Saturday, 28 November 2020

Fun with the Donald...

A recount in Wisconsin’s largest county demanded by President Donald Trump’s election campaign ended on Friday with the president-elect, Joe Biden, gaining votes.
After the recount in Milwaukee county, Biden made a net gain of 132 votes, out of nearly 460,000 cast. Overall, the Democrat gained 257 votes to Trump’s 125.


Thursday, 26 November 2020

Trumpism: a Dying Death Cult?

Making America Ill Again:

In his Thanksgiving proclamation, President Trump encouraged Americans to gather and give thanks.
'I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings,' he said in a statement.
Trump's urging Americans to gather for the holiday comes as daily deaths from COVID-19 in the United States have surpassed 2,100 for the first since May as millions of Americans continue to ignore CDC travel guidance and dire warnings from health experts that Thanksgiving could be the 'mother of all superspreader events'.

Daily Mail.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

On Masks, Boxcars and... erm... Transhumanism!

From Adrienne's corner:

Today the sight of the majority of people all masked up at the Dollar Store, Wallyworld, and Ace Hardware signaled to me that they would gladly climb into a boxcar if ordered to do so. Don't be those people!

That's right: in the crazy world of American anti-maskers, those actually willing to wear a mask (and thereby comply with the Gubmint's guidance on Covid masks) are to be compared with Holocaust Jews boarding the boxcars! A more disgusting 'analogy' has rarely been concocted...

Then we have a Far Right Catholic anti-mask/anti-lockdown nutjob by the name of Michael Matt cackling on about human guinea pigs and... transhumanism. Look up 'Davos'. , apparently:


Edit: Michael Matt has form in the 'transhumanism' issue (cough!)

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Ironically enough, it’s Rudy Giuliani who has ties to Venezuela

It is Giuliani — and not Biden — who has had a long-running, cozy relationship with the authoritarian system that has created the worst refugee crisis in our region’s recent history

Throughout his campaign and presidency, Donald Trump used the crisis in Venezuela for his own political ambitions fairly regularly — but the way his team is now using it to try to reverse an election is the most ironic development yet.

“You couldn’t possibly believe that the company owning this election machinery was an ally of Hugo Chavez, is an ally of Nicolas Maduro, and an ally of George Soros. What do we have to do to get you to the truth?” pondered Giuliani during yet another infamous press conference last week.

As an unidentified brown liquid dropped down his face, Giuliani added that votes in Michigan were “being counted in Germany, by a Venezuelan company. Owned by people who are allies of Maduro, and Chavez.”

Fellow lawyer Sidney Powell — who was announced as a member of the Trump team last week, then abandoned — doubled down, claiming to have evidence that “this came from Venezuela, from Nicolas Maduro, from Hugo Chavez, from Cuba, and from China which has significant interests in Venezuela.”

Powell added even more unlikely details to her story during a Newsmax interview, where she claimed Chavez got the voter technology from the CIA and bribed Georgia’s Republican governor Brian Kemp. This accusation apparently was too wild even for the Trump team, who tried pretending Powell was never a part of the presidential official legal team after the train-wreck interview.

Never mind that Chavez and subsequently Maduro have spent their time in power denouncing alleged CIA plots to overthrow them. No, according to Trump’s legal team, chavistas were working with one of their sworn enemies this whole time, all to defeat Trump.

The idea that Chavez, from the grave, somehow stole an election from Trump when Trump has been saying for years that only he can overthrow the Venezuelan regime is quite something in itself.

But it’s even more ironic when we look at the facts, because it is Giuliani who has had a long-running, cozy relationship with the authoritarian system that has created the worst refugee crisis the region has seen in recent history.

In fact, the disgraced former NYC mayor was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby for Chavez in 2007 when the strongman was still alive.

As was widely reported at the time, Giuliani’s law firm, Bracewell and Giuliani, was hired by the Hugo Chavez government to lobby on behalf of Citgo Petroleum Corp., the US subsidiary of Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela) — and Chavez’s biggest cash cow.

And Giuliani’s work with the regime didn’t stop there. In recent years, he has been a go-to lawyer for corrupt Venezuelans linked to chavismo and looking to escape international money-laundering charges or sanctions.

Giuliani has been helping those who defrauded Venezuela out — all while being the lawyer of the US president who has presented himself as “tough” on chavismo and Castro-communism.

He represented Alejandro Betancourt López in a Justice Department investigation into alleged money laundering in Florida. Betancourt Lopez is know as one of Venezuela’s “boli-burgueses,” those who became part of the country’s new bourgeoisie thanks to the “socialist” Bolivarian revolution.

Betancourt López was an uncharged co-conspirator in a case accusing several Venezuelan businesses, including Betancourt’s cousin, of stealing as much as $1.2 billion from PDVSA and laundering the funds through Florida real estate, as reported by the Washington Post.

He is well-known among Venezuelans as one of the biggest beneficieries of chavista corruption. His company, Derwick Associates, is alleged to have paid bribes to the regime to get contracts to build power plants. Of course, the nation’s electrical system is completely run-down today, and most Venezuelans live with interrupted service or none at all.

