Students, Teachers, the CDC, We’re All Means, Not Ends

A quote from presidential niece Mary Txxxx’s new book:

“While thousands of Americans die alone, Donald touts stock market gains,” Mary Txxxx writes. “As my father lay dying alone, Donald went to the movies. If he can in any way profit from your death, he’ll facilitate it, and then he’ll ignore the fact that you died. … The fact is that Donald is fundamentally incapable of acknowledging the suffering of others. Telling the stories of those we’ve lost would bore him.”

A quote from Immanuel Kant’s old book:

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.

From Crooked Media’s “What a Day” excellent newsletter:

The Txxxx administration is ramping up its efforts to force the country’s schools to open prematurely, through a wholesome combination of tampering with scientific health guidelines and some good, old-fashioned extortion.

— President Txxxx and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have each threatened to cut funding from schools that don’t resume in-person classes this fall. The president doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally withhold federal funding, and most education funding comes from states anyway, but Vice President Mike Pence helpfully clarified that the White House plans to use the next coronavirus relief bill to pressure states into compliance.

— In a world-class feat of projection, Txxxx has repeatedly claimed that Democratic state and local officials are keeping schools closed for political reasons, dangerously casting another public-health issue in partisan terms. In Txxxx’s framing of the argument over schools, the coronavirus doesn’t exist: This morning he tweeted, “In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS.” There’s something different about those countries, but we can’t quite put our finger on it; if only Americans weren’t banned from entering them, we could go sleuth it out [Hint: Germany had 390 new cases Tuesday; the US had almost 51,000].

— The goal of that framing becomes clear just one tweet later. In the alternate reality where the pandemic is no longer raging, who needs all these public-health recommendations? A few hours after Txxxx complained that the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines to safely reopen schools are too cumbersome, Pence announced that the CDC will simply issue new guidelines. “We don’t want the guidance from CDC to be a reason why schools don’t open,” said the vice president, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. surpassed three million.

Betsy Devos, who’s currently being sued for trying to divert coronavirus relief funds from public schools to private schools, has happily taken a lead role in the administration’s efforts to force those public schools to reopen.

— DeVos told governors on a Tuesday conference call, “Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools need to open, it’s a matter of how. School must reopen, they must be fully operational. And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders.” 

— Education and community leaders see their roles differently. The country’s largest teachers’ union has slammed Txxxx’s push to reopen schools without guaranteeing the safety of students and staff, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced today that the nation’s largest public school system will only partially reopen in the fall, with classroom attendance limited to one to three days a week, and Harvard and MIT have sued the Txxxx administration over ICE’s order that international students leave the country unless enrolled in a school offering in-person classes.

— The U.S. just confirmed a record 60,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day. At least 56 ICUs in Florida hospitals reached capacity on Tuesday, Texas alone reported 10,000 new cases, and Arizona has an astronomically high test-positivity rate, at more than 25 percent. The country is in a state of crisis as extreme as at any point during the pandemic, and the Txxxx administration hopes only to hide it behind a facade of normalcy.

Unquote.

It’s a word that hasn’t been used much lately. “Kakistocracy”. Rule by the worst. It deserves to be used more often.

The Nonsense, the Abyss & a Call to Action

I’ve been slowly writing a post about whether to avoid the news. I might never finish it. The news keeps intruding.

We are finding out what it’s like to live in a country ruled by its worst people (that’s called a “kakistocracy”). There are too many problems and offenses to monitor or understand.

Regarding just two of them, Paul Waldman of The Washington Post does a great job with “GOP spin about the new ‘Steele Dossier’ story is disingenuous nonsense” and “The GOP strategy on the Russia scandal: ‘No puppet. You’re the puppet.’” Read these two articles and you’ll be totally inoculated against the toxic bullshit soon to rain down on us from the Republican “Let’s Invent a Clinton Scandal” machine and the relatively respectable journalists who should know better by now.

