Lies My Newspaper Tells Me

Guardian HeadlineThe Guardian article, by Joe Parkin Daniels (in Bogotá, Columbia – one wonders why it wasn’t Joe Parkin Daniels in Caracas, Venezuela), is headlined, “Red Cross brokers Maduro-Guaidó deal to allow aid delivery,” already apparently siding with the 25% of the world that recognizes some legitimacy in Juan Guadó’s claim to leadership in Venezuela.

But from the first, I know I’m being lied to. The picture at the top of the article shows Las Tienditas Bridge, which links Venezuela and Colombia, with cargo containers blocking the three spans. The caption says the bridge “was blocked off with containers earlier this month.” This is true but misleading: the bridge has been blocked off since 2016 – because the bridge has never been opened! Only the containers were added. I know this because I found an older picture, from 2016, at La Opinion. But maybe the Guardian can’t use Google?

Tienditas BridgeThe article gets worse from there. The first paragraph reads—

The Red Cross has brokered a deal with representatives of Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolás Maduro, and his rival, Juan Guaidó, to allow humanitarian aid into the country, indicating a seldom-seen middle ground between the two men that contest the presidency.

This is again misleading. Nicolás Maduro was re-elected President of Venezuela on 20 May 2018 (sworn in on 10 January 2019), an office in which he has served since 2013, after the hugely popular Hugo Chávez died. Juan Guaidó declared himself “interim president” of Venezuela on 23 January 2019. To put this in other terms, I could declare myself a “rival” of President Trump, but that doesn’t make it so. The article, however, seems to equate the claims of a previously unknown politician who believes himself entitled to an office for which he never ran and to which he was never elected.

The article goes on—

The first shipment of aid for about 650,000 vulnerable people could reach Venezuela in two weeks, Francesco Rocca, the president of the International Federation of the Red Cross, told a press conference on Friday.

Again, the article misleads. This is only the “first” shipment of aid if you don’t count ongoing aid from Russia and China and ignore aid that might have come from other countries had not the USA bullied them into line. It is a fact that the UN and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) would have nothing to do with assisting US aid efforts to Venezuela because they saw right through the cynical politics of it. The IFRC (International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), a related organization, operated here. This is not to suggest that aid is a bad thing, but there are multiple reasons why some of it is necessary.

More from the article—

Venezuela has been mired in an economic, political and humanitarian crisis for five years. Shortages and hyperinflation – set to reach 10m% this year – have made medicines and even basic foodstuff hard to obtain for most people.

Saying there has been a problem for five years without giving context and background is at best lazy reporting, at worst agenda reporting. Venezuela was hit hard twice: first in January 2016 by an oil price drop to less than $30/barrel, then in August 2017 by Trump Administration economic sanctions, preventing the cash-strapped nation from borrowing money in the usual way. As one commentator noted, “the sanctions made it virtually impossible for the Venezuela government to take the measures necessary to eliminate hyperinflation or recover from a deep depression.”

MintPressChartSanctions do not hurt the leaders or the economic elite (mostly white), which comprise most of those who are fleeing the country: instead, they hurt the Venezuelan people (mostly people of color). Sanctions are a form of warfare, if not a war crime. As another source puts it, “The record of economic sanctions in forcing political change is dismal, but as a way of reducing a country to poverty and misery it is difficult to beat.”

One final note on the article—

The new effort seems more likely to succeed in large part because of the involvement of the Red Cross, which had distanced itself from the previous attempt to shift the aid into Venezuela.

The reason previous aid from Western governments failed to make it through was because the aid was not even remotely what Francesco Rocca stressed it must be: “independent, neutral, impartial and unhindered.” And please note this: There are more people in need of “humanitarian aid” in the USA than there are people in Venezuela!

Maduro and his state are far from perfect, but they do not live in a state of amnesia, or in an alternate universe. They well remember that it was Elliott Abrams, now Mr. Trump’s Special Representative for Venezuela, and his fellow war criminals, who hid weapons of war in shipments of humanitarian aid to the Contra criminals in Nicaragua. They’ve seen this regime-change script before.

Posted in Politics, Rant, Uncategorized

It’s (Not) Mueller Time. It’s MT.

MuellerLiedSpecial counsel Robert Mueller has found that neither Donald Trump nor any of his aides colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, according to letter delivered to Congress on today by the US Attorney General. … Despite the high-profile indictments of several key Trump associates, like former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former lawyer Michael Cohen and former adviser Roger Stone, none of these indictments was related to collusion, and no further indictments will be issued.