Giuliani argued, on Betancourt’s behalf, that the tycoon shouldn’t face criminal charges for laundering money in Florida.

And before doing so, Giuliani already had a relationship with Betancourt, having stayed at his estate in Madrid as Giuliani worked to get dirt on Ukrainian-linked corruption and Joe Biden, per Trump’s request.

Interestingly enough, Giuliani was even wearing chavista ally Betancourt’s Spain-based brand of eyeglasses, Hawkers, as he went on about a chavista conspiracy to rig the US election against Trump last week.

Things get even more odd: According to the AP’s Joshua Goodman, a former bodyguard of Hugo Chavez would be the witness in his case against Smartmatic.

In the lawsuit Giuliani presented in Georgia, an affidavit testifying against Smartmatic appears to be from Captain Leamsy Salazar. Salazar is an ex-Marine who worked security for Chavez and fled to the US after his death in, accusing the regime’s number two — Diosdado Cabello — of drug-trafficking as he did so.

In the affidavit, the witness claims to have been present when votes were rigged using Smartmatic machines during the Venezuelan presidential election of 2013. But claims of vote-rigging during these elections have been debunked by witnesses and experts. In fact, there is no proof of chavista vote-rigging in Venezuela until 2017, when Smartmatic itself rang the alarm that Maduro’s regime did manipulate about one million votes for the national constituency assembly elections.

Additionally, unlike Trump’s team has been claiming, Smartmatic does not own or even have any connection with Dominion Voting Systems, the more widely used system in US elections.

As Trump’s presidency crumbles in an embarrassing array of conspiracy theories and sketchy characters, he and Giuliani make a mockery of Venezuelan tragedy in the process. Unfortunately, many will now associate that tragedy with Trump’s grotesque attempt to stay in power no matter the cost, much like the chavistas he claims to so strongly oppose.


Saturday, 21 November 2020

Mad MAGA Men

Rage against the voting machines and floofy dresses on right-wing radio

THE MONDAY AFTER Joe Biden was projected as the winner of the 2020 presidential election was a dismal one for the right-wing talk show circuit. Rush Limbaugh, the venerated elder of the realm, sounded dejected. The president needed to appoint an “election czar,” he intoned repeatedly. Then he reminded viewers that the coming week was a “treatment week” for him. Not only had the election been lost, one of the most legendary conservative talk show hosts in the country was going to be out of commission as he coped with his advanced case of lung cancer.

The bad news kept coming. On The Dan Bongino Show, the host—a former NYPD officer and Secret Service agent—bellowed that the result should not be accepted by his listeners. More militant than Limbaugh, who was still interested in evidence that he hoped an election czar would produce, Bongino wanted to keep the Trump base riled up with his “No Surrender” tagline. On Monday, he outlined the “path to victory,” which depended in part on the Arizona count flipping the state for Trump. “We don’t owe the quitter caucus squat,” he said. There is nothing to concede. Donate to Trump’s campaign and legal funds, he urged. On Tuesday, Bongino made mention of his on his own cancer treatment. He needed to have a port installed in his neck for the administration of chemotherapy for his lymphoma; he would record the show prior to his early morning surgery anyway.

Together they set a macabre mood (with an uncomfortable smattering of Shakespearean symbolisms) for the first days of post-Trump talk shows. It was also surprising to hear how little of the Sturm und Drang material they had to activate the base. Perhaps my expectations had been overblown or perhaps the fact that I had never had the stomach to actually listen to either Bongino or Limbaugh erased the context that I needed to truly understand their individual forms of disseminating ire. Despite all of this, the relative reserve was startling. After all, Trump was broadcasting his victory in all caps from his official Twitter account and his talk-show trolls did not seem to be echoing the certainty he had won in quite such explicit terms.

Since those first days of devastated hopes, the lot of them have come up with a playlist for keeping things going when nothing is going right for you. Dan Bongino’s conspiracy of choice has been the theft of the election through technology. On the show that aired on Friday, November 13, Bongino tried to bolster the conspiracy theory around the foreign ownership of Dominion Voting Systems. Dominion had deleted 2.7 million votes nationwide, he alleged, 941,000 of which were erased altogether and 435,000 switched from Trump to Biden. It was a shot in the dark, but listeners clinging to hope for a second Trump presidency could take it and use it to affirm their belief the election had been stolen. They hadn’t lost; they had been cheated. That there was no credible source for the rumors of election fraud was, of course, entirely irrelevant.

The conservative talk show game is like the Trump presidency, an entertainment enterprise. It follows, then, that the single swansong of a “stolen” election can only be played once every hour. The other material that is being added to the mix is revealing to the extent that it shows how the four horsemen of the Trump base (I’m thinking Limbaugh, Bongino, Ben Shapiro, and Mark Levin) expect to keep their base simmering in rage for the long four years ahead.

