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My death will make some people giddy with joy. That’s cool. I like to make people happy.

In the unlikely event that I’m somehow able to witness the gleeful grins and chortles of those who savor the sweet news of my demise, I hope that whatever is left of me on the astral whatever will remain sufficiently objective to recognize the fundamental fairness of the celebrants’ reaction.

After all, criticizing the dead is one of my things. Rejecting the traditional maudlin obituary cartoon format that depicts every boldface name showing up at the pearly gates to check in with Saint Peter — why are American political cartoonists so certain that the next world will be configured in accordance with Christianity? — I have occasionally acquired notoriety by publishing critical observations about such dearly departed figures as Ronald Reagan, Jerry Garcia and other politicians and celebrities whose life stories I believe have benefited from grade inflation.

I have my take on Jimmy Carter ready to go. Let everyone else dwell on Habitat for Humanity; I’ll remind mourning lefties of draft registration, Afghanistan, the Moscow Olympics and setting the stage for the 1980s defense buildup. Also, he was the first Democratic president not to propose an anti-poverty program, because apparently, no one is poor anymore.

I didn’t know Rush Limbaugh, but I used to do talk radio, so I know some people who did. Based on what I heard, I have to think he would have held an analogous opinion on the clinking of champagne glasses in Berkeley and the Upper West Side that followed news of his passing. He would have been pleased. What he wanted, what we who express opinions for a living all want, was to be heard and reacted to.

They say Limbaugh was actually pretty sweet. He just said mean things on the radio. “What is sad is that such an imbecile and such an ignoramus ends up as a prominent cartoonist in major newspapers,” he said about me, and who knows? Maybe he was right. Perhaps he would have been courteous in person. I’m just happy he noticed my work.

I speak ill of humans who are no longer breathing, famously and infamously so. The typical response to body-still-warm criticism is that it’s too soon; let the family and friends mourn; cold-blooded assessments of a life well-lived or not so much should await some unspecified future moment. That’s dumb. There will never be a more perfect time to judge a person’s achievements and failings than the hours following a man or woman’s demise. Years later, when it’s appropriate, who will care?

Limbaugh gave as good as he got, usually better, and if anyone is above criticism, it’s not him. But much of the ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead rhetoric on Twitter and various op-ed pages goes beyond celebrating the death of a formidable adversary, which Limbaugh surely was to anyone on the left. It conflates political disagreement with moral judgment.

Declaring someone to be immoral because you don’t like their opinions is intellectually dishonest. Hate Limbaugh, hate Hillary Clinton, hate me, but judge our moral lives by the way we lived, not whether or not you agree with us. I hate it when readers tell me that I drew a good cartoon simply because they agree with its point of view; some of the best cartoons I have ever read expressed politics that I despise.

What really galled liberals about Limbaugh was his success, his incredible effectiveness. Imagine, though it’s scarcely possible, the progressive analog of the man who singlehandedly revolutionized talk radio. You could drive hundreds of miles across highways where Limbaugh’s voice was the only one on the dial, only to reappear on the next local station as the old one faded out. He brilliantly exploited dead air and an unusual-for-radio voice with hilarious bombast and tongue planted firmly in cheek whether his dittoheads knew it or not.

Though he wound up his career as a fairly rote Trump Republican, Limbaugh first made his mark as a conservative who criticized the GOP for failing to live up to the right-wing values he articulated and held it to account. He mobilized an army. As much as Buchanan, Reagan and Trump, he defined the ideological and attitudinal contours of today’s emboldened Republican Party. Had former Sen. Al Franken managed to guide the benighted Air America — take a sec to Google it — to similar heights, Democrats would have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and Sen. Bernie Sanders would be beginning his second term. Who knows how many economic sectors would be nationalized by now?

What if Franken or Rachel Maddow (who got her start on Air America) had dominated 15 hours a week of top-rated radio in every single market and hundreds and hundreds of stations for decades before succumbing to lung cancer? What if they had succeeded in pushing the 50-yard line of politics as far left as Limbaugh did to the right? It is a safe bet that, if such criticism could credibly apply, no Democrat would take note of any marital problems, substance abuse, intemperate language, cigar-danger denialism or alleged egotism. They might even pick up from President Joe Biden, as Limbaugh did from Trump in an episode that enraged liberals, a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

About Limbaugh’s supposed egotism: I am endlessly amazed by Americans’ inability to recognize humor expressed by a partisan expressing an opposing political point of view. Limbaugh “once introduced himself with a pomposity and self-aggrandizement that, to this day, takes the breath away,” Colbert I. King writes in the Washington Post: “This is Rush Limbaugh, the most dangerous man in America, with the largest hypothalamus in North America, serving humanity simply by opening my mouth, destined for my own wing in the Museum of American Broadcasting, executing everything I do flawlessly with zero mistakes, doing this show with half my brain tied behind my back just to make it fair, because I have talent on loan from God.”

Note to King: This is a joke. It’s so much of a joke that even if he meant every single word, it transcended the artist’s original meaning to become a joke he never intended. Seriously, though, take it from this leftist. It’s like that time Donald Trump asked the Russians to look for Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. It was a joke; everyone knew it was a joke; and Democrats looked stupid for pretending it wasn’t — or worse, not recognizing it.

Go ahead and hate Rush. But it would be smarter for lefties to copy him.

 

“Radical solutions require radical solutions,” I wrote in my 2010 book, “The Anti-American Manifesto,” a polemic that calls upon us to save ourselves from imminent social, economic and political collapse by overthrowing the system and rebuilding society from the ground up. We currently face several radical problems. But we’re not likely to rise to the challenge, because the adherence of President Joe Biden’s administration to the Democratic Party’s cult of militant moderation ensures that its proposed solutions will mitigate these grave issues — at best — with zero chance of avoiding disaster.

