Category Archives: Politics

Are the New Congressional Progressives Real?

In November, about 25 progressive Democrats were newly elected to the House of Representatives. How do the citizen groups know whether they are for real or for rhetoric? I suggest this civic yard stick to measure the determination and effectiveness of these members of the House both inside the sprawling, secretive, repressive Congress and back home in their Districts. True progressives must:

  1. Vigorously confront all the devious ways that Congressional bosses have developed to obstruct the orderly, open, accessible avenues for duly elected progressive candidates to be heard and to participate in Congressional deliberations from the subcommittees to the committees to the floor of the House. Otherwise, the constricting Congressional cocoon will quickly envelop and smother their collective energies and force them to get along by going along.
  2. Organize themselves into an effective Caucus (unlike the anemic Progressive Caucus). They will need to constantly be in touch with each other and work to democratize Congress and substantially increase the quality and quantity of its legislative/oversight output.
  3. Connect with the national citizen organizations that have backers all around the country and knowledgeable staff who can help shape policy and mobilize citizen support. This is crucial to backstopping the major initiatives these newbies say they want to advance. Incumbent progressives operate largely on their own and too rarely sponsor civic meetings on Capitol Hill to solicit ideas from civic groups. Incumbent progressives in both the House and the Senate do not like to be pressed beyond their comfort zone to issue public statements, to introduce tough bills or new bills, or to even conduct or demand public hearings.
  4. Develop an empowerment agenda that shifts power from the few to the many – from the plutocrats and corporatists to consumers, workers, patients, small taxpayers, voters, community groups, the wrongfully injured, shareholders, consumer cooperatives, and trade unions. Shift-of-power facilities and rights/remedies cost very little to enact because their implementation is in the direct hands of those empowered – to organize, to advocate, to litigate, to negotiate, and to become self-reliant for food, shelter and services (Citizen Utility Boards provide an example of what can come from empowering citizens).
  5. Encourage citizens back home to have their own town meetings, some of which the new lawmakers would attend. Imagine the benefits of using town meetings to jump-start an empowerment agenda and to promote long over-due advances such as a living wage, universal health care, corporate crime enforcement, accountable government writ large, renewable energy, and real tax reform.
  6. Regularly publicize the horrendously cruel and wasteful Republican votes. This seems obvious but, amazingly, it isn’t something Democratic leaders are inclined to do. Last June, I urged senior Democrats in the House to put out and publicize a list of the most anti-people, pro-Wall Street, and pro-war legislation that the Republicans, often without any hearings, rammed through the House. The senior Democrats never did this, even though the cruel GOP votes (against children, women, health, safety, access to justice, etc.) would be opposed by more than 3 out of 4 voters.
  7. Disclose attempts by pro-corporate, anti-democratic, or anti-human rights and other corrosive lobbies that try to use campaign money or political pressure to advance the interests of the few to the detriment to the many. Doing this publically will deter lobbies from even trying to twist their arms.
  8. Refuse PAC donations and keep building a base of small donations as Bernie Sanders did in 2016. This will relieve new members of receiving undue demands for reciprocity and unseemly attendance at corrupt PAC parties in Washington, DC.
  9. Seek, whenever possible, to build left/right coalitions in Congress and back home that can become politically unstoppable.
  10. Demand wider access to members of Congress by the citizenry. Too few citizen leaders are being allowed to testify before fewer Congressional hearings. Holding hearings is a key way to inform and galvanize public opinion. Citizen group participation in hearings led to saving millions of lives and preventing countless injuries. Authentic Congressional hearings lead to media coverage and help to mobilize the citizenry.

Adopting these  suggestions will liberate new members to challenge the taboos entrenched in Congress regarding the corporate crime wave, military budgets, foreign policy, massive corporate welfare giveaways or crony capitalism.

The sovereign power of the people has been excessively delegated to 535 members of Congress. The citizens need to inform and mobilize themselves and hold on to the reins of such sovereign power for a better society. Demanding that Congress uphold its constitutional obligations and not surrender its power to the war-prone, lawless Presidency will resonate with the people.

Measuring up to this civic yardstick is important for the new members of the House of Representatives and for our democracy. See how they score in the coming months. Urge them to forward these markers of a democratic legislature to the rest of the members of Congress, most of whom are in a rut of comfortable incumbency.

Netanyahu’s Predicament: The Era of Easy Wars is over

When Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ordered his army to carry out a limited operation in the besieged Gaza Strip on November 12, he certainly did not anticipate that his military adventure would destabilize his government and threaten the very survival of his right-wing coalition.

But it did, far more than the multiple police investigations into various corruption cases involving Netanyahu’s family and closest aides.

Thanks to the botched operation in Gaza which led to the killing of seven Palestinians and an Israeli army commander, Netanyahu’s coalition has begun to disintegrate, merely needing a final push for it to collapse completely.

It all began with the resignation of the country’s extremist Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who quit his post, two days after the Gaza attack, in protest of the country’s ‘surrender’ to Palestinian Resistance.

The even more extreme, far-right leader, Naftali Bennett, was expected to pounce on the opportunity and follow suit. He did not, in a calculated move aimed at capitalizing on the fact that he had suddenly become the government’s ultimate kingmaker.

Now, Netanyahu’s once stable coalition is hanging by a thread, with the support of only 61 members in the Knesset.

This means that the coalition’s once comfortable majority is now dependent on a single MK. One wrong move, and Netanyahu could find himself forced into snap elections, a choice that, at least for now, he dreads.

Netanyahu’s options are growing limited. It seems that the age of striking Gaza with impunity in order to score political points with Israeli voters, is, perhaps, over.

While much political commentary is being dedicated to Netanyahu’s future and the dirty politicking of his right-wing coalition, Israel’s burgeoning problem is bigger than any single individual.

Israel’s ability to win wars and translate its victories to political concessions from Palestinians and Arabs have been greatly hampered, and this fact has little to do with Netanyahu’s supposed ‘weakness’, as his Israeli detractors often claim.

Some Israeli politicians, however, still refuse to accept that the violence paradigm is changing.

Almost every time that Israel has attacked Gaza in the past, Israel’s own politics factored greatly in that decision.

Gaza has been used as a stage where Israel flexed its muscles and displayed the latest of its war technology.

The 2014 war – dubbed ‘Operation Protective Edge’ – was, however, a wake-up call for the over-confident Israeli leaders.

More than 2,300 Palestinians were killed in that war and over 17,000 were wounded, the vast majority of them being civilians.

While that is quite consistent with the Israeli war trajectory, the number of Israeli casualties indicated a changing trend. 66 Israeli soldiers were killed in that war, and only a few civilians, indicating that the Palestinian Resistance has abandoned the randomness of its past tactics and grown bolder and more sophisticated.

Four years since that war, coupled with a particularly harsh stage of the siege – which has been imposed on Gaza since 2007 – did not change the equation. In fact, the fighting that was instigated by the latest Israeli attack further accentuated the fact.

As Israel pounded Gaza with a massive bombing campaign, Gaza fighters filmed a rare attack using anti-tank missiles that targeted an Israeli military bus on the Israeli side of the fence.

Hours later, a truce, facilitated by Egypt, was announced, to the relief of Netanyahu and the jubilation of Palestinians, who marched in their thousands celebrating the end of fighting.

Considering the disproportionate military power and desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza, it makes perfect sense why Palestinians perceived the outcome as a ‘victory’.

Israeli leaders, not only on the Right but the Left as well, attacked Netanyahu, who understood that continued fighting would lead to another major war, with most unpredictable outcomes.

Unlike Lieberman, Bennett and others, Netanyahu’s political strategy is not only driven by attempting to pacify Israel’s angry public – many of whom protested the Gaza truce in various parts of the country.

The Israeli Prime Minister has a twofold political outlook: laboring to politically divide Gaza from the West Bank, and maintaining a degree of ‘stability’ that would give time and space for American political maneuvering in preparation for Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’

Moreover, Israel’s growing challenge in Syria and Lebanon makes a prolonged military operation in Gaza quite dangerous and unsustainable.

But the pressure on the home-front is relentless.

74 percent of the Israeli public is ‘dissatisfied’ with Netanyahu’s performance in the latest round of fighting in Gaza, according to an Israel Television News Company poll released soon after the truce was announced.

Yet Netanyahu has no other option but to commit to the truce in Gaza, which, as per Israeli political logic, means that he must stir trouble elsewhere to send a message of strength and prowess to the disquieted public.

This is precisely why Netanyahu renewed his threats of ethnically cleansing the population of Khan al-Ahmar in the Occupied West Bank.

“It will be demolished very soon,” he declared, in an attempt to move the conversation from Gaza to elsewhere, and to regain the confidence of his right-wing constituency.

While Gazans are getting a badly needed respite, however fleeting, Khan al-Ahmar residents will now become the main target for Israel’s political violence and chauvinism.

The question is how long will Israel be able to sustain this violent paradigm and what will it take for the international community to hold Tel Aviv accountable?

As for Palestinians, Gaza has demonstrated that only Resistance, popular or otherwise, works. It is the only language that registers with Israel, who must understand that the age of easy wars is long gone.

Forgive them their debts as they forgive those…

It is “budget time” again!