It follows that beyond coddling the dying embers of widespread electoral fraud via machines or mysterious foreign servers or dead people voting, they’ve returned to the long tried and always true. Two weeks after the election Ben Shapiro turned to “the attack on masculinity” instead of the election, devoting nearly the whole show to Vogue magazine’s depiction of Harry Styles in a dress. “Anyone who pretends that it is not a referendum for men to don floofy dresses is treating you like a full-on idiot,” Shapiro tweeted angrily, going on to add that the whole point of the shoot was an effort by the left to “feminize masculinity.” On his podcast/radio show, Shapiro insisted that the shoot was a means to delegitimize the structure of American families and of men as providers for their families. The bruised egos of male Trump supporters left in the lurch after truck rallies and boat parades were thus petted and preened by the ennobling assurance that they remained the real men of America despite all of the left’s attempts (with Vogue magazine at the ramparts) to put them in dresses.

The same day Shapiro raved about dresses, radio host Mark Levin turned to talking about the American Revolution and the colonialists’ refusal to pay taxes to the British and their decision to sink the tea that the British wanted them to drink. The subsequently passed Coercive Acts, through which the British used to force payment for restitution for the sunk tea, had contemporary parallels. On November 12, Levin had intoned with solemnity that “we’ve mayors that are cancelling Thanksgiving” or that “you will not meet in your own homes in groups greater than ten” or “you will not go to church.” Trump (who later cancelled his own Thanksgiving trip to Mar-a-Lago) had fallen a few rungs in the lineup (he reappears as the show goes on), his place surrendered thus to the War on Thanksgiving. The media, that beloved fallback omnipresent enemy, Levin declared, had joined in with the tyrants. The right had capitulated too much; demands for hand washing and masks and social distancing were superfluous; the reprieve would not come from them but from “true” science. That “true” science was the science supported by Donald Trump.

Levin’s “Thanksgiving as resistance” and “mask-wearing as capitulation” are terribly dangerous prescriptions but not new ones. For the entire duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, these purveyors of right-wing talk show garbage have painted common-sense health regulations as a politically inflected denial of individual liberty. In the aftermath of a lost election whose actual overturning is at best improbable, throwing oneself in the path of Covid-19 is now an even more ennobled performance of resistance against the tyranny of newly elected leaders, even if it does mean dying oneself.

The cabal of talk show hosts that so unnervingly mesmerizes too many Americans is threading a thin line. They want to keep their listeners fuming and listening without, in literal terms, prescribing actual overthrow and violent rebellion. The latter would be bad for business, for the revenue streams attached to their shows. The post-election content repeats old rants: the left has a paramilitary wing (Black Lives Matter and Antifa); the left has wolfpacks (says Levin) that attack ordinary citizens; the left wants men to be feminized (says Shapiro); the left is waging a War on Thanksgiving (says Levin). All of this drivel is disseminated via the nouns and adjectives of an appropriated vocabulary of “evidence” and “facts” and “true” science and with vehement attestations that “(insert name of talk show host) is not actually a proponent of conspiracy theories.”

The incontinent blather of these men is the best proof of what some have long suspected. Trumpism has no substantive content; there is no ideology or even a particular policy agenda beyond the hodgepodge of sundry grievances. Valor, by this playbook, is the performative rebellion of “owning the libs,” even if that means dancing in one’s own excrement or courting a deadly virus. The riddle of the matter is why such a formless, limp and parasitic agenda appeals to over 73 million Americans. Rage is undoubtedly satisfying, its inherent ability to shift blame for one’s own condition onto someone, anyone else, is magnetic.

If the Democratic coalition wants to win again in four years, they may have to consider some directed dissections of this otherwise untouched realm of disinformation and decrepitude. The obvious antidotes, invocations of facts and figures and truth, have not worked. But orchestrated pressure campaigns against the sponsors of these #MAGA shows may do the job. In my ten long days of immersion in the distorted universe of #MAGA talk, I did learn that the one thing these men fear more than any electoral loss is the loss of the money that keeps them pouring hatred into the ears of their pissed off listeners. #MAGA is over; a new president has won; it is time that some chemotherapy was administered to the stubborn tumors still devoted to killing the good cells, the healthy cells, the cells we want to keep.

The Baffler.

Friday, 20 November 2020

Stick a fork in it

A brave post by an American Conservative ('silverfiddle')

The first clue President Trump's efforts to overturn the election were not serious was when he appointed stumblebum Rudy Giuliani to head up the effort. Everything that boob involves himself in is quickly reduced to a farcical shambles.

Stumblebum Ghouliani's bad hair dye

Rudy drools on himself in the courtroom and makes Biden look like the picture of youthful mental clarity, and judges all over the US are throwing out lawsuits left and right, but Team Trump continues to bang the drum on rightwing cable and talk radio. Is this a money grab of some kind, keeping the campaign going? I have my own suspicions...

They can yammer on all day about voting machines and mathematical algorithms, but until they bring the proof in a court of law, its all BS. It's time to pack up the circus tent, send Rudy off to rehab, and have the president deliver a gracious concession speech.

To my fellow Donald Trump voters, I urge you to turn it off, tune it out and drop the bullshitters from your life. Donald Trump did great things and showed the GOP how to win, but its time for him to go. And not return.

Disagree? Bring Evidence. Not Hannity blather, not talk radio talking points or news conference video. Evidence that can be presented to a judge in a court of law.

