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The Ukraine War: Cracks in Unexpected Places

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As the war in Ukraine grinds on, cracks are forming in unexpected places. The US is mad at Ukraine, Europe is mad at the US and Europeans are mad at each other. The cracks are neither wide nor structural. But they are there, and they are unexpected. The first crack in the US relationship with … Continue reading "The Ukraine War: Cracks in Unexpected Places"

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NYT, WSJ Look to Hawks for Ukraine Expertise

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

A crucial function of a free press is to present perspectives that critically examine government actions. In major articles from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal discussing the escalation of the war in Ukraine, however, such perspectives have been hard to come by—even as the stakes have reached as high as nuclear war.

In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated the war by announcing a mobilization of up to 300,000 extra troops (CNBC, 9/21/22) and threatened to use “all the means at our disposal” to ensure “the territorial integrity of our motherland” (CNBC, 9/23/22). A month later, a letter endorsed by 30 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus was sent to the White House (and quickly retracted), urging a “proactive diplomatic push” to reach a ceasefire in the war.

Both of these major incidents could have been an opportunity for the media to ask important questions about US policy in Ukraine, which is—according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (Wall Street Journal, 4/25/22)—to “weaken” Russia. Instead, elite newspapers continue to offer a very narrow range of expert opinion on a US strategy that favors endless war.

Assessing the threat

Aside from Vladimir Putin, this New York Times article (9/21/22) is entirely sourced to “American and other Western officials,” “White House and Pentagon officials,” “Western officials,” the Pentagon press secretary, the British military secretary, President Biden “and other administration officials,” “current and former US military officials,” a National Security Council spokesperson, the director of Russia studies at the Pentagon-funded Center for Naval Analyses, “a former top US Army commander in Europe,” “experts,” a Russian military specialist (and former Marine) at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, “American officials and analysts,” “a former supreme allied commander for Europe,” “US intelligence and other security officials,” “officials,” “a senior State Department official” and the head of the US Strategic Command.

In the two days following Putin’s threats, the New York Times published three pieces assessing them. Of these pieces, expert analysis and commentary was provided by “military analysts” and a “director of Russia studies at the CNA defense research” (9/21/22),  a “French author” and “a former French ambassador to Russia” (9/21/22), and several current and former government officials (9/21/22).

In these articles, probably the most critical comment was provided by nameless “Western officials” who have “expressed concern that if Mr. Putin felt cornered, he might detonate a tactical nuclear weapon”—though the Times immediately reassured that “they said there was no evidence that he was moving those weapons, or preparing such a strike.” None of the officials or analysts that the Times referenced in these articles explicitly advocated for changing US policy.

In the same timeframe, the Wall Street Journal ran six articles assessing Putin’s actions, and did not find any space in these articles to criticize US policy.

Russian public opinion of the war was cited in one piece (9/21/22):

Public interest in the invasion was initially high in February but has been declining steadily—especially among young people, who would presumably be those asked to serve in the fighting, according to a poll by the independent Levada Center earlier this month. Younger people were also far more likely to favor peace negotiations, the poll results said.

Strangely, the Journal did not cite US public opinion on peace negotiations in any of its coverage. A poll commissioned by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (9/27/22) found most American likely voters supported the US engaging in peace negotiations. Supporting this, an IPSOS poll has reported that most Americans support the US continuing  “its diplomatic efforts with Russia” (10/6/22).  I did not find a single Journal article that mentioned the Quincy Institute or IPSOS polls. The Journal has done its own polling on American opinion regarding the war (e.g., 11/3/22, 3/11/22); it does not ask for opinions about diplomacy as a strategy.

The Quincy and IPSOS polls are in line with Americans’ attitudes from a Gallup poll taken prior to the war, which found 73% of Americans “say that good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace” (12/17/19). It seems Americans generally favor diplomacy. A more recent Gallup poll (9/15/22) did not ask about Americans’ support for diplomacy, but whether the US was “doing enough,” which is a vague question that obfuscates whether it refers to military, diplomatic support, or other means. It also asked a question that presented only two approaches for the US to take toward conflict: “support Ukraine in reclaiming territory, even if prolonged conflict” or “end conflict quickly, even if allow Russia to keep territory.” Other diplomatic options, such as those regarding NATO’s ever-expanding footprint in Eastern Europe, were not offered.

Favoring hawkish perspectives

Part of the reason it was so easy to make progressives back away from their pro-diplomacy letter (Intercept, 10/25/22) is that the views behind the letter rarely appear in major media.

The October letter calling on the White House to consider a diplomatic end to the war was signed by 30 members of Congress and endorsed by a number of nonprofit groups, including the Quincy Institute (Intercept, 10/25/22).

To get a sense of how much tolerance there has been for dissenting expertise on the White House’s stance in the Ukraine war, I searched the Nexis news database for mentions of the Quincy Institute. As a Washington think tank backed by major establishment funders spanning the political spectrum, including both George Soros and Charles Koch (Boston Globe, 6/30/19), journalists should have little reservation in soliciting comments from experts associated with it.

