Some Men Just Want To Watch The World Bern

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Hey Bernie Bros!

What’s up, fellas? First, I feel you. To a certain extent, I am you. I love me some Bernie, and, to establish some obligatory street-cred, actually knew who he was (and admired him) many years before he decided to run for president.

Secondly, I get it. Check this out.

I have to say, you younger dudes are reminding many of us of the obdurate blowhards who claimed, in 2000, that their only choice was Nader since (as Nader himself said, to his eternal shame) Bush and Gore were essentially two sides of the same soiled coin.

Here’s the thing: quite a few folks knew not only that this was bullshit, but that the feckless and untested Bush wasn’t remotely up to the job. Yes, it was infuriating to witness some of the most irresponsible media negligence of our lifetimes (little did we know it was a test run for the run-up to Iraq), but at least, without the literal benefit of hindsight, it was impossible to prove Bush would be incompetent in ways that made even our most cynical suspicions seem…naïve. Here’s the other thing: we already know, without even the slightest iota of uncertainty, that Trump is not merely a reckless, obscene and ignorant buffoon, but that his election will put the very concept of American democracy in jeopardy. Speaking of Iraq, imagine Trump…no, let’s not even go there.

So, with condolences and admonition, let me toss fifty well-intended turds into your oh-so-pure punch bowl before your precious, but increasingly nihilistic “Bernie or Bust” antics do our nation irreparable harm.

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1. Donald Trump.

2. Trump’s VP? Google “Pence. Abortion bill”.

3. Take a quick gander at the GOP platform. And read this.

4. Imagine, for one moment, that you’re not white, or had a vagina. Or were gay. Or, if that’s too frightening and uncomfortable, what our country will be like for any and all of these folks.

5. Pretend (and this is probably the biggest stretch of all) that you ever, under any circumstances had to work a blue collar job.

6. Contemplate Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State.

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  1. Contemplate Chris Christie. (Not even necessarily in any position of power; just contemplate him.)
  2. Imagine, for one second, this idiot feeling vindicated.
  3. The fact that the cowardly and cretinous Rudy Giuliani has recently inserted himself into the public eye with the typical grace of a rabid ferret in a crowded train, and could easily be named Attorney General, should be enough to make you not only vote for Hillary, but get excited about canvassing for her.
  4. If you seriously believe, for one second, that living under a Trump regime will be in any way cathartic or cleansing, do us all a favor: go live in North Korea for a few months and let us know what you’ve learned.
  5. Have you actually ever read anything by Orwell or Kafka or even the pre-9/11 Christopher Hitchens? Didn’t think so.
  6. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, right? Trump’s another word for it, too — for people who’ve never lost anything, or have excellent jobs or benevolent parents to shelter them from shit when it gets real. Speaking of freedom: everything this concept conveys is something Trump had handed to him or has fought to obstruct his entire life.
  7. Hillary a tad egocentric for your tastes? Fair enough. Think she puts herself first too much for comfort? Okay. Compared to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa and June Cleaver rolled into one.
  8. Think of Hillary Clinton as the pâté of politics: overvalued by the wrong type of people, appalling in its pretensions, bought by well-connected sorts, but undeniably created through expertise and time-tested processes. It, in short, might not be especially appetizing for all kinds of reasons, but fast food it ain’t. Think of Trump, on the other hand, as a worn out chicken breast raised on a chemical and steroid mash inside a rank, concrete factory that is months past its inflated expiration date, then had bleach poured on it for coloration before hitting the meat aisle at Food Lion.
  9. Everyone who really wants Trump to win really hates everything about you.
  10. And they would not hesitate to harm you, physically, if they could get away with it.
  11. And they would be encouraged (and, perhaps, exonerated) by Trump, if he had the power.
  12. Read the short story “Mario and the Magician” by Thomas Mann.
  13. Read something by any writer who lived through a dictatorship.
  14. Read this excellent piece from founding Weeklings editor Greg Olear.
  15. Imagine all the right wing radio listening, bigoted and elderly dunces who detest Obama (because he’s black) and fantasize about them spending their miserable last years ranting in their futons because a woman just became president for two terms.
  16. I would say, imagine Secretary of Defense John McCain, but The Donald prefers Secretaries of State who didn’t get captured. You know who definitely never gets captured? Short-fingered cheese-dicks whose daddy helped them avoid military service in the first place.
  17. At a certain point you just have to grow up. There are few things more appalling than the way sausage is made (literally and figuratively). There are also few things more enjoyable, or American.
  18. You know how you love Bill Clinton despite the ways he drives you crazy because he’s such a gifted natural politician with such cripplingly poor judgment? Hillary Clinton, in virtually every regard, is his opposite.
  19. Read this.
  20. Read this, too.
  21. More knowledge dropped by Mr. Olear.
  22. Put this in your pipe and smoke it.
  23. Donald Trump is the tragi-comic apotheosis of the GOP successfully, for decades, side-stepping all reality-based criticism by insisting the media is liberal. (The only way that story ends happily, and appropriately, is if Trump loses in spectacular, historically humiliating fashion.)
  24. Also, the Fox News-enabled transition from low information voters to no information voters has been deliberate, if cynical, and will have one of two results: epic comeuppance that will rend the GOP into several desperate, greedy and angry (always angry) factions, or the utter collapse of democracy, assuming Trump wins.
  25. Seriously, the distance between Hillary and Bernie, though profound in some regards, is like the gap between Starbucks franchises in any major city. The distance between Hillary and Trump, on the other hand, is not even calculable by man-made means; we’re talking quantum physics black hole time space continuum type shit.
  26. See how long you can make it through this:

33. Am I the only person who, whenever Donald Trump is speaking (invariably about himself), thinks he is a much dumber and more dangerous realization of this classic character?

34. You notice how the Republican Establishment has, of late, tripled-down on calling itself “the party of Lincoln”? That’s not accidental. This election needs to ensure that for the indefinite future they are, correctly, known as “the party of Trump”.

35. Getting back to that Republican platform. Did you know they’re against medical marijuana?

36. And that they are still shamelessly anti-gay marriage, anti-gay adoption and for the farcical “conversion therapy” snake oil? (Follow the money, opportunism and denial, always the GOP Unholy Trinity.) It’s one thing to be unrepentantly bigoted and call yourself “traditional”; it’s another to essentially fly your flag of intolerance and dare people with their hearts and minds on the moral side of history to do something. Now’s the time to ensure you do something.

37. Hey, smart guy: can’t be bothered to be appalled by anti-abortion (even in the cases of rape and incest!) laws? How about when your online porn habits start being monitored and persecuted?

38. Still unmoved? Get a load of this exhaustive (and yes, epic) takedown of all-things Trump by our own Brother Sean Beaudoin.

39. You’ve got your panties in a pretzel over Hillary’s emails, but you don’t realize Trump University alone should be enough to ensure Trump is doing the hardest possible time at Rikers Island?

40. Ever seen Dr. Strangelove? Donald Trump is Buck Turgidson, General Jack D. Ripper, Colonel Bat Guano and Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski, all in one. Only dumber and more dangerous. And much less amusing.

41. Remember this?

42. Just vote for Hillary and then complain and whine as much as you want. That’s what blogs are made for.

43. For the sake of the country, be the one saying “I told you so” each time the media, on rinse, wash, repeat, blasts out the latest manufactured Hillary-related outrage. We can take it; we’re prepared for it. Don’t be the person being told “I told you so” by the rest of us, as our collective future flatlines.

44. Ensure another essential Democratic win just to see if it finally causes this evil motherfucker to implode.

45. Just because Batman had some megalomaniacal tendencies doesn’t mean you rooted for The Joker. (If you did root for The Joker, it’s time, at long last, to move out of your parent’s house. Also, too: see #9.)

46. Every great leader, including FDR, had personal foibles that, if scrutinized the way Hillary’s have been for decades, would prevent them from being elected to their home owners association, much less president of the United States.

47. Imagine the good Bernie can continue to do in support of a (grateful, and accommodating) Clinton administration.

48. Visualize every hero who has fought for social justice in the history of the world. Who do you think they’d want you to vote for? (Hint: not Trump, never.)

49. Have the courage of your convictions: go light your house on fire and send every penny you have to Donald Trump. That will allow you to get it out of your system and repent before you help usher in the apocalypse. Win/Win.

50. Seriously. President Trump? You’re better than that. We’re better than this.

Final words from the man himself.

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The Strange Case of Dr. Dennis and Mr. Miller (Revisited)

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(For the remainder of the month, I’ll be revisiting some personal favorites, all of which are available in my recently-released collection, MURPHY’S LAW VOL. ONE, which is available NOW!)

March, 2009

At issue is not whether Dennis Miller, after 9/11, lost his mind and starting cheerleading for Bush, Cheney and the Iraq War (he did). It’s also not an outrage that, coincidentally or not, he is no longer near as nimble or gratifying as he was in his prime (he isn’t). What’s important to acknowledge is that, while his newer material is sorely lacking, when he was on his game, he was the baddest—and brightest—stand-up comedian in the country.

