Thursday, July 4, 2024

Fourth Of July, 2024: A Republic, If You Can Keep It....But For How Long?

<Happy Fourth -- From The Extreme Supremes:
Down With Tyranny (https://www.downwithtyranny.com/)>



But our land is still troubled by men who have to hate
They twist away our freedom & they twist away our fate
Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry
We can stop them if we try

Phil Ochs, "Power And The Glory"
All The News That's Fit To Sing (1964)
[Unreleased fourth verse, not included
on original recording]



<i.>
If you've read or followed this blog any length of time, you'll know that, in recent years, it's become something of a tradition to write a Fourth of July message. In 2020, we questioned where the COVID pandemic was taking us ("Merry Fourth Of July: Is This A Wake, Or What?"). In 2021, we took empty suits to task for intoning, "Nobody wants to work," even as ever-spiraling inequality continued to harden our nation's arteries ("Fourth Of July Notes (The Long Arc Bends Toward Justice? Suuure...").

In 2022, we called on readers to rally against the fallout of a post-Roe world ("The Roe Bombshell Drops: So What Happens From Here?"). And, in 2023, we attempted to inject a note of cautious optimism, on how we could carve out a better future for ourselves ("O Beautiful, For Spacious Skies (Say What?): Reclaiming Our Democratic Heritage").

Given all the cluster bombs of darkness that dropped left and right last week, it might be fair to ask whether if we've gotten a little ahead of our skis. But let me start with a basic proposition, to frame this year's message, and put that darkness into perspective.

As I write today, Britons are headed for a historic election, one that promises considerable electoral pain for the Conservative Party that pursued the disastrous Brexit referendum of 2016, and whose austerity politics have turned public opinion against it. Current projections show Keir Starmer will become the next Prime Minister, with his Labour Party expected to win 431 seats, to 102 for the Tories, and 72 for the Liberal Democrats.

Those numbers give Labour 212 seats, well above the margin needed to pass legislation in the House of Commons (326 out of 650). For Starmer, today's results represent a triumph that will greatly exceed the record majorities enjoyed by his predecessor, Tony Blair (179 votes, in 1997), and Britain's "Iron Lady," Margaret Thatcher (144 and 102 votes in 1983 and 1987, respectively).

In contrast, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Conservatives are expected to lose 263 seats from the 2019 election, with the Liberal Democrats picking up a mere seven for themselves. Nigel Farage -- the man who did so much to engineer Brexit -- and his newly-minted Reform UK faction, will also gain a tiny foothold, with three seats. Adding to his humiliation, Sunak could become the first incumbent Prime Minister to lose his own seat (though his own race remains too close to call, apparently).

Various explanations have been advanced for the Conservatives' coming electoral bloodbath. The simplest center on the fallout of Brexit, with a majority of Britons now disowning it as a bad idea -- 57% or so, depending on which poll you read. After losing the European Union's collective bargaining power, and seeing none of the promised economic benefits of Brexit, most Britons have simply had enough.

And here in the US? As we observe our nation's 248th birthday, we stand on the verge of re-electing a convicted felon, an unhinged narcissist whose major goals focus on avoiding any legal accountability, dismantling America's democratic experiment, and pursuing all manner of real or imagined enemies. Polls have consistently shown a tight race, buoyed by Trump's rock-solid MAGA Bunny fanbase, who show little inclination of leaving the alternate universe that he's so adeptly created for them.

In other words, the fear that so many pundits have so confidently rebutted -- 
"Can't happen here, so move on, folks" -- is literally at our doorstep, with the promise of a full-on hellscape for anyone who isn't white, Christian nativist, and perpetually which tends to place a damper on the national birthday proceedings. 

Never has the occasion rang so hollow, nor so glib; never has it felt so grubby, and so cheap. It's the sort of darkness that begs the question -- How, in the name of whatever gods you care to invoke, do we still find ourselves poised on the edge of turning back the clock, public opinion be damned?


            <Some things never change, right?
            It Must’ve Been Something They Hate Dept.
            The MAD Primer of Bigots, Extremists
        and Other Loose Ends: Chapter One - The Super Patriot

Written by: Frank Jacobs and Stan Hart
Artist: Jack Davis
MAD #129, Sept. 1969>

<ii.>
Two years ago, the landscape looked so different, when the threatened Republican "red wave" in the fall '22 midterms evaporated to a red ripple. Democratic candidates outpaced expectations, whether in special elections, or the abortion rights referendums that passed overwhelmingly -- starting with Kansas, a state that's hardly a liberal hotbed.

The restoration of Donald Trump also looked a long way off, as the former President grappled with a string of legal cases that promised to keep him eternally preoccupied -- from civil suits for fraud and sexual assault (NY), to a major racketeering case involving fake electors (GA), and the threat of trials for keeping classified materials (FL), and attempting to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power (Washington, DC).

Surely, conventional wisdom suggested, the courts would make mincemeat of the man variously dubbed The Mango McBeth, The Orange Menace, or The One-Man Crime Wave, take your pick -- that, if President Biden didn't land the first hammer blow. That assumption looks misplaced, following Biden's lackluster showing in last week's so-called "debate" against Trump -- who's also gloating at the massive victories that his hand-picked Supreme Court "Justices" have handed him, in terms of expanding the kingly immunity that his .

The less said about the debate, the better, though in fairness to Biden, a more nuanced scorecard might read like this: his first 10 minutes were undoubtedly the worst, followed by a wobbly, stiff first half, and a somewhat stronger, more resolute-sounding second half. However, the most relevant point -- as you'll see, from David Frum's simple, but eloquent summary (see link below) -- is why anyone would platform a failed coup leader in the first place.