The report did, however, find that Russian interests attempted to meddle in the election through disinformation and social media campaigns, for which numerous Russian nationals were brought up on charges during the course of the investigation. But. Even the Mueller report admits there was not much effect in swaying votes. The IRA spent $46,000 on pre-election day Facebook ads compared to $81 million spent by Clinton and Trump together.

AOC 032419 1354It also found that Russian military personnel hacked into and stole emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and various Democrat parties, which they then distributed through third-party sites, including WikiLeaks. But. There are technical reasons why the hacking could not have been done over the Internet – the file transfer rate was too rapid for anything but a thumb drive – and even if the Russians did hack the Podesta emails, the content of the emails showed how the DNC was committing fraud against then-candidate Bernie Sanders. This skullduggery being something Americans would want know about, I think we should be thanking  the hackers, not indicting them!

In total, the probe cost a reported $25.2 million. I hope the Democrats got their money’s worth!

William BarrSo. Now that Mr. Mueller has dropped his report on Trump loyalist William Barr – who believes if the president does it, even if it amounts to obstruction of justice, it is not illegal, i.e., the “unitary presidency” – House Democrats can spend endless hours on hearings and investigations to save them from their failed presidential strategy in 2016. And that’s OK because all the other problems and crises of this democratic republic have been resolved.

Here is a list of problems we can afford to ignore because Democrats think their most urgent problem is Donald J. Trump—

AOC 032419 1400Anthropogenic climate destruction (climate change; global warming), which includes pollution (byproduct of capitalism)
• Extinction of wild animals, bees (byproduct of capitalism)
• Income inequality (caused by capitalism)
• Poverty (caused by capitalism)
• Government accountability and transparency / government corruption
• Lack of food and water security (caused by capitalism)
• Lack of access to education (caused by capitalism)
• Lack of economic opportunity and employment (caused by capitalism)
• Substance abuse (byproduct of capitalism)
• Terrorism (byproduct of imperialism, a natural extension of capitalism)

Or maybe not. Maybe, as I predicted, the Mueller Report is a big nothing – uncovering lots of shady dealings and likely obstruction of justice but no Russian Collusion – and Democrats will still have to look their constituents in the eyes and explain why they continue to make the same mistakes and continue to lose.

The Mueller Report came up empty. It isn’t Mueller Time.

Posted in Politics, Rant, Uncategorized

Russia-gator Will Bite You

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 8.42.50 AMWhile the Democrats are waiting for Jesus, or rather Robert Mueller, to save them from their failed election strategy of 2016, I’m having a lot of trouble taking the Russian Collusion storyline seriously. Let there be no mistake: I think Trump is a clear and present danger to the nation and its hallowed (if not hollowed) institutions. But Trump is a symptom of a problem that has a long history – decades long, to be sure – and not just under Republican administrations. Trump may be the worst, but he is not the first, to lie to the nation.

I take no pleasure in absolving Mr. Trump of alleged crimes against the constitution. To my mind, he violated the “emoluments clause” the day he took office. But that is not what Democrats are hoping to hang him on, and not what the venerable Mr. Mueller is investigating. No, the charge is that Mr. Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russian government to win the 2016 election. That is the “ball,” as it were. It is important to keep your eye on the ball when you consider what news organizations such as Politico and many, many others – most egregiously, Rachel Maddow – consider the ‘gotchas’ in the Mueller probe. Here is a chronological list, with some additions and annotations of my own—

10/5/17: George Papadopoulos, foreign policy advisor to Trump’s campaign, was indicted for lying to the FBI. Papadopoulos admitted that he discussed his Russia contacts with top campaign officials, including a possible meeting between candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. A presidential candidate meeting with a foreign leader? Shocking. Also, not illegal. Having “contacts” in Russia when you are doing business there? Also not illegal. Nothing to see here.

10/30/17: Paul Manafort, top Trump campaign aide, and Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime business partner, was indicted for tax and bank fraud and for committing a conspiracy against the United States and a conspiracy to obstruct justice. But the allegedly illicit business dealings between Manafort and pro-Russian Ukrainian officials stretched back years and were with Ukraine, not Russia, and not related to the 2016 campaign. Additionally, the tax fraud and bank fraud were not committed by anybody named Trump. Nothing to see here, either.

12/1/17: Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser for 24 days, indicted for lying to federal investigators about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition (11/9/16-1/19/18) about sanctions President Obama had just imposed on Russia for its “interference” in the 2016 elections. But this had much to do with lifting sanctions and nothing to do with “Russian collusion” to win an election.

