Fake Everything

With the proliferation of digital sources of “information” and technologies of communication, it seems more and more difficult to determine the difference between fact and fakery. Social media allow just about anyone to post outlandish claims and arguments without a shred of evidence. Fake evidence and false logic proliferate. If it is sensational enough or hits a sore spot for many people, a falsehood or an otherwise meaningless meme may “go viral.”

Fakery is not new, but its access to everyone has exploded with the advent of social media. Critical thinking and the weight of evidence are lost in the process. Powerful elites deny any verified fact that conflicts with their economic or political interests. Fossil-fuel industry campaigns of disinformation about carbon emissions, global warming and the extreme weather events they cause follow the model the tobacco industry used in its public relations campaigns to deny the scientific facts lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes.

Fake News

Almost any news report today is subject to the accusation that it is “fake news.” The term’s recent growth in popularity may have originated when ‘liberals’ accused Fox News of prevarication when its stories were so biased that they did little if any justice to facts. Of course, the prevalence of propaganda has a long history. Fake news is not new, but it grew rapidly as the institutions of traditional journalism were folded into the entertainment divisions of the major networks and print newspaper sales declined.

The blatant false characterizations of “liberals” by Fox New anchors, and extreme right-wing radio “personalities” while their regular misrepresentations of facts drew mockery and ridicule from “liberal Democrats.” The fake news anchors denied the legitimacy of the “Black President,” with the lies that with the help of “The Donald” became known as “the birther movement.” At the same time, corporate interests exploit the resentments and fears of the declining white working and middle classes by funding the extreme politics and racism of the Tea Party movement, which the Republican Party embraced and began calling its “base.”

Fake President

Unsubstantiated claims, rhetorical tricks, exploitation of fears, and outright lies permeate the speech of the Fake President. Cheating and fakery characterized the entire

Fake President_image, Northern Sun

Image: Northern Sun

business career of the Dangerous Donald. Big lie or small, the Fake President simply repeats falsehoods in the face of publicly verified contrary facts. “Fake President”? Yes. What began as another attempt to gain more notoriety as a “celebrity,” unfortunately resonated with the anger and fears of many Americans. His open pandering to racism, misogyny, and hate brought the neo-Nazis and white nationalists out into the open.

“The system” had destroyed the aspirations of middle and working class white folks through job outsourcing, cultural marginalization, and political indifference. Corporate Democrats and Republicans both contributed to forming the corporate state against the interests of citizens. Each blamed the other for the plight of ordinary people; both were guilty of betraying the people while pandering to wealthy corporate donors. Trumpery arose by effectively exploiting the political chaos of fake democracy.

Fake Congress

Everyone knows that the Congress operates to serve the interests of the biggest corporations and wealthiest individuals, not the people. Senators and Representatives feign concern for the people while taking huge bribes in the form of “campaign contributions.” The Supreme Court abetted their corruption by the fakery of defining corporations as “persons” and allowing unlimited corporate money to influence

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Senator Inhofe faking climate denial, with the chance of a snowball in Congress. Washington Post photo.

elections. The Republican Party effectively used unfettered funding to influence elections by various forms of voter suppression and propaganda. They ruthlessly gerrymandered minority voting groups out of electoral influence. Russian bots and trolls abetted the chaos of fakery.

The Democratic Party elite, dependent on large corporate and Wall Street funding, stuck with Hillary, the corporatist candidate, suppressing the booming popularity of Bernie, the independent bearer of the old FDR-liberal policies. The desire of many democrats for a female candidate – the logical follow-up to the Black President – conflicted with the resistance to the corporatist party elite. Resentment resulted in many not voting and some even voting for the Fake Outsider, Trump, the master of demagoguery and economic exploitation.

Fake Experience

However, politics is not everything. It is merely a core driver of the fakery of modern life itself. Fake experience proliferates, from fake adventure (theme parks, staged ‘adventure’ vacations, and video games), from fake meaning in consumerism to fake

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Virtual Woman. Image: The Guardian

reality itself (so-called “reality shows” on TV and diverse digital “experiences” that mimic non-existent realities).

The fakery of suburban life, for those who can still afford it, reflects a trained incapacity to live beyond the illusions of the fake domination of nature that characterizes the consumer culture. The real world consists of the complex of ecosystems upon which all of humanity depends, but few recognize for its survival importance. Most remain insulated from real experience.

Revenge of Reality

It is all coming to a head. Reality has a way of eventually forcing itself upon us. We have lost our fake control of our environment, as the laws of physics, chemistry, and bio-systems continue to rule the material world from which we have alienated ourselves.