There is a time and a place for tweaks and minor adjustments. You don’t amputate a leg to cure a sprained ankle. Extreme situations require going big; if your oncologist suggests removing half your tumor and then waiting to see how it goes, fire her.

Our planet has cancer. Exponentially growing and increasing temperatures have killed most of the world’s reefs and threaten widespread food shortages and thus political stability. Garbage, toxins and other pollution are clogging the oceans and poisoning the air. We can debate the specifics, but when studies predict the possible collapse of human civilization within 30 years and “a ghastly future of mass extinction,” environmental degradation has obviously become a radical problem.

Despite calling climate change “the number one issue facing humanity,” Joe Biden clearly doesn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation. His plan aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the same year his plan calls for the elimination of fossil fuels. Grant him this: His plan is achievable. If human civilization vanishes, who in the hellscape will be left to burn fossil fuels?

Biden’s approach to the climate change crisis recalls my metaphorical oncologist, the one who counsels half-measures. Ban fracking on federal lands, though most oil and gas comes from elsewhere. Improve fuel economy standards, though Detroit is moving quickly to an all-electric car future anyway. Seal off leaking oil and gas wells. It’s good stuff. It moves in the right direction. But it’s like taking out half the tumor. Half of it is still inside you, multiplying.

You’re still going to die.

You could even argue that Biden is making things worse. Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief that former President Donald Trump, a science denialist who wants to mine coal even though energy companies do not, has been replaced by a president who acknowledges the issue. But Biden’s half-measures are no likelier to fix the problem of rising temperatures fueled by greenhouse gas emissions than Trump’s overt sabotage. Catastrophe is inevitable either way.

From geoengineering to synthetic trees that absorb carbon dioxide more efficiently to whitening the surface area of the earth to reflect the sun’s rays to actively promoting algae blooms, science offers a number of Hail Mary passes that might stave off environmental apocalypse. Many sound wacky. They might be counterproductive. But at least they’re radical. Which means that, unlike tweaking mpgs, they might work.

The COVID-19 pandemic reiterated what anyone who ever gets sick has long known: America’s health care system is hobbled by rapacious for-profit insurance companies. I have a silver plan (Anthem BlueCross BlueShield) purchased via the New York Affordable Care Act marketplace. When I arrived at the hospital two weeks ago for a hernia repair operation that I definitely needed — I was losing feeling in my upper legs — I was informed hours before surgery that I would have to cough up $6,500 between the deductible and the co-pay. I am due for a colonoscopy, but now I can’t afford one. And I’m relatively lucky; I’m not one of the 1 out of 4 Americans who routinely skip seeing a doctor because they are too poor.

As with climate change, health care in the United States is a radical problem in need of a radical solution. Studies consistently show that Americans rank last or close to last among industrialized nations in terms of access to medical care, quality of care and cost. Average life expectancy in the United States has been falling over the last three years — a radical reversal of 20th-century trends that recall Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nothing Biden has in mind would put us where we belong: number one.

Biden’s moderate sales pitch famously defeated Sen. Bernie Sanders, for whom a major platform plank was “Medicare for All.” During the campaign, Biden repeated Obama’s 2008 pledge to add “a public option” to Obamacare (Obama reneged). But the scheme recently unveiled by the White House downplays the public option and would allow Americans to spend up to 8.5% of their annual income on health care.

The new president is inheriting big, long-neglected problems that require big, dramatic solutions.

The average young person graduates from college with over $32,000 in student loan debt. Default rates hover around 10%; even bankruptcy doesn’t allow people to discharge these debts. Hobbling our best and brightest minds shrinks the consumer economy and discourages entrepreneurship. Yet Biden only wants to forgive up to $10,000 — and it doesn’t seem to be a top legislative priority. Even if he gets what he wants, the problem will remain extreme.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the U.S. labor market is 9.9 million jobs smaller than pre-pandemic levels. New York City alone lost 1 million jobs to the COVID-19 lockdown. Millions of families face destitution, eviction or foreclosure. By any measure, this is a huge problem that could slow recovery for a long time. Biden’s solution is a one-time payment of $1,400 — better than nothing but a rounding error compared to what would be required to keep people in their homes while they’re waiting for employment opportunities to return.

As Democrats bask in the glow of impeaching Donald Trump for a second time with some bipartisan support, they may want to consider how he got elected. Desperate workers in flyover country suffered from deindustrialization for years. It was a radical disruption. But Democrats ignored them, exacerbated the problem with poorly written free trade agreements or satisfied themselves with half-measures.

Here we go again.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Coronavirus, Environment, Joe Biden 

Censorship in mainstream corporate American media outlets is subtle. It’s not so much that they spin the truth. It’s that they omit pertinent facts and exclude relevant points of view.

So it is with politics. Among the tools available to messaging and framing experts is “flooding the field” — dominating the news with a blizzard of headlines in order to obscure actions they ought to be undertaking but are instead ignoring. That’s what we are seeing, or not seeing, from the new Biden administration.

Former President Donald Trump and his predecessors left behind a hell of a mess. But much of what you and I consider unfinished disasters to be reversed or cleaned up is to this centrist Democrat’s cronies and top administrators just business as usual, perfectly desirable neoliberal policy that, as far as they are concerned, can and should continue. Only one thing to get in the way of the continuationists: voters noticing what they are up to.

A lot of important items are missing from President Joe Biden’s executive orders and early legislative proposals. He and his allies are hiding behind the usual fig leaf of “Give the guy time. He just got in. He has a lot of stuff to fix.” But that’s malarkey. There is only one reason that issues near and dear to progressives couldn’t have been prioritized for early action alongside the over three dozen presidential executive orders that have already been signed: The White House’s agenda isn’t the same as ours.