2/12/18: Richard Pinedo sold stolen bank account information to Russian Internet trolls so they could buy internet ads to “sow division” among Americans during the 2016 election. Basically, Pinedo went to prison for $2,700-worth of social media memes that almost nobody saw, half of which were not published until after the election. And sowing division is something Republicans and Fox News do all the time, just for ratings. No collusion with the Russian government by Trump is alleged in this indictment.

2/16/18: Several foreign nationals and several foreign companies were indicted for orchestrating a “troll farm” against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Trump – you know, like the Republicans and Fox News were doing throughout the campaign. Even the Mueller team admits there was not much effect in swaying votes. There are no orange fingerprints in this indictment, either.

2/20/18: Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan was indicted for lying to the FBI… about his communications with Rick Gates (see above). Still no “Russian collusion” here. (And ‘Person A’ in the indictment cannot be Trump, unless Trump is fluent in Russian. Trump isn’t even fluent in English!)

2/21/18: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates returned to the indictment dock with charges of tax and bank fraud. Granted, they are crooks and lied to the FBI. But that’s still not Russian collusion. Nothing to see here, either.

2/23/18: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates apparently masterminded a secret group to promote Ukrainian interests. But Ukraine is not Russia, so it’s not Russian collusion.

6/8/18: Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime associate of Paul Manafort, was charged along with him with obstruction of justice for trying to get witnesses against Manafort to change their testimony. But this sounds more like self-preservation than Russian collusion – and remember, Manafort was dealing here with Ukraine, not Russia.

7/13/18: 12 Russian intelligence officials of the GRU were charged with hacking DNC computers connected with the Clinton campaign and John Podesta and disseminating emails through the online persona “Guccifer 2.0.” Funny thing about the “DNC hack”: According to NSA whistleblower William Binney, the hack could not have been accomplished over the Internet, as the file transfer rate is known and only a local hack, like a thumb drive, could have captured data that fast.

What’s more, the Intelligence Community Assessment, talking about having “high confidence” that the Russians were the hackers, says at the bottom of page 13 of that same report (“Annex B”), “Confidence in the Sources Supporting Judgments. Confidence levels provide assessments of the quality and quantity of the source information that supports judgments. Consequently, we ascribe high, moderate, or low levels of confidence assessments: • High confidence generally indicates that judgments are based on high-quality information from multiple sources. High confidence in a judgment does not imply that the assessment is a fact or a certainty; such judgments might be wrong.” (INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENT)

News reports say, “…the Democratic National Committee had already made public the fact that it had been hacked by the Russian government…” But it may be more accurate to say, “The private security company, Crowdstrike, that the DNC had hired, claimed it had evidence that the DNC had been hacked by the Russian government. However, the DNC refused to make its servers available to the FBI, so there is no independent corroboration of Crowdstrike’s claims.”

8/21/18: Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and “fixer,” pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women to cover up Trump’s extramarital affairs. This really was meant to influence the 2016 election, but nobody has alleged that Cohen is a Russian government official. Cohen also got nicked for lying to Congress and tax fraud. But not for Russian collusion.

8/31/18: W. Samuel Patten helped a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch – a funny word that in English means “rich asshole” – to get tickets to Trump events. So, he was charged with failing to register as a foreign lobbyist. For Ukraine. Still not seeing that Russian collusion!

11/29/18: Michael Cohen told Mr. Mueller, oops, maybe I did lie to Congress about the length of discussions about the Trump Tower project in Moscow. If a business deal is Russian collusion, it would seem to be upside down: Trump wanted something from Moscow, not necessarily the other way around.

1/24/19: The big fish? Roger Stone, the American political consultant and strategist known for his use of opposition research, who worked for the 2016 Trump campaign, was indicted by the Mueller team for obstruction of an official proceeding, making false statements, and witness tampering. It is alleged in the indictment that he knew in advance that Wikileaks would publish the purloined Podesta emails, presumably stolen via Russian hacking.

However, unless it is demonstrated (1) that Russian government officials stole the emails that Wikileaks published, (2) that Stone knew about this and failed to report this Russian action to the FBI, (3) that the stolen/published emails somehow caused Hillary Clinton to lose and Donald Trump to win in 2016, and (4) that the Russian government somehow had a hand in this result – what exactly does this prove about Russian meddling in the 2016 election? That Russians wanted the world to know that the DNC was trying to torpedo the Bernie Sanders campaign? Shouldn’t we be thanking the Russians, Wikileaks and Roger Stone, instead of investigating them?

