Need I Say More?

Tom and Marcella gave their three children each a bowl of rice and half an apple for supper last night.  They both work at minimum wage jobs and payday is a few days away yet, so they are rationing food carefully.  Audrey’s little girl … her name is Sarah, but they call her Muffin … is diabetic and almost out of insulin.  Audrey is out of work, has no insurance, and no money to pay for Muffin’s insulin.  Jeff’s wife died last month of Covid and he is struggling to raise their three children without her after losing his job because he missed so much time at work during her illness.  He holds in his hand an eviction notice because he doesn’t have money to pay the rent.  Robert, once a proud man with a job, a home, and a family now lives under a highway overpass, his few possessions in a cardboard box, since the company he worked for shut down their U.S. operations and in the pandemic era he was unable to find another job.

Meanwhile …

Billionaire Peter Thiel has so far poured over $25 million into the races of Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio. Kenneth C. Griffin, the CEO of giant hedge fund Citadel, is bankrolling Republican super PACs to the tune of nearly $50 million. Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman of giant hedge fund Blackstone, has so far contributed a combined $20 million to the main House and Senate Republican super PAC.  And the list goes on.

How many children could have had a few healthy meals, or how many families could have paid their rent and utilities with the millions of dollars being given to already-wealthy political candidates?

Need I say more?

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

On May 24th, 19 children and two teachers were murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.  Since then, I have heard some of the most ignorant things come out of people’s mouths!  Those of us with brains still in our heads know that the major solution to school and other mass shootings is to get the guns out of the hands of would-be killers, even if it means maybe stepping on the toes of other gun owners.  Sorry, but the rights of these children to live and thrive, my right to feel safe checking out the green peppers in my local Kroger, supersede the 2nd Amendment.  But then, on the other side you have those who sold their brains early on and they have come up with some of the most off-the-wall blame for the latest round of mass shootings that I’ve ever heard!  If we weren’t convinced before that these people sold their brains early on, we must surely be convinced now.

Take, for example, Billy Long, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri and a candidate to replace Roy Blunt in the U.S. Senate next year.  Now, ol’ Billy, a former auctioneer, when asked his views on gun legislation, replied …

“Unfortunately, they’re trying to blame inanimate objects for all of these tragedies. When I was growing up in Springfield, you had one or two murders a year. Now we have two, three, four a week in Springfield, Missouri, so something has happened to our society and I go back to abortion. When we decided it was okay to murder kids in their mother’s wombs, life has no value to a lot of these folks.”

Now, ol’ Billy Boy has quite a rèsumè of qualifications to make such a statement.  A college drop-out, he then attended a nine-day training program at the Missouri Auction School in Kansas City where he received his Certified Auctioneer designation via the National Auctioneers Association.  He owned an auction house, was a radio talk-show host, and is a member of numerous organizations including … wait for it … the National Rifle Association.  Surprised, aren’t you?

Why am I not surprised that ol’ Billy blames the gun craziness on women’s rights … naturally it is all women’s fault!  Isn’t everything?  Never mind that almost all gun violence is committed by men.  But sure … blame women … or Black people, as Blake Masters, yet another candidate for the U.S. Senate in November, claims.  Blake Masters, an unapologetic white nationalist running for a senate seat from Arizona, is a real piece of work.  He is the President of the Thiel Foundation, owned by one of the crookedest billionaires in the nation, Peter Thiel.  Masters had this to say when asked why we have so much gun violence …

“We do have a gun violence problem in this country, and it’s gang violence.  It’s people in Chicago, St. Louis shooting each other. Very often, you know, Black people, frankly. And the Democrats don’t want to do anything about that.”

So, Mr. Tighty-Whitey Blake … ‘splain to us why the shooters in both Buffalo and Uvalde were white?  And, to the best of my knowledge, most of the mass shooters of late have been white males.  There goes your theory out the door, but … you didn’t really believe it anyway, did you?

