The Masochistic Democratic Debates, Part III

2019 07 31 Delaney

There is no central air in my apartment. There is just a cylindrical fan, two feet tall and six inches in diameter, that wheezes and growls as it marches toward its third year of maintenance. There is no other defense against the summer heat, and when you live on an upper floor, like I do, you are very vulnerable indeed. This was the scene as set by Mother Nature for the next installment of the Democratic Party’s presidential debates, as I just couldn’t justify flying out to Detroit to watch the horror show in person. I probably could have found a “watch party” somewhere in town, or at least in Manchester, hosted by some bar where there might even be a functional air conditioner, but for some reason, this seemed more appropriate: with a tall glass of Boston rum punch at my side and my notepad and pen ready to work, I would sit in the dark, struggling to breathe, and watch a gang of psychopaths describe their strategy to suffocate us all.

Don’t misunderstand me: not everyone onstage is a psychopath. It’s just that the great majority of them are. Malice tips the scales in the presidential race, and the guilty pleasure of weighing seems to diminish every four years. It’s becoming harder and harder for these politicians to feign empathy or even sincerity, and in the absence of earnest enthusiasm, a televised debate becomes less of a pageant and more of a funeral. Then again, that might explain why the spectacle is growing all the more profitable for CNN and the other hosts of media conglomerates: maybe the audience prefers the desperate adrenaline produced by the sense of impending doom.

Last night, at least, I did not share their anticipation, even for much less ethereal reasons. Simply, I knew that only Marianne Williamson was capable of offering a thoughtful critique of American social structures, but I had very little hope that she would be permitted more than five minutes to speak. This is what I mean when I speak of the basic joy that is draining from our political rituals: the networks of mass media cannot acknowledge Williamson, not even to exploit her existential ruminations for ratings, all because she might raise an uncommonly solemn point about inherent faults in our social, political, or economic systems. It’s all well and good when Elizabeth Warren refers to “real, systemic change”, because she never endorses a specific change to the system, but as soon as you find a legitimate critic, then the media powerhouses pull out all the stops.


Traitors of Journalism: Anthony Zurcher of the BBC, Carnival Barker for the Democratic Party

I really don’t enjoy pointing out the failures of other journalists, but if I have to read one more of Anthony Zurcher’s embarrassing previews for the Democratic debates, then I think I’ve earned the right to cope by ridiculing him for typing such swill. I will even be generous, though he has done nothing to earn my good favor, and write with as little cruelty of spirit as I can sustain. Zurcher is hardly the only incompetent polluting the pool of political journalism, but his juvenile analyses of “audience expectations” for the Democratic debates are too tasteless to be swallowed without a bit of protest.

In the first place, there is nothing noble in writing a “preview” for a presidential debate. A preview is nothing more than a gaudy advertisement, a shallow promotion for some commercial entity. It’s tedious enough to sit through trailers at the movies, but to reduce a political debate to something so superficial and self-serving is simply obscene. Matt Taibbi recently wrote about the corporate media’s shameful approach to political spectacle, an approach which is becoming frighteningly reminiscent of that which is undertaken by ESPN. The only difference is that ESPN is honest about its content, lacking the pretentious sense of prestige that accompanies the coverage on CNN and MSNBC. If you haven’t checked out Taibbi’s article, you owe it to yourself to do so:


Examining Tulsi Gabbard’s Support for House Resolution 246

Note: if you’re reading this article on Twitter, then you may have to hover over the white spaces to reveal the hyperlinks.

You might measure one’s political-moral character by that same one’s capacity for compromise. More specifically, if one will freely yield on basic principles, then that person ought to be respected not at all. I maintain a hard, inflexible line on every moral proposition, which is why I’ve supported only two politicians in my life hitherto. Yes, I have a lot of deal-breakers, and the deals are proving to be particularly brittle in the Trumpish Age. If you support Mike Pence’s scheme to engineer a coup in Venezuela, then you won’t receive my vote—that means you, Joe Biden. If you refuse to stand in defense of Julian Assange, or if you stand with the Pentagon in prosecuting him, then you won’t receive my vote—that means you, Andrew Yang, and that definitely means you, Elizabeth Warren. And if you see Gaza through an exclusively Israeli lens, if you think that the government of Israel is entirely in the right and the government of Palestine is entirely in the wrong, then you won’t receive my vote—that means you, Cory Booker.