For those of us who have pined many moons, equal parts impatient and incredulous, for his inexplicably unreleased HBO comedy specials from the ‘90s; it’s time to celebrate an overdue victory. Dennis Miller: The HBO Specials is exactly what the doctor ordered for fans who remember the days when a thesaurus was a requisite part of the experience. A comic who could make you laugh and think is never something to take for granted, as they are always in woefully short supply.

Miller, from his snarky heyday as Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” anchor in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, was arguably the most consistently entertaining, and intimidating, funnyman on the scene. After admiring him in relatively small doses during the “Weekend Update” segments, it was something of a revelation to see him stretch out and hold court for a full 60-minute set. Starting with Mr. Miller Goes to Washington in 1988, Miller has made seven official specials for HBO, all of which are collected in this very reasonably priced and highly recommended set.

When Miller performed in D.C. for his first special it was more than 20 years ago, but somehow seems even longer. Impossible, almost, to recall a time when Reagan was limping out of office and Miller was not yet middle-aged. Indeed, he was young, confident and he had a hell of a head of hair. He knew it, too. At this point in his career Miller took few prisoners and no target was spared from his lacerating sarcasm. Commenting on his recent gigs in the Deep South, he sardonically observes “Talk about Darwin’s waiting room…there are guys in Alabama who are their own father.”

Later he laments “You spend your whole life stopping at red lights, then at the end there’s a cruel irony when you die: they let your funeral procession run the red lights on the way to the cemetery.” Regarding born-again Christians who insist he’s going to Hell if he’s not born again; he says “Pardon me for getting it right the first time.”

Perhaps tellingly, he has an (admirably) prescient take on terrorists, marveling at the ways horrendous acts can be justified in the name of God/religion. This is the lovably bratty Miller, a smart-ass with a heart of cubic zirconium: he was more intelligent and better-looking than you, and that was all there was to it. Chevy Chase, the first “Weekend Update” anchor, had the corner on this market for a minute, and then Miller ran with the baton for about a decade.

In 1990 he recorded Black and White which, for me, is on the short list of all-time post Lenny Bruce stand up concert recordings: it is an absolute tour de force and easily justifies the purchase of this entire set. Miller begins with a muted bang, claiming “I’d like to start off with an impression…I’d like to, but I’m genetically incapable.” For the rest of the special he is at the height of his “more loquacious than thou” phase and it’s a delight to watch how unreservedly he revels in his own brilliance.

A few highlights, taken at random: “I view the reunification of Germany in much the same way I view a possible Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis reconciliation: I haven’t really enjoyed any of their previous work and I’m not sure I need to see the new shit right now”; “I’m in therapy now, I’m so insecure I get depressed when I find out the people I hate don’t like me”; “(TV preachers) say they don’t favor any particular denomination…but I think we’ve all seen their eyes light up at tens and twenties.”

Of his father, Miller deadpans “My old man made The Great Santini look like Leo Buscaglia,” and on the then-new development of interminable automated customer service recordings, “I don’t stay on the phone that long with friends contemplating suicide.” If you’ve never seen this, you owe it to yourself.

They Shoot HBO Specials, Don’t They?, from 1994, is worthwhile just for its ingenious title, but the show is actually quite satisfactory. Speaking of the post-LA riot tensions, he says “I get pulled over by a cop in LA I don’t even fuck around; I just wind the window down and blow the guy.”

Politically, he has few kind words for Bush the Elder, and no fondness for Reagan, but he’s already dubious at the prospects of Clinton being a successful, or accepted, leader. He actually defends Hillary (!) saying, revealingly, “I think she’s a good woman…we need smart people now; maybe she can help.” And this is a crucial component of his subsequent devolution as a comic: he was never a liberal; he ridiculed pomposity and idiocy which is always abundantly represented on both sides of the political spectrum. Of course, he had a particular penchant for calling out the bullying tactics of media blowhards and the baser instincts (fear, power) that the most cynical politicians prey upon, so it’s impossible to ignore the sad irony of seeing him prostrate himself (for a paycheck?) at the fortress of Pomposity and Idiocy at Fox News.

It certainly doesn’t make his old material any less funny; it just makes it a tad bittersweet to look at, all these years later. In any event, and for the record, my favorite moment of the entire show is when Miller delivers an impassioned—and quite moving—defense of James Stockdale (remember him?), lacerating the media (and public) that found him lacking for the sole reason that “he committed the one unpardonable sin in our culture: he was bad on television”. He ends the show by predicting that the day Dan Quayle (remember him?) successfully runs for president (and he was then threatening to do)” is the day Shelley Winters runs with the bulls at Pamplona.” That’s good stuff.

By 1996 the also impeccably titled Citizen Arcane was in the can, but the first cracks in Miller’s fortress are visible. For starters, he seems a tad lethargic; it turns out the Aspen altitude is getting to him and as he reaches for an oxygen mask, a few folks in the crowd scoff at him. “Well fuck you,” he retorts. “Get a climate!” To be certain, he’s still amusing, and he is still articulate. He offers up perhaps the best summation of Bill Clinton’s frustrating legacy I’ve heard: “The chasm between his potential and his actuality is so vast…and the struggle (to find balance) sets off all his deficiencies.” It’s pretty hard to quibble with that assessment.

But when he observes “we have too many hung juries and not enough hung defendants”, one wonders what his beef is. It turns out, a little bit of everything, as he refers to the US as “one big, violent trailer park.” He is (understandably) outraged at the general inanity of the population, which results in easily duped juries. It just seems odd that for a man so obviously intelligent, he doesn’t (or doesn’t want to) connect the dots between those who are brought to justice and those who have money or influence. In other words, he seems content to scoff at how moronic our talk-show nation has become, but doesn’t seem unduly perturbed that it’s often his fellow celebrities who waltz away from prison time for very obvious—and odious—reasons.

He spends an insufferable chunk of time lambasting the ACLU and has little to say about politicians or the powerful. At one point he declares “I’m looking to make a little bread, build a wall, take care of my loved ones…and stay out of the crosshairs.” Die-hard Dennis Miller fans may have to Windex off their LCD screens after that one.

Miller’s HBO feature for the end of the century, 1999’s The Millennium Special: 1,000 Years, 100 Laughs, 10 Really Good Ones is a terrific idea that is pulled off with aplomb. Miller focuses on the 1900’s and breaks the century into 20-odd year chunks. He does “the news” (relaying the popular stories of the times with his trademark “Weekend Update” shtick): it is clever and mostly funny. There is a trace of a creeping jingoism that would reach its apotheosis in short order.

Miller takes potshots at a few predictable targets: Russia, Germany and (sigh) France; while it’s an exercise of shooting fish in a rather safe barrel; it’s fair to say that the blood, gore and comedy of the last century provide bountiful material. One of the better moments features the famous picture of Elvis shaking hands with Nixon with Miller remarking “And here we see two of the greatest recording artists of the 20th Century.” This one is the last feature likely to prompt repeat viewings.

Flash forward to 2003: we all know what happened in the three years since his last special. The Raw Feed starts off promisingly enough. Miller laments that he does not masturbate as much these days because his expanding waistline obliges him to slip himself the date-rape drug. Later he says “I was raised Catholic: I went to confession the other day and said (to the priest) ‘You first’.”

He retains some spin on his curveball and it is obvious he still belongs in the big leagues. But then he starts in on the Middle East, and things begin to derail as the stand-up turns into an occasionally ugly right-wing rant. As America was about to deploy forces to Iraq Miller, like many like-minded citizens of the time, is blasé to the point of cockiness. He not only returns to the hackneyed ad hominem toward the French, he boasts that once we’ve “won” in Iraq (quickly and decisively, obviously) the French will be sorry that they blew their chance at the spoils. It’s embarrassing.

Then he lays into Sean Penn with the snide pronouncement “Dead Career Walking”. Of course, two Academy Awards later, Miller was about as accurate with that assessment as he was about the course of our overseas adventures. Lest any of this sound like piling on, I’m saving the best for last: Miller actually pauses mid-performance to utter the words “I’d like to thank George Bush for allowing me to respect the American presidency again.” It is, as they say, to laugh—even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

Finally, in 2006 Miller went to Vegas to perform the show recorded as All In. It’s not terrible; Miller is simply too intelligent, too witty and too observant to flop onstage. But one might think he would feel obliged (for the sake of his comedy, for the sake of his integrity) to reign in the rhetoric. Then again, not for nothing is the special is called All In. It takes less than five minutes for Miller to lay into the cowardice of the French.

The rest of the show teeters between Miller’s patented perspicacity and his unfortunate, newly acquired nationalism. Funny bits about being able to access Internet porn anywhere and the plethora of erectile dysfunction commercials give way to longer rants about the dubious science behind global warming, and the benefits of aggressive drilling in Alaska (drill baby drill?). To paraphrase a younger, shrewder Miller, he doesn’t favor any particular political affiliation, but I think we’ve all seen his eyes light up at Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean.

Bottom line: despite his curious and regrettable turn toward the unfunny, Dennis Miller still looms large as one of the five best stand-up comedians of the past 20 years. This egregiously overdue purging of the HBO vaults should come as a welcome relief to fans who remember watching these specials in real time.