Still, it's hard to fathom why Biden stepped into this particular box canyon, once CNN announced that it wouldn't provide a live fact checker to counter Trump's verbal barrage -- allowing him, yet again, an ideal platform to lie unchecked at the speed of light That left the candidates to police themselves, with the usual dire results, while the so-called moderators twiddled their thumbs. Eight years after the debacle of 2016, the mainstream media still resembles the Bourbon kings of France -- having forgotten nothing, and learned nothing, at the same time.

The notion of a failed coup leader running to regain mastery of the system that he tried so hard to overthrow seems like the stuff of  70-era s black comedy -- until we begin to ponder where that leaves us. Instead of asking, "Is this who we are," maybe we need to wonder, "Is this what we've become? Have we really fallen so far?" The answers, as we'll see, are not pleasant to contemplate.


<Found On Facebook (...I Think):
We'll take it down, if anyone complains (thanks)!>


<iii.>
All right, then. Let's try to game out the unthinkable. What would a Trump dictatorship actually look like? For simplicity's sake, we'll assume that Biden survives his post-debate debacle, and stays on the ticket, but loses anyway in November. An equally important consideration is whether his party goes down with him, or rallies to retake the House, and retain the Senate.

In that case, a Democratic-controlled Congress could offer a significant roadblock to Trump's dictatorial ambitions. It's equally possible that the current muddle continues, with the Democrats clinging to their razor-thin Senate majority, and the Republicans doing likewise in the House. That situation muddies the waters, but would pose at least a short-term obstacle for any Trump restoration to navigate.

So let's assume the worst. What if Republicans retook Congress, along with the Presidency, as they did under Trump, in 2016? On paper, then, the road to autocracy looks far less imposing, depending on whether Trump could implement the infamous Schedule F executive order -- as he did, during his final weeks in office, until Biden canceled it, and, as Project 2025 threatens -- to install a sufficient army of lackeys to do his bidding.

Such measures would certainly stoke a barrage of legal challenges, though it would be wise not to imagine the so-called Supreme Court's right-wing majority giving them any great weight. Trump's appointees -- Neil Gorsuch (2017), Brett Kavanaugh (2018), and Amy Coney Barrett (2024) have broken with their patron, from time to time, but not in any meaningful way.

Certainly, last week's bombshell immunity ruling by the Extreme Supremes, as I call them, is enough to mitigate any disappointments that Trump might have felt toward them in the past. 
In any case, as impatient as he is, Trump would hardly wait for any legal fallout. Even without Schedule F, he's promised to unleash the full weight of his deportation machine on Day One -- as well as invoking the Insurrection Act -- to mow down the pesky hordes of protesters that would greet his restoration.

He would likely incite his Congressional allies to further bolster his power by passing a series of measures, under the guise of "restoring public order," or invoking some imagined public health emergency or other, to build "tent cities" for the homeless -- as he's already threatened aloud. Those same cities would soon accommodate a growing list of Trump bogeymen and women -- gay and trans people, advocacy group and on-governmental employers -- with specialized gulags saved for higher-profile targets, perhaps, like the January 6th Congressional investigating committee members.

On the legislative side, a different nightmare will unfold, with Republicans unlocking the magic wand of reconciliation -- which allows bills to pass with simple majorities, as part of the budget process. They could then pursue other cherished white whales, such as privatizing Social Security, or converting Medicare to a block grant program, for example, leaving millions to an uncertain fate of permanent impoverishment. 

Change would probably come for Trump's judicial enablers, as well. At 73 and 75, respectively, Sam Alito and his evil twin, Clarence Thomas, would face enormous pressure to retire, and make way for younger versions of themselves, leaving them free to enjoy the mountain of largesse they've accepted so happily, for so much of their over-privileged lives.

Or maybe not. It's easy to imagine a newly-dictatorial Trump simply disbanding the court, once he longer needs its patronage. That outcome would parallel the fates of other autocratic lapdogs, like Adolf Hitler's Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, whose influence waned drastically after 1939 -- once World War II broke out, leaving him precious little policy to conduct.

This nightmare scenario wouldn't happen overnight, as is true of so many countries that backslide into dictatorship. It's worth remembering that Nazi Germany's most fearsome death camp, Auschwitz, began with the conversion of an abandoned army barracks in the spring of 1940, to absorb masses of Polish dissenters that local prisons could no longer accommodate. It remained very much an afterthought in the camp system, until the first mass exterminations began, at the start of 1942. As this example shows, the greatest of evils often take time to make themselves felt, which explains why resistance often doesn't materialize -- after they've gained a foothold.



<Down With Tyranny (https://www.downwithtyranny.com/)>

<iv.>
Trump's improvisational talents will undoubtedly prove a major asset in taking America down the dictatorial highway. This brings us back to last week's ruling, which gives him absolute immunity for acts that fall under his core constitutional powers; presumptive immunity, for acts
within the "outer perimeter" of his duties; and no immunity for private, or unofficial, acts.

However, there's a catch. The Extreme Supremes also forbade  prosecutors from using evidence of official acts to build cases for crimes that a President may commit outside of their role. It means that a jury might never hear about Trump's conversations with Mike Pence, whom he pressured to avoid certifying Joe Biden's election in 2020, which preceded the storming of the Capitol building. 

Similarly, cases for bribery or obstruction of justice -- in which motive typically plays a central part -- would also be off-limits. The 6-3 decision that unleashed this travesty of reasoning gives little or no guidance for lower courts, while preserving the ability "to second guess whatever they do," as Greg Germain, a law professor at Syracuse University, told Newsweek.

