Tuesday, January 21, 2020

America: The Great Con Country

America has a fantastic tradition of conning our public.  Think snake oil salesmen; traveling shows of bizarro manufactured oddities and our government convincing us of untrue events such as the Gulf of Tonkin  or WMD's in Iraq to cite just a few.  We have unlimited examples of con jobs by businesses separating us from on money on fraudulent offers over the decades.  Few of us have escaped such exploitation.  In fact, we as a society elevate con artists to the annals of our famous characters; think Bernie Madoff.  And con artists do not limit their victims to the stupid.  The rich and famous are often caught up in a con.

Some contemporary examples are our public penchant for cons are the popularity of lotteries, casinos,  telephone get rich quick scams and the ever popular TV ministries and mega churches preaching weird distortions of Christianity including prosperity gospels. 

What stimulated this insight for me?  I watched a documentary on Theronos's rise and fall and was astounded at the extent of this con.  Let's start with the brand name; sounds kind of Greek, doesn't it?  Creates kind of a mystique, doesn't it?   There is no such Greek word.  It is a manufactured brand name like Exxon or Enron.  Speaking of Enron, cons seem to run in families; the 19 year old founder of Theronos, Elizabeth Holmes was the daughter of an Enron executive.  Yes, and she spend her early life in Houston, going to St. John's school for the very elite in preparation for her Stanford years.  Apparently Enron money paid to her father through fraud helped finance the startup of her brilliant fraud. The physical and stylistic similarity to Ivanka Trump is hard to ignore.

And Elizabeth Holmes was a brilliant con artist.  She packaged herself with mystique, role playing with a deeper than her normal voice,  presenting a very attractive face that rarely blinked.  Dressed only in black and developed a really convincing pitch.  She developed an aura of a visionary and a line of bullshit that simply bowled over highly scientifically educated people to join her company and work their asses off in a highly controlled, paranoid environment to maintain the mystique.

She even recruited the likes of brilliant people such as George Schultz and Henry Kissinger to join her board to be magnets for hundreds of thousands of investment dollars.  Big Silicon Valley figures did not escape her con. Also, the Walton's, Murdoch and DeVos's were all conned.  Few big names in American society and politics escaped her charisma.

This stolen money created her amazing brand and marketing strategy; google her and look at some of the advertising and graphics which created a con equal to that of the Enron marketing strategy.  I had the privilege of interviewing  the whistle blower on the Enron scam for a public radio station I volunteered for.  Her insights on the scam and marketing con pulled off on investors, clients and employees was nothing short of amazing.

Elizabeth Holmes even managed to pull off selling her scam product/services to the likes of sophisticated organizations such as Walgreens and the Cleveland Clinic.  For a while.  Until they discovered that her product was not what was promised and threatened the health of their customers/patients with inaccurate blood test results.

This documentary led me to the conclusion that a gullible, ill-informed, mis-informed  American citizen was easy prey to another con.  The mystique of a  mobbed up, failed business man but charismatic TV personality as a candidate for our Presidency was a enough to convince enough voters to elect him as leader of our great but troubled land.  He managed to convince some of those among us with white privilege and a household income of $70,000 that he was up to the task of rectifying some of our divisive problems as they viewed them.  Like ridding the country of those these ignorant racists thought were challenging their status and power in their ex-urban and rural communities.  And suppressing the threat to their power they perceived existed from our fellow citizens of color.

The myth that anyone can rise to become President of our country and the American Dream awaits anyone willing to work hard for it are central to the great American con.

Donald Trump, our forever impeached President, represents the reality that many Americans are susceptible to almost any con as long as the promise of the land of milk and honey is well packaged and brilliantly marketed.   The same was true of Fascism in Germany and Italy in the 1930's.  We seem to never learn from our own history, let alone the history of the wider world.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Republicans Have Abandoned Democracy

It really ended when Mitch McConnell refused to enable a Senate scrutiny of an Obama Supreme Court nominee.  He blocked any hearings and stonewalled filling the vacancy until President Obama finished his term with the full consent of the Republican majority in the Senate. This was an extreme abuse of power and an authoritarian act from the office of the Senate  Majority leader.  He stifled any participation in Democracy by the minority Party.  This was profoundly undemocratic.

