being able to count down from 100 in increments of 7, ie, 93, 86, 79, 72…), language (accurately repeat simple declarative sentences), abstraction (what pairs of words such as apple and banana have in common) and orientation (present date, month and year, and the name of the place they are in as well as the city). Test providers then praise the subject, no matter how they did on the test as positive reinforcement for future sessions using such tests. The test is 30 points, 26 is considered borderline cognitive decline, and 20 a sign of significant cognitive decline, so Donald could have scored 15, and been praised for how he did on the test. That Trump was even given the test is disturbing; that he boasted about how well he did is horrifying.

He wants to cut billions of dollars for COVID-19 testing and tracking even as the number of cases in the US alone approaches 4 million, because having a raging pandemic is hurting his reelection chances. Back in 1945, the Nazis shot German citizens who made the mistake of wondering aloud how well the war is going. This is the same mindset.

He still refuses to mandate masks, encouraging a destructive, dangerous and foolhardy anti-mask cult who have been attacking people for wearing masks, or for requiring them before allowing people into their homes or places of business. The anti-maskers are becoming more and more belligerent, and they’re playing with fire: public rage against them is mounting. I expect to hear about some anti-masker getting shot, either by a security guard or an armed customer. Only a matter of time.

Speaking of shooting, has anyone noticed how fast the clowns in the NRA all vanished when government thugs started rounding up civilians and carting them off to camps. This is exactly the situation the NRA said it existed to avoid. Well, I always thought they were nothing but thugs, bullies and cowards. Guess I was right. Fuck the NRA, and fuck anyone who’s a member.

Meanwhile the Roberts Court, tossing a few bones to progressives, has quietly destroyed laws designed to protect people against predatory loan sharks, removed more of the limitations on Wall Street instrument manipulations like the ones that caused the 2007 crash, and removed transparency from hedge fund trading. Just another service provided for the greater fascistic control of American.

Remember: this election is our last best chance to avoid a Fourth Reich. If we don’t take the country back in November, our future is very violent and dark.

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Trump Dump — Weekly Weird News

June 28th, 2020

It’s getting so surreal these days. I feel like the only way to make sense out of what is going on is to drop large doses of LSD and then hit myself repeatedly in the head with a baseball bat until I can look at a picture of Trump and not end up vomiting on my cat.

I’m about to write about stuff in the headlines today that even two weeks ago in these maddest of times would have provoked disbelieving laughter and derision from any sane person reading this.

Are you ready? We’re about to go on a magical mystery tour of the sort that you get when you mix bath salts with Drano.

First, let’s talk about Afghanistan. The Russians, from personal experience, know the place is a dusty, flea-bitten vortex that historically has ground many mighty empires into dust. They’re watching America make the same mistake that they, England (twice, because England is kinda stupid), Rome and,well, pretty much everyone did, and Putin can’t resist stirring that particular shit pot a bit. So Russia has been offering bounties on US soldiers to the very people America has frantically been trying to make peace with in order to extricate themselves.

You could even argue that Russia had a certain amount of justification, since a few decades back, when they were still the Soviets, they got ambered in the cold dust of that snake-tongue land, and the US gleefully hired Osama bin Laden and his followers to kill Soviet troops and provided the insurgents with weapons and training. They were quite good at it, even blowing up a tunnel and killing 2,000 Soviet soldiers. It may have been the main single thing that caused the USSR to collapse a couple of years later. The good news is it got the Soviets out of Afghanistan. The bad news is we armed and financed al Qaida, an extremist outfit that hated America even more than they hated the Russians. The rest, as they say, is history, and America wound up as the latest idiot conquerer of Afghanistan.

So if you want to tell me that Putin is a vicious shit for putting bounties on US troops, I’ll blandly agree with you but refuse to assume any position of moral superiority. It’s like picking a side to root for in a cage match between Charlie Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer.

Now, Gorbachev knew about the US hiring al Qaida to kill Soviet troops just as Trump almost certainly knew of Russia hiring Taliban to potshot Americans. But Gorby was dealing from a position of weakness; he knew his country was on the verge of collapse, and was working frantically to secure mercy from the Americans. (He didn’t get it: America sent in the capitalists to create an Ayn Rand nightmare that killed tens of millions of Soviet citizens). Trump, despite his efforts to divide and weaken the US, isn’t in that position. The country is still strong, but he is weak; he needs to impress the one man in the world who is a bigger thief and swindler than he is. Trump isn’t negotiating from a position of national weakness; he’s negotiating from personal greed and a willingness to sell out his country for profit.

When the NY Times broke this story Friday night last, there was twenty-four hours of painful silence from the White House. That was damning enough, but when the denial came, it was ludicrous on the face of it. Trump didn’t know because nobody in his administration briefed him on it. Well, that makes sense: the Commander in Chief is worried about his putter and doesn’t have time to protect American troops. Besides, aren’t they supposed to die for Trump?

Note to US troops in Afghanistan: Trump and Putin are playing their own games. Stay out of the tunnels, guys.

Trump did finally respond in his own way, seeking to divert attention by retweeting an utterly insane confrontation between two groups of white elderly dirtbags in Florida, A bunch of Trumpkins rounded up golf carts and had a pro-Trump parade. They shouted “White Power!” and waved various flags, and counter demonstrators from the same gated community showed up to shout “White Trash!” back at them and call them names. Even by Florida standards, it was pretty disgraceful.