Growing numbers of people have become aware of their dissociation from reality. They realize at a gut level that the fake realities that digital technology generates are no substitute for the feeling of a warm breeze on a spring day. Reality impinges on illusion.

Growing numbers of IT geeks now carry physical notebooks to write in. Music lovers return to the analog sounds of vinyl records and live music. Children are discovering actual toys again. Who needs a “driverless car”? Smartphones, texting (while not driving), and Facebook are far from disappearing. Nevertheless, reality will continue to insert itself into our abstracted lives and disrupt our digital and social illusions. That is when the denial of reality will dissipate and a democracy grounded in ecological reality will return.

 

The International Cult of Oligarchs: On Human Destruction by the 0.01% Here and There

In the U.S. we call them “wealthy,” as if their unbounded economic power had no political consequences. For many, they appear simply as the rich and sometimes the rich-and-famous. In Russia, they are “oligarchs.” Most of them achieved multi-billionaire status because of their close relations the Vladimir Putin’s inner circle of the political elite. Of course, there is much more to extreme wealth here or there than that.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, well-connected men appropriated many previously state-owned industries, assets, and institutions. Their position within Putin’s political elite secured and expanded their vast privilege in the ‘new’ Russia. We routinely call them oligarchs and often characterize them as “the Russian Mafia,” because of their ruthless criminal power and lethal conduct.

The men and women who constitute the emergent corporate-centered oligarchy in the United States we call “the wealthy.” Too many of us look at them personally through the sanitized lens of the mass media they control, admiring and aspiring to their riches. Their public images are the stuff of the utopian dreams of individuals who buy lottery tickets and vote the straight Republican or Democratic ticket. It is as if vast political-economic power were nothing more than the well-earned personal accumulation of a lot of money through good fortune and talent.

People buy lottery tickets in silent recognition of the hopelessness of their aspirations for upper-class luxury and status. “It’s a chance,” they insist, no matter how slim. In the case of “old wealth,” we forget much of its typical illicit or criminal origins in financial manipulation, bootlegging, and war profiteering – none of it by chance. We ought to wonder why we perceive the 0.01% here and there so differently. We ignore the financial manipulations of the U.S. new rich, who remain a convenient mystery protected by their media-invoked armor of imagined superiority.

The U.S. business elites of the second half of the nineteenth century were widely disparaged as “robber barons,” because of their ruthless practices and problematic political influence. That disparaging metaphor derived from much earlier practices of some European feudal landowners of stealing from merchants, traders, and travelers, often by imposing steep tolls not authorized by the Holy Roman Empire. Sometimes these “authorities” even engaged in kidnap for ransom, or in outright theft. Wells Fargo steals from its customers today with equal flagrancy.

Modern Robber Barons and the New Corporate State

Critics of the corrupt practices of Wall Street financial elites in their shady amassing of great wealth do not use the term “robber baron” to characterize such theft. Today’s captains of industry and finance exert corrupt economic and political power in a variety of ways. They maintain cultural cover through the control of mass media. Their corrupt practices have become the new normal. Nevertheless, the power of great wealth over the political process has deepened so much that it has morphed into the new corporate state.

The political rhetoric of hate effectively distracts and shifts much blame for the destructive results of oligarchy by classic techniques of cultural diversion, patriotic bombast, and ethnic scapegoating. Demagogues target for generic blame immigrants and refugees, Muslims, and people of color, all of whom are among the economically and politically weakest sectors of the population.

In a bizarre cultural twist, many people now somehow perceive the weakest groups as the greatest threat against the nation. The power elite exploits the stress of reduced incomes and status of workers who have lost their jobs to outsourcing, by generating diversionary hatreds. Empty claims to “make America great again” (now contracted to “MAGA”), resonate with the fears and pain of many under- or unemployed once-comfortable white middleclass workers. Oprah’s September 24, 2017 focus group on Sixty Minutes, with regular folks in Western Michigan demonstrated how distorted the politics of demagoguery can become.

Ubiquitous corporate propaganda touts an elusive general prosperity by endlessly repeating the mantra of economic growth. Only outsourced slave wages and investment capital transferred to other countries to manipulate national and global resource and financial markets, makes that growth possible. Many people know that something is very deeply wrong, even if they do not understand the details of political economy.

