Friday, July 28, 2017

The Punditalia Enemies List

While the term “Enemies List” conjures up memories of Richard Nixon, tempting us to avoid making such a compilation, the critical lack of enemies is such that we feel a duty find an answer. National Football League teams have difficulty paring down their rosters to the fifty-three player maximum. Identifying the ten people who constitute the most serious threats to our well-being is a far more onerous task, so much so that we've cheated a little, including twelve people* to the top ten list. So many players, so few positions available

Our readers have not been helpful, offering no suggestions of what we should do to find useful enemies. As to who the real enemies of the moment are, we will admit that it may be nationalistic hubris on our part, together with a lack of extensive knowledge of the villains lurking in other parts of the world, but we simply cannot think of anyone outside the USA who poses as great a threat to the world as do a large number of people operating within the country.

In ascending order, here are our choices for the ten foremost enemies of the American people and, in a variant of trickle down theory, of the peace and prosperity of the world:

10. Betsy DeVos- US Secretary of Education. Betsy De Vos has devoted a significant amount of her life and much of her considerable wealth to destroying public education in the US and now she is in a position to wreak ever more havoc. She might be too clueless to make this list but she gets extra points for being the sister of Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater.  In a tight race she was named worst of the worst of the Swamp Cabinet by NYT readers.   If American education should fail, other countries, from Finland to China, will continue to provide quality education, but a further rapid decline in knowledge in the USA does not bode well for the future of the planet.

9. Scott Pruitt- Head of the Environmental Protection Agency- The entire swamp cabinet is a vast collective threat to the security of the world. It's hard to pick the worst of the bunch (see the link above- Pruitt was runner-up) but putting a dedicated enemy of the environment in charge of the EPA, an agency he has sued on multiple occasions, would seem a sure path to creating an important world-class enemy.

8. Paul Singer- vulture capitalist. A public enemy who works mostly outside the public scrutiny, the world's leading vulture capitalist has brought misery to a number of nations from Congo to Argentina and most recently has been involved in creating and/or exploiting the economic crisis in Puerto Rico.

7. Rupert Murdoch- He's getting old and possibly mellower, considering that Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and Megyn Kelly have all departed his realm, but Murdoch still controls a vast media network, which has been responsible for lowering the standards of public discourse, and of journalism, on at least three continents. Decades ago, few could imagine how an ultra right wing agenda could be promoted with the success he's had at it.

6. David and Charles Koch*- Their private lives may feature different favorite charities, but in their efforts to buy up the US Congress they act in tandem. Whereas there are other oligarchs motivated in part by a desire to bring about their own “better” vision of the future, these two consistently seek to further enrich themselves by ruinously exploiting natural resources and to do so they have no scruples about corrupting elected officials.

5. a tie*: Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader and Tom Price, the new Head of the Department of Health and Human Resources. While McConnell would make many lists as public enemy number one, he may be on the way out. Both men are determined to limit health care in America to the wealthy, while diverting the savings from withheld care to tax giveaways to the super rich. Rumor has it that as a young member of Congress, McConnell served his constituents reasonably well. As so often happens in politics, venality grows with seniority and today there is no corporate lobbying effort that McConnell will turn away, no tactic too sleazy, no hypocrisy by which he can be embarrassed. Greed having replaced any moral compass he may have ever possessed, he is a dangerous man to have leading the US Senate. If he succeeds in passing either the umpteenth version of Trump Care or the anarchy-producing Affordable Care Act Repeal, his political future will end as soon as a large percentage of his Kentucky constituents realize that he has eliminated their health care. Win or lose, Tom Price will be there to reduce and even terminate health care for vast swaths of American citizens.  We have heard no rumors that in his youth Price was burdened by good intentions.

4. Grover Norquist- Another enemy of democracy who flies under the radar. In an earlier cartoon, I summarized the similar backgrounds, ideology and careers of Grover Norquist and Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was eliminated by Navy seals but Norquist is still at large, conducting weekly breakfasts for members of Congress where he induces them to take a sworn oath, in violation of their oath to protect the people and the Constitution of the United States, to never raise taxes. This could reasonably be seen as fomenting treason but it's been going on for years without prosecution. People often wonder how could a rich country such as the USA allow its infrastructure to decay to third world levels. Grover Norquist is a major factor.

3. Donald Trump- President of the USA. More than enough has been said about this man but as America's own Kim Jong Un, he does pose a credible threat to the peace and stability of the world.

2. Paul Ryan- While serial liars are not necessarily a threat to the Republic, when one becomes Speaker of the House and therefore right behind the Vice-President in line of succession to the presidency, it is time for concern. Apparently, the lies of Trump are accepted by friends and foes alike as the egocentric, mindless bluster of an adolescent bully. His speech is almost completely content-free. Ryan instead has the ability to recite endless sequences of verifiable non-facts, without embarrassment, as he charms countless grandmothers across the Midwest with his watery blue eyes, all the while doing contortions to deprive them of social security and medicare. Even the venerable New York Times describes him as a “policy wonk” despite his having proposed a total government budget less than the current military budget, but which increases military spending and slashes taxes, and the whole thing would be balanced. He doesn't appear to be very bright but his enviable acting skills have allowed him to synthesize the two books he's read, 1984 and Atlas Shrugged into his public persona of devout Roman Catholic who proclaims that greed is good and the rich shall inherit the earth.