Take the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. It’s an international embarrassment that turns everything the United States preaches about human rights into a joke. It should have been closed years ago. The inmates should be released — to the United States if their home countries won’t take them or are too dangerous — and all prisoners past and present should be generously compensated and offered physical and psychological health treatment for the remainder of their lives.

Biden doesn’t care about Gitmo, and we should hold him to account for his immorality. He has had almost nothing to say about this boil on the butt of America since he began running for president. He blames Congress for a 2014 law forbidding the military from transferring prisoners to the U.S., shrugs his shoulders and talks about other things.

Nothing prevents the president from closing the facility. He could do it with the stroke of a pen. Actually, the entire naval base should be returned to Cuba, from which it was stolen as a spoil of the based-on-lies Spanish-American War. Let Congress figure out what to do with its torture victims.

Considering how easy it would be for him to take bold and decisive action on an issue that would earn him widespread claim from human rights organizations and the international community, it is more than fair to criticize Biden for ignoring this huge issue in favor of the relatively trivial question of whether transgender women should be allowed to compete in high school athletics.

Another blight on our country’s international reputation is the ongoing drone war. International polls are clear; everyone on Earth except citizens of the United States despises us for invading foreign airspace with assassination robots and murdering people who apparently almost always turn out to be completely innocent. Like his predecessors, Biden is responsible for signing off on any moves to blow up people on the other side of the planet for no good reason. And he could stop it with a stroke of a pen. It’s not like he’s too busy.

As with Guantanamo, however, Biden has been silent on drones. Biden’s new director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, was a lawyer for then-President Barack Obama lawyer who signed off on Obama’s drone “kill list” between 2013 and 2015. She also reportedly helped cover up CIA torture. “We know that in almost all cases that she said it was legal to put these names on the kill list, and people were subsequently killed by drone, including American citizens,” says CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou. (Disclosure: I have been interviewed by Kiriakou and consider him a friend.) But the media don’t talk much about that. They’re super excited that this miserable turd of a human being is female.

The talking point that a new president is busy and should be allowed time to do what’s right is an effective but ridiculous argument. The president of the United States has a huge staff reporting directly to him; he can walk and chew gum and stand on a foot and bark like a dog all at the same time. And if he’s too busy to do the right thing, he should certainly be too busy to do the wrong thing.

Progressives and other critics of the administration shouldn’t grant Joe Biden a honeymoon that he doesn’t seem interested in taking.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Joe Biden, Terrorism 

Donald Trump may soon look back at his defeat as the best thing that ever happened to him. The former president has been disgraced and double-impeached, and faces criminal prosecution. Fortunately for him, he slipped out of Washington, D.C., just in time to avoid the blame for an economic catastrophe no one can fix.

No one inside this political system, anyway.

Over the last month, 5.2 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment. As of December, the key civilian labor force participation rate was 61.5%. Those are staggeringly bad numbers, comparable to those of the Great Depression. And this is following a year of atrocious job losses. “It’s literally off the charts,” Michelle Meyer of Bank of America said in May. “What would typically take months or quarters to play out in a recession happened in a matter of weeks this time.”

A little history: The last time the economy tanked was at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, during the 2008-09 subprime mortgage crisis. We were seriously freaking out by the time Barack Obama was sworn in. The Great Recession was the worst meltdown since the Great Depression. Tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs and/or their homes, many to illegal bank foreclosures.

Yet the Great Recession, bad as it was, was nothing compared to what we face now. In January 2009, first-time unemployment filings totaled 600,000. We were terrified! And rightly so.

It’s nine times worse now .

And in January 2009, the labor force participation rate was 65.7%. About 7 million Americans have been unemployed so long that they have given up looking for work since 2009. They’re not in the official unemployment rate, but they’re jobless in all the ways that matter. They’re broke; they’re not paying taxes; and they’re a burden on the welfare and health care systems.

Obama’s first-term economic stimulus package was anemic. It bailed out Wall Street, not Main Street. So it took seven years to dig out of the hole — nearly the entirety of Obama’s two terms. Insufficient stimulus led to big Democratic losses in the 2010 midterm elections, the Occupy Wall Street movement on the left and Trump’s populist takeover on the right (interestingly, Trump carried counties where it took longer to recover).

Every intelligent Democrat looks back in regret at Obama and the Democratic Congress’ decision not to go big to put people back to work. “The Obama stimulus was too small and too subtle,” Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic. “It was too small because the Republican opposition was intransigent, and the Democratic coalition was uncomfortable with the multitrillion-dollar deficits necessary to close the GDP gap.” President Joe Biden faces exactly the same situation.

Now it’s worse — much worse. “The magnitude of the crisis in 2008 was enormous, but this time we’ve got multiple overlapping crises,” Biden’s senior campaign policy advisor, Jake Sullivan, remarked in September.

It’s a six-alarm fire. But help is not on the way. “Key Republicans have quickly signaled discomfort with — or outright dismissal of — the cornerstone of Biden’s early legislative agenda, a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan that includes measures such as $1,400 stimulus checks, vaccine distribution funding and a $15 minimum wage,” The Washington Post reported on Jan. 25. “On top of that, senators are preparing for a wrenching second impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump, set to begin Feb. 9, which could mire all other Senate business and further obliterate any hopes of cross-party cooperation. Taken together, this gridlock could imperil Biden’s entire early presidency, making it impossible for him to deliver on key promises as he contends with dueling crises.”

