Topics

A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

A bang or a whimper? Either way, it ends.

A Tangled Web

Pagun

 

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) When I taught journalism at universities, I would always put All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward on the reading list. For other courses I

Redford and Hoffman in
All the President’s Men

taught in which journalism was touched upon, if not the primary focus, I would often assign the movie version of that book (Dir. Alan J. Pakula, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford) as outside viewing. The book and movie are wonderful examples of dogged investigative journalism at its best and serve as templates for how the fourth estate can act as a critical part of any democratic system of government, and be in the US at least, as important as the legislative, the judicial, and the executive, the three constitutionally mandated branches.

I have always been astonished at the complexity of the cast of characters and roles they played in the Watergate conspiracy and cover-up; even more impressive is the way Woodward and Bernstein put it all together and sorted it all out into a comprehensible narrative. When the last domino fell, even those among us who weren’t obsessive US politics junkies were able to follow the story and make sense of what happened in the most multifaceted and intricate criminal conspiracy in US political history. And without the work of a free press, dedicated journalists, and courageous publishers, the “cancer on the presidency”[i] would never have been exposed and excised.

The concern that I and many fellow journalists share is that, in today’s political zeitgeist, there is neither the will nor the skill to expose an even more serious cancer on a different presidency. The scandals that will ultimately bring President Donald Trump down are by orders of magnitude farther-reaching, more tangled, and more damaging to the country than anything Richard Nixon did or approved of. There are literally dozens of confirmed and suspected criminal acts attributable to the president and his men (and one or two women), ranging from soliciting bribes and influence peddling to espionage and treason; in between are money laundering, abuses of power, and obstruction of justice. The whole mishegas is so vast that it is unlikely that it will ever be encapsulated in a single book, movie, or impeachment hearing. When Donald Trump goes down, it will be because some investigation has focused exclusively on a single or small number of related criminal acts and decided that these would be the easiest to prove. But what won’t happen in today’s world is the daily exposure of the President’s crimes in a clearly explicated, step by methodical step exposure and explanation by the Fourth Estate.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that journalism no longer resembles the respected, admirable, nearly sacred calling it was during Watergate and its aftermath. I and every other budding journalist I know of in those days saw our profession as a vital and valued component of a democratic society. We sought out the truth; our loyalty was to facts. We saw ourselves as watchdogs who kept politics honest and protected the people from unscrupulous or corrupt leaders. But something happened; journalism became entertainment. Ratings became more important than honest, fact-based reporting. Sensationalism, not truth was what reporters tracked down. And at the same time, with the advent of Fox News, objectivity and balanced reporting began to disappear from the airwaves and never made a strong appearance on the Internet. Fox was a de facto propaganda arm of the Republican Party and showcased the rantings of assorted right wing and evangelical Christian nutjobs. Conspiracy theories proliferated on the ‘Net and with Trump, the last vestiges of old school fact-based reporting were labelled “Fake News”. All news is now suspect unless it is a partisan claim that happens to reinforce an already held belief. It is hard to imagine who could write a genuinely objective summary of the entire Trump presidency when all the dust has settled. (My money would be on Rachel Maddow and her team, but even though she is scrupulous and thorough in her reporting, she will be dismissed as partisan. She’s right, but that won’t matter in today’s world of binary politics).

The second reason is the scale of the malfeasance this time around. The Watergate dust-up seemed byzantine at the time. It all started with a bungled break-in at the Democratic Party’s national headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington. It turned out that the burglars were paid out of an illegal slush fund traced back to the Committee to Re-elect the President (identified by one of the all-time greatest acronyms: CREEP). Ultimately it turned out that the president and his closest advisors were aware of the fund and the criminal activities it financed; the trail led right to the top. But, as we all know, the cover-up is what ultimately undid President Nixon.

This time around the crimes that are being investigated are nothing like the vaguely comical bungled break-in organised by the cartoon figure, G. Gordon Liddy. Today’s crimes make Watergate look like a particularly puerile frat boy’s prank gone wrong. Here we have international espionage and treason. We actually have the certain knowledge that the president was helped along in his campaign by Russian dirty tricks. It is virtually certain that his people have coordinated with the Russians to swing the election away from his opponent. And we have a Republican Party that acknowledges all that but doesn’t believe it’s important enough to appoint a special commission, let alone a special prosecutor. Bear in mind that this is the same party that spent years and millions of dollars on an investigation, prosecution, impeachment, and failed attempt to convict a Democratic president over an illicit blowjob.

Entangled in this mess is the possibility, even the likelihood that the president is compromised because the Russians have videos of his aberrant sexual acts with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. We know for certain that his national security advisor was a Russian agent; we know for certain that the president was aware of that. We also know that his campaign manager was a foreign agent. His new Attorney General, who helped run his campaign, is in charge of the agency tasked with investigating espionage in the country. And none of this even touches on Trump’s paying off favours to industrialists by letting them mine and otherwise lay waste to national parks. Or using his office to pimp his daughter’s line of apparel. Or his family selling visas at inflated rates to Chinese businessmen.

The web is so vast and so tangled that today’s ineffective and defanged press will not hold anyone’s feet to the fire. There will continue to be hysterical shouts from clickbait producers and accusations of snowflakery in response, but this time we need to see if the system still works. Only the political system as defined by the US Constitution will be able to bring this despicable and hateful regime down and take its leaders to task. So far it has failed. If the nation’s last hope, Congress that is dominated by political hacks who always, always, put party before country, the great experiment in democracy will have failed in a spectacularly obvious way. And that is happening in front of our eyes in real time. I have very faint hope indeed that the United States of America will survive their national idiocy in having elected Donald J. Trump.

ENDITEM…

 

What if…

The World of Trump

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Despite the uproar caused by the inexplicably ham-fisted mountain-or-molehillrelease of yet another batch of innocuous Hillary Clinton emails, with less than a week until the US presidential election, the Democrats are on track to win the White House for another four years. The prospect of the needed humiliating landslide has dimmed somewhat, but a Hillary Clinton presidency is still the most likely outcome of the most bizarre and ugly political contest in American history.