2/12/19: The bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee found “no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” after two years and 200 interviews!

3/8/19: The Trump inauguration took money from shell companies tied to foreigners. “US election law prohibits non-resident foreigners from contributing to political campaigns, including inaugurations. Donors or campaigns who ‘knowingly and willfully’ breach this rule may be fined or prosecuted.” So says a report in The Guardian, which points out that the total donations were $75,000 out an inauguration budget of $107,000,000. And who are these foreign donors? (1) a Delaware shell company for a wealthy Indian financier based in London, (2) a company formed in Georgia (USA) by a lobbyist with connections to the Taiwanese government, (3) a company formed anonymously in New York by an Israeli real estate developer. I don’t see any Russians, do you?

What is the evidence for Russiagate?

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 8.41.10 AMVox and other journalistic outlets have claimed that evidence of witness tampering and obstruction of justice is evidence of Trump campaign collusion with Russia to throw the 2016 election. Presumably they are using the legal standard of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” But I’m not sure that standard is actually found in law and it is not a conclusion that a journalist with any integrity would draw. Yes, that works for continuing to investigate, but until there is verifiable evidence, the final judgment has to be, “where there’s smoke, there’s smoke.”

The DNC hacks. The stolen “Podesta emails” – never mind what the emails actually, factually say about DNC plans to commit election fraud against Bernie Sanders – are “now believed to have been agents operating on behalf of the Russian government.” Believed by whom? US intelligence agencies that historically have no love for democracy and due process? The same agencies that use the code phrase “high confidence” to mean “we don’t have any actual evidence”? And even if “high confidence” didn’t mean “no evidence,” no evidence was ever offered to the public.

On 10/10/2016, candidate Trump praised Wikileaks, a news organization that has never had to retract a story – unlike, say, the pro-war New York Times and the pro-CIA, anti-Bernie Sanders Washington Post. And, as the hacked emails were released via Wikileaks, not the Russians or the Trump campaign, it’s hard to place the smoking gun in Mr. Trump’s tiny hands. Trump’s praise of Putin raised eyebrows among those who seem to have forgotten that Trump praised other dictators, living and dead, such as Kim Jong Un (North Korea), Moammar Gadhafi (Libya), Xi Jinping (China), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey), Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Egypt) as well as Saddam Hussein (Iraq) and Benito Mussolini (Italy). Even Vox calls this “grounds for suspicion,” not collusion.

What about ostensibly “extensive” outreach between Trump and Russia – a country with whom Trump will have to deal while president? Here is what Voxfinds suspicious, if not “collusive”—

Michael Cohen’s January 2016 email to Dmitry Peskov. A former diplomat, Peskov had been the Press Secretary for Vladimir Putin. Pretty suspicious, right? But Peskov never responded to Cohen’s email and Trump never got his Moscow tower project out of the ground. That this had anything to do with the 2016 election is still unproven. Remember, Trump wanted something from Russia, not necessarily the other way around.

Ivanka Trump’s October 2015 exchange with Dmitry Klokov. Seriously? Klokov is a former Russian Olympic weightlifter. His connection to anything other than the failed Moscow Trump Tower is tenuous, at best.

But Voxputs the worst possible spin on the matter, calling the contacts only “ostensibly” about the moribund Moscow Trump Tower project. Isn’t it just possible, absent Trump Derangement Syndrome, that the contacts were indeed about the Moscow Trump Tower project?

Donald Trump Jr. meeting with, Aleksander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank in May 2016. Is this “questionable contact” with Russian officials, or laying the groundwork for diplomatic relations between two nuclear powers? I mean, why wouldn’t a presidential candidate’s team meet with the leaders of other powerful nations? And why should Russia be an adversary in the first place?

TheTrump Tower Meeting of June 9, 2016. Three senior members of the 2016 Trump campaign (Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort) met for 20 minutes with at least five other people, including Russian lawyer and lobbyist Natalia Veselnitskaya, believing that they would receive information damaging to Hillary Clinton as part of “opposition research.” The other attendees, aside from Veselnitskaya, were Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, Rob Goldstone, the publicist for Emin Agalarov, an Azerbaijani-Russian singer and businessman, Anatoli Samochornov, a translator for Veselnitskaya and a former contract interpreter for the U.S. State Dept. and Ike Kaveladze, a Georgian-American real estate developer who works for Emin Agalarov’s father, Aras Agalarov.

