Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks

+ People seem excited about the debates on Monday. I find the anticipation inexplicable. The much-hyped standoff at Hofstra shows all the hallmarks of being a great dud on the order of the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight/tap dance. Trump will endeavor, probably with the aid an ample dosing of Prozac administered by the amicable Dr. Bornstein, to be on his best behavior and Hillary, her head stuffed to the brim with briefing books, will come off like a prolix Ph.D. student defending her dissertation on the subversive role of milkmaids in the agrarian novels of Thomas Hardy. A defanged Trump isn’t worth watching. And no one needs to endure another pedantic lecture on Smarty-Pants Power from Hillary Clinton.

+ Most presidential and vice-presidential debates are about the unexpected moments: Nixon’s face sweating like Niagara Falls, Gerald Ford’s bizarre blurt that there was “no Soviet domination of eastern Europe,” Reagan’s aphasia moment, Poppy Bush glancing repeatedly at his watch, Admiral Stockdale asking rhetorically why he was there, Al Gore stalking George W. around the stage like Freddy Krueger, and a punch-drunk Obama staggering through his first debate with Romney.   In the end, none of these moments altered the course of the elections, as much as the media might want us to believe. Elections, of course, are decided by deep structural issues (and hackable voting machines).

+ Of course, there’s always a chance that Hillary, having rejected Charlie Crist’s genteel offer to loan her his podium fan, might over-heat again and collapse onstage. But do we really need to watch that live in the Age of YouTube?

+ This year with the two major parties in free-fall, it might have been different if Gary Johnson and/or Jill Stein had been permitted access to the stage by the so-called Commission on Presidential Debates. The CPD is not a commission, of course, but a corporation created and run by-and-for the Democratic and Republican Parties in order to preserve their increasingly fragile stranglehold on the electoral franchise. The League of Women Voters, which used to run the debates, apparently proved too demanding for either party.

+ Without Johnson or Stein on the stage, we are left with the unappetizing prospect of Donald Trump as the lone sorta-kinda-maybe-anti-trade-anti-war candidate. Deplorable. These non-debates are bound to deliver more pricks than kicks. They should be boycotted by anyone committed to real democracy or looking for true comedy.

+ That said, I went to see a glorious new print of Dr. Strangelove this week and it strikes me that with all the current national anxiety about the Russians, the Mine Shaft Gap must have widened. Perhaps we will get some new intelligence on this vital matter in the debate on Monday night.

+ It’s been 52 years since the premier of Dr. Strangelove, but the Russia Scare thrives. Earlier this week General Sir Richard Barrons, a former NATO chief, ominously warned that Russia could invade Europe in a mere 48 hours. Get ready for the remake of The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming, the Euro 2016 version, filmed in PanicVision.

(No one stopped to ask the generals, if the Russians could storm across Europe in less than two days, why then do we still need those 150 US nuclear missiles scattered across Belgium, Germany and Italy. Or have those all been re-targeted at France?)

+ In the 1950s, at the peak of a previous Red Panic, the editorial page of the Washington Post helped strap the Rosenbergs to their electric chairs for allegedly violating the (unconstitutional) Espionage Act. Now the Post’s editorial page wants to do the same to their own source, the man who helped them win a Pulitzer Prize, Edward Snowden. Can you spell: D-e-p-l-o-r-a-b-l-e?

+ The call to prosecute Snowden is predictable. As Alexander Cockburn and I reported in Whiteout, the Washington Post’s reputation as a fierce and unflinching journalistic enterprise is over-inflated, an aberration based on a few years at the end of the Nixon administration. But the fall of Nixon frightened the Post’s publisher Katherine Graham, who feared the paper had over-reached. It’s been in retreat ever since.

Here’s what we wrote:

In late 1974, after Nixon had been tumbled, Mrs Graham addressed the Magazine Publishers’ Association and issued a warning: “The press these days should be rather careful about its role. We may have acquired some tendencies about over-involvement that we had better overcome. We had better not yield to the temptation to go on refighting the next war and see conspiracy and cover-up where they do not exist.” She called for a return to basics. Journalists should “stop trying to be sleuths.” In other words: The party’s over, boys and girls! It’s not our business to rock the boat.