Trump, showing more and more signs of mental collapse, shared this with the world, tweeting, “Thank you to the great people of The Villages. The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall. Corrupt Joe is shot. See you soon!!!”

If he was trying to show he was better than the abject coward who lets an inferior force put bounties on American scalps, I doubt it will work. Even in Cult45 there may be a growing suspicion that maybe he should be supporting troops rather than hanging them on a plywood panel like balloons at a carny show.

With 40 million out of work, 125,000 dead, and over two and a half million infected, Trump and his Cult45 morons completely squandered the belated and semi-effective efforts at containing the spread, with the result that coronavirus is wildfiring throughout much of rural America and the deep south. Trump is still busily pretending there isn’t a problem and people don’t need to wear masks or take any other measures to avoid contagion, because that might hurt the market and his chances for reelection, not necessarily in that order. Sadly, tens of millions of American fools have followed his lead. We’ll see the numbers of new cases a day break 50,000 this coming week. A quarter million people may be dead in America by September 1st.

Finally, the Fed quietly revoked the Volcker rule on Thursday, allowing banks to make the same mistakes that lead to the 2008 crash. The idea was to keep the markets artificially propped up, creating the illusion that the economy isn’t in shambles. It is, and this just guarantees the looming crash and Great Depression will be even worse. But what the hell? It helps Donald’s reelection chances, assuming there’s enough voters alive and able to vote in November for it to matter.

Anyway, next week Trump will be out on the White House lawn, setting fire to live puppies, and his followers will swoon in joy and point out that yes, he does enjoy a warm relationship with dogs, and anyone who doesn’t agree probably hates animals.

See you next week if we’re still here.

 

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Transitioning — The World is Changing—Fast

June 14th 2020

In front of Parliament in London, they encased the statue of Winston Churchill in plywood and put barricades around it to protect it from defacement and possible destruction at the hands of demonstrators. Just a few weeks ago, such a situation would have been unthinkable, let alone that it could have arisen from the murder of a black man by police in Minneapolis, four thousand miles away and three weeks before.

But in a social convulsion analogous to the Arab Spring, the mass demonstrations sparked by the murder of George Floyd have spread beyond America and throughout the west.

The Churchill statue is under threat much the same way the Confederate statues are under threat in America. There are quite a few distinctions that can be made, of course: Churchill didn’t fight for the enemy, and the statue wasn’t put up to try to keep alive a racist legacy. Now, if a statue of Klaus Barbie

had been erected in Coventry as a not-too-subtle reminder to the Jewish population to know their places, then it might make a lot more sense that people might want to pull it down.

Churchill had a lot of baggage, to be sure. He was a bigot, contemptuous of the peoples the English subjugated, and had a track record of enormous incompetence. But he was also one of the main reasons the United Kingdom still exists today. When England needed a heroic leader, he rose to the occasion. So unlike the Confederate statues that dot the US, there are actually legitimate reasons to honor Churchill with such.

Unfortunately, movements like this tend to overreach, and hopefully common sense will prevail in London. Teach Churchill’s flaws, but honor the man for his greatness.

In the United States, the groundswell of discontent is still taking shape. A lot of what we’re seeing is hopeful. African-Americans deserve far better treatment than they’ve been getting, and have a right to walk the streets and drive their cars without fear, just like the rest of us. The role of police in society needs to be rethought from the ground up. In the 60s and 70s, when society was obsessed with crime and social unrest, the concept arose of cowboy cops who didn’t play by the rules and didn’t mind breaking a lot of eggs to make an omelet. It became fashionable to have out-of-control cops protected by a ‘thin blue line’ mentality that took care of their own, no matter how corrupt and self-defeating it might be. Few noticed or cared that there were no omelets, just plenty of broken eggs, and the police were seen, more and more, as vicious bullies and swaggering cowards. Community relations, in far too many places, was seen as being for weenies.

Additionally there was the racial component. Cops in far too many places were there to uphold white privilege. And subjugate black people. Police batons were called ‘night-sticks’ even though they were most often used in broad daylight, and had worse names. The war on drugs, itself a tactic of racial oppression, made things even worse. So did increasingly draconian laws, such as ‘three-strikes’ which overwhelmingly targeted African-American populations.

It wasn’t enough to attack minorities, though; police were useful for attacking other vulnerable parts of the population, those seen as unprofitable by capitalist leaders. So more and more, police were sent to deal with homelessness, mental illness, poverty, and any other social problem that presented itself. They weren’t just the bully boys of capitalism; they became its janitors, as well.

Black Lives Matter and the rest of the movement hope to address that, and that can only be an improvement.

But there are two other elements of American society that also scream for reform, and without them, the chances of success are much slimmer.

First, there is the problem of capitalist domination of society. No fascist society is free, and a fascist society is one in which the people serve the economy, rather than the other way around. Capitalism requires a large pool of economic outcasts in order to threaten the workers and consumers. Its morality is not the morality of human beings, and bullying and subjugation are essential to maintaining control. Putting jails and the justice system on a “make it pay” basis ensured a vicious abattoir of oppression and viciousness in lieu of justice.

