Sunday, August 25, 2019

Subverter of democracy, despoiler of Earth, and philanthropist, dead at 79

The Spy's obituary page
By Luke Reschuss
Obituary Editor

What happens when a profoundly evil man with lots of money who gave a few crumbs to charities dies?  Do you celebrate or excoriate him?  In the case of a man who sexually abused young girls, the answer is Epstein bad.  In the case of a man who did to our democracy and our planet what Epstein did to poor powerless underage girls, well, that's different.

At least when that man, in this case David Koch, dead at 79, spent hundreds of millions of his ill-gotten gains greasing the way for the permanent takeover of our governments by the plutocracy d/b/a the Republican Party, and the sanctimonious mourners are the recipients of that largesse:

What are Reb Shtickdreck and the other two buffoons so upset about?  Maybe because if you actually look at David Koch's record, you can see just how nefarious he was and how much evil has has paid for (together with his brother Chuck).  (We'll leave to others to unpack the rampant hypocrisy of three of the crudest voices of hard-right hate speech tut-tutting an accurate appraisal of Koch's legacy.)

The New York Times, in its front page obit did managed to hint at the truth although they were careful to bury the unassailable facts behind the usual dodge of “Critics say:” (consistent with their 9/11 coverage in which they reported that critics said that al-Qaeda operatives deliberately crashed planes into the World Trade Center):

Critics accused the Kochs of buying influence and using their political machine to manipulate elections and government policies under a guise of patriotism and freedom. Those efforts, the critics said, cloaked an agenda to cut taxes and federal regulations governing business, the environment and other interests, primarily to benefit the Koch family and its enterprises. 

Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer and a critic of the Koch brothers, said in her book “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” (2016), that the libertarian policies they embraced benefited Koch chemical and fossil fuel businesses, which were among the nation’s worst polluters, and paid millions in fines and court judgments for hazardous-waste violations. 

“Lowering taxes and rolling back regulations, slashing the welfare state and obliterating the limits on campaign spending might or might not have helped others,” Ms. Mayer wrote, “but they most certainly strengthened the hand of extreme donors with extreme wealth.” The Koch brothers rejected the allegations. 

 Koch money also funded initiatives to undercut climate science and to counter efforts to address climate change. As Ms. Mayer put it in her book, “The Kochs vehemently opposed the government taking any action on climate change that would hurt their fossil fuel profits.” 

 In interviews after the book was published, Ms. Mayer said that investigators who she believed were hired by the Koch brothers had tried to intimidate her by digging up false information, including accusations of plagiarism, to smear her reputation. 

To be more precise than the Times, Jane Mayer is not a “critic” in the sense of someone offering up their opinion of the new season of The Bachelor.  She is a reporter whose book, mentioned in the obit, contains the definitive account of David and Chuck's campaign to ruin our democracy and the world in which we live.

One thing that Ms. Mayer makes clear is that David Koch's life was rich in achievement.  He achieved subverting democracy on both the state and federal level, through efforts in North Carolina and other states to enrich corporations, gerrymander districts and suppress the franchise.  (Dark Money at 334-37).

He also fought successfully for years against environmental protection and taking steps to avoid the insidious effects of the fossil fuels that made him his billions, notably the catastrophe of global warming.  (Dark Money at 205-25.)   Indeed, it is probably not too much to say that thanks to his tireless counter-factual denial of global warming, he has in effect made it impossible to avoid some of its most dire effects  such as coastal flooding caused by the melting of the ice cap of National Petroleum Reserve #27 (f/k/a Greenland).

His exaltation of fossil fuels ran the gamut from theoretical (the effort to cast doubt upon the overwhelming scientific consensus around man-caused global warming) to the petty (spending millions in dark money to defeat a mass transit initiative in Nashville) to the crudely self-serving (piling filthy petroleum-based coke illegally on the wharves of Detroit).

And all this was done in secret, as if advocating for plutocracy, environmental destruction, and subversion of democracy was something to be ashamed of.  Although he proudly professed himself to be a libertarian, he wasn't nearly so candid about advocating for the crushing human and planetary costs that such a view entails.

The legacy of David Koch?  It's blowin' in the wind
Further, in the rare event that a reporter, exercising the cherished libertarian right of freedom of the press, dared to investigate, she was subject to intimidation and ,if the Koch's paid gumshoes dug up anything worth pursuing, blackmail.  All they managed to come up with was that Jane Mayer went to Yale, but, hey, nobody's perfect.