Source: AOW.

Biden wins (again!) in Georgia, Orange Moron don't concede no nuttin'...

US President-elect Joe Biden's victory in Georgia has been confirmed by a recount, as legal efforts by Donald Trump's allies to challenge his defeat were dismissed in three states.
The Democrat beat his Republican rival in Georgia by 12,284 votes, according to the audit required by state law.
Mr Biden said Mr Trump knew he was not going to win and had shown "incredible irresponsibility" by not conceding.
The Democrat is set to take office in January as the 46th US president.

Meanwhile some of the OM's followers continue to believe that Communist Aliens from Epsilion 5 are taking their children in the night with Death Rays., because it's written in a Far Right QAnon newsletter...

Sauce: BBC.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

The Unraveling of America

Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealized, promises of medical science.

In a single season, civilization has been brought low by a microscopic parasite 10,000 times smaller than a grain of salt. COVID-19 attacks our physical bodies, but also the cultural foundations of our lives, the toolbox of community and connectivity that is for the human what claws and teeth represent to the tiger.

Our interventions to date have largely focused on mitigating the rate of spread, flattening the curve of morbidity. There is no treatment at hand, and no certainty of a vaccine on the near horizon. The fastest vaccine ever developed was for mumps. It took four years. COVID-19 killed 100,000 Americans in four months. There is some evidence that natural infection may not imply immunity, leaving some to question how effective a vaccine will be, even assuming one can be found. And it must be safe. If the global population is to be immunized, lethal complications in just one person in a thousand would imply the death of millions.

Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history, and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed close to half of Europe’s population. A scarcity of labor led to increased wages. Rising expectations culminated in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, an inflection point that marked the beginning of the end of the feudal order that had dominated medieval Europe for a thousand years.

The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.

COVID’s historic significance lies not in what it implies for our daily lives. Change, after all, is the one constant when it comes to culture. All peoples in all places at all times are always dancing with new possibilities for life. As companies eliminate or downsize central offices, employees work from home, restaurants close, shopping malls shutter, streaming brings entertainment and sporting events into the home, and airline travel becomes ever more problematic and miserable, people will adapt, as we’ve always done. Fluidity of memory and a capacity to forget is perhaps the most haunting trait of our species. As history confirms, it allows us to come to terms with any degree of social, moral, or environmental degradation.

To be sure, financial uncertainty will cast a long shadow. Hovering over the global economy for some time will be the sober realization that all the money in the hands of all the nations on Earth will never be enough to offset the losses sustained when an entire world ceases to function, with workers and businesses everywhere facing a choice between economic and biological survival.

Unsettling as these transitions and circumstances will be, short of a complete economic collapse, none stands out as a turning point in history. But what surely does is the absolutely devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America.

In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.

For the first time, the international community felt compelled to send disaster relief to Washington. For more than two centuries, reported the Irish Times, “the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the U.S. until now: pity.” As American doctors and nurses eagerly awaited emergency airlifts of basic supplies from China, the hinge of history opened to the Asian century.

No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. Bled white and left bankrupt by the Great War, the British maintained a pretense of domination as late as 1935, when the empire reached its greatest geographical extent. By then, of course, the torch had long passed into the hands of America.

In 1940, with Europe already ablaze, the United States had a smaller army than either Portugal or Bulgaria. Within four years, 18 million men and women would serve in uniform, with millions more working double shifts in mines and factories that made America, as President Roosevelt promised, the arsenal of democracy.

When the Japanese within six weeks of Pearl Harbor took control of 90 percent of the world’s rubber supply, the U.S. dropped the speed limit to 35 mph to protect tires, and then, in three years, invented from scratch a synthetic-rubber industry that allowed Allied armies to roll over the Nazis. At its peak, Henry Ford’s Willow Run Plant produced a B-24 Liberator every two hours, around the clock. Shipyards in Long Beach and Sausalito spat out Liberty ships at a rate of two a day for four years; the record was a ship built in four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes. A single American factory, Chrysler’s Detroit Arsenal, built more tanks than the whole of the Third Reich.

In the wake of the war, with Europe and Japan in ashes, the United States with but 6 percent of the world’s population accounted for half of the global economy, including the production of 93 percent of all automobiles. Such economic dominance birthed a vibrant middle class, a trade union movement that allowed a single breadwinner with limited education to own a home and a car, support a family, and send his kids to good schools. It was not by any means a perfect world but affluence allowed for a truce between capital and labor, a reciprocity of opportunity in a time of rapid growth and declining income inequality, marked by high tax rates for the wealthy, who were by no means the only beneficiaries of a golden age of American capitalism.

But freedom and affluence came with a price. The United States, virtually a demilitarized nation on the eve of the Second World War, never stood down in the wake of victory. To this day, American troops are deployed in 150 countries. Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter recently noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” Since 2001, the U.S. has spent over $6 trillion on military operations and war, money that might have been invested in the infrastructure of home. China, meanwhile, built its nation, pouring more cement every three years than America did in the entire 20th century.

