Friday, September 29, 2017

I.C.E. COLD

(PHOTO: Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
There’s no denying at this point that our nation’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement department – better known by its unsettling abbreviation, ICE – is little more than the American Gestapo, gleefully relishing in their job of rounding up black and brown “undesirables,” subjecting them to all manner of inhuman and unlawful treatment, and unceremoniously dumping them in the generally war-torn countries from whence they came, regardless of whether they’re here legally or not half the time.

But this? This is beyond the pale, even for them. From the Huffington Post:
President Donald Trump’s administration ramped up its crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities this week when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out nationwide detention raids, arresting 498 people from 42 different counties for alleged violations of federal immigration laws.

The operation, dubbed “Safe City,” targeted undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions, pending criminal charges, gang affiliations or those who have fled and re-entered the country following a previous deportation, the agency said on Thursday.

Around one-third of those rounded up had no criminal record. Among those with convictions, driving under the influence was the most common crime.

The raids were carried out in jurisdictions that don’t fully comply with ICE efforts to enforce immigration laws, including Baltimore, the Chicago area, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, parts of Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.
Maybe they’re worried about scary drunk driving undocumented migrants running over neo-Nazis by “mistake” as payback for Heather Heyer or something. After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, or so sayeth the fear that gives every white bigot a cold sweat, amirite?

The goal of “Safe City” was clearly twofold, as not-so-subtly expressed by ICE Acting Director Tom Homan in a statement regarding the operation on the ICE website: to flex ‘Merica's muscles in the face of an nonexistent overweening threat to public safety, and to punish “liberal” big cities for not rolling over and showing their bellies to the president*.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration. As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”

“ICE’s goal is to build cooperative, respectful relationships with our law enforcement partners to help prevent dangerous criminal aliens from being released back onto the streets,” Homan added. “Non-cooperation policies severely undermine that effort at the expense of public safety.”
The statement goes on to say that “[s]ome of the individuals arrested during this operation will face federal criminal prosecutions for illegal entry and illegal re-entry after removal. The arrestees who are not being federally prosecuted will be processed administratively for removal from the United States.” That means every single one of these people will be deported, no matter how long it takes. Most of them will rot in federal detainment for who knows how long before eventually being tossed out like so much trash. The ones that survive, anyway.

ICE arrests have skyrocketed since Trump took office, as he’s cleared a rhetorical path for them to receive unblemished support from the conservative movement. The agency is notoriously opaque when it comes to information regarding their internal practices and actual enforcement statistics, because it’s a lot easier to “disappear” people under cover of institutional darkness. And now that they’re about to being operating hand-in-glove with the Department of Homeland Security to start hoovering up Internet user data on millions of immigrants, it’s stands to get a whole helluva lot worse.
The Department of Homeland Security will soon begin collecting social media data from all immigrants entering the United States, part of what agency officials call an effort to more effectively screen those coming to the country but privacy advocates see as an unnecessary intrusion that would do little to protect national security. […]

Green card holders and naturalized citizens will also have their social media information collected, with the data becoming part of their immigration file. It was unclear whether the monitoring would take place only in the application process or could continue afterward.

The department published the new requirement in the Federal Register last week, saying it would collect “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information and search results,” which would be included in an applicant’s immigration file. It said the data would come from “publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers.”
This is how ethnic cleansing begins. Not with a bang, but with the collective whimper of our nation’s most vulnerable as they are dragged off into the darkness at the behest of people too scared and too dumb to realize that those who forget the past are forever doomed to repeat it.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

ORWELL WAS RIGHT, CON'T.

(PHOTO: Wikimedia)
If Orwell were alive today, the recent discovery of the Department Of Homeland Security’s new rule calling to include "social media handles and aliases, associated identifiable information and search results" in the department's immigration files might very well cause him to blow his brains out.

Buzzfeed broke the story a few days ago, to what appears to be surprisingly little fanfare:
Federal officials are planning to collect social media information on all immigrants, including permanent residents and naturalized citizens, a move that has alarmed lawyers and privacy groups worried about how the information will be used.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the new rule in the Federal Register last week, saying it wants to include "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" as part of people's immigration file. The new requirement takes effect Oct. 18. […]

This would also affect all US citizens who communicate with immigrants, Schwartz said, who could self-censor out of fear that information they exchange with someone overseas could be misconstrued and used against them.

DHS said the amendment posted last week is not a new policy. It was added in an effort to be transparent, to comply with existing regulations, and due to updates in the electronic immigration system the agency said.

"DHS published this notice in the Federal Register on Sept. 18 to comply with the administrative requirements of the Privacy Act to help address these requirements, not launch a new policy initiative," the agency said. "DHS, in its law-enforcement and immigration-process capacity, has and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland."
In other words, the DHS is claiming that they already had the ability to do this, they’ve already been doing it, and are merely clarifying their policies in the name of “transparency.”

Combine this with our president’s* renewed interest in ridding the country of its Arab populations, and what you have is the makings of a bona fide registry. Yeah, you heard me right.
The Trump administration has rolled out a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide that asks for social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years.

The new questions, part of an effort to tighten vetting of would-be visitors to the United States, was approved on May 23 by the Office of Management and Budget despite criticism from a range of education officials and academic groups during a public comment period. […]

Under the new procedures, consular officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years' worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history.

Officials will request the additional information when they determine “that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting,” a State Department official said on Wednesday.

The State Department said earlier the tighter vetting would apply to visa applicants “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.”
These are the kind of those stories that, as you read them, you can feel your heart sinking into the pit of your stomach as you realize that every hacky piece-of-shit dystopian novel or TV show you’ve ever loved is gradually becoming true, and there’s not a goddamned thing that you can do about it.

While Republicans from the legislature on down are busy lavishly stroking their long barrels in defense of the Second Amendment, they seem to have all but abandoned the Fourth. Y’know, that one about being secure in your “houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures?” Sure, they never spend time in the company of “those” people, so they probably figure that they’ve got nothing to worry about. The problem is, they’re too fear-drunk to either realize or give a shit that the scope of their data collection proposal stands to impact damned near the entire population of the country.

Anyone who is willing to exchange that much liberty in the name of security must immediately be exposed for the paranoid lunatic that they are, and ejected from polite discourse immediately. Of course, that would require those in a position to do so in any meaningful way – our mainstream press – to kindly step away from their getaway cars before they aid yet another gang of Republican goons commit vehicular manslaughter against the First Amendment. And if you believe that’s gonna happen any time soon, I’ve got some fantastic property in Harris County I’d love to sell you.