The GOP, now a Nazi Cult, insists that Americans must be prepared to die in the hundreds of thousands in order to protect billionaires from becoming millionaires, as witness Trump’s determination to pretend the coronavirus has gone, and America can resume business as normal. His Nuremberg rally, the Repulsa in Tulsa, planned now for the day after Juneteenth, will require that attendees not wear masks or practice safe distancing, but also sign a waiver relieving the Trump campaign of liability if they become sick from this plague that [cough] doesn’t exist.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but America must reduce the role of the upholstered parasites who use racism and unfairness as means of control.

The other major item is guns. That the President is a cowardly racist who thinks it’s fine for disgusting white neo-Nazis to carry weapons of war, but hides in a bunker behind 12 foot high fences at the thought of black people chanting, clearly demonstrates the racist and vicious nature of “gun rights.” Far too many of the wrong people have weapons meant to terrify and harass the rest of society—including cops. Cops are constantly being afraid because so many howling nuts have so many weapons, and that in turn makes them more trigger happy. I’m not saying that to excuse the behavior of pigs who think that killing blacks as a warning to the rest is legitimate police work—this is a problem in addition to that, one that affects good cops as well as bad. We saw the white trash Nazi movement in action in Michigan; America needs to rethink a philosophy that allows such cretins to have .50 cal machine guns.

It’s scary, and nobody knows where it’s going to go, but one thing is certain: America needs this social tsunami. It wasn’t survivable in its present form.

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Can America Defeat Trump? — We’re at war. Pick a side.

Can America Defeat Trump?

We’re at war. Pick a side.

June 4th 2020

A lot of us have been saying for some time that when it comes to Trump, it’s going to boil down to either Trump prevailing or America. Trump does clumsy, weird huggings of the flag, and occasionally waves a bible around (in his latest photo-op stunt where he gassed peaceful protesters, he was holding it upside down and backwards) and that’s enough to convince the utter fucking morons that he’s a patriot and devout, but he has never shown any interest in the Constitution, the rights of the People, and openly expresses hatred for various target groups. As he accumulates power, that collection of groups will grow to include not only the ones his bigoted supporters already hate, but pretty much anyone who doesn’t support him.

He’s already had a falling out with Faux News for the crime of failing to jump to their collective feet and shout “Jawohl!” at all of his pronouncements. Now he’s getting harsh criticism for his recent actions from the military, former members of his cabinet, members of the GOP, and even the servile and amoral leaders of the evangelical right. Even some elements of the neo-Nazi right are getting restive; I saw an amazing political cartoon the other day in which Trump had a knee on the neck of Lady Liberty while a black-clad figure labeled “AntiFa” held her legs. I’ve always joked that when members of the far right started blaming the left for Trump, that would mean he’s finished. Well, here we are.

His actions over the past fortnight have been nothing short of grotesque. The PR stunt at St. John’s Episcopal (yes, backwards and upside down) may become a defining Moment of his political career, much the way holding up a toddler to protect himself from bullets became the Moment of Greg Stillson’s political career in Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone.”

Not that there weren’t others. The empty threats that he bleated from the bunker under the White House where he cravenly crouched; turning off the White House lights (last done in 1940), building the eight foot fence around the White House (a joke making the rounds is that Mexico might just be willing to pay for THIS wall), and the comparison of Trump crouching afraid, underground and in the dark, to Winston Churchill. (Churchill famously would go out during Blitz attacks so that he might personally observe the atrocities committed against England by Hitler). His craven posturing even invited negative comparisons to Richard Nixon, who, some 50 years earlier, was also in a White House surrounded by protests. Nixon went out late in the evening to talk to some random protesters face-to-face to try and get a dialogue of some sort going.

The stunt of putting anonymous clowns in full soldier kit—dozens of them—in response to minor vandalism perpetrated the night before at the Lincoln Memorial was both ludicrous and sinister. Who were those clowns? Were they soldiers? Cops? Secret Service? Blackwater? Were they even American? Fortunately for all, they were content to just stand there and look stupid, since the protesters weren’t targeting the memorial and the spray paint was probably just done by one asshole looking to stir the pot.

The stunt of flying a helicopter between buildings to use the backwash from the blades to disperse the crowd was dangerous beyond belief. Any helicopter pilot pulling such a stunt other than under direct orders from the President would have had his license to fly permanently revoked. I’m guessing we’ll never learn the name of the war criminal who flew that chopper at the behest of Trump.

Oh, did I say war criminal? Yes. The chopper was marked with the red cross, making that a violation of the Geneva convention. Medical insignia means “non-combatant” both for their protection, and when a cowardly little Nazi sits in the White House, for the protection of unarmed American civilians.

The act of gassing a group of peaceful demonstrators in order to stage a painfully awkward PR stunt meant to drum up support from the religious right was also a war crime.

Tom Cotton, a sitting Senator from Arkansas, wrote an editorial for the New York Times, one which the Times utterly disgraced itself by running, in which he called for siccing the airborne infantry on the protesters. Yet another war crime, and Cotton should be expelled from the Senate and tried for advocating mass slaughter of Americans. As for the Times, just remember that in critical moments, this is a paper that will lie to you in service to the GOP. Now they are willing to suspend the Posse Comitatus Act, Habeas Corpus, and presumably the first, third and fourth amendments just because Cotton wanted the world to know that there might be people opposed to fascism in the crowd.

Some of Trump’s desperation and panic is warranted. Not only have his actions caused schisms in his previously unshakable base, but the Pentagon has made it as clear as the law allows that it is not prepared to fire on unarmed American civilians.