But McConnell is and was not the only player in ending our great American experiment.  The entirety of the Republican elected officialdom and Republican voters at all levels of government throughout America, by conscious policy conspired to restrict the rights of Americans to participate in their democracy.  This was the cruel and very intentional goal of the Republican party for decades. 

How you ask?  First, by blatant gerrymandering of districts County commission seats, State legislative seats and Federal congressional seats.  This was an outright reaction to Democratic Party efforts to create seats providing representation in government for minorities, including African Americans and Hispanics.  This was nothing more than a continuation of restrictions on electoral participation following the Reconstruction era enabling such participation for only a brief period.

It followed by a systematic Republican Party policy of restricting voting rights of economically downscale Americans and minority Americans.  How?   Manipulation of voter registration rolls, creation of highly restrictive and difficult voter ID requirements, harassment at polling sites and removal of voting rights for convicted felons at the beginning of the war of drugs, mainly targeting minorities for incarceration.

Policies of restricting voting rights to only property owners and people of higher economic means has long been a practice of racists and elitists , but the modern Republican party in the post voting rights era has taken voting discrimination to a whole new level of outrageous policies.  Voter suppression is at the core of Republican policy at all levels of governance.

Yet another conservative Republican policy has emerged in the past 25 years or so.  That is the policy of the antidemocratic supremacy of the executive branch of government at both State and Federal levels.  And, when Democrats win Executive offices, a converse policy of limiting and restricting executive powers is cleverly employed.  This is a blatant desecration of the core Constitutional protection of democracy through the doctrine of equal, counter-balancing powers of the three branches of government.  

Additionally, Republicans have advocated the power of money as speech.  Thus our current bleak funding of campaigns with minimal transparency of the sources of such funding and the near unlimited power of wealth in guiding the outcome of elections.  

Remember, historically, it is a core conservative dogma of anti-democratic ideology to favor powers of Kings since the founders began debating how to form a new democratic Republic.   Thus the modern doctrine that our Federal Executive is immune to the rule of law in their conduct of office.

This brings us to the impending impeachment of President Trump.  Mitch McConnell has publicly announced that as the Leader of the impeachment process in the Senate, functioning as a Jury under the Chief Justice, he is closely coordinating his Jury majority with the legal team of the President.  This is a blatant abrogation of his duty and oath to provide for a fair and impartial process.  He has openly declared his partiality. 

It remains to be seen if this act will be challenged as unconstitutional .  Further, it is clear that the Republicans McConnell leads are in full support of his authoritarian administration of this rarely exercised impeachment process. 

Republicans have simply abandoned any pretext of democratic governance in order to maintain their majority, despite all the data suggesting that the overwhelming majority of Americans favor Democratic Party values and policies.  This is a blatant initiative to maintain white rule in a nation whose demographics are quickly leading to the reality of their having to share power with people of non-white ethnicity if we are to maintain a democratic Republic. 

How any thinking person of with any sense of goodwill toward their fellow citizens cannot see this history of suppression of non-white voters defies a rational understanding of the racist and elitist intent of the rank and file as well as leadership of the Republican Party.  They have adopted a conscious policy of authoritarian Fascism.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Why Would Anyone Call Themselves A Republican Today?

I have some ideas on why some people cling to this absurdity of Republicanism.  But I'll save them for last.  Let's first examine what Republicans stand for today as evidenced by their actions, not their words, which today are mostly untruths.

Not that my Democratic Party is anywhere near perfect.  But it has most of the elements of a diversity of views on the social order, economics and democracy.  It has a "left wing" such as Warren and the Squad.  It has a pretty solid middle of those not ready for left wing reformation of our society and it has a semblance of a "right wing" supporting greater fiscal restraint than the left and a pretty unrestrained corporate economy and some elements of "traditional" social values such as hetero marriage, opposition to abortion and some skepticism about rapid social reforms.