Even if Biden were to pull a miracle bunny out of his hat by convincing Congress to pass his stimulus package intact, those $1,400 checks won’t be nearly enough to pull the economy out of a tailspin. Obama’s stimulus, worth $995 billion in today’s dollars, was half the size of Biden’s. But Biden has a hole nine times bigger to dig out of. In relative terms, then, Obama’s stimulus was 4.5 times that of Biden’s — and everyone agrees it was way too small.

Progressive economists, the same experts who were right about Obama’s mini-stimulus 12 years ago while Very Serious Pundits were dead wrong, calculate that Biden should spend two to three times the $1.9 trillion he is requesting from Congress in order to save the economy. “Congress is debating a stimulus package right now that would leave our estimate of true unemployment still hovering around double digits,” says Mark Paul, political economist at the New College of Florida and the co-author of a report by the progressive think tank The Groundwork Collaborative. “We have the tools to put the economy back on track. Unfortunately, Congress lacks the political will to act.”

The painfully slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, exploding infection rates and soaring unemployment point to a brutal winter followed by a long, hot summer, 1968-style. Biden isn’t asking for enough. Congress won’t approve the little bit he’s asking for. And the failure of American democracy to address our crises will soon be evident to everyone.

As rage boils over from far left to far right, the Jan. 6 coup attempt at the Capitol may soon look like less of a historical anomaly than a precursor to collapse or revolution. If I were Biden, I might call The Donald and ask him if I could hide out at Mar-a-Lago.

 

From mainstream left to mainstream right, the media deluge of Donald Trump postmortems share the assumption that 45 represented a departure, deviation or innovation from the comportment and policies of previous American heads of state. True, he was the first man elected president without political or military experience. And as I have previously observed, the former president revolutionized campaigning by relying on social media instead of big travel budget and ad-libbing rather than repeating a pre-packaged stump speech.

But there was nothing new about the way he governed.

In policy, even with his vicious tone, Trump was a typical Republican president. Gerald Ford told New York City to drop dead. Ronald Reagan called Blacks “welfare queens” and dog-whistled to the Ku Klux Klan. George W. Bush legalized torture. Nothing Trump did was worse than those. In some respects, Trump wasn’t much worse from Democrats.

Trump’s low approval ratings following his second impeachment, for his Jan. 6 coup d’etat attempt, and the revulsion most Americans currently feel for him give us a rare opportunity to acknowledge an ugly truth. Our nation’s political culture is toxic and has been for a long time; we tend to elevate politicians who reflect our basest and coarsest inclinations. In this respect, Trump was the perfect president for us.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump shocked many of us by gleefully encouraging violence, as when he offered to pay the legal bills of a MAGA-head who beat up a liberal protester. He continued to spew bloodthirsty rhetoric throughout his four years in office (like when he implored cops to not “be too nice” to suspects), up to and including the day of the Capitol riot that left five people dead. The politics of degeneracy.

Yet Biden is no improvement. He’s a continuation.

You don’t get admitted to the ruling classes unless you pledge fealty to the might-makes-right politics of American empire. So when a technocrat in a nation with a smidge of respect for the rule of law might soft pedal or deny involvement in a brazenly illegal political assassination for which he ought to spend the rest of his life in prison, dirtbag American leaders brag about fomenting murder. “If you are looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple,” then-Vice President Biden smirked during Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.”

That followed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s disgusting reaction to the murder of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi. “We came; we saw; he died,” she cackled after viewing the dictator being sodomized by a bayonet wielded by a U.S. ally after his convoy was blown up by a U.S. drone missile.

At a September presidential debate, Biden hypocritically accused Trump of using “racist … dog-whistle” language. The new president has a long history of spewing similar verbiage while arguing for right-wing legislation that destroyed Black lives. “We must take back the streets,” Biden said, sounding like Charles Bronson in “Death Wish,” while fighting for his infamously racist 1994 crime bill. “It doesn’t matter whether or not the person that is accosting your son or daughter or my son or daughter, my wife, your husband, my mother, your parents, it doesn’t matter whether or not they were deprived as a youth. It doesn’t matter whether or not they had no background that enabled them to become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the victims of society. The end result is they’re about to knock my mother on the head with a lead pipe, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take on my sons.” Everyone understood who “they” were: Blacks.

It might be reasonable to brush off this 26-year-old rant as the product of a political mind still in development — except for one thing. Biden has never apologized for either his racist dog-whistling or his racist legislation.

Until and unless you recant and make amends for your past, your past is your present.

One stain on Trump’s presidency was emoluments — using his office for personal financial gain. Biden’s actions on behalf of his son Hunter Biden may not rise to the frequency of the Trump family’s rampant nepotism. Morally and ethically, however, selling access to the (vice) presidency is a distinction without a difference.

Trump’s worst sin was his repeated lying, even about such inconsequential matters as the attendance size at his inauguration. But Biden is a serial liar, too. During a primary debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Biden looked right into an incredulous Sanders’ eyes and said he had never voted for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion. In fact, he had supported it repeatedly, for many years. Typically, he never admitted wrongdoing.

Biden lied about supporting civil rights. He even falsely claimed to have been arrested by police in apartheid-era Soweto, South Africa. His best-ever fib was smearing the man involved in the car wreck that killed his first wife and young daughter; he claimed the driver had “drunk his lunch” when, in fact, he was sober and the accident was his wife’s fault.

Again, you could dismiss Biden’s lies as youthful immaturity. After all, he was six months younger when he lied in Sanders’ face. The problem for us is he’s still at it.

In December, Biden said he wanted to send Americans a $2,000 stimulus check in order to prop up the economy. Congress approved and Trump signed a bill granting $600 instead. Now the weasel-in-chief says Trump’s $600 was a “down payment” — so we’re only getting, assuming that Congress approves the rest, $1,400. (Never mind that single payments are a joke compared with the 80% of salary, paid monthly, issued to victims of COVID-19 lockdown victims in the United Kingdom, 70% in South Korea, etc.)