Angst and Opposition

That is why the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that began in 2011 struck such a powerful cord with so many Americans and others around the world. Despite its immediate tribulations in occupying Zuccotti Park in the “belly of the beast,” it sparked a global surge of social movements for change. The opposition to greed, corruption, and the undue influence of financial and corporate elites and against extreme inequality hit a sore spot across the U.S. and many other nations. The “Arab Spring” that spread from Tunisia in 2010 and beyond had reflected a similar discontent, but also indicated a widespread and growing awareness of oligarchy and global injustice.

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Putin and Trump meet. Photo credit: Independent, UK.

In this context, the unfolding revelations of contacts between Russian oligarchs, Kremlin intelligence agents, and go-betweens, with members of the Trump inner circle, should not surprise us. They have intersecting, overlapping, and parallel interests, which did not suddenly spring up during the presidential campaign. Moreover, when Trump was deeply in debt and no U.S. bank would deal with him anymore, banks with close business ties to Russia saved him from financial ruin.  In particular, Germany-based Deutsche Bank loaned Trump hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the New York Times, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators are looking into Trump’s dealings with Deutsche Bank. Additional links of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump with banking interests tied to Russian oligarchs and their money laundering have begun to emerge.[1]

After all, the appointments of so many captains of plunder to cabinet membership and as agency heads reflect the Trumpist pretentions to establish a new Barony of Robbery. They also mirror the consistent pattern of corrupt business practices that characterized the entire career of the man who David Kay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter, characterized as a modern-day P.T. Barnum when they first met in 1988.[2] Meanwhile, many vacant posts with important governing functions, particularly in the State Department, remain open due to gross presidential indifference – i.e., dereliction of duty – as he centralizes power and demonstrates incompetence in the “art of the deal.”

As Karl Polanyi warned in 1944, the difficulties of protecting society from the extreme tendencies of industrial capital are great. No such protections exist in Russia. The modest safeguards installed in the U.S. during the Great Depression, fell to legislative negation in the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Now, we face an era of the new robber barons intent to extend oligarchy in the U.S. by direct plunder of the nation’s commonwealth. Will they match that of Russia? These masters of mega-looting see no reason to reject the help of the world’s premier oligarchs in achieving their own hegemonic goals. However, they are not very good at hiding their collusion or their corruption. Hubris happens to the worst of us. However, the new descent into political chaos could not have emerged with poorer timing.

We face, within a couple of decades at most, an accelerating convergence of the global crises of resource depletion and pollution, extreme weather events causing vast damage. The risks of regional food insecurity, refugee migration and armed conflict grow by the day. The petty schoolboy posturing and name-calling between the North Korean despot and the would-be American emperor is a very dangerous sideshow.

Such exercises in personal arrogance are calculated distractions from the increasingly urgent global crises that in part stem from global warming and surely will exacerbate rapidly approaching climate chaos. Many are distracted from the existential threats to human survival intensified by the politics-of-the unreality show that is a cover for the plunder of the American commonwealth. Awareness is growing, but not as fast as the converging crises we face. A new broadly based Earth activism is needed now.

[1] For details, see Bess Levin, “Deutsche Bank is Turning over information on Trump,” Vanity Fair (July 20, 2017). Accessed at http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/07/donald-trump-deutsche-bank-russia

[2] See David Kay Johnston, The Making of Donald Trump (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2016).

Antifa: Fascist Violence and Violence Against Fascism

They’ve got all the weapons; they’ve got all the money…It‘s all there.

~  John Lennon[1]

Political elections can have powerful cultural effects when infused with growing fear, deep anger, resentment of economic and social injustice, and racism. Diverse forms of social instability follow the displacement and ruined hopes for more and more people. The economic and political actions of the neoliberal economic elite have forced an intensified polarization of society along lines of race and class. Resentment, fear, and anger creep further into the political process, encouraged by narcissistic demagogic scapegoating.

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KKK ~ Photo Credit: Martin / Flickr

As traditional forms of social control weaken under such conditions of political upheaval, social change, and stress, the exercise of power tends toward the violent. Violence can be cultural, psychological, physical, or any combination. The unfortunate surge of activity by racist “white nationalists,” neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups in the wake of the U.S. 2016 presidential elections exemplify this process. Violence is both contagious and addictive.

Neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, and related white-nationalist elements had been constrained by a national culture that since the civil rights movement in the 1960s had explicitly rejected racism. Those constraints were already weakening when Donald Trump’s vitriolic campaign for the presidency attacked “political correctness” and continued his “birtherism” claims. Victims of racism, sexism, and xenophobia became that much more vulnerable.