The other thing I wanted to share today is Andrew Sullivan’s insightful summary of the current situation in New York Magazine: “This Is What the Trump Abyss Looks Like”. If reading it gets too depressing, you can jump to the last paragraph, where he issues a call to action:

The past week was another watershed, it seems to me, in the rising power of Donald Trump. Flake is quitting; Corker is retiring; McCain is mortal…. A new slew of Bannonite candidates is emerging from under various rocks and crannies to take their places. The Trump propaganda machine was given a chance to turn the Russia story into a Clinton scandal – lowering even further the possibility of impeachment – and gleefully took it. The FBI is the next target for a barrage of hostile propaganda, since it might expose the Supreme Leader. Mueller is being daily savaged in the right wing press. Outside Washington, Trump’s targets are faltering. [A] Gold Star widow is attacked; Obamacare is at risk of being sabotaged to death; the EPA is castrated….

The Congress is paralyzed, reduced entirely to staffing the judiciary with the far right; it can pass no significant legislation and reach no compromise on anything without Trump undermining it. The bureaucracy is shell-shocked and demoralized; the State Department is a wasteland; the press has sunk even further into public disdain. The police are increasingly seen either as incapable of error or morally suspect. The essential civilian control of the military has been weakened, with an embittered general’s honor now deployed as a way to play political defense in front of the press corps. “My generals”, as the president calls them, as if they swear loyalty to him and not to the Constitution. The Republican candidate for the Senate from Alabama, Roy Moore, believes that there should be a religious test for public office. As Ben Sasse blurted out yesterday: “It feels like this party I’m a member of has gone post-Constitutional.”

The discourse has been coarsened to sub-tabloid levels; the courts’ authority has been weakened by their own over-reach and Trump’s refusal to follow core Constitutional norms. The neutral institutions that might be capable of bringing the president to heel, such as the FBI, are now being trashed by their ultimate boss. The possibility of a shared truth, about which we can have differing opinions, has evaporated in a blizzard of web-fueled distraction and misdirection, aided and abetted by a president for whom reality is whatever he wants it to be at any given moment, and always susceptible to change. It turns out that Mark Zuckerberg’s real achievement will be the collapse of a rational public dialogue….

Almost all our liberal democratic norms and institutions are much weaker today than they were a year ago. Trump has not assaulted the Constitution directly. He has not refused a court order, so far. But he has obstructed justice in his firing of James Comey, and abused the spirit of the pardon power by using it for a public official who violated citizens’ Constitutional rights, before he was even sentenced. In the most worrying case so far, he has refused to enforce the sanctions against Russia that were passed by a veto-proof margin by the Congress. I fear this is because his psyche cannot actually follow the instructions of anyone but himself. This is also why, after failing to repeal, replace or amend Obamacare, he has not faithfully executed the law, but actively sabotaged it. If he does not have his way, he will either sulk and refuse to do his constitutional duty, or he will simply smash whatever institution or law that obstructs his will. At some point, we may come to a more profound test of his ability to operate as just one of three equal branches of government. I think he’ll fail it.

Yes, the forms of the Constitution remain largely intact after nine months. But the norms that make the Constitution work are crumbling. The structure looks the same, but Trump has relentlessly attacked their foundations….

And we know something after a year of this. It will go on. This is not a function of strategy or what we might ordinarily describe as will. It is because this president is so psychologically disordered he cannot behave in any other way. His emotions control his mind; his narcissism overwhelms even basic self-interest, let alone the interest of the country as a whole. He cannot unite the country, even if, somewhere in his fathomless vanity, he wants to. And he cannot stop this manic defense of ego because if he did, his very self would collapse. This is why he lies and why he cannot admit a single one of them. He is psychologically incapable of accepting that he could be wrong and someone else could be right. His impulse – which he cannot control – is simply to assault the person who points out the error, or blame someone else for it….And do not underestimate the stamina of the psychologically unwell. They will exhaust you long before they will ever exhaust themselves.

But by far the most important development in all this, the single essential rampart, is how, through all this, Trump has tightened his grip on 35 percent of the country. He has done this when he has succeeded but also critically when he has failed, because he has brilliantly turned his incapacity to be president into an asset with his base. No wall? Congress’ fault. Obamacare in place? The GOP’s fault. No tax cut? Ditto. The only way forward? A deeper and deeper trust in him. Only he can fix the Congress by purging it. Only he can fix the Courts through nominees who will never stand up to him.

And this base support is unshakable. It is not susceptible to reason. No scandal, however great, will dislodge it – because he has invaded his followers’ minds and psyches as profoundly as he has the rest of ours. He is fused with them more deeply now, a single raging id, a force that helps us understand better how civilized countries can descend so quickly into barbarism. In a country led by a swirling void, all sorts of inhibitions slowly slip away. Nativism, racism, nationalism: these are very potent catalysts of human darkness. Usually it is the president who takes responsibility when these demons appear to emerge, and attempts to refute, or discredit or calm them. But this one amps them up….