As America policed the world, the violence came home. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, the Allied death toll was 4,414; in 2019, domestic gun violence had killed that many American men and women by the end of April. By June of that year, guns in the hands of ordinary Americans had caused more casualties than the Allies suffered in Normandy in the first month of a campaign that consumed the military strength of five nations.

More than any other country, the United States in the post-war era lionized the individual at the expense of community and family. It was the sociological equivalent of splitting the atom. What was gained in terms of mobility and personal freedom came at the expense of common purpose. In wide swaths of America, the family as an institution lost its grounding. By the 1960s, 40 percent of marriages were ending in divorce. Only six percent of American homes had grandparents living beneath the same roof as grandchildren; elders were abandoned to retirement homes.

With slogans like “24/7” celebrating complete dedication to the workplace, men and women exhausted themselves in jobs that only reinforced their isolation from their families. The average American father spends less than 20 minutes a day in direct communication with his child. By the time a youth reaches 18, he or she will have spent fully two years watching television or staring at a laptop screen, contributing to an obesity epidemic that the Joint Chiefs have called a national security crisis.

Only half of Americans report having meaningful, face-to-face social interactions on a daily basis. The nation consumes two-thirds of the world’s production of antidepressant drugs. The collapse of the working-class family has been responsible in part for an opioid crisis that has displaced car accidents as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

At the root of this transformation and decline lies an ever-widening chasm between Americans who have and those who have little or nothing. Economic disparities exist in all nations, creating a tension that can be as disruptive as the inequities are unjust. In any number of settings, however, the negative forces tearing apart a society are mitigated or even muted if there are other elements that reinforce social solidarity — religious faith, the strength and comfort of family, the pride of tradition, fidelity to the land, a spirit of place.

But when all the old certainties are shown to be lies, when the promise of a good life for a working family is shattered as factories close and corporate leaders, growing wealthier by the day, ship jobs abroad, the social contract is irrevocably broken. For two generations, America has celebrated globalization with iconic intensity, when, as any working man or woman can see, it’s nothing more than capital on the prowl in search of ever cheaper sources of labor.

For many years, those on the conservative right in the United States have invoked a nostalgia for the 1950s, and an America that never was, but has to be presumed to have existed to rationalize their sense of loss and abandonment, their fear of change, their bitter resentments and lingering contempt for the social movements of the 1960s, a time of new aspirations for women, gays, and people of color. In truth, at least in economic terms, the country of the 1950s resembled Denmark as much as the America of today. Marginal tax rates for the wealthy were 90 percent. The salaries of CEOs were, on average, just 20 times that of their mid-management employees.

Today, the base pay of those at the top is commonly 400 times that of their salaried staff, with many earning orders of magnitude more in stock options and perks. The elite one percent of Americans control $30 trillion of assets, while the bottom half have more debt than assets. The three richest Americans have more money than the poorest 160 million of their countrymen. Fully a fifth of American households have zero or negative net worth, a figure that rises to 37 percent for black families. The median wealth of black households is a tenth that of whites. The vast majority of Americans — white, black, and brown — are two paychecks removed from bankruptcy. Though living in a nation that celebrates itself as the wealthiest in history, most Americans live on a high wire, with no safety net to brace a fall.

With the COVID crisis, 40 million Americans lost their jobs, and 3.3 million businesses shut down, including 41 percent of all black-owned enterprises. Black Americans, who significantly outnumber whites in federal prisons despite being but 13 percent of the population, are suffering shockingly high rates of morbidity and mortality, dying at nearly three times the rate of white Americans. The cardinal rule of American social policy — don’t let any ethnic group get below the blacks, or allow anyone to suffer more indignities — rang true even in a pandemic, as if the virus was taking its cues from American history.

COVID-19 didn’t lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken. As the crisis unfolded, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease. The nation that defeated smallpox and polio, and led the world for generations in medical innovation and discovery, was reduced to a laughing stock as a buffoon of a president advocated the use of household disinfectants as a treatment for a disease that intellectually he could not begin to understand.

As a number of countries moved expeditiously to contain the virus, the United States stumbled along in denial, as if willfully blind. With less than four percent of the global population, the U.S. soon accounted for more than a fifth of COVID deaths. The percentage of American victims of the disease who died was six times the global average. Achieving the world’s highest rate of morbidity and mortality provoked not shame, but only further lies, scapegoating, and boasts of miracle cures as dubious as the claims of a carnival barker, a grifter on the make.

As the United States responded to the crisis like a corrupt tin pot dictatorship, the actual tin pot dictators of the world took the opportunity to seize the high ground, relishing a rare sense of moral superiority, especially in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The autocratic leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, chastised America for “maliciously violating ordinary citizens’ rights.” North Korean newspapers objected to “police brutality” in America. Quoted in the Iranian press, Ayatollah Khamenei gloated, “America has begun the process of its own destruction.”

Trump’s performance and America’s crisis deflected attention from China’s own mishandling of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, not to mention its move to crush democracy in Hong Kong. When an American official raised the issue of human rights on Twitter, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, invoking the killing of George Floyd, responded with one short phrase, “I can’t breathe.”