If you want a better way of laying down the groundwork for a future dictatorship -- we'd like to see it.

Imagine, if you dare, the horrific picture of Trump-directed US troops mowing down protesters by the hundreds, or thousands, during a march on our nation's capital. Call it Kent State on steroids, or Charlottesville X 100. But Trump could get away with it, presumably, as long as he puts on his presidential hat, by wrapping himself in the cloak of the Insurrection Act -- whose language would allow him to "take such measures as he considers necessary" to suppress "any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy." No wonder that it's among the only laws for which he expresses any admiration, or respect.


The irony of giving such a free pass to the same man who has yet to face any accountability for the torrent of violence that he unleashed on January 6, 2021, against those who dared to oppose him, needs no additional elaboration.


<The Shape Of Things To Come? Hopefully Not!
"Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" Parody (MAD Magazine, 9/78
Art: Mort Drucker/RIP: Donald Sutherland>


<v.>
However, now is not the time to wallow in despair, when we have neither the time, nor the luxury. As Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett stated, during an interview with MSNBC: "It is so wild to me, and it's been quite annoying, if I'm going to be perfectly honest, that Democrats get into a frenzy. I mean, it is almost like we are scared of our shadow, sometimes. And I think it is because we understand the stakes."

The first two sentences of Crockett's response are exemplary, though the last one is debatable. If anything, Biden's faltering debate performance showed him trying to do far too many things at once -- rebutting a Trump lie here, trotting out a few stats there, and somewhere in between, continuing to argue his rival's unfitness for the office. However, we can think of a few ways for Biden to reclaim his mojo.

Start by downshifting the elaborate, PBS-style approach that's characterized Biden's campaign so far. Stop getting so lost in the statistical weeds -- which didn't work for Hillary Clinton in 2016, either -- and leave that grunt work to surrogates like Vice President Harris. That's what they signed up for, after all. One day, they can pass that chore onto someone else, when they seek the Oval Office.

Sharpen the campaign to three or four key themes, focused around the reality of who Donald Trump is, and what he intends -- with a special focus on the Extreme Supremes and the mainstream media, the only institutions more unpopular than Biden. Given how often they step on their rakes, it shouldn't be a hard case to make.

Highlight the real threat that the Extreme Supremes' immunity ruling poses, in particular, for pulling our democracy apart at the seams. Tie that greater case into the need for a Congress that will allow Democrats to pass laws that will measurably improve peoples' lives -- such as federal heat protections for outdoor workers, as Biden proposed on Monday.

And if elections really are about the next generation, it's high time for Democrats to begin ushering in new leadership. (Where have we said that before, right?) There is something surreal about the mainstream media continuing to wheel out Clinton-era consultant James Carville, who hasn't worked a domestic election in decades, as some sort of all-seeing oracle. Really? If that's the best we can do, we're in a lot of trouble.

There'd be less need for such a spectacle, if the likes of AOC, Cori Bush, Ro Khanna, Ayanna Presley, and Jamie Raskin -- to name several of the usual suspects -- were called to take on greater roles than they do now, instead of hearing, "Shut up and wait your turn for the next 20 or 30 years, until somebody finally dies off." There is ample talent on the bench, but if nobody capitalizes on

Last, but not least, the Democratic Party needs to start thinking bigger, as it once did, so well. Yes, continue prosecuting the case against Trump, but don't leave it there. The fracturing of Biden's coalition is largely driven by young people's discontent that's boiling in the inequities baked into our society, one that the older generation of Boomer politicians stoutly continues to defend, even as they continue to profit by it. How many non-Boomer landlords or bankers do you know personally?

As a recipe for a functioning democracy, it is a disaster, which is why we cannot allow it to fester. 
Yes, Biden's failure to effectively address the Gaza situation is also part of that puzzle, but hardly the only one. Without a robust response to the economic pain that so many are feeling, the sugar high of Trumpism -- fueled by its cocktail of class resentment, and populist aggrievement -- will remain difficult to refute.

But the sooner we start, the better. Only then will we meet the test posed in Benjamin Franklin's celebrated response, when asked how he envisioned the United States of America unfolding, in practical terms: "A republic, if you can keep it." Let us keep those words in mind, as we enter the fight of our lives, one that we must win -- until next year's July Fourth message -- and hopefully, one that finds us all in better circumstances. --The Reckoner


Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry,
Before They Turn Out The Last Democratic Lights):
Lucid: The Joys Of Immunity:
Think Like An Autocrat And Predict Trump's Behavior:

https://lucid.substack.com/p/the-joys-of-immunity-think-like-an

Our Previous July Fourth Messages:

Politico.com: 
UK Election: Tories Set To Suffer Total Annihilation:
https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-election-final-mega-polls-predict-total-tory-annihilation-labour-win/

The Atlantic: David Frum:
Trump Should Never Had This Platform:
https://archive.ph/9TDri

The Hill: Crockett Dfending Biden:
"It's Annoying 'That Democrats Get Into A Frenzy':
https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/4748238-crockett-defends-biden-annoying-democrats-frenzy/

Sunday, June 30, 2024

"What's Project 2025?": The Horseracing Of The 2024 Election

<"Just Say No, 
While You Can"/Take I:
Image Source: Institute For Strategic Dialogue
Amendments: The Reckoner>

Reckoner's Note: Alas, this piece turned out to eerily prescient, and more timely than I could ever have imagined, having been written before the so-called Biden-Trump "debate." However, I really need to address it separately, most likely for July Fourth, because this post is long enough already! Suffice to say, though, it confirms practically every point I made here. And then some. With that cheery preamble, read on!