1. Kris Kobach- A rising star on the enemies list, Kobach bears a greater responsibility for Donald Trump's entry into the White House than the collective effect of all the others blamed for it, from Putin to Hillary, James Comey to Debbie Wassermann Schultz. As inventor and administrator of Operation Crosscheck, Kobach was responsible for the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of US citizens, most of them from the African-American, Latino, and Asian-American communities. The suppressed vote in several decisive states was up to ten times the winning margin in those states. He has now been appointed to oversee the bogus prosecution of voter fraud, much as the leading proponent of environmental degradation has been appointed to oversee the EPA. Kobach and his GOP accomplices have built an electoral system whose corruption may be insurmountable. Trump could prove to be the most unpopular President in US history and the Republican Congress may be reviled, but the chances of their being removed by election grow ever more remote. Kobach embodies intelligence in combination with pure evil. More than Trump, he may become the face of American Fascism.

We don't mean to slight our European friends or others but who is there outside the US with both the will and the means to inflict as much damage as the people on the above list. The EU and its members states have no shortage of politicians who are foolish, incompetent, misguided, venal or corrupt but few are infused with enthusiasm for the New Feudalism, i.e. the endgame of the Neo-con lust for upward redistribution of wealth and elimination of the middle class.

Ms. Le Pen might have made the cut had she been elected to rule France but even she responded to real problems, not of her own making, no matter how odious some of her views may appear. In Europe there are still political opponents, no matter how contrasting their positions. In the US today, the big battles are with enemies, not opponents.

Perhaps confining the enemies list to individuals was a mistake. Nations qualified as military enemies in the past, but in today's globalized world where nations have lost their clout, various other non-governmental entities have stepped up to fill the void. A short list of groups justifying surveillance and possible action by the Department of Defense would surely include ALEC, the US Chamber of Commerce, Goldman Sachs, Macquarie, Monsanto and AIPAC to join the already singled out ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Our list also excludes people still living who have inflicted more damage on the world than most of our current finalists. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney may have done more than any other living humans to promote the New Feudalism but Bush now confines himself to painting oil portraits of his pets,
his acquaintances and himself, while Cheney mostly listens to the ticking of his mechanical heart between guest appearances on Fox News. Barack Obama came close to ending the rule of legislative democracy with his ISDS courts poisoning his proposed trade agreements but, alas, like so many others, those plans fell short. Hillary Clinton did enduring damage as Secretary of State, most evident here in Italy, but her current opportunities in mischief-making lie essentially in keeping the Democratic Party in the hands of its Neo-con wing to assure continued control of the US Government by the now openly Fascistic Republican Party.

What are the solutions to the enemy crisis? The Military Industrial Complex exists, ostensibly, to combat the enemies of the nation, but if the enemies reside mostly within the nation, and mostly in government itself, how can it fulfill its mission? If drone attacks can eliminate obscure potential terrorists in Pakistan, how difficult would surgical strikes be in Washington DC? Not difficult at all, but no doubt unconstitutional. Whether it's the nostalgia of old age for the discarded Constitution or simply our inherent conservatism, we do not yet recommend that our armed forces be turned on our internal enemies.

Given that our military services have no legitimate function without plausible enemies, as a moderate alternative to using them against our internal enemies, we would propose supporting our troops by bringing them home and helping them to find real jobs. Slash the military budget by 60 or 70 % immediately, end foreign occupations, ban the sale of weapons abroad, and curtail all military foreign aid. This would create a momentary surge of unemployment and put severe downward pressure on MIC stocks but it would free up vast amounts of money for useful things currently underfunded, such as health care, education and infrastructure. We could even rehabilitate the Peace Corps. It would spread good will and improve foreign relations in most of the world.

Alas, neither solution is likely to be adopted, although the militarization of municipal police forces during the Bush years shows that there was consideration of diverting the military mission to combating perceived domestic enemies. Over the past century that approach has been tried all around the world, from Russia, China, and Germany to most of Latin America. The outcomes have been nothing we would want to emulate.

In an effort to generate useful enemies, the US Congress has voted additional sanctions against Russia and is attempting, in a rare bi-partisan effort, to make it a felony, with draconian penalties, to support Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaigns in protest of Israel's violations of international law. Well, so much for the First Amendment protections of free speech. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that the rest of the world will unite to impose sanctions on the USA until it modifies its rogue state demeanor. If not, the world may just have to wait for the US to self-destruct, praying that it does not take the entire planet down with it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


We had clear-cut enemies when I grew up.   Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo were the faces of evil. 
Our troops did their job, liberating Europe from the Nazis and smashing the Japanese war machine.   Uncle George sent home cartons full of military insignia, captured Japanese stationery and other items taken off dead Japanese soldiers, and later he returned with stories of the war in New Guinea. Those enemies served us well, creating a sense of national purpose and solidarity.

