Friday, July 21, 2017

Eric Alterman: Trump’s Allies Are Taking Over the Media and Creating Their Own Reality

This is a deeply chilling, illuminating, and vital article by Eric Alterman, who asks, "Is anyone paying attention?" There is an urgent need for us to pay attention and to expose the dangerous realities of repeated and toxic assaults on what is left of our democracy, which grow day by day... It has been many years now since I first heard from someone I respect that we in America are a highly propagandized people. I did not know if this was true and was compelled to follow up with my own research. And, Wow!, we are!! Which drives home the deep need for us to gather up all our courage, ground ourselves in a profound commitment to truth, and learn how to follow the money and discern who can be trusted and who cannot for our information. Without taking these steps, we remain on the end of the continuum steeped in ignorance, illusions, indoctrination, and polarization rather than truth, consciousness, connection, and action grounded in belief systems and actions that are rooted in a higher good for all. We are truly all in this together. - Molly

Donald Trump at the GOP debate sponsored by CNN, March 10, 2016. (Reuters / Carlo Allegri)
Is anyone paying attention?
On July 17, the Idaho television station KBOI tweeted a story about a would-be robber who allegedly “arrives early at banks to find doors locked.” Even more confusing than the indecipherable English was the photo it ran: that of Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson being arrested at a protest in Baton Rouge (the robbery suspect was not even black). Having had the mistake called to their attention, the station apologized, although another story on KBOI’s website used the same image of Mckesson beneath the headline “Officer wounded in deadly ambush sues Black Lives Matter.”
That KBOI is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group should surprise no one who has ever paid attention to the company — a category, alas, that includes precious few people. Sinclair is a far-right media operation that until recently has flown under the radar of all but the most studious media critics. It received brief scrutiny in December, when it was revealed that Jared Kushner had struck a deal with the company to give it special access to Donald Trump in exchange for a promise to run Trump interviews across the country without commentary. These were especially important to the campaign in swing states like Ohio, where Sinclair reaches many more viewers than networks like CNN. More recently, the station made news when its vice president and director, Frederick G. Smith, whose family owns the company, made a $1,000 donation to Greg Gianforte’s House campaign the day after he assaulted Ben Jacobs of The Guardian for the crime of asking a question about Trumpcare. Now the company is poised to take over Tribune Media in a $3.9 billion deal. Add Tribune’s 42 stations to the 173 that Sinclair already owns, and you’ve got the single biggest conglomerate of TV stations in America, reaching 70 percent of all households in the nation.
Though it receives a fraction of the attention lavished on Fox News, Sinclair is, in its own way, every bit as awful. It forces its affiliates to run regular segments by a former Sinclair executive, Mark Hyman, along with those of Boris Epshteyn, who, until recently, was a “senior adviser” to Trump and is now a full-time apologist for anything and everything the president says and does. In an impressive recent segment on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver noted that Sinclair sends scripts to its local news anchors to be delivered verbatim together with the clips it wants shown. Among these are “questions” like “Did the FBI have a personal vendetta in pursuing the Russian investigation against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn?” When the Trump administration approves Sinclair’s merger — which it certainly will, despite the fact that the merger violates current rules about concentration of ownership — local television news will be further delocalized as it grows simultaneously more right-wing and Trump-friendly.
A similar fate awaits Time Inc. if it is sold to either of what are reported to be its most energetic suitors. The first of these is American Media, which, run by David Pecker, might as well be run by Trump himself. Earlier in the year, Kushner offered to kill a story about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski’s then-secret romance in Pecker’s flagship tabloid, the National Enquirer, if the Morning Joe co-hosts would personally apologize to Trump for their critical coverage. This extraordinary collusion was only recently revealed by Scarborough and Brzezinski in The Washington Post, after our idiot president went after Brzezinski for allegedly “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” Pecker denies all this, but it is entirely consistent with the tone of the coverage that Pecker has given his friend since Trump first announced his presidential campaign. (Representative headlines: “Donald Trump — His Revenge on Hillary & Her Puppets” and “Top Secret Plan Inside: How Trump Will Win Debate!”)
It’s hard to imagine a worse combination than a terrible tabloid tied to Trump and right-wing extremism, but if you were forced to find one, it would be the billionaire father-daughter combination of Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who infamously bankrolled Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway and are the moneybags behind Breitbart News. The Mercers’ Renaissance Technologies recently snapped up nearly 2.5 million shares of Time Inc., creating speculation that they, too, were angling to buy the publisher of TIMEPeopleand Fortune, among other titles.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Satish Kumar: How Much Can I Learn From a Tree?