These politically motivated remarks may be easy to dismiss. But Americans have not done themselves any favors. Their political process made possible the ascendancy to the highest office in the land a national disgrace, a demagogue as morally and ethically compromised as a person can be. As a British writer quipped, “there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid”.

The American president lives to cultivate resentments, demonize his opponents, validate hatred. His main tool of governance is the lie; as of July 9th, 2020, the documented tally of his distortions and false statements numbered 20,055. If America’s first president, George Washington, famously could not tell a lie, the current one can’t recognize the truth. Inverting the words and sentiments of Abraham Lincoln, this dark troll of a man celebrates malice for all, and charity for none.

Odious as he may be, Trump is less the cause of America’s decline than a product of its descent. As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country. The republic that defined the free flow of information as the life blood of democracy, today ranks 45th among nations when it comes to press freedom. In a land that once welcomed the huddled masses of the world, more people today favor building a wall along the southern border than supporting health care and protection for the undocumented mothers and children arriving in desperation at its doors. In a complete abandonment of the collective good, U.S. laws define freedom as an individual’s inalienable right to own a personal arsenal of weaponry, a natural entitlement that trumps even the safety of children; in the past decade alone 346 American students and teachers have been shot on school grounds.

The American cult of the individual denies not just community but the very idea of society. No one owes anything to anyone. All must be prepared to fight for everything: education, shelter, food, medical care. What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights — universal health care, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly, and infirmed — America dismisses as socialist indulgences, as if so many signs of weakness.

How can the rest of the world expect America to lead on global threats — climate change, the extinction crisis, pandemics — when the country no longer has a sense of benign purpose, or collective well-being, even within its own national community? Flag-wrapped patriotism is no substitute for compassion; anger and hostility no match for love. Those who flock to beaches, bars, and political rallies, putting their fellow citizens at risk, are not exercising freedom; they are displaying, as one commentator has noted, the weakness of a people who lack both the stoicism to endure the pandemic and the fortitude to defeat it. Leading their charge is Donald Trump, a bone spur warrior, a liar and a fraud, a grotesque caricature of a strong man, with the backbone of a bully.

Over the last months, a quip has circulated on the internet suggesting that to live in Canada today is like owning an apartment above a meth lab. Canada is no perfect place, but it has handled the COVID crisis well, notably in British Columbia, where I live. Vancouver is just three hours by road north of Seattle, where the U.S. outbreak began. Half of Vancouver’s population is Asian, and typically dozens of flights arrive each day from China and East Asia. Logically, it should have been hit very hard, but the health care system performed exceedingly well. Throughout the crisis, testing rates across Canada have been consistently five times that of the U.S. On a per capita basis, Canada has suffered half the morbidity and mortality. For every person who has died in British Columbia, 44 have perished in Massachusetts, a state with a comparable population that has reported more COVID cases than all of Canada. As of July 30th, even as rates of COVID infection and death soared across much of the United States, with 59,629 new cases reported on that day alone, hospitals in British Columbia registered a total of just five COVID patients.

When American friends ask for an explanation, I encourage them to reflect on the last time they bought groceries at their neighborhood Safeway. In the U.S. there is almost always a racial, economic, cultural, and educational chasm between the consumer and the check-out staff that is difficult if not impossible to bridge. In Canada, the experience is quite different. One interacts if not as peers, certainly as members of a wider community. The reason for this is very simple. The checkout person may not share your level of affluence, but they know that you know that they are getting a living wage because of the unions. And they know that you know that their kids and yours most probably go to the same neighborhood public school. Third, and most essential, they know that you know that if their children get sick, they will get exactly the same level of medical care not only of your children but of those of the prime minister. These three strands woven together become the fabric of Canadian social democracy.

Asked what he thought of Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi famously replied, “I think that would be a good idea.” Such a remark may seem cruel, but it accurately reflects the view of America today as seen from the perspective of any modern social democracy. Canada performed well during the COVID crisis because of our social contract, the bonds of community, the trust for each other and our institutions, our health care system in particular, with hospitals that cater to the medical needs of the collective, not the individual, and certainly not the private investor who views every hospital bed as if a rental property. The measure of wealth in a civilized nation is not the currency accumulated by the lucky few, but rather the strength and resonance of social relations and the bonds of reciprocity that connect all people in common purpose.

This has nothing to do with political ideology, and everything to do with the quality of life. Finns live longer and are less likely to die in childhood or in giving birth than Americans. Danes earn roughly the same after-tax income as Americans, while working 20 percent less. They pay in taxes an extra 19 cents for every dollar earned. But in return they get free health care, free education from pre-school through university, and the opportunity to prosper in a thriving free-market economy with dramatically lower levels of poverty, homelessness, crime, and inequality. The average worker is paid better, treated more respectfully, and rewarded with life insurance, pension plans, maternity leave, and six weeks of paid vacation a year. All of these benefits only inspire Danes to work harder, with fully 80 percent of men and women aged 16 to 64 engaged in the labor force, a figure far higher than that of the United States.

