Thursday, December 12, 2019

In Today's Edition Of "Nothing New Under The Sun"

In today's edition of Nothing New Under The Sun, we look at Jean-Paul Sartre's 1946 essay, "Anti-Semite and Jew":
The anti-Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith; at the outset he has chosen to devaluate words and reasons. How entirely at ease he feels as a result. How futile and frivolous discussions about the rights of the Jew appear to him. He has pleased himself on other ground from the beginning. ...

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. ...

If then, as we have been able to observe, the anti-Semite is impervious to reason and to experience, it is not because his conviction is strong. Rather his conviction is strong because he has chosen first of all to be impervious.

He has chosen to find his being entirely outside himself, never to look within, to be nothing save the fear he inspires in others. What he flees even more than Reason is his intimate awareness of himself. But some will object: What if he is like that only with regard to the Jews? What if he otherwise conducts himself with good sense?

I reply that that is impossible... A man who finds it entirely natural to denounce other men cannot have our conception of humanity; he does not see even those whom he aids in the same light as we do. His generosity, his kindness are not like our kindness, our generosity. You cannot confine passion to one sphere.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Under Trump's Law, Every Act Is A Test Of One's Fealty, Violence Against Outsiders Equals National Loyalty, And Empathy Is Treason

Adam Serwer, The Atlantic, November 2019:
Donald Trump is a war-crimes enthusiast.

This is not an exaggeration, a mischaracterization, or a misrepresentation. As a candidate, the president regaled his audiences with vivid tales of brutality, some apocryphal, and vowed to imitate them. ...

[T]he president's ardor for violations of the laws of war has manifested itself in his decisions to intervene in war-crimes cases on behalf of the defendants. In four separate cases since the beginning of his presidency, and for the first time in the history of modern warfare, an American president has aided service members accused or convicted of war crimes, against the advice of his own military leadership.

The clearances [were] ... a rational extension of Trumpist nationalism, which recognizes no moral, legal, or institutional restraints on the president worth upholding, and which sees violence against outsiders as a redemptive expression of national loyalty. Even the cynical invocation of legal restraints on warfare can provide a modicum of protection for civilians, but Trump would do away with this meager safeguard in pursuit of political advantage, in part because he does not see the people whom those restraints protect as fully human to begin with. In the long run, Trump hopes to do with the U.S. military what he has done with the police and immigration enforcement: forge the institution into a partisan weapon for himself to wield against his enemies, using the promise of impunity for crimes against the weak or despised. ...

[Trump] argues that the crimes of which the men are accused are not truly crimes at all. As the president put it on Twitter, "We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!" This is a philosophy that makes no moral distinction between killing combatants and killing the innocent.

Trump pardoned Mathew Golsteyn, once a decorated Army Special Forces officer, who told the CIA in a job interview that he killed an Afghan detainee he suspected of being a bomb maker; Trump prevented the demotion of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was convicted of posing in photographs with a detainee's corpse, but who was acquitted on more serious war-crimes charges; and he pardoned Clint Lorance, an Army lieutenant who ordered his unit to fire on unarmed Afghans. In May, Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, a former Army lieutenant who was convicted of killing an unarmed Iraqi detainee. ...

"I will always stick up for our great fighters," Trump told the crowd at a rally in Florida yesterday. "People can sit there in air-conditioned offices and complain, but you know what? It doesn't matter to me whatsoever."

The seven Navy SEALs who told investigators that Gallagher shot unarmed civilians from his sniper nest, including "a girl in a flower-print hijab who was walking with other girls on the riverbank," after being warned that doing so could "cost them and others their careers" were not sitting in an office. The soldiers who testified that Lorance ordered his unit to fire on unarmed Afghans who were "definitely not any type of threat" were not luxuriating in an air-conditioned building. ...

It would be a mistake, however, to view Trump's pardons as stemming from a deep reverence for the military or an understanding of the difficulties faced by service members. Rather, he views these crimes as acts of nationalist solidarity against Muslims, against whom crimes are not simply acceptable but praiseworthy. Trumpists are capable of recognizing the evils of excessive state power—but only when it is directed at those they see as like themselves. When it is directed at those they hate and fear, such excesses are not crimes but virtues.

The crimes of which these service members are accused were committed against people the president does not consider fully human. It would not do to punish Americans for killing people whose lives, in the eyes of the president and many of his supporters, do not matter. ...

Trump is already reportedly planning to have one or more of these service members appear at his campaign rallies. Trump's ideology is also his politics: As with calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers who must be kept out, Muslims terrorists who must be banned, and black Americans criminals who must face unrestrained brutality, Trump divides the nation by making everything a test of loyalty. ... To respect the rights of those who are different, to even acknowledge that they exist, is to show disloyalty and weakness, is to side with the "animals" against civilization. To disregard them as nonexistent is to display patriotism and strength.

The very act of concern for those harmed by Trump's policies—migrant children separated from their families at the border, Muslims banned from entry, or black people murdered by police—is itself a kind of treason. As a con man, Trump cannot fathom why anyone would adhere to principle when there is an advantage to be gained, and he regards such people with contempt ... Doing the right thing without expectation of material reward is not something Trump can personally comprehend—even his war-crimes pardons are themselves transactional. At future campaign rallies, if Trump has his way, the president's enthusiastic retelling of war crimes will come with props, as legions of Trump supporters cheer. ...