<i.>
Imagine the scene: you're talking with friends at the library, and inevitably, the discussion swings to the 2024 Presidential race. "So what do you think about the election? How do you think it'll go?"

"Well, start with the so-called 'double haters,'" you answer, "or people who don't like Biden, or Trump." You reel off the usual imponderables: what'll the independents do? Which states seem within each for either candidate? Will the A-word (abortion) carry the same weight as it did in the 2022 midterms.

And so on, and so forth, as you explain. "Of course, whatever Trump's spouting out on the campaign trail is nothing, compared to he's dreaming up for Project 2025..."

Your friend furrows his brow. "What's Project 2025? I haven't heard of it."

"Wow, you mean -- you don't know?" You struggle to contain your amazement. "It's his plan to become President For Life, basically, the all-powerful autocracy that he and his cohorts dream of creating."

Your friend begins scribbling in his notebook. "What are the basics of Project 2025?" he asks.

"Well, start with Schedule F, which he tried to implement in 2020. It's an executive order that he'd use to fire some 50,000 federal employees, and replace them with zealots who'd pledge to do his bidding..."

And off you go to the races, breaking down the most alarming points into bullet points, while your friend mostly just listens. When America's most recognized autocracy expert, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, describes the 2024 election as "an information emergency," I'm sure she's encountering similar scenes, like the one you're describing here. Because it's keeping her up nights, too.


<See You At The (Horse) Races..."
Image Source: Institute For Strategic Dialogue
Amendments: The Reckoner>

<ii.>
Even so, you're not prepared to give your friend too much grief. Sure, the Mainstream Media (MSM) has devoted a fair chunk of column inches to Project 2025, but its attention is largely consumed by the approach that it pursued in 2016, indeed, in every election -- the Baseball Game/Beauty Pageant/Horse Race Model of coverage.

You know how that model runs, if you're paying any kind of attention. It's the model that laser focuses on a few cliched questions: Who's up? Who's down? Who's in, who's out? Who's cool, or uncool? Who's relevant, or irrelevant? What trends are dominating today's news cycle?

It's a dead horse that was already starting to stink when I started my own media career, so long ago. What sounded sober and sensible in a less chaotic era, no longer makes sense nowadays, as we'll see. The existential dread, the audible shudder that so many feel, at seeing Trump, the failed coup leader, sharing face  time with Biden, the incumbent President -- as they did on the debate stage, in Atlanta -- is worlds away from the '90s, when complaints about overly bland, polished, Tweedledee-Tweedledum candidates were all the norm.

We saw ample glimpses of the Horse Race Model's limitations in the 2016 race, when Trump became the first presidential contender to resist releasing his tax returns, as the MSM chased the bright, shiny object of his opponent's emails. We all know why Trump fought so hard to avoid scrutiny, of course, once The New York Times finally, belatedly, ran some sort of investigative series in 2018. 

That series showed the Trump origin story -- the crackerjack negotiator, the eminence grise of American business, so far-sighted, that he could see around corners -- for the PR mirage that it was, amplified and magnified by a fog of pure BS. By then, however, Trump was halfway through his presidency, with all the calamitous implications that it implied. But hey, better late than never, right?

What's particularly galling, too, is how much the Times and its MSM cheerleaders clapped themselves on the back, once its series appeared -- since the source material rested largely on documents supplied by Trump's niece. Obviously, those papers contained facts and figures that required further legwork and follow-up, but it might have been nice if they'd managed it all a bit sooner.

After all, Trump's presentation of himself as a laser-focused, uber-business figure  -- one unsullied by the dirty business of politics -- was the centerpiece of his presidential brand. We'll never know how many people might have had second thoughts, if they'd known otherwise (particularly late deciders, who broke decisively for Trump). But without having those details in front of them, how would they ever had the chance to think twice?

Just ask Atlantic City, whose residents paid dearly for the Trump-built casinos that went bankrupt there -- no mean feat, when the house always wins -- thanks to the political establishment that rubber-stamped it. They, too, bought the Trump origin story.

Unlike their residents, the boodlers can simply move on to another place on the public payroll. That disconnect highlights one major problem with horseracing: there is no cure for buyer's remorse, once the inconvenient part of the story rears up. And regrets are such a bitch, when you can't take them back.


<"See You Down The Memory Hole..."/The Reckoner>

<iii.>
The limits of horseracing don't end there, of course. Boiling races down to numbers and personalities dumbs them down to the point of absurdity, and in that respect, the 2024 election coverage is serving up an unnerving parallel to the 2016 version. Ha, ha, hee, hee, that whacky Biden. Can't put his pants on, and chew gum, at the same time! Listen to him yammering about empathy and decency, when folks can't even afford a hamburger. Hey, that stuff's for losers, right?

Ho, ho, ho, Trumpy Bear's back for sloppy seconds. Sure, he has no filter, and he can't string together a sentence, but c'mon, what did you expect? That's just Trump being Trump. He's hours of endless entertainment! 

Amid all this horseracing, and all its obsession with Biden's age, you'd hardly realize that his Republican rival, Trump -- who kept a book of Hitler's speeches by his bedside, one of the only tomes he's ever read, cover to cover, or so we're told -- is the same man eager to drag us back to the 19th century. That is, after he cranks up his revenge tour first.

