Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (movie review)

Greg Palast strikes again with an in-depth look at what happens when high powered database tools, such as SQL (Structured Query Language), fall into the hands of politicians.

As an SQL user myself and someone with experience with joining tables, I feel a bit like an architect or engineer after my discipline gets accused of not knowing how to build high rises.  Of course we know that outer joins on first name, last name, skipping middle name or including it, are not going to mean anything regarding double voting across state lines.

Apparently a bunch of Mickey Mouse astroturf organizations have been pandering to the spoiled gliterati with a kind of pseudo data science snake oil, as an answer to their prayers.  The sucker rich have willingly coughed up millions, at fundraisers and so on, to underwrite a dream-come-true gold plated voter suppression scam called CrossCheck.

The overall design is nothing new but requires serious computer power to do its work. The scam also depends on willing minions in charge of voter laws, and a spineless Supreme Court (which we've enjoyed for quite some time, witness Citizens United), working in cahoots with pretend data scientists to break the (former) law of the land.

Because the fronts look so corporate, no one suspects organized crime, except the very few paying close attention.  Corporate media look the other way as their job is to manufacture consent according to sponsor preferences.

If you're watching closely, the sleight of hand is not even that clever and mostly depends on journalists not behaving like Greg Palast, calling out the Heritage Foundation, the Koch brothers, and Paul Singer, whom he dubs "the vulture" (clearly a leading villain in this film).

Rumors about "double voting" on a massive scale get pushed out through social media, getting voters to pass strict photo ID laws tailor made for racial profiling and discrimination.

Require DMV ID (Department of Motor Vehicles) and then close the DMVs in red-lined neighborhoods. These tricks are not new.

Unfortunately, these uber-rich people schemes came at a time when the USA was already fragile. This time the Tea Party plus Trump Train wrecking ball combo may have succeeded in shredding the final veil.

We're living in some "USSA" now, new territory and one in which Washington DC enjoys a precarious claim to legitimacy, what with the vultures closing in from every side.

Uncle Sam is broke, and all sold out to the highest bidder.  The Pentagon now brokers mercenaries for hire. But is that new?  "War is a racket" said Smedley (read on).

I'm not saying the USA couldn't reboot itself somehow -- at Project VOTE! we tried to include the disenfranchised (I worked for Americans for Civic Participation the year Jesse Jackson ran for president), after the ERA had gone down to defeat (as est grads, a sort of cult, we'd been warned in our Graduate Review that the ERA's failure in the 1980s was the beginning of the end).

We'd need to finally face the truth about national elections: that we've never yet had a free and fair one (those without women, or black people won't count), but still might like to someday, per some MLK inspired dream future.

We might like to live in a democracy one day.

Politicians have been unable to deliver one for quite awhile now, however.

We still enjoy the museums.

Palast has more punch than Michael Moore in some ways, but we need not view one as working at the expense of the other.  They bring a complementary (stereoscopic) view of what some call class warfare.  Add Yes Men for higher satire.

Palast is more a technologist in digging in to the flim-flam shenanigans, the abuse of modern day Hollerith machines.

Like Moore, he's looking at the heartland, and America's heart, which the billionaires have finally broken.

As a logistics guy for Occupy, I remember all the signs about Smedley "Fighting Quaker" Butler, a folk hero of the Hooverville generation.  WWI vets were being screwed out of their pensions and president Hoover sent in MacArthur to break them up.  Butler thought MacArthur was an incredible jerk.

FDR and Eleanor stood up for the working stiffs after that, and corporate America, calling it socialism, hatched a Business Plot to do him in, which Smedley then exposed.

Congress was uncomfortable about it, as indeed buying congresspeople is not hard to do.  The Business Plot was real enough, but this wasn't the age of television, and people forgot about the possibility of a coup -- until the JFK assassination some years later.

Said Business Plot may have been frustrated temporarily, but as we read in Critical Path, the long, slow cannibalization of the USA by lawyer-capitalism continued in earnest post WW2.

The military-industrial meme-plex took over and slowly but surely sucked the remaining life from the USA, leaving this pale shadowy USSA, the soulless monster the Beltway Bandits built.

Now their puppet-zombie stumbles around on the world stage, bombing inanely and polluting self destructively, the proverbial chicken with no head.  No one believes this creature has much in common with anything the Founding Fathers had a hand in.  There's simply no disbelief left to suspend.

Where we go from here is unclear.

We've seen the USSR break up without horrendous turmoil.  The nation-state system itself appears to have dissolved throughout the Middle East.  The demise of the USA leaves a power vacuum for sure.

Is that a bad thing? Perhaps humanity is entering a new phase of its history.  Time will tell.