Trump a the perennial candidate for public attention, continued after the election, giving bigotry implicit political permission to go public. The rise of extreme nationalist and neo-Nazi groups in Europe accompanied social instabilities amplified by the flood of refugees from death and destruction in the Middle East, where European military units operate alongside U.S. forces.  Blaming the victim prevailed there as well as in the U.S. as the “sorrows of empire” spread throughout the industrialized world.

The Rise of Antifa

A small faction among the many protesters against the rising racist neo-fascist demonstrations under the Trump presidency, called “antifa,” meaning anti-fascism, rapidly gained attention. It reflected the growing political instability in the U.S., as well as a revulsion against authoritarian groups threatening a new rise in racist violence. Antifa members proclaim their dedication to destroying fascism “by any means necessary” for their “collective self-defense.” [2] They have fiercely defended those protesting the neo-Nazis in Charlotte and beyond. Cornel West reported that antifa members protected him and other non-violent protesters from violent neo-Nazi attackers there.

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Antifa in Charlotte

Yet, in numerous historical movements for change, avoiding street violence has contributed to positive change far more frequently than “rioting in the streets.”

So-called militia and other extreme right-wing groups had strengthened during the Black Presidency. Trump had fed their growth by championing the racist “birther” denial of Obama’s citizenship and presidency The new surge of white nationalism once Trump took office was encouraged by Trump’s not so subtle embrace of racism and xenophobia. His refusal to condemn the violent racists of the neo-Nazis in Charlotte added fuel to the fascist fire.

Republicans and Democrats alike condemned Trump’s presidential pardon of the infamous racist xenophobe, Sherriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, shortly thereafter. A federal court had convicted Arpaio of contempt of court for having defied court orders to stop racially profiling Latinos. Trump actively enabled racism and fascism repeatedly in his first months in office while attempting to suppress federal investigations of his secret financial-political connections to the Russians. The President’s behavior only amplified the growing instability and loss of social control in the U.S.

Illusions of Violence in the Corporate State

State violence can enforce some degree of social control under any political regime, for a while. However, as demonstrated in countless cases from Chile and Argentina to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and many others, any social order enforced by violence is inherently unstable. Dictators, occupiers, and would-be autocrats who incite extremist violence in a population often lose the very control they sought.

True social control emanates from cultural values and social relations that respect both individuals and groups. The rise of movements, such as “antifa,” within protests against neo-Nazis and the “black block” among peaceful protests like Occupy Wall Street, reflect how unstable the politics of social control became in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Antifa’s goal as a group, is to oppose fascism (racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc.), “by any means necessary.” However, its model of change has one weak link – the illusion of the effectiveness of violence. The history of non-violent movements demonstrates its own efficacy and the self-indulgence and futility of street violence. It is important — strategically as well as morally — to align means with ends. Democracy cannot be ‘enforced’ by violence.

There is strength in numbers, but the violence of the state can crush large crowds if given an excuse. The ‘Black Block’ pseudo-anarchists did the Occupy Wall Street movement no good at all, harming it instead. Violence, even against mere property, becomes a two edged moral sword, no matter how high minded the goal. Those concerned with the rise of racist white nationalism and the like must organize community and cultural resistance, not physical confrontation (other than in pure self-defense).

Remember, the rise of neo-fascism in the U.S. and Europe today is a direct result of the degradation of democracy and the decline of economic and social justice. These take diverse forms, often expressed in domestic and foreign terrorism. The re-establishment of genuine social control in any society must find its strength in the cultural values of compassion and peace in its communities, not the extremist hate fomented by power elites struggling to maintain their control. Violence is both addictive and contagious.

In seeking peace and stability, look to overcome the sources (the 1% of the 1%) of extreme inequity, social, economic, and climate injustice, not to confronting the particular class of victims who express their misguided rage in evil ways. We can socially sequester the haters; but the system must be transformed if society is to regain control of its destiny, a vastly more difficult task.

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[1] In an interview by a 14 year old boy, filmed shortly before John Lennon was assassinated.

[2] Mark Bray, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2017) offers both a history of anti-fascist movements and an ideological argument for the rise of contemporary anti-fascist groups that confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the streets, in acts “of collective self-defense.” Antifa willingness to use “any means necessary” crosses the line from non-violent protest to street fighting. That is certainly problematic, though Cornel West reported that antifa actions in Charlotte had protected him and other peaceful protestors from violent attacks by neo-Nazis and white nationalists.

