Monday, January 23, 2017

Four Days in the Life of a Nude Emperor

Photo credit Haaretz
Day 1: Steve Bannon wakes me up.  It looks like he just came from bed, but there's also a faint whiff of smoke.  "Steve," I say, grumpily, "can you at least do me the favor of getting dressed before you come in here.  I don't know what those Obamas did, but I don't want people walking around in the presidential suite still in their bedsheets."  

Steve informs me that the fresh fox pelt that is imported daily from Scotland was giving off a real odor, like something you'd smell in an inner city.  Those Scots!  Trying to spoil the greatest presidency known to man just because I turf them off their property!  Fortunately, I keep a refrigerated vault of spare pelts, and I give the combination to Bannon.  He brings it back, and he and Kellyanne put it in place on my head.
Ivana and I ride to the White House.  She looks unhappy with me, maybe because I slipped up and called her Marla last night.  I dash out of the vehicle and up the steps, eager to get the keys to the building before that uppity Obama and his wife decide they're not turning them over.  I'm later told that this left Melania (is that her name, then?) looking a bit lost as she came up the steps behind me.  But I'm president, not her, so I don't see why that matters.
There's a photo op, and then we're off to my coronation at the capital.  I'm a little pissed because when I asked Vlad what makes for a good ceremony he said you absolutely can't have a top notch power grab without missile launchers and tanks.  The guys in uniform said no.  I'll play their little game for now, but boy do they have it coming.  'No' isn't a word they'll get away with using around me.
I give a speech to remind people that basically their job is to obey me and stay out of the way, and buy American.  Mike the Fence, or whatever his face is told me that the media will give me grief because my clothes--and they are seriously the best clothes you've ever worn, or would have worn if you could afford them, which you probably can't, because they are only for quality people, and when I look at you, I have my doubts--are made in China.  I tell Mike that I've heard about enough from him for the week, and that the media's days are numbered.  Except for Breitbart.  And maybe some of the gals over at FOX if they just keep quiet and look nice.  Maybe I can arrange a tour of their changing room.  Job’s gotta come with some perks, right?
I've gotta go with the Obamas to see them off in a helicopter.  Vlad told me that I should get the CIA to shoot it down while it's flying away, but I told him that I'm content with letting those low class people go back to whatever flaming urban squalor they came from.
After the celebrations I come back to the White House, and look at the oval office.  Someone left a scrap of paper on the desk...gotta remember to fire those cleaners, probably damn illegals!  I chuck it in the wastebin and look around for the best place to keep the urn.  Sometimes it gets a little challenging carrying around my ego, so I like to set it in a gold-plated urn once in a while, just sit back and stare at it.  
I told the bag carrier that he can leave the stupid codes--probably some stuck up liberal professor came up with codes, or a 400-pound computer geek who would be better off hacking Hillary--and put my ego in the bag instead.  He had the nerve--imagine that, speaking to the biggest, the best, the most genius person out there--to tell me that it wouldn't fit.  So I told him to get a fricking litter with elephants and dancing women and all that jazz, and put it on that, and find a few friends--not like he could find a friend, unlike me, I’ve got the greatest...Ben Carson, Newt Gingrich, really classy people--to help him carry it behind me.
Day 2: Kellyanne woke me up with bad news.  Apparently the mainstream media--what a bunch of lousy liars and cheats they are--is reporting that more people went to Obama's inauguration, and even that loser Bush's ceremony--than came to mine.  
Now even someone who's a little slow like you knows that can't be true.  I get the best ratings.  They're huge, just truly enormous and spectacular, just like my hands.  But these media people, they're such huge losers, just really bad, bad, BAD people.  I'm fuming.  I'm telling you, I'm upset.  
I call up Vlad and see what he suggests.  I hear Rinse or whatever his name is interject from the other line, "No, Vlad, we can't just send them to Guantanamo...there are Muslims down there, we don't mix them.  No, Vlad, I don't think the CIA would do that for us.  No, Vlad, I don't think the FBI would let your guys do that either.  Okay, Vlad, thanks.  We'll get back to you.  A few months and maybe we can pursue some of that.  Thanks."  "Thanks, Vlad," I yowl down the line.
"Jerk!" I think to myself.  I didn't know they made the bugs that small.
Kellyanne and this Spicer guy get out in front of this and explain that CNN faked the shot and that there were more people there than at all of the previous inaugurations combined.  They call those media people out on their so-called facts.  "Hey!" I whisper from behind the curtain in the briefing room, "Tell 'em we have alternative facts!  Ours are better!  They're the best, just really top quality!  Nobody in the history of the world has seen facts as big and beautiful as ours.  They’ll go very well with the wall."
