Roaming Charges: Trumpism With a Human(oid) Face

Masked Predator, Dark Horse Comics HQ, Milwaukie, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

“I’d much prefer an intelligent Hell to a stupid paradise.”

– Victor Hugo

+ I keep asking myself why Biden’s poll numbers remain so high (60%), when he’s done so little and I’ve concluded that Americans prefer presidents who don’t do much. Mostly people don’t want to think about the govt, which is usually a source of aggravation for them. Trump didn’t do much either, but kept boasting that he had and that constant demand for attention was unnerving to many people, who would rather not hear about the president every hour or see his name flying on a flag from the bed of a pickup in front of them at the Wendy’s drive-thru when all they wanted was a single-with-cheese and a Frosty. I’m convinced most Americans don’t mind if the president sleeps on the job, just as long as his snoring doesn’t interrupt their streaming of the Kominsky Method.

+ To say that my expectations for Biden were low is to admit to having had expectations at all.

+ Biden is the ultimate company man, who plays by the company’s rules, which, of course, aren’t the rules rest of us are allowed to play by.

+ As an orator, Biden has never been known for his clarity. This can often seem like an endearing quirk of his perpetually twisted-tongue. But it’s also strategic. It serves him to be opaque about where he really stands on policies, from the US role in Afghanistan to student debt relief. But there are a few occasions when Biden is crystal clear and direct, when you can take his words to the bank and cash them in. Let us go back, then, to the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan, whose Bemelmans Bar is now bereft of the squeaks and honks of Woody Allen’s clarinet. During the heat of the 2019 primary campaign, Biden huddled with some of the richest people in New York City to assure them he would guard their interests. “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money,” Biden said. “The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change.”

+ But what are the fundamentals which won’t change? Biden was talking about more than just preserving the status quo. The status quo ebbs and flows. It’s meant to be tinkered with and upgraded, as threats come and go. The fundamentals are something deeper, embedded in the functional structure of the Republic. Despite his eroding mental capacity, few politicians of our time are more familiar with the “fundamentals” than Biden. He is, in the terms of Scientology, an Ascended Master of American politics, a keeper of the Holy of Holies, those core functions that maintain the inequities of power and money in the US system, regardless of the tempest outside, no matter what rabble, left or right, mounts the barricades and rushes the Capitol to bring it all down.

+ For all his bombast about the Deep State, nearly every move Trump made ended up fueling the hidden powerhouse (what Henry Adams called the “dynamo”) that drives the American empire: cruel neoliberal economic policies at home, savage assertions of power abroad.

+ It’s surely not too early to admit that Biden’s governing policies are Trumpism with a human(oid) face. Just as Trump’s governing policies where Obamaism in the face of a white avenger. The fundamentals didn’t change and won’t change. The ever-exanding military budget will remain sacrosanct, corporate behavior will be deregulated, fossil fuels will power the economy until they’re depleted, health care will remain a for-profit industry, the poor will be mercilessly policed, immigrants will be exploited for cheap labor and detained and deported when they become inconvenient, the nuclear arsenal will be continually and provocatively upgraded, working-class people will be kept buried in debt, wages will be kept as low as possible, the public commons will be turned over to extractive industries at subsidized rates, Israel will be kept stocked with weapons and get out of jail cards and Cuba will be slowly strangled with sanctions until it renounces its revolution and pays reparations for kicking the CIA’s ass at the Bay of Pigs.

+ Trump infamously had no idea what the US “nuclear triad” was. Biden does and, despite campaign promises to the contrary, issued a budget request supporting upgrades of all three platforms (land, sea and air) and lent his backing to two destabilizing nuclear weapons projects put in motion by Trump …

+ The Washington Post ran a big piece this week on how Biden has taken executive actions to prevent the release of many of the most sought after documents of the Trump era, to the consternation of his liberal supporters and the Beltway press. I don’t know if all the Presidents have been Freemasons (I’ll leave that to Dan Brown), but once you become president all of the secrets of the previous president become yours and, as a rule, the louder you prattle about open government, the more vigorously you guard the vault containing evidence of misdeeds past and present.

+ Biden is now on pace to have more Infrastructure Weeks than Trump, with just as little new infrastructure to show for it.