IN HOUSTON, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE IS IN FULL EFFECT

(PHOTO: Wikimedia)
In case you’ve forgotten, Houston is still a wreck in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. As one of America’s best examples of how not to construct a major metropolitan area, the confluence of rampant petrochemical and not-so-petrochemical processing, massive deregulation efforts, and gutted emergency relief programs left the city completely unprepared for any natural disaster, let alone something approaching the scale of Harvey.

Houston and the surrounding environs are shaping up to become one of the worst ecological disaster sites in history. The cost will be astronomical, far greater than the city will ever be able to afford on its own. But for Republican state Senator Paul Bettencourt, who recently scoffed at the idea of Houston attempting to pass a small tax hike to cover cleanup costs, the solution is clear: MOAR BOOTSTRAPS!
"I don't understand this mindset," state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston, said. "It's callous...I don't believe governments should be showing this type of attitude when people are down." […]

Turner last week rolled out a plan to increase the tax rate from 58.64 cents per $100 of appraised value – the lowest city tax rate since the late 1980s – to 63.87 cents to help pay for the damage Hurricane Harvey caused.

Turner has said the increase would generate an extra $113 million for one year to help the city cleanup after Harvey. The average Houston owner of a $225,000 home with a standard homestead exemption would pay $118 more in property taxes next year under the proposal, according to the mayor's office.[…]

"Taxpayers are going to be furious," Bettencourt said.
“ZOMG A THREE CENT TAX INCREASE WILL MAKE US ALL INTO THE POORS! APOCALYPSE NAO!” As if that wasn’t enough, Bettencourt doubled down a couple of days later, responding to Houston’s mayor announcing that he would be making his minuscule tax hike even tinier after FEMA offered to cover 90% of the debris removal costs, provided he could get some relief from Texas’ rainy day fund.
“We’re looking at needing something maybe closer to $50 million, which is reducing the request by more than half,” [Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner] said.

“What are you doing with your reserve funds? Why are you not using them?” [Bettencourt] said. “Why haven’t you used tax increment reinvestment zone money? Why are you not using the funds that are already there to avoid a tax increase?”
Yeah, Houston...why aren’t you using the money you’ve set aside to, y’know, make your previously non-ravaged-by-a-hurricane city into a better place to brink it back from the brink of destruction? Why aren’t you bankrupting yourself into obscurity so that the TX Lege can further hollow you out from within with even more deregulations? Guess them bootstraps ain’t tight enough!

(By the way, the aforementioned rainy day fund is home to over $10 billion, a mere drop in a hurricane-sized bucket ‘o cash, so, y’know, OUCH!)

Texas’ Governor Greg Abbot, not one to be outdone by his fellow mediocre-ass white legislator in displays of unbridled cruelty, slammed Houston’s mausoleum door shut not long after, denying rainy-day funds to the beleaguered city until 2019:
On Tuesday, after Turner made a public request for money from the rainy day fund, Governor Greg Abbott joined in, telling reporters that the fund wouldn’t be touched until the 2019 legislative session. Turner “has all the money that he needs,” Abbott said. “In times like these, it’s important to have fiscal responsibility as opposed to financial panic.” The governor went on to accuse the mayor of using Harvey recovery efforts as a “hostage to raise taxes.”
As an exercise in projection, Abbot’s comments are masterful. The only ones holding Houston hostage are Bettencourt and Abbot, probably having something to do with the fact that Harris County, where Houston lives, went for Clinton over Trump by over 12 percentage points in the last election. Refusing aid and forcing Houston’s mayor to institute greater tax hikes to pay for it is a sure-fire way to cost him votes at the next election, while also giving Republicans ample room to slam him for appearing to not have handled the crisis well. From there, it’ll be that much easier to tip him – and Harris County – off the board for Team Blue once again.

This is shock doctrine politics at work, people. From 9/11 to Katrina to Harvey to Irma and beyond, the Republicans’ perfect moment to extract concessions from the populace is when everything they love has been destroyed. The 2018 mid-terms never looked so critical.

ELIZABETH WARREN: PARTYING FOR YOUR RIGHT TO FIGHT


Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention LIKE A BAWSE. (PHOTO: Wikimedia)
In the wake of Bernie Sanders’ recent “Medicare For All” proposal, which was cosigned by just about every single 2020 presidential hopeful with a (D) in front of their name, Elizabeth Warren was all “hold my beer” and dropped this sexy little number today, also cosigned by a bunch of her fellow congresscritters: a federal “right to work” repeal. The District Sentinel has the details:
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation on Wednesday that would make it tougher for states to bust unions.

The trio are seeking to outlaw what Republicans have branded as “right-to-work” laws. The rules allow individual workers to free-ride on collective bargaining agreements–by giving them the option of withholding fees from unions who represent them at the negotiating table.

Twenty-eight states currently have rules allowing free-riding on collective bargaining—six of them enacted the laws in the past five years. Only four “right to work” states ranked among the top 20, in terms of 2016 median household income. […]

“If we want to protect workers and expect a level playing field in international trade deals, we need to start at home,” Warren said on Wednesday, “and that means banning states from imposing restrictions that prevent workers from joining together to fight for their future.”
Outside of Zombiecare, the Republican Party’s all-out assault on unions is quite possibly the most existential threat not only to workers, but to the Democratic Party itself, who rely extensively on unions for funding. While they’re not allowed to rely on union dues for political campaigns, disrupting that revenue stream cuts unions off at the knees in terms of functioning at all. From there, the rest is history.

Obviously, the chances of Warren’s “right to work” repeal gaining any traction in our current legislature are slim to none, and slim just left town. But like with Sanders’ “Medicare For All” proposal, that’s beside the point.

One of the biggest failings of the Democratic Party for years has been their seeming inability to stand for anything other than preservation of a status quo that has continuously failed the American public. It’s one of the main reasons the Sanders campaign was able to lead such an insurgency within the party: he articulated a vision for American beyond simply building bulwarks against Republican crypto-fascist insanity, a vision of a country where the majority of Americans are no longer required to grovel for scraps in the back alleys of the aristocracy, where their lives can mean something again.

Never mind that Sanders was long on promises and short on details during the campaign; that’s what campaigns are for. (See the candy-assed orange monstrosity the nation actually elected for more information.) The point is that he gave the electorate something to believe in, and echoed their sentiment that simply voting for the “lesser of two evils” and running for the nearest toilet is no way to run a country.

It would appear that the party, after extensive infighting and a few wild electoral goose chases, has begun to officially get their house in order re: a more aggressively progressive policy platform. “Medicare For All” and the “right to work” repeal may be DOA for the time being, but they signal to 2018 and 2020 Democratic Party contenders that the party isn’t going to settle for less moving forward out of their candidates.