Patriotism here ultimately means something far less than love of country—it means love of a very specific group of Americans, who regard the majority of their countrymen as usurpers. And that love must manifest itself in loyalty to Trump, who represents their will. The ominous message, which echoes from the Justice Department to the Department of Homeland Security to the Pentagon, is that the only law that matters is Trump's law, and the only loyalty that even counts as loyalty is fealty to Trump.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

18 Years Of War In Afghanistan: "The American People Have Constantly Been Lied To"

The Washington Post's lengthy series — "At War With The Truth" — offers an inside, no-longer-secret history of the United States' 18-years-and-counting war in Afghanistan, the longest "armed conflict" in the country's history.
Part 1
At war with the truth
U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it.

Part 2
Stranded without a strategy
Bush and Obama had polar-opposite plans to win the war. Both were destined to fail.

Part 3
Built to fail
Despite vows the U.S. wouldn't get mired in "nation-building," it has wasted billions doing just that.

Part 4
Consumed by corruption
The U.S. flooded the country with money — then turned a blind eye to the graft it fueled.

Part 5
Unguarded nation
Afghan security forces, despite years of training, were dogged by incompetence and corruption.

Part 6
Overwhelmed by opium
The U.S. war on drugs in Afghanistan has imploded at nearly every turn.

Interviews and Memos
Explore the documents
Key insiders speak bluntly about the failures of the longest conflict in U.S. history.

Post Reports
'We didn't know what the task was'
Hear candid interviews with former ambassador Ryan Crocker and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

The Fight for the Documents
About the investigation
It took three years and two federal lawsuits for The Post to pry loose 2,000 pages of interview records.

A visual timeline of the war
Interviewees respond
The fact that the Pentagon and the US government - through three presidents, Republican and Democrat - intentionally and deliberately lied, constantly, for nearly two decades, cannot come as much of a surprise to anyone who possesses an open mind and a knowledge of history, but it's still worthwhile to see "a mountain of previously secret documentary evidence [from] within the military" laid out in the harsh light of day.

The US military refused to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests for three years until ordered to turn over the documents by a U.S. district judge. This could certainly be a limited hangout, but it's still pretty damning.

Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House's Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015:
We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn't know what we were doing. ... We didn't have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.
In the same interview, Lute says:
We are a rich country and can pour money down a hole and it doesn't bust the bank. But should we? Can't we get a bit more rational here? ... One poignant example of this is a ribbon-cutting ceremony complete with the giant scissors I attended for the district police chief in some Godforsaken province. [The US Army Corps of Engineers had overseen the design and construction of a police headquarters that featured a glass facade and an atrium.] The police chief couldn't even open the door. He had never seen a doorknob like this. To me, this encapsulates the whole experience in Afghanistan.
Michael Callen, an economist with the University of California at San Diego and a specialist in the Afghan public sector: "We spent so much money and there is so little to show for it."

Much of the money ended up in the pockets of overpriced contractors or corrupt Afghan officials. There is copious evidence of "ghost projects" into which millions of dollars were dumped. For example, the US had signed $8 million in contracts to build an industrial park near Kandahar for 48 businesses. Tim Graczewski, a Navy Reserve officer who oversaw economic development projects in southern Afghanistan from 2009-10, could not find the 37-acre project. It appeared to exist only on paper. While Graczewski eventually found the property, there were no buildings, only empty streets and some sewer pipes.
It blew my mind how much we didn't know about the park in the first place when we embarked on this project. It was impossible to get info on it, even where it was located. It was that much of a blank spot. Nobody knew anything about anything.
However, the people who got extremely rich from those contracts would not call what was going on (and what is still going on) in Afghanistan a failure in any way, shape, or form. To them, and many others, those millions and billions were not "wasted".

Numerous people said the chaotic outcome in Afghanistan was foreseeable, citing US military interventions in other countries in the last 25 years, such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Haiti, Somalia. Stephen Hadley, who served as White House national security adviser under Bush: "We just don't have a post-conflict stabilization model that works."

Three comments.
1. The US is a "rich country" only if you are rich. And "the bank" has most assuredly been broken, for a long time.

2. What looks like a failure to a normal human being may not be a failure to a defense contractor with a suddenly-overflowing bank account or to government officials who have wanted to control an oil-rich area for decades. Indeed, despite the inevitable hiccups along the way, the various invasions since 2001 have been a resounding and towering success for the people who planned them.

3. The majority of US military officials do not give a shit what happens to a country once it has been destabilized and/or destroyed.
Jacob Hornberger, Counterpunch:
More than 2,300 American soldiers killed for nothing. Thousands more injured, mentally, spiritually, or physically. Tens of thousands of Afghans killed, maimed, incarcerated, or tortured. The entire country destroyed. ...

Americans have ended up with the loss of both freedom and security, with a massive toll in terms of death and suffering, with a mountain of federal debt, and with one great big pack of lies. ...

[I]t's also worth mentioning that the Pentagon waged its war on Afghanistan without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war. That makes the Afghan war, and all of the death and destruction that have come with it, illegal under our form of government. ...

[T]he Pentagon has succeeded in turning [Afghanistan] into one gigantic hellhole of violence, official corruption, and opium production.
Craig Whitlock, Washington Post:
The U.S. government has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war in Afghanistan, but the costs are staggering.

Since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

Those figures do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans. ...

Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case. ...

[I]n the field, U.S. troops often couldn't tell friend from foe.

"They thought I was going to come to them with a map to show them where the good guys and bad guys live," an unnamed former adviser to an Army Special Forces team told government interviewers in 2017. ...

"I have no visibility into who the bad guys are," [Donald] Rumsfeld complained in a Sept. 8, 2003 [memo]. "We are woefully deficient in human intelligence." ...

"Our policy was to create a strong central government which was idiotic because Afghanistan does not have a history of a strong central government," an unidentified former State Department official told government interviewers in 2015. "The timeframe for creating a strong central government is 100 years, which we didn't have." ... [I would not be surprised if the United States is still in Afghanistan in 2103.]