For the record, I do not maintain a reciprocal stance on the Gaza question. If you wholeheartedly embrace the Palestinian government and believe that it has never taken a misstep in its interactions with Israel, then I won’t say that I agree, but I won’t condemn you, and I won’t refuse to vote for you, either. I’m not suggesting that Palestine and Israel deserve equal blame; on the contrary, it is incredibly obvious to me that the Palestinians are the victims here, and therefore, any wrongdoing on their part would have to be considered in the context of Israel’s anteceding aggression. All I’m saying is that I don’t know if I would take the aforementioned unilateral approach, at least for the moment. And I would still be willing to vote for you, whereas I would not be willing to vote for a person who says that Israel has never done anything wrong.

In any case, it is unfathomable that we would ever see a mainstream politician express unapologetic enthusiasm for Palestine, even though gushing Israeli jingoism is essentially the official language of Washington, D.C. There is, however, a Palestinian movement that is tantalizingly close to going mainstream in America; I’m referring, of course, to the BDS movement, which encourages people and their governments to boycott the Israeli government, divest themselves of financial ties to the Israeli government, and sanction the Israeli state until it abandons its imperialist campaign and finally leaves the Palestinians in peace.


Gabbard vs. Google: Finally Putting Shadow Blocking on Trial

The news of Tulsi Gabbard’s lawsuit against the Google corporation for a cool $50 million arrives in the American media market with a thud. This thudding ought not to be read as proof of the suit’s irrelevance; on the contrary, this could be the most important tale of techno-politics this year. Yet, the ungrateful American within my spirit yearns to fold his arms, purse his lips, and scoff, “What took you so long?” In these restless times of perpetual distraction, it’s hard to believe that shadow blocking, the action at the crux of Gabbard’s lawsuit, has been a conspicuous problem for less than three years, but, as The New York Times observed, this “is believed to be the first time a presidential candidate has sued a major technology firm”. You can read the New York Times piece, which was written with more than incidental scorn, yourself at the link below:

If you are already familiar with the Orwellian practice of shadow blocking, then at least we might take comfort in knowing that the practice has not been perfectly successful . . . not yet, anyway. If you are not, then you are probably a victim of the practice, as is Gabbard. Come to think of it, the story of her lawsuit has been shadow blocked, as well: none of the major media conglomerates are granting this story any meaningful attention, and as I said, the New York Times piece, cursory as it was, appears to have been written to criticize the suit. With the corporate media looking the other way, and with the Federal Trade Commission fining Facebook $5 billion for unrelated offenses, it may be that Google wishes to discretely settle out of court, rather risk the exposure of more specific evidence.

Please understand that, when we speak of evidence, we are not speaking of the methods and means whereby Google steers you away from certain sources of information and towards certain others. At this point, the algorithms employed in Google’s search engines could probably be understood by a high-school student. No, the real evidence, the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, is the reason why Google chooses these algorithms instead of others. What’s in it for them? Why is it so important for them that I go to CNN instead of, say, RT? What is going on here?

In filing this lawsuit, Tulsi Gabbard is taking us one step closer to the answers to these questions, and to many others. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, as we sometimes do here. Let’s furnish a working definition of shadow blocking, lest we lose our newcomers at the starting point.


A Sad and Racist Incident in Rochester, New Hampshire

New Hampshire is an interesting state. Rumor has it that most Americans outside of New England have never heard of it. I don’t know if I believe that rumor, in part because it’s alarming to consider: are we really the most irrelevant of the fifty states, on a par with West Virginia or Wyoming? Then again, I’m sure the residents of those states ask themselves the same question. Well, one difference between those two and New Hampshire is that the Granite State is so unpredictable politically. It’s hard to call it purple when it’s really just a blur. Take a look at the presidential primaries in 2016: Bernie blasted Clinton by twenty-two points, and Trump topped his closest competitors by twenty.

Perhaps the inconsistency can be attributed to the absence of a consistent definition of what life in New Hampshire is. Roll through the mountains and you will find upper-middle-class people living in deliberate isolation, and there are just as many wealthy yahoos hiding in their cottages on Lake Winnipesaukee. But crawl within the bowels of Laconia or Manchester and you will find all sorts of people trapped in living hell, hiding within their apartments so the cops don’t find out about the heroin hidden in the bedroom. The imaginative dissonance in New Hampshire is a fluid illustration of the perceptual contrasts Howard Zinn described in A People’s History: when we think about the Roaring Twenties, we don’t think about kids succumbing to tuberculosis or war protesters rotting in prison.