Worst case scenario, the first three (and superior) features are all contained on one disc: if you feel obliged to burn after viewing, retain that first disc and put it in the time capsule. The younger generation might be refreshed to see a less bellicose and more beguiling Dennis Miller, and many decades from now, when Miller’s awkward repartee with Bill O’Reilly is a footnote in unintentional comedic history, his greatest work will be remembered, and justly venerated.

http://www.popmatters.com/review/71771-the-strange-case-of-dr.-dennis-and-mr.-miller/

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Trump, McCain, Kerry and the Not-So Swift Boats

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Listen. No one is a bigger hater of the human dung pile that is Donald trump than I. Obviously what he said about McCain is outrageous yet entirely consistent with his entire career of saying incendiary shit that half-wits lap up like leftover ambrosia. But all the Republicans shocked, *shocked*, that anyone would DARE go there and malign a veteran need to check themselves. You same swine put on band-aids, guffawed like idiots and joined in without reservation as John Kerry (a candidate running against a wealthy brat who dodged service himself and initiated a military debacle that has cost this country *trillions*), was slandered in the most unconscionably cynical fashion. Your opportunistic outrage rings most hollow. Look at Donald Trump you cowards and, at long last, see yourselves.

 

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The Worst People in America: Dick Cheney*

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MOTHERFUCKER HAS SO MUCH blood on his hands he makes Lady Macbeth look like Snow White.

I’m not sure what it says about me, but I’ve gone on record declaring, at times, my fervent wish that there was a God.

Because if there’s a God, there might be something, somewhere, approximating what we imagine Heaven to be. And if so, the existence of Hell would be unnecessary and irrelevant, because God could choose to exclude whomever She wanted, and by default, those denied entrance would spend eternity in a dark, cold place with nothing but memories of their misdeeds to neither console nor distract them.

To be clear: I yearn to see the Evil punished more than I hope to see Good rewarded.

Good, as we know, is often its own reward, but Evil, especially in America, not only tends to go unpunished, but unrecognized. Indeed, in a world where power trumps due process and wealth equals winning, Evil can wrap itself in the flag and cudgel sanity, occasionally even reality, into submission.

(Because in my vision, just about everyone can or should get into heaven. Even the murderers and rapists, who demonstrate some measure of penance or remorse. Or else, after prison or the simple passage of time, they come to understand the error of their actions. And, while some sins are unforgivable and some acts unimaginable, there is usually a greater injustice at the root of all senseless activity, including extreme violence and depravity. Concerning those who lead lives of crime, who are we –as well-fed and educated citizens– to declare Right and Wrong in any philosophical sense? In short, I don’t fancy being Judge and Jury to anyone’s eternal soul, or to act as some divine arbiter of forgiveness and forgetting. That, after all, is God’s job. Which is why we invented Him.)

But I do reserve the right to wish, against reason and the better angels of my very human nature, for something quite biblical in its simplicity and perfection. I wish that the rare individuals who do unto others what none could do unto them (i.e., the untouchable), and express nothing close to regret and can’t bring themselves to feign a gesture of introspection, face –at long last– some entity that humbles them irrevocably, incessantly. For those who are typically given the most and therefore expect more and commission the greatest ill against their fellow citizens, I possess indignation and disdain that yearns for an Ecclesiastic Imperative.

On my rather long list of most despicable people to pollute the planet during my lifetime, Dick Cheney goes straight to the top, no one particularly close to second place. In terms of rapacity combined with cowardice (nothing quite like a chicken hawk who actively avoided battle, blithely sending young soldiers to die and okaying the obliteration of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians; nothing like being in bed with Big Oil and profiting from policies that devastate the environment; nothing like being head of the company that wins the sole right to “rebuild” the infrastructure you did the most to help destroy, etc.) it’s difficult to imagine an American who has done greater harm while getting his pale bloated paws over as much filthy lucre as he could count.

A coked-up Kafka, plagiarized by Orwell on acid, run through a filter of Hunter S. Thompson with a suitcase full of narcotics, could not begin to articulate, could not even hope to imagine, a Hollow Man who epitomizes the worst humanity is capable of. Dick Cheney is many things: a half-assed Iago to Bush, a postmodern Rasputin with a borrowed heart, a bloated Robespierre without the wig, a self-styled Jove realized by illicit funds, treasonous friends and the bravado of back room deals.

~

Some are born into it; some are paid to do it. Some, like the irredeemably despicable Liz Cheney, are born into it and get paid (quite handsomely) to do it. But to single these cretins out is like blaming rock musicians for the dumbing down of American culture. The fact of the matter is that if people weren’t willing or able to be duped by clowns like Karl Rove, then clowns like Karl Rove would have to find another line of work.

And then there are the sociopaths, the ones who you actually fear believe not only in the apocalyptic fantasies they peddle, but feel they are the appropriate (even the chosen) ones to answer the challenges. Here you have the Kissingers, Weinbergers, Fleischers, Gingriches. These are seldom the ones behind the wheel (although some of them would jump at the chance), these are the ones riding shotgun, whispering not-so-sweet nothings into the impressionable ear of the idiot in charge (think Reagan, think Bush), the ones content to practice their dirty work long distance.

I have a special hatred in my heart for these smirking maggots, these duplicitous political hacks who reside inside the fortified cocoon of spin and subterfuge. The ones who are neither powerful enough to make the decisions or brave enough to do the damage; these are the ones who put on business suits before hitting the battlefield, talking points echoing around their half-empty heads. Their masters, the flies, crawl into the shit to lay their eggs, they are merely the spawn that emerges from this waste, camera-ready smiles frozen on their faces. They are not born into this, but they are bred for it (or, even more disgustingly, breed themselves, semi-human dung-beetles getting their coprophagia on), never capable of playing on the field or willing to cheer from the sidelines, they are the equipment managers, the ones who want to be near the action but not close enough to get caught in the crossfire. These are the spokespersons and professional apologists; the career insiders.

And, finally, there are the rare ones who, through a gruesome combination of timing, connections and monomaniacal compulsion, will themselves to power. To be certain, it’s always, in the end, about money (access to it or people who have it, and the truly American ability to make a great deal more of it if you can discard your conscience and avoid any actual consequences). But for the exceedingly singular individuals (Nixon and Reagan come to mind, a kind of yin and yang of will vs, skill coupled with venality and psychopathy), it requires a will to power that even Nietzsche would be at once impressed and appalled by.

Throw all that shit in a blender, add all the stale piss and vinegar, dirty money, fetid air of ill-intent and unimagined misdeeds from our country’s collective unconscious, and out comes Dick Cheney, sui generis, unclassifiable, undefinable even, the leering, recalcitrant sum total of everything we are capable of being, at our worst.

~

Don’t hate the player, they say. Hate the game.

Well I do hate the game. But I also reserve the right to despise. And crave the prospect of comeuppance for the players who bulldozed this world like it was their personal playpen. For the horror movie monsters who laughed at the carnage they caused. Because they could. Because no one down here could stop them.

Is there someone out there, somewhere, who can ensure there is some type of reckoning for these irredeemable swine?

It’s almost enough to make you pray.

Then again, we’d have to invent a whole new type of hell to house Dick Cheney. 

 

This is where my heart's supposed to be.

*To celebrate July 4th, the Weeklings Editorial Board brings you an in-depth look at the least acceptable among us. Although only living figures were considered, space was limited and deliberations were intense. In the end, there were fifteen good men (and women, but mostly men) chosen. God bless this great land.

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The Terror Card, Torture and You or, The Evil of Banality (Revisited)

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6/09:

Anyone who happened to miss this piece by Lakhdar Boumediene, entitled My Guantánamo Nightmare should check it out, here.

Here is a taste of the sickening, yet predictable torment this innocent man endured:

When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I had never — for a second — considered this.       

The fact that the United States had made a mistake was clear from the beginning. Bosnia’s highest court investigated the American claim, found that there was no evidence against me and ordered my release. But instead, the moment I was released American agents seized me and the five others. We were tied up like animals and flown to Guantánamo, the American naval base in Cuba. I arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.   

In 2008, my demand for a fair legal process went all the way to America’s highest court. In a decision that bears my name, the Supreme Court declared that “the laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” It ruled that prisoners like me, no matter how serious the accusations, have a right to a day in court. The Supreme Court recognized a basic truth: the government makes mistakes. And the court said that because “the consequence of error may be detention of persons for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, this is a risk too significant to ignore.”   

It provides me little pleasure to be reminded of a post I wrote almost three years ago that touched on some of this, and it certainly is sad to think we are slowly, begrudgingly accepting some measure of responsibility for the lives we’ve destroyed. None of this had made us safer and it has all been done –and is still being done– in our names.

“A perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.”

That quote, attributed to a former CIA official who courageously remains anonymous, seems about as perfectly succinct a crystallization I’ve yet read regarding the mindset (the official one shared by the insiders as well as the unofficial one prevailing amongst the blissfully ignorant who don’t care to ponder what happened, how it happened, and why it happened) of the circumstances that precipitated the blatant, persistent torture of detainees. Oh, I mean “enhanced interrogation”, as the mainstream media dutifully scribbles at the behest of the bad guys.

