Archive for January, 2018

Better Watch Out – My Review

Posted: January 18, 2018 in Joe Giambrone

J. Giambrone

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It’s been a while without a review, but this one has complications. The non-spoiled version is: this is a fucked-up movie.

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A twist near the beginning sort of renders the film unable to be discussed. Who’s the bad guy? Well, I’ll save that for a little further down the page.

The movie is well-shot technically, and it plays on the nostalgia of upper-middle-class white America. It’s a Christmas movie, but when these kids are left Home Alone some twisted shit transpires.

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Fresh faces from Australia, all the main characters are Aussies, with the newcomer Olivia DeJonge (obviously) standing out as a breathtaking stunner. Levi Miller has also got potential, and for his age delivers some bone-chilling psychopathy.

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The film has plausibility going for it. It ditches the veneer for hard core violent realism. That is enough to give it a watch, but there’s more. It may be…

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Margaret Atwood faces feminist backlash on social media over #MeToo

She raised the possibility that the answer could leave women divided. “In times of extremes, extremists win. Their ideology becomes a religion, anyone who doesn’t puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic or a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated.”

…She likened the affair to the Salem witch trials, in that guilt was assumed of those who were accused. This idea of guilt by accusation had at times been used to usher in a better world or justify new forms of oppression, she wrote. “But understandable and temporary vigilante justice can morph into a culturally solidified lynch-mob habit, in which the available mode of justice is thrown out the window, and extralegal power structures are put into place and maintained.”

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From flickr.com: It can't happen here by Sinclair Lewis-- first edition, 1936 {MID-225266}
It can’t happen here by Sinclair Lewis– first edition, 1936
(Image by robkall)
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by Steven Jonas

 

In the first column in this series, fascism was defined as:

“A politico-economic system in which there is: total executive branch control of both the legislative and administrative powers of government; no independent judiciary; no Constitution that embodies the Rule of Law standing above the people who control the government; no inherent personal rights or liberties; a single national ideology that first demonizes and then criminalizes all political, religious, and ideological opposition to it; the massive and regular use of hate, fear, racial and religious prejudice, the Big Lie technique, mob psychology, mob actions and ultimately individual and collective violence, to achieve political and economic ends; a capitalist/corporate economy, with the economic ruling class’ control of State power and thus, economic, fiscal, political, and regulatory policy and policies.”

It was pointed out that this definition, and similar ones used by other authorities, is based primarily on what fascism looked like in the 20thcentury, in particular in Nazi German fascist Italy, Spain and Japan. The analysis then went on to the use of the concept of functional fascism, for the 21stcentury, for the United States. That is, there are certain features of classical fascism that do not exist, at least not yet, in the U.S. The Executive Branch does not have full control of all governmental functions. There is an independent judiciary. There is still a Constitution. There are still inherent personal rights and liberties. There is still not a single national ideology that criminalizes all opposition to it.

BUT, the political party currently in power, and in particular its representative occupying the Office of the Presidency, certainly has made it clear that the reality concerning these features is in a state of flux. Trump has made it clear that he would like to have much more control of various governmental functions, particularly those of the Department of Justice, than he presently does have. He is forever issuing scathing, personal, attacks on judges and courts that make decisions that he doesn’t like, e.g., a recent one on the status of DACA. The judges that he is appointing to the Federal Courts are selected and confirmed for their long-time adherence to the right-wing ideology of the private association which plays a major role in nominating them, the Federalist Society. This practice will play a major role down the road in limiting the Federal and state functions in the economic and environmental arenas, as well as in civil liberties and in such matters as the freedom of choice in the outcome of pregnancy. This President has shown that he is very much in favor of imposing upon large areas of civil society an ideology based on Christian Fundamentalism. And this particular President clearly reveals on a regular basis his predilection for authoritarian government.

As the Federal judiciary changes in nature, going evermore rightward in its politics (and oh yes, the judiciary is always a political animal), it will less and less function as it currently does, as a limit on the fascist aggrandizement of power by this President and the party he leads. The other major limiting factor on the progression towards outright fascism is the free press. One need look no further than this fact to understand the constant attacks on the “fake media” and “fake news” by the President, his allies in the Congress, Fox”News” (otherwise known as “Trump TV” or the Republican Propaganda Channel), right-wing talk radio, and right-wing on-line/social media (like Breitbart and The Daily Stormer). If the Republican/Trumpites are able to destroy or severely limit the activities of the anti-Trumpite media, the road to absolute power for them, that is the classical fascist state, will be much easier for them.

As to the use of the Big Lie technique, the Trumpites don’t use it so much as they do what might be called the “Little Lie Technique.” There are not just a few Big, totally not-connected-to-reality lies that they tell over and over again, like the Nazis’ “the Jews are the cause of all of Germany’s problems” that appear in major speeches by the leadership. There are rather the little lies, told over-and-over again on a daily basis, constantly rolling off the lips of Kelly Ann Conway, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and so on and so forth about everything from what is really in the tax “reform” legislation to what the “Russia” investigation is really about. As for the President, as is well known, he is the kingof the liars, Big and little.