Trump and the Republican Party that he's co-opted so completely are screaming the quiet part out aloud, in ever-shriller tones, about trading America's nearly 250-year democratic experiment for a nakedly dictatorial patriarchy, one that vows to make life a hellscape for anyone who isn't white, rich, and right-wing Christian. This time, they swear, those who resist will pay whatever price is needed to tramp them into the dirt.

But you would never know it, judging by the tepid language that MSM outlets like the New York Times use to report it. The Republican political establishment and its shadowy enablers are merely committed "conservatives" repeating "baseless" accusations about stolen elections, whose nominee's never-ending stream of threats and confabulations are dismissed as so much "bluster," even as his acolytes openly discuss about how to impose their Handmaid's Tale homage on the rest of us.

What's the problem? Well, there's a difference between conservatives, generally defined as persons "favoring free enterprise, private ownership, and socially traditionally ideas," per the Oxford English Dictionary, and reactionaries, or those who favor "a return to a previous condition of affairs."  If that's not a succinct description of the January 6, 2021 coup attempt, what is?

By that standard alone, Trump and his acolytes can't ever be considered "conservatives," which makes their plotting against the US government more than merely "baseless." How fitting that both terms emerged during the French Revolution. "Conservative" derives from "conservateur," a term used to identify monarchist parliamentarians who opposed the revolution, while "reactionary" springs from "reactionnaire," and in turn, "reaction,"
 a label generally bestowed on those who favored returning to aristocracy, and opposed any sort of democracy.

One of the essential requirements for a functioning democracy is the willingness to properly describe the people and events that drive it. To continually soft-pedal them does us all a grave disservice, thanks to headlines like this one, from the Associated Press: "Trump Hints At Expanded Role For The Military Within The United States. A Legacy Law Gives Him Few Guardrails."

Or, to put it in plainer English: Trump plans to invoke the Insurrection Act, and send out the military to crush civilian dissenters, should they try to spoil his restoration. Falling back on stock euphemisms fails to convey the horrors of such images, should they ever become realities, which is another limitation of horseracing.


<Even then, they must have known (what we didn't):
Der Spiegel (June 2020 cover)>*

<iv.>
We might pay a lot less attention to all these linguistic gymnastics, without having to account for another occupational hazard of horseracing: the "both-sides-ism" that runs right through the darkest heart of it. MSM thought leaders like Paul Krugman are well-known for their audible shudder about coming across as overly biased, though it's fair to ask, when would the reactionary right ever not accuse of them it? 

In covering campaigns, the traditional journalistic model that Krugman, and the great majority of his peers, has been to quote Candidate A ("I think the Mayor is a crossdressing vandal! I've seen the video nasties he keeps on his shelf at home!"), followed by Candidate B's response ("As Evergreen City's Mayor, it's only fair remind to you that neither crossdressing nor video nasties are illegal, in themselves, and I've never even raised a gardening tool in anger!"). 

Let readers make up their own minds, runs the mantra, and call it a day. We've done our job. But it might fair to ask whether that's still an effective approach, in this age of digitally siloed media, whose viewers can cherry-pick whatever suits their point of view, and ignore whatever doesn't.  Thus, Evergreen City's unfortunate Mayor might never get a real chance to make the case for the defense, or vice versa.

Another fair question to raise is whether all this earnest "both-sides-ism" truly serves the public interest. The desire to avoid the tint of bias at all costs has its comical results -- such as the New York Times's November 2017 feature on an avowed neo-Nazi, "who, just like other humans, eats food and likes Seinfeld," the Columbia Journalism Review noted. "As we wrote at the time, the piece was heavy on banality, but failed to capture the evil that its subject didn’t even try to conceal."

What did the writer hope to convey about his neo-Nazi subject, I wonder? "Hey, I have this thing about the master race rising up -- but Kramer's can collecting still kills me, every single time." Yikes! But even Seinfeld isn't who he claims to be, either, now that his other half (Jessica) has gotten caught funding violent counterprotests at UCLA against pro-Palestinian students. But I digress.

Contrast all this cautious hairsplitting with the European and British press, and you'll find a different model at work. Generally speaking, you'll find a less personality-driven, sensationalistic approach at work, and many writers aren't shy about speaking their minds, when the occasion calls for it. 

Consider how the Guardian's Thomas Frank, for example, immortalized Trump's 2020 loss: "Ding Dong, The Jerk Is Gone. But Read This, Before You Sing The Hallelujah Chorus" (11/7/20), or the question that Al Jazeerah posed, of Britain's next applicant for Prime Minister, Keir Starmer: "Is The UK's Left-Wing Labour Party on a 'Rightward' Path in Election Race?" Obviously, I'm painting in broad brush strokes here -- recall how Jeremy Corbyn's supporters protested the shade thrown their man's way, for instance -- but suffice to say, based on my own experiences in the UK, we could learn a thing or two from our European cousins.

Things have reached the point where it's  difficult to tell the difference from parody websites and their counterparts, as The Big Picture blog points out: "The editorializing and horse-racing of the election, where one side poses an existential threat to our entire democracy, has gotten so bad and so predictable that the parody New York Times Pitchbot account often simply screenshots actual headlines from the paper, saying, 'I can't do better than this.'" Enough said about that one.


<"Just Say No, 
While You Can"/Take II:
Image Source: Institute For Strategic Dialogue
Amendments: The Reckoner>


<v.>
Enough of the complaining. Where, exactly, does all this horseracing leave us? Obviously, in a deeper, darker place than any of us could imagined 30-odd years ago or so, when the right wing noise machine began taking shape. For me, ceding that space -- without a second thought -- is the dumbest thing that the American Left ever did.