She repeated the message in 1988 in a speech to CIA recruits titled “Secrecy and the Press”: “We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know, and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.”

+ The more furiously the DC political and media elites try to gag, jail and bury Edward Snowden, the more emphatically they prove his point.

+ Oliver Stone’s movie, Snowden, is worth paying the extortionate ticket price to view on a large screen in the company of a live audience.  Kimberly and I went to see it at the theater in our little mill town of Oregon City, once a stronghold of the Klan in Oregon. It’s still a city of blue-collar people, featuring regular sightings of pick-up trucks with big American flags jammed into the tailgates and Trump lawn signs. This is Tanya Harding country, where people buy their beer at 7/11 and bitch about the craft brew Hipsters up in Portland. The Hilltop theater was about half-full, a bigger crowd than showed up for opening night of the deplorable “Ben-Hur” remake. (I was there for that one, too. I’m a sucker for all films featuring ancient Rome.)

Unlike Laura Poitras’s intimate documentary Citizen Four, Stone’s film is geared to a mass audience. As such, it has to quickly drill through the media mystification that has enshrouded Snowden for years. Stone does this by (surprise!) killingtrayvonshumanizing him. Snowden is restrained, quiet and slowly paced. It unfolds methodically, lacking the frenzy and cinematic hijinks of many Stone movies. This was a sound decision. Edward Snowden comes off as the quiet kid sitting in the corner of your Trig class who turns in his final exam before you’re really sure you’ve answered one question correctly. He’s not shy or a classic nerd. Just unassuming. He’s a believer in the System, but also someone who insists on figuring things out on his own. He puts his beliefs to the test. What Snowden ultimately figures out is that the System he believed in is no longer worth supporting. In fact, his own work for the CIA and NSA had been turned against the very constitutional values he believed his country stood for.

Oliver Stone gently leads his skeptical viewers on this twisting journey and by the time Snowden slips out of the NSA bunker in Hawai’i with his trove of damning documents hidden in a Rubik’s Cube, the crowd in our Oregon City theater was with him, erupting in an impromptu cheer as he cleared security. Give Stone credit. In an election year, he doesn’t flinch from making clear that the crimes that turned Snowden into a whistleblower were instigated on Obama’s watch at his orders. There are also subtle shots taken at Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

+ This week, in an interview about the film, Stone said bluntly that “surveillance under Obama was worse than the Stasi.”

+ Bill Clinton should travel with a mobile Damage Control Unit. Whenever Bill goes out solo, he’s bound to find trouble–even when he’s not flying gratis on Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express” sex jet. Clinton is America’s most enduring megalomaniac, like a made-in-Taiwan Teddy Bear that off-gasses toxins when your child cuddles it.

Bill runs on hubris, but, unlike in the plays of Sophocles, others tend to take the fall for his over-arching pride. This week’s episode of “Bill Breaking Bad” occurred during an interview with CNBC. Here Clinton announced that his support for lowering the corporate income tax rate, anathema to most progressives, and offering a bristling defense of the Trans-Pacific Trade deal, which his wife claims to oppose. Of course, while this confession might have shocked the Clinton campaign staff, it came as no surprise to long-time Clinton watchers. Lower corporate taxes and free trade deals are the hallmarks of Clintonian neoliberal policies.

+ Bubba’s defense of the TPP only confirms what Clinton intimate Terry McAuliffe let slip during the Democratic Party Convention: that Hillary’s objections to the TPP were merely for show and that she would come out in support of the deal once elected.

+ With his foundation under scrutiny, Bill angrily announced that no one in his family had “taken a dime” out the foundation. Perhaps not a dime, but more like millions? In an important piece of investigative reporting by James Grimaldi at the Wall Street Journal, we learned that Clinton often used the foundation as a conduit for the vast sums of loot he was raking in for his speaking fees.

+ A report this morning from The Hill discloses that the Clintons have purchased a new house in Chappaqua, adjacent to their current home. It’s always a good time to buy a house when others are being evicted from theirs. It shows … empathy? Perhaps it was done out of necessity– a new pad for Bill’s “bimbos” in the wake of Colin Powell’s revelations? Whole lotta dickin’ going on, somewhere.