Keith Ellison, the District Attorney for the state of Minnesota where the Floyd murder took place, announced charges against the four police involved in Floyd’s death; Murder-2 against Chauvin, and accomplices and accessories to murder against the other three.

I thought that might defuse the situation a fair bit. Ellison is well-trusted, and this provided a serious promise of the justice the protesters wanted.

But the protests are no longer against the Floyd murder, or the police murders of hundreds of others of African Americans in recent years. Now the crowd has realized that their true enemy, black or white, Christian or non, Democrat or non, is the treasonous wannabee dictator in the White House.

Last night police arrested over 10,000 people nationwide. Since masks and social distancing aren’t available in jail, it’s safe to assume that as many as a thousand of those people may become sick, and three hundred or so may die. All for protesting oppression and treason by the government against the people.

I’m guessing the protests won’t die down, only now, it isn’t just injustice: it’s Americans fighting for their country against an opportunistic and amoral traitor in the White House.

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Goldman and Gervais — or, how to deal with Morons.

Goldman and Gervais

or, how to deal with Morons.

April 25th, 2020

William Rivers Pitt on his Facebook page drew my attention to an extraordinary closing line in a column printed today in the New York Times. Ms. Michelle Goldberg wrote, “Chernobyl is now widely seen as a signal event on the road to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Coronavirus may someday be seen as a similar inflection point in the story of American decline. A country that could be brought to its knees this quickly was sick well before the virus arrived.”

As jarring as that paragraph is, Goldberg may have understated the comparison a bit. While noting that the government of the USSR did take responsibility for handling the crisis in the Ukraine, there was a greater element feeding the incompetence.

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, chairman, party leader and political center of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was largely kept in the dark about the severity of the accident at the Pripyat reactor for the first five days or so, as terrified underlings did what terrified underlings in all authoritarian regimes do when the shit hits the fan, and told their bosses what they thought the bosses wanted to hear, rather than what they needed to hear.

Gorbachev was neither a fool nor a narcissist, and once he was made aware of the gravity of the situation, acted swiftly and decisively to try to prevent the damage from further spreading.

We’ll never know within three orders of magnitude how many deaths resulted from the meltdown. Officially, 31 died. Unofficially, the toll may have been in the tens of thousands. There’s little doubt that between unheeded warnings (a nearby nuclear plant of the same design very nearly suffered the exact same catastrophe months earlier) and bureaucratic foot-dragging, the disaster could have been largely averted.

At the time (1986) the accident revealed that the USSR was a deeply dysfunctional state, putting self-preservation ahead of the body public. At the time, I opined that the USSR would be gone by the end of the century. It was considered a radical opinion at that time. The USSR collapsed just four years later, ten years ahead of my own estimate.

The USSR had a couple of advantages over Trump America. It was easier to conceal their mistakes. Gorbachev was not a fool, nor a sociopath. And the area directly affected by the meltdown was far smaller than the parts of America affected by the pandemic.

Gorbachev would have been gone within a week if he had ever appeared on state television to inform the Soviet public that he had heard that scientists were looking at treating radiation poisoning with aspirin, washed down with a litre of motor oil. Even in 1986, Soviet children got a better education than their American counterparts, and would have instantly deduced that the Premier was a) a fool and b) a liar and c) both. Even Izvestia and Pravda would have had trouble defending such a show, or even trying to excuse it.

In the US, subservience to the leader is a bit more pronounced in some quarters. It’s not surprising that GOP organs such as Fox and OANN didn’t try to challenge the remarks, and Brietbart, named for a dead right wing lunatic, tried to deny that Trump had said the insane things he said Thursday about treating the virus with disinfectant, bleach, and UV light. But the NY Times – yes, the same paper Goldberg writes for – wrote in a tweet, “At a White House briefing, President Trump theorized — dangerously, in the view of some experts — about the powers of sunlight, ultraviolet light and household disinfectants to kill the coronavirus.”

SOME experts? I defy the NYT to find a single expert that thinks injecting yourself with Lysol, drinking bleach, and/or sticking a UV light up your ass would be anything other than dangerous. This is the “balanced journalism” that the fascist right have used for years to convince Americans that economic absurdities are exactly equal to economic realities. Nearly half of Americans believe trickle-down economics is a good idea even to this day. It made a ridiculous moron like Trump possible, pretending his voice was the equal of any expert in any field.

Douglas Adams once wrote of a character who was so intellectually disgusted by the low-grade intelligence of the Western World that his character sealed himself off from it. Wonko the Sane resigned from humanity when he bought a box of toothpicks and found instructions for their use printed on the box.

Ricky Gervais, another English comic, came to a similar, if more immediate conclusion in March 2016, when he said, “Think about it: We live a world where there are warnings on bottles of bleach — we have to tell people not to drink bleach. In that world, Trump can be president,”

A quick glance at the John Hopkins university tracking page for the Covid-19 pandemic show that the US, with 3.2% of the world’s population, has 32.9% of the world’s known cases, and 26.7% of the world’s deaths. This is a country where, until very recently, 40% of the population believes that it was the best educated in the world, and had the best medical system.

The fact of the matter is far too many Americans wouldn’t know how to pour piss out of their boots if you printed instructions on the heel. Ignorance is actually considered a virtue, accompanied by loud sneers at experts and intellectual elites.

I wonder if the New York Times thinks some experts agree that ignorance is dangerous? I’m sure that they can find someone at the Times to write that opinion, although I can pretty much assure everyone that it won’t be Goldberg writing that.