Even the usually reliable Michael Kinsley has recently gotten in on the act, proving that there are some story lines so aggressively promulgated that no one working for the MSM is entirely insulated from their influence:

Indignation comes cheap in our political culture. Polls give the impression that the proper role of voters is to sit like a king passing judgment on the issues as they pass by like dishes prepared for a feast. “No, I’m not in the mood for waterboarding today, thanks. But I think I’ll have another dab of those delicious-looking executive-pay caps.” Prosecuting a few former government officials for their role in putting our country into the torture business would not serve justice or historical memory. It would just let the real culprits off the hook.

The reason this is so specious is that even today the New York Times still can’t quite bring itself to call these acts torture, (Repeat: The New York Times. This is the paper heralded and derided in equal measure as the voice of liberalism, no matter how laughable that claim.) Let’s not dance around the topic: editorial sanitizing of this magnitude is analogous to describing rape as an “enhanced fornication technique”. Does that seem over the top? Imagine if some pundit (not to mention average citizen) dismissed the horror of rape or even made fun of it? This is what tough guys ranging from Rush Limbaugh to “Mancow” Muller have done with the torture “debate”, turning one of our darkest hours into a farce, milking it for laughs as well as a measuring stick for how pro-America one is. Their heads would explode from the irony if there was anything inside their skulls to detonate. To Muller’s credit, at least he was willing to take the Pepsi challenge; although his ordeal was over before he could cough out the words “I’m a contemptible shit stain”. While it would be delightful, on purely karmic levels, to see some of these bellicose scarecrows, such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, O’Reilly and Beck attempt to last more than ten seconds on that table, it is beside the point, and further cretinizes what needs to be a sober discussion.

Certainly, anyone who has the temerity to insist that this practice (let’s call it drowning) is emphatically not torture, without ever having enjoyed it at the hands of a friendly, much less unfriendly, interrogator, richly deserves to be accordingly humiliated. But we all know that great white chickenhawks like those listed above (not to mention their craven yet rabid cheerleaders) would fold like a rusted lawn chair in a matter of moments. Anyone paying attention (and anyone obtuse enough to not already take the word of the people who understand these issues: the people from the United States armed forces) could have learned almost a year ago that Christopher Hitchens issued a definitive take on the matter. “Believe me, it’s torture,” he wrote. (And he should be given appropriate kudos for having the integrity to test the waters, so to speak, before feeling fit to pronounce what was, and was not, torture. Then again, he is not only embarrassingly more intelligent than these buffoons, he is also interested in the truth, something no one mentioned above could ever be accused of.)

Kinsley continues:

Between April and November of that year, there were dozens of articles about torture in general and waterboarding in particular in major print media outlets, on the Web and on TV, many describing it in detail and some straightforwardly labeling it as torture. Millions of people saw these reports, knew that torture was going on and voted for Bush anyway. There is no way of knowing how many of those who voted against him were affected by the torture question. A good guess would be “not many.” (Not me, for one, I’m sorry to say.) Bush’s opponent, John Kerry, never mentioned waterboarding.

And? To be certain, Kinsley is correct in the sense that while, on an ascending scale of wrongheadedness, it’s not appropriate to single out some lower-ranking scapegoats, and it’s not enough to “merely” bring the higher-ranking officials (e.g., the despicable lawyers and the leaders of the previous administration who gave them their very clear and unambiguous marching orders). There needs to be a wider net cast, and one that does not exonerate the Democrats who also whistled past this political graveyard. Indeed, the American populace, to a certain extent, is implicated here. But, as with the Iraq war, it was our supposedly free press that failed us the most: we know enough now about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al to understand we could and should have expected the worst; while this does not mitigate their criminal misdeeds, we should not pretend to be shocked (or even particularly appalled) at the non-revelations of how they combined their extreme political pettiness (Machiavellian ruthlessness) and their general ignorance of the mess they were creating (“Bring ‘em on”, “last throes”, “stuff happens”, et cetera). But at the end of the day, it was the press who didn’t ask any tough questions, who didn’t expose or promote the obvious truths rotting right out in the open, like a fetid carcass.

And then there are the sociopaths, the ones who you actually fear believe not only in the apocalyptic fantasies they peddle, but feel they are the appropriate (even the chosen) ones to answer the challenges. Here you have the Kissingers, Weinbergers, Fleischers, Gingriches. These are seldom the ones behind the wheel (although some of them would jump at the chance), these are the ones riding shotgun, whispering not-so-sweet nothings into the impressionable ear of the idiot in charge (think Reagan, think Bush), the ones content to practice their dirty work long distance.

I have a special hatred in my heart for these smirking Iagos, the well-paid political hacks who reside inside the fortified cocoon of spin and subterfuge. The ones who are neither powerful enough to make the decisions or brave enough to do the damage; these are the ones who put on business suits before hitting the battlefield, talking points echoing around their half-empty heads. Their masters, the flies, crawl into the shit to lay their eggs, they are merely the spawn that emerges from this waste, camera-ready smiles frozen on their faces. They are born into this, never capable of playing on the field or willing to cheer from the sidelines, they are the equipment managers, the ones who want to be near the action but not close enough to get caught in the crossfire. These are the spokespersons and professional apologists; the career insiders.

Some are born into it; some are paid to do it. Some, like the irredeemably despicable Liz Cheney, are born into it and get paid (quite handsomely) to do it. But to single these scumbags out is like blaming rock musicians for the dumbing down of American culture. The fact of the matter is that if people weren’t willing or able to be duped by clowns like Karl Rove, then clowns like Karl Rove would have to find another line of work.

And it’s finally taken the one issue everyone used to agree on to illustrate, without the slightest possibility of misunderstanding, how far Republicans have slinked off the Reservation. Lampooning this new low is, of course, easy and would be amusing if it was not so pathetic and sickening (still, there has been no shortage of potshots, all of them quite worthwhile, some of them absolutely indispensable). Even the most battle-scarred political junkie has to marvel at how hurriedly the hardcore Right is dumpster diving into moral depravity, all for the sake of propping up their tattered and increasingly absurd ideology. While Andrew Sullivan and Frank Rich (embedded above) are always on the money, John Cole has a definitive take, here.

Considering what they have done with virtually every other aspect of the Bush years, I honestly expected them to do what they did with the trillions of dollars of spending and debt that happened with a Republican congress and a Republican President Bush- first, pretend it didn’t happen, then after being forced to acknowledge it did happen, claim that everyone was doing it and blame the Democrats and scream about Murtha and Barney Frank, and when that didn’t work, just pretend that it was “other” Republicans who aren’t “real conservatives” (Move along, these aren’t the wasteful spenders you are looking for) while ranting about earmarks. That is what they did with spending; I figured they would do it again with torture.

But they didn’t and they aren’t. Instead, they are mobilizing and going balls to the wall in defense of sadism. It is really quite amazing, and a testament to just how sick and detestable and rotten to the core the Republican Party has become.

 

It’s fortunate that in spite of the institutional apathy we still have indefatigable watchdogs like Glenn Greenwald tallying up the lies, spin and systemic deceit. He offers consistently refreshing proof that real progressives are not in the tank for Obama or any politician, but remain invested in holding elected officials accountable. There are dozens of other semi-high profile scribes out there, mostly representing the dreaded blogosphere. The old guard recognizes it is in their best interest to actively marginalize these voices, though that stale strategy is inexorably losing steam. The only people who disdain the bloggers more than politicians, of course, are the high profile (though increasingly endangered) Op Ed scribblers. These indolent bovines, along with their brethren–the so-called mainstream journalists–seem happiest when covered in the mud and slop their masters make for them. There are notable exceptions; for every Charles Krauthammer there is a Dan Froomkin; for every George Will there is a Frank Rich. For every twenty jejune Maureen Dowd columns, there is the all-too-rare exception.

The rest of the media, forever in the backwards shadow of the insular, elitist (yes, elitist) inside-the-Beltway circus, can’t (or worse, does not want to) figure out that the sources they quote (all too often anonymously) are waging war on the six-to-twelve hour spin cycle, so the details are massaged accordingly. And so we have Cheney getting equal, or more, air time than Obama, with the network nitwits breathlessly asking “Who is right?” That Cheney is getting so much play is not in itself a big deal; it’s undeniably newsworthy, and if he wants to dig himself deeper into his depraved ditch, I’m sure we all have a few shovels we’d be willing to lend him. In fact, he is unintentionally doing the country a large favor by backing himself further into a corner (not that he has any choice with the prospects of war crime trials, however unlikely, looming): he is drawing an unmistakable line in the rhetorical sand in terms of the rule of law and the ways it was trampled on his watch.

The problem is not that he is making his case convincingly; it’s that the Democrats (“led” by the half-witted and choleric Harry Reid) are scared enough of their own shadows that when a high-ranking (no matter how unpopular) Republican plays the terror card, they tremble with Pavlovian precision. The spectacle of Reid being played like an accordion, while spewing largely unintelligible tough talk (“Can’t put them in prison unless you release them”) was a new low, even by the minute standard he has set during his mostly feckless tenure.