That is the season when the persons displayed on television screens as representatives of those who have no representation engage in the theatrical display of subordination to those who actually own things, like the countries we happen to inhabit. Although there have been a few publicised investigations and even some occasional criminal charges against (usually septuagenarians) some conspicuous miscreants, there has been no action which could restore some health or sanity to what most of us consider the daily economy. In some countries, like where I live, people go on strike. There is little indication that the fundamental message of the strikers gets heard. Perhaps that is also why the television seems obsessed with the marketing of hearing aids. There is a hearing aid for every occasion, except sessions of the national assembly, where such technology might really help.

One way of dealing with the hearing impaired is repetition. In scientific terms this means increasing the rate of signal in proportion to noise in the hope that the essential message is received. Although I wrote a version of this paper in 2014, four years later I cannot help feeling some repetition would do no harm. If every budget season one has to listen to the same set of distortions, then it is only fair to reproduce the corrections.

Like the absurd climate debate, which never includes the “carbon footprint” of the largest military machines, the budget debates (essentially interchangeable) never discuss the cost of subsidising international banks and corporations to facilitate their extraction of wealth from the national economy. There is no intelligent, let alone honest, discussion of what is meant by “public debt”—or why the taxpayers must bear losses to guarantee tax-exempt profits for investors.

I always ask myself when someone says or writes “loss”, where did the money go? Even when a ship is lost at sea there is generally wreckage. Of course, the ocean is bigger than the economy and it is possible that a ship’s remains disappear beyond recovery. The price of abandoning the very modest social gains of the New Deal in the US and social democracy in Europe with the ascendancy of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan has been enormous, not only for US and European working people but, for the rest of the world. In fact, the meter is still running with no indication of when it will stop.

The crisis no one cares to talk about any more comprises trillions in losses. If these losses are real, then that means the value has been forfeited in favour of someone else. E.g. after the Great War France and Britain were essentially bankrupt: they owed nearly everything to US banks. Without economic manipulation, war and terror, India would probably have occupied the same status vis a vis Great Britain in 1945 that Brazil gained vis a vis Portugal after the Napoleonic Wars. The claims against the productive capacity and assets of Old Europe were held by identifiable third parties, representing, then as now, a tiny band of bankers. Of course, those claims were so great that no normal income streams from taxation could satisfy them. Control of Britain was effectively ceded to the US, while India was wracked by civil war rather than collecting the wartime debt Britain owed to her.

The other meaning of loss is the inability to sustain a certain valuation of an asset or income stream. The nature of the initial valuation is then the problem. The continuous attempts in the IFRS (international accounting standards) to skirt around the issue of essentially fraudulent valuation illustrates that even the private sector’s notion of “value”, whether book value or fair value, is the product of casuistry.

Since European “banking” was reorganised on the US Federal Reserve model by creation of the European Central Bank, it is instructive to consider how grand theft in the state-banking sector of the US functions. In other words, the “losses” hidden on the books of the USG banks, “Fannie” and “Freddie”, are either notional or they reflect claims that were satisfied in favour of third parties beyond the capacity of those institutions to generate income. Again we know who those third parties are. The “losses” are essentially sacrificed sovereignty.

Government institutions pledge to private persons (corporations and foreign exchange pirates) the State’s capacity to pay, derived from the ability to tax the working population, beyond any realistic possibility to extract that income. This was called “tax farming” in the bad old days of “colonialism”. Frequently punitive military force was sent into any country that was not delivering enough booty (aka interest on foreign debt). In fact, as retired general of US Marines infamously confessed that was his main job in the Corps—protecting corporate plunder.

This is essentially the same principle imposed through the ECB—except that some nominal account has to be taken of national political systems. Since in Europe the State was far more frequently the owner of capital infrastructure, absorbing the cost of its operation and regulating labour as civil servants, considerable ideological work had to be performed to cultivate the generation, which privatised most of the national capital assets held by European states. The fact that since 1945 the US has controlled the international payments system has reduced the need for military intervention. Decisions taken in New York, London, Frankfurt or Brussels can deprive a country of any affordable means to engage in the most basic financial transactions. The entities involved are privately owned and therefore cannot be coerced except by measures that would “threaten private property”.

Just as the railroads and banks obtained control over most of the continental US by defrauding the US government in the 19th century, the surviving banks have defrauded most of the American population of its home equity today. Although it was established that a conspiracy of UK-based clearing banks illegally fixed the LIBOR/ EURIBOR rates, this had no serious consequences. If one considers very carefully that nearly all mortgage and commercial financing agreements base their interest computations on one of these benchmarks, the true scope of the fraud becomes apparent. Everyone who made an interest rate agreement assuming the “free market” condition of the underlying rate was cheated. It could be argued that the interest rate clauses of innumerable contracts were void due to fraud. A perusal of public debt instruments would no doubt reveal even more catastrophic deception.

The endless wars, funded by plundering the public treasury and the wealth of other countries, are part of that income extraction, too. Now the US government and those of its vassals are little more than one large mercenary enterprise, together as NATO, the most heavily armed collection agency on behalf of third party creditors on the planet. It does not matter who occupies the mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Of course, there is plausible denial for any of the beneficiaries of this plunder since populations weaned on soap operas and “crime drama” are incapable of examining, let alone comprehending, the most obvious operations of US corporations and their agents– who almost never appear as criminals on television. The “crime drama” narrative dominates almost every bandwidth on the critical spectrum and as a much younger US director, Michael Moore demonstrated in Bowling for Columbine, corporate crime does not make acceptable television. The most elemental sociological truths, plain to anyone who has ever belonged to a club or worked in middle management of a company, namely that “democratic” and “meritocratic” decisions are regularly subverted by scheming among the ambitious at the expense of the docile– become discredited when the insight is applied to the polity as a whole. People who do not think twice about making a phone call to a “friend” to influence a decision in their social club or place of employment, become incredulous at the suggestion that the chairman of a major investment bank would dictate policy to the head of state whose election he had financed.

In short, the debate about the current global economic “crisis” is obscenely counterintuitive and illogical to the point of incoherence. Who is willing to “follow the money”? This dictum, popularised in the Woodward and Bernstein fairy tale of US President Richard Nixon’s demise– All the President’s Men— appears utterly forgotten, despite recurring astronomic fraud perpetrated by US corporations since the so-called “S&L scandal”– crimes for which no more than a handful of people were indicted, let alone tried or sentenced. Only one corporation was deprived of its right to do business, Arthur Andersen, and this was patently done to spare all the politicians from the reigning US president, most of the US Congress, and untold state and local officials who had been bribed or otherwise influenced by Enron.

If the stories reported by Pete Brewton in 1992, the documented history of the OSS “China insurer” AIG, and the implications of the 2002 Powers Report on the Enron collapse are taken seriously, then Houston lies on a financial fault line more devastating than the San Andreas. That fault line runs from Texas through Virginia to the bedrock of Manhattan. The economic earthquakes that have persisted since 1980 are both literally and figuratively the result of deployment of the US atomic arsenal and the policies that gave rise to it. The US dollar’s continued, if fluctuating, strength as a reserve currency is based on drugs, weapons, and oil– all traded in US dollars. However, this material reality is also based on an ideological or dogmatic constitution. The seismic activity induced by US corporations created gaping holes in the global economy– holes which could only be breached by the financial instruments developed in the weapons laboratories of Wall Street based on the same conceptual models as the neutron bomb and today’s nano-munitions developed at Lawrence Livermore. Indeed, the theory has been almost universally accepted that people are always to blame for the problems of government and Business is the sole and universal solution to all problems. Hence tax monies will only be spent on weapons, war, and subsidies for corporations—the things Business needs.

A considerable obstacle to any change in the US, short of its destruction, is the fact that as Michael Hudson and former assistant Treasury secretary under Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts, write repeatedly, the US government has absolutely lost whatever legitimate function it may ever have had as an instrument of popular will. In other words, the efforts of working people, whether immigrant or ex-slave to remake the plutocratic regime of the 19th century into a State responsive to their needs were frustrated by the massive assaults on labour, combined with the ideological warfare of the “Progressive” movement. The latter, funded heavily by the newly created super-philanthropies, including those of Rockefeller, Sage, Peabody, and Carnegie, predated CIA-style front organizations and infiltration. They helped turn popular sovereignty movements into the kind of technocratic organisations which prevail today– dependent on corporate donations and led by the graduates of cadre schools like the Ivy League colleges, Oxford and the LSE. With few exceptions the only remnants of the “popular will” in the US are those that drive lynch mobs, reincarnated in “talk radio” today.

The main work of the USG and the corporations for which it stands has been to undermine any notion that the State is rightfully an expression of the popular will for the realisation of popular welfare. The State has been reduced to a protection racket. By the time Ronald Reagan, imitating Margaret Thatcher, pledged to “get government off the back of the people”, the only “people” who counted were corporations and those in thrall to them.