The purpose of the meeting was clearly to help the Trump campaign, right? Well, not one of the five known attendees had any closer relationship to the Russian government than, say, a communications lobbyist in the U.S. would have with the U.S. government. The “teaser” for the meeting may have been the offer of information regarding a corrupt Democratic donor (and when has that ever occurred?), but the purpose of the meeting turned out to have been about … adoptions? Or maybe overturning the 2012 Obama-era Magnitsky Act (intending to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison).

The Manafort-Deripaska connection. Trump hired Paul Manafort to manage his campaign, but did Trump know Manafort was deeply in debt to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska? His emails show that Manafort wanted to use his position with Trump to “get whole.” But this shows that Manafort is corrupt, which nobody now doubts, not Trump, not his election campaign – and still no collusion with the Russian government.

What about supposed “open collusion” (as Vox calls it)? That is, what about Trump siding with a ‘hostile foreign power’ (Russia) on policy matters? It is charged, as Vox puts it, that Trump ran his campaign on a “pro-Russia platform, adopting Russian views on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, defending Putin’s character, and vowing to break up the NATO alliance.” One might also mention that Trump (as did his predecessors since Eisenhower) ran on a pro-Saudi platform, the country that contributed 15 of the 19 terrorists who attacked the U.S. on 9/11/01, and who encouraged the murder of journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi. But that’s not considered “collusion” with a foreign government?

Nevertheless, isn’t the U.S. siding with, if not colluding with, Israel? Can anybody honestly say that Israel does not interfere in the U.S. political process? And that’s not just because AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is a very powerful force in Washington. Otherwise, how can you explain that the very first bill put before the 116th Senate was an anti-BDS bill? The plainly unconstitutional bill to make it illegal to support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the State of Israel was meant to protect a foreign power from the free speech rights of U.S. citizens!

Does “collusion” only matter when it involves an economically weak country that refuses to become a client state? Does “collusion” only matter when that country is surrounded by U.S./NATO military bases, and is subjected to U.S. economic sanctions, and that country dares to protest?

Again, it is alleged that Trump “offered pro-Russia policy in exchange for Russian assistance.” Really? Is it a bad thing to negotiate with, or even to talk to, a nuclear state, to achieve peaceful ends? That is “collusion”? Furthermore, if Trump is a traitor and a Putin puppet, why is he doing exactly the opposite of what Putin wants with regard to regime change in Venezuela? Or putting sanctions on Russia in response to the Ukraine incursion – exactly the opposite of what Putin wants? Or bombing Syria, twice – exactly the opposite of what Putin wants? Or trying to stop the pipeline Russia wants to build across Syria to access Iranian oil – exactly the opposite of what Putin wants?

Unless one is suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” in which we abandon logic and evidence and consider every word or action of the orange-hued, racist, dictator-wannabe in the White House as axiomatically wrong or evil – this “Russia-gator” stew is supported by pretty thin sauce.

Russia-gator is Going to Bite You

640px-AmericanAlligator“Russia-gators” may very well have a disastrous backfire on their hands. When Special Counsel Robert Mueller – who in 2003 helped to lie the U.S. into the disastrous Iraq War – finally releases his report, and if the public are allowed to read any of it, I expect to hear not a bombshell but a dud. And then all the anti-Trumpers, who were waiting for salvation from a racist (COINTELPRO), murderous (Fred Hampton), anti-progressive (according to Terry Turchie, former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division) organization that is paid to lie to the American people, will be washing rotten egg off their faces.

Worse, Trump will be vindicated for calling everything anti-Trump “fake news.” Why are liberals making this so easy for Trump?

“Russia-gators” have their own domestic problems. Or do you remember when the Russians…

  • Made Hillary Clinton the most unpopular Democratic candidate in U.S. history?
  • Forced Clinton to ally herself with Wall Street, big banks, the military-industrial complex, big Pharma, private prisons, and the fracking and fossil fuel industries – and still expected the votes of union members, minorities and working-class people, without offering them anything to make their lives better?
  • Wrote the emails that admitted to the greatest electoral fraud in U.S. history: the Democratic Party stealing the Democratic nomination from Bernie Sanders, a candidate who ended up winning 22 primary states?
  • Persuaded Clinton not to campaign in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania during the 2016 general election, the very three swing states that even “Russian trolls” knew she needed to win to beat Donald Trump in the Electoral College?
  • Hired a British spy to compose a “dossier” on Donald Trump, accusing him of (still-unproven) misconduct and conspiracy between his presidential campaign and the government of Russia?