 

The other, larger problem is that the media is obsessed with the us-and-them, false equivalence sham. It’s irresponsible enough to allow equal air time for obviously self-interested charlatans like Cheney and Gingrich; it’s incompetence bordering on dereliction that they ignore available evidence for the sake of sensationalism. To take just one of the more insidious examples, the notion that torture (although we won’t call it torture) was effective and saved thousands, perhaps millions, of lives is risible on every level. The simple fact that we got the info we needed from certain suspects before we tortured them should be a slam dunk for overdue accountability. The fact that the aforementioned torture was inflicted not to save lives but in the desperate attempt to coerce an acknowledgment of the fabricated tie between Sadaam and Osama is sickening as it is irrefutable. Even worse, and this is perhaps the most contemptible aspect of the disgrace that is Guantanamo, all of these so-called arguments rely on the erroneous assertion that all of these detained individuals represent the “worst of the worst”. In other words, it’s explicitly understood, in the Cheney version of this story, that every single person we’ve captured is guilty. Of course, even a cursory examination of the case files reveals that more than a handful of these people, aside from never being charged with a crime, had no ties or connections to Al-Qaeda. There are many examples, here’s one.

Where is the media in all of this? Busy handicapping the spin as a legitimately alternate perspective. Impartiality, in today’s media, means allowing liars to lie with impunity and letting Americans decide for themselves which “side” is more convincing. No wonder more than fifty percent of Americans have indicated that torture is acceptable in certain circumstances. John McLaughlin himself actually uttered the words “not all waterboarding is the same” on a recent show. Thanks for clearing that up for us, big guy. Virtually the remainder of the chattering class has been perfectly content to keep their readership on a need-to-know basis. Not taking a principled stand is one thing (only people who find actual inspiration in movies like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington expect more than this from our supine press), but to actively disengage with reality is unconscionable. If only these posers had sufficient shame, or awareness, to understand how poorly they’ve performed in the service of our nation.

Obama, as Matt Taibbi points out here, has gone from not exactly distinguishing himself in this matter (as well as waffling on the mostly lucid and unassailable take he offered on the campaign trail) to clumsily ensnaring himself in this mess to, against all probability, upping the ante. Count me amongst the people who are willing to give him some more time, and some additional benefit of the doubt (certainly, he inherited this disaster and only the most naively optimistic folks on the left actually expected he could waltz into office and change this fiasco overnight). Count me also amongst those who are puzzled (at best) and disillusioned (at worst) by his behavior. By hanging back and letting the Cheney pushback gain traction, he immediately made his task a lot harder than it had to be. Rookie mistake? Let’s hope. By ostensibly trying to avoid politicizing the matter (as if that is possible in contemporary America) he all but guaranteed it would be entirely about politics. And thus far, the bad guys are winning. It’s early still and Obama has shown himself to be a master of the long game, but it’s difficult to get a good read on how (or why) he’s allowed this opportunity to slip from his hands, and into the oily, scaled claws of Darth Cheney. Inconceivably, the attacks that happened on the last administration’s watch turned out to be the gift that keeps giving. Only in America.

 

Lastly, there are the rest of us. Part of the equation, one hoped, in electing Obama was to begin moving past the Bush debacle as quickly as possible; in this regard, any warm body (well, any warm Democrat’s body) would do the trick. But Obama, his eloquence and affirmations aside, spoke forcefully about reclaiming the rule of law and undertaking the imperative task of restoring America’s standing in the eyes of the world. Part of that promise entailed renouncing, without equivocation, the types of travesties that in a pre-9/11 world would never happen on U.S. soil. That was part of the evolution of a democratic nation, we learned from our past mistakes and, as unforgivable as they were, we moved on. The Bill of Rights and that little thing called Habeas Corpus guaranteed (at least in principle) that if atrocities occurred, they would be recognized, denounced, and those responsible held to account. Mostly, it reassured the world that anyone on our soil would be treated in accordance with our laws. As quaint as it may sound to 21st Century ears, Americans once overwhelmingly endorsed this quite simple proposition; it was, in effect, the bulwark our freedom was built upon.

As we now know, 9/11 changed everything. 9/11 gave us the terror card, still the only dark ace up the sleeve of the detestable GOP; as we’ve seen in recent weeks, it still trumps the house (of Representatives). 9/11 gave us Guantanamo and the bottomless pit of moral putrefacation. 9/11 gave us Jack Bauer who, along with Walker, Texas Ranger, will keep us safe and ensure that America remains unfriendly turf for evildoers and liberals. How else, really, to explain the hysteria that attended the announcement of some detainees possibly being moved to maximum security prisons within the U.S.A.? Only a craven populace spoon-fed the aesthetic sensibilities of Prison Break could possibly conceive a scenario where these hardened (yet untried) criminal masterminds band together to bust out of their chains and wreak havoc on the pastoral American heartland. The same simpletons obsessed with owning guns, it seems, are afraid to actually use them if the situation ever arose. But that’s a joke anyway; only people who steer their mental ships to the ill-winds blown by Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News could really get weak in the knees imagining escaped al-Qaeda agents roaming their gated communities.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead, more people were horrified by the possibility (not to mention the certainty) that innocent civilians were plucked out of their offices or homes and spirited away overseas, held without charge and tortured without compunction? How about, instead of imagining our children being savaged by terrorist outlaws on the loose, we contemplated the possibility of our children being held, in a foreign country, with no legal recourse, and indicted without a trial? Without even being told what they supposedly did? These are the dark fantasies Kafka imagined and Orwell anticipated, but the point of such dystopian fiction was to depict the worst case scenario so as to shake slumbering citizens awake.

A perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.

Here we are, in a scared new world, with atrocities having been committed in our names. Those most culpable keep on rattling the sabres of insanity, strutting like peacocks on a TV screen near you. The journalists watch their own backs while their bosses are too busy watching their profits dwindle to process more bad news. The politicians fear nothing more than losing their status, and will be accountable enough to go on record once the dust has finally settled. Almost everyone else reclines in silence, well-fed and secure behind the wall of sleep.

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How Caddyshack Explains Everything (Revisited)

7/22/2009:

Listening to the disingenuous whining of the G.O.P. regarding the outrageous and irresponsible debt Obama is creating provokes various reactions. Here are ten of them.

(But first, the image it conjures is that of Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) taking the controls of his yacht and wreaking havoc in the bay: his rampage ends as, unable to figure out a way to stop the boat, he slams into Judge Smails’ (Ted Knight) wonderfully named Flying Wasp. Czervik’s initial reaction seems to be one of embarrassed culpability; he runs over to inspect the damage and then, as only the most clueless and pampered multi-millionaire ever could, he looks down and exclaims to Smails, “Hey, you scratched my anchor!” And just in case there is any confusion, Czervik represents George W. Bush–an analogy that is apt on myriad levels.)

The first is: You assholes just spent eight years incinerating the American Dream; now you have the temerity to come out of your crawl space and complain that the guy with the big firehose (Obama) is getting everything wet? I guess it wasn’t so bad when it was a different guy with a different hose; in fact, it was oddly warm when the last guy was splashing all over your face…admit it, you kind of liked it, didn’t you? Different water sports for different folks, as the saying goes.

Second, as this piece by David Leonhardt reminds anyone with eyes, the debt did not exactly hit unsuspecting Americans like a tidal wave on January 20, 2009. Indeed, the bulk of this deficit took the entirety of the Bush administration to metastasize. And don’t kid yourself: it was a very calculated process, with malice aforethought. Nobody could have predicted how insane the real estate bubble truly was (though Paul Krugman was more like Paul Revere for many years while few people in positions of power listened; indeed he was regularly mocked and marginalized), but one need not have actually experienced the Great Depression to see what was coming. Indeed, one only needed to live through the late ’80s S&L crisis or the dot.com boom & bust to understand that monopoly money only works when one is playing the board game.

"Don't worry...it's good luck!"

"Don't worry...it's good luck!"

Third: Funny how nobody can quite bring themselves to consider the actual costs involved with that little foreign clusterfuck also known as Iraq. To put it in simple terms: it has not been an inexpensive adventure.

Fourth: How come the people who benefit least from tax cuts for the wealthy understand least how rotten a deal it is? (That is a rhetorical question, mostly.) The G.O.P. can always count on its base to take a bite out of the Baby Ruth bar.

"It's no big deal!"

"It's no big deal!"

Fifth: Seriously, how the fuck is it possible for people that work for a living (and pay taxes) to still be hoodwinked by this scam?

I assume Obama's doing a good job since the biggest douchebags in the country think he's doing a bad job

 

Sixth: Other than total ignorance or reflective racism, I can think of exactly zero reasons these same tax-paying American workers fail to see why universal health care is not a fantastic thing. You know, something that would actually help, not hurt them. Fox News and the people that watch it are, of course, beyond assistance. But for the rest of the folks? Obama is simply going to have to damn the torpedoes and do a much more effective job conveying what a no-brainer this actually is. Hopefully tonight is the first significant step in the right direction. Stay tuned.