It is easy to forget that the US was actually founded on the basis of a kind of white (in that sense “enlightened”), oligarchic absolutism– the British parliamentary dictatorship minus hereditary monarch. Its moral vision predated the Thirty Years War and, until John Kennedy was elected president, its hypocrisy was that of Cromwellian fanatics. In revolutionary France and countries that were inspired by France, as opposed to the American independence war, struggle continued on the premises that the State is not the King (in whatever incarnation) but created by the citizens (not the possessive individual) for the maintenance of the common weal– including the nutrition, health, housing, education of its people. The opposition to destruction of the public sector or public services and the debate that continues in Greece, France, Italy, and to a lesser extent Germany, defies comprehension in North America and Great Britain because of some unfortunate residues of that revolutionary vision of the State so violently opposed by Britain and the US ever since 1789– except when the resulting instability provided business opportunities. (Thatcher did not restore the spirit of Churchill to power—but that of Wellington.)

Moreover as Coolidge once said, “the business of America is business”. If a policy or action of government cannot be expressed in terms of someone’s maximum private profit then it is indefensible in the US. The conditions of the Maastricht Treaty establishing the euro and the ECB are an attempt to impose those same ideological and political constraints on the European Union enforced by adoption of the Federal Reserve Act in the US. The Federal Reserve is essentially a technology for naturalising usury and endowing it with supernatural legitimacy. But just as it has been argued in some quarters that the US Federal Reserve triggered the Great Depression– for the benefit of the tiny bank of banking trusts– the European Central Bank, urged by the right-wing government in Berlin, is being pressured to follow the same rapine policies as the FED is pursuing today. Of course, there are other countries ruled by financial terrorism or where banking gangs have turned their entire arsenal against sovereign peoples.

The “Crisis” is not really about the “debt” or the heinous losses. It is a crisis of sovereignty. The failure of popular sovereignty means that a microscopic bacterial colony of the immeasurably rich can make war on the rest of the world, destroying the common weal and commerce at home and everything else abroad. Germany’s citizens have been bludgeoned since 1945 by Anglo-American propaganda and the occupation forces to persuade them that they– not the great banking and industrial cartels on both sides of the Atlantic– were responsible for Adolph Hitler’s rise to power. When in 1968, student leaders like Rudi Dutschke tried to remind Germans that their democracy was destroyed before Hitler’s putsch and that they had the right and opportunity to demand a democratic Germany after the war, those young people were harassed and even killed. (Dutschke was shot in the head by an unemployed labourer. That “lone” killer later died in prison with a plastic bag over his head.) Attempts to create a truly popular democratic government in Germany have been frustrated by foreign intervention since the French Revolution. Nevertheless people in Germany still believe that the State is there to provide services to the people– and not to fight wars to further foreign trade as suggested by Horst Köhler before he was relieved of his duties (ostensibly resigning) as German federal president.

There is no doubt in Germany that former Chancellor Schroeder’s refusal to follow the US into Iraq—whatever motivated it—enjoyed the widest support, even among those who tend to believe anything the US government says. The resignation of former IMF director and Federal President Köhler expressed the sensitivity of the situation then. On one occasion he referred to the great banking interests as “monsters” and then broke the silence on the German war efforts in Central Asia by explicitly articulating what had been Chancellor Merkel’s, silent but deadly policy of supporting US counter-terror in Afghanistan. Köhler was not opposed to the future escalation of German belligerence, but by his calling a spade a spade on national radio, the right-wing government in Berlin almost had to defend its unconstitutional deployment of German soldiers in public. Already that April Angela Merkel had been forced to sacrifice an army general and a cabinet minister when it became known that German combat aircraft were also bombing civilians like their US counterparts—and trying to keep the fact a secret.

In the midst of the financial crisis, that is the plunder and pillage of the accumulated reserves of Europe’s working population after those of the US are exhausted, it is impossible to ignore the restoration of Asian political and economic prominence. This process started in the 1960s when Britain and the US launched their wars to secure footholds and control of the vast resources of Indonesia and Indochina. Although only partly successful, the destruction of national independence movements throughout South Asia created the conditions for de-industrialising Europe and North America. Mistakenly much of the North American and European Left judged the losses in Korea and Vietnam as defeats for US power. Such judgments have been based on assessments of the official war aims and not on any analysis of the underlying corporate and financial policy objectives. The long-term results of those wars included creation of the massive debt system that is at the root of financial collapse for the majority of US Americans. Of course, China remains the great unconquerable threat to continuation of US hegemony. The balance of power in Asia may be very delicate indeed.

Continental Europe remained somewhat insulated from those seismic forces until 1989. The “velvet” invasion of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union led by US capital, aided as usual by the combined secret services and economic “consultants” of Shock Therapy, began the destruction of the economic base for European social democracy and “real socialism”. The debt machine created to exploit Eastern Europe was applied in Germany first– destroying the GDR and financing that destruction with EU-generated debt, culminating in the euro. Introduction of the euro effectively destroyed half of the purchasing power of working people in the Euro Zone overnight, creating the conditions for consumer borrowing which had prevailed in the US since the late 60s and eroding wages and benefits drastically.

The final loss of control over archaic legislative instruments (whether in the US or Europe) is not only assured by the system of bribery that turns those in office into indentured servants of corporations. Full investigation of the Enron scandal would have proven once and for all that there is almost no one in the US Congress not owned by some corporation. Similar conditions have come to prevail in European legislatures where for decades US academic and policy exchange programmes have trained the political class to work first and foremost for Business.

The loss is also assured by the now entrenched belief that the only legitimate human goal is individual personal profit. As Hudson has suggested, this is the “theology of the Chicago School”. Since Margaret Thatcher was appointed to convert Britain to that dogma, nearly the entire political, academic and “civil” culture has been saturated with people who cannot think in any other terms– even when they assert that they are still social democrats or democratic socialists. The latter insist that “social policy” is merely a palliative to prevent the poor and destitute from becoming unsightly spectres in urban entertainment centres. They all have become positivists– reifying the prevailing economic relations and worshipping quantitative methods– subordinating human agency to pseudo-science and thinly disguised opportunism. The only kindness this ethical standpoint can express is “charity”. Charity, however, has nothing to do with the common weal or the State as an embodiment of the popular will. In fact, it is just as parasitic as the belief from which it springs. If those whom John Pilger called “the new rulers of the world” consent to relieve us– that is to allow us anything resembling our dignity and subsistence wages– then it will scarcely exceed the infamous “dimes” with which John D. Rockefeller cloaked his cynicism in piety and charity. Nowhere is the cynicism more profound than in the expression “giving back”. Of course, the pennies “given back” are microscopic compared with the billions “taken” in the first place. But those shiny pennies and dimes are enough to keep embedded intellectuals loyal to Bill Gates or George Soros. For a few dollars more they will even protect the likes of Blankfein or Buffett.

“Charity” is the gratification a person finds when scratching a mosquito bite. One feels better while scratching– although this provides no relief. The cause of the itch is the substance injected by the mosquito while sucking the blood from its victim. Of course, some mosquitoes offer only token charity and the itch disappears. But there are mosquitoes that carry other parasites– the effects of their charity can last forever, or at least until the victim dies.

The Jeff Sessions Matter

(This is intended as a study-aid to anyone trying to make sense out of the unfolding scandal. I proceed from the premise that the study of history is fundamentally the study of causal relationships over time. What leads to what? Scrolling up and down this timeline, expanding it, clarifying, repeating until it’s memorized, maybe we can get some small insights into the reasons for the imminent constitutional crisis.)

Note 1: The Attorney-General of the United States is the chief legal advisor of the U.S. government. Since 1789 this officer’s duties have been defined as “to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments.” Especially since the formation of the Justice Department in 1870 the functions of this official resemble those of Ministers of Justice elsewhere in the world. The Justice Department ranks with State, Defense and Treasury as among the four top power-centers in the regime.

Note 2: Past Attorney-Generals have included John Mitchell of Watergate fame (who served 19 months in federal prison for covering up for Nixon); and Elliott Richardson, who resigned rather than heed Nixon’s demand that he fire special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox. They have included Robert Kennedy, Ramsey Clark, Robert Bork, Edwin Meese, Janet Reno, Eric Holder, John Ashcroft–a mixed bag of liberal opportunists, slowly evolving progressives, total reactionaries, weird religious fanatics.

That someone like Matt Whitaker, who three years ago was threatening a victim ripped off by his bogus firm with “criminal consequences”–positively boasting of his own status as “a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa,” adding: “and I also serve on World Patent Marketing’s Advisory Board” should not shock those of us familiar with history. (But I fear we are a small minority.)

It should surely not shock anyone who remains unshocked by Trump’s pussy-grabbing talk, his support for Roy Moore, the Kavenaugh confirmation, his apparent satisfaction with Prince MbS’s explanation for the Khashoggi murder, etc., that he would appoint (as “a great guy”) this person he says he doesn’t really know except by reputation as Minister of Justice of this benighted country.

Note 3: Understanding the power and significance of the position, and the fact that it is sometimes held by a total thug who manipulates and avoids the law at will as their power allows, we should encourage anyone entangled in the legal system in the U.S. to soberly consider the possibility that the whole damned thing is presently under constitutionally illegitimate leadership. May doubt and disillusionment reign. They make sense.

Timeline

2015

June 16, 2015: Donald Trump announces his candidacy for president.