It still amazes me how so few on the left -- or their more traditional peers, who allow themselves to wear Birkenstocks, with their suits and ties -- grasped the threat posed by such anger mongers as Fox News, the late Rush Limbaugh, and his current evil twin, Tucker Carlson, to name a few. (The latter duo are the spiritual heirs of Nazi propagandists like Lord Haw-Haw, but that's a discussion for a different day.)

I remember the befuddlement that greeted this new phenomenon, one driven by relentless pugilistic windmilling against some starkly-defined "Other" -- atheists, Democrats, environmentalists, feminists, gays, and so on, Needless to say, the names never changed to protect the innocent, with facts and accuracy -- however Fox and company defined it -- taking a back seat to entertainment.

And, whether progressive or traditional, the prevailing refrain sounded something like this: "Ah, it's just a few whack jobs They only appeal to those who already think that way.
 Who's ever going to watch this stuff? What harm can they do?"

That question's been answered, many, many times, and we all know how that particular movie played out. Still, the far right instinctively grasped what its opponents couldn't accept, or didn't understand -- that changing perception is the key to harnessing public opinion. After all, look how it's working out for them lately.

As I write, we stand on the verge of putting a convicted criminal, serial fraudster, and sociopath back in charge of the same government that he schemed to overthrow, barely three years ago -- and vows to bend completely to his aggrieved ill will, if he gets the chance. This isn't how democracy is supposed to work. Still, going after Fox News, and its acolytes, is a much bigger job, as the fallout of the Dominion lawsuit demonstrates. What can we do about any of this? 

First, start by supporting outlets, that actually do what big boys like the New York Times, or the Washington Post, used to pride themselves on doing -- catching the bad actors with their pants down. Right now, Pro Publica is doing the most significant investigative reporting anywhere.

Pro Publica's series on the corruption of the Supreme Court's far right majority -- a giant salmon here, a luxury RV there -- has thoroughly blown its self-image as some exalted body of legal grand wizards who only float above the rest of us, as they ponder, and rule. More importantly, though, the series ("Friends of the Court") put names to faces, and hard facts to suspicions, codifying the unease that people had long felt about the institution. 

The court's reputation had already sunk to historic lows, long before the series came out. What "Friends of the Court" revealed, however, is that the institution's supreme lack of transparency -- coupled with a taste for living large, and cozy self-dealing -- was far worse than its critics had ever imagined.

Airing these details is the first step in breaking that tired refrain -- "We can't, we can't, we can't do anything about it" --  and putting the enablers on the defensive, until they finally start to address whatever problem is being highlighted. There's nothing that an empty suit fears most, than seeing their career sidelined, or shut down for good, so let's use it to our advantage -- and use it, more often than we do.

My second and third conclusions coincide with one another. As worthy as alternative outlets like Pro Publica are -- or peers like In These Times, Mother Jones, The New Republic, and so on -- we must also recognize, as long as billionaires like Jeff Bezos own newspapers, their coexistence with such established outlets will always be an uneasy proposition, at best. 

Competition is the essence of creative mojo. Just imagine how the '60s rock revolution would have unfolded, if EMI and Decca -- the Beatles' and the Rolling Stones' respective corporate patrons -- had owned the creative marketplace, and simply rolled out more bands like them, assembly line-style. We need to continue pressing for stronger enforcement of current anti-trust law, and stop tolerating market concentration and monopolization as the price of progress -- as the Biden administration is finally doing, for example, by challenging the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation.

We also need to look beyond the virtual walled gardens that mega-bullies like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg want us to inhabit for the rest of our lives. Their business models center on making us so dependent, that we can't ever imagine living without them -- that is, until we do.

A lot of older school technologies -- whether it's paper fanzines and flyers, or cassettes and CDs -- are still worth keeping around, for just that reason. The more of our lives that we can keep out of their grubby little hands, the better. The catastrophic transition from Twitter to X should serve as an eternal reminder that when you're playing in someone's space, it's never really yours -- though it may feel that way, until someone takes it away, for good. 

Does that make me a Luddite? Far from it. Like millions of others, I'm active on sites like Ebay, or Etsy, because of the outreach opportunities that they offer -- but I'm also thinking about the alternatives, so that we don't stay permanently stuck in those uber-platform ruts.

Otherwise, we'll just continue the endless cycle of embracing those hot, new, seeming quick fixes that end up putting us out of business. "That's the way it is" doesn't have to stay frozen in time, as the Dead Kennedys' frontman, Jello Biafra, told Psychology Today

“I was married at one point, went to see my wife's sister in New York. It seemed like every third or fourth thing out of her mouth was how much she hated their mother and how angry she was. I thought, you know, this could be me, but it doesn't have to be me. And I'm going to make sure from this point onward, that it's not me.”

Let's keep that spirit in mind as we try and take back our media, which is one of the keys to taking back our democracy. And maybe then, we won't hear the horse race ringing so much in our hardened, jaded ears -- and we can all (finally) get some sleep! -- The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry,
Before They Fit You For A Bonnet...)