Day 3: It starts out with more bad news.  I request that Steve and Kellyanne don't give me any more of that.  Seems like a bunch of women were out marching around yesterday.  God knows what they want.  I love women.  I'm so good to women it would make you squirm and be uncomfortable.  If you knew how much I loved and respected and treated women great none of this would happen and everyone would love me.  I could get approval ratings like Vlad.  But instead these politically correct journalists and activists--so violent those activists are, just really, really nasty people!--have to go and mess with the American people.
I flush the toilet.  "Donald," I hear Vlad say, and jump up so fast I hit my knee on the urn I carried in with me.  "Damn it, Vlad!"  "Donald, calm down.  Don't let them get to you.  Soon enough you'll have your revenge.  You and I will get back at these so-called tolerant, liberal-minded, politically correct, dengerate people.  And then we can ride bare-chested across the tundra, maybe on the back of a tiger.  Would you like that, Donald?"
I'm not much for cold, and I don't know about tigers, but if I don't sound happy, I'm afraid of what Vlad will do.  "Yeah, Vlad," I say as loudly and brashly as I can, "that will be great!  Tigers!  Boy, those are swell!  Might have had some of those in one of my hotels once.  Great hotel.  Really, truly, the best.  Are we gonna put one of those up in Red Square, or what?  Your FSP people, they're really gonna love it!  Lots of gold, lots of warmth, lots of rooms they can bug.  Ha, ha, ha!"
I get an intelligence briefing later.  The 'intelligence' officials--let's face it, I've got a way better mind than these bozos, the very best, actually, product of excellent genetics and the Wharton School of Business, which makes Harvard look like some kind of special school--were all wearing sunglasses.
"What is this?" I snarl.  "I thought they only did that in Hollywood.  Don't I get to see their faces?"  Granted, I've got a way better face than they do, so I can understand why they've been intimidated.  Just the other day someone told me I looked like a guy called Benito Mussolini, a famous Italian supermodel.
"No, sir," whispers an aide.  "They've apparently been warned by their superiors that prolonged visual contact with your tan could cause eye cancer."  "Eye cancer?!" I explode.  "Is that a thing?  I think the CIA just made that up to eff with me!  Hell, how do we know cancer is real?  Mike the Fence told me that smoking doesn't cause cancer.  He seems like a bright kinda fellow, although clearly not in my league, not even close, probably three or four hundred IQ points behind me."
Day 4: Little Marco caved.  Beautiful way to start a Monday.  I always knew he would.  The little sweaty squirt was giving me a hard time about Rex.  Rex is rich, he's an oilman, he's going to go around the world and take oil from all the people who owe us, like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Vuvuzuela, and Scotland.  Oh, Scotland, you could have saved yourself if you didn't send me the rotting fox pelt.  
I call Kellyanne and Steve and Rinse and Mike the Fence (who I tell to sit in the back row).  I lean on my ego and ask, "Can we get cracking now?  When can we start the Muslim round-ups and throw those Mexicans out?  And I feel like we should've bombed someone by now.  Can we make the Mexicans and Muslims build the wall on their way out?  Hadn't Bush bombed someone by now?  I really feel like I need to flex my missiles.  People have been saying things about my hands, and as you know, I have the best hands.  The perfect size, shape, length...I've built beautiful things with these hands.  A university, way better than Harvard and Yale and all those places, they’re so overrated, almost as bad as Meryl Streep.  The greatest hotels.  Just spectacular buildings.  Magnificent stuff.  And I don't want people to think they can just mock America's first hands without getting bombed."
Steve says we've gotta wait.  He says a guy called Adolf gives us a good example of how you need to treat people with a carrot, make them think you’re giving them something before you unload the stick on 'em.  I don't know who Adolf is, but it sounds reasonable.  And if something sounds reasonable to me, you can bet that it is...I've got the greatest mind, just beautiful, tremendously creative, massively intelligent.  
I start to ask if this means we should have waited before shafting people by starting to kill Obamacare, but Mike the Fence pipes up and asks if we can send gays to reeducation camps, and I tell him to speak when he's spoken to.  Kellyanne hands me something to sign.  "What's this?" I ask.  
"Papers to kill the TPP."  "TPP...TPP..." I muse.  "Is that like Al Qaeda?  Is that what Osama's calling himself these days?"  "It's a trade deal, sir."  "Where do we stand on trade?" I ask.  
Steve says trade makes our people feel insecure, like if someone had said they had small hands.  "Well," I say, "in that case, let's kill this sucker."  
I head off to get some alone time, just me and the four guys carrying my ego behind me.  I comb the fox pelt in the mirror, and suddenly it says, "Nice job, Donald.  Soon, you'll have a week behind you.  Then we can really do great things together."  