August: Matthew Whitaker, on behalf of World Patent Marketing, in an email threatens a bilked customer asking for refund: “I am a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa and I also serve on World Patent Marketing’s Advisory Board. Your emails and message from today seem to be an apparent attempt at possible blackmail or extortion. You also mentioned filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and to smear World Patent Marketing’s reputation online. I am assuming you understand that there could be serious civil and criminal consequences for you if that is in fact what you and your ‘group’ are doing.”

(In May 2018 a federal judge dissolves World Patent Marketing and fines it $26 million for fraud.)

2016

Feb. 18, 2016: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) surprises the political world by becoming the first senator to endorse Trump for president.

March: Sessions attends campaign meeting with Trump in which aide George Papadopoulos mentions a Russian connection that could produce campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. His reaction unclear.

July: Campaign staffer Carter Page tells Sessions about his Russian business and other ties later revealed by the Mueller investigation and press reports.

Oct. 7: CIA director James Clapper accuses Russia of election interference.

Nov. 8: Trump unexpectedly elected president.

Nov. 18: newly-elected president Trump announces pick of Sessions as his attorney-general.

2017

Jan. 6, 2017: U.S. intelligence community releases report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” asserts with high confidence that Russia attempted to interfere in U.S. elections.

Jan. 10: Sessions under questioning in Congress is asked if Trump campaign had any Russian contacts; says he was unaware of any.

Feb. 8: Congress confirms Sessions as Attorney-General, voting 52-47.

March 1: Washington Post reports Sessions had met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyk at least twice during campaign, one privately in his Senate office.

March 2, 2017: Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe, admits to having had contacts (brief conversations) with Kislyak during campaign. Trump immediately castigates him for this recusal.

May 9: Trump fires FBI director James Comey, stating this is at Sessions’ recommendation. (Deputy director Rod Rosenstein may have written up the argument.) Rosenstein appoints Paul Mueller to direct investigation of Russia election interference.

May: Washington Post reports that Rosenstein threatened to resign if held responsible for Comey’s firing.

May 17: Rosenstein appoints Paul Mueller special counsel to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

May 18 (4:20 AM EST): Trump tweets, ”This is the greatest witch hunt of any president in American history!”

June 21: As executive director of the (soon discredited) Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, Matthew Whittaker (former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, 2004-9)) appears on the Wilkow Majority show and declares, “The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign. There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that was not collusion with the campaign. That’s where the left seems to be combining those two issues. The last thing they want right now is for the truth to come out, and for the fact that there’s not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or any improper relationships with the Russians. It’s that simple.”

August 6, 2017: Whitaker writes an opinion column for CNN entitled “Mueller’s Investigation of Trump is Going Too Far.” On same day highlights on Twitter a Philly.com opinion article “Note to Trump’s Lawyer: Do Not Cooperate With Mueller Lynch Mob.” Says it’s “worth a read.” Catches Trump’s attention.

April: On tweet Trump denies plan to dismiss Sessions and replace with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt.

Sept. 22: Sessions appoints Whitaker as his chief-of-staff.

2018

Feb. 21: Trump tweets that people should ask Jeff Sessions why Clinton’s crimes are not being investigated. Calls Justice Department “disgraceful.”

Feb. 28: Washington Post says Mueller investigating Trump-Sessions relationship in relation to possible obstruction of justice.

April: Rosenberg personally orders raid on the home and office of Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, in a spin-off investigation from the Mueller probe. Trump infuriated.

May: Trump blames Mueller investigation on Sessions’ recusal, accuses him of disloyalty (according to NYT.)

June 5: Trump tweets, “The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself…I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined…and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!”

July 19: Trump tells NYT that Sessions should have told him when he nominated him for AG that he would recuse himself on the Russia thing. The same month he tells the Wall Street Journal that he feels no special appreciation for Session due to his astonishingly early and risky endorsement in July 2015. In his articulate way, Trump says: “It’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement. I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.”

July 25: Trump tweets: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!”

Aug. 23: Trump demands, by tweet, that Sessions “look into all of the corruption on the ‘other side’ including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr.”

Aug. 25 tweet: “Jeff Sessions said he wouldn’t allow politics to influence him only because he doesn’t understand what is happening underneath his command position. Highly conflicted Bob Mueller and his gang of 17 Angry Dems are having a field day as real corruption goes untouched. No Collusion.”

Sept. 3: Blames Sessions for indicting Republican candidates. “Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen [California Rep. Duncan Hunter and New York Rep. Chris Collin] were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff……”

Sept. 21: NYT reports that in Spring 2017 soon after Comey dismissal Rosenstein discussed with John Kelly the prospect of recording the president’s conversations and using them to employ Article 25 of the constitution.

Sept. 24: At White House Rosenstein offers resignation to Kelly; not accepted.

Oct. 11 (on Fox): Trump: “I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”

Nov. 6: Democrats sweep the House of Representatives in mid-term elections.

Nov. 7, 2018: Sessions submits undated resignation at Trump’s request after 6 months of criticism. Replaced by his chief-of-staff Matthew Whitaker.

Nov. 9: Trump tarmac interview: “I don’t know Matt Whitaker.”

*****

Pundits suggest that the various statements Whitaker made in August 2017 were a campaign to get hired as a Justice Department lawyer, and that Trump directed Sessions to hire him (thinking he could take over when needed, to defend him against congressional inquiries). Think, people, is that really plausible?

And is it really true–what some people are saying–that the attorney-general even an acting one needs Congressional approval, and that this power transfer without that approval is invalid? Again, may doubt and disillusionment reign, because they make sense in these troubled times.

Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take

President Donald J. Trump has a special, strained take on the world. Defeat is simply victory viewed in slanted terms. Victory for the other side is defeat elaborately clothed. Both views stand, and these alternate with a mind bending disturbance that has thrown the sceptics off any credible scent. “It wasn’t me being slow,” came Frank Bruni’s lamentation in the New York Times. “It was America.” Dazzlingly unsettling, the results has been tight “but many of the signals they sent were mixed and confusing.”

Those daring to make predictions that the House would fall to the Democrats were not disappointed, even if they could not be said to be spectacular. Losses to the incumbent party in the White House in the mid-terms tends to be heavy, varying between 24 and 30. President Barack Obama’s presidency bore witness to 63 loses to his party in 2010. On this occasion, the GOP yielded ground in Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The Senate, just to press home the sheer polarity of the results, slid further into red territory. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who had, in any case, been deemed quite vulnerable in the state, fell to Mike Braun. Braun was one who drank from the cup of Trumpism, a move which seems to have paid off. Missouri Democratic senator Clair McCaskill succumbed to Republican challenger Josh Hawley. North Dakota also turned red.

The Democrats showed some resurgence in various state level capitols. Key governor’s seats were reclaimed, though their victories in Illinois, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin were matched by Republicans clawing on to Florida. The governor’s offices of Arizona and Ohio also remained in the hands of the GOP. The defeat of Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin was particularly sweet, given his lingering dedication to the abridgment of union rights that resulted in an effective end to collective bargaining for public workers.

Moving aside the gripping minutiae and individual bruising, and the US is a state fractured and splintering, putting pay to such notions as “waves” of any one party coming over and overwhelming opponents. Walls – psychic, emotional and philosophical – have been erected through the country.

Rural areas remain estranged from their urban relatives; urban relatives remain snobbishly defiant, even contemptuous, of the interior. “The midterms,” came a gloomy Mike Allen in Axios AM, “produced a divided Congress that’s emblematic of a split America, drifting further apart and pointing to poisonous years ahead.” The angry voter was very much in vogue, be it with record liberal turnouts in suburbs, or high conservative voter participation in Trumpland.

What Trump succeeded in doing after the mid-terms was implanting himself upon the GOP, grabbing the party by the throat, thrashing it into a sense that their hope of survival in the next two years rests with him. He could blame losses on Republicans who decided to keep him at tongs length, those who “didn’t embrace me”, while Democrats who sided against his choice of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh were duly punished.

Trump could also smirk with excitement that the punditry is still awry about how to assess the US political landscape. Republican pollster Frank Luntz insists in a magical two to three percent “hidden Trump” vote that analysts refuse to factor into their calculations.

The news conference in the East Room provided Trump the perfect platform to spin, adjust and revise. He also reverse heckled, striking out at journalists with brutal surliness. PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor was accused of asking a “racist question” in pressing for his position on white nationalists. “It’s a very terrible thing that you said.”

He could also weigh heavily into his favourite playground targets, one being CNN’s Jim Acosta. “CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.” (The politics of playground fancy also took another turn, with Acosta’s accreditation subsequently suspended “until further notice” by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.)

As has been frequent, if scattered, the president was not entirely off the message in attempting to reason the results. The “wave” that was supposedly to come from the Democrats had not exactly drowned the GOP, and in terms of performance, he could happily point to a Republican increase of numbers in the Senate.

He then brandished a weapon he has mastered since he became president: the art, less of the deal than the diversion. Within hours of the results coming in, Attorney General Jeff Sessions came another addition to the long list of casualties that has made this administration particularly bloody. Zac Beauchamp supplied a depressed note in Vox: the sacking of the marginalised and mocked Sessions was not shocking, which made it worse, a sort of normalised contempt. “The truth is that Trump firing Sessions, and temporarily replacing him with a loyalist named Matthew Whitaker who has publicly denounced the special counsel investigation, should scare us.”