In a Nexis search as of November 9, the Quincy Institute was mentioned nine times in the New York Times since February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine; five of these were in opinion pieces. Of the four reported pieces, two (7/3/22, 9/27/22) included quotes from members of the Institute that were critical of US military strategy in Ukraine.

On the website of the Wall Street Journal, which is not fully indexed on Nexis, I turned up a single mention of the Quincy Institute in connection with Ukraine, in a piece (3/23/22) on Ukrainian lobbyists’ influence in the US.

Pro-war bias

Despite exposés that show CSIS literally functions as a PR organ for the weapons industry (Extra!, 10/16), the think continues to be a favorite source of establishment media.

That lack of coverage is all the more stark in comparison to a hawkish think tank. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), heavily funded by the US government, arms dealers and oil companies, is a consistently pro-war think tank: A FAIR investigation (Extra!, 10/16) of a year’s worth of CSIS op-eds and quotes in the New York Times failed to find any instance of the CSIS advocating for curtailment of US military policy.

At the Journal, a search for “Center for Strategic and International Studies” in Ukraine stories from February 24 to November 9 yielded 34 results. Four of these results were opinion pieces. For news articles, that’s a 30:1 ratio of the hawkish think tank to the dovish think tank.

In the same time period, CSIS appeared in the Times 44 times, according to a Nexis search, including five opinion pieces—a news ratio of just under 10:1.

It should be noted that, just as Quincy sources weren’t always quoted offering criticism of US Ukraine policy, affiliates of CSIS weren’t always advocating for an unrestrained stance in Ukraine. One even warned that “the risk of a widening war is serious right now” (New York Times, 4/27/22). But repeatedly reaching out to and publishing quotes from a well-known pro-war think tank will inevitably produce less critical reporting of a war than turning to the most prominent anti-war think tank in Washington.

And it’s not that these papers are seeking out “balance” from sources other than Quincy. Seven other nonprofit groups also endorsed the October letter; the New York Times has quoted a representative from one of those groups—Just Foreign Policy—exactly once (3/7/22) since the war began. The Journal has cited none. But considering the stakes at hand, reporters have a responsibility to seek out and publish such critical perspectives in their coverage of Ukraine.

Research Assistance: Luca GoldMansour

Featured Image: A US B-2 bomber from the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Project on Nuclear Issues page. CSIS receives funding from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Bechtel, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Jacobs Engineering and Huntington Ingalls—all companies that profit from the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

The post NYT, WSJ Look to Hawks for Ukraine Expertise appeared first on FAIR.

Walker, Warnock, and the Epic Battle for Georgia’s Soul

Mother Jones Magazine -

So. Much. Prayer.

Kicking off debates, woven into speeches, and emanating from pulpits serving as campaign pit stops, God is everywhere in the Senate runoff between Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Trump-backed challenger Herschel Walker. I grew up in the Southern Bible Belt, and even I’m blown away by the sheer amount of Jesus inundating the campaign as the final vote draws near.

Voters are already turning out in record-setting numbers ahead of December 6 to help determine if Democrats, who clinched the narrowest of Senate victories again in November’s midterm elections, can enjoy a certain measure of legislative breathing room, including more control of Senate committees, as a counterweight to the new Republican House majority.

But if one listens to the mood of the campaigns, the stakes have become, for wont of another word, apocalyptic. 

During recent trips to Georgia to visit family and friends, it became clear that in addition to voting red or blue, voters also will be choosing between two wildly different visions of Christianity itself, as embodied by these two dramatically contrasting candidates: One, whose religious lineage traces directly from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement; the other, who preaches the gospel of right-wing Christian nationalism, where the waters between church and state are muddy and the topics of conversation revolve around incendiary culture war politics. Mother Jones readers don’t need me to point out which is which.

Christianity itself, in other words, is on the ballot in Georgia.

In this new video—my first for Mother Jones—I speak to two religious leaders who are outspoken about this divide, to try to understand the political stakes. But I’m also trying to delve deeper into the religious dynamics of this battle for Georgia’s soul in my conversations with Derek Berry, the senior pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, in Hiram, Georgia, and Rev. Dr. Neichelle Guidry, the dean of Spelman College’s Sisters Chapel in Atlanta.

While Walker-backing Berry wants to rewrite the nation’s laws in God’s image—”I don’t believe the false narrative of the separation of church and state,” he told me—Guidry, a Warnock supporter, sees faith as a vehicle for inclusion.

“I think that he is someone who has not weaponized his faith, but, rather, sees his faith as a vehicle for doing good things,” she said. “Doing justice, love mercy, walking humbly.”

Psychedelics, Alone, Will Not Save Us From Dystopia

TruthDig.com News -

As noted in an earlier dispatch from this Dig, psychedelic pharmaceutical executives are exploring the idea of giving active-duty soldiers psychedelics, and are quick to assure the public that this is unlikely to turn military grunts into peacenik hippies. This is a departure from many historical assumptions about psychedelic use — and even some recent academic literature.