The Empty Clown Suit

Have you ever wondered why clowns often scare so many little children? Clown costumes and makeup amplify and distort normal human features and dress. We may see them as funny, but their image and demeanor can also appear monstrous. Much of clown behavior is exaggerated and it can even appear anti-social. Thus, some perceive it as threatening. Even some adults find clowns and their antics unsettling.

Characters in movies like Killer Clown in 1978 and “The Joker” in the Batman series of movies and TV depicted evil clowns. Dozens of other movies have portrayed clowns who were evil underneath their comic façade. Strangely, well, maybe not so strangely, in 2016, a rash of “creepy clown” sightings occurred in several states across the nation. Some have suggested that such “clown sightings” surge in periods when social anxiety is high. The sightings connect with the psychological effect of priming,[1] a phenomenon where a “priming” stimulus triggers another stimulus associated with anxiety.

Well, 2016 certainly was a year full of stressful stimuli that produced a lot of social anxiety, which endures today with the Trumping of American democracy. How can the public persona of Donald J. Trump appear so laughable to some and so scary to others, while appearing as a savior to the new racist white nationalist base of the Republican Party? I think the clown-suit metaphor applies well here.

It is interesting to note that during the 2016 Republican primaries, some critics characterized “The Donald” as the lead clown in the “Republican Clown Car,” loaded with candidates of dubious merit and peculiar penchants. Most, however, had actual political positions, however extreme, and they were career politicians.

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Creepy Clown Sighting ~ Source: Salon

A key feature of clown suits and makeup is that they reveal only the illusion of an extreme character and nothing about who may hide behind them. Regular comedians can be funny without the aid of the anonymity and the extreme caricature offered by the clown suit. But Trump is no comedian; his clown suit hides a very dark personality revealed only by decades of investigative reporting of his disturbing immoral if not entirely illegal behavior patterns, such as revealed by David Kay Johnston, [2] who on meeting Trump in the 1980s immediately identified him as the modern P.T. Barnum.

The most striking thing about the clown suit that is Donald J. Trump may not be the constant flow of outright lies or the degradation rituals to which he subjects his subordinates, but the emptiness behind it all. Also striking is the extent to which his “base” (or should I say, fans?) can sustain a degree of adoration for a façade behind which lies only angry emptiness. If we look behind the demagoguery of the public persona, we find no coherent policy in any political, economic, or social domain, only undifferentiated hatred and greed.

The leaked conversations with foreign leaders such as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull provide a glimpse of what lies behind the façade. A complete lack of knowledge or focus upon the policy matters discussed was exposed. In private conversation, Trump sounds obsessed with the effect that various actions or agreements might have on his public persona, which is the clown suit itself.

Tragically, in private conversations, Trump reveals himself as concerned only with his unending candidacy for adulation and the potential persuasive entertainment value his actions might have. When we look for a political grounding for the public persona in private conversation, we find that there is no there there. Sure, he acts in the interests of his own financial gain and that of the billionaire class. But the clown suit is otherwise empty of substance.

If we dare to look behind the clown suit, we find not a presidential person, but an empty cluster of psychopathologies incapable of rendering a rational policy decision of any kind. Many politicians suppress their personal values and even rational policy analysis to achieve their political goals related to election or re-election. They pander to the richest industrial and financial interests in search of the funding of their next campaign.

Yet some, like “maverick” Senator John McCain occasionally stand on principle when confronted by the institutionally and socially destructive legislative maneuvers of a Mitch McConnell. Meanwhile, “President Trump” bills the secret service for renting space in Trump Tower or equipment at Mar-a-Lago needed for his protection. When we look behind The Donald’s clown suit, we find no principles or a genuine person, only the emptiness of narcissistic sociopathy, and as a clinical therapist suggested to me, a bit of autism.

Trump’s latest cold indifference to the death of a young woman who a neo-Nazi killed using an ISIS terrorist tactic during the racist white nationalist neo-confederate torch-light demonstration in Charlotte, confirms the empty hatred behind the clown suit of the pseudo-president. It also reveals his unbounded willingness to exploit the hatred of others, as well as his own hatred, in service to his own demagoguery. The new boldness of fascist and racist groups in America increases in direct proportion to the equivocating cover provided by the empty clown suit of Donald Trump.

Chuck Todd opened Sunday’s “Meet the Press” program after the Charlotte tragedy with the question, “Did he lose his moral authority?”