As Reb Shtickdreck did not fail to mention, the fact that David Koch gave away maybe 2% of his pile to charities of his choice is being used to distract us from his depredations.  Who got his dirty, or at least smoky, money?  One way to tell is to check the New York Times obituary page, because when a rich shit dies, those he shtupped are supposed to take out an obit eulogizing said rich shit's boundless generosity.

And in the tiny type of the August 25 obits, what do we find? Basically three categories of schnorrers: tertiary care facilities (Memorial Sloan Kettering, NY Presbyterian), arts of interest to elites (ballet, the Metropolitan museum, and such), and elite institutions of higher education, like MIT.  Had he paid, for example, Elizabeth Warren's exiguous wealth tax on his fortune, he could have financed comprehensive health care for thousands, not to mention arts and science education in the public schools (which he sought to destroy), but then the benefits might not have redounded solely to the benefit of David Koch and his fellow rich grifters.  And of course you don't get to carve your name on the schools and clinics paid for by taxes, unlike private charities, who for an eight-figure gift will name or rename f***in' anything.  Right, Lincoln Center, Metropolitan Museum, MIT, Memorial Sloan Kettering?

So, no, we don't see in the Book of Life a net credit when his charitable contributions are deducted from the taxes he successfully avoided paying and the inferno he leaves to the rest of us to deal with as best we can.

We're about to read that on Rosh Hashonah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed who shall live and who shall die.  We are told that repentance, faith, and righteous deeds temper judgment's severe decree.  Too bad David Koch went zero for three.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Comedy gold: invading countries for no f***in' reason


By A.J. Liebling
Meta-content Generator

Desperate to distract a restless public from job losses, stagnant incomes, his China-tariff debacle, crude racist jibes, and in general the rising perception that his Presidency is in fact an insane rolling dumpster fire, President U Bum has proposed acquiring Greenland.

Uh, what?

You know, Greenland, often regarded by foreign affairs strategists as a dagger pointed at the heart of Labrador (actually it points southeast, but facts have never distracted deep thinkers).  Maybe as Catherine Rampell suggests, the Tangerine-Faced Moron saw it on a Mercator map, in which it looks falsely as large as Africa and decided it would his biggest deal since his airline, his casinos, his steaks, his water, his board game, his vodka, his New York hotels – [We catch the drift – Ed.]

Is he serious?  The question doesn't really compute because he's never serious about anything, even when his cruelty and ineptitude results in nursing infants being ripped from their mother's breast.  But he has successfully chummed the media waters with tweets like this:

Good one, although a hotel there would likely attract few customers, other than Republican lobbyists and Saudi chain saw murderers looking for a cheap way to buy a U.S. President.

It didn't take too long for The Washington Post's reliable conventional wisdom dispenser Dana Milbank to smelt comedy gold from this dross:

The great Danes reacted indignantly. “Greenland is not for sale,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen proclaimed on a defensive visit to the island Sunday, calling the idea “an absurd discussion” and saying “I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously.”
Fighting words! There is only one proper response to such intransigence: The United States must take Greenland by force.
Greenland has no regular military, so we should be able to occupy every Nuuk and cranny of the place without much struggle. It’s possible, of course, that this attack on Danish territory would prompt a response by NATO under the alliance’s mutual-defense pact, but Trump has already defanged that alliance.

Funny.  The idea of invading a country that poses no real threat to the United States and the occupation of which would generate nothing but financial losses not to mention human suffering is inherently hilarious, is it not?

It did get us to wondering about the media reaction to the equally hilarious idea of responding to al-Qaeda terrorism by invading a country that had absolutely nothing to do with al-Qaeda terrorism back in 2002.  Certainly no pundit could take such a ridiculous idea seriously, could they?

Let's get into the Waybac machine and find out!