One unnamed executive with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) guessed that 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: "We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason." ...

The gusher of aid that Washington spent on Afghanistan also gave rise to historic levels of corruption. ... One unidentified contractor told government interviewers he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. ...

In public, U.S. officials insisted they had no tolerance for graft. But in the Lessons Learned interviews, they admitted the U.S. government looked the other way while Afghan power brokers — allies of Washington — plundered with impunity. ...

"We stated that our goal is to establish a 'flourishing market economy,'" said Douglas Lute, the White House's Afghan war czar from 2007 to 2013. "I thought we should have specified a flourishing drug trade — this is the only part of the market that's working. It's really much worse than you think." ...

A person identified only as a senior National Security Council official said there was constant pressure from the Obama White House and Pentagon to produce figures to show the troop surge of 2009 to 2011 was working, despite hard evidence to the contrary. ...

John Garofano, a Naval War College strategist who advised Marines in Helmand province in 2011, said military officials in the field devoted an inordinate amount of resources to churning out color-coded charts that heralded positive results.

"They had a really expensive machine that would print the really large pieces of paper like in a print shop," he told government interviewers. "There would be a caveat that these are not actually scientific figures ..." But Garofano said nobody dared to question whether the charts and numbers were credible or meaningful. ...

Other senior officials said they placed great importance on one statistic in particular, albeit one the U.S. government rarely likes to discuss in public.

"I do think the key benchmark is the one I've suggested, which is how many Afghans are getting killed," James Dobbins, the former U.S. diplomat, told a Senate panel in 2009. "If the number's going up, you're losing. ... It's as simple as that."

Last year, 3,804 Afghan civilians were killed in the war, according to the United Nations.

That is the most in one year since the United Nations began tracking casualties a decade ago.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Trump: "I think he's a maniac. I think Adam Schiff is a deranged human being. I think he grew up with a complex for lots of reasons that are obvious. I think he's a very sick man. And he lies."

Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law:
If what we're talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable. This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created the Constitution, including impeachment, to protect against.
Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor:
The biggest difference between the English tradition of impeachment and the American constitutional plan was that the king of England could not be impeached. In that sense, the king was above the law, which only applied to him if he consented to follow it. In stark contrast, the president of the United States would be subject to the law like any other citizen. The idea of impeachment was therefore absolutely central to the republican form of government ordained by the Constitution. Without impeachment, the president would have been an elected monarch. With impeachment, the president was bound to the rule of law. Congress could oversee the president's conduct, hold him accountable and remove him from office if he abused his power.
Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor:
The founding generation, like every generation of Americans since, was especially concerned to protect our government and our democratic process from outside interference. For example, John Adams during the ratification expressed concern with the very idea of having an elected president, writing to Thomas Jefferson that "you are apprehensive of foreign interference, intrigue, influence. — So am I — But, as often as elections happen, the danger of foreign influence recurs." And in his farewell address, President Washington warned that "history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government." ... The very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his re-election campaign would have horrified them. ...

The upshot of this conversation in the Constitutional Convention was that the framers believed that elections were not a sufficient check on the possibility of a president who abused his power by acting in a corrupt way. They were especially worried that a president might use the power of his office to influence the electoral process in his own favor. They concluded that the Constitution must provide for the impeachment of the president to assure that no one would be above the law.
Professor Karlan:
One of the key reasons for including an impeachment power was the risk that unscrupulous officials might try to rig the election process. ... President Trump invited — indeed, demanded — foreign involvement in our upcoming election ...  [D]rawing a foreign government into our election process is an especially serious abuse of power because it undermines democracy itself. ... The evidence reveals a president ... who did this to strong-arm a foreign leader into smearing one of the president's opponents in our ongoing election season. That is not politics as usual — at least not in the United States or any other mature democracy.
Professor Gerhardt:
The president's serious misconduct, including bribery, soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader in exchange for his exercise of power, and obstructing justice and Congress are worse than the misconduct of any prior president, including what previous presidents who faced impeachment have done or been accused of doing. Other presidents have done just the opposite in recognizing the legitimacy of congressional investigative and impeachment authorities. Even President Nixon agreed to share information with Congress, ordered his subordinates to comply with subpoenas to testify and produce documents (with some limited exceptions), and to send his lawyers to ask questions in the House's impeachment hearings. The fact that we can easily transpose the articles of impeachment against Nixon onto the actions of this president speaks volumes — and that does not even include the most serious national security concerns and election interference concerns at the heart of this president's misconduct.
Discussing the distinction between kings and presidents, Professor Karlan said: "The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility. While the president can name his son Barron, he can't make him a baron."

Melania Trump took extreme offense, tweeting:
A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.
However ...

Melania Trump did not post a tweet when thousands of children were forcibly taken from their parents by government officials and put into cages (for weeks and months) in concentration camps on the border. Babies (some as young as two months old) are left to sleep on the cold, concrete floor at night.
A 16-year-old girl: "We are in a metal cage with 20 other teenagers with babies and young children. We have one mat we need to share with each other. It is very cold. ... The lights are [on] all of the time."

Another 16-year-old girl: "Our clothes were still wet and we were very cold, so we got sick… I've been in the US for six days and I have never been offered a shower or been able to brush my teeth. There is no soap and our clothes are dirty. They have never been washed."

A 15-year-old girl: "I started taking care of [a 5-year-old girl] ... after they separated her from her father. ... She was very upset. The workers did nothing to try to comfort her. I tried to comfort her and she has been with me ever since. [She] sleeps on a mat with me on the concrete floor."