Trump’s utter stupidity and the furtive efforts of his lackeys to hide the extent of the disaster is only a part of the problem. Encouraging stupidity, ignorance and disdain for science is another part of the unfolding disaster that may indeed presage the rapid demise of the US as a functioning country.

You aren’t going to eliminate the influence of idiocy by treating it as being one of several possible ways of dealing with the world and its problems.

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Evil Arrives — The crisis point is here

Evil Arrives

The crisis point is here

January 19th 2020

Robert Harrington, an Ex-Pat living in London, wrote an absolutely searing column for the Palmer Report last night, “The Face of Evil.” https://www.palmerreport.com/analysis/the-new-face-of-evil/24527/ In it, he tells of how he came to realize that the Holocaust was far from a unique event, that roughly a third of humanity is evil, and that they have coalesced into the monster known as the Republican party under the malign rule of Trump.

The Holocaust, of course, is far from unique. Since the vow was made in the ashes of 1945 to Never Forget, there have been at least a half dozen genocides in which more than twelve million people died. Here in the states, such atrocities were largely brushed off. “Oh, it was the communists. Communists are evil.” It was Africa. It was Asia. They were brown. They were black. They were the wrong religion. Some Americans considered it to be the actions of lesser people with poisonous ideologies, saying so without irony and without realizing by the mere fact of the dismissal, they had placed themselves in groups of lesser people with poisonous ideologies. The belief the Holocaust was unique was just one of the comforting lies with with we cocoon ourselves.

Genocide is well within the range of human social behavior. Voltaire had us pegged two hundred and fifty years ago when he wrote, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

Which brings us to the role of religion. Religion informs nearly all holocausts (yes, including communism, which was a godless religion, but a religion nevertheless, in which adherents had to subscribe to a creed, no matter how absurd). In some instances, religion instigates the mass murder in the name of some deity or leader. Religion never worships gods; it worships power. The ability to kill at will is the ultimate power. God is for the peasants. God’s power is for the Church.

There was one thing about the Holocaust that made it stand out. It was strange and horrifying how the Germans went about it in a cruel and methodical manner, using the modern tools of western civilization. The face of the Holocaust wasn’t the screaming mercenary with the blood-dripping machete; it was the meek, mild accountant who carefully tabulated the number of shoes taken off the feet of dead Jewish children. All very modern, quite civilized, leaving the accountant to go home at night and be a good Christian with his wife and children. Perhaps he told the children he processed shoes for the Fatherland, leaving out mention of where the shoes came from. Perhaps he assured himself he didn’t know where the shoes came from, and told himself comforting lies about the long trains of human cattle, and all the missing neighbors. He was, after all, a Good German.

Without an evil leader able to lead an entire culture in to an abyss, he might just have been another accountant in a shoe factory, leading an essentially blameless life. Germany, sophisticated, devout, educated, and religious, needed only a charismatic monster to fall into the ultimate darkness.

Voltaire understood the mechanism for genocide: “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”

Robert Harrington believes America is at the cusp of a Hitlerian nightmare. He’s right because America, self-assured, lacking introspection, historically illiterate, and ridden by racial and political fear, is a genocide waiting to happen. Harrington has identified the factor that will make the American abyss like the one Germany experienced nearly a century earlier—the rise of a monster.

Trump is vicious, vindictive, petty and above all, cruel. He is like Hitler, only Hitler at least was able to form relationships with other individuals and pets, something Trump seems incapable of. Trump appeals to the most base of people with a series of “am-i-right” political sketches disguised as a philosophy and the endless flagging of grievances, and there is no bottom to his pettiness and his willingness to destroy or hurt those who have crossed him in any way. Case in point: This past week, facing impeachment, he took time to utterly gut the school lunch program that Michelle Obama had made an effective instrument for improving kid’s lives and their ability to learn. Trump’s action will needlessly condemn millions of kids to hungry afternoons in school, trying to read and listen over the demands of their bodies. Why did he do such a horrible and pointless thing? It was Michelle’s birthday. He wanted to hurt her.

There seems to be no doubt in Harrington’s mind that Trump will trigger an American moral and ethical apocalypse. There’s no doubt in my mind that he stands to be the next Hitler, and that with unlimited power, he is capable of unlimited cruelty, and he has the mindless, hateful, evil following to attack and destroy lives in the tens of millions. He rides the wings of the next Holocaust.

The Senate will have their trial this coming week. The punditry agree that it will be a sham trial and Trump will be acquitted. Trump is openly demanding he be acquitted before he gives his State of the Union speech in early February, and craven and morally vacant senators are queueing up to oblige him.

It’s easy to imagine the crows of angry triumph he will shout to a shivering world. Will he speak of final solutions and a new order that will last a thousand years? Will he list the people who will pay bigly for impeaching him and testifying against him? It’s unlikely the remaining members of his administration will be able to contain the raw fury and hatred pent up in the man.

At that point, his power will be consolidated. A Senate acquittal will like be the moment in German history when the Enabling Act was passed, allowing Hitler to supercede and suspend all laws basically at will.

The Senators could save America if they weren’t moral and ethical vacuums, wedded to power and willing to appease monsters and scum in order to cling to it.

They can stand as human beings, do their job, and save America from a looming nightmare, or they can create a future in which the best hope they have is that history will quickly forget their names, so their children will not have to share their disgrace.