A little ancient history: on September 11, 2001, America was attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists, most from Saudi Arabia.  None had any connection with Iraq.  Iraq played no role in the attack.  That was why with the World Trade Center still smoldering, Bush Administration officials decided that the 9/11 attack was a good and sufficient reason to invade Iraq.  They spent the next year fanning the flames of war, cherry picking and inventing intelligence first to show an Iraq-al Qaeda connection and when that was laughed out of Capitol Hill, concocting a story about Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Was this effort to create a casus belli out of cow pies regarded as generally hilarious?  Here's the Boston Globe reporting on September 8, 2002:

Boston Globe 9/8/02Boston Globe 9/8/02 Fri, Sep 6, 2002 – 16 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Boston Globe

“Interesting and troubling,” was it, Trent?  God knows what fruity line of bullshit was poured over the credulous Senators that day – maybe they got the mobile bioweapons lab or the aluminum tubes supposedly used as WMD projectiles.

After many more months of Bush Administration pro-war propaganda, no one was laughing, although Dick Cheney was snickering.  Here's the Globe's H.D.S. Greenway on the eve of the debacle:

Fri, Feb 7, 2003 – 19 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Boston Globe  Golly there's nothing funny about that. And yet Greenway wasn't worried about Greenland's program to acquire weapons of mass destruction, which was just as real and as threatening as Saddam Hussein's. 

It's not quite fair to single Greenway out because the punditocracy pretty much spoke with one voice.  On the same day on the same page Scott Lehigh told us that Colin Powell's threadbare brief for a war of aggression was, um, “compelling.” We'll spare you what Freddie Hiatt '76 was shoveling on the Washington Post editorial page this one time.

If the idea of invading Iraq didn't occasion as much hilarity as invading Greenland, don't worry, comedy fans, because the Iraq War itself provided no end of big laffs.  Here's some great abu-Ghraib improv sure to leave you screaming [Surely, screaming with laughter? – Ed.].

Show me the funny!

They say that great comedy is timeless.  So we're still left with the question of why invading Greenland is funny, but the invasion of Iraq was deadly serious.  Not to mention deadly.

What was the difference?  We're thinking about it and we'll let you know when we discover the white answer.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Invasion of the Republican zombie time-wasters

By Nellie Bly
Spy Washington Bureau

It's August and those still toiling the newsrooms and cable TV studios of New York and Washington have to fill up those blocks and columns with something or another.  Perhaps due to the absence of new episodes of The Walking Dead this summer, there's a lot of focus on the Republican walking dead, especially those who once feasted on the bronze-tinted sweat of President U Bum.

After a quick break, more zombies!
Sometimes these creatures have the appearance and facial complexion of actual zombies, like crazed unemployed white supremacist alkie Steve Bannon.  Other times they cover their zombiehood in concealer and face powder.  No matter what though, as soon as they move their lips their inner zombie springs out.

Now Steve Bannon has had no job and no influence for maybe two years now, but that doesn't stop a gaggle of pundits with nothing better to do from quoting this whack job as if he were some sort of political savant, rather than a flesh-eating meth-snorting lunatic with a degree from Harvard Business School.

Here's a recent example from the New York Times in which Steve Bannon along with a couple of zombie neocons (more on them later) is now advocating, in addition to fascism and white supremacy, war with China:

Mr. Bannon was just off the plane from Rome, with a slight shadow of a mustache and his silver hair brushed back. Clad in a black button-down and long black suit jacket, he thumped the podium as he described China as a rising power and the United States as a declining power that would inevitably clash.
“This is the defining event of our time, and 100 years from now, this is what they’re going to remember us for,” he said.

Someone should break it to him that 100 years from now no one will remember wtf Bannon is, unless he is still roaming the hotel function rooms of Washington in search of human flesh or at least a full breakfast buffet. And the wardrobe description is a nice touch, if only because zombies are not generally known as snappy dressers.

What if anything he knows about the economic and other issues relevant to any considered judgment about the complex and fraught U.S. – China relationship could be held in a thimble with plenty of room for two grams of crank, but that didn't stop the Times from quoting him in extenso. Elsewhere zombie Bannon is in demand as a political pundit, notwithstanding the collapse of his electoral strategy in the last election.

Here's he's trying to troll-bait the Democrats with a proposal that Michelle Obama run against U Bum next year:

Why is he spouting this drivel?  You choose: (a)  he's throwing shade on the existing impressive Democratic field, several of whom have already polled well ahead of the Racist-in-Chief, (b) he's stoking the racism of the Trumpublican base, or (c) he managed to wrangle a free lunch at The Palm out of Bloomberg's Jennifer Dlouhy.

(Note to Jennifer: I don't know you but I will say anything you want for a Palm rib-eye and I have a heartbeat.  Maybe the Democrats should draft Beyonce to run?  Can I get the shrimp cocktail too?)