Nevertheless, I have spoken to several political junkies and people on both sides of the battle for the position of most powerful person in the world, and indulged in a little trumphousefantasising and prognosticating in a masochistic attempt to imagine a world in which Donald J Trump wins the election. It doesn’t do anyone any good, but like poking with your tongue at a loose tooth, it’s hard to resist. So, to make sure that we do it right, I’ve also imagined that the Republicans also cement their domination of the House of Representatives and, what the hell, win a majority in the Senate as well. The scenario is unlikely to unfold, but, being technically possible, is scary to contemplate.

The first thing to consider is that, before the inauguration in January next year, it is virtually certain that the stock markets in the United States, and to a very slightly lesser extent the rest of the world will take a nosedive. We know this because within the last crashfew weeks, when Trump’s poll numbers rose for a few days, the markets immediately reacted by plunging by hundreds of points before recovering when Hillary Clinton climbed back up. It is a truism that markets abhor volatility; whatever policies a government supports, stability and predictability are what investors crave. Uncertainty sends them running for safe harbour; money moves from corporate stocks to perceived safety in things like gold investments. Trump has said many times that he likes to be unpredictable and to keep people in suspense.

the-1As the stock markets crash, Trump’s wealthy friends and the rest of the 1% will have protected themselves and moved their investments into insulated assets, but the rest of the country will see a recession that will make the 2008 crisis that Obama clawed the country out of look like a blip on the screen. There is every possibility that the stock market plunge will lead to a panic resulting in a depression every bit as brutal, or even worse that the crash in 1929.

With that as a backdrop, Trump will take office in January of 2017. At that point the question will be whether the new president will throw himself into the job and get down trump-cabinetto the work of governing. Or will President Trump, as many of us have speculated he might do, leave all the heavy lifting to his coterie of acolytes while he does little more than bask in the focus and attention his office guarantees? We know he has a severely limited attention span, and he certainly knows virtually nothing about policy, domestic or foreign, has no understanding of the powers of his office or the US Constitution, and is completely ignorant of economics. Perhaps it would be all for the best if he chooses to remain nothing more than a figurehead.

One thing we know for sure about Trump is that he lies with breathtaking frequency; should we expect him to keep any of the promises that fired up his followers and form the basis of his support? There is no reason we should expect Trump to follow through on any of his promises; the only thing we could count on is his mismanagement and an trumpwallair of chaos surrounding the governance of the US. Nevertheless, let us assume that either the president or his inner circle decides to fulfill his first and arguably most contentious campaign promise. He will begin to build a wall along the US/Mexican border. Congress will, of course, have to allocate billions of dollars for the project, as Mexico certainly won’t be paying for it. And with Trump’s abysmal track record of completing projects on time or on budget, that wall will be a boondoggle riddled with squandered funds, corruption in the bidding and purchasing processes, and will be a black hole into which taxpayers’ money disappears, while the farcical project just goes on and on with no end in sight.

Given Trump’s history and business practices, contractors will be lined up to file suits for non-payment, labour unrest will be a daily issue, and racial tensions, especially in blameobamaborder states, but also throughout the country, will escalate to crisis levels. While the White House will push the narrative that the broken economy, the massive unemployment, and the racial and class conflict are all the fault of the previous administration, the alt right and white supremacists will be emboldened and become a visible and violent part of the political scene.

We will almost certainly see instance after instance of the deployment of militarised police forces and the mobilising of the federal National Guard to quell civil unrest; theadam12 White House will show the country just what Donald Trump meant by his promises to “get tough”. The military itself will be in disarray as the natural result of ethical general officers resigning their commissions rather than having to obey unlawful orders from their commander in chief. Torture will be re-introduced, and it will be employed on those who object to the actions of the executive branch, in the interests of “national security”. The president will subscribe fully to Nixon’s delusion that “if the president does it, it’s legal”. With no coherent domestic policy, civil unrest, in disparate pockets and population centres throughout the country, will be rampant and increasingly violent as demonstrations will be crushed with increasingly harsh methods.

There will arise a movement in opposition to the excesses of Trump’s military and quasi-military assets in unconstitutional ways for unconstitutional ends. This will put the country into a state of perpetual military readiness to defend against its own citizens. With a cooperative Congress, Trump will immediately fill the current Supreme Court partisansupreme_500vacancy with a reliably compliant Justice. But even scarier is the thought that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now 83 years-old, Justice Arthur Kennedy is 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 78; any or all of them could retire at pretty much any time, allowing for the SCOTUS to be packed with Trump selections, skewing the highest court toward fascism for decades.

In this atmosphere, initiatives like creating a “deportation force” to round up millions of undocumented immigrants; placing a “temporary but total and complete ban” on any Muslim from entering the country; legislating “some kind of punishment’ for women civil-rights-suspendedwho undergo abortions; “tightening” control of the media, especially the press; and restricting freedom of expression by “opening” legislation regarding libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits are all distinct possibilities. None of those are far-fetched or paranoid fantasies; each of those initiatives has been promised by the Republican candidate, and each enjoys broad support among Republican voters.

From there it isn’t any kind of leap of the imagination to take Trump at his word and expect him to use – or abuse – his authority to “lock her up”; to put his rival candidate in prison, despite her having been cleared of any criminality in every one of the countless investigations to which the Republicans have subjected Hillary Clinton. That specific initiative doesn’t just have the support of Donald Trump’s base; it is one of their primary rallying points. Trump’s supporters will not just approve of incarcerating Clinton; they will demand it.

This deeply disturbing exercise could be extended to imagine the next generation and more if Trump were to succeed in his bid for the White House, we could continue to envision the dystopia that those who claim to want to “shake things up” would wreak upon the US and the world. But let’s just stop here and look at the United States as we have imagined it would be in the short to medium term after a Trump win in November.

police-stateA country in financial crisis, riddled with civil unrest; race riots being quelled by increasingly militaristic domestic police; civil rights suspended; executive power maximised and centralised without congressional or Supreme Court restraint; political opponents jailed without due process; habeas corpus suspended or not applicable to certain religious groups. This is a picture of the world’s largest banana republic. This is a vision of the end of the United States as we know it. This may well be what the US looks like just before its balkanisation as one state – or group of states – after another simply opts out of the union and refuses to accept the legitimacy of federal authority.