American politicians dismiss the Scandinavian model as creeping socialism, communism lite, something that would never work in the United States. In truth, social democracies are successful precisely because they foment dynamic capitalist economies that just happen to benefit every tier of society. That social democracy will never take hold in the United States may well be true, but, if so, it is a stunning indictment, and just what Oscar Wilde had in mind when he quipped that the United States was the only country to go from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization.

Evidence of such terminal decadence is the choice that so many Americans made in 2016 to prioritize their personal indignations, placing their own resentments above any concerns for the fate of the country and the world, as they rushed to elect a man whose only credential for the job was his willingness to give voice to their hatreds, validate their anger, and target their enemies, real or imagined. One shudders to think of what it will mean to the world if Americans in November, knowing all that they do, elect to keep such a man in political power. But even should Trump be resoundingly defeated, it’s not at all clear that such a profoundly polarized nation will be able to find a way forward. For better or for worse, America has had its time.

The end of the American era and the passing of the torch to Asia is no occasion for celebration, no time to gloat. In a moment of international peril, when humanity might well have entered a dark age beyond all conceivable horrors, the industrial might of the United States, together with the blood of ordinary Russian soldiers, literally saved the world. American ideals, as celebrated by Madison and Monroe, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy, at one time inspired and gave hope to millions.

If and when the Chinese are ascendant, with their concentration camps for the Uighurs, the ruthless reach of their military, their 200 million surveillance cameras watching every move and gesture of their people, we will surely long for the best years of the American century. For the moment, we have only the kleptocracy of Donald Trump. Between praising the Chinese for their treatment of the Uighurs, describing their internment and torture as “exactly the right thing to do,” and his dispensing of medical advice concerning the therapeutic use of chemical disinfectants, Trump blithely remarked, “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” He had in mind, of course, the coronavirus, but, as others have said, he might just as well have been referring to the American dream.

Source: Rolling Stone.

Friday, 13 November 2020

Trial 4: Trial and Error, Corruption in Boston (NETFLIX)

Sean Ellis was 19 years old when he was arrested for killing a police officer in Boston. Decades later, he prepares for his fourth trial in Netflix’s Trial 4

Sean Ellis was 19 when he was arrested by Boston police over the killing of an officer in October 1993. Head down and nearly collapsing, barely keeping pace with police, Ellis wore his best suit as officers dragged him into custody – he had just attended the funeral of Celine Kirk and Tracy Brown, his cousins, who had been murdered by Celine’s ex-boyfriend in Ellis’s neighborhood of Dorchester. Ellis had spoken voluntarily to police about his cousins, with whom he was close; days later, he was on trial over the murder of a crooked cop as he slept in his car in a Walgreens parking lot.

Ellis again wore a suit in 2015, as Massachusetts’s highest court upheld a ruling granting Ellis a new trial, his fourth for the same allegation. The years in between, covered generously by the eight-part Netflix series Trial 4, held: two mistrials by hung juries, one guilty verdict based on evidence secured by officers later convicted of corruption, and 21 years, seven months, and 29 days of incarceration for a crime Ellis always maintained he didn’t commit.

The case against Ellis and his friend Terry Patterson over the murder of Detective John Mulligan, 52, was always thin: circumstantial eyewitnesses who didn’t testify in the third trial; the fact that Ellis, by his own admission, bought some diapers from the Walgreens where Mulligan was working detail the night of the murder; Mulligan’s stolen gun found near Ellis’s house by detectives later convicted separately for corruption. Stacking the deck against Ellis, as Trial 4 explains over the first half of its sprawling eight-hour runtime and quarter-of-a-century sweep, was the intense pressure on Boston police to solve Mulligan’s murder, a tradition of the mostly white police force tidying up cases with poor, black suspects, and widespread police malpractice.

The case against Ellis was swift in its condemnation of a black man with circumstantial evidence, but heavily freighted – a deep portal into the fraught law enforcement context specific to Boston, a city notoriously unwelcome to black residents, and an American criminal justice system weighted against defendants like Ellis. “Going into this, we were thinking: did he get a fair trial or not?” director Rémy Burkel told the Guardian. The answer, uncoiled and reiterated over an ambitiously diffuse eight hours, was a resounding no. The series, from The Staircase executive producer Jean-Xavier Lestrade, shows “as fairly as possible what happened in Sean Ellis’s case”, said Burkel – a miscarriage of justice that’s “happening in thousands of other cases”.

It’s clear after the initial episode, which includes interviews with former officers, police commissioners, longtime Boston reporters, and Ellis’s lawyers, that there was potential motive for any number of people not named Sean Ellis to kill Mulligan. Mulligan had one of the highest arrest records on the force, and was known casually as “plain view” – as in, the terminology on records (drugs and weapons “in plain view”) Mulligan used liberally to secure arrests without a warrant. In the wake of the killing on 26 September 1993, Boston police appointed a 65-member commission to find Mulligan’s killer, with leads that never factored in Ellis until he spoke to police about his cousins’ murder.