+ Girl: “Stay socially distanced from my hair, old man.”

+ Gore Vidal: “The hatred Americans have for their own government is pathological, if understandable. At one level it is simply thwarted greed: since our religion is making a buck, giving a part of that buck to any government is an act against nature.”

+  Trends in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which just held a special election. Steady as she goes…

2018: 59% D, 36% R
2020: 58% D, 42% R
2021 special: 60% D, 36% R

+ The Republicans fighting vigorously against threats that don’t exist and deny the ones that are poised to wipe us all out….

+ WARNING: This is a test of the Emergency Shakedown System…Israel has just asked the Biden administration for an additional $1 billion in emergency military aid.

+ Bernie hasn’t been paying much attention to the UN Security Council…

+So you thought Netanyahu was the big problem? Check out some of the things Naftali Bennett, the front runner for Israel’s new PM, has had no problem saying in public:

“I killed lots of Arabs in my life, there’s absolutely no problem with that.”

“This is not a government that will disengage from settlements, relinquish land & won’t be afraid to carry out military operations.”

“There’s not going to be Palestinian state.”

+ Bennett’s policies are more vicious and unsparing toward Palestinians than Netanyahu’s. He is opposed to any Palestinian state and wants to annex large portions of the West Bank, insensate to the privation and dislocation this will inflict on some of the poorest people in the world. But Bennett is seen as a cleaner and less corrupt politician than Bibi, which, of course, will serve to make his abhorrent views seem more legitimate to Israel’s supporters in the West, who’ve grown weary of defending the clutching greed of the Netanyahus. The problem is, and always has been, the apartheid nature of the Israeli state not the peculiarities its leaders.

+ Tell that to Bernie Sanders, who made this statement on the apparent replacement of Netanyahu with Bennett:  “I will not be mourning the departure of the Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, and I hope that Israel will have a government that we will be better able to work with.”

+ Was Bennett responsible for an Israeli commando raid on the village of Kfar Kana in southern Lebanon that killed more than 102 civilians, including four UN peacekeepers? He certainly had no regrets about his actions and later proclaimed the slaughter an act of “heroism.”

+ Bennett said he was raised by “Woodstock parents,” which gives new meaning to that  “helicopter (gunship) day.”

+ In 2017, Jamil Dakwar landed a free upgrade to business class on a flight from Atlanta to New York and found himself seated next to Naftali Bennett, then Israel’s Education Minister. The far-right nationalist, posed to become Israel’s next PM — had no idea he was sitting next to a Hebrew-speaking Palestinian human rights lawyer, who listened to Bennett tell someone on a phone call that the “centrist” Knesset member Yair Lapid would support the Nation-State law, strip Israeli Arabs of even more righ. Bennett assured the reporter Lapid can be counted on to veer right when it comes to “hating Arabs.” Dakwar wrote up an account of the strange ordeal for +972 magazine.

+ You thought Biden might defund ICE? Don’t be silly. Give ’em a raise! Do I hear $18 million more? How about $20?

+ I never hear a peep about the inflationary risks of ever-expanding military spending, even from Larry Summers whose dreams are haunted by inflationary death spirals…

+ Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan is one of craftier politicians around. He knew by occasionally criticizing Trump for inflammatory Tweets, he would earn a reputation as a rational, humane politician, which he could then exploit to implement irrational, inhumane policies with little resistance, such as his cruel decision this week to refuse extra federal unemployment benefits, a move designed to force workers back into unsafe workplaces for wages that its nearly impossible to live on.

+ Carlson’s latest histrionic diatribe is about as offensive as Marjorie Taylor Greene’s rant about vaccination requirements being the equivalent of yellow stars placed on Jews by Nazis. he real “medical Jim Crow” was already firmly in place by 1845, when J. Marion Sims began gruesome medical experiments on enslaved black women…

+ We don’t live in a “democracy” and never have and state legislatures across the country are going to extraordinary lengths to conceal this essential fact from young students. We do have a political system which allows parties in power to manipulate it to their own advantage, a reality the GOP exploits much more expertly than the Dems, who often seemed frightened by their own power and fail to use it on the increasingly rare occasions when they have it….like now.