Can’t happen in the US? Of course it can. It has happened throughout history to empires and regimes that had been around a lot longer than the US has. It is currently the state of affairs in Putin’s Russia, and there are plenty of tin-pot populist wannabes in countries all over the world just waiting in the wings with ambitions and egos similar to Trump’s. A Trump presidency must be guarded against; it must not happen. If it should come to pass, all bets are off. Except this: The United States will not be a place rational and moral people would want to be.

ENDITEM…

 

Just Ahead: The Final Curtain

Endgame

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) With less than two weeks left of the ugliest presidential campaign in living memory, it is now evident, to all but the hardest of the hardcore bubbleheadconspiracy theorists and the most willfully bubble-dwelling Trump supporters, that Donald Trump, the candidate that never should have been, will lose decisively at the polls on November 8, 2016.

If there remains anyone in the Trump camp with a modicum of rationality, they will know that, because of the campaign they have run, even more damaging WikiLeaks revelations are unlikely to reverse the trend of voters gravitating toward Hillary Clinton and at long last rejecting Trump. As President Obama tours the country campaigning for his successor and scoring points off those opponents who made his term of office a hellish experience, with their obstructionism and thinly disguised racially motivated legislative sabotage, Republicans are distancing themselves from their nominee with allrat-with-life-preserver the subtlety of rats strapping on life jackets. In a little more than a week, down-ticket Republicans are going to have to answer for their contributions to the most useless and blindly partisan Congresses in American history. Some will lose their seats as a direct result of their bitter and persistent attacks on a president destined to go down in history as one of the greats.

There is now no realistic chance of the tide receding again and returning to sweep the Republican nominee into the White House; and that is largely because of the gamble that Trump took. He gambled from the beginning that he could run a completely negative campaign and bully his way to the finish line, picking up enough support along the way to pull off an upset. Insofar as he had any actual strategy, it was one of scorched earth; attack, attack, attack. However, Trump and his inner circle confused strategy with

Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump holds a plane-side rally at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna, Ohio, Monday, March 14, 2016.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

tactics. Looking back over the campaign, each time his senior campaign officials were replaced, that absence of coherent strategy was evident in that nothing of substance changed in any significant way. There were moments, even days, when Trump was reined in; during those brief periods, Trump stayed on script, used a teleprompter, didn’t light up the Twittersphere with midnight storms of 140 or fewer characters, and enjoyed a few moments of being taken seriously by the country. But he was never able to maintain that façade of adult-level seriousness. Abandoning anything resembling a strategy, he resorted to tactics.

Trump was a media whore for his entire adult life. He cultivated a public persona and revelled in the attention he managed to generate by his unceasing pandering to the media. Early on, he recognised that he could stay in the public eye by outrageous tacky-trumpbehaviour; he was a natural for Howard Stern’s shock radio show, and he and Stern fed off each other. He was a natural at reality TV as well, his bad boy billionaire character, and his gaudy life of breathtakingly tacky, tasteless, excess brought in viewers who are impressed by such things. But what he discovered when, after years of threatening to do so, he decided to dip his toe into the waters of national politics, was that his previous experience of media attention was only a gateway drug. As the primaries wore on and he rose from being a joke candidate to winning the Republican nomination, he experienced the real thing; he had been given a taste of the hard stuff and he couldn’t get enough.

And like every other pathologically addictive personality, he needed more and more to achieve the same high. There are some junkies who can get a regular dose of their drug heroin-2and just float along on a quotidian buzz, never quite coming down, and never needing more than that. There are others, and Trump is among them, who never seem to get quite high enough; they push the envelope by demanding higher and higher doses, more and more frequently. They flirt with overdose every time they use. Those junkies are the crash and burn types; they don’t survive very long at that level of neediness, and, one day, they inevitably go too far.

It’s not entirely clear whether there is such a thing as a death from overdose when the addiction is to public adulation. But what is clear is that, at some point, the supply dries up. The very people who once provided the fix, become the ones who turn on their former idol and reject the market’s oversaturation. What was once brash and refreshing, trump-the-carnival-barkerbecomes obnoxious and crude. After enough exposure to the spotlights, the manufactured public persona becomes seen for what it is: a tawdry and cheesy patina; a threadbare and tacky suit, covering up a phony with all the depth and sincerity of an aged and hungover carnival barker.

At this point, Trump is still in desperate need of an ever-larger fix. He will, until the election, continue to hold rallies while eschewing any other kind of campaigning; rallies give him the kick, being packed to the rafters with the remaining cretins who still look to him for validation of their prejudices, fears, and suspicions of conspiracies. But even Trump knows that the party’s over when he loses the election. He will never again, as a laughably inept and failed candidate, garner the attention and free media he thrived on during the last fifteen or so months. But, being allergic to being exposed as a failure, not wanting to be seen as his favourite epithet, “a loser”, he has victimbeen preparing the groundwork for his sound defeat on the 8th of November. He is increasing his outrage factor by assuring the country and the world that the election is rigged, that the fix is in.

He is trying, at one and the same time, to persuade his followers to get out and vote for him, and to tell them that their votes will be stolen; that the election is a fraud and that they should participate as though it isn’t. In his increasingly deranged carnival barker’s patter, he makes it clear that the only way to know that the elections are fair and democratic, would be to see him elected. If he loses, as he most assuredly will, that will constitute proof that there exists a conspiracy against him.

Trump is gambling at this point that he can raise so much distrust and suspicion of the electoral process that his supporters will reject the election’s outcome. He is counting on post election chaos and turmoil; if he succeeds in instigating widespread upheaval and violence, he believes that he will still be relevant. What he sees his role to be in such aendgame scenario isn’t clear. It isn’t clear to us and it is almost certainly not clear to him. Remember, he has no strategy; he has tactics. All he knows is that if the country is rocked by a large enough and violent enough group of people that buy his snake oil, he will still be the centre of attention; and that’s the fix he needs.