Dare I say that the light is darkest before the dawn? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that this is the most progressive Democratic policy agenda shift I’ve seen in my entire life, and it’s arrived not a moment too soon.
The Supreme Court is poised to deal a sharp blow to the unions that represent millions of teachers and other public employees, announcing Thursday it will consider striking down the mandatory fees that support collective bargaining. […]

The decision, due by next June, could prove a costly setback for public-sector unions in 22 states, including California, where such fees are authorized by law. Labor experts have predicted a significant percentage of employees would stop supporting their union if given a choice. The other 28 states have “right to work” laws that forbid requiring workers to join or support a union.

Early last year, the court’s conservatives were poised to strike down these so-called “fair share” fees in a suit brought by a California schoolteacher. But Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in February, leaving the court split 4-4 and unable to decide the case of Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Assn.

Now, the court has agreed to hear a new case presenting the same issue. And this time, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch can — and most likely will — supply the fifth vote for a conservative ruling.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

PRIVILEGE IS HAVING A BLIND SPOT IN THE SHAPE OF HUMAN SUFFERING

Radiolab’s new episode will break your heart, unless you don’t have one, in which case I can’t help you and you should probably see yourself out.



Oliver Sipple. (PHOTO: The Advocate)
Oliver Sipple lost control of his own narrative because no one was interested in letting him keeping it, not when he could be the Scoop Of The Century and a Martyr For The Cause at the same time. It speaks loudly to the implicit bias against homosexuality at the time, even among prominent members of the gay community like Harvey Milk himself, that no one stopped to think of the personal implications for Sipple and his family, let alone the fact that he expressly stated that he wished for his sexuality to remain confidential.

It’s like every single one of them had a Oliver Sipple-shaped blind spot that prevented them from being able to see him as a person, not just a means to an end. For Chrissake, billionaire gay vampire Peter Thiel just bankrupted Gawker over essentially the same thing last year, and they basically outed him on accident. Maybe if Sipple’s pockets were as deep then as Thiel’s are now, he could have better defended his good name, rather than have the nation put it in hot lights while dragging it through the mud at the same time.

Monday, September 25, 2017

FROM RT, WITH LOVE

(PHOTO: Business Insider)
On The Media just did a segment over the weekend about the declining role of Russia Today's influence in American politics, and while it was certainly illuminating to hear how the State Department et al consider Russia's state-run media network to be a significantly larger threat than it actually is, and about the dangers of heading down the slippery slope of labeling foreign media outlets as domestic interlopers, the framing of Russia Today as suddenly toothless struck me as rather odd, considering how, as far as I can tell, they've been little more than a conservative echo chamber for years.



It strikes me that Russia Today first showed their ass to the American public during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, of which the massive operational failure on behalf of the Russian government and subsequent PR debacle on behalf the network were not even mentioned. All the more so considering that someone actually did a study on it, where I found this rather telling excerpt:
"RT’s response to those concerns reflected both its ethos as a broadcaster and its responsibility to ‘defend’ the interests of the host nation in the eyes of its international audiences. RT’s self-image as a ‘contra flow’ channel aiming to subvert ‘mainstream media’ orthodoxies, offer an alternative view of world events and draw attention to issues avoided by other broadcasters accorded well with the need to rebut the barrage of hostile commentary on Russia. The response was systematic and multi-faceted,taking the form of direct refutation, rebuttal by inference and performative negation.

RT’s meta-narrative asserted that as a rapidly advancing nation threatening to disturb the hegemonic balance of power, Russia was being subjected to a hysterical propaganda campaign whipped up by hypocritical western nations whose machinations it would reveal by laying on a well-organised Games true to the Olympic spirit. […]

RT devoted considerable airtime to promoting a dynamic image of the Russian nation. Putin was absent from this sub-narrative, which centred on Russia’s hospitality, ordinary Russians’ sense of pride in their nation and Sochi as an emblem of Russian prowess. If these themes constituted an implicit response to the mainstream media’s ‘obsession’ with Putin’s overbearing authoritarianism, other strategies contributed to a direct, polemical riposte. [Martyn] Andrews drew on his ‘cultural capital’ as a cosmopolitan, well-travelled British man to reinforce his insistence on Russia as a ‘normal’ nation belonging within the civilised western world. In his review of initial Olympic-related Twitter activity, RT’s social media editor, Ivor Crotty, mocked those Tweets that indulged in crude, anti-Russian stereotypes.
"
The network had actually done a fairly decent job by the time reports started pouring out of Sochi of selling themselves to, as the study puts it, "niche leftist and ethnic minority audiences sympathetic to the channel’s counter-hegemonic agenda but hostile to tabloid culture," rather like myself. But ultimately, as the study goes on to say, "RT’s apparent ideological eclecticism" would eventually fail the network in its goal of building "a coherent identity and the loyal audience constituencies that are key to its long-term soft power goals." In other words: their lies collapsed around them, and they were forced to retreat back to the safety of their echo chamber, precisely where they fucking belong.

It's difficult to estimate the impact Russia Today has had on politics since then, but generally speaking, preaching to the converted isn't gonna get you out of the parish. Besides, it would seem according to recent events that whatever international propaganda efforts are being made on behalf of Putin's regime in the proceeding years have been taking place more in Macedonia troll farms than in front of cameras and teleprompters.

So yeah, the fact that the American government wants Russia Today to register as a foreign agent is obviously bullshit. But let's not pretend that happened yesterday, shall we?

BEHIND THE CURTAIN

Recently deceased bloated behemoth of Fox News, Roger Ailes. (PHOTO): Huffington Post)
Roger Ailes’ prodigal son Joe Lindsley hath returned from exile in the wake of the bloated behemoth’s untimely shuffling off of his mortal coil (for him anyway; for the rest, rejoice!), and has a few words to say about just what a bloated behemoth he truly was. Tiger Beat On The Potomac (Thanks Charlie!) has the scoop:
“For two years, as an ambitious twentysomething, Joe Lindsley had a closer relationship with Roger Ailes than any Fox News executive. He lived, for a time, on the Aileses' property in upstate New York, vacationed with Ailes and his wife, Beth, and served in effect as a surrogate son. Ailes’ secretary even leaned on Fox News staffers and on-air talent to make themselves available as dates for Lindsley, who, starting in 2009, served as editor-in-chief for two newspapers Ailes had purchased in upstate New York—and, apart from the Aileses, led a relatively isolated life there. […]

Lindsley had come to Ailes from Kristol’s
Weekly Standard, where he had served as a research assistant to the magazine’s executive editor, Fred Barnes. His dramatic exit was widely reported at the time because, those news reports alleged, News Corporation security guards tailed him through the Hudson Valley’s quaint local towns, seeking either to lure him back or to shut him up.