(Neither do I.) OK, maybe the Russians couldn’t have done those things. But certainly they’re trying to “undermine our democracy”? If so, then is must have been the Russians who…

  • Purged the voting rolls of millions of minorities, poor people and the handicapped, all likely Democratic voters, on the flimsiest of pretexts?
  • Made sure it was difficult to find a working voting machine or voting supplies in non-Republican districts, and gave voters “provisional ballots” (most of which were trashed) if there was any doubt about their eligibility?
  • Required a voter ID to cast a ballot, but made getting an ID difficult and expensive for minorities, poor people and the handicapped, even though in-person voter fraud is vanishingly rare?
  • Gerrymandered voting districts in favor of one party so that politicians could choose their voters and not the other way around?
  • Made 40% of American only one paycheck away from poverty, but gave American corporations a trillion-dollar tax cut tax in 2017?

And one more thing: The U.S. is so worried about Russia interfering in U.S. elections, can we not see the irony of our own interference in the Venezuelan election?

But let’s keep our eye on the ball. Maybe I will be proven wrong. Maybe Mr. Mueller, in spite of any evidence falling out of his investigation beforehand, will come up with the magic bullet and shoot down all the problems the Neoliberals and Corporate Democrats have brought on themselves since they turned their backs on the working class during the Clinton presidency. But I believe Russia-gator is a wild, untamable beast and its creator will be devoured.

Posted in Politics, Rant

Whose Money?

I’m sure you heard the news from last week that Jeff Bezos – founder, chairman, CEO, and president of a dotcom called Amazon – and his wife MacKenzie, announced that they are divorcing after 25 years of marriage. Since Bezos founded Amazon only 24 years ago, that counts as “community property” and should entitle MacKenzie, when they split, to half the wealth of the world’s wealthiest couple.

jeff-mackenzieI read an interesting take on the divorce aftermath from a feminist writer, Jill Filipovic, published in The Guardian on January 12. Filipovic thinks it is right that “any assets accumulated during the marriage are communal and divided 50-50 if the marriage ends.” I don’t disagree with her conclusion or her rationale:

What divorces like these show us is how little we value the often invisible and unpaid labor that so many women do to enable their husbands to build wealth and find professional success. … But would he [Bezos] have been able to have a stable, happy family and build a prosperous company without the work of his wife? … MacKenzie, in other words, made significant sacrifices to make Amazon work. … Her own career was stymied so that her husband’s could flourish. … It’s rare that you see men making the “choice” to scale back their ambitions and radically decrease their earnings so that they can be home with their kids.

This is undeniable. And, as Filipovic points out, as if we need to be reminded, “We live in a capitalist country, and so we measure value with dollar figures.” So, does that mean that Jeff is worth more, or entitled to keep more, than MacKenzie?

Filipovic says no, and again I agree. But I think Filipovic fails to take her rationale to its logical conclusion.

What about the workers Bezos relied on to build and maintain his business? And I’m not talking about just the elite executives, but everybody from the stockroom staff to the sanitation slaves. Could the Bezos business thrive without them? Put another way, “would he [Bezos] have been able to have a stable, happy family and build a prosperous company without the work of his [workers]?” … “[Bezos’ workers], in other words, made significant sacrifices [in income and health] to make Amazon work.”

I ask, what is a fair share of the wealth of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneur that he should share with the workers who made Bezos’ success possible? What is a fair distribution? Is it fair that his warehouse workers make maybe $15/hour and he makes $4,474,885/hour? Is it morally justified that Bezos should make 298,325 times what his warehouse workers do? Or could he squeak by on only 100,000 times what they make?

Or, put another way, do Amazon’s workers not deserve a living wage? If you still believe the world is divided between “leaders” and “lifters,” and that the rich got that way solely because they have worked harder, smarter and longer than the non-rich (in spite of clear evidence to the contrary), then this outcome, for both workers and ex-wives, will not surprise you: “Just watch,” Filipovic predicts. “If she goes for half, MacKenzie Bezos will be swiftly branded a gold digger.”

I might say Bezos doesn’t make the rules, he just enjoys them. (And he can tell his own side because he owns the Washington Post.) But when you accumulate wealth like a compulsive hoarder, that’s sociopathic. And then you tend to subscribe to the “Wizard of Id” parody of the Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. Or I might say, in answer to Bill Maher’s quip, in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, “How much of my wealth does Mr. Tim feel he is entitled to?”: What makes you think it is your wealth?