What? Well, yes, we generally assumed that presidents have moral authority by virtue of the high office they hold. However, …

The Empty Clown Suit never had any moral authority.

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[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coulrophobia

[2] David Kay Johnston, The Making of Donald Trump (New York: Melville House, 2016).

The Russians are Coming! But the Plutocrats are Here!

The extent to which narcissistic sociopathy has become the new normal for ‘presidential’ behavior is truly astounding. Why is that? Well, for one, denial and projection characterize the psychology of the base. Trump’s base denies countless news reports indicating various contacts between the Trump presidential campaign insiders and Russian intermediaries associated with the Kremlin and projects them onto a vast liberal conspiracy.

Trump has repeatedly claimed he “has nothing to do with the Russians.” Yet, evidence of various meetings and associations keeps popping up. Numerous sources report that Trump made financial deals with Russian oligarchs and/or banks in the past. His son told a golfing reporter that the Russians were an unlimited source of financing for Trump projects.

Of course, we do not know what financial entanglements the president may still have with Russian oligarchs, since he refuses to divulge his diverse international business dealings or release his income tax returns as every other president has done. But, so many around him have had direct contacts with known Kremlin officials or their surrogates. For Trump politics is finance is politics.

Intergenerational Kleptocracy

Now, his son, Donald Jr., has admitted that he, Jared Kushner, Paul Manifort – Trump’s campaign manager at the time, widely known for having “made millions promoting Kremlin-friendly interests in Ukraine”[1] –met with a Russian lawyer close to the

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Assange-Trump-Putin Triangle. Source: Salon.com

Kremlin who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Donald Jr. admitted that the meeting happened shortly after Trump Sr. captured the Republican nomination. Now, just how illegal is that?

Numerous reports of other meetings between Trump associates and Russian diplomats have surfaced. Trump could not avoid firing General Michael Flynn shortly after appointing him national security advisor; he had lied about meetings with Russian officials. He had also concealed payments from foreign governments including Turkey.  Jeff Sessions “forgot” his meetings with Russians, as did Trump son-in-law and political point man on everything. How many appearances of inappropriate contacts with Russians by Trump associates, in the context of Trump’s financial secrecy and dark financial history with Russians is enough to raise suspicions? The list goes on…

People Don’t Change

David Kay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, has followed Trump’s antics for decades. His new best-selling book, The Making of Donald Trump, chronicles Trump’s exploits since Johnston first met him in Atlantic City in 1987, when he immediately saw Trump as a modern day P.T.Barnum. In 1990, Johnston broke the story that while claiming to be worth billions, Trump actually had a negative net worth.

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Poker-face Putin. Source: The Independent

Whatever his net worth today, Donald Trump has become an important asset for Vladimir Putin and his aspirations to become a member of the world’s ruling elite. At the G-20 summit Trump played right into Putin’s hand. Gary Kasparov, the world’s greatest chess player and Russian dissident-exile, likens Putin to a champion poker player and Trump as a buffoon.

In any case, the plutocrats are in control, both here and in Russia. That would not have changed much if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, but we must remember that Putin hates Hillary as she does him. To whatever extent Hillary is beholden to Wall Street, Donald Trump is beholden to his own self-aggrandizement and little else. An exception, perhaps, are the Russian oligarchs who apparently funded those mysterious European bank loans Trump obtained when the big U.S. banks would no longer do business with him because of his consistent failure to pay debts. Plutocrats here, oligarchs there, all aspire to become the most powerful global ruling class in history. Yes, the Russians are coming, but the plutocrats are here.

[1] See Stephanie Baker and Daryna Krasnolutska, “Paul Manafort’s Lucrative Ukraine Years Are Central to the Russia Probe,” Bloomberg News (May 22, 2017). Accessed at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-05-22/paul-manafort-s-lucrative-ukraine-years-are-central-to-the-russia-probe

The Manchurian President and His Great Wall

Remember the old movie, The Manchurian Candidate? The 1962 political thriller depicted a veteran of the Korean War, who had been brainwashed while a prisoner of war, to assassinate the leading presidential candidate so that the vice-presidential candidate could win the presidency. A secret “palace coup d’état” would then impose a draconian suspension of democracy in service to the KGB.

A 2004 remake starred Denzel Washington playing the other veteran who knows something is wrong. The remake updated the conflict to the Persian Gulf War and the perpetrator to a U.S. corporation, “Manchurian Global.” A slick candidate for the U.S. presidency has been “brainwashed” to do the bidding for a foreign power – a corporation foreign to American democracy, that is. The inevitable struggle between good and evil ensues.