The bottom line here, folks, is that there are certain congressional Republicans who have been told in no uncertain terms by their handlers in the gun industry that NO gun legislation is to be passed, or at least none that would slow down gun sales or reduce the number of guns in the hands of civilians.  And so, they are left scrambling for two things:  1) a scapegoat, someone to blame besides blaming guns, and 2) a non-starter disguised as a solution to the problem without restricting guns in any way.  To that end, they have talked about arming teachers, putting armed guards in every school, having only one entry/exit to each school (better hope there is no fire!), and other nonsense.  And what about the shootings that happen in places other than schools, say supermarkets, churches, synagogues, shopping malls, concert venues, and … streets.  We the People would be paying twice the taxes we currently pay just to arm all those guards and … there would still be mass shootings, same as there are now.

The Republicans in Congress and state governments are not interested in ending mass shootings, they are not interested in our safety, our lives.  They believe they have a right to protect their mega-donors in order to keep the dollars rolling in, and if it costs a few thousand lives here, then … oh well.  And these are the same people who go all goody-goody-two-shoes when the talk turns to women’s rights and abortion.  Oh, gotta protect the right to life … at least until it’s born, and then it doesn’t matter anymore.  Killed in school?  Oh well … tragic, but at least he/she wasn’t aborted before even becoming a human.  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  Such a double standard, and they don’t even seem to care that we can see right through them and their sorry excuses!  And it’s not just our lawmakers … some 44% of Republicans said that mass shootings are something we have to accept as part of a free society.  Say WHAT???  Nearly half of Republican voters would sacrifice their child’s life to have the freedom to own an AR-15???  🙄

I say it once again.  There is no place for assault-style weapons in the hands of civilians.  None.  Never.  And no gun belongs in the hands of a teenager.  Period.  Full Stop.

If a man needs this … to feel like a man, then what he is, in fact, is a coward.

The Anti-Democracy Movement Run Amok

As I lay in bed at 5:30 this morning seeking that elusive thing called sleep, I received an email with Robert Reich’s latest newsletter.  Despite my better judgment, I started reading the piece and there went any hope for sleep.  Peter Thiel’s name has crossed my radar before … he is a billionaire with a net worth of about $4.7 billion who has bankrolled some pretty nasty political candidates, most notably the former guy.  I didn’t know a lot about him, though, and Mr. Reich took care of filling in some gaps … some rather disturbing ones.  Please take a minute to read his piece, for it is well worth your time — just don’t read it at bedtime.

What you need to know about the anti-democracy movement

Who’s funding it, why it’s inspired by Viktor Orban, and what it aims to achieve

Robert Reich

May 19, 2022

Decades ago, America’s wealthy backed a Republican establishment that believed in fiscal conservatism, anti-communism, and constitutional democracy. But today’s billionaire class is pushing a radically anti-democratic agenda for America — backing Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen, calling for restrictions on voting, and even questioning the value of democracy.

Peter Thiel, the billionaire tech financier who is among those leading the charge, writes “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

Thiel is using his fortune to squelch democracy. He donated $15 million to the successful Republican Ohio senatorial primary campaign of J.D. Vance, who alleges that the 2020 election was stolen and that Biden’s immigration policy has meant “more Democrat voters pouring into this country.” And Thiel has donated at least $10 million to the Arizona Republican primary race of Blake Masters, who also claims Trump won the 2020 election and admires Lee Kuan Yew, the authoritarian founder of modern Singapore.

The former generation of wealthy conservatives backed candidates like Barry Goldwater, who wanted to conserve American institutions. Thiel and his fellow billionaires in the anti-democracy movement don’t want to conserve much of anything — at least not anything that occurred after the 1920s, including Social Security, civil rights, and even women’s right to vote. As Thiel wrote:

The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.

Rubbish. If “capitalist democracy” is becoming an oxymoron, it’s not because of public assistance or because women got the right to vote. It’s because billionaire capitalists like Thiel are drowning democracy in giant campaign donations to authoritarian candidates who repeat Trump’s big lie.

Not incidentally, the 1920s marked the last gasp of the Gilded Age, when America’s rich ripped off so much of the nation’s wealth that the rest had to go deep into debt both to maintain their standard of living and to maintain overall demand for the goods and services the nation produced. When that debt bubble burst in 1929, we got the Great Depression.

It was also the decade when Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler emerged to create the worst threats to freedom and democracy the modern world had ever witnessed.

If freedom is not compatible with democracy, what is it compatible with?  