He is the total master of an enormous mob that, so far, has completely overcome the elites. He achieves this mastery through incendiary oratory, hourly provocations, and relentless propaganda. His rallies are events of mass hysteria and rage. His propaganda machines – Fox News, Limbaugh, Breitbart, Drudge – rarely crack. And there is no one in our political life capable of matching this power. Name one, if you can. And when you look at the Democratic field of 2020, no one seems up to it at all. Among the few responsible Republicans left, what we see is either utter cowardice in the face of an enraged base, or the kind of courage that manifests itself too late to make a difference, which is to say no real courage at all….

What could change this? Maybe a recession – although Trump would probably blame that on the Fed or some other target. Maybe a catastrophe, such as a nuclear conflict in Korea. Maybe, such a massive and impregnable revelation from the Mueller investigation it shakes even the base out of its trance. But the only reliable and sane solution is a massive mobilization of the anti-Trump majority at the polls next year. The huge Democratic fundraising advantage is encouraging; as are the new grass roots organizations that are going in strength. Maybe an unexpected leader from the left or center might emerge. Maybe a strong Democratic message that can somehow keep its minority edge and simultaneously re-engage the white Obama-Trump voters in the Midwest. The key is to sustain a sense of the urgency of the moment, a resolute refusal to accept this descent into an illiberal authoritarianism, and a decision to put all our differences aside for a year in order to mobilize a turnout next year that eclipses Obama’s. We have to turn the mid-terms into a presidential election. Sane Republicans need to vote for the Democrat. Leftists have to put aside their divisive identity politics. Liberals need to coalesce around a simple strategy – not impeaching but checking Trump decisively.

We have close to 60 percent of the country with us. We have to mobilize every single one. Or the abyss will open wider.

The Red Menace Isn’t What It Used To Be. It’s Not Even Red. It’s Orange.

One thing everyone needs to understand about the Orange Menace’s love for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is that Russia isn’t a Communist country anymore. Boris Yeltsin banned the Communist Party of the Soviet Union back in 1991, shortly before the Soviet Union was formally dissolved. Putin resigned from the party that year.

In 1995, Putin helped organize the pro-government “Our Home Is Russia” party. In 1999, he joined the new “Unity” party. That’s the same year he described Communism as “a blind alley, far away from the mainstream of civilization”. In 2008, during his second term as Prime Minister, Putin became the leader of the “United Russia Party”.

Although there are still quite a few Communists in Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is much less popular than United Russia. In this year’s election, Putin’s party got 54% of the vote. The Communists came in second with 13%.

Since Putin isn’t a Communist anymore, what is he? Here’s how Wikipedia describes United Russia:

The Party has no coherent ideology; however, it embraces specific politicians and officials with a variety of political views who support the administration. The Party appeals mainly to non-ideological voters; therefore, United Russia is often classified as a “catch-all party” or as a “party of power“. 

In 2009 the United Russia Party proclaimed “Russian Conservatism” as its official ideology.

United Russia isn’t so much a political party that tries to win elections in order to carry out a set of policies. Instead, it’s one of the tools used by the rich and powerful to win elections so they can maintain their positions at the top of Russian society.

Putin began his political ascent when he was put in charge of the Presidential Property Management Department in the late 1990s. His job was to manage the transfer of overseas property belonging to the Soviet Union and Communist Party to the new Russian Federation. That process had been going on since the fall of the Soviet Union. But instead of being transferred to the new government, much of that property was “privatized”. In other words, it ended up in the hands of a small number of well-placed people, including Putin, who quickly became extremely rich. 

In the words of the economist and lawyer James S. Henry, whose long article “The Curious World of Donald T___p’s Private Russia Connections” tells the sordid story in detail:

…One of the most central facts about modern Russia [is] its emergence since the 1990s as a world-class kleptocracy, second only to China as a source of illicit capital and criminal loot, with more than $1.3 trillion of net offshore “flight wealth” as of 2016…

[It was] one of the most massive transfers of public wealth into private hands that the world has ever seen.For example, Russia’s 1992 “voucher privatization” program permitted a tiny elite of former state-owned company managers and party apparatchiks to acquire control over a vast number of public enterprises, often with the help of outright mobsters.