Ailes’ relationship with Lindsley was all the more extraordinary because the late Fox News chief didn’t cultivate protégés—he decapitated them. Since the founding of Fox News in 1996, several executives who had served a rung beneath him had found themselves suddenly exiled to the outer reaches of the network or fired outright. But Lindsley, four decades Ailes’ junior, was different. Ailes treated him like a son, laid out a promising path for his advancement, and, according to Lindsley, introduced him to people as “Ailes Jr.” […]

Shortly after Lindsley’s departure in 2011, alarmed by what his newly liberated deputy might say, Ailes, at a meeting in his office at News Corporation headquarters in Manhattan and again in subsequent phone conversations, pressed Kristol to blackball Lindsley in Washington media circles, according to several sources familiar with the conversation. Kristol told Ailes he didn’t have the power to do that. When Kristol’s Fox News contract expired at the end of 2012, the network did not renew it, and his relationship with the network was permanently severed.”
It’s hard to say how much of Lindsley’s account is real and how much is bullshit, which is apparently by design…? Long story short, WHOA IF TRUE! Anyway, his description below of Roger Ailes seems particularly accurate, based on corresponding accounts by folks like Gabriel Sherman, author of the critically acclaimed – and totally unauthorized, which makes it even cooler – Roger Ailes biography, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – and Divided a Country.
“[Ailes’] bejowledness gave him a natural commanding presence, like Winston Churchill, Orson Welles, Henry VIII, Gerard Depardieu, or Cowboys Stadium. The globular wideness contributed to his narrative-mystery, like the mystery of the moon, and his narrative-mystery gave him power. Though prone to anger and impatience, he could also be quite jolly. He could live and laugh in a way that lean, treadmill-running individuals, for whom life is one constant stress test, cannot. This aura of jolliness surrounding a bitter, angry, and perhaps fearfully sad core made him absolutely mysterious and hence ferociously powerful. […]

Ailes was convinced, for example, that President Obama was working an operative inside Fox News, and he hounded staff members in an effort to out the mole, according to one Fox News executive. “He couldn’t rest easy at all in life. Peace was a phantom. He was always raging,” Lindsley says of Ailes.

Lindsley was unnerved by what he felt was his inability to escape from his boss. “There was no freedom, and I had no time for reflection,” he says. He planned a vacation to his family’s ancestral homestead on Ireland’s Beara Peninsula—and Ailes joined him, tagging along to meet his great-grand-uncle in a 400-year-old cottage. As their relationship soured, he began to notice black Lincoln Navigators following him on the road, driven by men he eventually concluded were News Corporation security officers who had been sent by Ailes.”
Lindsley also offers a peek into the Fox News modus operandi, which might seem glaringly obvious to some but is always worth pointing out for how devilishly simple it is:
“In addition to his personal discomfort with Ailes, Lindsley was also disappointed in the news product. He concluded they were impossible to disentangle—that Ailes’ brutishness and anger weren't affecting only him, but also the news he was putting out in Cold Spring and at Fox and that, by extension, they were corroding the country. “Many Americans invite Bill O’Reilly into their living rooms more often than their neighbors,” he says.

He suggests that the network, with its catchy graphics and busty blondes, seduces viewers and creeps up on them in the same way that Ailes did on him—and to the same effect, producing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of paranoid, angry, and agitated voters. Though he won’t say it outright, he also suggests the network and its viewers helped to produce the election of Donald Trump. Fox News Channel, he says, is more a brand than a news outlet, and Ailes succeeded in “convincing a large part of the American people" that Ailes was “on their side.”
Joe Lindsley. (PHOTO: Politico)
Serving up a steady stream of hot chicks in short skirts making pouty faces and wondering “Why won’t Obama leeeeeead?” accomplishes two things: giving old, angry, racist white men something to defend – white women – when everything else has been taken away, and a boost in revenue for dick pills after every commercial break. Fuck yeah freedom!

When these kinds of stories pop up, it’s easy to want to dismiss them for gossip or rumormongering. But there’s no separating the bloated behemoth that is was Roger Ailes from the cult of teevee personality that he created, and the model that he inspired other news networks to follow. Buried in the lede of this story is an especially poignant question: how the fuck was “Bloody” Bill Kristol, one of the most pernicious and mendacious murdermongers of the Iraq War, able to jump from The Weekly Standard to Fox News and then, after being fired from the worst propaganda whorehouse in operation at the time, able to jump to the supposedly “reputable” Sunday chat circuit and continue shovelling the exact same horseshit with not a single person laughing in his fat, doughy face? Because what happened to Kristol at Fox News is exactly what will happen to Chuck Todd, Joe Scarborough, George Stephanopoulos, and all the other talking heads if they don’t tow the fucking line, and the only way for all of them to save their skins (and their paychecks) is to continue pushing the lie du jour, no matter how rancid it may be.

Pointing a camera at your colleagues and asking “What the fuck is the matter with you?” is the cardinal sin of the mainstream press, and Lindsley’s story, even if it might not be 100% accurate, rings true enough as an object lesson: every talking head you see on the mainstream news is there because they’ve compromised their integrity in exchange for their security, lest they perp walk their way into obscurity. Don’t ever forget it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

FALSE PROMISES

Contrary to popular belief, teaching all the kids to code isn’t going to save the economy:
“Contrary to public perception, the economy doesn’t actually need that many more programmers. As a result, teaching millions of kids to code won’t make them all middle-class. Rather, it will proletarianize the profession by flooding the market and forcing wages down – and that’s precisely the point.
At its root, the campaign for code education isn’t about giving the next generation a shot at earning the salary of a Facebook engineer. It’s about ensuring those salaries no longer exist, by creating a source of cheap labor for the tech industry. […]

Tech executives have pursued this goal in a variety of ways. One is collusion – companies conspiring to prevent their employees from earning more by switching jobs. The prevalence of this practice in Silicon Valley triggered a justice department antitrust complaint in 2010, along with a class action suit that culminated in a $415m settlement. Another, more sophisticated method is importing large numbers of skilled guest workers from other countries through the H1-B visa program. These workers earn less than their American counterparts, and possess little bargaining power because they must remain employed to keep their status. […]