Seventh: If you find yourself discussing these matters with a Republican friend who claims to be appalled with the way Obama the Socialist is saddling future generations with mountains of debt, feel free to refer to this (taken from the Leonhardt article, above):

The story of today’s deficits starts in January 2001, as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. The Congressional Budget Office estimated then that the government would run an average annual surplus of more than $800 billion a year from 2009 to 2012. Today, the government is expected to run a $1.2 trillion annual deficit in those years.

You can think of that roughly $2 trillion swing as coming from four broad categories: the business cycle, President George W. Bush’s policies, policies from the Bush years that are scheduled to expire but that Mr. Obama has chosen to extend, and new policies proposed by Mr. Obama.

The first category — the business cycle — accounts for 37 percent of the $2 trillion swing. It’s a reflection of the fact that both the 2001 recession and the current one reduced tax revenue, required more spending on safety-net programs and changed economists’ assumptions about how much in taxes the government would collect in future years.

About 33 percent of the swing stems from new legislation signed by Mr. Bush. That legislation, like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, not only continue to cost the government but have also increased interest payments on the national debt.

Mr. Obama’s main contribution to the deficit is his extension of several Bush policies, like the Iraq war and tax cuts for households making less than $250,000. Such policies — together with the Wall Street bailout, which was signed by Mr. Bush and supported by Mr. Obama — account for 20 percent of the swing.

About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama’s agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas.

Eighth: If Bill Kristol and Newt Gingrich, those arbiters of equality, are stridently opposed to legislation, how could that legislation possibly be a bad thing? That is just shorthand logic at work: look at who is fighting universal healthcare: the most insufferable conservatives and the insurance industry. Those guys have your best interest in mind as much as this guy does:

55_cheney

Ninth: Anyone who thinks invoking Cheney is either a cliche or a cheap shot, just remember, this is the motherfucker who said Deficits don’t matter!

Tenth: Read this.

murray

The Al Czervik analogy works on many levels, but it’s difficult to promote the notion of poor, unsuspecting America being represented by the bilious buffoon Elihu Smails; that old codger deserved his comeuppance, and Czervik, clown that he is, still is the one we root for because it’s not our money, it’s not our country club. It’s a country club cage match, and the only spoils the winners get is the privilege of being kings of a…country club.

Perhaps the better analogy, from the same movie, is the less metaphorically sticky moment when Carl (Bill Murray) watches lightning strike the priest and quickly, without a second thought, sneaks off into the night. All jokes aside, one would be hard pressed to come up with a better single image signifying the accountability of the ones who brazenly drove us off the cliff.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly: did I just actually utilize scenes from Caddyshack to discuss Republican intransigence on Obama’s initiatives? Well what do you want, nuanced, reasoned insight and exhaustive historical analysis over what boils down to the G.O.P. being scared shitless that successful health care policy will further entrench them in the wilderness? You’ll get nothing and like it!

They should have yelled "Two"

They should have yelled "Two"

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It’s (Still) Not Only About Obama

 obama-superman

The Nobel Peace Prize –and the general sense of optimism and expectation– is not only about Obama. This was true before the election and it’s true now.

In addition to an overdue but thorough repudiation of Republican incompetence, Obama’s landslide was more about the majority than the man. This belabors the obvious, today, but it’s instructive to recall the folks (and there were lots of them) who were convinced of two things back in ’08: one, that Hillary Clinton represented the best chance for Democratic victory; and two, Obama had no chance to win. That he did was not only historic on multiple fronts, but tempted many in the country to reach the optimistic, if premature conclusion that race relations had turned the corner. While it’s obvious that a fair chunk of the population would diametrically oppose Obama no matter what, it only takes a cursory examination of the tactics and tenor of their resistance to understand the bile simmering centimeters beneath the surface. Nevertheless, what some people ascertained early in the Obama/Clinton face-off was that Hillary had the unenviable prospects of having about half the country hate her, before she even took office. At least it’s taken Obama a few months of not miraculously resuscitating the economy he inherited (even Superman, for all his unparalleled powers, was not able to create jobs) to earn some skepticism. But his ability to appeal to the moderates and middle-of-the-roaders was the key ingredient of his electoral success. And that possibility, beyond the charisma and the eloquence, was what propelled the audacity to hope.

Naturally, news of Obama’s Nobel Prize is going to explode the empty heads of the haters, but it will also give the mouth-breathers a new outrage to rally around. Let’s stop and pause at the irony: for the better part of eight years Dems worked themselves into a lather with every new Bush embarrassment; for the past eight months each Obama accolade is treated like an act of treason. Actually, there is not much irony there at all –the same idiots who held their breath like infants during the Clinton years (years that look better and better in hindsight) and marched lockstep with every Bush decision that set the country back, now throwing tea-party tantrums while Obama tries to clean up the playpen he inherited.

Tea_party_2

To be fair, whoever was willing (much less able) to tackle the myriad obstacles Bush & Co. left in the way is worthy of an award. But let there be no mistake: Obama’s honor is very much a repudiation of Bush’s hideous legacy. And if this is seen by the howling twits on the Right as a big “F You” from the rest of the world, it’s small recompense for the eight year “F You” the previous administration offered the world, to everyone’s detriment. (Speaking of those twits, enough can’t be said about how eagerly they seek to place our foreign and domestic disasters at Obama’s feet even though they vocally endorsed the decisions that led to this state of affairs.)

And that is the most disgraceful development: I’ve yet to hear many condemnations of the demonstrably failed policies of the Bush years. That is because there have been very few of them. Most of the post-mortems have appraised the political failures. And therein lies the rub: Bush stopped being popular and more importantly, Bush stopped winning, therefore his legacy is tarnished in the fickle, always opportunistic eyes of those who once ardently endorsed him. The actual recklessness and depravity of the policies have not been reevaluated or disowned; indeed, their supporters have doubled down on them (see last year’s election).

To be certain, the hardcore right-wing offered tepid support for McCain not only because he was such a woefully inadequate candidate (that is the sane view; the insider GOP view was that he had no chance to win, therefore his embrace by the powers-that-be was never more than lukewarm) but also that he wasn’t a real Republican. He sought compromise and he was viewed as too often too willing to work with the other party to get things accomplished. This shows you the diminishing returns of bipartisanship, circa Y2K: McCain’s scarcely heroic public stance against torture or his reluctance to offer full-throated support to the cretinous scaremongering that passes for Republican discourse on immigration hardly made him a moderate. But in today’s GOP, it does. And that is why Obama was elected, and why –despite the predictable and appalling fecklessness of so many elected Democrats — the Republican brand is at a nadir of sorts (don’t mistake the millions of citizens disgusted by the Wall Street shenanigans or the unemployment numbers –directly brought about by Bush’s domestic policies — as any sort of endorsement of a return to Republican rule).

bush-shoe-dodge

It is imperative to recognize, and point out as often as necessary, that the same sadists pulling the strings in the not-so-big GOP tent are mostly angry and embarrassed because they got beaten last November. There has been nothing approximating a concerned or sober investigation of what went so dreadfully wrong as a result of bellicose foreign policy, the reckless (and expensive) launch of an unnecessary war, or the thoroughly debunked and shameful worship of free-market, voodoo economics. In this regard what passes for the Republican intelligentsia is quite identical to the flat-earth imbeciles who insist, even as the evidence otherwise piles up all around them, that Jesus was white and dinosaurs ambled about the Garden of Eden and the world is only a few thousand years old.

Even now, as unemployment numbers rise alongside escalating health care costs, you have right-wing scribes advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest half-percent and an intolerance for reform that undercuts the very principle of free market economics (Is it not a self-defeating argument that the same party who clamors for the inviolable advantages of competition suddenly opposes it in this one instance? Is it not more than a little revealing that the same big government they ridicule suddenly poses such a menacing threat to the insurance industry?) This is the one argument that reveals the hollow core of the Republican machinery: if any of these folks actually believed in the economic principles they espouse, they would reluctantly have no choice but to acknowledge that the public option epitomizes the theory of market competition in practice. But, naturally, the ideology can be adjusted as necessary (just like the anti-deficit hawks made no noise when the Iraq debacle and the immoral tax cut policy put the entire country deep into the red), and this brazen hypocrisy makes it impossible to ever take these people seriously, if anyone ever did.

In regards to foreign policy –and it is in this capacity that Obama is inspiring the world community, and the impetus behind his Nobel Prize– it is tempting to simply propose that any developments that rankle the rogues gallery below is inherently worthwhile.

Cheney   bolton   krauthammer  

Look at those faces again, and remember what they wrought. Just getting these sociopaths out of positions of power and influence is a substantial accomplishment.

On the other hand:

guantanamo   us_war_deaths_coffins_DoD   don't ask

Those images are a sobering reminder of where we’ve been, and where we still are.

The most patient (and/or gullible) Obama endorsers keep reminding us that the president has a lot on his plate, and this much-vaunted change will take time. Okay, so how much time does he need? This is the same man who vowed to shut down Guantanamo on Day One, and end the farce known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. The fierce urgency of now quickly became the urgent ferocity of political ass-covering. And it would be one thing if the people Obama was inclined to infuriate (and they will be infuriated) represented anything approximating a majority, or anything more than a small minority. As it is, he’s avoiding making easy, sane and moral decisions to…appease the same lunatics who are already calling him a traitor and a socialist? It makes about as much sense as Michelle Bachmann.