Posted in Uncategorized

Beauty in the Eye

The January 2019 issue of Baltimore Magazine has me perplexed. In this self-described Beauty Issue, all the “models” are beautiful (in my humble opinion), although it is a mystery why they are smiling without showing their teeth, as if Baltimore is not proud of the beauty of its dental work.

baltimore beautyissueBut that is not what has me perplexed. There is a white model, two black models (one delicately called “plus-sized”), and an Asian model, along with a fifth model of uncertain ethnicity. What seems “off” to me is the way they dress: all five models are dressed in white, but only four of them are saying, simply, “Look at me, I am beautiful.”

The fifth model, who not only shows no teeth but shows no hair because she wears a ḥijāb, seems to be saying, instead, “Look at me, I am Muslim.”

No other model feels it necessary to proclaim her religion; indeed, no other model is included to balance out the multiple religions of Baltimore. Only the woman wearing the distinctive and unmistakable sign of submission seems to be saying, “Islam is a race.” But Islam is not a race, it is a religion. So, again, why?

Never desiring to be accused of failing to read what I presume to criticize, a disease chiefly afflicting the right wing of the political flock, I did dive into the cover story. Edited by Lauren Bell, and beginning on page 84, her first question confirms my thesis that religion, when it comes to Islam, is being equated with race. Bell asks the round table of five women how their upbringing affects their ideas of beauty. The African-American entrepreneur/blogger Dayna Bolden decried being called “pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” Event planner Alexis Wilkins, the large, African-American woman, added that she hears, “You’re pretty for a plus-sized woman.” But then hijab-wearing Lauleh Aslani adds, “I used to get, ‘You dress really nice for a Muslim hijabi woman.’ [and] ‘You dress really nice for someone who wears a hijab.’”

To her credit, Aslani, Executive Health Coordinator at Sibley Memorial Hospital,* describes herself as American first, and recognizes being Muslim as her religion and being Persian as her ethnicity. But if Aslani is clear on the difference, what mixed message are the editors of Baltimore Magazine conveying to their readers? Clearly, they are conflating race and religion in the person of a Muslim woman, presumably in the service of being inclusive. But if the issue is beauty – and I have no quarrel with the fact of beauty inhabiting all shapes, sizes and ethnicities – are the editors saying “Contrary to popular belief, Muslims can be beautiful, too”? And, if so, why are they not saying “Jews can be beautiful, too”? Or “Christians can be beautiful, too”? If not, is the message not just a bit condescending?

omar“No one puts a scarf on my head but me,” Ilhan Omar tweeted last November. “It’s my choice – one protected by the first amendment.” I’m sure she believes this. The first member of the US Congress to wear a hijab – the 181-year ban on headwear of any type in the House was lifted to accommodate her – left a refugee camp in Kenya in 1995, when she was about 14. Fourteen years of religious indoctrination works just as well on Christians, too.

It can be argued that a “Beauty Issue” is a superficial way to promote Baltimore, Maryland, my beloved home town. Subverting this objection, all the women modeling on the cover are identified within the magazine as professional women, too. And, to clarify my position as a secularist, I have no objection to discussions of Islam (or any religion) or the depiction of Muslim women on the covers of magazines. What seems “off” to me, as I asked before, is why religion is being conflated with race/ethnicity in a magazine article about concepts of beauty?

As I said, I am baffled, puzzled, bewildered – perplexed, if not vexed.

– – –
*Sibley Memorial is affiliated with Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Hospital, but is geographically located in Washington, DC. So, this quibble: Could Baltimore Magazine not find any Persian/Muslim/hijabi professional women who actually work in Baltimore?
Posted in Uncategorized

Thinking About “Game of Thrones”

My eyes are bleeding. That’s because I have been persuaded to binge-watch “Game of Thrones.” I have read that the source material for George R. R. Martin’s series of epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, reimagines the wars and intrigues of the imperial dynasties of medieval Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with the addition of some fantasy elements, such as zombies and dragons, and a surfeit of gratuitous violence and some quite watchable nudity. I did like two of the characters – Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) – but chiefly because they use brains rather than brawn to survive.

GoT

I’m thinking that what attracts many to watch “Game of Thrones” is what repels me: it is a celebration of monarchy, feudalism and war. Even as a fantasy meant solely for entertainment, “Game of Thrones” portrays monarchy as the highest form of government, feudalism as the supreme economic system, and war as an occupation both glorious and efficacious. I cannot account for the popularity of a TV series with these themes, especially in the USA, where we fought a bloody war against monarchy!