From flickr.com: Believe me!  (Larry O'Donnell: that's the clue he's lying.) NO collusion (times ten). {MID-225273}
Believe me! (Larry O’Donnell: that’s the clue he’s lying.) .NO collusion. (times ten).
(Image by IoSonoUnaFotoCamera)
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As to the features of fascism that already exist, this president regularly uses the appeals that got him to the White House in the first place: those to hate, fear, racial and religious prejudice, xenophobia, and misogyny. But most importantly for this fascism-in-process/functional-fascism is that with the Congressional Republican Party, Trump is absolutely serving the interests of the economically dominant sector of the U.S. ruling class (manufacturing; fossil fuels; agriculture/food; pharma/health services; retail; communications/entertainment; transportation; banking/investment/financial services) in the realms of economic, fiscal, political, and regulatory policy and policies.”

Thus, the Elements of Republican/Trumpite 21st century Functional Fascism in the United States, either already achieved or set forth as goals to be achieved are:

1. The use of the law to promote racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny.

2. The criminalization of certain religious/non-religious beliefs, as in, for example, LGBT rights and the freedom of choice in the outcome of pregnancy. This is facilitated by the use of “God’s Word” to justify oppression, hatred, and, ultimately, Dominionism. Indeed, for the United States, Dominionism is the hand-maiden of fascism, as were Catholicism in Spain and Italy and Shintoism in Japan.

3. The repression, then criminalization, of dissent.

4. The tolerance for, and in certain quarters the promotion of the Doctrine of White Supremacy.

5. The gradual suppression of the free vote, especially among minorities, the young, and the poor, by the use of gerrymandering, voter-suppression, vote/hacking.

6. The assault on and the distortion of the use of data, of all kinds.

7. The evermore widespread use of the Roy Cohn/Lee Atwater doctrine: “Always attack; never defend.” A variant of it is the old maxim for defense lawyers: “If you don’t have the law, argue the facts; if you don’t have the facts, argue the law; if you have neither the facts nor the law, argue ad hominem. (Of course, you don’t have to be a lawyer to use this one. The Right-Wing propagandists from Hannity and Conway on down (or up, depending upon your point of view) use it all the time.8. The solidification of the control of the State apparatus.

This Doctrine of Functional Fascism finds a very happy home in the modern the Republican Party. It is of course the outcome to date of the Republican Rightward Imperative which has controlled the direction of the Party since the time of Goldwater.

In the next and final Part of this series (3), some thoughts on the very difficult question of how to combat, indeed Resist, the Republican/fascist onslaught shall be presented.

 


Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books.

From flickr.com: Mein Kampf, by Hitler.  Apparently one of the few books that Trump has actually read, at least according to Ivana. (3t) {MID-221937}

Mein Kampf, by Hitler. Apparently one of the few books that Trump has actually read, at least according to Ivana. (3t)
(Image by Gwydion M. Williams)
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by Steven Jonas

 

1. Introduction. Just because there are elections and an elected government, don’t think that there cannot be fascism. One needs only to look at the Nazi German example. For some years before the German President Paul von Hindenburg named Adolf Hitler Chancellor (Prime Minister) of Germany on January 30, 1933, the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party had simply been one of several major political parties in Germany. They usually received in the neighborhood of 1/3 of the vote in the then fairly frequent German elections. Hitler assured the aging President that despite his party’s tradition of violent rhetoric, he would rule in a Constitutional manner. And the non-Nazi Rightists, like ex-Chancellor Franz von Papen, assured Hindenburg that they would keep him “under control.” We all know what happened, beginning the very night of Hitler’s assumption of the Chancellorship with the rounding up and imprisonment without trial of Communists and Socialists. But he did come to power constitutionally. So it can happen.

2. The definition of fascism. There are a variety of them. One problem with the term is that it thrown around all too loosely, without bothering with a definition. It is even used, in the modern U.S. at least, by the Right to describe certain elements/individuals on the Left, again without bothering with a definition. In my own series of columns on the subject over time (e.g., http://www.greanvillepost.com/2015/11/11/fascism-in-the-21st-century-part-i-briefly-its-20th-century-background/ ) I have used one or another definition (and they are all similar to one another, differing only in length).

Here is one of my relatively short definitions of the term, based on the 20thcentury experience with it:

“A politico-economic system in which there is: total executive branch control of both the legislative and administrative powers of government; no independent judiciary; no Constitution that embodies the Rule of Law standing above the people who control the government; no inherent personal rights or liberties; a single national ideology that first demonizes and then criminalizes all political, religious, and ideological opposition to it; the massive and regular use of hate, fear, racial and religious prejudice, the Big Lie technique, mob psychology, mob actions and ultimately individual and collective violence, to achieve political and economic ends; a capitalist/corporate economy, with the economic ruling class’ control of State power and thus, economic, fiscal, political, and regulatory policy and policies.”