Silicon Valley has been unusually successful in persuading our political class and much of the general public that its interests coincide with the interests of humanity as a whole. But tech is an industry like any other. It prioritizes its bottom line, and invests heavily in making public policy serve it. The five largest tech firms now spend twice as much as Wall Street on lobbying Washington – nearly $50m in 2016. The biggest spender, Google, also goes to considerable lengths to cultivate policy wonks favorable to its interests – and to discipline the ones who aren’t.
Silicon Valley is not a uniquely benevolent force, nor a uniquely malevolent one. Rather, it’s something more ordinary: a collection of capitalist firms committed to the pursuit of profit. And as every capitalist knows, markets are figments of politics. They are not naturally occurring phenomena, but elaborately crafted contraptions, sustained and structured by the state – which is why shaping public policy is so important. If tech works tirelessly to tilt markets in its favor, it’s hardly alone. What distinguishes it is the amount of money it has at its disposal to do so.”
No one is immune to the vagaries of capitalism. But it’s fun to pretend, isn't it?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

MAKING BYZANTIUM GREAT AGAIN

Have you seen my...codpiece?
It would seem that scholars of medieval history are tired of the quite literal whitewashing of their field, and sent a dispatch through the Internet tubes that I’m certain fell on mostly deaf ears. But its worth reading in its entirety, especially for its broader implications.
“In light of the recent events in the United States, most recently the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the undersigned community of medievalists condemns the appropriation of any item or idea or material in the service of white supremacy. In addition, we condemn the abuse of colleagues, particularly colleagues of color, who have spoken publicly against this misuse of history.

As scholars of the medieval world we are disturbed by the use of a nostalgic but inaccurate myth of the Middle Ages by racist movements in the United States. By using imagined medieval symbols, or names drawn from medieval terminology, they create a fantasy of a pure, white Europe that bears no relationship to reality. This fantasy not only hurts people in the present, it also distorts the past. Medieval Europe was diverse religiously, culturally, and ethnically, and medieval Europe was not the entire medieval world. Scholars disagree about the motivations of the Crusades—or, indeed, whether the idea of “crusade” is a medieval one or came later—but it is clear that racial purity was not primary among them.

Contemporary white nationalists are not the first Americans to have turned nostalgic views of the medieval period to racist purposes. It is, in fact, deeply ironic that the Klan’s ideas of medieval knighthood were used to harass immigrants who practiced the forms of Christianity most directly connected with the medieval church. Institutions of scholarship must acknowledge their own participation in the creation of interpretations of the Middle Ages (and other periods) that served these narratives. Where we do find bigotry, intolerance, hate, and fear of “the other” in the past—and the Middle Ages certainly had their share—we must recognize it for what it is and read it in its context, rather than replicating it.

The medieval Christian culture of Europe is indeed a worthy object of study, in fact a necessary one. Medieval Studies must be broader than just Europe and just Christianity, however, because to limit our object of study in such a way gives an arbitrary and false picture of the past. We see a medieval world that was as varied as the modern one. It included horrific violence, some of it committed in the name of religion; it included feats of bravery, justice, harmony, and love, some of them also in the name of religion. It included movement of people, goods, and ideas over long distances and across geographical, linguistic, and religious boundaries. There is much to be learned from studying the period, whether we choose to focus on one community and text or on wider interactions. What we will not find is the origin of a pure and supreme white race.

Every generation of scholars creates its own interpretations of the past. Such interpretations must be judged by how well they explain the writings, art, and artifacts that have come down to us. As a field we are dedicated to scholarly inquiry. As the new semester approaches at many institutions, we invite those of you who have the opportunity to join us. Take a class or attend a public lecture on medieval history, literature, art, music. Learn about this vibrant and varied world, instead of simply being appalled by some racist caricature of it. See for yourself what lessons it holds for the modern world.”
The letter is cosigned by well over two dozen medieval historical societies, who seem ready, willing, and able to cram a lance up the ass of just about any white supremacist douchebag who wants to claim “divine right of kings” as an excuse for shitposting on The History Channel’s YouTube feed. On The Media did a great segment on the rabid (and by rabid, I mean exceedingly polite and genteel) defense of medieval scholarship that offers some even greater context.



I suppose it would be easy to place the blame squarely on neo-Nazis and other assorted morons for their gross distortion of medieval history, but even they had to get it from somewhere. While the Klan plays a big part in kickstarting it, essentially modeling themselves after the Knights Templar, they were really the only ones overtly co-opting medievalism until much later, when it became a pop culture staple due to writers like J.R.R. Tolkien.
“[W]ith this rich setting that gives you a “where” and “when”, comes culture. Or, rather, cultures. The encyclopaedic detail that accompanies many of these cultures make Tolkien’s mythology read like history, like a vast tapestry of interweaved historical narratives. That is the sort of fantasy that George R. R. Martin has also adhered to in his series A Song of Ice and Fire. The politics of Martin’s clashing cultures may have moved beyond a good-vs-evil dichotomy, but the presentation of competing ideologies and an understanding of the cultural “other” and its distinct point of view is already there in Tolkien’s writing. […]

Part of the pleasure of creating fantasy worlds is fulfilling the desire to “play God”. Tolkien described “sub-creation” (a word used knowingly) as the duty of writers to imitate God’s creation of the Primary World. He captured this idea in a line of verse in his poem “Mythopoeia”: “We make still by the law in which we’re made”. This religious (or metaphysical) motivation for world-building had already been expressed by George MacDonald, Tolkien’s Victorian predecessor and one of the “grandfathers” of Tolkienian fantasy. MacDonald claimed that the laws of nature “may suggest laws of other kinds, and man may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws”. In their thinking, God was the ultimate world-builder: he created the wonder of the natural world. The fantasist follows in the same divine footsteps, but his or her worlds only exist in the imagination. […]

To invent freely within a structured system is central to fantasy world-building; moreover, unlike for most art forms (poetic verse structure, say), the author both sets the rules and then works within them. In this sense, Tolkien’s fantasy writing bears comparison with the serialism of Arnold Schoenberg or the Oulipian constraints of Georges Perec. And yet, sometimes rules have to be broken, and then the painstaking work of “retconning” – that is retrospectively introducing rules or facts, to maintain consistency within the world – begins. This is a perilous affair but can be masterfully achieved, as in Tolkien’s rewriting of an entire chapter from The Hobbit (“Riddles in the Dark”) to make it fit with the new status and nature of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings; or Le Guin’s feminist revision of Earthsea in the last two books, when she realized that she had inadvertently created a male-dominated world.”
In his effort to create a modern British mythology, not only was Tolkien extraordinarily successful commercially, but it would seem that he also introduced, quite unintentionally, the idea of “retconning” medieval history through selective memory to create new rules that justify abhorrent ideologies. As the benchmark by which just about every major fantasy world is created and judged, Tolkien’s white, Eurocentric vision of Middle Earth is all too easy to insert over our own, filtering its way through subsequent understandings of medieval history as a time when white people were Making Europa Great Again. As you can imagine, this limited understanding of such a popular historical period has been incredibly easy to subvert, first as justification for all manner of disgusting behavior and second as an incredibly potent recruiting tool.