"Vlad!" I yelp, "Stop doing that!"  They can put those bugs anywhere.  

For those with preexisting conditions such as a humor deficiency, I am not Donald Trump and I do not claim to know the internal monologue that develops beneath the fox pelt.

Friday, January 6, 2017

How Iraq Brought us 2017

The new year opens with a fascist poised to seize the helm of the American government, allegedly aided in his savage ascent by Russian intelligence agencies.  International terrorists threaten to redraw the map of the Middle East, and their menace to regional security has bolstered the standing of terroristic dictatorships, aided by a nihilistic Kremlin.  Turkey, the region’s most significant power, is lurching into fundamentalist authoritarianism.
Europe’s welfare states, the answer to a half century of bloodshed, reel under political and economic burdens, while crypto-fascists snap at the heels of their social democratic guardians.  The continent’s experiment in pan-Europeanism has been wounded, perhaps mortally, by the intertwinement of its elites with transnational financial interests and the British exit.
The best case scenario will see a much more dangerous, unstable, and unequal world.  In the worst case, we may be coming over a horizon to witness the final unravelling of the post-war innovations in social democracy, internationalism, and supra-nationalism, if not of the two-hundred year experiment in democracy that most of the world has taken for granted would continue to flourish.
There are clearly many factors--long- and short-term--that can explain these sinister developments.  But the speed of the global disintegration has been shocking, and I would argue that if we wanted to identify a single moment that ricocheted through the last thirteen years, inflicting damage on the fibre of individual nations, international norms, and the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, the 2003 invasion of Iraq is the best place to start.
For those who have forgotten, for reasons we still do not entirely understand, in 2003 the Bush administration, with broad bipartisan support, launched a stunningly violent and insensible invasion of a country that posed no discernible threat to U.S. interests.  The United States’ campaign of “shock and awe” and the subsequent occupation killed tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and dismantled the country’s physical infrastructure and civic institutions, the only things standing between the colonial creation of a nation and the civil war which broke out and remains unresolved.
It is difficult to know where to begin in measuring the effects of a war that was illegal, immoral, and ill-conceived, launched in defiance of international law and institutions, and in spite of warnings from intelligence agencies that the conflict would lead to the proliferation of international terrorism and the unravelling of the Middle East.
In the United States, the smear campaigns of the Bush administration cowed most Democrats and media into jumping onto the warmongers’ bandwagon.  Even the knowledge that the war was fought based on a set of calculated lies and distortions offered by the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary of State, and the intelligence agencies did not lead to a reckoning in the opposition.  The best that Democrats could manage as a collective entity was an admission that the war was poorly managed.  This failure to come to terms with the scale of the disaster they helped to unleash was, of course, due to the fact that their nominee in 2004 supported the war, and had his campaign torpedoed more effectively by his own “I was for it before I was against it” mumbling than anything the lying swiftboaters could launch his way.
Things did not improve in the next four years, because the heir apparent to the party’s leadership had not only supported the war, but was refashioning herself as a bloodthirsty neo-con, the better to compete with the Republican Party.
As Iraq was driven into civil war by the American occupation and the Al Qaeda fighters it drew to the country, the American body count grew and the popularity of what had been sold as a feel-good war began to wane.  
Americans backed away from the embrace of the leading Democratic neo-con, and pirouetted away from a Republican candidate who improvised war ditties at his rallies and seemed positively senile when fumbling about a dangerous financial crisis.