And it is because of his extreme caution, and his infuriating equivocations on such no-brainers as gay marriage that the concern about Obama’s Nobel Prize is warranted. Not the superficial and trumped up consternation from the Right; but rather, the creeping skepticism on those from the Left (those who just today were dismissed by a typically anonymous chickenshit inside the administration as the “fringe left”). Talk about biting the hands that pulled the lever for you! I understand –somewhat– Obama’s foot-dragging on Guantanamo (perhaps once the health care debate is mostly sorted out it will be time to fight that battle, albeit way too late), but his cowardice on equal rights for all citizens is unconscionable and indefensible. It would be lame enough if this was a demographically polarizing issue (as it was during Clinton’s first term) but the fact that a majority of the people are behind this long overdue action makes Obama’s sluggishness a disgrace.

president-elect-obama-be-the-change-poster

And there are some of us who are mortified by the prospect that Obama is now standing on the shoulders of his most loyal supporters to fortify his bulwark of prudent calculation. That is not what he was elected for, and it will be an unacceptable turn of events if, not a year into his first term, he is already more worried about his second term than the promises he made to get him in office. It’s almost enough to make one wish for the tooth and nail trench warfare we might have expected from a Hillary Clinton one-and-done term in office (because don’t kid yourself, Hillary would never have a chance at re-election, in part because she would exhaust all of her political capital just staying afloat, yet that 24/7 offensive might provide the required ferocity to affect some meaningful change). Put another way, I’d much rather have a bruising and contentious four year term that actually yielded some change we can believe in than eight years of triangulated calculation, unfulfilled promise and sweet but ultimately empty rhetoric.

Perhaps a wake-up call is necessary: Obama, by all evidence, is a moderate, and he has said and done little to convince anyone otherwise. And if this is the best we can expect, it’s unfortunate but far from the end of the world (again, always keep in mind the alternatives the other party had on offer, and by all accounts is still offering). I’m still mostly content to hang back and reserve judgment and consider both the man and his presidency a work in progress. Concern is, to my mind, entirely warranted and a good measure of healthy skepticism is required. And yet. Considering, once again, the almost inconceivable cataclysm he walked into, and the fact that we are –by any mature measure– much better off than we could (or would) have been, there’s no need for the Dems to eat their own, as usual. Not yet. We have the luxury of keeping Obama accountable in part because he didn’t let us fall off the cliff this year. And that is quite worth keeping front and center in the year(s) ahead. Also, for all we know, events that are underway and  far from fruition could turn out to be both historic and heroic, in hindsight. We’ll see. My bet is that the president will more than earn this premature encomium in the hard years ahead.

Nonetheless, if Obama is half the man History is setting him up to be, he is right to be humbled and he would do well to dedicate all of his energy and eloquence toward making good on the promises he already made. We can hope for more, but we should expect no less.

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How Caddyshack Explains Everything (Exhibit A: The Deficit)

rodney

Listening to the disingenuous whining of the G.O.P. regarding the outrageous and irresponsible debt Obama is creating provokes various reactions. Here are ten of them.

(But first, the image it conjures is that of Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) taking the controls of his yacht and wreaking havoc in the bay: his rampage ends as, unable to figure out a way to stop the boat, he slams into Judge Smails’ (Ted Knight) wonderfully named Flying Wasp. Czervik’s initial reaction seems to be one of embarrassed culpability; he runs over to inspect the damage and then, as only the most clueless and pampered multi-millionaire ever could, he looks down and exclaims to Smails, “Hey, you scratched my anchor!” And just in case there is any confusion, Czervik represents George W. Bush–an analogy that is apt on myriad levels.)

The first is: You assholes just spent eight years incinerating the American Dream; now you have the temerity to come out of your crawl space and complain that the guy with the big firehose (Obama) is getting everything wet? I guess it wasn’t so bad when it was a different guy with a different hose; in fact, it was oddly warm when the last guy was splashing all over your face…admit it, you kind of liked it, didn’t you? Different water sports for different folks, as the saying goes.

Second, as this piece by David Leonhardt reminds anyone with eyes, the debt did not exactly hit unsuspecting Americans like a tidal wave on January 20, 2009. Indeed, the bulk of this deficit took the entirety of the Bush administration to metastasize. And don’t kid yourself: it was a very calculated process, with malice aforethought. Nobody could have predicted how insane the real estate bubble truly was (though Paul Krugman was more like Paul Revere for many years while few people in positions of power listened; indeed he was regularly mocked and marginalized), but one need not have actually experienced the Great Depression to see what was coming. Indeed, one only needed to live through the late ’80s S&L crisis or the dot.com boom & bust to understand that monopoly money only works when one is playing the board game.

"Don't worry...it's good luck!"

"Don't worry...it's good luck!"

Third: Funny how nobody can quite bring themselves to consider the actual costs involved with that little foreign clusterfuck also known as Iraq. To put it in simple terms: it has not been an inexpensive adventure.

Fourth: How come the people who benefit least from tax cuts for the wealthy understand least how rotten a deal it is? (That is a rhetorical question, mostly.) The G.O.P. can always count on its base to take a bite out of the Baby Ruth bar.

"It's no big deal!"

"It's no big deal!"

Fifth: Seriously, how the fuck is it possible for people that work for a living (and pay taxes) to still be hoodwinked by this scam?

I assume Obama's doing a good job since the biggest douchebags in the country think he's doing a bad job

Sixth: Other than total ignorance or reflective racism, I can think of exactly zero reasons these same tax-paying American workers fail to see why universal health care is not a fantastic thing. You know, something that would actually help, not hurt them. Fox News and the people that watch it are, of course, beyond assistance. But for the rest of the folks? Obama is simply going to have to damn the torpedoes and do a much more effective job conveying what a no-brainer this actually is. Hopefully tonight is the first significant step in the right direction. Stay tuned.

Seventh: If you find yourself discussing these matters with a Republican friend who claims to be appalled with the way Obama the Socialist is saddling future generations with mountains of debt, feel free to refer to this (taken from the Leonhardt article, above):

The story of today’s deficits starts in January 2001, as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. The Congressional Budget Office estimated then that the government would run an average annual surplus of more than $800 billion a year from 2009 to 2012. Today, the government is expected to run a $1.2 trillion annual deficit in those years.

You can think of that roughly $2 trillion swing as coming from four broad categories: the business cycle, President George W. Bush’s policies, policies from the Bush years that are scheduled to expire but that Mr. Obama has chosen to extend, and new policies proposed by Mr. Obama.

The first category — the business cycle — accounts for 37 percent of the $2 trillion swing. It’s a reflection of the fact that both the 2001 recession and the current one reduced tax revenue, required more spending on safety-net programs and changed economists’ assumptions about how much in taxes the government would collect in future years.

About 33 percent of the swing stems from new legislation signed by Mr. Bush. That legislation, like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, not only continue to cost the government but have also increased interest payments on the national debt.

Mr. Obama’s main contribution to the deficit is his extension of several Bush policies, like the Iraq war and tax cuts for households making less than $250,000. Such policies — together with the Wall Street bailout, which was signed by Mr. Bush and supported by Mr. Obama — account for 20 percent of the swing.

About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama’s agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas.

Eighth: If Bill Kristol and Newt Gingrich, those arbiters of equality, are stridently opposed to legislation, how could that legislation possibly be a bad thing? That is just shorthand logic at work: look at who is fighting universal healthcare: the most insufferable conservatives and the insurance industry. Those guys have your best interest in mind as much as this guy does:

55_cheney

Ninth: Anyone who thinks invoking Cheney is either a cliche or a cheap shot, just remember, this is the motherfucker who said Deficits don’t matter!

Tenth: Read this.

murray

The Al Czervik analogy works on many levels, but it’s difficult to promote the notion of poor, unsuspecting America being represented by the bilious buffoon Elihu Smails; that old codger deserved his comeuppance, and Czervik, clown that he is, still is the one we root for because it’s not our money, it’s not our country club. It’s a country club cage match, and the only spoils the winners get is the privilege of being kings of a…country club.

Perhaps the better analogy, from the same movie, is the less metaphorically sticky moment when Carl (Bill Murray) watches lightning strike the priest and quickly, without a second thought, sneaks off into the night. All jokes aside, one would be hard pressed to come up with a better single image signifying the accountability of the ones who brazenly drove us off the cliff.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly: did I just actually utilize scenes from Caddyshack to discuss Republican intransigence on Obama’s initiatives? Well what do you want, nuanced, reasoned insight and exhaustive historical analysis over what boils down to the G.O.P. being scared shitless that successful health care policy will further entrench them in the wilderness? You’ll get nothing and like it!

They should have yelled "Two"

They should have yelled "Two"

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The Krug or, In The Court of the Commerce King

Good riddance to that cynical putz, Judd Gregg. And frankly, thank you very little Tim Geithner for your impenetrable, marble-mouthed “strategy”, which wasn’t exactly Viagra for concerned Americans’ confidence levels.