Sometimes I come across a tree which seems like Buddha or Jesus: loving, compassionate, still, unambitious, enlightened, in eternal meditation, giving pleasure to a pilgrim, shade to a cow, berries to a bird, beauty to its surroundings, health to its neighbors, branches for the fire, leaves for the soil, asking nothing in return, in total harmony with the wind and the rain. How much can I learn from a tree? The tree is my church, the tree is my temple, the tree is my mantra, the tree is my poem and my prayer.
- Satish Kumar

Jack Kornfield: Weigh the True Advantages

Weigh the true advantages of forgiveness
and resentment to the heart.
Then choose.

- Jack Kornfield

Jane Hirshfield: Optimism

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs -- all this resinous, unretractable earth.
 - Jane Hirshfield

Charles Eisenstein: We Have To Create Miracles

We have to create miracles. 
A miracle is not the intersession of an external 
divine agency in violation of the laws of physics. 
A miracle is simply something that is impossible from 
an old story but possible from within a new one. 
It is an expansion of what is possible.
- Charles Eisenstein

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Naomi Klein: Democracy, Suspended Until Further Notice

This is another powerful and vital excerpt that I am moved to share from Naomi Klein's latest book, No Is Not Enough, a book I highly recommend to all. So deeply relevant to today! And there can be no solution for problems not seen or denied. Also, while I post this picture - "Democracy gone to the dogs" - I actually believe that our four-legged friends have a much greater sense of caring and justice than those humans whose ignorance, greed, power, and lack of consciousness is causing so much harm and devastation in our nation and worldwide. Our animal friends have much to teach us. And we also all have the capacity to be teachers to one another. To access and strengthen this capacity, there is a need to both consciously seek to open our hearts in an ongoing way, and to continuously affirm the strong intention to be part of the Great Awakening on Mother Earth. - Molly

Democracy, Suspended Until Further Notice

The last half century shows how deliberately - and effectively - the shock doctrine strategy has been deployed by governments to overcome democratic resistance to profoundly damaging policies. And some kind of democracy-avoidance strategy is needed, because many neoliberal policies are so unpopular that people reliably reject them both at the polls and in the streets. With good reason: as the tremendous hoarding (and hiding) of vast sums of wealth by a small and unaccountable global class of virtual oligarchs makes clear, those who benefit most from these radical social restructurings are a small minority, while the majority see their standard of living stagnate or slip, even in periods of rapid economic growth. Which is why, for those who are determined to push through these policies, majority rule and democratic freedoms aren't a friend - they are a hindrance and a threat.

Not every neoliberal policy is unpopular, of course. People do like tax cuts (for the middle class and working poor, if not for the super-rich), as well as the idea of cutting "red tape" (at least in theory). But they also, on the whole, like their taxes to pay for state-funded health care, clean water, good public schools, safe workplaces, pensions, and other programs for the elderly and disadvantaged. Politicians planning to slash these kinds of essential programs and services, or to privatize them, are rightly wary of putting those plans at the center of their electoral platforms. Far more common is for neoliberal politicians to campaign on promises of cutting taxes and government waste while protecting essential services, and then, under the cover  of some sort of crisis (real or exaggerated), claim, with apparent reluctance and wringing of hands, that, sorry, we have no choice but to go after your health care.

Doing It Fast and All At Once

The bottom line is that hard-core free marketers or "libertarians" (as billionaire Koch brothers describe themselves) are attracted to moments of cataclysm because non-apocalyptic reality is actually inhospitable to their antidemocratic ambitions.

Speed is the essence in all this, since periods of shock are temporary in nature. Like Bremer, shock-drunk leaders and their funders usually try to follow Machiavelli's advice in The Prince: "For injuries out to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less." The logic is straightforward enough: People can develop responses to sequential or gradual change. But if dozens of changes come from all directions at once, the hope is that populations will rapidly become exhausted and overwhelmed, and will ultimately swallow their bitter medicine. (Recall the description of Poland's shock therapy as unfolding in "dog years.")