+ The dark genius of the NRA is that in the 90s they figured out that every mass shooting, even ones of children, could be turned into a justification for selling more firearms…

+ Lawyers for Derek Chauvin just filed his sentence mitigation brief, where he asks judge for a reduced sentence of “probation,” saying prison will inflict “long-term damage” on his “life prospects.”

+ This is like asking Goebbels his opinion  about a high school’s decision to put the Diary of Anne Frank on the reading list for sophomores…

+ Here’s Merrick Garland for the defense….of Trump and Barr.

+ Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said at a press conference yesterday that his claims that protesters were preparing Molotov cocktails at last year’s 6/1 George Floyd protest were wrong (that is, he lied). He claimed that Oakland police weren’t justified in using tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters and issued 33 disciplinary actions, though none against himself or other leaders of his department.

+ Residential schools, where native cultures (and kids) went to die

+ Apparently, Matt didn’t hear Wavy Gravy’s announcement about the bad acid that is circulating and swallowed a tab of the brown blotter that came his way…

+ Where was QAnon during the age of the Bourbons?

The monarchy sometimes was in need of children, and in that case it skimmed the streets.

Under Louis XIV., not to go any further back, the king rightly desired to create a fleet. The idea was a good one. But let us consider the means. There can be no fleet, if, beside the sailing ship, that plaything of the winds, and for the purpose of towing it, in case of necessity, there is not the vessel which goes where it pleases, either by means of oars or of steam; the galleys were then to the marine what steamers are to-day. Therefore, galleys were necessary; but the galley is moved only by the galley-slave; hence, galley-slaves were required. Colbert had the commissioners of provinces and the parliaments make as many convicts as possible. The magistracy showed a great deal of complaisance in the matter. A man kept his hat on in the presence of a procession—it was a Huguenot attitude; he was sent to the galleys. A child was encountered in the streets; provided that he was fifteen years of age and did not know where he was to sleep, he was sent to the galleys. Grand reign; grand century.

Under Louis XV. children disappeared in Paris; the police carried them off, for what mysterious purpose no one knew. People whispered with terror monstrous conjectures as to the king’s baths of purple. Barbier speaks ingenuously of these things. It sometimes happened that the exempts of the guard, when they ran short of children, took those who had fathers. The fathers, in despair, attacked the exempts. In that case, the parliament intervened and had some one hung. Who? The exempts? No, the fathers.

(From Les Misérables)

+ Biden announced that the US will “donate” 25 million doses of COVID vaccines to other nations struggling to vaccinate their populations. Until they add a couple of zeroes to this, it will be just another case of appearing to do something while doing nothing, which is, of course, one of the things that Biden is most talented at doing…

+ Trump really, really seems to believe that he will be “restored” to office in August, along with defeated senators David Perdue of Georgia and Martha McSally of Arizona. It’s not just a grift. Or not only a grift. As always, it’s hard to tell if Trump is one of those grifters who believes his own grift.

+ Wait until Naomi hears what the 3-year old has to say about being served green beans, to buckle her seat belt or being forced to watch the video on how the oxygen masks are deployed instead of Peppa Pig…

+++

+ Nearly 40 percent of heat-related deaths have been tied to climate change. But if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the only death that matters to many Americans is their own.

+ Big Oil’s New Scam: Dump your most inefficient and toxic assets on small companies, then boast about how green you’ve become, as the old wells continue to leak methane under the new control of flight-by-night shell companies and hedge funds out to make an even quicker buck than you did….”According to the new analysis, Hilcorp, which has grown by buying up decades-old oil and gas assets, has the highest methane emissions in the country, despite being the 13th-largest gas producer. Hilcorp’s methane emissions intensity, or leak rate, was almost six times higher than the average of the top 30 producers, largely caused by high emissions from its aging San Juan operations. ‘So nothing changed from the perspective of the climate, even though it certainly made ConocoPhillips look a lot better,’ said Mr. Logan of Ceres.”

+ Industrial wind farms on the Pacific Coast? They’re going to be run by the same hedge funds, banks and corporations that profited off of off-shore oil drilling. Biden’s climate change plan, to the extent that it constitutes a “plan,” aims to keep energy production in the hands of large corporations, instead of putting solar panels on each house and letting the residents sell their energy back to the power companies that have been ripping them off and poisoning the planet for decades. It’s time to democratize soft energy production.