What comes next? To Trump, it’s irrelevant, as long as people continue to pay attention to him. For the rest of the world, it’s hard to say. But predictions vary from simply a period of violence and acrimony that will ultimately die down before things return to normal, to the prediction of the end of that great experiment in democracy that is the United States of America.

ENDITEM…

Democracy? What Democracy?

Democracy in America 2016

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND) The Washington Post recently published an article describing the results of a study that seem to show that Americans’ confidence in their government is at its lowest ebb since the Civil War. Perhaps even more significantly, confidence in the very idea of democracy has waned to the point that a majority now distrust democracy as a governance paradigm. And, perhaps not surprisingly, this distrust is manifested most strongly in young adults. As many as half of millennials claim that they accept-resultswill not accept the legitimacy of the elections or the new president if their candidate loses. That refusal to acknowledge the results of next month’s election is expressed in a majority of Trump’s supporters and a significant minority of Clinton’s.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to point out that for a democracy to function at all, the people must be prepared to accept the wishes of the majority and respect the democratic mechanisms in place to determine the will of the people. Without that social contract, no form of democratic governance – government by the people – is even possible. For it to work, a democratic system must be supported by all the people, not just those whose candidate prevails.

It is for that reason that one is hard pressed to disagree with the cynicism of those who no longer have confidence in the democracy of the United States of America. At the very outset of the Obama presidency, the Republican Party, unable to accept Barack Obama as their president, made it a policy to disrupt, to block, to hamstring his every effort to govern. One of the two major parties in an essentially blame-obamatwo-party system refused to accept the legitimacy of a democratically elected black president. Democracy American style began its death spiral on inauguration day 2008, when GOP leaders met and formulated their policy of refusing to cooperate with a White House occupied by a black man. The first concerted effort to reject democracy as the paradigm of US governance was made by the party of Lincoln.

Donald Trump is the logical outgrowth of the Republican’s policy of ending democracy in America. He was created by the GOP and every one of his outrages was perfectly predictable, given the direction in which the party was heading. He is an unabashed racist; perfectly in line with the Republicans’ disdain for African Americans and other minorities. He is a misogynist; appropriate for the party that wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and return women to the kitchens. He is a climate change denier; right in line with the party that’s bought and paid for by big oil. But mostly he is a fascist, with dreams of ruling the people he despises; a perfect nominee for a party that rejects democracy.

As the campaign lurches into its final days, the toxic shitshow of which Trump is the ringmaster reaches a new low point virtually every day. But since the Republican nominee has exhausted the supply of ethnic groups to trumpolinimalign and has already alienated pretty much every demographic except poorly educated white males, he has now decided to dispense with any pretensions of being anything but an authoritarian with a vision of America that can’t be honestly described as anything but fascist.

In what democracy on earth does a candidate vow to imprison his opponent if he wins? The most accurate answer to the question is that it doesn’t occur in a democracy; it happens in the United States of America. The United States of America hasn’t been a true democracy for some time. In a democracy, there would have been no President George W. Bush to lie, knowingly and deliberately, to the country in order to start a war to enrich himself, his cronies, and his ego. There would have been no President George W. Bush because the candidate elected by the people, Al Gore, would have been inaugurated instead. In fact, in any country other than the US, George W Bush’s assumption of the presidency would have been recognised for what it was, and described as such: a coup d’etat.

But the Republican mission to bring an end to democracy in the US should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention; that intention has been out in the open for decades. When Ronald Reagan, at every opportunity from the Johnny Carson Show to the State of the Union Address, reagan-idiotasserted that people shouldn’t look to the government for solutions to their problems; that government was the problem, nobody believed he meant that literally. After all, he lived in government housing, and deposited his government cheque, and flew on government transportation, in the company of dozens of others who all did the same. In truth, he didn’t mean that the notion of government is wrong per se. He meant that democratic government was wrong; he clearly believed that leaders like himself and his select subordinates and their families should continue to draw their incomes from public coffers but the people who fill those coffers should not have access to them. The people should be self reliant and fend for themselves; anything else was immoral. He wasn’t a small ‘D’ democrat; he was a plutocrat. The United States is a plutocracy now, and this election is offering the people an opportunity to become a purely fascist plutocracy.

The Republicans have all along supported the plutocracy and in this election cycle they are simply asking for the final seal of approval in an effort to remove the necessity of pretending it is anything else. Remember Grover Norquist vowing to shrink government down to a size where it could be drowned in a bathtub? He didn’t mean all government. He meant those parts of the government that are involved in corporatewelfarevssocialwelfareproviding social services and programmes for those in need. He meant those aspects of government that could be considered democratic. He had no problem with the government stepping in to control women’s bodies, or providing billions of dollars annually to corporate interests. Democracy, not government was the problem. Note the gerrymandering that ensured a Republican House for the foreseeable future; note the Republican organised efforts at voter suppression; they weren’t even pretending to want a democracy. Putting a fascist in the White House, particularly an inept, not terribly bright, and easily manipulated fascist, wofree-pressuld ensure the long term survival of the plutocracy.

Donald Trump suits the needs of the entrenched powers. They know that he’s lazy, ignorant, and far more interested in the trappings of power than actually administrating the affairs of state. As long as he gets to attend rallies and hear his name chanted, others will be able to maintain and ensure the survival of the plutocracy. With him in the White House, the limitations on the rights and freedoms of the people will be easy to manage. Trump has free-speechalready promised to impose stricter limits on the free press. He has already promised to impose stricter limits on free speech. He built his campaign on promises to take actions that are not permitted under the constitution as it currently exists. His handlers will have no problem imposing fascism under a Trump presidency.

The only real problem facing the Republicans at the moment is the establishment of a true hierarchy of hidden power. In their view, Trump will be the figurehead national leader while his strings are pulled by the true wielders of power; but who will that be? The party is falling apart because of utter internal chaos and an apparent inability to organise anything more complicated than a month or two vacation for themselves.