The Manchurian Candidate Wins

I think we have an apt metaphor here for the rise of Trumpery, the results of which we all now experience. However, these days the president may or may not be helping the Russians. But they appear to have helped him jam the culture of core American values and national security in service to the Billionaire Class and especially his own (secret) global financial interests. The whole thing, morally as well as socially and economically, is far, far away from serving ordinary Americans. It is, in a word, foreign; the new normal of political corruption has infected many Americans through the demagoguery of the Manchurian President. He had come out from behind the wall of privileged wealth to claim common cause with the people. Total betrayal.

The financial and corporate elites in whose interest Trump promulgates endless executive orders are foreign in every way but their rhetoric. They care no less for the public interest than does the Manchurian President. The Vicar of Venality encourages the congress of Republican corporatists to trash the modest Affordable Care Act in favor of massive tax cuts for the super-rich, disease and death for the “losers” — us. He stifles as many federal agencies that work to protect the public interest from plunder capital as he can. He viciously assaults public discourse via hateful twitter tropes.

Atomic TrumpThe “Reality TV” show that now guides the nation entails the Branding of the President as the only real “winner” among the rest of us “losers.” The amoral Trump Brand touts greed and meanness as its central principle for gaining the power that allows him to take what he wants, whenever he wants, from whomever he wants — from contractors or employees who he refused to pay to pretty women he feels entitled to grope at will. We must realize that he projects this evil vindictive brand across the world in our name. Our nation’s security suffers for it.

More Shocks to Come

These are dangerous times and we all need whatever bits of useful advice we can garner to counter the Manchurian President. That is why I recommend you read Naomi Klein’s latest book, which gives valuable insight into both Trumpery and its application of the neoliberal economic (and political) “shock doctrine” to our own nation.

The first few chapters of her new book, No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, integrate Klein’s insights from previous books on branding, disaster capitalism, and the climate crisis, to offer what may be the most intelligible answer to the question, “What is Trumpery?” Her new video, “How to resist Trump’s shock doctrine,” outlines some key actions the rest of us should take. Check it out. Let me know what you think.

The history of the American political economy exposes a very long and persistent attempt by privileged elites to destroy the democracy that would interfere with the completion of their hegemony. Nancy Mclean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, makes one thing very clear. Much of what passes as ordinary “conservative” politics is part of a larger plan to destroy democracy in America.

The Great Wall of Trump’s racist misogynist rhetoric symbolizes something far more sinister than a physical deterrent to illegal immigration, instilling fear of the infiltration of terrorists, or Trump’s juvenile denigration of women and anyone not a U.S.-born white male. Of course, it elevates a certain xenophobic fear of the other in an uncertain world, adding to the angst that breeds the extreme nationalism and racist scapegoating that demagoguery has always encouraged and exploited.

Naomi Klein emphasizes in No Is Not Enough, that as aberrant as he is personally, Donald Trump is in a much deeper sense the logical result of the campaign to destroy democracy in the name of a libertarian future for the super-rich. His actions are a perfect fit for the neo-liberal agenda of the billionaire plutocrats who would rather not have to deal with a democracy in their quest for total power.

Transcending Trumpery

Trumpery is not so much about building a physical wall on our southern border as it is about reinforcing and extending the Great Wall of Disparity dividing us all off from those 600 Super-rich who make up the 1% of the 1% of wealthy Americans who gain from his policies. The tweets are his personal form of the much broader distractions the corporate mass media propagate daily to redirect public attention from the plunder of the our commonwealth.

As Robert Schenkkan’s brilliant new play, “Building the Wall” demonstrates, the achievement of a fascist state will come through the creeping engagement of ordinary ‘functionaries’ (people) in the machinations of oppression. The ultimate result – genocidal practices that remain at the core of the cultural heritage of the corporate state – further delay the unfinished American Revolution. It was integral to Canada’s colonization of indigenous peoples as well. Given the national political situation, resistance must continue. But the remaining viable path to survival of humanity in spite of the plutocrats is to transform local communities to harmonize with their ecosystems and each other to thereby replace the plutocracy with direct local democracy. Only such a transformation can at last complete the American Revolution.