Trump, for his part, anticipates “a beautiful, bipartisan type of situation” working with Democrat House leader Nancy Pelosi. “From a deal-making standpoint, we are all much better off the way it turned out.” Far from being further rented, the chances for legislation have presented themselves, though the president was just as happy to issue a slap down warning: avoid initiating any investigations. “They can play that game, but we can play it better because we have the United States Senate.” As the dark lord of the Bush era, Karl Rove, surmised with apposite force: “Let’s be clear… Both parties are broken.”

Housing Crisis, Mental Health Collective Breakdown, 9 am to 5 am Work!

The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.

― D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature

He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

— Brazilian poet Martha Medieros

I work at a homeless veterans (and their families, and some have their emotional support animals here) transitional housing facility in Oregon. We get our money from a huge non-profit religious organization and from the federal government in the form of VA per diem payouts.

The job is tough, rewarding, never with a dull moment, and a microcosm of the disaster that capitalism pushes into every fiber of the American fabric of false adoration of a class dividing and racially scaled society.

Mostly after two-and three-year hitches in the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, these men and women are broken on many levels, but serve as emblematic examples of the masses of broken people this country’s top 19 or 20 percent make a killing on. The Point Zero Zero One Percent, the One Percenters and the 19 Percenters live off the 80 percent of us who have toiled for these masters of the capitalist universe and these Little Eichmanns and highly paid bureaucrats and middle managers and top brass in every industry possible (two-income earners making money in higher education, medicine, the law, pharmaceuticals, high tech, military industrial complex, judicial and criminal justice, and all the flimflam that is the retail and consumption class).

I have clients who never saw out-of-country battlefields, but these same veterans hands down have applied and sometimes have received service connected disability claims, from tinnitus to shin splits, bad discs in the back to Parkinson’s, from skin diseases to anxiety disorders, from PTSD to depression, and many, many more.

The problems abound, because these folk are virtually broken and spiritually disconnected, brainwashed by some mythological past, flooded with inertia, possibly never able to get their lives back. We can look at them in their section eight apartments, see them at the free meal joints for veterans, and we can listen to their complaints and then respond by throwing all our fury and recrimination onto them, admonishing them to get off their butts and work. Sounds good from a parasitic, penury capitalistic society of me-myself-and-I thinking, but in reality, these younger and older veterans are strafed with anxiety disorders, co-occurring mental health challenges, post-addiction disorders, and brains that have been calcified by many, many aspects of being in the military; then discharged, and then the entire landmine field of epigenetic realities anchored to what many of them call “broken and bloodied” family lives before hitching up.

Some of us know how to solve their homelessness problem, help with intensive healing, assist them in reintegrating into society: inter-generational communities, in micro-homes/tiny homes, with an intentional cooperative community housing set up with things to do . . . . Like growing food, working on construction projects, engaging in peer counseling, and coalescing around community engagement and co-op like business models.

How many plots of land exist in this PT Barnum Land? How many empty buildings are there in this Walmart Land? How many young and old would like to get off the hamster wheel and out of the machine to live a life worthy of spiritual and collective pacifism to grow a truly communitarian spirit.

Here we have this CryptoZionist VP Pence pledging to rebuild an Air Force base in Florida, Tyndall, for $1.5 billion and then spreading more hubris as we witness Pence and the Air Force brass (their felonious DNA locked into our corrupt military industrial complex) ask for more robbing of the tax till, when a hurricane we knew about weeks ahead of time, destroyed more than 17 Stealth aircraft worth (sic) $339 million each! No apologies, no public investigation, nothing!

You won’t hear on Democracy Now a strong case against building these jets in the first place, or a strong case for lopping off the heads of Generals and state senators, on down, for this Keystone Cop disaster. Up to $6 billion for these graft-ridden and spiritually empty examples (Stealth Baby and Old Man-Woman Killers) of America the Empire.

Daily, I struggle to get veterans accommodations for evictions or for property debts, as many have just failed to pay rents or mortgages because of the colluding forces of mental-physical-spiritual dysfunction created by what it is that makes broken people in general, but especially broken veterans who have some undeserved sense of entitlement. Daily, just attempting to get VA hospital treatment, or trying to have experts look at veterans’ amputated limbs and just getting appointments for prosthesis devices?

We are not in “new times” with a CryptoZionist brigade in office, or a filthy example of an individual as the leader of these follies. Nothing new in the New Gilded Age punishment caused by a small cabal of One Percenters who hold dominion over workers. Nothing new about the power of the media and entertainment game to brainwash compliant citizens. Nothing new about War Is a Racket principles (sic) driving our economy. Nothing new about white supremacy ruling Turtle Island. Nothing new about the Manifest Destiny Operating System ripping land, resources, people from indigenous homelands and other countries’ sovereignty. Nothing new in the great white hope tutoring other like-minded fellows in other countries on how to get one or two or a thousand “ups” on the powerless or disenfranchised peoples of their own countries.

Life for Third World (sic) peoples was bad under all the criminals we have voted into POTUS office for the past 250 years! Longer.

The big difference seems to be the passed on and learned helplessness, fear, bulwarking that has been seeded from generation to generation. The fact there are hyper Christians who support the hyper hedonistic, superficial, irreligious, criminally-minded, sexist, racist, loud mouth, intellectually challenged Trump may seem illogical. Oh, so much illogical braying in the world before the Trump seed spilled on this land. Imagine, Jews supporting white supremacists, anti-Semites. Imagine, Native Americans wrapping themselves in the US red-white-blue, and signing up for war-military in higher numbers than any other demographic group. No need to go apoplectic over women supporting Trump as if he is their daddy or Sugar Daddy. How many times in this country’s history have we had Women for Reagan, Women for Bush, Women for Clinton, Women for the Vietnam War?

Susan Sontag said it pretty clearly:

Of course, it’s hard to assess life on this planet from a genuinely world-historical perspective; the effort induces vertigo and seems like an invitation to suicide. But from a world-historical perspective, that local history that some young people are repudiating (with their fondness for dirty words, their peyote, their macrobiotic rice, their Dadaist art, etc.) looks a good deal less pleasing and less self-evidently worthy of perpetuation. The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions — which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself. What the Mongol hordes threaten is far less frightening than the damage that western ‘Faustian’ man, with his idealism, his magnificent art, his sense of intellectual adventure, his world-devouring energies for conquest, has already done, and further threatens to do.

To be honest, the insanity of the white race is also what I am concerned with in Sontag’s (RIP) polemic. That pejorative “crazy” seems apropos for the white race, if one were to look at the way this country’s leaders and movers and shakers play the game and push their destructiveness on the rest of the world. They are all white!

Crazy watching the Kavanaugh hearings. Crazy reading the World Socialist Web Site hit after hit on any woman fighting the scourge of sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape!

This David Walsh gets it all wrong, deploying simplistic “blame the victim” mentality, and then using “witch hunts” accusations to buttress his absurd essay’s thesis. This article is an example of low level white writer crazy:

The ostensible aim of this ongoing movement is to combat sexual harassment and assault, i.e., to bring about some measure of social progress. However, the repressive, regressive means resorted to—including unsubstantiated and often anonymous denunciations and sustained attacks on the presumption of innocence and due process—give the lie to the campaign’s “progressive” claims. Such methods are the hallmark of an anti-democratic, authoritarian movement, and one, moreover, that deliberately seeks to divert attention from social inequality, attacks on the working class, the threat of war and the other great social and political issues of the day.

Instead of bringing about an improvement in conditions, in fact, the #MeToo movement has helped undermine democratic rights, created an atmosphere of intimidation and fear and destroyed the reputations and careers of a significant number of artists and others. It has taken its appropriate place in the Democratic Party strategy of opposing the Trump administration and the Republicans on a right-wing footing.

The sexual hysteria has centered in Hollywood and the media, areas not coincidentally where subjectivism, intense self-absorption and the craving to be in the limelight abound.

Comments back at the author’s “hysteria” analysis are not worthy of recrimination, for sure, but if you scroll down in the WSWS comments section for this piece, have at it: the continued craziness of white thought, white attitudes and white actions. It’s a long essay, and this man’s conclusions are all over the place, indicting anyone who aligns himself or herself with the #MeToo movement. Blames #MeToo (using current polls) for aiding and abetting an upsurge in misogynistic thinking, where these vaunted white man’s polls say more Americans one year later after #MeToo are skeptical in larger numbers about allegations of sexual harassment coming from anyone. Blame #MeToo, so-called socialist David.  Polls, oh those pollsters, oh Mr. Walsh states that #MeToo activists should be involved in other things, like the plight of working class men and women, or stopping the apocalyptic brinkmanship played out by Trump with toy nuclear weapons. Etc., etc.

It makes sense that we have silos in the social justice, criminal injustice, environmental-economic-equity movements. So much easier to tackle one bad bill or vote or crazy politician in your neck of the woods than to grasp the totality of how broken, mean, murderous, monstrous this country’s policies are! And, reality check – the white race is crazy. You see it in Nazi German, in Europe today, in Israel, in the USA, in Canada, in Australia.