But should the Koch Brothers finally get fed up with all the clowning around in the GOP, for-sale-your-soulthey’ll just put their financial foot down and read them the riot act. They’ll tell them what to do and the soulless legislators they own will snap to attention and do as they’re told. The plutocracy will prevail. It won’t hit the tipping point this time, because Trump is going to get his ass handed to him in November. But Hillary as president won’t change much, and the Republicans will have four, or possibly eight years to regroup. And then, unless there is some cataclysmic change, or a revolution in the thinking of the people of the US, the plutocracy will once again flirt with fascism.

ENDITEM…

What If…

 

The Stuff That Nightmares Are Made On

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA) In my last column I proposed an answer to the question of what exactly is motivating Donald Trump to run for the presidency of the United States. I deliberately left out one of the possible answers to that question because it is not at all impossible that it is the correct one, and if it is, the repercussions would be almost unthinkable.

As Trump himself might put it, “Lots of people are saying…” that Trump is, quite simply, an old school fascist with ambitions to place himself at the head of the most powerful country in human history and rule it and, by extension, the world with an iron hand. The notion isn’t as far fetched as one might hope. His campaign so far appears to have been modeled (at least insofar as it has had any conscious planning) on the paths of the 20th Centuries two best known populist fascist demagogues. Both Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini appealed to the fears and hatreds of their electorates. The were rabid populists who identified other, inferior races as both the cause of their countries’ problems and as the biggest threat to the nation. They painted dismal pictures of the conditions of their countries and offered themselves as the only solution to those problems.

They were both strongmen who were quite prepared to whip their followers into a frenzy and then turn them loose to do violence to their opponents and to the minorities they had designated as scapegoats. They both demanded loyalty and basked in the adulation of the massed crowds. They both were clinical narcissists and were convinced that they were superior to ordinary people and were destined for historical greatness. They both managed to parlay their fanatical minority support into political power and then took control of their governments and systematically eliminated any opposition until they were the unquestioned seat of all political power; they made themselves dictators.

Adolph on lies

Sounds very familiar

Significantly, from the perspective of decades later and a better understanding of the mechanics of the usurpation of political power, when we watch old newsreel films of the two fascist dictators, they are comical in a morbid kind of way. Hitler, foaming at the mouth and contorting his face and body in passionate paroxysms while in full rhetorical flight would be laugh-out-loud hilarious if we didn’t know what followed from those hate rallies. Mussolini, in his comic opera persona Il Duce, lapped up the cheers and chanting of the crowds below while he puffed out his chest and preened and postured. If we weren’t Benito_Mussolini_in_Yugoslavia_croppedfamiliar with mid 20th Century history, he too would be a source of mirth. Charlie Chaplin satirised both demagogues in his brilliant and hilarious The Great Dictator. So transparently buffoonish were those two populist fascist leaders that a good many reasonable people couldn’t really take them seriously at first; when they realised that they had succeeded in their power grabs, it was too late.

Trump is clearly cut from the same cloth. He talks the same law and order game; he paints a false but horrifying picture of the nation’s condition; he tells his loser followers that they are not to blame for their failure to thrive; he points to “others” as the real cause of the problems he exaggerates; he offers himself as the only solution to the problems he inflates; he encourages his followers to commit violent acts against anyone who doesn’t chant his name with sufficient fervour. He doesn’t offer policy specifics. He simply persuades his followers that what is needed is his strong hand on the tiller of the ship of state, and someone like him with the courage to face up to reality and eschew the lily-livered weak kneed, politically correct failures who have reduced the nation to its current deplorable state. He is every bit as narcissistic as the Fuhrer and Il Duce and, like them, his favoured interaction with the people is at extravagantly organised and choreographed rallies where he can bask in the worship of the faithful.the-great-dictator-1940-wallpapers-9

But Donald Trump is not a carbon copy of the two European fascists. He differs in a way that might be very significant. He is lazy and he is not very smart.

He is virtually a savant when it comes to media manipulation. In fact, that may well be his only real talent. He has been demonstrated to be a particularly lousy business man; his multiple bankruptcies and the level of debt that he has been shown to be carrying all testify to that. His ignorance of anything donald-trump-face-outside of his short-fingered immediate reach, from history and geography to economics and constitutional law is breathtaking. His refusal to bone up on subjects that are indispensable to a head of state is a clear testament to his laziness. In fact, it has been widely reported that, while he was desperately searching for a politician willing to tank his own career by accepting the vice-presidential nod, he tried to sell some prospects on the job by promising them complete control over domestic and foreign affairs, leaving him to be a figurehead doing little more than taking credit for successes and addressing the rallies that he thrives on.

Whether that was the deal he cut with his VP ticket partner, Mike Spence, isn’t clear, but it does seem likely. And that’s why Trump as a strong man leader with anything approaching a mandate in November would be such a nightmare. Trump, for all his bluster, is a weak man. He is a bully and his wealth has always insulated him from any consequences; but his inability to absorb criticism, his instinct to lash out at any perceived slight, and his tissue paper thin skin demonstrate his fundamental fragility. As long as his ego is fed, he would be easily manipulated by someone stronger, smarter, and willing to work behind the scenes. Dick Cheney’s control of American domestic and foreign policy while George Dubya vacationed at his ranch for over 850 days of his presidency demonstrates that such an arrangement wouldn’t even be unique in presidential history.

But where it gets really frightening is not the concern that Mike Spence would really be running the show during a Trump presidency. Spence is a far right conservative who ticks all the boxes: anti LGBTQ; pro-life; trickle down believer; climate change denier; etc. etc. If given any genuine power, his impact could set the United States back decades and his Supreme Court nominations would be hair-raising. Nevertheless, the real fear of some eminence grise employing Machiavellian tactics behind the scenes of a Trump regime has more to do with Vladimir Putin and the crush that Trump has on him.

bromance-between-trump-and-putin

Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his admiration for Putin and has regularly expressed a desire to get closer to the Russian dictator. Given Trump’s aversion to doing the actual work of governing, given his intellectual vacuity, and given his vulnerability to ego-stroking, he would be an absolutely perfect candidate for manipulation by the right person. And that person, were Trump to be elected, could very well be Vladimir Putin.