As we move into the 21st century battle against the onslaught of fascism in the United States, I think that a shorter, more succinct, but accurate definition does need to be developed. I’m working on it. In the meantime, I use the one above.

It is important to note that “a single, charismatic leader,” often used in definitions based on the Italian/German experience, is not part of the above definition. That is because while certainly those two principal fascist powers of the 20th century did have one, many of the others did not. In terms of the functions and power of the State and the ruling class it served, Japan was a fascist country. However, leader of the government during World War II, Hideki Tojo, was only the Prime Minister in a cabinet government and was not particularly charismatic for the Japanese people. Since the Japanese Emperor, the Head of State, was considered to be a god, that would have been impossible in any case. In Spain, Francisco Franco was a brutal fascist authoritarian ruler in a governmental system that met most of the elements of the definition above. But he was hardly what could have been considered charismatic.

3. Fascism in the 21st Century United States: An Introduction. In times of change, fascism can be a system of government in process, not finally developed in the forms it took in 20thcentury. For the United States, A) under the Trumpite Republicans, a 21st century form of fascism is being developed functionally. And for them, it is the function, not the form, that counts. B) Currently, unlike the 20th century fascist states Japan and Spain, it does have a charismatic leader, charismatic for a certain segment of the population at least, as only a reality TV star can be. However, in terms of policy development and imposition, it can be seen that if the Trumpite Republicans can maintain their current control over the political organs of power, they don’t necessarily need one. In fact, the next in line for the Presidency, the Dominionist Mike Pence, while much more doctrinally sound than Trump for the Republicans, can hardly be considered to be “charismatic.”

What has to be realized is that when the fascist form of government has come into existence, it is imposed upon a country when the capitalist ruling class as a whole, or the dominant sector of it at the time of the fascist imposition, has come to the conclusion that it is necessary for it, the ruling class, to maintain power. In each of the major countries in which it arose in the 20th century, Italy, Germany, Japan, and Spain, there had been elected governments, with left-wing parties either in control of the State (Spain) or otherwise with a prominent presence in the political economy. With the exception of Spain, fascism was imposed, in the beginning, by constitutional means.

In the 21st century United States there are of course no left-wing parties participating in the electoral process. The two major parties both serve the interests of the ruling class. But they do have rather different approaches to the matter of keeping the ruling class in power. This reflects the ruling class split on the self-same issue, that has existed in this country going back to the two Roosevelts. For example, it is little known that when Teddy Roosevelt ran for the Presidency as the “Bull Moose” (3rd) Party candidate in 1912 (and received 267% of the vote), National Health Insurance was a major plank in his platform. It is also little-known that if it had not been for Watergate, the United States would have had National Health Insurance by the mid-1970s. For it was Richard Nixon who introduced such a bill to Congress in 1974, with none other than Senator Bob Dole making a brilliant introductory speech on its behalf.

But at this time, the Republican Party and the wing of the ruling class which it represents clearly see danger to their control on the horizon. The plight of the working class in this country is getting worse by the day. Trumpite mis-leading of the working class, founded as it is on racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and the appeal to religious authoritarianism (of which its homophobia is only one expression), can work only just so long. Already, certain elements of the white working class “Trump base” are being turned off by major elements of Trumpism, and by his increasing number of broken promises to provide long-term assistance for them. They are also alarmed by the increasing militancy of the segments of the population that are historically against Republican policy.

From flickr.com: American Mussolini.  (He wishes.) {MID-179357}
American Mussolini. (He wishes.)
(Image by FolsomNatural)
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And so, in my view a 21st century form of fascism is developing in this country, under the leadership of Donald J. Trump. Since he is, to quote his Secretary of State a “moron,” and, to quote his National Security Advisor, an “idiot,” he may well be not entirely conscious of what he is doing, in terms of the political economy. (Subsequent to my original writing of this column, the journalist Michael Wolff has informed us that bunches of Trump former and present White House staff regard him in a similar light, and as functionally illiterate also. But that is another story.) But he clearly has a strong authoritarian streak within him, which, combined with the Republican policies he espouses, like the highly unpopular tax-cuts-for-the-rich, are propelling him the direction of fascism, even if he doesn’t know it, even without the installation of an actual dictatorship.

In Part 2 of this series we shall consider the elements of what can be called “21stCentury Fascism in the United States.” It is historically unique because it eschews a number of the 20th century fascist forms. But the Trumpite Republicans are in the process of instituting, or would like to institute, many policies that are historically fascist, without adopting many of the fascist forms of government. Thus, functionally it can be regarded as fascist.