The Insurance Scam

As the corporate dominated congress struggles to perpetrate the greatest insurance scam ever upon the American people, it might help to put the concept of insurance itself in perspective. The deliberations’ secrecy is a big clue. The attempt to eliminate health insurance coverage for some 23 million or more Americans and destroy Medicaid for the poor, to fund yet another big tax cut for the super-rich whose political power is far greater than that of the people ought to enrage every ordinary American. The one percent of the one percent are about to Trump American democracy once again with the greatest Insurance Scam of all times.

insurance.1Insurance is a concept fraught with contradictions in U.S. culture. For most of us, it is something we must pay for to protect ourselves from likely bankruptcy resulting from the costs of some major tragedy in our lives. If we crash our car, causing someone to be maimed or killed, most Americans do not have the resources to pay the massive costs for which we may become liable. The medical costs of a life-threatening disease or severe injury reach far beyond the pocket book of most Americans. That is why we pay insurance premiums. In theory, if everyone pays a small premium, the resulting large pool of money is available to pay the costs of whatever adversity befalls an insured person of family.

The Scam

However, it is much more complicated than that. Over time, the insurance business has become a “cash cow” for the corporations involved. We understand our insurance simply as an individual or family’s way of protecting itself from the risk of financial disaster or the risk of lack of access to medical treatment. After all, we live in an individualistic culture and it is up to us to take our own precautions or risk catastrophic consequences. But it was not always like that. Other options were available. Today, not so much.

In 2014, $1.274 Trillion was spent by Americans on insurance premiums.[1] Now, setting aside the administrative costs of managing an insurance program, the amount of money taken in by insurance companies today far exceeds the amount paid out in “benefits.” Insurance companies invest the difference, their large profits, in any number of ways. Often, they invest in large-scale projects such as big real estate developments. Today, most insurance companies are stock companies, that is, private corporations owned by their investors and managed in the interests of the company with the use of funds collected from customers in the form of premiums.

The Cooperative Approach

Mutual insurance companies are different; their members, who are also their customers, own them. Mutual companies are rare today; many converted to stock companies decades ago when management sought to operate for profit instead of for the “mutual assurance” of members. The underlying principle remains the same, pooling money from many customers to provide payment of benefits to those who “qualify.” Many “exclusions” restrict qualification. The added cost of corporate profit is the big difference for the “insured,” whose coverage may be less than expected.

Mutual insurance companies were more like cooperatives, such as credit unions. Because their owners are their members, cooperatives eliminate the cost of corporate profit, to the benefit of their member-owners.  I got my mortgage through my credit union simply because it offered the best interest rate of all financial institutions I compared. At the end of the year, I get a dividend based on any surplus revenue the credit union has generated, and the proportion of that revenue generated by my financial activity. In other words, the credit union equitably shares any surplus revenue is among its members. Cooperatives are simply more cost-effective for their member-customer-owners than stock companies whose interests require profits to outside owners and higher stock prices in quarterly reports.

Congress Amplifies the Scam

In the U.S., medical insurance business has evolved into a giant fraud, sanctioned by the federal government. By excluding as many categories of persons or conditions as they can, the insurance companies work hard to avoid any risk of insured individuals needing coverage. Every other nation in the industrial world has some form of universal health insurance in which the government pools the money through taxes and pays doctors, hospitals, etc., for their work. Citizens (members) use health professionals and facilities as needed. The costs are far lower because these systems eliminate both the profits of a business and the complex private insurance bureaucracies needed to restrict access to increase profits. Even more important, the health outcomes are superior to those in the U.S., since the focus is on health, not corporate profit. The Republican health care bill would make things far worse for Americans.

As one European doctor put it, “You Americans treat medicine as a business; we treat it as a profession.” Doctors in most industrialized nations do not think about insurance billing requirements or business profits; they work for respectable professional salaries. Most likely, they also feel less stressed. These differences result from a distinctly American cultural defect that inhibits cooperative behavior in service to the neo-liberal economics of the corporate state. That defect allows insurance to operate as a fraudulent institutional practice that drains the meager resources of the American people.

Breaking Good

As long as we continue to hold to the extreme illusions of individualism fostered by the corporate media and the corporate-controlled congress in support of corporate exploitation of the population, the grand insurance scam will continue. The elites that exploit government as well as the people perpetuate the lie that “private enterprise” is more efficient than government. It is very efficient at exploiting people and politics for corporate profit and the enrichment of corporate elites. But it is clearly less effective at providing health care to the people. The insurance scam continues. The people remain exploited and ill served by medical organizations and practices that serve the insurance companies and other profiteers, not the people. Where is the outrage?

[1] Federal Insurance Office (2014). Annual Report on the Insurance Industry (PDF). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Treasury. p. 45. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insurance_in_the_United_States