It’s anyone’s guess as to how they will vote. They are cowards and nihilists. Expect little.

Voltaire had the perfect epitaph for these sad remnants of humanity: “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.”

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Suppose They Held a War… People aren’t rallying around Trump’s crap

Suppose They Held a War…

People aren’t rallying around Trump’s crap

January 12th, 2020

There was an op-art poster popular in the late 60s, at the height of the Vietnam conflict, which read, “Suppose they held a war and nobody came?” Even then, it was seen as a bit of whimsy, even amongst the “Oh-wow-that’s-heavy” crowd. Americans have a long and often sordid history of responding to calls to arm with vicious and irrepressible war fever. The dubious conflict that got tens of thousands of Americans killed and lead to that plaintive poster was a largely fictional incident in the Gulf of Tonkin in which a couple of Vietnamese war boats in Vietnamese waters approached to within 10 kilometers of the USS Maddox and the Maddox opened fire. In the exchange, one US aircraft was slightly damaged, as was the Maddox itself, which took a single bullet hole in an non-vital part. The Vietnamese saw four dead, six wounded, and three boats moderately to severely damaged. The Johnson administration lied about the incident, claiming the Vietnamese fired first, and the vaunted American press dutifully repeated that lie. Nor did the press explore the reasons for the tensions; Vietnam had a fair and open election in which Ho Chi Minh and the communists won, and the cold war hawks in LBJ’s cabinet couldn’t stand for that. It took thousands of deaths and vast sums of dollars wasted before a significant protest movement formed, only to be vilified by America’s “silent majority” as traitors, cowards and commies.

World War One was even more mystifying. The US had no interest, strategically or ethically, in the war, and by 1917 it was obvious that it was a bloody, inconclusive and hideously expensive pigs-wallow of a war. A large majority of Americans wanted to stay the hell out. But then the Zimmerman telegram emerged, with the self-same German foreign minister begging Mexico to start a war with America and making the unlikely promise that they would give Mexico back those territories lost in the 1848 US-Mexico war. That infuriated President Wilson, who had run—and won—on a campaign slogan of “Too proud to fight” just a few years earlier. This was followed soon after by a German decision to target neutral shipping in the Atlantic, and subsequently sank five American freighters. Wilson used this to whip the country into a war frenzy the like of which nobody had seen since the Civil War, made more incredible by the fact that America still had scant emotional involvement with the European conflict. (Americans get annoyed by attacks, real or imaginary, on their ships, except when they don’t—in 1942 German U-boats were sinking US freighters at a expense in lives lost and dollars squandered the equivalent of a 9/11 attack every two weeks, and still had to declare war first before America made a military reaction.) So it’s safe to say that Wilson used the incident to whip up the war frenzy.

He almost certainly knew that Germany was slowly losing that war. He was probably far more worried about the revolution in Russia, and the threat of communist uprisings in the west. Given the disgraceful nature of the Industrial Revolution and the deplorable conditions the working class suffered, it was a quite legitimate fear from his viewpoint.

In scant weeks, millions of Americans who were “too proud to fight” and glad they weren’t involved in that bloody, unending mess were screaming for German blood, talking about rounding up German-Americans and putting them in camps, and denouncing anyone who questioned all this as cowards and traitors. Just like that! Snap fingers. The government passed repressive laws to shut up the dissenters that were so draconian that the Supreme Court was forced to look up the Constitution and see what it had to say about this kind of stuff. Turns out the Constitution takes a dim view of punishing people for having doubts. But that was later. In the meantime people gleefully punished people for opinions they shared just scant weeks earlier.

So historically, it’s not hard to con Americans into a war, no matter how dubious, bloody, or unnecessary.

So when Trump had Suleimani assassinated and Iran responded by shelling some US bases in Iraq, I got a sinking feeling that Americans, with a whoop and a holler, were going to repeat the same tired bloody mistakes once again, and would probably enthrone the despicable Trump in the process.

Certainly Trump tried to rouse the American people to arms, giving reason after reason, each more dire than the last, for why it was necessary to ambush and murder this man. The latest iteration of that, just nine days later and the ninth different reason given, was that Suleimani was planning to attack “four embassies”. Each of Trump’s rationales has been knocked down for lack of evidence to patent absurdity (Suleimani was most certainly no friend to ISIS, and indeed was a lead ally in stymieing the terrorist organization.) The “four embassies” rationale died an ignominious death this morning when Trump’s Secretary-of-Defence-This-Week, Mark Esper, admitted on national television that he had no idea what Trump was talking about.

Faux News and all the other horse-manure factories of the far right tried to whip up war fever, and didn’t get much of anywhere. Oh, they got the Trumpkins riled up, but that was a given. They’ll do whatever their God-daddy leader wants.

But outside of the deplorables, nothing. Outside of that, the 60% of Americans who aren’t part of his cult know he lies: he lies when he has to, he lies when he doesn’t have to, he even lies when it would be to his advantage to either keep his mouth shut or tell the truth. They know he lies. They know he’s had it in for Iran for years, and especially since the hated Obama got that nuclear agreement with them. They know that in 2016, Trump had no idea who Suleimani was, and will be totally unsurprised to read in today’s Washington Post that in early 2017 he was asking his cabinet for ways to assassinate Suleimani, and his cabinet was ignoring such requests.

A majority of those polled yesterday believe that Trump was wagging the dog, using Iran to try and detract from his looming impeachment trial.