The Shock Doctrine [] was controversial when it came out in 2007. I was challenging a rosy version of history that many of us have grown up with - the version which tells us that deregulated markets and democracy advanced together, hand in hand, over the second half of the twentieth century. The truth, it turns out, is much uglier. The extreme form of capitalism that has been remaking our world in this period - which Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has termed "market fundamentalism" - very often could advance only in contexts where democracy was suspended and people's freedoms were sharply curtailed. In some cases, ferocious violence, including torture, was used to keep rebellious populations under control.

The late economist Milton Friedman called his most famous book Capitalism and Freedom, presenting human liberation and market liberation as flip sides of the same coin. And yet the first country to put Friedman's ideas into practice in unadulterated form was not a democracy - it was Chile, in the immediate aftermath of the CIA-supported coup that overthrew a democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, and installed a far-right dictator, General Augusto Pinochet.

This was not an accident - the ideas were just too  unpopular to be introduced without the help of a strong-arm despot. Richard Nixon had famously growled after Allende won the 1070 elections: "Make the economy scream." With Allende left dead in the bloody coup, Friedman advised Pinochet that he should not blink when it came to economic transformation, prescribing what he termed the "shock treatment' approach. Under the advise of the famed economist and his former students (known in Latin America as "the Chicago Boys"), Chile replaced its public pay-as-you-go, and privatized kindergartens and cemeteries (and did many other things US Republicans have been eyeing for decades.) And recall: this was in a country whose people were distinctly hostile to exactly these policies - a country which had, before the coup, democratically chosen socialist policies.

Similar regimes were installed in several Latin American countries during this period. Leading intellectuals in the region drew a direct connection between the economic shock treatments that impoverished millions and the epidemic of torture that ravaged hundreds of thousands in Child, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil who believe in a fairer society. As the last Uruguayan historian Eduardo Galeano asked: "How can this inequality be maintained if not through jolts of electric shock?"

Latin America received a particularly strong dose of these twin forms of shock. Most "free-market" makeovers were not so bloody. Radical political transitions such as the collapse of the Soviet Union or the end of South African apartheid have also provided disorienting cover for neoliberal economic transformations. The most frequent midwife by far has been large-scale economic crisis, which time and again has been harnessed to demand radical campaigns of privatization, deregulation, and cuts to safety nets. But in truth any shock can do the trick - including natural disasters that require large-scale reconstruction and therefore provide an opening to transfer land and resources from the vulnerable to the powerful.

The Opposite of Decency

Most people are appalled by this kind of crisis exploitation, and with good reason. The shock doctrine is the polar opposite of the way decent people, left to their own devices, tend to respond when they see widespread trauma, wihc is to offer help. Think of the staggering $3 billion privately donated in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, or the millions offered in response to the 2015 quake in Nepal or the 2004 Asian tsunami. These disasters, like so may others, provoked extraordinary gestures of generosity from individuals around the world. Thousands upon thousands of regular people donated money and volunteered their labor.
As the American historian and writer Rebecca Solnit has so eloquently described, disasters have a way of bringing out the best in us. It is in such moments that we often see some of the most moving displays of mutual aid and solidarity. In Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, despite decades of interethnic civil war, Muslims saved their Hindu neighbors and Hindus save their Buddhist neighbors. In flooded post-Katrina New Orleans, people put their own lives at great risk to rescue and care for their neighbors. After Superstorm Sandy hit New York, a remarkable network of volunteers fanned out across the city, under the banner of Occupy Sandy - it grew out of the Occupy Wall Street movement - to serve hundreds of thousands of meals, help clear out more than a thousand homes, and provide clothing, blankets, and medical care to thousands of people in need.

The shock doctrine is about overriding these deeply human impulses to help, seeking instead to capitalize on the vulnerability of others in order to maximize wealth and advantage for a select few.

There are few things more sinister than that.