+ By the way, “bimbo” was first embedded into the Clintonian lexicon by Bill’s longtime advisor and friend Betsey Wright (a big time lobbyist and hard-core feminist), during the 1992 campaign, where Wright set up a team to stifle any more of Bubba’s “bimbo eruptions.” (Bimbo was originally a term used to describe men.)

+ Over at The Nation, Joshua Holland escalated the attacks on Jill Stein from the center-left with a nasty and sophomoric little piece trying to guilt-trip Greens and progressives for “wasting” their votes on Stein. Holland’s smear job set a record for the number of recycled clichés per column inch.

+ After supervising this shanking of Stein, Nation editors John Nichols and Katrina Vanden Heuvel sat down for a droll little chat with Bernie Sanders, where we learned that the senator is keeping busy by campaigning for Our Revolution, Inc. (ka-ching!) and HRC’s Counter-Revolution (ka-boom!) at the same time. Political schizophrenia?

+ Sanders probably has Nichols and Katrina on speed-dial, but Ralph Nader revealed during an interview this week on Democracy Now! that Bernie “hasn’t returned my calls in 16 years.” When Sanders sees Ralph’s name on the call-sheet, it must hit him like the ghosts of Xmas past, present and future all at once on the same speakerphone.

+ On Thursday, Bernie Sanders sent out a Tweet to his arm-chair revolutionaries drilling home the obvious: “Wells Fargo’s abuse of its customers is not an aberration.” Of course, one might say a similar thing about the Senator’s abuse of the Sandernistas by pimping for HRC & her pals at Well Fargo. N’est ce pas, Comrade?

+ Even so, the hypocrisy of Sanders’s statement paled next to that of John Podesta, who spent much of the week spreading the theme that “Trump would be a catastrophe for the climate.” Who is Podesta kidding? We are already deeply enmired in a climate catastrophe that 16 years of Democratic administrations, which he helped to pilot, have done nothing but enable and exacerbate.

+ Peter Lee asked me if liberals had forgotten that Hillary’s first major act as Secretary of State was to gut the Kyoto Protocols on climate change. I told him that if they ever understood it, the fatal knowledge was now suppressed so deeply into the collective unconscious of the Democratic mind as to defy years of therapeutic digging by Carl Jung.

+ You want more proof of what I’m calling “the Sanders Effect?” Since Bernie’s endorsement of Clinton, Hillary hasn’t once mentioned climate change during any of her prepared speeches on the campaign trail. She doesn’t have to. Who is there to hold her accountable, except Jill Stein and Amaju Baraka? Not the Sierra Club. Not NRDC. Gang Green is “all in” with her, despite Hillary’s well-documented record of being the person who helped to globalize the fracking craze.

+ To compound matters for Clinton on the environment front, a couple of weeks ago Hillary tapped Ken Salazar to head her transition team, the very same man who, as a senator and Secretary of the Interior, helped Big Oil kill the Gulf of Mexico. (For the grim details of Salazar’s culpability see my essay on the Deepwater Horizon disaster: “BP’s Inside Game.”)

+ Speaking of hot air, group think hysteria about the evil Trump seems to be the only fuel left in the Hillary campaign tank.

+ Gary Johnson is a free-market anti-regulation libertarian, yet his climate policy, which isn’t even really a climate policy, would prove more efficacious than Clinton’s. As a libertarian, Johnson would cut all federal subsidies to oil and gas companies, as well as end the depletion allowance, which rewards drillers with massive tax deductions for environmental destruction. In addition, Johnson, who as a high-altitude mountain climber has witnessed glacial melt up close, breaks with libertarian orthodoxy in supporting a carbon fee (libs hate the word “tax”) to impose an additional cost on air polluters.

+ Pricing is one way to influence fossil fuel emissions. In that respect, the Obama/Clinton approach has been a disaster for the climate, since they have both supported flooding the market with cheap oil and gas, in part to punish and destabilize oil-dependent rivals such as Venezuela, Russia and Iran. During a recent speech in support of Clinton, Obama bragged about bring the price of gas back to $2 a gallon, ignoring how this only serves to encourage gluttonous gas-guzzling. In theory, Johnson’s policies might increase the price of gas, curb consumption and marginally reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In say in theory, because when Johnson goes off the weed for too long he can say some crazy shit like this:”In billions of years, the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right? So global warming is in our future.”