We are very fortunate that, as things stand, Trump is unlikely as hell to be elected. The foregoing doomsday scenario has very little chance of playing out. But think about it. If anybody thinks that not voting for Hillary Clinton is a good idea, consider the possibility. Then try to sleep at night.

ENDITEM…

Coming back:

Just a brief note to any readers I might have left…..I have made what looks like a complete recovery from the cancer I’ve been fighting for some time now.

Over the next few days I will start posting again and try to revive this website; I look forward to my ongoing dialogue with my critics as well as my supporters. More soon……..

The Religion of the Right

Doin’ The Washington Rag

Pagun

 

First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Do whatever steps you want, if
You have cleared them with the pontiff.
Everybody say his own
Kyrie eleison,
Doin’ the vatican rag.

The Vatican Rag (Tom Lehrer)

 

 

MANADO, INDONESIA – One of the things that baffle more progressive people is the tenaciousness with which conservatives hold to the pure, uncompromising dogma of the modern right. The absolute intransigence with which today’s hard right wingers cling to their unsullied and undiluted principles is religious in its fervour, and their contempt for heretics is similarly devout. On the other hand – by and large – liberals consider the person, the situation, and even the politics with more attention to nuance and less unthinking devotion to a doctrine.

 

This can be seen in the indisputable fact that a large voter turnout today invariably means a higher percentage of votes for the Republican candidate. That is indicative of the tendency of the right to produce “true believers” rather than thoughtful voters who actually consider the issues. Going out and voting – Republican, of course – is an act of piety and virtue; it is more like going to Sunday church service than casting a ballot. Like any act of devotion, voting the party line and candidate doesn’t require thought, analysis, or consideration of alternatives; in fact; thinking of that sort is actively discouraged.  It is critical to the right to defeat the left. Not to enact their policies – they have none that are coherent or consensus-supported – but to ensure that the left doesn’t have an opportunity to enact theirs. The only true consensus on the part of the modern right in the US is to thrust a stick in the spokes of anything whatsoever that president Barack Obama supports, advocates, or might be inclined to favour. But that consensus is absolute.

 

Here in Canada, we have the spectacle of the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford undergoing a complete and public meltdown. Frequently publicly drunk and abusive, caught on tape Rob Fordsmoking crack, and again in a drunken rant against the media, gays, and ethnic minorities, calling the media jackals and maggots while vociferously denying allegations of drug and alcohol abuse that have since been proven, the morbidly obese fiscal and social conservative refuses to step down.

 

So outrageous has his behaviour become that he is regularly reported on American national network and cable news. Nevertheless his base continues to support him and insist that he is the victim of a “liberal media witch hunt”, despite his well-documented acknowledgement that yes, he did smoke crack, but it was apparently excusable since he was “in one of my drunken stupors” at the time. But, the true believers continue to insist that, as he has never betrayed his conservative rhetoric, he is the most appropriate person to be the mayor of the fourth largest city in North America.

 

In a somewhat less grotesque way, Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister, continues to command the fealty of the right wing. He ran on a platform that appealed to conservatives by promising fiscal responsibility, and yet in his tenure he managed to turn a budget surplus into the largest debt and deficit in Canadian history, and he accomplished that while simultaneously gutting social benefits, services, and programs, as well as emasculating our once enviable national health care system. He promised smaller government, another conservative touchstone, but delivered the biggest government bureaucracy the country has ever seen. He promised to reform parliament and never to appoint an unelected senator, yet he appointed a gang of his unelected cronies to the upper house, three of whom are suspended and under investigation for fraud, embezzlement, and abuse of office. He promised more open and accountable government but the current Canadian government is more insular, closed off and harder to question than ever before.

-

How much do I care about good governance?

But are the conservatives of Canada all bent out of shape? Of course not. As long as he keeps repeating the conservative mantras – get tough on crime, screw environmental concerns and build pipelines, create more impediments to immigration, etc. – he is the golden boy of the right. One has to wonder just what it would take for the right wing to reject one of their own.

 

But the answer to that question can easily be found by looking to the United States. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has just been re-elected with a resounding mandate. Nevertheless he is on the fringes of the federal Republican Party and not trusted by their base. Why? It make no sense on paper; he is against gay marriage, having vetoed marriage equality bills; he is against big government; he is against abortion, affirmative action, controls on banks and big business. What on earth can make people refer to this arch conservative with the worst epithet in the right’s vocabulary – “a moderate”?

chris-christie-and-obama

He blotted his copybook, you see. He committed the cardinal sin of acknowledging and expressing appreciation for President Obama’s aid and efforts on behalf of New Jersey residents in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. That’s it. On every single issue to which the right cleaves, he is utterly orthodox, except for that one little niggling fact. He was honest. He didn’t find fault with the President when he did the right thing.

 

So, we on the left of centre (that’s pretty much anyone to the left of Mussolini, these days, so far to the right has the centre shifted) are all acting baffled and bewildered by the right’s refusal to look at their candidates and incumbents for effective governance. And yet the answer to this enigma is, I’m afraid, staring us in the face. And they have told us many, many times.

 

They don’t want government to work.

 

It’s that simple. Their religion’s very foundation rests upon the belief that government is evil and must be dispensed with. Or as the darling of the right, Grover Norquist, so eloquently expressed it, “I just want to shrink it down to the size where I can drown it in the bathtub”. Once one can wrap one’s head around the idea of politicians, elected leaders who believe that any government is inherently bad, there is nothing confusing about the right’s myopia regarding their leaders. They don’t care if they can’t govern. In fact they prefer it that way, because it serves to support their doctrine and its article of faith that government doesn’t and can’t work.

 

All they want government for is to enforce their confused morality on the rest of us and to get the hell out of the way; for them the Wild West is Utopia, and a society of laws, of tolerance, of compassion for its weak and free of random violence is a dystopia that can never be allowed to exist.