A pregnant 17-year-old girl: "I was given a blanket and a mattress, but then, at 3 a.m., the guards took the blanket and mattress. My baby was left sleeping on the floor. In fact, almost every night, the guards wake us at 3 a.m. and take away our sleeping mattresses and blankets. They leave babies, even little babies of two or three months, sleeping on the cold floor. ... I think the guards act this way to punish us."
Melania Trump did not post a tweet when her husband recently mocked a 16-year-old girl for her comments on global warming. (Barron is 15, by the way.)

Melania Trump did not post a tweet when her husband boasted about the techniques he has used to sexually assault women.

Melania Trump did not post a tweet when her husband signed legislation that would literally take the food out of the mouths of hundreds of thousands of poor and starving children (see below).

Melania Trump saw nothing wrong with posing with a baby whose parents (Jordan Anchondo and Andre Anchondo) had been murdered in an El Paso mass shooting in August. The baby actually had been discharged from the hospital the day before, but was brought back to the hospital solely to be used as a prop for a photo op, in which Trump offered a big shit-eating grin and a thumbs-up.

And in June 2018, Melania Trump boarded Air Force One, on her way to visit children at the Texas-Mexico border, wearing a jacket with the words "I Really Don't Care. Do You?" on the back. There have been at least three official explanations. First, her spokesperson said there was "no hidden message". Then Melania said there was a message and it was aimed at her "left-wing critics". A new book states Melania wore it as a passive-aggressive jab at Ivanka Trump's "near-constant attempts to attach herself to positive administration talking points".

So Melania is full of shit, though not nearly as full of shit as her moronic husband. They can both die in a fire.

Trump Stomps Home From NATO Meeting After 'Two-Faced' Trudeau Was Mean to Him
Jamie Ross, The Daily Beast
Donald Trump hit out at Justin Trudeau on Wednesday after a candid video emerged of the Canadian prime minister ridiculing the U.S. president to the obvious delight and amusement of other world leaders. A fed-up Trump then canceled his scheduled press conference and said he'd fly straight home.

The video shows Trudeau with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a gathering at Buckingham Palace. Trudeau mocked Trump's unexpected Monday press conferences, and said he "watched his team's jaws drop to the floor" when the president made an announcement, which wasn't specified in the video.

Trudeau later confirmed the leaders were laughing about Trump's "impromptu press conference" at the meeting ... Johnson can be seen laughing at Trudeau's shtick, and even the Queen's daughter Princess Anne appears to join in. ...

Trump made no such effort to swerve from the controversy, hitting back on Wednesday, saying: "Well, he's two-faced."
'What Cruelty Looks Like': Trump Finalizes Plan to Strip Food Aid From 750,000 Low-Income People by 2020
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it has finalized a plan to tighten punitive work requirements for food stamp recipients, a move that would strip nutrition assistance from an estimated 750,000 low-income people by mid-2020. ...

The rule change, which was first unveiled earlier this year, would restrict states' ability to exempt people without dependents from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program's work requirements. The rule is set to take effect April 1, 2020. ...

During the rule's 60-day public comment period, tens of thousands of people decried the measure as an immoral attack on the most vulnerable by an administration that has worked tirelessly to fatten the pockets of the rich.

"The comments make it clear that most Americans not only oppose but are utterly repulsed by this plan to punish the poorest among us by denying them help to feed themselves," Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), said in a statement in April.

According to an Urban Institute study (pdf) published last week, the Trump administration's three proposed SNAP changes combined would strip federal food aid from 3.7 million people.
Trump, Who Slashed Taxes by $1.5 Trillion, Is Pushing Cuts to Food Stamps
Patrick Reis, Rolling Stone
President Trump, a very rich guy who promised to help not-rich people get ahead but so far hasn't, is pushing rules that would place new limits on a program that helps poor people buy food.

The push isn't new, but it's getting new attention due to an Urban Institute study that concluded the rules, if they'd been in place last year, would have reduced the main federal food aid program's rolls by 3.7 million people — as well as cut food stamp spending by about $4.2 billion. Remember that number for later. ...

There are two main arguments conservatives have marshalled in support of food stamp cuts, and they're both dishonest. Work requirements are often touted as an effort to nudge (starve) people into self-sufficiency. ...

Supporters of the requirements often claim to be helping poor people access "the dignity of work," meaning that it's inherently more satisfying to get paid for work than to depend on public support. That may well be true ... But you won't hear those people talking about the "dignity of work" when it comes to organizing workers into unions that protect them from abusive management or unsafe conditions. Nor do they pipe up in favor of the "the dignity of a living wage." In fact, the people who favor work requirements near universally oppose unions and minimum wage hikes. Go figure. ...

The other argument for making it harder for poor people to buy food is somehow even flimsier ... the need for fiscal responsibility when it comes to the federal budget. ... [M]any conservatives say, we need to cut spending on "entitlements" — a term for helping people buy food or make ends meet or access health care through Medicaid. ...

This isn't a particularly credible argument ... But it's revealed to be a comically disingenuous argument once you remember the Trump administration's signature domestic "achievement": tax breaks that will add at least $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years ... [A]t a baseline, that works out to about $150 billion annually, which, if math isn't your thing, is approximately a fuckton more than the $4.2 billion they want to "save" on food stamps.

Who got those tax breaks? ... [T]he lion's share of those will go to the very wealthy, as well as to the heirs of the very wealthy, who thanks to the law can now inherit millions up millions of dollars without paying a cent in taxes. Cool. And yes, most everyone did get a tax cut, but for lots of people — particularly the people Trump promised to help — that will work out to about $50 a month. Spend it all in one place. ...