Don’t be fooled by Biden’s tight-fitting suits, a distinct sartorial improvement over Trump’s glossy, too-long red ties, or his phony aw-shucks grin, an aesthetic improvement over Trump’s ridiculous scowl. In the ways that matter most, back to normal is exactly the same as the weirdness of the last four years.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2020 Election, Donald Trump, Joe Biden 

Terrified political leaders watched the police who were assigned to protect them melt away. They fled as an angry mob of hooligans, riled up by sketchy allegations of rigged elections, stormed up the stairs of the government building that hosted the debates and deliberations of their venerable democracy. The rioters, reactionary right-wingers from the nation’s rural hinterlands, rampaged through the corridors of power, smashing windows, vandalizing offices and looting files and furniture.

Political elites deplored the physical appearance and comportment of the protesters. “I’d like to believe and hope that the actions of a mob high on narcotic substances will not totally destabilize this republic,” remarked a top official of a neighboring country.

This scene didn’t take place at the Capitol. It occurred at the “White House,” the seat of parliament and the presidential staff in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

In March 2005, the mob got its away. President Askar Akayev, the only leader of a former Soviet republic in Central Asia to have been democratically elected, fled into exile. The Tulip Revolution, as Western news media approvingly dubbed the coup, prompted the all-but-total collapse of the country’s economy and politics into chaos so intense that parts of the country have become a failed state where currency has stopped circulating. When I entered via Tajikistan in 2009, the illiterate border guards didn’t even have a stamp in order to mark my passport.

Stability remains elusive. Mobs similarly toppled Akayev’s successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, in 2010 and, in a barely noticed bit of international drama eclipsed by the U.S. election, Bakiyev’s replacement in October 2020.

Those Kyrgyz mobs of Muslim young men from the conservative Ferghana Valley didn’t materialize by chance in 2005. They were reportedly trained and funded by you and me.

Scores of CIA agents permanently stationed in southern Kyrgyzstan trained a bunch of hicks to overthrow a northern-based secular government that had annoyed former President George W. Bush’s administration. The Akayev regime’s real sin? Not fixing an election. It was their demand for higher rent payments from the U.S. to use the Bishkek airport as a base for bombing runs into Afghanistan.

The overthrow of Akayev “would have been absolutely impossible … without that help” from the U.S., said Edil Baisolov, who led an NGO financed by the U.S. government. Freedom House, a CIA cover operation masquerading as an NGO, published anti-Akayev newspapers. In 2004, the U.S. Congress allocated $12 million under the Freedom Support Act toward undermining Central Asia’s sole democracy.

“Hundreds of thousands more filter into pro-democracy programs in the country from other United States government-financed institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy,” reported The New York Times in 2005. “That does not include the money for the Freedom House printing press or Kyrgyz-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a pro-democracy broadcaster.” Bakiyev was himself trained in the U.S.

American media outlets loved the Kyrgyz insurrection. They grouped it with other CIA-backed “color revolutions” against the governments of Ukraine and Georgia, spinning the overthrow of Akayev, an intellectual physicist, as the liberation of the people from an authoritarian despot.

So, please excuse me if I don’t shed geysers of tears over the traumas endured by the pampered, lobbyist-fattened members of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate while idiots wearing horned Viking masks desecrated the hallowed hallways of the Capitol.

What happened on Jan. 6 is infinitely less than chickens coming home to roost. A few hours of mayhem is but a tiny taste of the far greater violence and misery those 535 men and women vote to inflict on countries around the world. According to one study, the United States interfered overtly or covertly in the free elections of 81 foreign countries between 1946 and 2000. The U.S. tried to overthrow the president of Venezuela in 2002; invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, where it replaced the local governments with puppet regimes; set off a war within the Palestinian Authority by trying to get rid of Hamas in 2006; and is currently trying to destroy Yemen, Syria, Iran and Libya, the last of which, thanks to us, has become a failed state. This is, by necessity, a truncated list.

Here is true American exceptionalism. Our Congress throws billions of dollars a year at regime change operations around the globe, but, with the exception of events like the 9/11 attacks, nothing happens. Blowback is infrequent and relatively small-scale, and it never directly impacts the people who are responsible, i.e. the political class. Given that one of the few things Democrats and Republicans still agree upon is to finance the cash-bloated military, I don’t see that changing.

It would be nice, however, for the members of Congress who finance and arm the rampaging mobs that illegally overthrow the sovereign governments of other countries to take it on the chin when the same thing kind of, sort of, almost happens to them.

 

“When someone shows you who they are,” Maya Angelou said, “believe them the first time.” We’re about to be reminded who and what the corporate-owned Democratic Party is — something it showed us in 2009.

A pair of upset victories in the widely watched pair of Georgia senatorial runoff elections has handed Democrats what they said they needed to get big things done: control of the White House, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. If they want, they have argued over the last year, they will be able to push through a lot of important legislation on the liberal agenda: a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, student loan forgiveness, an eviction ban, “Medicare for All,” expanded economic stimulus and addressing the climate crisis come to mind.

They don’t want to. They won’t try.

And they’ll have an excuse. Democrats will still be 10 votes short of the supermajority needed to override Republican filibusters. The billion dollars spent to elect those two Democrats in Georgia created some interesting symbolism about the rising influence of Black voters and hopes for further Democratic inroads in the South, but it didn’t defang Sen. Mitch McConnell. Gridlock goes on.