Trump’s advisors and enablers have to be looking at this and wondering what would happen if there was a real international incident that required an American military response, another Pearl Harbor or a 9/11. Would people follow Trump, or just conclude that he staged the event for his own purposes.

Yet another reason to get rid of him. When America does need a leader, all they’ll have is Trump, and he’s utter shit at that.

Horrible as the assassination and repercussions have been, it could have been far worse. At least Iran’s response was carefully crafted to avoid escalation, with the exception of the shooting down of that Boeing 737 passenger jet. I have little doubt it was an accident: Iran had little to gain from killing scores of their own citizens, plus 67 Canadians and 39 Ukrainians. And that’s on Trump, too; negligent as someone in the Iranian military was, it wouldn’t have happened were it not for the crisis Trump created.

Millions of people in Iran are outraged by the shooting down. Perhaps they remember when the US accidentally shot down an Iranian plane in the 80s, killing 232. As a result, the government is facing mass protests of a kind not seen since the days of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Nobody likes the Iranian regime. They are religious nuts, vicious, and troublemakers. It would be delightful if this tragic incident caused their downfall, and a more secular, reasonable regime were to replace them.

But for now, it’s in the realm of wishful thinking. But if Trump tries to take credit for it (and he would) then tell him to buzz off.

Even with the threat of war fever manipulation, America is better off with a leader than a bullshit artist.

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You’re Going to Die Now – Happy Holidays!

You’re Going to Die Now

Happy Holidays!

December 31st, 2019

We’ve been hoping, all sane people have been hoping, that America could avoid a major international crisis before Trump was driven from office. No American president in history has been less equipped, mentally, morally or cognitively, to deal with a crisis that could result in a general war.

Iraqis, perhaps backed by Iran, occupied the US embassy deep in the “green zone” in Baghdad. People who remember America’s pointless occupation of Iraq will remember the green zone. It was supposed to make the hundred million dollar embassy the US built in that captive city impregnable.

Well, not so much, as it turns out. As Trump golfed, the embassy was occupied by protesters.

Trump finally bestirred himself to tweet, “The U.S. Embassy in Iraq is, & has been for hours, SAFE! Many of our great Warfighters, together with the most lethal military equipment in the world, was immediately rushed to the site. Thank you to the President & Prime Minister of Iraq for their rapid response upon request….”

OK, that sounds almost sane. OK, the bit about “Warfighters” and other lethal stuff being immediately rushed to the site, the bluster of a weak leader caught with his pants down.

But then it got Trumpweird. He continued in the next tweet, “….Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!”

Yup. Because there’s nothing weird about making an open threat and following it up with a holiday greeting. You see it all the time in Hollywood, “No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die. Happy Valentine’s Day.” “Yippie Kie Yay, motherfucker. Merry Christmas.” “Perhaps I’ll kill you tomorrow, Wesley. Happy Candlemas.”

It’s weird, but in fairness, Trump had a more important issue on his mind: the optics: “The Fake News said I played golf today, and I did NOT! I had meeting in various locations, while closely monitoring the U.S. Embassy situation in Iraq, which I am still doing. The Corrupt Lamestream Media knew this but, not surprisingly, failed to report or correct!” Well, the GOP wasted tens of millions of dollars and thousands of Congress hours trying to crucify Hillary over the non-scandal of whether she allowed Benghazi to happen. He knows how much trouble those noisy, sanctimonious, cowardly loudmouths on the right can create with such made up scandals. He should know: he was part of that deplorable crowd.

OK, the possibility of a general war in the middle east, once that could involve Russia is small potatoes next to the possibility that the pseudo-journalistic trash of the right wing media might turn on Trump and launch their endlessly dishonest propaganda.

So Trump doesn’t have a clue about how serious the situation in the middle east is right now, but rather whether it might drown out his constant whines about being impeached. That’s what makes him such a great leader.

Fortunately, not all of government is filled with vacuous and corrupt morons like Trump and Moscow Mitch. Chris Murphy, Democratic Senator from Connecticut, wrote a memorable series of tweets in response today that not only spells out how we got to this juncture (incredible incompetence from the Administration, and malign policies from Russia and Israel), but what it means, and why it could turn into a bloody fiasco that could cost many lives, not just of people living in that region but Americans as well. Rather than try to sum up what he wrote in a masterpiece of concise thinking, I’ll just repeat the texts here:

The attack on our embassy reminds us of all Trump’s Middle East disasters:

1/ Emboldened Iran starts attacking U.S. targets;
2/ Turkey invades Syria;
3/ Saudi Arabia gets away with murder;
4/ Israeli/Palestinian peace slips out of reach.

And that’s just the start…

4/ Thousands of Yemeni children continue to die in a U.S. fueled civil war;
5/ Iran restarts their nuclear program;
6/ Saudi Arabia and Qatar break relations, pushing Qatar to Iran
7/ Turkey buys weapons from Russia, breaking NATO’s back

8/ Brutal crackdown on political dissent in Egypt ramps up
9/ U.S. abandons Kurds to die in Syria, leaves our bases for Russia
10/ U.S. hold on aid to Lebanon weakens their army, empowers Hezbollah
11/ ISIS begins to regroup in Iraq, breaks out of prisons in Syria

The list keeps going, but the point is this:

The attacks on our embassy in Iraq (and Iraq’s unwillingness to defend us) is – on this last day of 2019 – a reminder of how catastrophic this year has been for U.S. interests in every corner of the Middle East.