The public turned to Barack Obama, who represented both opposition to the war in Iraq, but also basic competence.  What they did not realize is that the debt-financing of a then nearly six-year-old and incredibly expensive war was partly responsible both for the financial crisis and the state’s difficulty in responding.
Instead of questioning the fundamental logic of the War of Terror, Barack Obama decided to wage it in secret, shielding the public from its immediate consequences.  His lethal campaign of terror from the air nonetheless inflicting stunning damage on lives, property, and the national fabric of societies on the receiving end of his bombs.  The secrecy of the conflict also necessitated the massive expansion of an already over-mighty security state, which increasingly bridled at the messy notion of legislative oversight, and launched a cold war against the democratic entities that sought to shed light on its machinations and alert the public to its serial abuses.  
We felt the long-term consequences of growing mistrust in the security state when in 2016 Donald Trump disingenuously deflected accusations of Russian meddling in an American election by invoking Iraq.
The government’s inability to avert a financial crisis, the effects of austerity, a culture of impunity shielding both financial and national security elites, at both the moment of crisis and in its decade-long aftermath, created an atmosphere of distrust in public federal institutions.
A Republican Party utterly discredited by its role in unleashing war in Iraq and financial chaos in the U.S. identified an opportunity in this climate, and launched a second war, this time a guerrilla conflict from within to sabotage and undermine the state and its capacity to protect its citizens.  Their core lies--that public institutions are fundamentally corrupt and that “government” doesn’t work--were built on specks of truth created by their own dangerous and authoritarian instincts in government.  An unheralded but long-term consequences of their guerrilla war is the inability of the U.S. to satisfactorily address the growing threat from climate change.
And their campaign to bring down the Obama administration by bringing the work of the state to a grinding halt and bringing their lies to life bear significant responsibility for the rise of Donald Trump.  The arrogance of a blinkered Democratic Party also shares some responsibility as the party, in its infinite wisdom, nominated a candidate proven to be badly compromised by her support for the war in Iraq.
While her supporters defended Clinton’s Iraq vote as an aberration, a google search of her public record in the senate and State Department easily proved that her support for destabilizing, violent, and senseless conflict, and for authoritarian regimes that provoked often-dangerous insurgencies was a fundamental part of her international outlook.
Trump’s repudiation of internationalism and its institutions might be particularly virulent and mindless, but he was only building on the work begun by the Bush Administration when it launched a campaign to smear the United Nations and accords banning torture and other war crimes, and continued by Clinton and others from within the Obama Administration as they sold a lawless doctrine of American exceptionalism.
As predicted, the Iraq war proved the boon to Al Qaeda and its ilk that 9/11 never was.  International terrorism spread to Iraq, Syria, Libya, and beyond, laying the groundwork for the rise of ISIS years later, and inviting the U.S. to launch superficially “clean” wars like that in Libya, which instead expanded chaos, boosted fundamentalism, and created new links between previously local terrorist organizations.
American lawlessness in its war making also offered a predictable “out” to Russia’s authoritarian leader, who answered criticisms of his expansions into the caucasus, Ukraine, and Syria, with an innocent shrug and a “they did it first” gesture toward his American and British adversaries.
The upheavals in the Middle East caused by the Iraq war--and the expansion of the war in Afghanistan, mulishly initiated by Obama to compensate for his winding down in Iraq--led to a mounting refugee crisis, piling pressure onto a government in Turkey that has marched toward authoritarianism, intolerance, and a break with both the United States and its own democratic and secular heritage.