+ While the Southwest remains in the grip of the kind of megadrought that comes around every few thousand years, the Pacific Northwest is experiencing the worst drought in more than a century with dire consequences of crops and livestock–not to mention forests and salmon.

+ Since October 1st, 2019 much of the West are missing nearly 1 year’s worth of precipitation. The center of the drought is Northern California, where up to 1.5 years’ worth of rainfall is missing over the last 20 months alone.

+ Meanwhile, the governor of Utah, Spencer Cox , is pleading with residents of the state to join in him in a “weekend of prayer” for rain. If it doesn’t rain, does that mean that God is dead, never existed or just doesn’t give a shit?

+ Just because you build mighty river-killing dams, doesn’t mean they’ll hold water. Consider the case of Lake Mead, where the pool level is now 145 feet below the old “No Wake” signs and the whole Colorado River basin water allocation scheme is facing its first shortage since Hoover Dam went up in.

+ The NYT got Ammon Bundy to talk openly about an armed takeover of Klamath River water….“Who cares if there is violence? At least something will be worked out. Oh, we don’t want violence, we’ll just starve to death.’ Heaven forbid we talk about violence.”

+ The Biden administration’s outrageous decision to move forward with the Oak Flat land “swap” despite pending lawsuits should disabuse you of any precious notions you might have had that Deb Haaland will make major changes to how the Interior Department deals with sacred lands when transnational corporations want to rip them up for copper, gold, silver, lithium, coal, oil, gas, timber, or water. It’s crucial to remember that the original permits for the Oak Flat land swamp and mine were issued under the Obama administration, with assurances that the mile-wide, 1,000 foot deep pit be excavated in an “environmentally sensitive” manner.

+ According to Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, Alexander Kozlov: “The Russian economy stands to lose more than $67 billion by 2050 thanks to melting permafrost due to climate change.” Of course, this hasn’t slowed down Russian plans for the Vostok Project, one of the biggest oil drilling schemes in history in the Arctic….

+ Meanwhile, it appears that Arctic is melting “twice as fast” as previously thought…

+ Giant sequoias evolved to withstand almost anything: storms, fires, droughts, insects–except the climate inferno we’ve now driven the entire planet into. A draft report by fire ecologists estimates that last years fires in the Sierra Nevada Range destroyed as much as 10% percent of the world’s Giant Sequoias. They won’t come back.

+ As of May 21, at least 749 manatees have died in Florida in 2021, in a die-off that has been long-predicted and the circumstances driving it long ignored…

+ This buffoon ran the CIA and the State Department. Now he wants to run the country…

+ Naomi Osaka is a tennis player and a great one. What she does she does in full view of the press to be analyzed & critiqued. Why should she be forced to be interrogated about it anymore than a painter exhibiting at a gallery, actors in Broadway play, or a poet on a new poem? Press conferences at sporting events are for reporters who don’t know enough about the sport they’re covering to write intelligibly about what they’ve just witnessed and are content to fill their column inches with canned answers to banal questions. People who asks questions at press conferences (including the ones at the White House) aren’t “journalists”. They’re stenographers. If you can’t get the story without a press conference, you should surrender your press credentials. On sports talk TV and radio, player interviews have become ritualized parodies, something to fill the dead air between the commercials for sports betting sites and testosterone boosters…

+ There’s only one MLB baseball team that has never had a Pride Day–the one formerly owned by a President of the United States, praised for his decency by Michele Obama.

+ Boston may not be the most racist city in America, but it’s probably the most racist city to play in as a professional athlete. Consider the cases of Pumpsie Green or Kyrie Irving

Still from “The Earrings of Madame de…”

+ I watched Max Ophuls’ “The Earrings of Madame de…” on my computer last night, which is an awful way to watch a film, though it scarcely distracted from my enjoyment of this understated masterpiece, where one casual act of deceit sets in motion a series of events that ends in a tragedy so inevitable that it is not even shown. The leads are Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio de Sica. All are terrific, as they act out a kind of fatal dance of pride, obsession and betrayal among the elite of belle époque Paris. They aren’t the aristocracy, though they try to live like it, at their peril. They represent military and diplomatic elite, prisoners of a code of honor which no longer exists, if ever did, that dictates their every move, even as it leads them right to the brink of annihilation. Ophuls’ camera rarely stops moving, though its done so subtly that you don’t even notice you’ve been swept away by its motion. The erotic tension between de Sica and Darrieux is so electric that you begin to think, against your better judgement, that they just might get away with it. Ophuls wanted to shoot the entire film through windows or reflections in mirrors, a plan the producers quickly killed. Even so, the film demands that you assume your position as voyeur, compulsive watching scenes that outside of a dark movie house (or in my case a bedroom off Ventura Blvd.) you shouldn’t have any right to see….

