Clown Wars

In the two-party circus on Capitol Hill, the clowns have dressed up in Stars Wars costumes and are blasting each other with blasters made of bright colored balloons.The Empire strikes back, Storm Troopers with boots far too big for their tiny feet counter-attacking their attackers— who are dressed in shabby rebel clown outfits. Out of toy cannons threats of legal action explode along with clouds of smoke and confetti. Devin Nunes, a real clown, says 8, no 12, no as many as 20 charges against clowns in the FBI and unnamed “intelligence services” will be sent to the Attorney General. That would be the clown named Barr who is pretty busy obstructing justice from his position atop the Justice Department ladder. He’s juggling a lot of clubs, and when Nunes throws him those new ones, he may drop them all and topple from the ladder…

I’m sorry. My metaphor is broken, and will not recover.

In reality, Nunes’ threat remains just that, a threat only. The same way the Democrats’ threat to subpoena is still hanging in the air. No legal action yet, from either side, just the threat of possible action. Hard to say where bluster ends and action begins. In the two-party circus wars, though, you can be sure the clowns will all come out fine. The only ones hurt by all this noise and inaction will be the rest of us.

The news is also full these days of what isn’t there. As in any cover-up, what you can’t see is exactly what you are looking for. The art is in noticing the absences, the lacunae, the gaps in the pattern. What do I notice missing from today’s picture made of a million pixels of news headlines and talking heads on TV? Well, the front-runner among the announced Democratic candidates, for one.

Bernie Sanders is being backwatered.* One would think this was odd, given that he is the leading announced Democratic presidential candidate in the polls and the largest fund-raiser among them as well. A search for his name on’s front page just now actually doesn’t show any stories about Sanders. Scrolling down, the first headline with Sanders’ name in it reads “Why is it taking Bernie Sanders so long to release his taxes?” Good question, I suppose. But it’s clear that Sanders is being buried in the back pages, at least in the conservative Democratic-leaning press outlets like CNN.

A search for Bernie Sanders on Google News, which draws from hundreds of sources, turns up two stories from the last two weeks, one of them linked above.

Meanwhile, Fox News also has few mentions of Sanders in its recent stories. Those it has published blast Sanders with both barrels, as if terrified of him. They should be. All the polls in 2016 showed Sanders destroying Trump in the general election. The Democratic party’s failure came from manipulating the primaries to push Clinton ahead of Sanders. It cost them that election.

If history teaches anything, it’s most likely happening again.

The second— and far more significant— absence from the news cycle is any mention of climate change and environmental disruption. That the greatest crisis of our times is so seldom mentioned in the media is one of the reasons it’s the greatest crisis of our times. As if there were a world war going on above our heads, but we go about our business as usual, to polite to mention it.

A friend did mention yesterday that she thought Joe Biden had good climate policy ideas. I tried to find out., in a fawning article about Biden’s policy positions, mentioned climate change once, with these words:

Similarly, Biden’s commitment to the climate change issue can’t really be doubted — he introduced Congress’s first-ever climate bill way back in 1986 — and likens climate skepticism to “denying gravity.” But he hasn’t really weighed in in a distinctive way on the subject.

The article goes on to say,

He’s acting like a more-or-less generic Democrat, focused on honing a general election message laser-targeted at working-class voters who backed Obama in 2012 but either stayed home, flipped to Trump, or voted third party in 2016.

If true, this is a pretty good reason to avoid voting for him. Not that the Dems shouldn’t have policies that bring in working class voters. They should, climate crisis being first among them. Only Jay Inslee, so far, among the potential candidates, seems to realize that the environmental crisis encompasses and overlaps working class issues.

But Yglesia’s statement also suggests something far more dangerous. He implies that Biden and other moderate Democrats take environmentalist votes for granted, and that voters like myself, who put environmental protection at the top of our priorities, will vote for any Democratic candidate they offer. That’s a dreadful assumption, not correct in my case, for sure, and likely for millions of folks like myself, who believe protecting the world for the future is the most important task of our times.

This is the same assumption that lost the Democrats the contested 2000 election. My participation in the Greens for Gore campaign at that time showed me how foolish it is for the corporate Democrats to drive the left away.

From the side, that doesn’t seem like a good thing for anybody, whatever side they are on.

  • Backwatered is a term I use to describe what happens when something— an event, a person, a news article, a video, or an idea just doesn’t get mentioned by the mainstream media, and so ends up ignored, forgotten, or just left out of conversation. Trapped in an eddy, so to speak. Cut off from the main current. Backwatering is the internet/social media age alternative to full on censorship. Algorithms and human editors can be designed to un-list, de-emphasize, or ignore news stories, websites, people, or entire topics without deleting them or preventing access to them at all. In a world where hit counts and likes and views are everything, backwatering is a highly effective way to subtly shape opinion without the effect even being noticed.
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