Yet the broken systems, the insanity of even considering a series of social nets being frayed, chopped and burned by the One Percent’s minions in political office and finance – how insane is it that social security is on the chopping block, that there is no single payer health plan, that there is no public transportation, that the commons are being razed, raped and contaminated? How insane is it to “let” lead flow in public water system pipes (Flint, Portland, et al); or that pesticides rule the micro-world of future generations, where brain stems are permanently damaged; or how insane is it to allow a good chunk of young people to come into the world with diabetes, or riddled with on-the-spectrum diseases . . . or full of ticks and physical ailments in the name of Big Ag/Big Energy/Big Chem/Big Med/Big Tech ruling the land?

Insanity is a race that hawks chemicals of death, that inculcates punishments and fines and levies and taxes and penalties and surcharges and charges and fees and tolls and taxes and tickets and defaults and foreclosures and balloon rates and eminent domain decisions and impoundments and confiscations and seizures on their own people?

Daily, Portland (three counties, and then just north, Clark County, WA) is an example of this white insanity — unchecked growth, unchecked rent hikes, unchecked cost of living busting more and more people, unchecked home costs rising, unchecked traffic and bureaucratic gridlock, constant punishment for the downtrodden, homeless, poor. How insane is it to have students of nursing programs living in their cars while attending classes (Portland Community College, et al)? How insane is it that the Portland police bureau can charge non-profits thousands of dollars for public records, our own records?

The system is rigged, and it’s a white system of lawsuit after lawsuit! Death by a thousand fines and spiritual-mental-physical cuts!

Until the system is so broken you have millions of social workers like myself attempting to figure out how to save one life at a time, all broken lives products of the insane white culture, their own insane (crazy) leaders, family members, bosses and communities?

Angela Merkel’s Last Days

Cultural compilations such as James Frazer’s The Golden Bough are rich with these accounts: the high priest or leader of a tribe, whose lengthy tenure is wearing thin, is set for the sacrifice, either through ritual or being overthrown by another member.  The crops have failed; a drought is taking place.  The period of rule has ended; the time for transition and new blood replacements have come.  Since 2005, Angela Merkel’s Chancellorship has been one of the most stable and puzzling, a political stayer ruthless in durability and calculating in survival.

Swords and daggers are being readied.  The Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD), bound by a tense partnership, have been getting a battering in Germany’s state elections.  Poor showings in Bavaria and Hesse are proving omens of oracular force.  The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) now finds itself with a presence in all 16 regional parliaments.  The Greens have been polling strongly, while the Left Party and Free Democrats have doggedly maintained their presence.  The day after the poor showing in Hesse, Merkel announced that she would not be seeking re-election as leader of the Christian Democrats in December.  Nor would she be running again as Chancellor in 2021.

Other European states will view her with the sort of respect that is afforded the German national football team: dislike and fear in a jumble with respect and admiration.  At times, she let various cabinet members get ahead of themselves – Herr Schwarze Null, the darkly obsessive figure of balanced budgets and punitive financial measures, Wolfgang Schäuble, for too long coloured the age of austerity.

For such figures, including Merkel, thrift became dogma and mission, a goal of its own separate from social goals and cute notions of sovereignty. The vile god of monetary union needed to be propitiated; Greece needed to be sacrificed, its autonomy outsourced to external financial institutions.  Making states seek bailouts while repaying crushing debts, many of them the result of unwise lending practices to begin with, seemed much like requiring the chronic asthmatic to do a hundred metre dash without a loss of breath.  As a result of such policies, the European Union has edged ever closer to the precipice.

Throughout her chancellorship, abrupt changes featured.  Having convinced the Bundestag that phasing out nuclear energy born from the Red-Green coalition of 2001 was bad (an extension of operating times by eight to fourteen years was proposed), Merkel proceeded to, in the aftermath of Fukushima, order the closure of eight of the country’s seventeen nuclear plants with a despot’s urgency.  This became the prelude to the policy of Energiewende, the energy transition envisaging the phasing out of all nuclear power plants by 2022 and a sharp shift to decarbonise the economy.

For sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, she is “a postmodern politician with a premodern, Machiavellian contempt for both causes and people.”  Educated in the old East Germany (DDR), she mastered the art, claimed biographer and Der Spiegel deputy editor-in-chief Dirk Kurbjuweit, of governing by silence, being cautious, and at times insufferably vague, with her words.  “She waits and sees where the train is going and then she jumps on the train.”

In 2003, she pushed her party into the choppy waters of deregulation and neo-liberal economics, a move that almost lost her the election to Gerhard Schröder, that other market “reformer” who arguably fertilised the ground she then thrived in.  After becoming chancellor, she proceeded to, with the assistance of the Grand Coalition comprising the remains of the Social Democratic Party, clean the party stables of neoliberals and become a new social democrat.

Merkel, the shifter and shape changer, was again on show during the crisis which is being seen as the last, albeit lengthy straw of the camel’s back. With refugees pouring into Europe, Merkel initially showed enthusiasm in 2015, ignoring both German and EU law mandating registration in the first country of entry into the EU before seeking resettlement within the zone.  Refugees gathered in Budapest were invited into Germany as part of “showing a friendly face in an emergency”; it was a move that might also serve useful moral and humanitarian purposes, not to mention leverage against other, seemingly less compassionate European states.

A riot characterised by rampant sexual assault at Cologne Central Station on New Year’s Eve in 2015, a good deal of it captured on smartphones, served to harden her approach to the new arrivals.  She promised more deportations and reining in family reunification rules. Wir schaffen das – we can do it – has since become something of a hefty millstone.  “The German government did a good job reacting to the refugee crisis,” observed Karl-Georg Wellmann of the Christian Democrats. “But repeating ‘we can do it’ over and over again sends out the wrong message.” The far-right AfD duly pounced, reaping electoral rewards.

Her enemies have amassed, though the line between groomed successor and opportunistic Brutus is not always clear.  Critics long cured by a vengeful smoke – the likes of Friedrich Merz, who once led Merkel’s parliamentary caucus only to be edged out, and Roland Koch, formerly minister president of Hesse – have been directing salvos of accusation.  Within hours of Merkel’s announcement of eventual political retirement, Merz, who never had much time for grand coalition antics, returned fire with a promise to bid for the party leadership.

The caravan of potential replacements features the likes of “mini-Merkel” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, currently the Christian Democrats party secretary-general and the calculatingly anti-Merkel and youthful Jens Spahn, health minister who has bruised his way to prominence attacking the 2015 refugee policy.  Occupying the middle ground, and risking falling between two stools, is the more conciliatory Armin Laschet.

The current grand coalition is neither looking grand nor much of a coalition, and the party operatives from the CDU and SPD are attempting to wriggle out, though neither Merkel nor SPD counterpart Andrea Nahles wishes to dissolve the union yet.

Like Merkel’s mentor, Helmut Kohl, staying power is never eternal.  Kohl tasted eight years of power as chancellor of West Germany before leading a united Germany for another eight.  “Fatty’s got to go” was the prevailing sentiment in the dying days of his rule, and it transpired that, in time, power had done its bit to corrupt the hulking politician in his twilight days.  A million marks in donations had found their way into a reward scheme for cronies and friends instead of going to his party. Kohl attempted to keep mum on the whole matter.

It is worth recalling who it was who laid the final, cleansing blow to this holy of holies: a certain Angela Merkel’s December 1999 contribution to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung calling for her former patron’s resignation and necessary banishment. “I bought my killer,” reflected a rueful Kohl.  “I put the snake on my arm.”

Bolsonaro is a Monster Engineered By Our Media

With Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil’s presidential election at the weekend, the doom-mongers among western elites are out in force once again. His success, like Donald Trump’s, has confirmed a long-held prejudice: that the people cannot be trusted; that, when empowered, they behave like a mob driven by primitive urges; that the unwashed masses now threaten to bring down the carefully constructed walls of civilisation.

The guardians of the status quo refused to learn the lesson of Trump’s election, and so it will be with Bolsonaro. Rather than engaging the intellectual faculties they claim as their exclusive preserve, western “analysts” and “experts” are again averting their gaze from anything that might help them understand what has driven our supposed democracies into the dark places inhabited by the new demagogues. Instead, as ever, the blame is being laid squarely at the door of social media.

Social media and fake news are apparently the reasons Bolsonaro won at the ballot box. Without the gatekeepers in place to limit access to the “free press” – itself the plaything of billionaires and global corporations, with brands and a bottom line to protect – the rabble has supposedly been freed to give expression to their innate bigotry.

Here is Simon Jenkins, a veteran British gatekeeper – a former editor of the Times of London who now writes a column in the Guardian – pontificating on Bolsonaro:

The lesson for champions of open democracy is glaring. Its values cannot be taken for granted. When debate is no longer through regulated media, courts and institutions, politics will default to the mob. Social media – once hailed as an agent of global concord – has become the purveyor of falsity, anger and hatred. Its algorithms polarise opinion. Its pseudo-information drives argument to the extremes.

This is now the default consensus of the corporate media, whether in its right wing incarnations or of the variety posing on the liberal-left end of the spectrum like the Guardian. The people are stupid, and we need to be protected from their base instincts. Social media, it is claimed, has unleashed humanity’s id.