Not that Biden and his pet Democratic Congress have much of an agenda. He’ll reverse President Donald Trump’s executive orders on stuff like rejoining the Paris climate agreement, but he won’t move the policy meter left of where it stood under former President Barack Obama — a guy who was so far right of progressives that they launched the Occupy Wall Street movement to oppose him. Biden campaigned tepidly on adding a “public option” to Obamacare, but McConnell will almost certainly block it and anything else that requires GOP votes. The exception, of course, will be the next bloated military spending bill. For six consecutive decades, Americans have been able to count on death, taxes, rising income inequality and bipartisan support for blowing up brown people in countries we can’t find on a map with $640 toilet seats.

But you shouldn’t let the filibuster get you down. Even if Nonexistent God were to smite 10 deserving GOP senators with the coronaplague and said smitten senators represented states whose Democratic governors were to appoint their replacements, thus giving the Bidenocrats a coveted 60-vote supermajority, nothing would get better .

We know this because it happened 12 years ago during the 111th Congress.

Obama’s presidency began in the strongest power position of any Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt. With the economy in a tailspin and shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month — back then, we still thought that was a lot — voters were both desperate and optimistic that our new, young leader would lead us out of the Great Recession. He had a 68% approval rating, indicating bipartisan support. Democrats had picked up 21 seats in the House, giving them a 257-178 majority. They had a 59-41 majority in the Senate. (This included two independents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, who caucused with Democrats.) They were one tantalizing vote short of a supermajority.

That changed on Sept. 24, 2009, when the seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death was temporarily filled by a fellow Democrat, until Feb. 4, 2010, when the Republican governor of Massachusetts violated all that is good and decent by placing Republican Scott Brown in the Kennedy spot.

Democratic apologists explain away Obama’s lack of progress on progressive policy goals during that halcyon period by pointing out that total Democratic control of the White House and both houses of Congress “only” lasted four months, during which they passed the Affordable Care Act.

Let’s temporarily set aside the question of how it is that former President Ronald Reagan rammed an agenda so far right that it still affects all of us today through a 243-191 Democratic House and “just” 53 GOP seats in the Senate. What about those four magic months during which Obama could have gone as far left as he and his fellow Democrats wanted?

Well, Democrats did pass one of those 60 straight bloated defense bills. That would have happened under Reagan or former President George W. Bush. They extended unemployment benefits by 14 to 20 weeks, depending on in which state the poor jobless schmuck lived. And the ACA. And that’s it.

In order to secure the vote of Lieberman — who represented the insurance company-owned state of Connecticut — the ACA did not include the “public option” that Obama had promised during his campaign. Then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, then in his pre-neutered state, called the deletion of the public option “the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate” and added, “honestly, the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill and go back to the House and start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill.” He was right, but Obama, his House and his supermajoritarian Senate didn’t bother. Like Lieberman, they cared about insurers, not patients.

Four months isn’t that long. Yet Reagan used less time than that to crush his opponents and pass tax cuts for the rich that shredded the New Deal social safety net. Former President Lyndon Johnson took less time to “set Congress on the path to passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as a tax cut and Medicare,” wrote presidential scholar Jeffrey Tulis. FDR created modern liberalism in under three months. You can imagine what Trump would have done during four months of a GOP House and Senate supermajority.

Republicans didn’t prevent Obama from taking on the minimum wage or student loan debt or poverty. Obama had four months to do those things. No one could have stopped him. He didn’t try.

And neither will Biden given the chance.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2020 Election, Democratic Party, Joe Biden 

Late last month, I wrote that there was a strong chance — I called it 50-50 — that Donald Trump would engineer a “self-coup” in order to remain in power despite having lost the election.

The president, I explained, is a desperate cornered rat. Once he leaves office, he becomes vulnerable to a variety of criminal investigations. By far, the one he has to worry about the most is being conducted by the Manhattan district attorney into corrupt business practices, charges that could not be discharged by a presidential pardon if President-elect Joe Biden were to issue one. Trump “could spend the rest of his life in prison,” I wrote, “unless he declares martial law and becomes America’s first dictator.”

I acknowledged that Trump “doesn’t have the support of the military — but he doesn’t need it.” Instead of a Latin American-style military coup, I said, “his would be a ‘police coup’ carried out by the numerous local police departments whose unions endorsed him for reelection, alongside federalized state police and deputized paramilitary MAGA goons.”

It hasn’t happened yet, and maybe it won’t, but nothing has changed about Trump’s precarious legal situation. One of the lessons of history is that nothing trumps the strong human motivation for personal survival. An intelligent assessment of Trump’s thinking must begin with the question: Why wouldn’t he attempt a coup?

Patriotism? Love of country? Respect for constitutional norms? I won’t go as far as many of the president’s other critics, who call him a narcissist who doesn’t care about anything or anyone except himself. They don’t know that, and neither do I.

Here’s what I do know: Whatever love of country and the craftwork of the Founding Fathers is in Trump’s soul cannot possibly weigh as heavily in his mind as the prospect of dying in prison, the first president in history to have faced prosecution and conviction. And that’s after months or years of humiliating hearings and trials and appeals where he has to sit quietly and watch his lawyers try to save his skin as prosecutors try to “flip” members of his family, lest they, too, wind up behind bars.

A more powerful reason to hesitate is the possibility of failure. If Trump’s “police coup” goes belly up, he goes to prison, possibly for treason, for life. Sounds awful, but it’s no worse than the New York charges he’s so scared of.

The only reason I can imagine that Trump would leave office peacefully on Jan. 20 would be that he is psychologically broken. It’s theoretically possible. But the continuing rambunctiousness of his Twitter feed and recent public statements reveal zero evidence that he’s resigned to his fate.