On Tuesday night, Doug Mastriano, a January 6 insurrectionist and Trump-backed Big Lie conspiracy theorist, won the Republican nomination for governor of Pennsylvania (the fourth largest state in the country, and the biggest state that flipped from 2016 to 2020). Mastriano was directly involved in a scheme to overturn the 2020 election by sending an “alternate” slate of pro-Trump electors to the Electoral College — despite the fact that Trump lost Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes. If Mastriano wins in November, he will appoint Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, who will oversee the 2024 election results in one of the most important battleground states in the country.

Meanwhile, the major annual event of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — the premier convening organization of the American political right — starts today in Budapest. That’s no accident. The Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party have become a prominent source of inspiration for America’s anti-democracy movement. Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, describes Orban’s agenda as that of a “Trump before Trump.”

Orban has used his opposition to immigration, LGBTQ rights, abortion, and religions other than Christianity as cover for his move toward autocracy — rigging Hungary’s election laws so his party stays in power, capturing independent agencies, controlling the judiciary, and muzzling the press. He remains on such good terms with Vladimir Putin that he’s refused to agree to Europe’s proposed embargo of Russian oil.

Tucker Carlson — Fox News’s progenitor of white replacement theory — will be speaking at CPAC and broadcasting his show from Budapest. Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows will also be speaking (although he refuses to speak to the House committee investigating the January 6 assault on American democracy).

If America and the world should have learned anything from the first Gilded Age and the fascism that began growing like a cancer in the 1920s, it’s that gross inequalities of income and wealth fuel gross inequalities of political power — which in turn lead to strongmen who destroy both democracy and freedom.

Peter Thiel may define freedom as the capacity to amass extraordinary wealth without paying taxes on it, but most of us define it as living under the rule of law with rights against arbitrary authority and a voice in what’s decided.

If we want to guard what’s left of our freedom, we’ll need to meet today’s anti-democracy movement with a bold pro-democracy movement that protects the institutions of self-government both from authoritarian strongmen like Trump and his wannabes, and from big money like Peter Thiel’s.

The Race Is On — And It’s Gonna Be Ugly

In January 2021, Ohio’s Republican Senator Rob Portman announced that he is retiring at the end of his term and will not seek re-election in 2022.  Now, you might think I’d be jumping up and down with joy, but the announcement did not please me in the least, for Portman is one of the few remaining Republicans in the Senate with both intellect and a conscience.  While I have frequently disagreed with Portman’s ideology – and have often let him know of my disagreements – he has never been one of the obstructionist, destructive ones like McConnell, Ernst, Cruz, Hyde-Smith, Hawley, Kennedy, Johnson, Paul, Rubio, Tuberville and many others.

One of the reasons Portman gave for his decision to retire is that “it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy.”  Of course, he has added to that gridlock by blindly refusing to vote to convict the former guy in either of his impeachment trials and by basically “following the party line,” aka “whatever Trump says.”  However, Portman’s retirement does not bode well for the future.

The thing that most concerns me at the moment are the candidates who are running to replace Portman.  On the Republican side, there are two extreme right-wingers:  Josh Mandel and James David Bowman, better known as J.D. Vance, author of the book Hillbilly Elegy (which I have not read and have no desire to read).  There are Democrats running for the seat, namely Morgan Harper and Tim Ryan, but unfortunately the majority of Ohio voters have drunk the Fox “News” Kool Aid and seem determined to turn the state blood-red and it will be an uphill battle for any Democrat to win over enough voters in this bigoted state to take the senate seat.

Josh Mandel was once the State Treasurer for eight years and prior to that was a state legislator for four years.  In 2012 he ran for the U.S. Senate and lost to incumbent Sherrod Brown.  In 2018 he tried again, but dropped out due to low polling numbers.  Sherrod Brown is still the Democratic senator, by the way, and a fine one at that.  So now it’s 2022 and Mandel is throwing his hat in the ring once again.  A few of his talking points:

  • A Trump bootlicker, he claims to believe Trump’s claims of a stolen 2020 election and promises to carry forward Trump’s agenda
  • He is against women’s rights
  • He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and leave millions of families without access to healthcare
  • He claims that climate change is a fraud
  • He is completely against LGBTQ rights and would remove anti-discrimination protections in housing and employment
  • He is anti-immigration
  • He calls for “one religion” for the United States (his, of course)
  • He has suggested closing public schools and leaving public education to churches and synagogues
  • He claims ‘separation of church and state’ is a myth

Obviously, or at least to me it’s obvious, this is NOT the sort of person we need sitting in the United States Senate, making decisions that will affect our lives for years to come.  But then, neither is Mr. J.D. Vance …

I thought it telling that in a story about Vance, written last summer by Molly Ball of Time magazine, Vance indicated to Ball that his decision to evolve from his earlier anti-Trump conservatism was born of a desire to win support from Republican voters. Trump is “the leader of this movement, and if I actually care about these people and the things I say I care about, I need to just suck it up and support him,” he said.