When it came to tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, Trump and Republicans felt the nation's finances were firm enough to give up more than $1,500,000,000,000. When it's time to spend a fraction of that to help poor people eat, that's when the well has supposedly run dry.
Fun Fact: The US spends one billion dollars on war every four days. (That's as of November 2017. the amount has likely gone up since then.)

Lawmakers Admit Lobbyists Helped Them Write Attacks on Medicare for All
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
Documents obtained by the Washington Post Monday showed that lobbyists helped three state lawmakers draft op-eds this year attacking Medicare for All ...

The Post's Jeff Stein reported Monday that Montana state Rep. Kathy Kelker (D), Montana state Sen. Jen Gross (D), and an aide to Ohio state Sen. Steve Huffman (R) admitted in interviews that lobbyists helped craft their recent op-eds criticizing Medicare for All. The three columns appeared in local newspapers; none of them disclosed that they were written with the assistance of lobbyists.

Kelker and Gross "acknowledged in interviews that editorials they published separately about the single-payer health proposal included language provided by John MacDonald, a lobbyist and consultant in [Montana] who disclosed in private emails that he worked for an unnamed client," Stein reported. ...

"The emails appear to show extensive outside involvement in the Montana lawmakers' op-eds," Stein reported. "In a Microsoft Word document, MacDonald removed three paragraphs from a draft of Kelker's op-ed that pointed out that the United States 'clearly spends significantly more on healthcare per capita than other developed nations.' He also deleted a table from the lawmaker's original draft showing that the United States has higher healthcare spending per capita than France, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland."
'He's Just...Erased': PBS 2020 Segment Finds Time for Klobuchar, Sestak, and Bullock—But Completely Ignores Bernie Sanders
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
A Monday night PBS NewsHour segment on the state of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary highlighted Sen. Amy Klobuchar's new ad campaign in Iowa, the departure of marginal candidates Steve Bullock and Joe Sestak, a tender campaign moment with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden's "No Malarkey" bus tour—but did not once even mention Sen. Bernie Sanders despite recent key endorsements and a surge in the polls.

Sanders' presidential campaign has repeatedly accused the corporate media of ignoring the senator from Vermont, a phenomenon Sanders supporters have dubbed the "Bernie blackout."

The PBS segment, led by NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, offered "a real taste of what Bernie is talking about," Current Affairs editor Nathan Robinson wrote Tuesday.

"Remember that Sanders has been #1 in two out of three recent New Hampshire polls, and is currently second in Iowa, ahead of 'frontrunner' Joe Biden," Robinson noted. "Alcindor found time to talk about Joe Sestak and Steve Bullock, plus plenty of candidates struggling to get out of single-digit poll numbers. And yet: not even a photo of Bernie Sanders. Incredible. He's just... erased. He's gone. Bernie who?"

Robinson described the NewsHour segment as an example of "manufacturing consent in action":
Political commentator David Pakman recently asked, looking at Pete Buttigieg's rising poll numbers, 'What do you think is behind Pete's rise?' My own answer to that is simple: the manufacture of consent by a media apparatus invested in selling a candidate that will not disrupt the economic status quo.

So much of our understanding of the world and what matters is filtered through the media, because that's how we get access to things that are not in our direct experience. If nobody talks about Bernie Sanders' campaign, how are you supposed to learn about it unless Bernie people come and knock on your door?
The NewsHour segment came just weeks after a detailed analysis of MSNBC's coverage of Sanders by In These Times found that the Vermont senator received both the least frequent and most negative coverage of the top 2020 Democratic presidential contenders.

"The corporate media's war against Bernie Sanders is very real," Jacobin's Luke Savage wrote last month.

"MSNBC, of course, is hardly the only culprit," Savage noted. "As Katie Halper documented a few months ago, the New York Times reporter assigned to cover his campaign 'consistently paints a negative picture of Sanders' temperament, history, policies, and political prospects.' The Washington Post once famously ran sixteen negative stories about Sanders in the same number of hours."
More "Nazi-Normalizing Barf Journalism" From The New York Times
Dorothee Benz, FAIR:
On November 19, in a news analysis piece titled "A White House Now 'Cannibalizing Itself,'"the [New York] Times (11/19/19) went on at length (1,600 words) about the novelty of a sitting president publicly attacking members of his own staff. ...

Halfway through this article, there is this spartan description of threats to one such person, Col. Vindman:
The Army has been assessing potential security threats to Colonel Vindman and his brother Yevgeny, who also works at the National Security Council. There have also been discussions about moving the Vindmans and their families onto a military base for their protection.
But in contrast to the adjective-rich astonishment the Times expressed at Trump's attacks on his own staff, this tidbit is unworthy of further comment for the paper of record.

Sadly, threats of violence to anti-Trump witnesses are not new (think Christine Blasey Ford), but they are much more important to the story of the impeachment proceedings—and the survival of what is left of US democracy—than the new but unsurprising fact that Trump's Twitter vomit has now landed on people inside the White House as well as outside. ...

At the risk of stating the incredibly obvious, I'm going to say that a society in which witnesses have to fear for their safety when they expose government corruption or other wrongdoing is a society distinctly titling more towards authoritarianism than democracy. That the New York Times hasn't raised the alarm about that is… alarming. It is more Nazi-normalizing barf journalism. ...

The New York Times' voluminous coverage of the hearings details many of the pieces that make up the overall strategy, but the vast majority of it boils down to the predictable formula of covering the whole process like a partisan horse race. ... It sounds alternately like an NFL halftime report and a review of a Broadway show. ...