Really, you don't see that diversity in the modern, post-Reagan Republican Party.  I know, some of you prefer being an independent voter, seemingly not liking being tied to a fairly rigid set of values on governance and preferring a kind of cafeteria politics.  But hey, if this works for you, stick with it though you risk being road kill as Jim Hightower likes to observe, saying nothing's in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

But as you might self examine about why you would call yourself a Republican, lets look at the actions in recent years, particularly the Trump years.  As the Trump campaign was developing, some really observant players in the fringes of the Republican Party saw an opportunity; these were the hard core fascist White Nationalists like Bannon, Miller and Gorka. They are joined by less ideological but equally racist party actors.    They insinuated themselves into the campaign and later administration leadership.  They were joined by hard core libertarians deeply suspicious of a functioning government who were ready to undermine existing regulations and federal management of resources.  Joining them too were the authoritarians who long identified with the Crown during our Revolution, States Rights during the post Civil War period and an Executive branch exercising greater power and authority than the legislature and legal branch of our federal system.  Finally, the finance arm of the coalition consisted of Russiaphiles who admired the looting of the Soviet treasury/assets by oligarchs who saw much of that wealth invested in the U.S.A., including through the Trump organizations via the Russian Mob, still seeking new investment opportunities.

These factions joined together to seize the opportunity of a clearly incompetent, failed business guy whose only ideology, let alone reading was reported to be Mein Kampf  on his bedside table.  This was a guy with a very clear public record of sexually predatory behavior, business dishonesty and a huge, narcissistic ego and lust for power, not public service. A person with very visible ignorance about our democracy, our history and protocols and norms which enabled a mostly reasonable bipartisan governance. They saw an opportunity to manipulate him for their own clear ideological goals.  This became the fascist coalition not unlike that formed in the 30's in Germany and Italy.

It is instructive to know that the Third Reich did not emerge by overthrowing a regime; Germany was an impressive democracy.  Fascism grew over time with internal disruption of the laws, norms and processes to emerge in the ruins of that democracy.

This toxic stew combined with sufficient voter racism and economic neglect in a few battle ground states and with half the electorate just not engaged in the process at all gave us the most failed Presidency in the history of the Republic.  And it gave us what may be a democracy virtually destroyed.  It may be rebuilt over time, but the damage is horrific.  Here is what we face.

A government structure at war with itself; not just in conflict and disagreement bridgeable by skillful negotiations as in the past.  Flat out, three branches in a shooting war with one another.

We are in a full blown Constitutional crisis now because the separation of powers have been abandoned by both the Republican legislative minority and the ruling Executive Branch.  This is best exemplified in the Executive ignoring both requests and subpoenas lawfully and Constitutionally originating in the Legislative branch.  The governing consensus is now broken.  If the separation of powers is not upheld, we have lost our democracy and we are in an authoritarian state.

An executive branch with now an authoritarian fascist comportment, having gone through the Bannon lead deconstruction of most of the regulatory policies they administer, deliberate staffing shortfalls to assure dysfunction if not failure.  And the abandonment of norms and non-binding traditions of governing cooperation and respect for the co-equal status of the the other branches.

A policy and practice to marginalize vulnerable groups such as Muslims and Hispanic migrants, Jews, African Americans, disabled and LGBTQ persons much in the fashion of the Third Reich.

The escalation of detention camps filled with migrants from our south, many of whom have been denied lawful consideration of their distressed immigration status.  This includes the current 5,700 migrant children ripped from their families and held in unhealthy, inhumane and physically and emotionally damaging circumstances. 

A practice of exploiting ignorant, bigoted and racist people with rallies inciting hate, violence, threatening and demeaning rhetoric in the fashion of the Nuremberg rallies in the Nazi era of Germany.

A steady stream of social media Tweets inciting hate, violence and demeaning rhetoric against any criticism of  him.

A blatant abuse of Executive power together with open self dealing corruption, also permitted by Cabinet members.

The use of the Justice Department to avenge perceived wrongs to the President by both Administration appointees and partisan opponents.  Also the denigration of FBI, CIA and National Security professionals deemed critical of Administration policy and practice.

Undermining the Constitutionally required Congressional oversight of the Executive branch.

The filling of Judicial branch appointments with right wing ideologues rather than the careful vetting of liberal, moderate and conservative jurists for proper educational and judicial experience.

The overwhelming abdication of their oaths of office to defend the Constitution from wrong doing by the Executive by most Republican members of Congress strictly for purposes of their own political self preservation and reelection.