Trial 4, by contrast, takes little interest in the mystery of who killed Mulligan; the central mystery is justice gone too predictably awry. The first few episodes detail the context and systemic racism which snagged Ellis in the Boston of the early 90s: a city still reeling from the white backlash to attempts to desegregate schools by bussing in the 1970s, and a police force hobbled by basic errors. As outlined in a 1991 Boston Globe investigation called Bungling the Basics, Boston police routinely mishandled crime scenes, collected scant evidence, and relied too heavily on eyewitness testimony.

The middle section details Ellis’s first through third trials, which were riddled with flimsy evidence obtained through questionable methods. (Two of the detectives who investigated Ellis, Kenneth Acerra and Walter Robinson, later pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, and a third, John Brazil, was given immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony). The final third follows Ellis and his longtime lawyer, Rosemary Scapicchio – dogged and unflappable, with conviction as bright as her Guy Fieri hair – as they secure a retrial and prepare for a fourth trial amid calls to reform the Suffolk county district attorney’s office more in line with the black and brown residents it frequently prosecutes.

As Ellis and Scappicchio prepare for a fourth trial by seeking evidence – withheld by the DA’s office – on potential eyewitness payments by the Boston police, Trial 4 covers the election of Rachael Rollins, a black woman who campaigned on criminal justice reform, as Suffolk county DA. “District attorneys are elected officials,” said Burkel. “If their office doesn’t get a certain amount of convictions, then you’re not re-elected. That in itself is a problem.” The footage of the campaign trail, which pitted incumbent DA Daniel Conley’s protege, backed by the police union, against several reform candidates, doubled as a public service announcement, said Burkel. “If your local DA is up for election, really choose your candidate and vote,” he said. “Get out there and vote, because you do have a voice.”

Like fellow Netflix docuseries How to Fix a Drug Scandal and The Innocence Files, Trial 4 plunges deep into the frustrating, arcane justice system in the US, with a running length that reflects the tortuous protraction of attempts to overturn a wrongful conviction. How to Fix a Drug Scandal, which also focuses on Massachusetts, details how pressure to prosecute drug cases led to misconduct in the underfunded, over-burdened state drug labs, exposing a system generally more keen to save face than fairly re-process the many lives derailed by overzealous and potentially faulty narcotics convictions. The Innocence Files delineates cases of wrongful convictions righted by the Innocence Project by common pitfalls of the American justice system that frequently land innocent people behind bars: flimsy forensics, prosecutorial misconduct, and over-reliance on eyewitness testimony – all of which were used to convict Ellis in 1995.

Ellis with Rosemay Scapicchio

The common refrain, when watching each series in isolation, is that the American justice system is “broken” and in need of repair; Burkel himself said Ellis’s story “shows that the system is broken and it needs fixing”. But taken together, as crime series which refigure the dysfunction of American justice as the central mystery, the US criminal justice seems less broken than inequitable and interminable by design: streamlined convictions of black and brown citizens, incentivized competition and convictions over fairness, and odds stacked against defendants.

Spoiler alert, although it is public information: in December 2018, just two weeks before Rollins was set to take office, acting district attorney John Pappas dropped all charges against Ellis in a last-minute press conference, citing weak evidence. The long exhale for Ellis was welcome but bittersweet; though the weight of prosecution was lifted, Pappas still deemed Ellis “culpable” in Mulligan’s murder. Ellis “wasn’t able to go to a courtroom to prove his innocence and exonerate himself”, said Burkel. Instead, the series “is kind of his fourth trial”.

The parting message, said Burkel, is that “people should be accountable – why aren’t district attorneys more accountable, and why aren’t police more accountable?” Public appetite for change on this is “evolving”, he said, pointing both to the surge in Black Lives Matter activism this summer and the platform that got Rollins elected as Suffolk county district attorney. One might assume accountability as the bedrock of any murder trial, or a criminal justice system; for Ellis, throughout Trial 4, it’s nothing but hard-won.

Source: Grauniad.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Fahrenheit 11/9

Apart from the Trump Administration, the documentary delves into some events that Moore believes are connected to or inspired by Trump, such as the 2014 Flint water crisis orchestrated by an appointee of Governor of Michigan Rick Snyder, who changed the source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, leading to toxic levels of lead in the water, and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, which resulted in the March for Our Lives protest across the United States, calling for gun control measures and criticizing politicians who receive campaign donations from the National Rifle Association. He also criticizes Barack Obama's visit to Flint for not living up to the expectations of the people of Flint who expected to receive federal help after the visit.
Moore also compares Trump's rise to power to that of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, parallels the Reichstag fire with the September 11 attacks, compares Hitler's hate speeches against different ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations to some of Trump's comments, and showcases recent instances of unprovoked racial violence allegedly inspired by Trump. He concludes that the United States Constitution no longer protects the people from the wealthy and powerful, and the American Dream is now nothing more than a mere dream. He cites his previous documentaries Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Capitalism: A Love Story which also highlighted unpunished social and political injustices. He says that after the likes of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the country needed to see a president like Trump in order to wake up to the reality of what he believes the United States of America has truly become: a country not worth saving, but starting anew.
Source: Wiki.

Saturday, 7 November 2020

You're Fired!

Now please Mr Trump: concede and prepare for an orderly transition.