+ At least Hillary is consistent on one issue, her unwavering support for the death penalty, and it’s a principle she applies unilaterally: here by gas chamber, abroad by drone.

+ If the soporific Tim Kaine has done nothing to boost Hillary’s sagging poll numbers, the running mates can at least commiserate as kindred spirits. Kaine is, as Eric Draitser shows in his piece for CounterPunch this week, a neoliberal, ultra-hawk, anti-choice homophobe and Wall Street money bag man. I wonder if Kaine met HRC on eHarmony?

+ Draitser had a busy week. He took a couple of hours off from diaper duty with  the new kid (not sure if this was an excused absence) to interview political economist Rob Urie on the nature of capitalism, capitalism’s antagonistic relationship to Nature, and his vital new book Zen Economics.

Here’s what Mike Whitney has to say about Urie’s book:

“Rob Urie is the hands-down best political-economics writer of our time. Whether the topic is climate change, the bank crisis or the demonic Ms. Clinton, Urie never disappoints. He is a top-notch analyst with a keen eye for hypocrisy and a breathtaking grasp of history. Even better, Urie is crackerjack writer who knows how to cut through the mainstream baloney and deliver the goods. For that alone, he deserves a Pulitzer.”

+ Bono has called for Chris Rock and Amy Schumer to be deployed to Syria to slay ISIS with jokes. I’ve got a better war plan. Let’s drop Bono from 50,000 feet above Raqqa. He won’t make the sands glow, but the obnoxious imp will send most of the people below hightailing it out of town.

+ Variety magazine is reporting that the cast of West Wing will be reuniting to campaign for Hillary. Of course, that show was cancelled for a reason.

+ Sounds like Iran’s Rouhani is pulling the ripcord on Bashar Assad. In an interview on the eve of his UN speech, Rouhani said, for the first time, that the only long-term solution to the Syrian civil war is “political.”

+ The Iranian concession came a few days after US jets launched an air raid on the town of Deir Az Zor, striking Syrian Army troops. The raids killed more than 60 soldiers and left nearly 100 injured. Because Syrian Army position have a unique signature, distinct from the ISIS brigades besieging the city, the attacks struck many observers as a rogue mission launched by Pentagon generals angered by the ceasefire agreement struck between Kerry and Lavrov.

+ The odious Samantha Power couldn’t simply apologize for the atrocity, she had to make a bellicose speech deprecating the Russian ambassador, as if Putin made the Air Force do it. Ms. Power is the worst UN Ambassador since Jeane Kirkpatrick. And, yes, that includes John (I am the Walrus) Bolton.

+ A few days later, a medical convoy was hit carrying supplies into rebel-held Aleppo (Google Alert: Gary Johnson) killing civilians and aid workers and the ceasefire was kaput. Didn’t last a week.

+ The situation in Yemen seems to be unraveling faster than Syria. A new analysis by the Yemen Data Project concludes that one-third of the 8,6000 Saudi/US air strikes in the country have hit civilian targets, such as schools,  bridges, hospitals, and mosques.

+ Worse, there are fresh reports that some of these airstrikes involve the use of white phosphorous bombs supplied by the Pentagon. This is the notorious incendiary weapon used to such devastating effect by the US in Vietnam and by the Israelis in Lebanon and Gaza. White phosphorous is a highly indiscriminate chemical agent capable of inflicting horrendous damage, especially in civilian areas. Hypocritically, the US accused the Taliban of war crimes for using white phosphorous projectiles in Afghanistan.

+ The UN now puts the death toll from the war in Yemen at more than 10,000, with at least 3,800 of the killed being civilians. These strikes are clear violations of international law, war crimes pure and simple.

+ Hedge fund managers aren’t hedging their bets for the election. They’ve gone “all in” for Hillary, pouring unprecedented amounts of cash into her Super PAC.

+ George HW Bush is the latest of the Kennebunkport clan to endorse Hillary. Eight years ago, John McCain honorably refused to be photographed standing next to W. This year Hillary is wrapping herself around a new Bush every week.

+ I may have discovered the real reason Trump refuses to release his tax returns. Apparently, his crack team of accountants used Arabic numbers, instead of Roman numerals, to calculate his less-than-advertised net income.