Vance has a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy, and a J.D. from Yale Law School, which only proves the point that education does not necessarily walk hand-in-hand with intelligence.  Vance shares many of Josh Mandel’s view, such as that women’s rights should not exist.  On the topic of Russian aggression against Ukraine, he responded that “We should care far more about our own border than that of Ukraine!”  Obviously, he is against immigration … all immigration.

Vance has received millions in funding from the ignoble multibillionaire Peter Thiel and is also funded by the equally ignoble Mercer family, backers of Trump, Breitbart, and other less-than-honest organizations, which should tell us something about his values, or lack thereof.  Vance recently blamed “the childless left” for all the troubles in the U.S., calling specifically out Kamala Harris, Senator Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and praising the far-right dictatorial president of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, for encouraging married couples to have children.  The planet is already over-populated and Vance thinks the nation’s woes will be solved by injecting even more people to feed is the solution?

But the thing that bothers me most about Vance is the way in which he completely switched tracks for his own political gain.  He started as a Trump-hater, saying “I’m a Never Trump guy”, “I never liked him”, and “My god what an idiot.”  Fair enough … I feel the same … but then, as noted above, when he realized that any hopes of a political future in the Republican Party would require him to pander to Trump, to lie, to lick Trump’s boots, he reversed course and now seems to think that Trump is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Hypocrisy.  One can never know quite what this man thinks, since he has proven that he will turn in whatever direction he thinks he can gain the most.

It is to be hoped that one of the Democratic candidates running to fill Portman’s seat can garner enough enthusiasm to win in November, but the hope is a slim one, I fear.

We’re Not Laughing Anymore …

George Monbiot is a columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian, known for his political and environmental activism. I’ve often found his column insightful, and in today’s column he makes some very astute observations about what we’ve been calling the “populist” movement, how and why the world seems to have suddenly turned upside down on its axis.

From Trump to Johnson, nationalists are on the rise – backed by billionaire oligarchs

The ultra-rich are benefitting from disaster capitalism as institutions, rules and democratic oversight implode

George-Monbiot @GeorgeMonbiot

Fri 26 Jul 2019 06.00 BST


Seven years ago the impressionist Rory Bremner complained that politicians had become so boring that few of them were worth mimicking: “They’re quite homogenous and dull these days … It’s as if character is seen as a liability.” Today his profession has the opposite problem: however extreme satire becomes, it struggles to keep pace with reality. The political sphere, so dull and grey a few years ago, is now populated by preposterous exhibitionists.


Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro at the White House with Donald Trump. ‘A host of ludicrous strongmen dominate nations that would once have laughed them off stage.’ Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

This trend is not confined to the UK – everywhere the killer clowns are taking over. Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Scott Morrison, Rodrigo Duterte, Matteo Salvini, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán and a host of other ludicrous strongmen – or weakmen, as they so often turn out to be – dominate nations that would once have laughed them off stage. The question is why? Why are the technocrats who held sway almost everywhere a few years ago giving way to extravagant buffoons?

Social media, an incubator of absurdity, is certainly part of the story. But while there has been plenty of good work investigating the means, there has been surprisingly little thinking about the ends. Why are the ultra-rich, who until recently used their money and newspapers to promote charisma-free politicians, now funding this circus? Why would capital wish to be represented by middle managers one moment and jesters the next?

The reason, I believe, is that the nature of capitalism has changed. The dominant force of the 1990s and early 2000s – corporate power – demanded technocratic government. It wanted people who could simultaneously run a competent, secure state and protect profits from democratic change. In 2012, when Bremner made his complaint, power was already shifting to a different place, but politics had not caught up.