Columbia Journalism Review:
How The Press Covered The Last Four Years Of Trump:
https://www.cjr.org/special_report/coverage-trump-presidency-2020-election.php

Democracy Americana:
What Makes Project 2025 So Dangerous:

https://thomaszimmer.substack.com/p/what-makes-project-2025-so-dangerous

National Public Radio: The Sunday Story:
Media Failings In Covering Trump:

https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1198909715

Psychology Today; Jello Biafra Is A Chip Off The Old Block:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brick-brick/202011/jello-biafra-is-chip-the-old-block

The Big Picture: Biden Gets Tougher:
https://thinkbigpicture.substack.com/p/biden-tough-israel-russia-border

The Big Picture: The Right Has
A Terrifying Second Term Plan Called Project 2025:
https://thinkbigpicture.substack.com/p/project-2025-thomas-zimmer-trump

USA Today: Fact Check:
Image Of Trump Holding Lit Match...:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2024/05/01/image-of-trump-holding-lit-match-is-from-2020/73517702007/


(*See the Der Spiegel link for a more complete explanation of the cover story's title, and how it actually translates.)

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Life's Little Injustices (Take XXIII): The Flooring Crew Cometh (The Laundry Room Closeth)


<"This Laundry Room Closeth -- TIll Further Noticeth"
The Reckoner>

"This story has just begun,
So please tell me, if I'm wrong...
It takes one hand,
To wash the other..."

--Prince Buster,
"One Hand Washes The Other" (1962)

<i.>
Just when I thought, "I'm done writing about laundry rooms, thankfully," what happens? Almost on cue, another issue pops up The minute you tell yourself, "I won't do X, Y or Z," that's when you jinx yourself, and wind up doing X, Y or Z, all over again.

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now, right? No dice, apparently, because this is the third piece I'm dedicating to the subject. There's a reason why Sean Connery titled his one-off Bond comeback vehicle, Never Say Never Again (1983). Enough said about that one!

Still, the power of repetition is an awesome thing. I'm remined of a quote attributed to Lorne Michaels, the man who gave us "Saturday Night Live," whenever his cast -- or the critics -- griped that all those repeating characters and bits were making the show feel stale. His response mantra went something like this: Do something once, it's unique; twice, it's a runner; three times, it's an institution.

So goes our latest laundry room tale Last month, management at our apartment complex announced the temporary removal of our washers and dryers, so it could redo the floor. Hence, the laundry room would close, from Monday through Friday. No worries, the notice reassured us. The machines will be reinstalled by Friday.

I had various editorial projects going on, so I didn't feel overly concerned. At worst, I thought, they'll miss the Friday target, but we'll get our machines back on the Monday. No worries, right? I should have known better, of course. By Monday afternoon, The Squawker began to voice considerable angst about that ever-growing, Great Big Massive Clothing Mound -- from bed sheets to clothing, dish clothes to wash clothes, and towels to T-shirts -- rearing its ugly head from the confines of our cobalt blue laundry cart.

I duly headed upstairs, and took a look, though it seemed funny that we hadn't been officially informed yet. Hmm, I thought, don't they usually send us some type of notice?

Sure enough, the minute I padded upstairs, I saw some type of brown vinyl flooring in place -- but no machines. Needless to say, this news didn't play well, when I informed The Squawker of these developments.

"How the hell are we supposed to get our laundry done? I'm almost out of clothes already, and it's not even the weekend!" The Squawker railed, as mere impatience yielded to the throes of sheer bloody frustration. "What the hell do we do now?"

I suggest heading down to Beacon Laundry, a mere 10-minute drive away. With a nod from Squawker, I load the Great Big Massive Clothing Mound into our van, and take a notebook -- the better to jot down some reviews for my 'zine. It'll drain a couple hours of my time, plus a chunk of my wallet, my brain tells me. But it sure beats the alternative, right?


<"We're Sorry, Maaan -- We're Really, Really Sorry..."
The Reckoner>

<ii.>
Well, sort of, as it happens. Beacon is actually the result of a sale, having opened as Whistlestop Wash, back in 1959 -- as one glance at the Art Deco-style, boxlike building will instantly tell you. I'd used it from time to time, whenever I couldn't access our own laundry, but in recent years, I'd begun avoiding the place, honestly.

The fiftysomething female manager in place at the time seemed burned out and embittered by the tight-fisted management, and I found the kiddie-level metal chairs and tables -- which screamed of the Jack Webb era of TV -- too unforgiving and uncomfortable to tolerate using. As a result, I often wound up working on projects in the van, which is hardly ideal when you're trying to keep track of your laundry.

In contrast, Beacon beams with the reassurance that only a business sale can bring, from the Sesame Street-ish primary colors that dominate its repainted interior, to the glowing silver facades of its latest, greatest machines. Gone are the kiddie-level tables and chairs, though their replacements feel only slightly more comfortable.

It's also incredibly, maddeningly, all too typically, bloody expensive. Two and a half hours later, I finally return home, about $40 poorer for my efforts -- or about double what it costs to clean the Great Big Massive Clothing Mound at home. 


<"To Whom It May Concern..."/The Reckoner>

<iii.>
Week Two passes by, at first, with nary a word from management. For The Squawker and myself, it's a worrying development, since money's thinning on the ground. And neither of us wants to repeat the $40 experience that blew such a large hole in last week's budget.

Come Thursday afternoon, there's still no sign of those elusive machines. Every day, I troop upstairs, and do my dutiful due diligence, but it's not a quality that seems to make the machines return more expeditiously. Quite the opposite, in fact. Or so it seems, anyway.

"The hell with it," snaps Squawker, when I confirm -- yet again -- that our washers and dryers have yet to return. "Why don't you call them, and find out? Call them. I can't go another weekend without my clothes!"

I don't need to hear that request twice! "And we can't get by for another week, dropping 40 bucks," I agree, and begin dialing.

I don't reach our manager, who's taken the day off. However, her fill-in promises to get the answer, and proves as good as her word -- five minutes later, the phone rings again. "The machines are definitely being re-installed tomorrow," I'm told. "No ifs, ands, or buts. That's what we've heard."