A majority of Gazprom, the state energy company that controlled a third of the world’s gas reserves, was sold for $230 million; Russia’s entire national electric grid was privatized for $630 million; ZIL, Russia’s largest auto company, went for about $4 million; ports, ships, oil, iron and steel, aluminum, much of the high-tech arms and airlines industries, the world’s largest diamond mines, and most of Russia’s banking system also went for a song.

In 1994–96, under the infamous “loans-for-shares” program, Russia privatized 150 state-owned companies for just $12 billion, most of which was loaned to a handful of well-connected buyers by the state… The principal beneficiaries of this “privatization”—actually, cartelization—were initially just 25 or so budding oligarchs with the insider connections to buy these properties and the muscle to hold them.… 

For the vast majority of ordinary Russian citizens, this extreme re-concentration of wealth coincided with nothing less than a full-scale 1930s-type depression, a “shock therapy”-induced rise in domestic price levels that wiped out the private savings of millions, rampant lawlessness, a public health crisis, and a sharp decline in life expectancy and birth rates.

Is it any wonder at all that Vladimir Putin, the man in charge of this highly successful criminal enterprise, is one of the Orange Menace’s favorite people? T___p built his real estate career on tax breaks from local government (a billion dollars from New York City alone), tax evasion, loans that were never repaid and a number of shady deals, while Putin should be made an honorary member of the Republican Party. Donnie and anti-Muslim, super-secretive white guy Vladimir have a whole lot in common.

It’s remarkable that the Orange Menace hasn’t said a bad word about Putin or Russia since he began running for President, even though he’s criticized just about everyone else on Earth. It isn’t just admiration on T___p’s part. There has been a lot of money involved. Mr. Henry proceeds:

… For many banks, private bankers, hedge funds, law firms, and accounting firms, for leading oil companies like ExxonMobil and BP, as well as for needy borrowers like the Trump Organization, the opportunity to feed on post-Soviet spoils was a godsend. This was vulture capitalism at its worst.

The nine-lived Trump, in particular, had just suffered a string of six successive bankruptcies. So the massive illicit outflows from Russia … from the mid-1990s provided precisely the kind of undiscriminating investors that he needed. These outflows arrived at just the right time to fund several of Trump’s post-2000 high-risk real estate and casino ventures—most of which failed. As Donald Trump, Jr., executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization, [said] in September 2008 (on the basis, he said, of his own “half dozen trips to Russia in 18 months”):

“In terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

All this helps to explain one of the most intriguing puzzles about Donald Trump’s long, turbulent business career: how he managed to keep financing it, despite a dismal track record of failed projects.

According to the “official story,” this was simply due to a combination of brilliant deal-making, Trump’s gold-plated brand, and raw animal spirits—with $916 million of creative tax dodging as a kicker. But this official story is hokum. The truth is that, since the late 1990s, Trump was also greatly assisted by these abundant new sources of global finance, especially from “submerging markets” like Russia. [T___p and Putin] are not evil twins, exactly, but they are both byproducts of the … scams that were peddled to Russia’s struggling new democracy.

So, maybe the Orange Menace did something very bad on one of his trips to Russia and they’re blackmailing him. Maybe one of his fundamental desires is that the U.S. and Russia form an alliance to make weaker countries give up their nuclear weapons (as reported here). Maybe he sees Putin as an ally in the fight against Islamic radicals or a coming war with China. Maybe he views Vlad as a role model, since Putin often has his critics and enemies murdered. It seems likely, however, that it’s mostly about the money.

(For a look at one way Putin plans to rake in the rubles once the new President and the Secretary of State from Exxon are in charge, take a look at this. There’s a whole lot of oil just north of Russia.)

The Word We’ve Been Looking For

“Plutocracy” and “kleptocracy” are inadequate to the present moment. So it was a pleasant surprise to learn there’s a word that means “rule by the worst”. Assuming the Electoral College doesn’t do its duty tomorrow, we now have terminology that fits the bill.

I was so happy to find fitting language for phrases like “America is now ruled by a …” and “The Orange Menace is a true …” that I wrote about it on Daily Kos. That’s a busy site where liberals and progressives discuss current events, such as the end of the world as we know it. 

If you want to know more, please visit my post over there. Thank you and good luck.