Even then, historical retconning was a (mostly) harmless exercise until the president* and his goon squad began his Big Tent Racism Revival and Goat Rodeo a few years ago, paving the way for America’s worst people to gain mainstream acceptance, even appeal. These ideas have been an undercurrent of white supremacist ideology for a long time now, but never before have they had such an audience, nor one so polarized and ripe for harvesting.

The same people that are buying this malarkey are the same ones who bombarded Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian with hate and death and derision over Gamergate; the same people who gamed the Hugo Awards in 2015 for conservative/libertarian sci-fi writers whose bad ideas or eclipsed only by their spectacular lack of literary aptitude; the same people who can’t stop squealing about how their favorite comic book characters are being “sold up the river” for “diversity’s sake.” Anything that can reaffirm their straight, white, maleness as the defining characteristic of Western civilization is going to come off quite appealing, even more so when it can allegedly be backed up by centuries of historical “evidence.”

And y’all thought D&D was corrupting the youth…sheesh.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

THE HEAT IS ON



Nervous yet, Paulie boy?
(PHOTO: US News & World Report)
Like ants under a microscope, the president*'s goon squad is once again feeling the sizzle:
"What's certainly the case is that the FBI, backed by the Justice Department, felt it had ample evidence to pursue the warrant based on what they already knew about Manafort and his dealings. The surveillance first began in 2014, well before the election or The Age of Trump, with the FBI's investigation into Manafort's work on behalf of Ukraine's former ruling party. Eventually, we would learn that Manafort was paid at least $17 million to work with the party of Kremlin-backed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. A ledger that popped up in Ukraine last year also appeared to detail payments. […]
 

That second warrant was linked to the Justice Department investigation into ties between Trump campaign associates—Manafort was once the campaign chairman—and Russian officials. The warrant would have needed the approval of top brass at both the FBI and DOJ. In theory, it's difficult to secure a FISA warrant, particularly against an American citizen—though that's debated—and the FBI would need to have shown "suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power." It's not the first such FISA warrant the FBI has secured to monitor a member of Trumpworld: They also got one to keep tabs on Carter Page, the former campaign foreign policy adviser who knows his way around Moscow. […]

It's unclear when exactly the surveillance kicked back into gear, but CNN reports Manafort managed to recapture the FBI's attention when he was caught on intercepted communications with "Russian operatives." (Here it would seem the Russian operatives were under surveillance and Manafort was caught in the net, much like Trump could have been caught in a similar net set for him.) The FBI also caught chatter among the Russians themselves that turned their attention back to Manafort. While the exact timeline is unconfirmed, a source told CNN the FBI was not listening in June 2016, when Manafort joined a meeting at Trump Tower organized by Donald Trump, Jr., with an intriguing ensemble of characters, including a Kremlin-connected lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Whatever the FBI did find has been turned over to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators."
The only thing that will drive this administration back into the whole from whence it came is Death By A Thousand Cuts. It's too big, too entrenched in the system that spawned it for this to happen any other way. While such damage may be maddeningly slow to inflict, it sure is a helluva lot of fun to watch guys like Manafort flinch every time the feel the sting of the lash.

Friday, September 15, 2017

HOUSEKEEPING!

I’m really bad at this whole self-promotion thing, outside of the sharing by rote of my postings across various social media outlets…I’d prefer to let me work speak for itself most of the time, rather than get swept up in the “lookit me, lookit meeeeeee!” mentality that has come to pervade the entire Internet. There was a time where this kinda stuff came much more naturally to me, but age and disappointments and general curmudgeonry have made me much more reclusive in recent years; given that I don’t have and can’t afford someone to handle this nonsense for me, here we are.

Podcast preparations have begun in earnest, and I have – or shall I say, had – two interviews booked in as many weekends starting as of tomorrow, the former of which was postponed due to ill health on the part of my guest. However, never being one to waste a workday (actually, this is not true; I’m a world-class procrastinator) I’ll be doing some final tweaks to my trailer script, and possibly even recording it tomorrow. With any luck, I’ll have it ready to go in a couple of weeks.

Other interview prospects down the pipe are highly intriguing, ranging from musicians to activists to historians to musicians and beyond. I’m also working on my first storytelling/historical segment, which has been a fascinating experience, to say the least. The differences between outlining scripts versus outlining essays are not large; you’re arranging ideas and quotes and anecdotes together to form a compelling story/argument, deciding when to show and when to tell, apply appropriate levels of rhetorical flourish, etc. The biggest differences I’ve noticed have been that the latter tend to be slightly more linear, and the former bring to mind concepts and digressions that would never translate well into written format, but will be easy to bullshit my way through out loud. I have a feeling doing this show is going to impact my overall creativity immensely, which I suppose was easily half the point.

Also, I’m continuously surprised and heartened by the outpouring of support I’ve received from my friends and family regarding my decision to do this. One of the things I’ll be featuring prominently on the show is local, San Francisco Bay Area music, crafted by a number of bands whom I’ve known and loved for years. When I approached them for permission to use their material, there wasn’t a single one who didn’t enthusiastically say “yes!” and proceed to tell me how excited they were to hear that I was finally launching another show post-Face For Radio, and that they couldn’t wait to hear it and share it with their friends.

Their vote of confidence is both humbling and empowering, and for the first time, not threatening. When I was a full-time musician, I was in competition with many of these folks for gigs, mindshare, clicks, downloads, you name it. And while that competition wasn’t “official” in any way, it never changed the fact that I always felt like so many of the bands I was surrounded by were so much better than my own, and when my peers would tell me otherwise, I simply couldn’t believe it to be anything other than good sportsmanship. But we’re in non-competing spaces now, and they’ve heard and seen what I’ve done in the post-music years, and want to be a part of it. While that doesn’t make me “better” by any stretch of the imagination, it certainly makes it a lot easier to look them in the eye and know they’re not full of shit.

That’s all I got, for now. Look for the first podcast trailer in a few weeks, and keep those donations and Patreon subscriptions coming in. Also, sharing means caring; if you like my stuff, share it on your social networks and help me get the word out. It don’t cost nothin’ but a couple extra mouse clicks, and I need all the help I can get. In the meantime, have a lovely weekend, and if you’re gonna punch any Nazis, be sure and lock your wrist.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

SO MUCH WINNING!