Selling plutocracy

There is a kind of truth in Jenkins’ argument, even if it is not the one he intended. Social media did indeed liberate ordinary people. For the first time in modern history, they were not simply the recipients of official, sanctioned information. They were not only spoken down to by their betters, they could answer back – and not always as deferentially as the media class expected.

Clinging to their old privileges, Jenkins and his ilk are rightly unnerved. They have much to lose.

But that also means they are far from dispassionate observers of the current political scene. They are deeply invested in the status quo, in the existing power structures that have kept them well-paid courtiers of the corporations that dominate the planet.

Bolsonaro, like Trump, is not a disruption of the current neoliberal order; he is an intensification or escalation of its worst impulses. He is its logical conclusion.

The plutocrats who run our societies need figureheads, behind whom they can conceal their unaccountable power. Until now they preferred the slickest salespeople, ones who could sell wars as humanitarian intervention rather than profit-driven exercises in death and destruction; the unsustainable plunder of natural resources as economic growth; the massive accumulation of wealth, stashed in offshore tax havens, as the fair outcome of a free market; the bailouts funded by ordinary taxpayers to stem economic crises they had engineered as necessary austerity; and so on.

A smooth-tongued Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were the favoured salespeople, especially in an age when the elites had persuaded us of a self-serving argument: that ghetto-like identities based on colour or gender mattered far more than class. It was divide-and-rule dressed up as empowerment. The polarisation now bewailed by Jenkins was in truth stoked and rationalised by the very corporate media he so faithfully serves.

Fear of the domino effect

Despite their professed concern, the plutocrats and their media spokespeople much prefer a far-right populist like Trump or Bolsonaro to a populist leader of the genuine left. They prefer the social divisions fueled by neo-fascists like Bolsonaro, divisions that protect their wealth and privilege, over the unifying message of a socialist who wants to curtail class privilege, the real basis of the elite’s power.

The true left – whether in Brazil, Venezuela, Britain or the US – does not control the police or military, the financial sector, the oil industries, the arms manufacturers, or the corporate media. It was these very industries and institutions that smoothed the path to power for Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and Trump in the US.

Former socialist leaders like Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela were bound to fail not so much because of their flaws as individuals but because powerful interests rejected their right to rule. These socialists never had control over the key levers of power, the key resources. Their efforts were sabotaged – from within and without – from the moment of their election.

Local elites in Latin America are tied umbilically to US elites, who in turn are determined to make sure any socialist experiment in their backyard fails – as a way to prevent a much-feared domino effect, one that might seed socialism closer to home.

The media, the financial elites, the armed forces were never servants of the socialist governments that have been struggling to reform Latin America. The corporate world has no interest either in building proper housing in place of slums or in dragging the masses out of the kind of poverty that fuels the drug gangs that Bolsonaro claims he will crush through more violence.

Bolsonaro will not face any of the institutional obstacles Lula da Silva or Chavez needed to overcome. No one in power will stand in his way as he institutes his “reforms”. No one will stop him creaming off Brazil’s wealth for his corporate friends. As in Pinochet’s Chile, Bolsonaro can rest assured that his kind of neo-fascism will live in easy harmony with neoliberalism.

Immune system

If you want to understand the depth of the self-deception of Jenkins and other media gatekeepers, contrast Bolsonaro’s political ascent to that of Jeremy Corbyn, the modest social democratic leader of Britain’s Labour party. Those like Jenkins who lament the role of social media – they mean you, the public – in promoting leaders like Bolsonaro are also the media chorus who have been wounding Corbyn day after day, blow by blow, for three years – since he accidentally slipped past safeguards intended by party bureacrats to keep someone like him from power.

The supposedly liberal Guardian has been leading that assault. Like the right wing media, it has shown its absolute determination to stop Corbyn at all costs, using any pretext.

Within days of Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership, the Times newspaper – the voice of the British establishment – published an article quoting a general, whom it refused to name, warning that the British army’s commanders had agreed they would sabotage a Corbyn government. The general strongly hinted that there would be a military coup first.

We are not supposed to reach the point where such threats – tearing away the façade of western democracy – ever need to be implemented. Our pretend democracies were created with immune systems whose defences are marshalled to eliminate a threat like Corbyn much earlier.

Once he moved closer to power, however, the right wing corporate media was forced to deploy the standard tropes used against a left leader: that he was incompetent, unpatriotic, even treasonous.

But just as the human body has different immune cells to increase its chances of success, the corporate media has faux-liberal-left agents like the Guardian to complement the right’s defences. The Guardian sought to wound Corbyn through identity politics, the modern left’s Achille’s heel. An endless stream of confected crises about anti-semitism were intended to erode the hard-earned credit Corbyn had accumulated over decades for his anti-racism work.

Slash-and-burn politics

Why is Corbyn so dangerous? Because he supports the right of workers to a dignified life, because he refuses to accept the might of the corporations, because he implies that a different way of organising our societies is possible. It is a modest, even timid programme he articulates, but even so it is far too radical either for the plutocratic class that rules over us or for the corporate media that serves as its propaganda arm.

The truth ignored by Jenkins and these corporate stenographers is that if you keep sabotaging the programmes of a Chavez, a Lula da Silva, a Corbyn or a Bernie Sanders, then you get a Bolsonaro, a Trump, an Orban.

It is not that the masses are a menace to democracy. It is rather that a growing proportion of voters understand that a global corporate elite has rigged the system to accrue for itself ever greater riches. It is not social media that is polarising our societies. It is rather that the determination of the elites to pillage the planet until it has no more assets to strip has fueled resentment and destroyed hope. It is not fake news that is unleashing the baser instincts of the lower orders. Rather, it is the frustration of those who feel that change is impossible, that no one in power is listening or cares.

Social media has empowered ordinary people. It has shown them that they cannot trust their leaders, that power trumps justice, that the elite’s enrichment requires their poverty. They have concluded that, if the rich can engage in slash-and-burn politics against the planet, our only refuge, they can engage in slash-and-burn politics against the global elite.

Are they choosing wisely in electing a Trump or Bolsonaro? No. But the liberal guardians of the status quo are in no position to judge them. For decades, all parts of the corporate media have helped to undermine a genuine left that could have offered real solutions, that could have taken on and beaten the right, that could have offered a moral compass to a confused, desperate and disillusioned public.

Jenkins wants to lecture the masses about their depraved choices while he and his paper steer them away from any politician who cares about their welfare, who fights for a fairer society, who prioritises mending what is broken.

The western elites will decry Bolsonaro in the forlorn and cynical hope of shoring up their credentials as guardians of the existing, supposedly moral order. But they engineered him. Bolsonaro is their monster.

A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say

Why does the Green Party elect so few people in the US while similar parties have elected representatives across the globe.  Some have suggested it is the way Greens organize or problems with the leadership.  While these may be contributing factors, they could hardly be a complete explanation since the Democrats and Republicans have elected thousands of incompetent, disorganized candidates.

A factor that may be far more important is the way the press defines non-corporate parties as unworthy of existence, even when they bring up the issues most on people’s minds.  Would it be fair to say that there is a conspiracy between big business, corporate parties and the press, or, does the word “conspiracy” imply a paranoid delusion?  My experience as a candidate may shed a bit of light.

In the first debate for Missouri State Auditor, I brought up the trial of Monsanto/Bayer which resulted in the jury’s awarding groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million in July 2018.  The jury determined that his terminal illness resulted from use of Roundup.  As the Green Party candidate, I am very aware of environmental dangers of herbicides.  I explained that the State Auditor should examine how much Missouri spends purchasing Roundup for use on state parks, roadways, and lands surrounding state colleges, universities and governmental offices.  After all, with over 8000 pending lawsuits against such a widely hated agribusiness, continued use of its poisons could put state finances at high risk.

After the debate, sponsored by the Missouri Press Association, I scrutinized articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star, Columbia Daily Tribune, Springfield News-Leader, and West End Word.  Not one of them even mentioned Roundup.  So, what did they cover instead?

When current Democratic auditor Nicole Galloway described herself as a “watchdog” for the people, the Republican Saundra McDowell sneered, “you’re just a dog.”  That made it front and center in each of the five articles.  Constitution Party candidate Jacob Luetkemeyer, Libertarian Sean O’Toole, and I never impugned anyone and stuck to issues throughout the hour and a half.  And none of the issues we brought up were covered.

Though most Americans want Medicare-for-All, TV ads by Missouri’s Democrats and Republicans focus on legislative changes that allow health insurance companies to exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions.  Of course, health insurance is not the same as health care.  So, I pointed out that state audits should examine how many taxpayers’ dollars have been wasted by Missouri’s privatization of health care for Medicaid recipients and prisoners.  In both cases, state money is devoted to providing profits and covering overhead of insurance companies.  An audit would help in estimation of savings with a single-payer system.  None of the five papers mentioned anything about health care.

Instead, they all addressed how the Democrat attacked the Republican for lying about personal finances and the Republican’s describing a lawsuit against the Democrat for violating the state’s Sunshine Law.  Stories also included the fascinating discussion of whether or not the Republican had lived in the state for 10 years.