Feel free to dismiss this as the paranoid rant of a left-wing political writer, albeit one who told you we would lose the Afghanistan war and predicted that Trump would win the 2016 election when everyone else was telling you something different. But you should probably consider this: The dean of Very Serious Journalist Persons, columnist David Ignatius of the Washington Post — a foreign affairs writer so mainstream and respectable that he supported invading Iraq and argued that the CIA should not be held accountable for torture and political assassinations — now agrees with me. In doing so, he draws upon some interesting deep-state sourcing.

“Not to be alarmist,” Ignatius wrote on Dec. 26, “but we should recognize that the United States will be in the danger zone until the formal certification of Joe Biden’s election victory on Jan. 6, because potential domestic and foreign turmoil could give President Trump an excuse to cling to power.”

“Trump’s last-ditch campaign” — for Republican members of the House and Senate to challenge the Electoral College vote count certification on Jan. 6 — “will almost certainly fail in Congress,” Ignatius begins. I agree.

“The greater danger is on the streets, where pro-Trump forces are already threatening chaos. A pro-Trump group called ‘Women for America First’ has requested a permit for a Jan. 6 rally in Washington, and Trump is already beating the drum: ‘Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!'” Ignatius worries. “Government officials fear that if violence spreads, Trump could invoke the Insurrection Act to mobilize the military. Then Trump might use ‘military capabilities’ to rerun the Nov. 3 election in swing states, as suggested by Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.”

Ignatius continues: “The Pentagon would be the locus of any such action, and some unusual recent moves suggest pro-Trump officials might be mobilizing to secure levers of power.” If I were his editor, I would have reworded this, because it wrongly implies that Trump is planning a coup with Pentagon support . What Trump really needs, as I wrote a month ago, is Pentagon neutrality . He wants troops to stay in their barracks. As long as the armed forces stay out of the way of local and state police, a coup has a chance.

The description of Trump’s latest behind-the-scenes personnel reshuffles is worth quoting in its entirety: “Kash Patel, chief of staff to acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller, returned home ‘abruptly’ from an Asia trip in early December, according to Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin. Patel didn’t explain, but in mid-December Trump discussed with colleagues the possibility that Patel might replace Christopher A. Wray as FBI director, one official said. Wray remains in his job. Another strange Pentagon machination was the proposal Miller floated in mid-December to separate the code-breaking National Security Agency from U.S. Cyber Command, which are both currently headed by Gen. Paul Nakasone. That proposal collapsed because of bipartisan congressional opposition. But why did Trump loyalists suggest the NSA-Cyber Command split in the first place? Some officials speculate that the White House may have planned to install a new NSA chief, perhaps Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the young conservative recently installed to oversee Pentagon intelligence activities.”

Ominous as hell, though I think Ignatius’ conclusion misses the point: “With firm control of the NSA and the FBI, the Trump team might then disclose highly sensitive information about the origins of the 2016 Trump Russia investigation.” A more obvious motivation for hijacking direct control of the nation’s top foreign and domestic intelligence agencies is command and control. During a coup, the NSA and FBI would monitor and disrupt resistance inside government as well as in the streets.

“Trump won’t succeed in subverting the Constitution,” Ignatius assures us. Maybe.

It’s going to be an eternity between now and Jan. 20.

 

The raging argument on the left between progressives who argue for radical change and centrists who advocate for incrementalism is hardly new. Nearly a century ago, progressive titan and Wisconsin Gov. Robert La Follette and then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt were often at loggerheads over the same question.

Roosevelt, La Follette complained, was too quick to compromise with reactionaries. FDR insisted that “half a loaf is better than no bread.” While that might seem intuitively obvious, La Follette had a ready reply. “Half a loaf, as a rule, dulls the appetite, and destroys the keenness of interest in attaining the full loaf.” That can be dangerous. The average adult male requires approximately 2,500 calories of nutrition per day. Twelve hundred and fifty is better than zero, but 1,250 is still malnutrition that would eventually kill him.

Even in a long-running crisis, the sustained agitation necessary to pressure the political classes into granting concessions doesn’t usually occur before people’s suffering has become acute. If the powers that be provide partial relief in the form of a half-measure that partly alleviates a problem, angry citizens can be persuaded to put down their pitchforks and go home peaceably. Yet the problem persists.

The Affordable Care Act is a perfect example. Barack Obama became president at the peak of a major economic crisis, the subprime mortgage meltdown of 2007-09. With hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs every month, the need for government intervention in the health care system was obvious to most Americans. So Obama campaigned on major change that included a public option. Two out of three people, including many Republicans, favored a single-payer system similar to those in many other countries.

Instead, we got the watered-down ACA.

As COVID-19 has made clear, the for-profit American health care system is even more scandalously dysfunctional than it was prior to the passage of Obamacare. The ACA “marketplace” has collapsed; many places only offer one “take it or leave it” insurance plan. Nevertheless, health care is no longer a top political issue. Support for a public option or “Medicare for All” has dropped to about 50%. The Democratic Party chose to nominate someone who promised to veto Medicare for All even if both houses of Congress were to pass it.

Tens of thousands of people are still dying every year because they can’t afford to see a doctor. But in too many people’s minds, health care was partly solved. So they are no longer demanding improvements. Though it might seem counterintuitive, the politics of the health care crisis would be vastly improved had the compromise ACA never been enacted. More people would be suffering. But the absence of an existing, lame plan would add urgency (and supporters) to the fight for a real, i.e. radical, solution.

Half a loaf is killing us.

As President-elect Joe Biden fills his Cabinet with Obama-era centrists and corporatists, many Democrats say they are satisfied with the improvement over President Donald Trump: officials with government experience replacing crazies and cronies, pledges to reverse the outgoing administration’s attacks on the environment, fealty to science. They are falling into La Follette’s “half a loaf” trap. Especially on existential issues like climate change but also regarding the precarious state of the post-lockdown economy, compromise will sate the appetite for meaningful change without actually solving the problems. As with the ACA, voters will be deceived into thinking things are getting better when, in fact, they will still be getting worse, albeit perhaps at a slightly slower rate.