Just once… I’d like to be treated to a TV series about a democratic republic with no games and no thrones; a drama in which nobody is better than anybody because of what family they were born into or how many people they slaughtered; a drama celebrating great achievements of the mind, particularly achievements in science and technology, economics and politics.

I’d like to be treated to a TV series in which the drama does not hang on the brutalizing of rival clans but on facing down nature, including human nature, and on prevailing over environmental and social adversity; a drama in which the heroes and heroines, rather than forging weapons of war, forge freedom and liberty for all; a drama in which social unrest is quelled by economic justice rather than by fire and sword.

I’d like to be treated to a TV series in which the storyline, rather than being tailored to the incurious—those mind-numbed by violent, sexist video games, who rarely crack a book—is instead fitted to the insatiably curious, those yearning for learning about how to better the human condition; a storyline attractive to humanist minds, to those who aspire to make the world a healthier, more sustainable one, in which the whole species may survive.

I’d passionately watch something like that. You could even throw in some gratuitous nudity. But I’m guessing that a TV series matching that description will never be popular: it would not speak to the primitive passions of those who believe justice emanates from arrow and blade, that social progress is as real as walking dead people and flying fire-breathers, and that genealogy trumps genius.

Still… that’s my ultimate “fantasy” TV show.

Posted in Uncategorized

Leaving Facebook

Facebook_logoOn June 10, 2018, Facebook gave me a time-out. Ostensibly, this was for posting a link to an article about a nude fundraiser in Ireland – to raise funds for “cash-strapped parents of cancer-stricken children visiting [Dublin] for extended hospital stays.” There was nudity, granted. But nude protest, at least, has a venerable history – not that you can teach history to an algorithm that can’t even distinguish a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph from child pornography (Phan Thị Kim Phúc running from a South Vietnamese napalm attack in 1972). But in my posting, the pictures showed ant-sized people, and it was only a link. I guessed that that would get the point across without making anybody uncomfortable with full frontal or full backal nudity.

I was wrong. I was kicked off of Facebook for violating their community standards, or some such nonsense. And, after giving my hiatus some thought (that’s what a time-out is for, right?), I extended my time-out to … forever. And, thinking about and reading about Facebook, I started thinking about Alex Jones.

Yes, Alex Jones, who was de-platformed by Facebook (and Apple and YouTube and Spotify), presumably for violating their community standards, but likely for defaming and endangering the parents of the children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The reason doesn’t really matter. That fact that corporations as large and powerful as Facebook could censor – yes, censor – the free speech of a private citizen, should alarm everybody.

But only the government can commit censorship, you say? Facebook is a private corporation and can do what it likes, you say? I used to say this, too. You see, Facebook is not some supermarket community bulletin board: it has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users (as of January 2018); it has a net worth of $190 billion (as of 2016). That’s a lot of power and money. If Facebook decides to do it, you could pretty much disappear – or at least your speech could disappear.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 6.31.27 AMAlthough Facebook is a publicly traded, private company, its power is akin to that of a government. It behaves like a public utility, but makes private profits. And that makes me believe that Facebook does not have the right to decide, privately, who gets to speak and who does not, without the transparency you only get from government (ideally). Facebook is, in fact, a monopoly. And as Jimmy Dore pointed out (August 16, 2018, including YouTube and Google), “What we should do is break them up. But we’re not going to do that. So, then what we should do is treat them like a public utility, just like the Internet. You can’t just take someone’s public utility away from them. If you’re AT&T, you can’t just turn off the phone on someone because you don’t like what they’re saying.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 6.50.15 AM

Facebook has evolved way beyond a social network to become the closest thing we have to a democratic, public forum. But in the hands of a private company, democracy dies: democracy is bad for business. As Jimmy Dore also points out, “We warned you and we predicted that once censorship starts and everybody’s cool with it, it’s not stopping.” Shutting up Alex Jones was an easy call. But that was the camel’s nose of censorship poking into the tent of democracy. Corporations today are more powerful than governments, if not actually in bed with them and getting the private sector to do what the public sector cannot. And private corporations like Facebook, YouTube and Google should be held to the same standards of public accountability and transparency when it comes to free speech.

Deciding who gets to speak and who doesn’t really is a simple call, but even liberals and progressives get it wrong: you don’t have to like Alex Jones to recognize that there is a vulnerable principle under attack here. Censoring free speech never ends well, as Matt Taibbi pointed out recently. Because if you don’t defend the speech you hate, sooner or later somebody will censor the speech you love.

I no longer love Facebook. I’m done.

Posted in Politics, Rant, Uncategorized
John Mill