Masha Gessen (New Yorker, 11/14/19) provided a framing analysis in a single column that the New York Times could not manage to do in its 131 articles. ... Republicans are not actually defending the president against accusations of abuse of power; instead, they are mounting an offense against the Democrats, whose very enterprise they consider illegitimate. Gessen's point is that the Republicans are playing a whole different game than the Democrats, and the Democrats don't realize it and will lose as a result: ...

Why exactly the New York Times is studiously keeping its impeachment coverage so superficial I don't know. My hunch is that it has to do with the Times' longstanding affinity for legitimizing power and, as I've said elsewhere, the belief that the stability of US institutions is more important than their integrity. Naming and scrutinizing the extent of the assault on democratic norms revealed in the impeachment proceedings would lay bare the fragility of those institutions. ...

In the New York Times (11/15/19), Trump attacking a witness testifying against him isn't witness intimidation; it just "raises charges of witness intimidation." ...

It's a bitter irony that the Times' bias against Trump has contributed to the downplaying of the danger he poses to the US.
Glenn Greenwald:
My favorite paragraph from the NYT article depicting Tulsi as a fringe, divisive cult leader because she wears white pants suits - by the same author and paper who heaped praise on how Hillary's white pants suit shows she's ready to carry the nuclear codes.

Trump Ridiculed for Claiming Unnamed 'Legal Scholars' Praised Calls With Ukraine Leader as 'Absolutely Perfect'
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
President Donald Trump told reporters in London Tuesday that "legal scholars"—who Trump did not name—examined transcripts of his two phone conversations with Ukraine's leader and concluded they were "absolutely perfect calls," a story that was immediately ridiculed by academics and critics.

"You'll see there was absolutely nothing done wrong," Trump said during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. "They had legal scholars looking at the transcripts the other day and they said, 'These are absolutely perfect. Trump is right when he uses the word.'" ...

Joyce White Vance, a University of Alabama law professor and MSNBC contributor, urged reporters to "make Trump identify the legal scholars who reviewed the transcripts (plural!) and said they were 'absolutely perfect.'"

"Then those scholars should be interviewed," said Vance. "But I feel certain they don't exist."

Political scientist Miranda Yaver suggested Trump either completely fabricated the story or used the "legal scholar" label very loosely.

"Yeah, that's not how legal scholars talk. I'm just gonna go out on a limb and say he thinks that Jeannine Pirro is a legal scholar," tweeted Yaver, referring to the host of the Fox News show "Judge Jeanine."
'He Has a Lot of Explaining to Do': Call Records Show Devin Nunes Spoke With Giuliani Multiple Times Amid Ukraine Scheme
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
The House Intelligence Committee's 300-page impeachment report released Tuesday made public previously undisclosed and "hugely incriminating" phone records that showed Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, spoke with President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani multiple times amid the Trump administration's scheme to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

According to the records, Nunes was also in contact with Lev Parnas, a Giuliani associate who was indicted in October on campaign finance charges.

Communications between Nunes—a fervent defender of the president—and individuals at the center of the Trump administration's months-long effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden were viewed as "far and away the most damning" revelation in the Intelligence Committee's sprawling impeachment report ...

"I think he has a lot of explaining to do," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said of Nunes. ...

As The Daily Beast's Lachlan Markay noted, the phone records show that Nunes—who has repeatedly attempted to discredit the impeachment probe into Trump by alleging improper conduct by House Democrats—"had engaged in his own behind-the-scenes communications with the very people at issue in the whistleblower complaint."

"Nunes never revealed those communications during the weeks of committee testimony," Markay pointed out.

In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity Tuesday night, Nunes said he doesn't recall talking to Parnas, who said last month he is prepared to testify that Nunes met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor in Vienna last year to dig up damaging information on Biden. ...

Asked on Tuesday about Nunes' appearance in the call records, House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said "it is deeply concerning that at a time when the president of the United States was using the power of his office to dig up dirt on a political rival, that there may be evidence that there were members of Congress complicit in that activity."
Obama Privately Considered Leading 'Stop-Bernie Campaign' to Combat Sanders 2020 Surge: Report
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
Former President Barack Obama reportedly told advisers behind closed doors earlier this year that he would actively oppose Sen. Bernie Sanders if the progressive senator from Vermont opened up a big lead in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race. ...

"Obama's post-presidency is grating and full of contradictions," tweeted David Klion, news editor at Jewish Currents. "He considers himself the leader of the party but refuses to lead. He considers himself a success but the mere fact of Trump's presidency belies this. He won on hope and counsels hopelessness."

One anonymous Obama adviser would not confirm to Politico that Obama "would really lay himself on the line to prevent a Sanders nomination."

"He hasn't said that directly to me," the adviser said. "The only reason I'm hesitating at all is because, yeah, if Bernie were running away with it, I think maybe we would all have to say something." ...

Earlier this month, Obama told a roomful of rich donors that he is worried about "certain left-leaning Twitter feeds" and "the activist wing of our party," sparking outrage from progressives. ...

David Dayen, executive editor for The American Prospect, wrote last week that Obama's attacks on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party "are music to the ears of the wealthy and powerful."

"This defense of the reigning economic order, originating with the donor class and media allies, with its effective abandonment of the vulnerable and disenfranchised, with nothing for those struggling to make it in a rigged economy, is a recipe for social and political unrest," Dayen wrote. "From lofty heights, Obama has now become a dampener of hope, a barrier to change, and a threat to progress."
The Anonymous White House Book-Writer Can Anonymously Bite Me
Charles P. Pierce, Esquire
I have no intention of shelling out a dime to read about how someone almost ran into the burning house to save the baby, or about how someone almost gave up their seat in the lifeboat when the great ship went down, or about how someone almost dove into a freezing river to save a busload of nuns, or, for that matter, about how someone almost decided not to be a part of the most monstrous executive administration since the (un)death of Vlad The Impaler. I am not interested in someone's heartfelt account of their near-collision with actual integrity. I decline to be fascinated by the tale of how someone nearly ran into courage on the street but had to catch a bus instead. ...