+ Lizbeth Scott, picking up a newspaper Charlton Heston bought but didn’t read: “Don’t you want to know what’s going on in the world?”

Heston: “What’s going on in the world stinks.”

(William Dieterle’s Dark City, Heston’s first film.)

+ Dark City is an intriguing noir, depicting the psychic wreckage of two World War II veterans, whose craving for risk lead them into complex cons and high-stakes gambling. The film is driven by Heston’s muscular performance, that is spoiled by a contrived ending that undermines the raw cynicism of every other scene in the movie.

+ Perhaps it’s because I’m in LA, where the air is still pungent with the odor of 80-year-old rumors, but I heard today for the first time a story about why the great George Cukor was fired as director of Gone With the Wind, just a few weeks into filming. The agent of Cukor’s ouster was Clark Gable, then Hollywood’s reigning symbol of rugged masculinity. Cukor was living in Holllywood as a not-quite-out-of-the-closet homosexual and Gable feared that Cukor had learned his dark secret: that as a struggling young actor he had worked the streets as a male prostitute, including answer a few calls from one of Cukor’s former lovers. Apparently, Gable marched into Selznick’s office and announced that he wasn’t going to work for a homosexual. Selznick, a close friend of Cukor’s, feigned ignorance and mock outrage about the director’s orientation and fired him, replacing one of the most original film-makers in Hollywood with the studio hack, Victor Fleming, who filmed what he was told, as he was told. Cukor felt liberated. He’d never been comfortable with Margaret Mitchell’s bloated melodrama, which did more to mythologize the “lost cause” of the slave-owning South than Birth of a Nation.

+ Honey, disconnect the phone!

+ George looks like the Yorkshire Ripper. Keep your daughters home!

+ Leave it to the RNC to stage of a pyrotechnical veneration of the myth of the nation’s founding by doing more concrete damage to its monuments than the teachings of Critical Race Theory…

+ Franz Kafka’s notebooks, letters and drawings now online

+ Raymond Carver was born in the Columbia river town of Clatskanie, Oregon. When he and his wife Tess Gallagher returned 40 years later no one in town had the slightest idea who he was. So he and Tess stood up in the seats of the Mercedes convertible Carver had bought with the money he earned writing film scripts and read their poems aloud in the parking lot of the Safeway. “We read those poems to each other and to anyone passing by with their groceries,” Gallagher said a few years ago at the dedication of a memorial for Carver on the grounds of the town’s small library.

+ Two weeks ago my friend and longtime CounterPunch contributor Charles Larson died, after a 20-fight against prostate cancer. Chuck’s family would be gratified if people who wish to remember Chuck would contribute in his name to the National Peace Corps Association or Bethesda Cares, a local community organization whose mission is to assist homeless men.

Yours is the Quest That’s Just Begun

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Planet on Fire: a Manifesto for the Age of Environmental Breakdown
Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Laybourn-Langton
(Vers0)

A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters
Andrew H. Knoll
(Custom House)

The Netanyahus: an Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family
Joshua Cohen
(NYRB)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Vessels of Wood and Earth
Dan Wilson
(Mack Ave.)

Presentable Corpse 002
Jorge Elbrecht
(Republic of Music)

Another Land
Dave Holland
(Dare2 Records)

The Nobel Experiment

“The period of Prohibition — called the noble experiment — brought on the greatest breakdown of law and order the United States has known until today. I think there is a lesson here. Do not regulate the private morals of people. Do not tell them what they can take or not take. Because if you do, they will become angry and antisocial and they will get what they want from criminals who are able to work in perfect freedom because they have paid off the police.” (Gore Vidal, “The State of the Union”)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3