The refugee crisis was also felt in Europe, which had been rocked by the Iraq war in other ways earlier.  Britain’s rush to join the U.S. in invading Iraq in 2003 led to the empowerment of the security state after the predictable terrorist backlash.  But it also mortally wounded the Blair government over the long-term, and has badly damaged the standing of the Labour Party, responsible for virtually all of the country’s twentieth century progress.  
Labour’s fall from grace led to the rise of a Eurosceptic Conservative Party that pursued crippling austerity, further eroding public trust and creating a climate of fear that helped to propel Britons to vote against membership in the European Union.  The Brexit vote was also facilitated by Conservative leader David Cameron’s deal with the devil that was UKIP, putting the country’s place in Europe on the line to satisfy the yapping of nationalist reprobates in his own ranks.  
A fear of migrants in the form of Middle Eastern refugees also helped to spur Brexit.  Britons ultimately refused to share in the responsibility for picking up the pieces after a conflict they helped to initiate, and are now committing to backing away from the principle of open borders.
In the short term, it appeared that the extent of damage to European states would come from their rupture with the U.S. over the War in Iraq, swiftly repaired after the inauguration of Obama.  But Iraq’s role in the financial crisis also reached European shores.  
More profoundly, Europe’s proximity to the Middle East, both through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean, meant that those nations on the continent that vociferously opposed the war in Iraq would nonetheless be forced to subsidize American foreign policy as they confronted rafts and columns of displaced families seeking to escape the spiralling consequences of American hubris and bloodlust.  
The refugee crisis has impacted European states unevenly, with Germany, Serbia, Sweden, and Hungary most affected.  Racism, xenophobia, and frustrated with botched government efforts to absorb hundreds of thousands of people in relatively small countries over an incredibly short period of time has led to the rise of crypto-fascist parties that promise to maintain the welfare state while re-negotiating access along the racial and ethnic lines that defined the fascist approach to welfare in the interwar.
The sudden strain on the welfare state in a continent already wracked with doubts about its ability to make good on the long-term promise of social democracy has also led to the resurgence of some liberal parties on the right who commit to undoing the gains made by workers in the last sixty years.  Elections this year in Germany, France, and Norway, and in Italy and Sweden in 2018, will be telling.  That Americans and Europeans on the left are looking at a tired and calculating center-right German Chancellor as democracy’s greatest defender is telling.
Retrenchment in Europe, Trump’s mix of imperialism and isolation, and the effects of decades of attacks on international institutions and norms has also marked a threatened withdrawal from the collective security arrangements that while imperfect, provided a security umbrella in parts of the world and made Americans at least partially aware of the consequences of their foreign policy.
The end of collective security is doubly troubling because it accompanies the deepening and rise of authoritarianism in Russia and the United States, the flexing of muscles by an authoritarian state in China, and the addled threats to Indian democracy issued by the country’s economic and religious fundamentalist Prime Minister.  
On autopilot, the U.S. war on terror continues to expand into Africa, and has corroded public trust, civil society, and public security in places like Kenya and Mali, while temporarily alienating the U.S. from regional powers like South Africa.  
In this sense, the rise of Donald Trump and the destabilizing forces at work in the world are hardly inexplicable.  Some of them are long in the making.  But most of them have been profoundly shaped if not directly caused by a decision by the Bush Administration, the votes of leading Democrats, the prostration of the American media, the deep ignorance of the American public, and the spectacular failure of will, imagination, and commitment on the part of the country’s leadership when it comes to dealing with the fallout.  