- Naomi Klein
Excerpted from the chapter Masters of Disaster, 
from No Is Not Enough

Video on the Shock Doctrine:

Naomi Klein's books:

Nelson Mandela: Teach Love

No one is born hating another person because of 
the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. 
People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, 
they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally 
to the human heart than its opposite.
- Nelson Mandela

Craig Unger: Trump’s Russian Laundromat

As the full extent of Trump’s relationship with Russia during the 2016 election emerges, the August/September issue of the New Republic takes a deep look at the president’s decades-long ties to Russian mafia.

In “Trump’s Russian Laundromat,” veteran journalist Craig Unger details how the Russian mafia has used the president’s properties—including Trump Tower and the Trump Taj Majal—as a way to launder money and hide assets. “Whether Trump knew it or not,” writes Unger, “Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs used his properties not only to launder vast sums of money from extortion, drugs, gambling, and racketeering, but even as a base of operations for their criminal activities. In the process, they propped up Trump’s business and enabled him to reinvent his image. Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.”

Based entirely on the extensive public record, the piece offers the most comprehensive overview of the deep debt that the president owes the Russian mafia. “The extent of Trump’s ties to the Russian mafia—and the degree to which he relied on them for his entire business model—is striking,” says Eric Bates, editor of the New Republic. “After reading this story, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the president continues to exhibit a deep loyalty to the world of shady Russian operatives who have invested vast sums in his properties.”


 Trump's Russian Laundromat

How to use Trump Tower and other luxury high-rises to clean dirty money, run an international crime syndicate, and propel a failed real estate developer into the White House

In 1984, a Russian émigré named David Bogatin went shopping for apartments in New York City. The 38-year-old had arrived in America seven years before, with just $3 in his pocket. But for a former pilot in the Soviet Army—his specialty had been shooting down Americans over North Vietnam—he had clearly done quite well for himself. Bogatin wasn’t hunting for a place in Brighton Beach, the Brooklyn enclave known as “Little Odessa” for its large population of immigrants from the Soviet Union. Instead, he was fixated on the glitziest apartment building on Fifth Avenue, a gaudy, 58-story edifice with gold-plated fixtures and a pink-marble atrium: Trump Tower. 

A monument to celebrity and conspicuous consumption, the tower was home to the likes of Johnny Carson, Steven Spielberg, and Sophia Loren. Its brash, 38-year-old developer was something of a tabloid celebrity himself. Donald Trump was just coming into his own as a serious player in Manhattan real estate, and Trump Tower was the crown jewel of his growing empire. From the day it opened, the building was a hit—all but a few dozen of its 263 units had sold in the first few months. But Bogatin wasn’t deterred by the limited availability or the sky-high prices. The Russian plunked down $6 million to buy not one or two, but five luxury condos. The big check apparently caught the attention of the owner. According to Wayne Barrett, who investigated the deal for the Village Voice, Trump personally attended the closing, along with Bogatin.
If the transaction seemed suspicious—multiple apartments for a single buyer who appeared to have no legitimate way to put his hands on that much money—there may have been a reason. At the time, Russian mobsters were beginning to invest in high-end real estate, which offered an ideal vehicle to launder money from their criminal enterprises. “During the ’80s and ’90s, we in the U.S. government repeatedly saw a pattern by which criminals would use condos and high-rises to launder money,” says Jonathan Winer, a deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement in the Clinton administration. “It didn’t matter that you paid too much, because the real estate values would rise, and it was a way of turning dirty money into clean money. It was done very systematically, and it explained why there are so many high-rises where the units were sold but no one is living in them.” When Trump Tower was built, as David Cay Johnston reports in The Making of Donald Trump, it was only the second high-rise in New York that accepted anonymous buyers. 

In 1987, just three years after he attended the closing with Trump, Bogatin pleadedguilty to taking part in a massive gasoline-bootlegging scheme with Russian mobsters. After he fled the country, the government seized his five condos at Trump Tower, saying that he had purchased them to “launder money, to shelter and hide assets.” A Senate investigation into organized crime later revealed that Bogatin was a leading figure in the Russian mob in New York. His family ties, in fact, led straight to the top: His brother ran a $150 million stock scam with none other than Semion Mogilevich, whom the FBI considers the “boss of bosses” of the Russian mafia. At the time, Mogilevich—feared even by his fellow gangsters as “the most powerful mobster in the world”—was expanding his multibillion-dollar international criminal syndicate into America.