Over at The Washington Post the normally incisive and tough-minded Catherine Rampell takes up the cause of another unemployed zombie former U Bum kisser, Anthony Scaramucci.  You may recall that 8900 lies and 300 scandals ago, this finagler and eager consumer of Bolivian exports was appointed Chief of  Staff to the Grifter-in-Chief but 11 days later given the chop because he was too incompetent to work for President U Bum. Considering the caliber of the nitwits and grifters who populate the current Administration, you have to admit that's no small achievement.

Since his political death, Scaramucci has been running around cable TV offering his opinions to anyone who will offer him a mike or a line.  And why should anyone care what this zombie thinks about the current predicament in which his country finds itself thanks to the efforts of rich putzes like him?

According to Ms. Rampell,  

Unlike some of Trump’s disowned, fiercely loyal attack dogs — his former attorney Cohen, say, or former adviser Stephen K. Bannon — Scaramucci is charming, likeable, a happy warrior. His shtick has been about making the optimistic case for Trump, urging the president to emphasize uplift of the Forgotten Man rather than fear and racism. 

Unless the Forgotten Man is buried in the Bedford Falls Cemetery, we don't think Scaramucci has done much to lift him or any living being up,  Neither of course has the grifting corrupt President, whose entire Administration has been one long thieves' banquet for the rich, seasoned with extra-spicy racism for the base.

The column is actually a cautionary tale about what happens to anyone who get near the Tangerine-Faced Grifter.  Hint: you end up gray, decomposing, hungry for human flesh and at worst reduced to questioning the ethnic background of reporters in the White House driveway.

But the question stands:  why should anyone care what Mooch the Zombie thinks when they could quote Elizabeth Warren?

In any event, we don't have the time or the stomach to cite all the Republican zombies haunting America's airwaves, even if they're as winsome as Bill Weld in his eternal search for Republican voters to eat.  Based on the latest polling, he's not doing that well, although he does appear to be adequately slaking his thirst for amber-color fluids.

And don't get us started on the whole subspecies of zombies who rose out of the graveyard of the George W. Bush administration.  Five years of bloody war and torture for no good purpose have failed to slake their appetite for human flesh, so they're trying to feast on U Bum's saggy bronze ass.  Although Billy and Ricky and Max and Ana and Toronto Dave managed to take a few bites, we still think they and we would be better off were they to return to their crypts and STFU.

Unlike harmless zombies like Scaramucci, they fully expect to once again roam the corridors of power, devouring all who dare to question why we are not engaged in permanent war against opponents as piddling as Iran.

War with Iran or  (Bannon's current meal ticket) China?  Unlike these zombies, that's something that keeps us up at night.

Update 2027 Washington time Aug. 13, 2019:  They just keep on coming!

Monday, August 5, 2019

What's a kitchen table issue, anyway?

From Isaiah Thomas, Editor
On Special Assignment in Brooklin, Maine

While you're sheltering in place today to avoid being taken apart by high-powered AR-15 rifle fire, perhaps you have time to ponder one of the great clich├ęs of election punditry: to win the Democrats must focus on “kitchen-table issues”

Which begs the question: what is a kitchen-table issue?  And shouldn't you define it before you advocate that Democrats focus on them instead of dining-room-table issues, reclining-chair issues, basement-pool-table-issues, or other furniture-related items of concern.

 Let's round up the usual gasbags and find out!

Here's that Trevi Fountain of conventional wisdom, Politico:

And a few states away in Virginia, freshman Rep. Abigail Spanberger — who represents a swing district — is trying to stay above the impeachment fray and stick to the kitchen table issues that got her elected. "I reject all of the drama because the reality of it is that people who are trying to pay their bills, people who are trying to feed their kids, and people who are working two jobs and retirees who are worried about how they are going to live off of Social Security, they don't care about this flashy personality," Spanberger told CNN.

And here's an old chestnut from Real Clear Politics:

Thus emerging into the race are the "kitchen table issues," best defined as the sort of everyday concerns that confront ordinary folks on a daily basis. Traditional economic issues tend to the abstract: inflation rates, unemployment numbers, GDP growth, and the fluctuations of the stock market. But kitchen table issues comprise the concrete: bill paying, food purchases, tuition bills, vacation plans, and family heath care coverage.