The excerpts from the book are as garish in their horror as you might expect them to be. From the Washington Post:
The author alleges that Trump attempted a Hispanic accent during an Oval Office meeting to complain about migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. "We get these women coming in with like seven children," Trump said, according to the book. "They are saying, 'Oh, please help! My husband left me!' They are useless. They don't do anything for our country. At least if they came in with a husband we could put him in the fields to pick corn or something."

After the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, the author writes, Trump vented to advisers and said he would be foolish to stand up to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. "Do you know how stupid it would be to pick this fight?" Trump said, according to the book. "Oil would go up to one hundred fifty dollars a barrel. Jesus. How [expletive] stupid would I be?"

As he ranted about federal courts ruling against some of his policies, including the 2017 travel ban, the author writes, Trump once asked White House lawyers to draft a bill to send to Congress reducing the number of federal judges. "Can we just get rid of the judges? Let's get rid of the [expletive] judges," the president said, according to the book. "There shouldn't be any at all, really."

The author portrays Trump as fearful of coups against him and suspicious of note-takers on his staff. According to the book, the president shouted at an aide who was scribbling in a notebook during a meeting, "What the [expletive] are you doing?" He added, "Are you [expletive] taking notes?" The aide apologized and closed the notebook.
Yeah, and?

This was all stuff that we knew before he got elected. This is all stuff we knew before he was nominated. Yet Anonymous took a job in Bedlam anyway, and, as nearly as we can tell, still works there.
A Very Sick Man
Abby Zimet, Common Dreams
Oh man. The Stable Genius just fell off the world stage at London's NATO meeting, and it was not pretty. His speech slurred and his eyes amphetamine-huge, Trump's wee brain seemed spectacularly frazzled, perhaps by the just-released, 300-page, utterly damning House Intelligence Committee impeachment report finding he "abused the power of his office for personal and political gain at the expense of national security," citing "overwhelming" evidence of his misconduct and obstruction of Congress, and adding, for good measure, "Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a stronger or more complete case of obstruction than that demonstrated by the president," never mind "the steaming nonsense" of the GOP's lame, nothing-to-see-here response. Thus burdened by a hovering cloud of impending reality, Trump ranted, rambled, raved, lied, contradicted himself, delivered indecipherable non sequiturs and insulted enemies and friends alike in multiple ill-considered appearances before the press.

Macron was "very, very nasty" - though Trump also flailingly tried to "joke" about ISIS with him. On Syria - yes, journalists still pretend they're not speaking to a madman - "We have taken the oil. I've taken the oil. We should have done it in other locations, frankly, where we were. I can name four of them right now, but we've taken the oil...Our great soldiers are right around the oil where we've got the oil." On climate policy: "I believe very strongly in very, very crystal clear, clean water and clean air. That's a big part of climate change." On nuclear proliferation: "I'm - you know, the - the whole situation with nuclear to me is very, very important...It has to be dealt with very strongly." Most gob-smackingly - though how to choose? - on Adam Schiff, as a pained Trudeau sat next to him (and later joined in a snickering group troll): "I think he's a maniac. I think Adam Schiff is a deranged human being. I think he grew up with a complex for lots of reasons that are obvious. I think he's a very sick man. And he lies." To which the Internet wisely, universally responded with, "P-R-O-J-E-C-T-I-O-N."
"The Democrats have gone crazy and you know what? They have to be careful because when the shoe is on the other foot, and some day, hopefully in the very long distant future, you'll have a Democrat president, you'll have a Republican House and they'll do the same thing because somebody picked an orange out of a refrigerator and you don't like it so let's go and impeach them. That's not the way our country is supposed to be run." - The President of the United States.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Prince's 1999: "Apocalyptic, Sexy, Funky, Funny, Innovative, Earthy, Electronic, Sly, Righteous, Euphoric — And Almost Entirely A One-Man Show"

In June 2017, Prince's estate and Warner Bros. released a Deluxe Expanded edition of Purple Rain, including a remaster of the original album, a disc of previously unreleased songs, a disc with single edits, maxi-single edits, and B-sides, and a DVD with a concert from March 30, 1985.

It may sound nice, but it was a disappointment. Prince was writing and recording a ton of music in the year or two before Purple Rain and one disc of outtakes was underwhelming, barely scratching the surface. No demos, no rehearsals, no evidence of how some of his most famous songs evolved.

A couple of Purple Rain's songs were presented in their original form, before Prince edited them down for the album. "Computer Blue" clocked in at 12:18 (the label used a descriptive term (the "Hallway Speech" version) that had been in use for years among die-hard fans who had the outtake in their collections). "Let's Go Crazy"'s original running time of 7:35 (as it appeared on early configurations of the album (November 7, 1983 and March 12, 1984), but not on the final version of June 25, 1984) was called the "Special Dance Mix".

An expanded version of 1999 (Prince's fifth album, the one before Purple Rain, released in late October 1982) has been released and it appears to be a much better representation of its creative time period.