That our country and broad swathes of the world are now in the grip of irresponsible economic doctrines, infected by poisonous ethnic nationalism and religious bigotry and conflict, and with profoundly weakened institutions and capacities is utterly predictable.  Our inability to come to terms with the consequences of our actions, and the ability of nationalism to blind us to the better worlds that could have awaited help to explain why 2017 is a year of peril.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The State of the Swamp

Photo from
In less than three weeks, Donald Trump will assume the office of the presidency in the United States.  Trump’s campaign revolved partially around threatening to strip rights from many categories of Americans, but also focused on the idea that the federal government, Washington, D.C., and American politics more broadly were mired in corruption.  “Drain the swamp!” became a rallying cry at Trump’s angry rallies, and a typical sign-off on the fascist’s twitter tirades.
By now, Trump has named nearly all of the individuals who he hopes will serve at the core of his cabinet.  The people he has selected offer a window into the attributes he values in his entourage.  But they also give us some insight into how genuine Trump was when he inveighed against corruption in D.C., represented in his telling by the stupidity and incompetence of elites, and the deeply problematic overlap between corrosive elite private interest and access to the levers of power in public institutions.
So how do Trump’s appointees measure up to his claim that he would drain the D.C. swamp?
His nominee for Secretary of State is the representative of an industry and a company with a history of corrupting public policy debates, poisoning our environment, and engaging in massive human rights abuses.  You could not find a more vivid example of the toxic intermingling between public and private interest than Tillerson’s ties with Russia, its nihilistic president, and its leech-like oligarchs.  
Trump has nominated an Attorney General who doesn’t believe in the Voting Rights Act, a national security advisor who was fired for incompetence, and a Homeland Security leader who oversaw the prison at Guantanamo Bay that has been a core recruiting tool for international terrorists.  These appointments signal an embrace of undemocratic politics, serial lying and incompetence, and a stultifying and self-destructive national security conventional wisdom.
But it doesn’t stop there.  Trump has nominated a CIA director who supports the illegal and unaccountable surveillance of Americans, the murder of whistleblowers, and the use of state power to pursue vendettas against political opponents.  His would-be Treasury Secretary emerged from the belly of the beast (Goldman Sachs) that Trump tried to tie to Hillary Clinton.  His Labor nominee opposes a minimum wage for workers, and his Health and Human Services Secretary expresses enthusiasm at the prospect of stripping healthcare access away from Americans who will be set adrift when they are thrown back on the cruel inadequacy of the “free” market, mostly associated with the freedom of insurance and drug companies to drive up prices.
Trump’s nominees to head the Energy department and the EPA don’t believe that public institutions and the public interest should protect the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.  Repudiating more than half a century of dizzying and world-renowned commercial, medical, economic, academic, and scientific success, Trump’s pick for Budget Director suggests that there is no place for government funded research.  His Housing and Urban Development Secretary is equally allergic to empirical and historical evidence, and believes that charity rather than planned public policy is the antidote to poverty in our cities and rural regions.
Trump’s pick for Commerce has made his fortune by preying on American businesses and industries, and his appointment to the Education department wants to redirect public funds to private institutions, effectively transferring wealth to subsidize the education of elites and special interest groups rather than the broad public which contributes those funds.
His chief of staff comes from the very party institution that Trump successfully derided in his bid for the Republican nomination, and his chief strategist has made a living providing a bullhorn to anti-Semitic and white supremacist organizations.
In other words, Donald Trump has committed to staffing his administration with the nastiest, dirtiest, and most compromised denizens of the swamp.  Whether members of a corrupt corporate class, a discredited financial elite, party insiders, incompetent ideologues, or professional racists and provocateurs, Trump’s cabinet consists of all the people and interests he claimed were the problem in D.C.
How Trump’s supporters--who tolerated and encouraged his racism, sexism, and bigotry--respond to their candidate’s shameless, almost taunting hypocrisy will let us know whether they were motivated by so much as an iota of a desire to reform D.C. or whether, as seems likely at this point, they voted by way of lashing out aimlessly to destroy the work of two centuries in making our country a fairer, more equal, more open place where more of its citizens feel at home and have enjoyed an expanding array of civil, social, and economic rights.
In the meantime, we have to prepare to confront an administration that is intent on diving into bed with a Russian oligarchy, lurching into conflict with an East Asian superpower, going to war with the international institutions and accords that have changed the world for the better since 1945, and leading a renewed charge against the idea of the public good and the public responsibility that goes along with it.  
Trump’s actions and words suggest he will pursue this assault on the American public sphere and its democracy using a carrot and a stick.  He will offer to protect social security in the short term, peeling away older working class voters from the coalition that will seek to oppose his upward redistribution of wealth.  He will offer a “feel good” factor to racists and Islamophobes by targeting migrants and Muslims.  But he will also pursue the press, lie shamelessly and often, and use any state power he can lay hands on to abuse and intimidate his opponents.

We can only hope that his transparent embrace of corruption, avarice, private interest, and undemocratic politics will begin to put pressure on some of his erstwhile supporters and make them think twice about supporting the fascist and his radical party.