(PHOTO: Yahoo News)
Love her or hate her, Hillary Clinton is no fool. Her bids to remain relevant post-election, whatever their purpose might be, have been undeniably successful, up to and including the publication of her electoral autopsy-cum-memoir, What Happened. Like with so many observations of the woman herself, Clinton's book is full of speculation ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, but there's no denying that her portrait of Donald Trump, as echoed in a recent interview with David Remnick in The New Yorker, is spot fucking on.
“[Trump] is immature, with poor impulse control; unqualified for the position that he holds; reactive, not proactive; not strategic, either at home or on the world stage. And I think he is unpredictable, which, at the end of the description one can give of him, makes him dangerous. The latest incident with North Korea? Going after our ally, South Korea, while North Korea is threatening the region, threatening us? Going after China, which we need, whether we like it or not, to help us try to resolve the aggressive behavior of Kim Jong Un? It puts a smile on Kim’s face. Just like him going after nato and the Atlantic alliance puts a smile on Putin’s face. He admires authoritarians. In fact, before this crisis with North Korea, he was praising Kim Jong Un. He clearly has a bromance toward Putin, whom he lauds as a great leader.

He’s being played by the Putins and the Kim Jong Uns of the world. I’m not even sure he’s aware of that. Because he has such a limited understanding of the world. Everything is in relation to how it makes him feel. And therefore he has little objective distance, which a leader must have. Making decisions in the Oval Office requires a level of dispassionate, reasoned analysis. We’ve seen no evidence he’s capable of that.”
Remnick's interview is was also featured on their companion program The New Yorker Radio Hour, and I highly recommend you give it a listen. Mrs. Clinton is a much better speaker than she is an author, especially when conversating with a savvy political reporter rather than, say, Joy Behar on The View



There is one thing I will say about Hillary's description of the president*: it doesn't go far enough. Trump isn't just being "played by the Putins and the Kim Jong Uns of the world"; he's being played by the Trudeaus and the Merkels and the Macrons and Xi Jinpings of the world, too. As you can imagine, this doesn't exactly bode well for our nation's already FUBARed economic situation.
"Foreign governments have adapted. They flatter Trump outrageously. Their emissaries stay at his hotels and offer the Trump Organization abundant concessions (39 trademarks approved by China alone since Trump took office, including one for an escort service). They take him to military parades; they talk tough-guy-to-tough-guy; they show him the kind of deference that only someone without a center can crave. And so he flip-flops: Paris was no longer “so, so out of control, so dangerous” once he’d had dinner in the Eiffel Tower; Xi Jinping, during an April visit to Mar-a-Lago, went from being the leader of a parasitic country intent on ripping off American workers to being “a gentleman” who “wants to do the right thing.” (By July, Trump was back to bashing China, for doing “NOTHING” to help us.)

In short, foreign leaders may consider Trump alarming, but they do not consider him serious. They may think they can use him, but they know they cannot rely on him. They look at his plans to slash the State Department’s ranks and its budget—the latter by about 30 percent—and draw conclusions about his interest in traditional diplomacy. And so, already, they have begun to reshape alliances and reconfigure the networks that make up the global economy, bypassing the United States and diminishing its standing. In January, at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, Xi made a case for Chinese global leadership that was startlingly well received by the rich and powerful officials, businesspeople, and experts in attendance. In March, Canada formally joined a Chinese-led regional development bank that the Obama administration had opposed as an instrument of broadened Chinese influence; Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France were among the founding members. In July, Japan and Europe agreed on a free-trade deal as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump had unceremoniously discarded."
There has never been any doubt in my mind that at some point our nation would be forced to reconcile with the notion that we cannot function in perpetuity as the world's chief economic power, but I had hoped such a thing would happen with a bang, not a whimper from the puckery asshole-mouth of some orange-pasted egomaniac with all the intelligence of a salt shaker.

HE'S GONNA GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS...


...no matter what.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

BATTLE OF THE BILLIONARES

No More Mister Nice Blog is reporting that heir to House Harkonnen (thanks, Uncle Charlie!) Steve Bannon’s post-Cheetocracy shenanigans regarding the 2018 mid-terms have been…strange, to say the least:
“Breitbart is promoting the guy running against Trump's candidate as if he is Trump's candidate. Remember that Trump endorsed Luther Strange in Alabama's special Senate election. Breitbart prefers former "Ten Commandments judge" Roy Moore. Breitbart is not just running stories in praise of Moore – it's describing Moore as the true Trump candidate...even though White House legislative director Marc Short reaffirmed Trump's support for Strange yesterday, the Breitbart story insists that Trump "has...withdrawn his support for Strange for now."

That's Bannon's idea of being a wingman and helping to "get allies of President Donald Trump elected to the Senate": He decides who's pro-Trump, not Trump...Bannon and his fellow Breitbartniks believe in Trumpism – but they reserve the right to define what Trumpism is, and sometimes it's the opposite to what Trump himself is actually doing. They think they're more Catholic than the #MAGA pope.”
On its face, the idea of pitting these two against each other for the title of Chief Bootlicker is actually sound political strategy; no matter who wins, Trump earns an ever-more-devoted sycophant. But the 50,000-foot view, courtesy of The American Prospect, reveals something significantly more diabolical at work.
"It’s clear that Mercer has no small amount of envy for the Koch brothers, the billionaire siblings whose will has largely shaped the GOP agenda as the party became ever more dependent on the political infrastructure built by the Kochs and the donor network they have cultivated over the course of decades. No longer insurgents, the Kochs and their political beneficiaries have become part of the GOP establishment. House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose career got a mighty boost from the Koch-founded Americans For Prosperity (AFP), is a case in point. Ryan, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are now tasked with the realities of governing, which often leads them to make decisions that are at odds with the president’s whims. And that makes them, and some of the incumbents they hope to re-elect, the focus of right-wing ire.

Bannon and his patron Mercer, it seems, are willing to take their chances on the possible loss of the GOP’s narrow Senate majority if the gambit places Mercer in the kingmaker’s seat, supplanting the Koch brothers in that role. But there’s a fly in that ointment, for nearly all Republican lawmakers depend on the Koch brothers’ political apparatus in order to win re-election, especially the get-out-the-vote operations of Americans For Prosperity, and the data firm i360. Bannon seems to be betting that AFP will turn out the vote for any Republican who runs for the Senate, including the neo-theocrat Roy Moore, whom Bannon is backing against Strange in the Alabama Republican primary.

Then again, Bannon may night mind seeing the GOP lose the Senate, seeing how that would deprive McConnell, as special target of Bannon’s opprobrium, of what power he currently holds. Both Ryan and McConnell, Bannon charged in his 60 Minutes interview, seek “to nullify the 2016 election.” […]

Given Bannon’s longstanding contempt for McConnell and Ryan, it would be easy to take these statements at face value. But there’s something far deeper going on. This is not about a battle for the soul of the party. It’s about which billionaires get to control the levers of power. And Mercer clearly thinks it should be him.