 

So when we shake our heads in perplexity at how the right can continue to support ideas of governance that are demonstrable failures, or people who are clearly incapable of governing, we should stop and think for a moment. They support them because it reinforces their religious belief: government doesn’t work.

 

And they will work tirelessly to make sure that their doctrine is proven, and ultimately accepted by all. Or they will impose it on us.

good people doing evil

…enditem…

 

Fun on the wet coast

Once more into the breach…
Patrick Guntensperger

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve fairly recently returned to Canada from Southeast Asia, where I lived in Indonesia for the best part of a decade.  There I worked as a writer, specialising in social and political commentary and analysis, as well as a university teacher of writing, journalism, communications, and related subjects.
For some fairly serious personal reasons, with which regular readers will again be familiar, it has taken me some time to become immersed once more in the world of politics. Canadian political observation and analysis is, at first glance, a whole different experience from doing similar work in Indonesia.
Initially, the political scene in Canada seems bland by comparison to the fiery, volatile world of Indonesian politics: no murder trials and allegations of frame-ups of leading corruption investigators, no obvious vote rigging in national elections, no war criminals vying for the hearts and minds of the people, no ex-dictator’s sons being sentenced to a four-year golfing holiday for the contract murder of a supreme court judge, and having their sentence reduced by the sitting head of government; hell, in most jurisdictions we have fewer than five serious political parties among which to choose, not hundreds.
Nevertheless one soon comes to realise that Canadian politics – even British Columbian provincial politics – has a great deal of intrigue, lying, corruption, subversion of the democratic process, colourful scandals; in short, everything that makes a political analyst sit down at the keyboard and click on the thesaurus function when running out of synonyms for “outrageous”. So as I get more deeply immersed in the daily news and have a little more time to research the local political history of the years I spent abroad, my old familiar hobbyhorses begin to make their appearances and I start to reach for my saddle in preparation of climbing aboard to ride them again.
This blog has a new label: “BC Politics” and it will soon be joined by “Canadian Politics”.
Among the more interesting ongoing stories in BC politics is the current (Liberal) government’s introduction of the controversial and roundly despised Harmonised Sales Tax (HST). The tax is intended to combine the long-despised 7% national Goods and Services Tax (GST) with the 5% BC Provincial Sales Tax. Seems like a good idea, right? Couple of problems, though. In the first place the current Liberals won the last provincial election on a campaign that featured the clear position of being against the HST; they began work on imposing it on the province within moments of being sworn in.
The main objection to the HST however, is that somehow in the transition to the new tax, a great number of hard-won and precious former provincial tax exemptions will now become taxable. The Liberals have been recalcitrant about telling the people what will now be taxable among our former exemptions and have recently released a partial list of items formerly tax-free but now to be subject to the HST. The list includes children’s clothing, over the counter medicine, business travel, home repair services, books and subscriptions, and a host of products and services that previous governments, even previous Liberal ones, have struggled mightily to keep exempt for the people of the province.
The three last Solicitors General of the province under the Liberals have had to resign because they were being investigated by the RCMP, for things ranging from flagrant abuse of their driving records to campaign irregularities and conflict of interest. Currently two senior political aides are on trial for abuse of power and accepting bribes in a multimillion dollar sale of a railway. A sale, incidentally that was engaged upon immediately after Liberal leader Gordon Campbell was elected Premier on an earlier go-around, during which he had clearly promised as part of his election campaign not to carry out.
Meanwhile a lawsuit by a special investigator appointed to oversee the welfare of children at risk in the province has recently seen the judge determine that the current government broke the law when the cabinet refused to allow her access to pertinent documents citing “cabinet confidentiality”,  the very stumbling block her function was created to avoid. Adding insult to injury, the Campbell government then proposed sweeping legislation retroactively restricting her access to documents she requires to carry out the audits and investigations that are her raison d’etre.
Campbell himself is often unavailable for comment, seeming to be fond of “fact finding” lengthy European trips and foreign personal vacations. And, of course, relatively early in his mandate, Campbell himself was arrested and convicted on one of those Hawaiian vacations for drunken driving.               
No, there is no dearth of political scandal and misbehaviour in British Columbia.

At the moment, so incensed is the public that in a matter of days, a petition urging the scrapping of the HST is likely to teach and exceed the threshold required by law for the petition to have legal validity. The legislation to permit the legal status of such a petition was introduced in the cynical knowledge that the threshold was so onerous that it would be virtually impossible to reach: it must be signed by 10% of the registered voters of every constituency in the province. The petition is expected to achieve 15%;. That is more than the voter turnout at some general elections in some of those ridings.
There will therefore be more commentary and analysis on politics. In My View will continue to look at the foibles of our leaders and our society as time goes on. Please keep checking in regularly just to keep in touch, and please don’t hesitate to comment!
It’s good to be back!
…enditem…

Burn them! Burn the witches!