The policies that were supposed to promote enterprise – slashing taxes for the rich, ripping down public protections, destroying trade unions – instead stimulated a powerful spiral of patrimonial wealth accumulation. The largest fortunes are now made not through entrepreneurial brilliance but through inheritance, monopoly and rent-seeking: securing exclusive control of crucial assets such as land and buildings privatised utilities and intellectual property, and assembling service monopolies such as trading hubs, software and social media platforms, then charging user fees far higher than the costs of production and delivery. In Russia, people who enrich themselves this way are called oligarchs. But this is a global phenomenon. Today corporate power is overlain by – and mutating into – oligarchic power.

What the oligarchs want is not the same as what the old corporations wanted. In the words of their favoured theorist, Steve Bannon, they seek the “deconstruction of the administrative state”. Chaos is the profit multiplier for the disaster capitalism on which the new billionaires thrive. Every rupture is used to seize more of the assets on which our lives depend. The chaos of an undeliverable Brexit, the repeated meltdowns and shutdowns of government under Trump: these are the kind of deconstructions Bannon foresaw. As institutions, rules and democratic oversight implode, the oligarchs extend their wealth and power at our expense.

The killer clowns offer the oligarchs something else too: distraction and deflection. While the kleptocrats fleece us, we are urged to look elsewhere. We are mesmerised by buffoons who encourage us to channel the anger that should be reserved for billionaires towards immigrants, women, Jews, Muslims, people of colour and other imaginary enemies and customary scapegoats. Just as it was in the 1930s, the new demagoguery is a con, a revolt against the impacts of capital, financed by capitalists.

The oligarch’s interests always lie offshore: in tax havens and secrecy regimes. Paradoxically, these interests are best promoted by nationalists and nativists. The politicians who most loudly proclaim their patriotism and defence of sovereignty are always the first to sell their nations down the river. It is no coincidence that most of the newspapers promoting the nativist agenda, whipping up hatred against immigrants and thundering about sovereignty, are owned by billionaire tax exiles, living offshore.

As economic life has been offshored, so has political life. The political rules that are supposed to prevent foreign money from funding domestic politics have collapsed. The main beneficiaries are the self-proclaimed defenders of sovereignty who rise to power with the help of social media ads bought by persons unknown, and thinktanks and lobbyists that refuse to reveal their funders. A recent essay by the academics Reijer Hendrikse and Rodrigo Fernandez argues that offshore finance involves “the rampant unbundling and commercialisation of state sovereignty” and the shifting of power into a secretive, extraterritorial legal space, beyond the control of any state. In this offshore world, they contend, “financialised and hypermobile global capital effectively is the state”.

Today’s billionaires are the real citizens of nowhere. They fantasise, like the plutocrats in Ayn Rand’s terrible novel Atlas Shrugged, about further escape. Look at the “seasteading” venture funded by PayPal’s founder, Peter Thiel, that sought to build artificial islands in the middle of the ocean, whose citizens could enact a libertarian fantasy of escape from the state, its laws, regulations and taxes, and from organised labour. Scarcely a month goes by without a billionaire raising the prospect of leaving the Earth altogether, and colonising space pods or other planets.

Those whose identity is offshore seek only to travel farther offshore. To them, the nation state is both facilitator and encumbrance, source of wealth and imposer of tax, pool of cheap labour and seething mass of ungrateful plebs, from whom they must flee, leaving the wretched earthlings to their well-deserved fate.

Defending ourselves from oligarchy means taxing it to oblivion. It’s easy to get hooked up on discussions about what tax level maximises the generation of revenue. There are endless arguments about the Laffer curve, which purports to show where this level lies. But these discussions overlook something crucial: raising revenue is only one of the purposes of tax. Another is breaking the spiral of patrimonial wealth accumulation.

Breaking this spiral is a democratic necessity: otherwise the oligarchs, as we have seen, come to dominate national and international life. The spiral does not stop by itself: only government action can do it. This is one of the reasons why, during the 1940s, the top rate of income tax in the US rose to 94%, and in the UK to 98%. A fair society requires periodic corrections on this scale. But these days the steepest taxes would be better aimed at accumulated unearned wealth.

Of course, the offshore world the billionaires have created makes such bold policies extremely difficult: this, after all, is one of its purposes. But at least we know what the aim should be, and can begin to see the scale of the challenge. To fight something, first we need to understand it.

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