Jon Pareles, the long-time chief pop music critic of the New York Times, writes that even after 37 years, the music on 1999 "still sounds contemporary and alive". (A song from 37 years before this album came out would have been from 1945.)
1999 was apocalyptic, sexy, funky, funny, innovative, earthy, electronic, sly, righteous, euphoric and almost entirely — give or take a few vocals and a guitar solo — a one-man show by Prince Rogers Nelson on every instrument and vocal. Every song exults in the architectural savvy of a musician who, from the drumbeat up, seemed to know exactly how he'd be jamming with himself as he built the song. ...

The "super deluxe" version of the 1999 reissue — five CDs or 10 LPs plus a grainy DVD video of a 1982 concert in Houston — reaches into Prince's vault of unreleased recordings, unveiling a dozen songs that haven't appeared officially in any form, although Prince performed some of them live. A handful — including the absolute standout, "Purple Music" — are gems; none is a dud. Other vault material includes alternate takes of previously released songs, usually quite different from what appeared during Prince's lifetime. ...

The newly released vault material doesn't challenge the choices Prince made about 1999 (though I'd have been tempted to swap in "Moonbeam Levels," a stately plea for humanity, for "Free" on 1999). The alternate takes of the album's songs were less adventurous than the versions Prince chose for the album. But Prince on his most ordinary day was better than countless musicians at their best, and now that he's gone, being able to hear more Prince equals more pleasure. ...

[T]he American pop universe of the early 1980s was de facto segregated. Rock radio had declared war on disco, while the revelations of black culture were broadcast largely to African-American radio listeners. Prince's fusion of funk, rock, disco, new wave, synth-pop, gospel, jazz, soul, lust, community and joy faced barriers that shouldn't have stopped it, and soon could not. With 1999 those barriers fell; the album sold in the millions. ...

But commercial triumph wasn't the sole measure of 1999. Prince was expanding his musical ambitions, writing odd-angled melodies (like "Let's Pretend We're Married") and toying with ambiguous harmonies, as in "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)." ...

Prince was also finding new sounds: pushing his voice into multiple personalities, from sweet falsetto to punk snarl to preacherly exhortation, and deploying sounds from the latest synthesizers. He had one of the first drum machines, the Linn LM-1, which made it possible to program realistic sampled sounds quickly. (One reason 1999 sounds current is that many pop songs are still driven by brittle, metronomic drum-machine beats.) ...

The vault material reflects Prince's remarkable early 1980s multitasking, pouring out material not only for his own albums but also for groups he was producing: the Time and Vanity 6. He often wrote and recorded a song in a day. Crisp funk workouts like "Feel U Up" and "Rearrange," from the vault, could have easily ended up on a Time album, though Prince didn't treat them like demos. He finished the tracks with a flourish; "Rearrange" turns into a feedback-slinging lead guitar freakout. ...

Other songs put Prince's stamp on all sorts of idioms ... ["Turn It Up"] urges someone to "Work me like a radio" and "Come and play with my controls." (For Prince, every machine was a sex machine.) "Vagina" celebrates a character he meets who is "Half-boy, half-girl — the best of both worlds," while Prince makes two guitars and a bass — recorded one by one — sound like the Rolling Stones jamming in a dressing room. ...

Prince wrote himself a manifesto in a 1982 session. "Purple Music" ... is 10 minutes of motoric, minimalistic funk with a drum-machine beat, subtly scrubbing rhythm guitar, a bass part that goes from a few notes to busy little runs, and an ever-changing overlay of keyboards — chords, syncopated vamps, scurrying lines — that goes polytonal and nearly atonal.

Prince sings through the lyrics a few times; we'll never know, but perhaps at the time he thought he'd edit down the 10 minutes to the best takes. Apparently the song didn't strike him as right for 1999; it went into the vault. ...
Pareles's comment about Prince's 40-year-old drum machine patterns sounding more contemporary than last week's chart-topper is interesting. I distinctly remember being struck by the unique drum pattern that serves as "1999"'s foundation when I first heard the song in late 1982. There was absolutely nothing in pop music that sounded like that at the time. (Indeed, five years later, there was still nothing in pop music that sounded like what Prince was (or had been) doing. Prince took some inspiration from "Monday Monday", a 1966 hit for The Mamas & The Papas, for the main keyboard line, but it was his Linn LM-1, and that distinctive tumbling pattern, that made and instant impression. The often-complex drum pattern repeats through the entire song, verses, chorus, solos, breakdown, it never changes.

I love about two-thirds of 1999 — and it's the first two-thirds. Like Pareles, I'm not a big fan of "Free" and if I never heard the fourth side of the double album again, I wouldn't miss it. But side one — "1999", "Little Red Corvette", "Delirious" — is nothing short of fifteen minutes of pop perfection. The album opens with God speaking: "Don't worry. I won't hurt you. I only want you to have some fun." (The Almighty returns, about four minutes later, to offer some quick, subtle background vocals!) "1999" slides into "Corvette", and, again, the hypnotic drum pattern is effortless, with a stuttering, skitchy sound that I have always imagined was a sanding block.

There are outtakes with titles that have circulated for a while ("Yah, U Know", "Teacher, Teacher"), but these are earlier, different versions (though not radically different) of those songs.

Throughout this album, and throughout his most fertile period (for me, through 1988), Prince layered numerous vocal tracks, sometimes high, sometimes low, and the cameos of his sped-up voice in "Automatic" and "Irresistible Bitch" are the first evidence of what he would do much more extensively years later on Sign O The Times and the unreleased Camille album.

(Speaking of experimenting with voice manipulation, check out this short snippet of "Cosmic Day", an unreleased song recorded on November 15, 1986. The effort put into a song that apparently was not part of any album project or considered for another artist is remarkable. Just an idea and a day's work, apparently ... and on to the next thing. Prince recorded "Adore" and "Play In The Sunshine" before the week was out.)