In Part 3 we shall present some thoughts on the problems and prospects for the Anti-Fascist movement in the U.S.

 


Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books.

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“fire and fury”

STATEMENT BY FORMER NUCLEAR LAUNCH OFFICERS

Every one of these episodes points to a flaw in the nuclear launch process that poses a clear and present danger to the country and the world: Every American president has absolute authority to order the first use of nuclear weapons. No one – not the secretary of defense, not the attorney general, not Congress – can veto that order. There are no reliable safeguards in place to contain this power.

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Pope circulates Nagasaki image under heading, ‘The fruit of war’

 

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by Ellen Brown

This is the second in a two-part article on the debt burden America’s students face. Read Part 1 here.

The lending business is heavily stacked against student borrowers. Bigger players can borrow for almost nothing, and if their investments don’t work out, they can put their corporate shells through bankruptcy and walk away. Not so with students. Their loan rates are high and if they cannot pay, their debts are not normally dischargeable in bankruptcy. Rather, the debts compound and can dog them for life, compromising not only their own futures but the economy itself.

“Students should not be asked to pay more on their debt than they can afford,” said Donald Trump on the presidential campaign trail in October 2016. “And the debt should not be an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives.” But as Matt Taibbi points out in a December 15 article, a number of proposed federal changes will make it harder, not easier, for students to escape their debts, including wiping out some existing income-based repayment plans, harsher terms for graduate student loans, ending a program to cancel the debt of students defrauded by ripoff diploma mills, and strengthening “loan rehabilitation” – the recycling of defaulted loans into new, much larger loans on which the borrower usually winds up paying only interest and never touching the principal. The agents arranging these loans can get fat commissions of up to 16 percent, an example of the perverse incentives created in the lucrative student loan market. Servicers often profit more when borrowers default than when they pay smaller amounts over a longer time, so they have an incentive to encourage delinquencies, pushing students into default rather than rescheduling their loans. It has been estimated that the government spends $38 for every $1 it recovers from defaulted debt. The other $37 goes to the debt collectors.

The securitization of student debt has compounded these problems. Like mortgages, student loans have been pooled and packaged into new financial products that are sold as student loan asset-backed securities (SLABS). Although a 2010 bill largely eliminated private banks and lenders from the federal student loan business, the “student loan industrial complex” has created a $200 billion market that allows banks to cash in on student loans without issuing them. About 80 percent of SLABS are government-guaranteed. Banks can sell, trade or bet on these securities, just as they did with mortgage-backed securities; and they create the same sort of twisted incentives for loan servicing that occurred with mortgages.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), virtually all borrowers with federal student loans are currently eligible to make monthly payments indexed to their earnings. That means there should be no defaults among student borrowers. Yet one in four borrowers is now in default or struggling to stay current. Why? Student borrowers are reporting widespread mishandling of accounts, unexplained exorbitant fees, and outright deception as they are bullied into default, tactics similar to those that homeowners faced in the foreclosure crisis. The reports reveal a repeat of the abuses of the foreclosure fraud era: many borrowers are unable to obtain basic information about their accounts, are frequently misled, are surprised with unexpected late fees, and often are pushed into default. Servicers lose paperwork or misapply payments. When errors arise, borrowers find it difficult to have them corrected.

(more…)

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One of the mainstream media’s gatekeepers presents himself as a champion of truth over at The Intercept. I ain’t buying it for a second.

The Biggest Secret [Sic, “Bullshit”]

Risen, how can you present yourself as an authority on CIA and the “war on terror” and never acknowledge that CIA knew Al Qaeda terrorists were in the country for 16 months prior to 9/11? This is confirmed in the 2005 CIA Inspector General Report (you should know) as well as by Richard Clarke, the “Counter-Terrorism Czar” on 9/11. CIA did absolutely nothing to stop the attacks and conversely obstructed the FBI efforts to do so, as we learned from numerous FBI agents who complained about it.

How can you present the CIA with a straight face and never tell readers about the arguable HIGH TREASON that allowed the attacks to happen? There is a significant movement fighting against your brand of limited hangout, the suppression of vital facts surrounding 9/11. You, of course, make no mention of other aspects of the cover up, such as the suppression of FBI surveillance in Sarasota, and the ongoing legal battle to expose what the FBI counter-terrorism (intelligence) section also knew before the attacks.

What you present is journalistic malfeasance in order to sell books. If you called out CIA for its apparent HIGH TREASON in aiding and abetting Al Qaeda prior to 9/11, you wouldn’t be so welcome across the media to promote your wares.

I’m disgusted utterly that you don’t even bother mentioning the revelations about the Saudis, those 28 pages which you apparently couldn’t be bothered to read. The word “Saudi” appears zero times above, and that should tell readers how much stock to place in your insider expose…