After the war, we always had enemies to unite against, if only in comic books and movies. The cinematic enemies were often Indians (before their mystical transformation into ecologically-correct Native Americans), sometimes gangsters, but more often, black-hatted Western villains.

Hollywood prototype

However, soon after the war ended, new enemies appeared in the real world. Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union emerged as our principal foes, with Mao Tse Tong lurking ominously in far away China. The Cold War lasted far longer than WWII had and it spawned surrogate wars, such as those in Korea and Vietnam, while starting a nuclear arms race and later a space race. Fear joined with competitive zeal to stimulate human energy, boosting the economy, especially in the military sector,  in the process.

Stalin's numerous successors, Malenkov, Krushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chemenko proved to be serviceable and credible enemies but the last, Michele Gorbachev, often appeared to be more rational and reasonable than our own leaders. With enemies like that we were in trouble, as confusion set in and the national will lost unity. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the presumable end of the Cold War, things began to get murkier.

In truth, confusion had set in much earlier. Our anti-Soviet, anti-communist passion boiled over under the witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy, setting Americans against Americans. While the Nazi and Soviet threats had been tangible enough to unify the populace, the Viet Cong rice farmers failed to convince growing numbers of Americans that they constituted an existential threat.

Arabs were called upon to fill the void. The Arab oil crises of the 70's helped but the emergence of Osama bin Laden, the renegade heir to a Saudi fortune and self-appointed purveyor of Islamic fundamentalist terror, filled the traditional role of enemy more convincingly than the various Arab sheiks, kings and dictators available. The problem was that while his actions were effective, he was in essence a stateless person, so his plots, while clearly acts of terror, were criminal acts, not acts of war. That was too confusing for the easily confused George W. Bush, who therefore decided to invade and destroy an unrelated country, actually one rather hostile to Osama bin Laden and his ideology, but which was ruled by another verifiably villainous Arab.

Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, even repentant Col Gaddafi have all been dispatched. Hugo Chavez is dead of causes we may never fully know, and Fidel Castro has finally succumbed to Father Time. What's to be done? Who's left?
or Arch-Enemy?

For the past decade there has been a bipartisan campaign to make Vladimir Putin the rising star of international villainy. Perhaps it's his resemblance to the latest incarnation of James Bond that confuses me but something here just doesn't pass the smell test.

Meanwhile, the US military budget, larger than ever, just keeps growing, despite a lack of any credible military threat. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, like me, grew up in the Cold War but it would appear that their brains were frozen in time. Graham insists, every time that there appears to be an international crisis, that we immediately send the good guys more weapons. All sixteen US intelligence agencies are insufficient to accurately locate and identify “good guys” in most of these places but the arms shipments never let up. If credible enemies can't be found, sooner or later our military industrial complex runs the risk of going the way of the steel industry, the automobile industry or even of Enron.
Lest someone think I don't take military threats seriously, I do acknowledge that North Korea is talking and acting like an enemy, although given the immense asymmetry in weaponry, under normal circumstances, it wouldn't ever be regarded as any sort of threat. MAD, the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, worked for decades because both sides, with roughly similar nuclear arsenals, correctly assumed the fundamental rationality of their opponents. At the moment North Korea and the USA are led by individuals of a very similar personality type (or disorder if you will) so all bets are off. Several decades of terrorist “successes” have shown that the instinct for self-preservation does not universally prevail over other human passions or neuroses. Furthermore, checks and balances are no longer operational in the US and have never existed in North Korea.
Like North Korea, Israel is a small country with a nuclear arsenal, which also threatens to set off a nuclear holocaust. Benjamin Netanyahu might be a candidate to assume the role of world's leading enemy, except for the fact that he enjoys the support of nearly 100% of both houses of the US Congress. We don't really need to build up our military resources to offset this threat since we provide most of the resources that constitute the threat, although arming both sides in regional conflicts has been the key to the growth of the MIC for decades.

Still, in light of the desperate shortage of meaningful enemies, I would ask my readers to compile answers to two questions:

1. Assuming you are citizens and/or residents of the USA or the EU, please name ten individuals you regard as posing the greatest threat to your countrymen and/or to citizens of the world.*
* Please don't submit one or two names, such as Putin, Hillary or Trump, or generic ones, such as Arabs, terrorists or Neo-cons.   If you can't think of at least ten individuals and describe the threat they pose, you are not paying attention to the world around you.

2. In the interests of finding a solution to this crisis, we would ask how many of these persons are residents of countries other than the USA?

You can send your answers to: or respond on Facebook if that's where you're reading this. Next time I'll summarize the results and provide my own list along with suggestions for dealing with the crisis. Thanks in advance for your participation.