The Squawker makes a skeptical face. "What makes you think it'll happen this time?"

"Well, in part, because I don't have a choice," I answer. "We have to believe, since I can't part with 40 bucks this week, anymore than I did last week. Time will tell, basically." 

And indeed, it does. Friday (Week Two) rolls around, and indeed, the machines are back in place, as if the whole debacle had never happened. 

Hang on, though. There's just one more sting in the tale, as I learn later that afternoon, when I've finally finished the Great Big Massive Clothing Mound.

I've just finished taking out the trash, rolling our 39-gallon container across the concrete. It's an eightysomething degree day, so I pause, and sit down in the second car, and let the sweat roll off me. Just then, our manager pulls by, and stops. "Did you get my message?" she asks.

"Yeah, your cohort passed it on," I nod. "Thanks. What was the problem, exactly? I mean, from looking at the walls, all they had to do was re-connect the machines..."

The manager pauses from petting her dog in the back seat. "They just kept ignoring me, so finally, I had to get Corporate involved, reach out to their corporate..."

"I see. Well, even then, it shouldn't have taken quite that long..."

"Well, see, that's the thing..." The manager frowns, and purses her lips. "The machines were here, the whole time."

Now it's my turn to screw up my face into a frown. "Say what? You're kidding me!"

"No, I'm not," the manager responds. "But see, the maintenance guys can't even touch the machines, under our contract..."

"Oh, yeah, sign of the times. I get that. Well, better than late never, I guess..."  I shrug. "Thanks for your follow-up,  though."

"Have a good weekend!" And with that, our manager shoots off, as ready to start on her weekend. Or, at least, as ready as anyone can be, after (finally) getting off at the princely hour of seven o'clock! 

So runs life in the corporate outsourced technocracy we call America today. Pass the inefficiencies onto the customer, with a side of legalese to go, if you please. Ah, well. Maybe I can get a jump the laundry before that Great Big Massive Clothing Mound rears its ugly, unwashed head once more. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (So Hurry Up,
As You Rub-A-Dub-Dub...)

Dead Milkmen: Laundromat Song:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPB-TjZcfXk

Pretenders: Watching The Clothes Go Round:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0huPnNi6ZhQ

Prince Buster: One Hand Wash The Other:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca9j3gLThKw

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Life's Little Injustices (Take XXII): The Blow-Up (Not The Movie --The Laundry Room!)

 

<"Laundry Room Blues/Take III": The Reckoner>

You can always tell when cramped conditions get to people. Today strikes me as a timely reminder of that principle, as I hurry to get The Squawker's and my own laundry done, on the second floor of our building. I have until 6 a.m. tomorrow, because management is closing the laundry down all week, so the flooring can be redone. Which also means that Sunday, being recast as D-Day, will likely prove competitive than usual.

As usual, my hunches aren't far off when I head upstairs about eight o'clock-ish, or so. Two washers are going full steam ahead, and so are three dryers. I just about manage to load the full contents of my cart into both of them, and head back down.

Come Trip Number Two, nothing changes. The same number of dryers are tumbling away, so I stuff the entire contents of my cart into the remaining one (Dryer #2) -- beggars not being choosers, and all that sort of thing, blah-blah-blah

An hour later, I pop back up. This time, I notice that Dryer #3 has long since stopped, but nobody has emptied it yet. Same story for Dryer #4, as well. I turn around, and notice a squat, thirty/fortysomething young woman casting a thumb anxiously in my direction.

"Is that stuff yours?" she asks. Her voice betrays a note of anxiety (as in, Christ, I'm still dealing with this crap -- just when I wanna go to bed, so I can get up for work!)

I snap open Dryer #3. Nothing in there, really, but a huge, fluffy pillow, and a couple blankets. I unceremoniously begin emptying them out, which doesn't take long. "Look," I tell the woman, "in rock 'n' roll, things have to happen on the beat, or you won't make it. Same story here. It's been sitting like this for an hour, at least. I'd go for it."

She nods, and begins emptying Dryer #4, which is far more filled -- mainly with children's clothing -- while I hurriedly parcel half the load from Dryer #2 into its neighbor, that I've just emptied out. The magnetic stripe on my e-card does the rest.

Another hour and a half passes. Right, I tell myself. Time to head back up, and finish off the job. I plonk down a chair in front of Dryer #3, and begin peeling off its contents into my cart. I'm vaguely aware of two pieces of paper taped to the wall, behind the machines, but at first, I'm too preoccupied to read them. But when I do, I can't stop laughing, starting with Note #1:

"Please remember, that wasn't your clothing in the dryer. It's disrespectful to touch another person's belongings. Thank you! :-)"

But it's Note #2 that inspires the loudest, most prolonged ripples of laughter from Yer Humbler Narrator, as you may well agree:

"It's also disrespectful to leave your clothes all night in the dryer, and not collect them when they're done. Thank you! LOL. :-)."

So did that woman I encountered write Note #2? I've no idea, but it wouldn't surprise me. The impatience flashing across her eyes when she popped her question ("Is that stuff yours?") told me everything I needed to know. 

In any event, I suspect the writer of Note #1 didn't expect that response -- assuming it stays up, if they make it up before 6 a.m. rolls around. Suffice to say that when the chips are down, crowded conditions don't bring out the best in us. What else is left to say here, though, except: "Game, set, match?" That'll do nicely, I think. --The Reckoner


<"Laundry Room Blues/Take IV": The Reckoner>