Of course, I don’t pretend to know how many of New Hampshire’s desperate drug addicts voted, never mind for whom. It’s possible that this had nothing to do with it, anyway, although President Trump seemed to feel differently when he informed the President of Mexico that the Granite State is a “drug-infested den”. Notwithstanding the obvious questions of tact, I invite everyone to drive through the back streets of Manchester, Nashua, and Tilton—or even the main streets of Laconia—and tell me if Trump’s comment was completely baseless. There’s a lot of suffering going on out here, especially in the winter, when those drug users have to think about how they’re going to pay their rent.

Housing is an interesting problem in New Hampshire. We still have no sales tax, so word around the campfire is that the state collects its revenue through its property taxes. I don’t have the figures in front of me, but I know I pay quite a bit in escrow, and the only reason I own my place is because renting an apartment in this state is insane. When I was eighteen, I rented my first apartment in downtown Laconia for $500 a month, plus electricity; nine years later, you can’t even find a studio apartment for the same rate. Your best bet is to move in with your girlfriend, even if you two aren’t ready to take that step, but if you’re terminally single, like I am, then you’re gonna have to put an ad on Craigslist and hope for the best.


Paranoia, Crooked Prosecutions, and Rum Cocktails: Kamala Harris in Gilford, NH


Note: Sorry for the total lack of creativity in the pictures.

Hardly anybody read my dreary piece on Joe Biden’s awkward tour of southern New Hampshire, and with good reason: once the title rolls over your eyes, you’re already aware that I’ll have nothing to share that you didn’t already learn for yourself a long time ago. Yes, Joe Biden is physiologically incapable of speaking in anything other than shopworn platitudes because to speak the truth would be to commit political suicide, as he would expose himself as another prostitute to Wall Street, the arms industries, the private prison systems, and many other awful actors besides. Sure, we need to get the word out about these unconvincing actors, but I can’t expect people who are already versed in these subjects to sit through a tedious introduction.

I’ll admit, I feel a similar impatience when I go to these events, knowing that I’m going to be fed a lot of pap that will force me to reconsider my own pledge that I will not kill myself and leave my cat without a human. I mean, the vacuous ether that exudes through the maws of these politicians is friggin’ agonizing. It used to be a lot easier for me to put up with it, back when I was just starting out and it was still surreal to see a politician up close and personal, but I’ve been to this circus too many times before, and once you’ve seen literally dozens of these clowns, well, you begin to feel as though you’ve seen ‘em all.

Then again, maybe I was still sulking in the afterglow of my time with Tulsi Gabbard. As I said in my last essay, that woman spoiled me: for four days in a row, she stood in restaurants and opera houses and living rooms and addressed her audience as intellectual adults. She didn’t appeal to our vanity by telling us how wonderful we are and how lovely things will be; no, she told us that we’re standing at “this nuclear abyss”, and she told us to pull our heads out of our backsides before the whole thing goes to hell in a handbasket. She didn’t use that vocabulary, exactly, but her speeches weren’t the kind of saccharine fluff that you can put on a bumper sticker. No, she actually expected you to pay attention, whereas Joe Biden really seemed as if he’d just rolled out of bed. I mean, if you can’t be bothered to take your sunglasses off, then why should we inconvenience ourselves by showing up sober?

I knew that Kamala Harris, who was lurking somewhere in Gilford, New Hampshire, on Sunday the 14th, probably wouldn’t be quite as nauseating as Biden had, but all the same, I thought it would be asinine to make any assumptions and take any chances. Accordingly, I waited in a parking lot on Weirs Road, listening to a speech Ralph Nader made in Canada in 2015, until 11:30 AM, when Patrick’s Pub finally opened and allowed the first wave of motorcyclists and Bay State tourists to mosey on in. It still amazes me that there are enough “new money” families coming into Gilford and Laconia each summer to keep this half of the Lakes Region afloat, but that hasn’t been my problem in years. I can’t even remember the last time I went to Patrick’s . . . it must have been before I was a drinking man, back when I still thought I could make a girlfriend of a waitress by writing her a poem.