Climate scientists are divided between those who say we might be able to save human civilization if we achieve net zero carbon emissions within a decade (which is the goal of the Green New Deal pushed by progressives) and those who say it’s already too late. A widely reported study predicts that human civilization will collapse by 2050, yet that’s the year Biden is promising to begin net zero carbon emissions. So if we do what Biden wants, we are going to die.

Trump denied climate science, deregulated polluters and pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. Biden appears to be an improvement. He talks about the urgency of the problem, promises to restore Obama-era regulations and to rejoin the Paris agreement. Pro-environment Democratic voters are breathing a sigh of relief.

But if the goal is to slow the rate of global warming as much as we reasonably can, both Obama’s regulations and the Paris agreement are woefully inadequate. “Marginal cuts by the U.S. don’t have a long-term overall big effect on the climate,” Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, told Scientific American in 2014.

According to National Geographic, a 2017 report by the United Nations Environment Program found that “if action to combat climate change is limited to just current pledges, the Earth will get at least 3 degrees C (5.4 degrees F) warmer by 2100 relative to preindustrial levels. This amount of warming would vastly exceed the Paris Agreement’s goal, which is to limit global warming by the end of the century to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F).”

“(3 degrees C increase) would bring mass extinctions and large parts of the planet would be uninhabitable,” the UNEP warned in 2019.

If liberals head back to brunch in a month thinking that the Biden administration will move the needle in the right direction, if they stop being terrified, we are doomed. For, as bizarre as it sounds, Donald Trump provided a valuable service when he scared the living daylights out of us.

Consider a more modern analogy than the loaf of bread: If a two-pill dose of antibiotics is required to cure an illness, taking one instead doesn’t make you half better. It actually makes you worse, because not only do you not get better but you also destroy your immune system’s ability to fight the disease.

This country is teetering on the verge of collapse. We can’t afford to settle for the single-pill solutions of incremental Bidenism.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Global Warming, Health care 

“In his first rally since losing the election last month, President Trump continued to spout conspiracy theories about voter fraud, falsely claiming that he had defeated President-elect Joe Biden.” That was the lede of a news story in the Dec. 5 Washington Post.

The Associated Press took a similar tack. “President Donald Trump flooded his first post-election political rally with debunked conspiracy theories and audacious falsehoods Saturday as he claimed victory in an election he decisively lost,” began the wire service’s coverage.

You’ll find similarly opinionated news coverage about President Donald Trump in almost every issue of many major newspapers over the last several years. It’s easy to see why many of the president’s supporters don’t trust the mainstream media to be fair to conservatives.

You may long for a return to the days when too many reporters played the role of government stenographers, striving for a neutral tone while dutifully regurgitating the most ridiculous nonsense spewing out of the maws of official propagandists. Not me. Busy news consumers rely on journalists to frame and explain current events, not just reorganize press releases. Skepticism of presidents and labeling their obvious lies are long overdue.

From former President Barack Obama’s “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” the public would have benefited from news accounts that emphasized that these claims not only were not true but could not be true. As reporters knew, Obamacare was structured in a way that made it impossible for many preexisting health insurance plans to remain financially viable within the system. And with regard to Hussein, there is always doubt in the military intelligence business; the credulous tone of this reporting enabled the mass misleading of the American people. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died as a result.

So when it comes to Trump, better late than never. But will journalists’ newfound courage survive into the Biden years? Early indications are discouraging.

Throughout the general election campaign, journalists were unduly solicitous as the Democratic nominee generally shunned one-on-one interviews with major news organizations. In July, Biden only granted 10 TV interviews, nine of which were with local outlets. Despite being the oldest major-party candidate ever to run for president, and despite repeated stumbles and verbal slips on the campaign trail, he faced few questions about his physical health or mental acuity. Liberal-leaning journalists largely dismissed his son Hunter Biden’s fiscal adventures in Ukraine as the product of the fevered imagination of far-right conspiracy theorists; Twitter and Facebook even censored a New York Post story about it. Now that a federal investigation into his taxes has been announced, Hunter is clearly a legitimate line of inquiry. Yet the issue is still not getting much coverage.

Accounts of Biden’s Cabinet choices appear to harken a return to the stenographer days. Many praise the president-elect’s effort to increase “diversity” in a Cabinet Democrats say will “look like America” while ignoring one type of diversity: ideological. Though Biden’s top advisers will include many women and some people of color, there is no indication that a single progressive will be in the room while he decides the fate of the nation.

Stories about former Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s nomination as secretary of transportation bury the elephant in the room. “President-elect Joe Biden will nominate former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to be Transportation secretary,” Politico began its story. “Buttigieg’s ascension to the top spot at DOT marks the culmination of a meteoric rise in politics over the last two years from the mayor of South Bend, Ind., to the first openly gay Cabinet secretary, if he is confirmed.” A reference to Buttigieg’s “thin transportation policy resume” appears in paragraph five.

Had the story been like those about Trump’s Cabinet picks, it likely would have begun something like: “Overlooking experienced transit experts, President-elect Joe Biden instead turned to a young loyalist who helped hand him the nomination, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, to head the transportation department. South Bend, a city of 100,000, has a fleet of 60 buses.” Tone matters.

All presidents lie. Biden lies, too, as he did during a primary debate, when he denied having supported the Hyde Amendment. One hopes that the media will treat him harshly when he does it again, both to be consistent with the more strident scrutiny they have directed at Trump the last four years and to better serve their readers and viewers. But it doesn’t look likely.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, Donald Trump, Joe Biden