Let’s make a bold move that would really matter: nominate Paul Krugman. Not that he’d take it (why would he want to do this job?)

Today’s column in the NYT, here, illustrates, yet again, that the Krug has been right, about everything, for the last eight years. And here’s the thing: it’s not simply that his advice wasn’t heeded; that he didn’t get the attention of the appropriate people, it was that he was ridiculed and derided for being a naysayer, a party-pooper, a dud (Kind of reminds me of Al Gore and how his thoughts about the environment used to be received). Krugman’s overdue Nobel for Economics was poetic justice, but in practical terms, it was esentially posthumous; not for his death, but the death of our economy. And he was harping about it, all along. Indeed, Krug and Gore’s Nobel prizes are like bookends signalling the semi-return to rational thought that all but dissipated during the Bush era.

A few words about the whole Bush era thing. Lest anyone think this is an attempt to lay all the blame at one man’s feet, it most certainly is not. The catastrophic mismanagement of the last eight years could never conceivably be attributed to one individual. Rather, it required a large, dedicated cadre of misguided goons to pull off such epic suck. Seriously. Now that the economy is off the rails, it’s become easier to overlook how much dough we’ve spent in Iraq. And I’m as glad as any other American-hating Defeatocrat that conditions seem to have stabilized over there, but let’s not kid ourselves: by the time the accounting is completed, we’re likely to have spent more than $3 Trillion (here’s a sobering refresher course). For what? Here is what we’ve been reduced to hoping for (and what its architects and defenders are now crowing about): that it’s not an unequivocal fiasco. If it’s merely stable enough so we can quietly extract ourselves, it will be a wash (and, in the opinions of the aforementioned war-monkeys, a total success, vindicating the entire endeavor). Think about that. And so, naturally, it’s tough to stomach the austere hand-wringing by the Repubs over the current (ever-shrinking!) stimulus package. Now, after the bride has been vengeance-fucked by a gang of drunken bikers, they are considering the more dignified option of chastity (in this instance, the bride is our financial future). As is always the case with “conservative” Doppelgängers , once the Prom is over they are eager to embrace virtue, albeit with a hangover and guilty conscience.

Things are bad. Things could be much worse.

What’s not to love about the Krug? It’s not just that he has been prescient on seemingly every issue (economic as well as foreign and domestic policy), it’s that he drives die-hard Republicans insane. Don’t make the mistake of equating the effect he has on Repubs to the effect, say, Newt Gingrich has on Dems. There is similar animosity, certainly, in both camps, but there is one crucial difference: in addition to being smarmy, smug and insufferable, Newt is also consistently, incredibly, reliably wrong on virtually every topic he pops off on. And boy does he pop off.  Still, what makes this very small man such a large nuisance (and so easy to see through) is that practically everything he espouses is inexorably designed to augment his own agenda. He is irrevocably dedicated to creating more space, for himself. It is all about him, more so than it is for the average political blowhard. Where most politicians, to quote James Brown, are too often talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothing; he talks loud and says many things. They just happen to all be wrong. In fact, Newt is the anti-Krug. On every issue Krug gets in front of (and is able to articulate in ways that are reasonable, effective and most importantly, subsequently proven right), Newt gets wrong. Iraq? Check. The mid-term elections in ’06? Check. Anything having to do with the economy? Check. In fact, Newt is wrong on things Krug doesn’t even go near, like political handicapping. Think I’m joking? As anyone paying attention these last two decades could have predicted, he was a vocal cheerleader for the current Republican intransigence on the stimulus plan (let’s return to the video tape: Not a single Republican vote! That, in and of itself, is abundantly revealing, but what the Repubs, among other things, have just done is unanimously vote against what amounts to the largest middle class tax cuts in history. That might not play out, shall we say, to their satisfaction in 2010). His allergy to bi-partisanship under any circumstances is not what makes him unique, it is the way he combines being incorrect with the craven (and consistent) willingness to distance himself from his own pronouncements once they lay in ruins all around him. He, like many of his opportunistic ilk, could not have run away from Bush quickly enough once it was clear any association with him was toxic. He is, in short, his own unique and special entity, and I certainly hope he waddles front and center for the GOP in the years ahead, as it can only help us.

But getting back to Krugman: he irritates Republicans not simply because he tells the truth, but he tells it without allegiance to ideology or agenda. Unless you want to start calling “the truth” an agenda (and, now that I think about it, that is kind of what many Republicans did these last eight years, and as Stephen Colbert brilliantly pointed out, the truth has a discernible liberal bias). He is that increasingly rare entity: an economist who actually takes the time to taste the tea instead of just reading tea leaves. This requires intellectual rigor, hard work, and courage–something most economists (and just about all Republicans, and, frankly, more than a few Democrats on the scene right now) lack.

Krugman doesn’t need the honor, or aggravation, of being formally involved in any administration. His words will be listened to for the simple reason that they should be listened to. They demand attention. But it is in our collective best interest that we pay more attention, and do our part (in whatever way it’s possible–mostly by hoping Obama and his somewhat underwhelming front line of defense on economic matters pay close attention). There never seems to be a short supply of insider-types who monitor crises with one hand on their balls and one hand holding their own wallet (see: Paulson, Henry and Geithner, Timothy). Regrettably, despite the considerable promise the Obama administration presents, and the significant accomplishments already attained (how do you think that “stimulus” package would look if McCain was counting on Phil Gramm to help craft it? And that’s assuming there was even an interest in stimulating anything, other than more of the same egregious tax cuts that made this mess metastasize), there are some serious lightweights and old-school crusaders whose chief ambition is to maintain the status quo. Which would be: to maintain that expanding space between the have-nots and the have-mores. This is the one thing all of the old guard find intolerable. Let’s hope some better angels (we could settle for some mediocre angels) are able to step up and make the words meaningful and difference work simultaneously. It would be change, and not change everyone can believe in. Which is progress: the people who don’t believe in that type of change are the very people we can no longer afford to have obstructing the way forward.

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Tar and Feather Time?

From Truthdig, courtesy of RJ Matson (The St. Louis Post Dispatch).

Not much to add here, but something does occur to me. The tax cut maniacs are single issue obsessives for the simplest of reasons: tax cuts don’t work. Lest that sound too cute by half, or like I’m invoking some Orwellian doublespeak, it’s much less complicated (and more insidious) than that. This mantra (that tax cuts spread wealth, create jobs, and stimulate er…the economy) has proven to be patently false, often, in spectacular fashion. First during the Reagan years, and now during the Bush catastrophe. Indeed, even now it is screaming out its impotence right before our foreclosed eyes. But here’s the rub (literally): the folks who propagate this myth and define this debate (the ones with actual power, not the millions of beguiled True Believers who continue to blame the government instead of the scheming autopilots who intentionally debase it) have little to lose and quite a bit to gain. Put simply: these folks are not merely shameless and without souls, they are also remarkably shrewd. It’s not that they actually believe increased and unceasing tax cuts, particularly for the wealthiest percentile, are viable in any demonstrable way; it’s precisely the ways they fail as a strategy that makes for such a win/win proposition.

Check it out: in the short-term, tax cuts put more money in your pocket. Well, at least if you’re wealthy. And the wealthier you are, the more money you get. See? The other folks, not so much. Sure, it seems swell to get that extra few hundred bucks, but those Benjamins are not going too far when, at the same time, your health care premiums have doubled. Or additional benefits are cut at work. Or your credit card interest rate is jacked up. Get the piture? But here’s the ugly beauty: these cretins know it will cause the economy to bloat, then implode. And that’s usually the time a Democrat gets called in to clean up the mess (see: Carter, Jimmy; Clinton, Bill and Obama, Barack). The more indebted the U.S. is, the more government programs get cut, and the less efficient government is as a result. So that Republicans can point and say “See? We keep trying to explain that the big, bad government isn’t going to help you; and do you want these inefficient programs taking hard-earned money out of your pockets?” And the cycle continues again.

The spin always outperforms the true story. We’ve seen it before (there were people, then, and there are actually people, now, blaming FDR for making government too intrusive; there are people, discussed here recently, who point to the “Reagan Revolution” as a time when the free market prevailed and prosperity abounded, despite all annoying evidence to the contrary), and we’ll see it again. In fact, we are already getting a taste: listen to the blowhards bitching about the Big G (Government); nevermind that the size of government increased the last 8 years.

Look: politicians of either party will always be politicians, and to a certain extent, people are people, no matter who they vote for or what they believe (because the bottom line is, the overwhelming majority of us have to work and pay bills and our taxes are non-negotiable). Or to put it less kindly, we are all of us sheep, hoping the grass in our pen doesn’t stop growing. And that’s the way it’s always been, so there’s nothing really to begrudge: it takes people to make a democracy, after all (like, literally: no matter how mendacious or benevolent the party in power at a particular time, without the citizens, and our taxes, our labor and our consensus, we glide right past aristocracy and into oblivion). The only folks we can, and should, reserve our contempt for are the relative handful actually in power, often scheming behind the scenes: the ones who can make or break lives with the policies or decisions they implement; the ones fully aware how much their temporal and short-sighed intentions affect innocent lives. Those are the ones for whom we should break out the tar and the feathers.

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