During the presidential campaign, the Koch brothers made a show of not backing Donald Trump for the party’s nomination, and later saying they wouldn’t put money into the presidential contest. But that was more posture than pledge, since all of AFP’s voter-turnout efforts surely redounded to Trump’s benefit, since most who came to a voting booth to select a Republican for Congress likely marked the box next to Trump’s line among the choices for president. Like many Republicans, Koch operations like to play the race card without naming it as such. Calls for ending Obamacare or shrinking the food stamp program: This is the kind of code employed in Kochian rhetoric. Trump’s crime was his coarse and obvious embrace of haters of all stripes.

Mercer, however, doesn’t stand on ceremony. He’s poured some $10 million into Breitbart.com, the website Bannon proudly dubbed “the platform of the alt-right,” where Islamophobia and racism shape false narratives about terrorism and crime, and misogyny abounds. Mercer money also fueled the nonprofit Government Accountability Institute founded by Bannon, which generated false narratives about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, producing the since-discredited book, Clinton Cash, whose claims were picked up by The New York Times. Mercer also gave Bannon a top post at his for-profit political data firm, Cambridge Analytica, which uses Facebook profiles to determine voter preferences. (Bannon resigned as Cambridge Analytica’s vice president when he won his White House appointment.)"
It’s becoming increasingly clear that a Steve Bannon-helmed Breitbart News Network, more than any other online media outlet (with the possible exception of Facebook, according to their recently-disclosed FBI report) was the single most influential player in the 2016 election. Bannon knows it, and more importantly, Mercer knows it. He bought the office, so to the victor go the spoils, right?

Using BNN to primary Koch-suckers for Mercer from the right is a risky strategy, to say the least. But what Bannon lacks in a proper dermatological regimen he more than makes up in personal and professional ambition; if he manages to capture a few seats on behalf of his paymaster, not only will it put the Kochs on their heels, but it will place his scabrous, bloated body all-too-dangerously close to the levers of power once again, standing alongside a man with all the moral compunction of a starved and beaten hyena.

“What a time to be alive,” he says, sarcastically.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

PANEM ET CIRCENSES, CON'T.

Ratings for the kickoff of the NFL’s 2017’s season were down 13% over last year, which were apparently down over the 2015 season. Everyone’s got plenty of theories as to why of course, myself included. But let’s start with this one, written by someone who gives waaaaaay more fucks about football than I ever, ever will:
“In a memo last year, NFL executives blamed a “confluence of events” for the league's ratings decline. They largely attributed the decrease in primetime numbers to the contentious presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which sucked viewers to cable news networks in droves. Ratings increased once the election ended, lending credence to the theory.

There are other hypotheses that explain the dip, depending on whom you ask. Right-wing pundits say national anthem protests harm ratings, even though those claims have been debunked. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some activists say they’re boycotting due to Colin Kaepernick’s continued unemployment.

The NFL’s concussion crisis and myriad of off-field controversies might be driving away viewers, too. My colleague John Tomase says he didn’t watch any football Sunday, because he can no longer ignore the prevalence of CTE among ex-players.

All of those reasons are valid, except for the silly caterwauling over players who kneel or sit during the “Star-Spangled Banner.” But the biggest explanation for the NFL’s ratings fall is probably the most obvious: the product is bad. […]

The excuses are already piling up to downplay the NFL’s disappointing showing Thursday. One common explanation is that Irma’s impending arrival drove people to the Weather Channel and cable news stations. While that makes sense on the surface –– those networks combined for a 6.4 national rating Thursday –– it’s also convenient. There will always be major news events going on. Political fervor might be at an apex in the Trump era, but other sports leagues aren’t taking hits in the ratings. This year’s NBA Finals were the most-watched since 1998 and Game 7 between the Cubs and Indians was the most-viewed MLB contest in 25 years. NFL playoff television ratings, meanwhile, were down for eight of 10 games last season. The Super Bowl, which featured the Patriots mounting a historic comeback, was the least-watched since 2013.”
Frankly, I’m inclined to believe all of these things are true, up to and including the idea that football sucks. At the same time, I think that glossing over things like Colin Kaepernick’s protests and the 2016 election – along with the shithead victor it produced – downplays the dark, pulsing, racist heart that lies inside so many of your average (white) football fans.

A few years ago, Radiolab produced a phenomenal podcast on the history of football, focusing specifically on its impact in “assimilating” Native Americans into the white population that displaced them. Even if you’re not a football fan – and in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not – the history of the sport is as much a part of American mythology as the Revolution, the Civil War, and World War Two.



To make a long story short: in the years following the Civil War and the eventual closing of the frontier, America’s “chosen people” – young, white, educated men – were running out of ways to “prove” their manliness and carve out an even bigger slice of the pie for themselves. America hadn’t quite entered the colony business yet, and while we did have standing armies in that time, they weren’t exactly doing much other than putting down race and labor insurrections or “pacifying” what remained of the native populations. Great opportunities to exercise your distaste of the “lesser” races/classes, but hardly glamorous compared to striking out across the fruited plains with nothing but your trust fund bootstraps.

Something was desperately needed to fill the sucking void of white pride in those young, Aryan hearts…voila! Football! A sport modeled quite directly after military field tactics that allowed groups of young men to organize into militias teams and go pound the shit out of each other for bragging rights. It’s tribal, it’s savage, and ultimately, it’s insanely marketable. As a recreational outlet for white supremacy, it did a lot to diffuse political tensions among whites, first amongst the elites and then across the classes, especially when it came to the spectators; football teams apolitically erased many class divisions and reshaped them among team lines.

The Spanish-American War, the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the two Great Wars did a lot to further erase those divisions, along with even uglier expressions of white solidarity, like the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the dominion of the Jim Crow South. Even as blacks began to join football teams – and often exceed their white counterparts – outside of the normal “controversy” surrounding the integration of the races, it did not cause a substantial loss of fans. Even during the Civil Rights movement, football managed to stay relatively apolitical, especially compared to today.

What the author of the theory above fails to account for when contrasting NBA or MLB ratings with NFL ratings is the latter’s direct ties to colonial white supremacy, and how that has worked its way through to the present day. Football fans skew overwhelmingly white, lower- to upper-middle-class men between twenty-five and fifty, and overwhelmingly conservative. In other words, precisely the demographic that has been increasingly radicalized by the Republican Party for decades, and especially since the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

It strikes me that this “Silent Majority” of “apolitical” people have had their interest in football gradually supplanted by another team sport: politics, especially as the Internet and social media have forced the subject into everyone’s field of vision like never before. Given the three hurricanes we’re presently dealing with – Harvey, Irma, and President* Trump – it’s no wonder football ratings are down. For a great many, Team Trump is having their winningest season yet.