What the audience responded to most strongly was my comment that they had all smoked marijuana or knew someone who had.  Thus, a state audit should determine how much Missouri money is wasted policing, arresting, holding, trying and hiring parole officers for continued criminalization of marijuana.  That was the only time during the debate that the moderator instructed the audience to stop applauding.

Again, all five stories ignored a topic of clear interest to those present.  In fact, the stories from across the state were so similar that they could have been written by one person with the other four just rearranging paragraphs and rewording sentences.

Since the media was oblivious to issues that actually affect people’s lives, I wrote an op-ed and sent it to the three largest papers.  Two didn’t respond; but Tod Robberson, Editorial Page Editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote back that it was their “policy” to not run op-ed pieces by candidates.  Nevertheless, he invited me to trim my piece to under 300 words and send it to him as a letter-to-the-editor, which I promptly did.  It never ran; and, I felt like I had been played by someone contemptuous of candidates without big money to throw around.

Then, a few days later, the same Tod Robberson penned an editorial on “Choosing the Best Candidate” wherein he described the painstaking effort his staff goes through to interview candidates, how staff are verbally abused by candidates, and their internal struggles to be fair to all.  He even claimed that they “bring in as many candidates as we can” to interview.  What he did not say was that invitations only go to “viable” candidates, a press industry buzz word for those with corporate funding.

On October 11, 2018, the Post-Dispatch published its endorsement of the Democrat for a series of vacuous reasons.  That candidate is a Certified Public Accountant (not required for the office); “exposes corruption” (part of the job); and applies “consistently high accountability standards” (what State Auditor does not?).  The endorsement bemoaned the failure of the Republican to show up for an interview (thereby admitting that the endorsement was based on a single interview) but didn’t mention the paper’s failure to invite other candidates.

Also on October 11, I attended a forum for candidates of the US Senate from Missouri.  Only Green Party candidate Jo Crain and Independent candidate Craig O’Dear showed up.  In the audience, I recognized Don Corrigan, who wrote the article on the September State Auditor’s debate in the West End Word.  We know each other because he has invited me multiple times to speak about environmental issues to the class on Political Journalism he teaches at Webster University.

Afterwards, I went up to him, shook hands, and told him that “It might be difficult for you to write an article about the debate tonight.”

“Why’s that,” he asked.

“Because neither of the candidates berated each other; they responded to important issues; and, they are not from the moneyed parties.”  I let him know that I was quite disappointed at the way he said nothing regarding three candidates when writing about the auditor’s debate.

“There just wasn’t room.  I’m really sorry,” he apologized.

“Not room?  Instead of going into detail about the personal attacks, you might have given one sentence to an issue brought up by each of the other candidates.”

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.  “But we need to write about what interests our readers and they only want to know what the Democrats and Republicans say.”

Imagine that!  Those who read US newspapers in 2018 apparently have no interest in Medicare-for-All, being poisoned by Roundup, or whether their friends and family members do jail time for blowing weed.  Perhaps local reporters think readers are on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about residency requirements for their State Auditor.  Or, maybe they know that their editor will squash stories that give space to candidates who don’t buy expensive ads in their paper.

I just told him, “I feel the pain you endure.”  I’m sure that his students look up to him for displaying the journalistic standards he teaches.

Wentworth Blues: Another Nail in the Scomo Coffin

A sign of desperation before the firing squad is jitteriness and the desperate sense that history needs revision.  You were not the one responsible for the debacles and the cockups; everybody and everything else was.  You knew who was guilty, and needed to tell everybody about it.  You bluster, you boast and you stumble; you look more buffoon than statesman; more clown than king.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, along with his deputy Josh Frydenberg, had just witnessed an event without modern parallel in Australian politics: a by-election swing against the sitting government without peer, the unlosable seat that slipped through the fingers of the conservative establishment.  More to the point, a seat in Sydney with a conservative pedigree stretching over a century, had fallen to an independent, the former Australian Medical Association President Kerryn Phelps who managed to tick the necessary boxes of a social progressivism alloyed to the centre (think climate change, an appropriately adapted energy policy, lukewarm humanitarianism).

Morrison’s nerves were less those of Leonidas’ three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae facing the Persian forces than a cavalry charge before modernised panzer divisions.  Beside him was the Liberal’s candidate, Dave Sharma, who seemed to become a puppet at points, drawn to the prime minister, then held tightly to avoid escape.  “Today,” he explained, “is a tough day.”  The prime minister droned, he explicated and he, tediously, hoped that his troops would be regenerated by a tonic of Liberal values.

It did not take him long to move into a manic exposition about the greatest threat of all: the Labor Party’s Bill Shorten.  Ignore, suggested Morrison, the bloodletting in his own party, or that the previous prime minister had held the seat of Wentworth and was currently gloating in New York with a Cheshire Cat’s grin.  Ignore the near fastidious bankruptcy of his government on matters environmental, on the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding on Nauru, on the dangers of fiddling with embassies, notably when involving the Israel-Palestine issue.

Then, just before dashing for the exit, he suggested that those values held by his own party were those shared with the war ravaged participants of the Invictus Games.  “Tonight I had the great privilege of joining those, and I don’t want to make a political point of this, at the Invictus Games but Invictus is all about the indomitable spirit. But you know we’ve got an indomitable spirit in this party.”

For all Morrison’s tawdry and pedestrian efforts, he claims to be rather good on the marketing side of things, better briefed on the more instinctive side of the voters.  He was part of a tourism campaign that produced the vulgar tits-and-bum “So where the bloody hell are you?” campaign.  He mined prejudice as Immigration Minister, becoming the standard bearer for the “Stop the Boats” policy of the Abbott government.  (Refugees in detention centres in perpetuity good; refugees finding their way to Australia risking drowning, bad.)

In a vain effort to seduce the Australian voter, he has attempted to make analogies that would be far better kept at a gathering of withered, porridge-fed minds.  Forrest Gump was recruited.  “With independents,” Morrison condescendingly lectured those on the Wentworth electoral roll, “you certainly don’t know what you are ever going to get.”  It all had to with that “good old box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get when it comes to voting independent.”

Another contemptible effort on the prime minister’s part to mollify estranged Australian voters came through Twitter, featuring a video where he discusses the “Canberra bubble” and its hermetic repellence.  “The Canberra bubble is what happens down here when people get caught up with all sorts of gossip and rubbish and that’s probably why most of you switch off any time you hear a politician talk.”  With jaw dropping incredulity, he proceeds to explain that, “What’s important is that we have to stay focused on the stuff that really matters and is real.”

In discussing that reality, Morrison puts one foot up as he leans against his desk, ever workmanlike, and throws candied optimism at his pretend audience.  The job figures have been excellent; and the legislation reducing the company tax rate for small and medium businesses to 25 percent has been passed.  “We’re just gettin’ on with it.”  Except in areas where he is not, a point that Phelps hammered home during her campaign.

The Canberra bubble is vogue for politicians watching the rapid demise of their job prospects.  “Outside the Canberra bubble,” tweeted Nationals MP Darren Chester back in August, “there’s 25 million Australians dealing with real issues today.  I’m appalled and bitterly disappointed with the events in Parliament House today.”  Chester could not wait to return to Gippsland “and spend time with some normal people.”  Notably, his own party is considering going the way of the Liberals in what will feature the beheading of yet another leader in federal politics, this time the cadaverous pale-sheeted Michael McCormack.  His own reality – survival before the bull of Barnaby Joyce’s next charge – is to increase his credentials by bribing the electorate: some 16 projects funded by the $272 million regional growth fund.

The gruesome reality for “Scomo” is that Shorten need merely hibernate till the next federal election, a bear waiting nature’s call to awake and feed.  Forget dull, data heavy policy announcements, the yawn promoting press conferences, the debates that induce both soporific tendencies and amnesia. Forget the sloganeering from ALP President Wayne Swan, who boasts that the current cohort has the most comprehensive suite of policies any opposition has ever had.  Perhaps, and here the Labor Party have form, the suicidal impulse that seems to manifest a few weeks prior to an election, can be averted.  This is a government that has been generous to a fault in gifting the opposition the next electoral victory.

Truth be told, Sharma was composed and chivalrous, even if he did feel, subsequently, that the former member of Wentworth might have done better. (A Turnbull letter of endorsement? A smile of approval?)  Qualities of graciousness and sporting acknowledgment are alien in the modern Australian political scene, and it is perhaps appropriate that he was rehearsing for his repeat performance come 2019, when the Morrison government risks being buried without honours or much fanfare.

No one needs to be romantic or even hopeful that this result will shatter the withering seal that is Canberra.  Phelps is sincere enough to wish for a change in Australian politics, though it is clear that such desires can be misplaced. Canberra draws in fecund idealists and leaves them barren.  It chews them, masticates over them, and spits out the undesirables.  It also encourages the massacre of leaders in deranged orgies of bloodletting, witnessed by media spectators with ringside seats.

The current state of politics is corroded beyond recognition, picked bare by the party apparatchiks, focus group philosophy and a staleness that has turned many voters into the mould of apathy and disgust.  Should the new member of Wentworth be firm, resolutely irritating for the voters of her seat, she would have at least taken that first step to make Parliament do something it has long ceased to do: be representative.