For evil to prevail
Patrick Guntensperger
In 1487, Malleus Maleficarum  (The Witch’s Hammer) was published. Written by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, It was a treatise on the church-approved justifications for the persecution of those believed to be witches and a detailed manual on the manner of 
investigation and extraction of confessions of those so accused. It was, among other things, including a misogynistic piece of illogic, a handbook for use by the torturers of the Holy Inquisition. Under its direction and auspices, literally hundreds of thousands of innocent people were accused, tortured, and put to death. To be accused was a virtual guarantee of conviction.
In 1925, Volume I of Mein Kampf (My Struggle) was published. While imprisoned in relative luxury, for having organised a failed coup, with a prison governor who respected, almost worshipped him, Adolph Hitler wrote a book that was part biographical and part an explication of his “political ideology”. In it he fleshed out his idea oMein Kampff the “Jewish peril”, a paranoid claim of a conspiracy by international Jewry to take over the world. Within 20 years millions of innocent people had been killed, in combat, as collateral damage, and targeted civilians in a war he started with the book as his blueprint and justification, and as part of a deliberate policy of genocide by Hitler’s followers.
In 1988, The courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Suffers of Child Sexual Abuse was published, written by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. This most recent of the three books cited is imbued with as much bigotry, narrow-mindedness, illogic, unfounded assertions, and hatred as the first two. Like the others, The Courage to Heal (TCH) is deliberately written to manipulate, to justify evil, and to cause widespread pain. The tomes are all written with lies stated as truth, fabrication and fantasy presented as established fact, non-existent science expressed falsely, and each has caused countless innocent people untold agony. Not surprisingly, the authors of TCH have cashed in on their vicious, hate-filled screed with subsequent editions and speaking tours in which they repeat the vile lies upon which their original book was based, but which have been theCouragetoHealdemonstrated to be patently false and utterly rejected by every single legitimate practitioner of psychology or psychiatry.
Neither of the authors had any training, or any formal education, credentials, much less a degree, advanced or otherwise, in any subject related to their “guide”. Ellen Bass is a third rate poet and teacher of the same and a self-described feminist activist, while Ms. Davis claims to be an incest survivor. Beyond that, they bring absolutely nothing to the table except their personal vitriolic hatred and their apparent desire to destroy lives.
The main thrust of their theory seems to be that if anyone has ever entertained the idea that they may have been abused in their childhood – they have been. (I guess that includes everyone who reads this article, since you’ve no doubt just considered the idea. Don’t think of a purple elephant! Gotcha! You just did, so it must be real.)
No, if you’ve ever considered even for a moment that possibility, and if you display any of the symptoms that everyone displays at some time (shyness, occasional blues, mood swings, anxiety, etc.) you have almost certainly (if you’re a woman, ignore the “almost”) been sexually abused and have simply repressed the memory as a defense mechanism to shield yourself from reliving the trauma.
The “guide”s” recommended therapy involves exploring those events with a “therapist’s” mentoring and encouragement. Eventually those memories will come to the surface and can be relived in a “catharsis”.  Then the book’s title kicks in. The “courage” required is to confront the imagined assailants – usually by telephone or in writing – with the accusations. Remember that if they deny those fantasies, that is proof that they are real! Denial is confirmation of the accusations, since accusation itself is proof of guilt. Moreover, the newly minted victims are encouraged to pursue their claims through legal remedies; lawsuits and criminal charges have been filed against perfectly decent and utterly innocent people. Although the majority of these cases don’t even pass the laugh test, lives are destroyed. One victim of a baseless accusation said, “I’d rather be convicted of murder, than merely accused, even if exonerated, of child abuse!”
The syndrome (False Memory Syndrome or FMS) in which false memories are created and described as “recovered” memories is now a well-established psychiatric disorder. Reputable psychotherapists have pointed out that common sense and a slight inclination to do any genuine research is sufficient to identify the prevalence and majority of so-called “recovered memories” as spurious. One need only talk to those with genuinely traumatic experiences in their childhoods; hostages of criminals or terrorists,  Holocaust survivors, kidnap victims, tsunami or other natural disaster survivors, tortured child prisoners of insurrection or war – and you’ll see that repressing horrible memories is far from the routine way of dealing with childhood trauma.
Talk to any Holocaust survivors you can find, and none of them, not one, will have buried the past, forgotten it completely, and had it “recovered” through therapy sought because of other symptoms. On the contrary…they will have etched the details of the trauma in their memories and will think about it consciously all the time. Should they require therapy for symptoms of anxiety and sleep disorders, reliving the trauma again and again would be the last thing a competent therapist would subject them to. What then of a “therapist” who would instil, encourage and guide the confabulation of false memories and then cause their patients to dwell on them in (false) detail?
While most, although not all, legitimate mental health experts will acknowledge the existence of traumatic amnesia, outside of drug or alcohol abuse or physical trauma to the brain, selective repression of memories is exceedingly rare. The suggestion that most, or even many, of us manage to forget unpleasant times of our lives simply has no empirical basis. In fact, genuine research suggests that the more unpleasant or traumatic an occurrence, the more likely one is to remember it.
According to at least one study, at the height of the book’s popularity, between 30 and 50 percent of childhood abuse reports have been made by women who have read TCH. That is not 30 to 50 percent of those who claim recovered memories (that number is much closer to  100%); that is 30 to 40 percent of reported cases of reported abuse by the purported victim. This is not to say that child abuse by parents and guardians has never occurred; to the contrary. It most certainly has, and it is quite simply one of the most offensive behaviours of which a human being is capable. And that it one of the reasons this book and its authors are so vile.
Beyond the heartrending damage that is done to a family and to the reputations, friendships, and lives (some have even been falsely imprisoned as child molesters) of those falsely accused under the auspices of the quacks who flog this book, there is an even more pernicious danger to children and genuine victims of abuse. Child abuse, abhorred and reviled by every civilized person must be investigated with great care. However, if TCH is anywhere in the picture, the accusation my well be dismissed as confabulation. Genuine cases of child abuse may not be prosecuted because of the backlash against the irresponsible witch hunt instigated and inspired by this piece of garbage.
THC, like the other hateful books cited at the top of this article is written by hate mongering, disturbed, and malicious individuals writing about that of which they know nothing, but nevertheless pose as experts.
In that I am passionately opposed to the banning or burning of books on principle, I have to support those women’s right to publish their tripe, despite the damage they cause. But I encourage anyone who runs into someone who has read the book or, worse yet, has experience with one who claims “recovered memory”, to look up the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF)’s website or publications. The case studies are stomach turning. Unlike TCH, the damage recounted by the real victims is real, and there is no way to heal, while the authors continue to spread their poison.

…enditem…

The last post

Moving on
Patrick Guntensperger
  
I have just spoken to my lawyer and he has recommended that I post no more news about my parents or their condition; he sees a risk in allowing the two women in question to know anything about them.

From here on, I will give no more information about either of them in any public forum, lest “the monsters” use that information to pursue their own agendas.

I will, however, continue to write about False Memory Syndrome, The Courage to Heal, and related matters.

My thanks for all the letters of support from the public.

Pagun

css.php