Just last week Vice Principal John Delaney told Democrats to give up on crap like Medicare for all and focus on kitchen-table issues:

Delaney stuck to a centrist line, promoting the old line of “kitchen table, pocketbook issues.” “Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises,” he said. “When we run on things that are workable, not fairytale economics”—seemingly a reference to Warren’s expansive financial reform proposals.

We're pretty slow on the uptake but we get it: kitchen-table issues are the kinds families discuss at their kitchen table and relate directly to their financial status.

What are they talking about at their kitchen table?
But wait a minute!  Didn't the Conventional Wisdom just tell us that medical bills are a model kitchen table issue?  Wouldn't a proposal to relieve families permanently of medical bills and deductibles be a big winner at the kitchen table Olympics?

And now that we are thinking about this, whose kitchen table do these white moderate gasbags have in mind?

If you're sitting at the kitchen table of for example a family of color, aren't they also going to be concerned about issues important to them, like whether their teenage son can go out for a bag of Skittles without being lynched like Trayvon Martin?  I'm going to take a wild guess here and surmise that they might be concerned about nullification and suppression of their vote. That came up at Stacy Abrams's kitchen table!

Or like USA Today, you could ask them:

Young black voters who spoke to USA TODAY said they want candidates to address issues such as increasing the minimum wage, overhauling the criminal justice system, and pushing for more money to help struggling HBCUs expand research projects and fix crumbling buildings.

Kitchen table issues all, but not ones mentioned by John Delaney for some reason.

Or let's say that you're Latinx.  Might you express concern at your kitchen table that you can't go to Wal-Mart without some white supremacist mowing you down with machine-gun fire?  Maybe you wait until you get into the living room to discuss that?  Or maybe you might be concerned about friends or family that are enmeshed somehow in our dysfunctional immigration system and subject to being rounded up and incarcerated at the whim of the ICE body snatchers?  You might even express concern about children who look like you being locked up and neglected in unspeakably cruel CBP not-concentration-camps to please the sadistic lust of the Bigot-in-Chief.

So many kitchen tables, so little time.  At the kitchen table of a family with a trans member, maybe they're worried about whether that person will lose their job or even their custody over their children. Women at the kitchen table might be worried about, in addition to their economic woes exacerbated by pervasive sexism, being sexually harassed or assaulted or the loss of their right to safely terminate their pregnancies, even if that pregnancy was the result of rape.

And anyone sitting at their kitchen table might be worried about the blatantly unlawful and corrupt acts of the current occupant of the White House and whether anything will be done to preserve our constitutional system.

They also might worry that their children will suffer unfathomable harm, economic and otherwise, as the Greenland icecap melts into the Atlantic Ocean.  Why the jobs of a few coal miners are regarded as a critical kitchen table concern while the lives of millions in the path of sea level rise are somehow an abstraction unworthy of attention is known only to white male campaign consultants and pundits who in their next breath advise us that we must cut Social Security.  That's a kitchen-table winner!

John Delaney tried to pull the plug on progressive policies
The gasbags will cite polls that consistently rank economic issues as important to minority voters.  Well, duh.  But that doesn't mean that those are the only issues that are important to them or that their concerns and favored policies line up with the gasbags'.  When was the last time you heard white consultants talk about the important of remediating historic discrimination against people of color in buying homes and obtaining mortgages?  Take as long as you want.  Show your work.

We're beginning to think that this whole ragtime of “kitchen-table issues” is shorthand for abandoning a progressive agenda and running on incremental change supposedly appealing to white Midwesterners.  Of course, the Democrats nominated a candidate running on just that in 2016.  How did that turn out?  Well, actually, she won, but somewhere beyond the kitchen table, the election was stolen from her.

Even more ridiculous is the effort to drive a wedge between progressive policies and the kitchen table.  We have more than one candidate, notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who make it clear to even the dullest mind sitting at the old groaner the connection between the Republican-plutocrat machine (cause) and the stagnation of middle class incomes (effect).  So the distance from the ramparts to the table is – no distance at all.

Maybe the next time some insufferable white man tells you to stop worrying about the corruption-infested Presidency and Republican Party or imminent climate catastrophe and instead focus on – what exactly, just tell him what's important to you and your kitchen table and suggest that he take his patronizing misjudgments about what millions of voters care about into another room and flush it down another important piece of household furniture.