The attack on our embassy in Baghdad is horrifying but predictable.
Trump has rendered America impotent in the Middle East. No one fears us, no one listens to us.
America has been reduced to huddling in safe rooms, hoping the bad guys will go away.
What a disgrace.

What a disgrace indeed. A lot of people think tomorrow is the dawn of a new decade (it’s not, but that’s for another time), and here we are, facing a massive international crisis with a deranged shitgibbon at the wheel.

He’s going to get us all killed, Happy New Year.

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Boxing Days – People are hitting back at GOP rule

Boxing Days

People are hitting back at GOP rule

December 26th 2019

Back when the House was preparing to vote on impeachment (was it really only a week ago?) one online news feed had the header, “House prepares to vote on impeachment as Trump rages”. Had I seen that headline in a crystal ball back on November 2016, I would have called it very predictable, perhaps even inevitable.

The only surprise to me was how much of Trump’s shit people put up with before deciding something needed to be done about him. Americans in general have a strong streak of authoritarian personality; they really hate to challenge authority. Didn’t used to be that way, of course; Americans were defined for centuries by their willingness to thumb their noses at their leaders. It’s taken three generations of ceaseless propaganda from the right and corporations to blunt that particularly American trait.

The problem, of course, is that a populace unwilling to challenge social and political leadership soon finds itself rapidly losing ground. Factory owners, priests, and aristocrats have never had your interests and heart and never will. It amuses them that they’ve trained Americans to, at worst, ask politely for their rights, and of course, they offer vague assurances that amount to a polite refusal.

Trump has undermined the pseudo-legitimacy of America’s ruling class, and the cracks are beginning to appear everywhere. Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham were convinced they could openly make Trump’s trial an utter sham, and they are learning that even if they can pull that off, it will come at an immense political cost. The Democrats have realized that they only need four Republicans in order to control procedural votes to help ensure a fair trial (if not a fair verdict) and are pressing hard for those four. A trial with actual witnesses and testimony is going to do massive damage to McConnell’s dream of sweeping the entire thing under the rug. The public is actually watching closely, and the Republicans are every bit as much on trial as Trump himself will be.

A Christmas Day poll revealed that 55% of the public support having a Senate vote on ousting Trump, and only 40% oppose. The day the House impeached Trump, the public supported such a vote, but only by a 48-47 margin. Even in the red states, protecting Trump from his crimes has become a risky pastime for Republican representatives and Senators.

Trump spent Christmas attacking the homeless. At least, the homeless in Nancy Pelosi’s district. He doesn’t gave a shit about the homeless, of course, unless it’s to set up for-profit concentration camps for them. He just has the misguided notion that people will blame Pelosi for the problem. But that sure catches that Christmas spirit, doesn’t it. “Get that filthy Mary and Joseph out of here with their bastard kid!”

The trash Christian right is falling apart as Trump finds and breaks through their ethical basement. They’ve had to be “Good Germans” for the past three years, pretending the moral smoke from Trump’s policies toward immigrant children and the poor and working people is just wood smoke, nothing more. That Trump has begun comparing his trial to the crucifixion of Jesus is a wake-up call to a lot of them, along with increasing pressure from the majority of Christians who haven’t bought the authoritarian Kool-Aid. Their message is getting louder and clearer: “If you think this human garbage scow of the president is the next Jesus, you are an embarrassment to both Christianity and America. Knock it off.” And it’s working. A large and vocal anti-Trump contingent is appearing in America’s pulpits and Christian publications. The “Jesus loves you but you gotta pay me for it” crowd are battening down, preparing for a social storm.

Public anger is growing as Trump’s scheme to slash Social Security and Medicare and further demolish Obamacare continues. People are aware that McConnell and the GOP want the slashes to pay for the $1.5 trillion tax cut for the rich that Ryan and Trump inflicted on us. People are tired of doing without so these upholstered parasites can afford a third yacht or a couple more Congressmen.

Panic is settling in. CNN had a poll of its pundits, including such luminaries as SE Cupp, to discover that in their collective wisdom, CNN believes Americans would be better off re-electing Trump than electing a socialist like Bernie Sanders or a liberal mixed-economy capitalist such as Elizabeth Warren. Think about that for a minute: the corporate media voices at CNN think that we would be better off with a psychotic, criminal, vicious and possibly demented disaster of a president over an FDR sort who believes that the national wealth ought to be shared with the people who created that wealth.

Welcome to the world of corporate media. They have only your best interests at heart, assuming you are rich, greedy and want only a docile workforce and a captive consumer market.

The corporate leaders already have the puppets posing as liberals in the Democratic party, the Biden/Klobuchar/Buttigieg contingent dancing to that same tune. Better to have a corporate eunuch who will only pretend to oppose America’s ongoing rightward drift into corporate feudalism, than someone willing to put up any kind of a fight to prevent the development of outright fascism.

McConnell is still making noises about keeping the fix in for his corrupt leader, but his protestations are increasingly hollow. At this point, some Republicans are realizing that they aren’t toying with losing a few seats in the next election, something their election fixers assured them couldn’t happen, but are, in fact, toying with the possibility of a popular revolt.

Americans were happy to follow their leaders, but now they see where the leaders have been taking them—and they don’t like it.

The GOP proceeds at its own risk.

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