+ Mike Pence told ABC News this week that he would model his vice presidency after Dick Cheney, who he continues to “hold in very high regard.” Is it too much to hope that Pence will also take Trump, and his two loathsome big game killing sons, on weekly quail hunting expeditions, with Cheney-like results?

+ Last week, I reported on the pay increases awarded to the cop who strangled Eric Garner. This week comes news that Kenneth Boss, the cop who shot the unarmed Amadou Diallo 41 times, was named “Sergeant of the Year” for the NYPD by the Police Benevolent Association.  In honor of this travesty, here’s a recording of Bruce Springsteen courageously playing his song “American Skin (41 Shots)” at Madison Square Garden in front of hissing members of the NYPD, who, proving their fascist bona fides, later staged a burning of Springsteen records.

+ Three high-profile police shootings in the last 10 days. Each senseless. Each depraved. Each completely standard procedure. There’s nothing new about those killings. As we show in our book Killing Trayvons, the violent, often lethal, suppression of black men is a policing strategy that goes back decades. I told my co-editor Kevin Alexander Grey that we should have printed 100 blank pages at the end of the book so that readers could record the victims killed by police nearly every day since its publication.

+ The difference, of course, is the reaction, which keeps getting more intense and militant after each killing. Black Lives Matter, which is largely unshackled by any dependence on the Democratic Party, is making a big difference. Kevin told me he believes another factor is that blacks now feel a sense of liberation by the waning of the Obama presidency. They no longer fear a political backlash from taking to the streets.

This makes a lot of sense to me. A similar phenomenon occurred in the final year of the Clinton administration. After nearly eight years of swallowing one betrayal after another, the Left finally erupted on the streets of Seattle to confront Clinton at the WTO, bringing the tradefest to a grinding halt. Similar protests broke out that year in DC at the World Bank and in Los Angeles at the Democratic Convention. Still no one called the white protesters who swarmed the streets of the Emerald City for five days criminals and thugs.

+ Back in the Dakotas, the massive protests against the Dakota Pipeline have only intensified. I got a message from Ruth Hopkins, a tribal lawyer and former judge, who told me that she and other activists are being called “terrorists.” I wrote her back saying “You know you’re making real progress when Big Oil’s thugs start calling you a ‘terrorist organization.'”

+ Fall has arrived in Oregon with a run of wet, blustery days and cool nights. There’s even a dusting of snow on the distant peaks of the High Cascades. For years, I’ve marked the first day of fall by re-reading one of the greatest poems in this, or any other, language, John Keats’s “To Autumn,” which is on the surface about the end of summer and at a deeper level a subversive attack on the enclosures and anti-gleaning laws that were starving England’s rural poor.

+ After 67 years behind the microphone, Vin Scully will announce his final Dodger home game this weekend. Pity the sanitized corporate-voice who has the unenviable job of taking the place of this titan, whose likes we will never hear again. Scully has a magical voice and a fluid, effortless gift of turning baseball games into narratives about life. As a Midwesterner, I’ve tried my best to resist Scully’s Hollywood charms, futilely. He’s just a little too smooth for my tastes. I preferred Jack Buck or the growling Ernie Harwell, who called Tigers games for so many years. Still Scully was perfect for LA. All those people stuck on the Harbor Freeway for hours, night after night, being soothed by the mellifluous sound of Vin’s voice, even as the Dodgers blew late inning leads to the hated Giants. You’ll be missed Vin, even by this die-hard Orioles fan.

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week:

1/ Jenny Scheinman: Mischief & Mayhem
2/ Dawn Richard: Blackheart
3/ Jeremih: Late Nights: the Album
4/ The Paranoid Style: Rolling Disclosure
5/ Cannonball Adderly & Bill Evans: Know What I Mean?

Booked Up

What I’m reading…

1/ Ece Temelkuran: Turkey: the Insane and the Melancholy
2/ Donald Murray: Herring Tales: How the Silver Darlings Shaped Human Taste and History
3/ Seamus Heaney: Aeneid Book VI

Same Words Telling the Same Lies

Albert Camus: “Every time I hear a political speech or I read those of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people’s anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed; that they gamble – yes, gamble – with a whole part of their life and their so called ‘vital interests.”

Notebooks, August, 1937.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3