Gone is the mostly mythological dedication of the Republican Party to fiscal responsibility, given the current historically massive national debt and irresponsible fiscal management to loot our treasury with benefactors being the wealthiest few among us.

The alienation and outright insults directed at  our allies around the world who relied on us for sound, measured and prudent leadership in world affairs.

Finally, totally ignoring the most egregious  malfeasance in ignoring the impending disaster of climate change which threatens the planet's very habitability.  All the aforementioned insults to our democracy  pale by comparison to this catastrophic neglect.

So, what would compel one to nonetheless declare oneself a Republican given this factual evidence?
A better economy?  The growth and economic health data suggests we are no better off in many sectors of the economy than the latter part of the previous Democratic Administration and are significantly experiencing negative numbers in the trade, agriculture and manufacturing sectors.  And there are signs of an impending recession next year.

Possibly your economic fortunes have shown great improvement in the past few years, but do the policies and actions of the Trump Administration account for that, or the natural arc of your fortunes?
Looking outside your bubble, the evidence suggests  our collective fortunes are not having the same experience.

If not economic improvement, what then explains the 80% of Republicans still approving of Trump's leadership?  Improvement in the social order?  Really?  Cite me an example beyond perhaps improvement in your own social status or advancement.  Our society is more polarized than in any period since the Civil War by any measurement.  Hate crimes are on the rise.  Mass shootings are ascendant.  Many people, especially Trumpites live in hate and now overt public expressions of bigotry.  Migrants and people of color are fearful.  Children are traumatized with school drills preparing for mass shootings.  Whistle blowers are fearful of losing their protection.  Voters wonder if they will be denied their right to vote or their vote properly counted.  Our international allies are now doubtful of our reliability as a partner in dealing with crises.  Extreme weather events are increasing.
Housing is becoming unaffordable.  Employment is insecure and safety nets are uncertain.  Healthcare costs are escalating and many more are without health insurance.  Post high school  education costs are through the roof and driving many into a lifetime of debt.  Infamous American optimism is in decline.  So where is the improvement?

Are the Republicans offering any solutions?  Are they putting country over self or Party?  Name a solution that redeems this litany of Republican betrayal of American values and advancement of the American dream?   Name just one solution?

I can only speculate on why anyone would remain a supporter of Trump if not for their inability to relate outside of their life bubble;  I'm okay and don't give a damn about anyone else?  Maybe that is it.  Or fear that your okay will be disrupted by "other" people foreign to your experience?  Or maybe it is racism and the fear that in a decade or two, your white self will move from majority to minority in America?  I am at a total loss to understand any other motivation that would explain why maybe 30% of the population will stick with this horror show.  Maybe you have an idea?  Let me know.

Please understand that this era is not normal.  This is not routine American disagreement between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats.  Brothers and sisters.  Parents and their offspring.  This is an existential threat to the great American experiment of democracy, small d.  This is a civil war without bullets.   It will require engagement of most Americans to restore the rule of law and work in their communities to rebuild a  once great, though flawed democracy.

This is not a religion where you put your faith in the unknowable future.  This is not a TV reality show, though it is treated as such by our President.  This is a question of hard facts, data and a rational examination of the meaning and consequences of factual reality.   If you are honest with yourself and willing to declare yourself in community with your fellow Americans, outside your own bubble, caring just some about the common good, you simply have to reject the current Republican paradigm and renounce you prior allegiance to Trumpism which has created the current American tragedy.

Monday, September 23, 2019

America: Take A Good Look At Us

Take a hard look at this photo.  See the smiling people?  This is 1930 in America.  A lynching at the hanging tree.  These are you.  These are us.  These people are your relatives, friends and neighbors.
Do you think we've changed all that much in 90 years?  This is the reality American people must confront about our past if we are to get past it and function as a humane, civil society.  If not, we will sustain what we have right now, at this very moment.  Trump, Trumpites and about 40 % of  us abandoning democracy and the great experiment created in 1776.  A society they espouse of cruelty to those who are "different", not equal to us.   A society supporting fascist authoritarian leaders rather than the rule of law and a Constitution framing our values, ever to be perfected and improved through cooperation and good faith negotiation.  Make your choice.  Do you want to be the people in this picture?