Psychedelic drugs have long been revered for their ability to pull back the curtain on reality and inspire grand visions for the future. And over the last decade, a number of academic papers have been released with results implying that psychedelics may aid in the creation of a healthier, more equitable world. These papers have suggested that psychedelics may lead to users being more politically liberal, inspire greater nature-relatedness and galvanize peace between warring nations, like Israel and Palestine.

Instagram post by Rick Doblin, the executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

But while these results may be true for some, there are an abundance of counterexamples that suggest psychedelic use, alone, will not bring about a healthier world.

Author Eric Lonergan has suggested that psychedelics are “politically pluripotent,” writing that “they can strengthen all sorts of political movements depending on the political orientation of the individual and the environment — the political set [state of mind] and setting [where and with whom psychedelics are used].”

This framing allows for positive experiences such as those listed above, in which psychedelics inspired more progressive politics, deeper eco-consciousness and anti-war sentiments. But it also creates space for the many counterexamples of psychedelic use which have not concluded in these results.

The following reading list provides a primer for dispelling the myth that psychedelics will usher in a progressive utopia without accompanying political activity aimed at systemic socioeconomic change.

Psychedelics: Politically Pluripotent by Eric Lonergan

Lonergan defines the idea of psychedelic “political pluripotency” and explores whether psychedelic drugs are politically left, right or neutral.

Right-Wing Psychedelia: Case Studies in Cultural Plasticity and Political Pluripotency by Brian Pace and Neşe Devenot

Pace and Devenot examine case studies of psychedelic users with unexpected political ideologies, such as anti-LGBTQ culture war profiteers, eco-fascists, neonazis, right-wing billionaires and more. Leading up to this paper, Pace published a number of investigations into right-wing figures who discuss their psychedelic use publicly, including Jake “the Q Shaman” Angeli; Frederick Brennan, the founder of 8chan (a forum where three mass shooters have unveiled their manifestos) and William Watson, a prominent face from the January 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Strange Drugs Make For Strange Bedfellows: Ernst Junger, Albert Hofmann and the Politics of Psychedelics by Alan Piper

Piper makes the case that psychedelic use is not relegated to the left-wing, providing examples of historical psychedelic use by Nazis and present-day embracing of psychedelics by the Radical Right, who promote conservative revolutionary thought within the New Age milieu.

The False Promise of Psychedelic Utopia by Shayla Love

Love examines the nuance of psychedelic utopian narratives and interviews contemporary writers on the subject, concluding that “some advocates claim that widespread psychedelic use will change the world for the better. But it’s not so simple.”

Acid liberalism: Silicon Valley’s enlightened technocrats, and the legalization of psychedelics by Maxim Tvorun-Dunn

Building on Pace and Devenot’s Right-Wing Psychedelia paper, Tvorun-Dunn explores how Silicon Valley elite have integrated psychedelic mystical experiences into belief systems and philosophies that are explicitly anti-democratic, individualist and essentialist.

From Mining to Mushrooms and The Misadventures of Toxic Bob by Russell Hausfeld

From Mining to Mushrooms” investigates the infiltration of the psychedelic pharmaceutical industry by companies, investors, and executives from extractive industries. And “The Misadventure of Toxic Bob” spotlights the life of one psychonaut who went on to wreak outsized environmental destruction across the planet.

A Response to “Early Reflections on Interviews with Palestinians and Israelis Drinking Ayahuasca Together” by Sawsan Nur Eddin

A critical response to research using the psychedelic brew, ayahuasca, as a peacemaking tool between Israelis and Palestinians.

Dear Psychedelic Researchers by the Plus Three Podcast team

An open letter to researchers in the psychedelic field, asserting that “psychedelic medicalization will not revolutionize mental healthcare without systemic socioeconomic change.”

Magical (Psychedelic) Thinking in the Era of Climate Change and COVID-19 by Rachel Peterson

Peterson interrogates the assumption in psychedelic discourse that individual experiences of oneness will necessarily transform society for the better.

Psychedelics for Climate Action? By Erica Avey

Avey asserts that even if psychedelics play an integral role in the history and future of human imagination, consciousness and health, use en masse will not solve the climate disaster or save humanity.

The post Psychedelics, Alone, Will Not Save Us From Dystopia appeared first on Truthdig.

Joe Biden Called Out Antisemitism. Why Can’t Some Republicans?

Mother Jones Magazine -

On Friday, President Joe Biden dropped a tweet that in one fell swoop urged political leaders to condemn antisemitism, white supremacy, and Holocaust denialism. 

The simple statements, which neatly fit into Twitter’s 280-character limit, came one day after Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, appeared on Alex Jones’ Infowars to openly praise Adolf Hitler and Nazism. (“I like Hitler” is a direct quote from West.) The appearance was the latest instance of ugly anti-semitism by West since tweeting in October that he was going to go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” 

As it so happens, Biden’s message also follows Donald Trump’s dinner with West and the virulent anti-semite, Nick Fuentes. 

I just want to make a few things clear:

The Holocaust happened.

Hitler was a demonic figure.

And instead of giving it a platform, our political leaders should be calling out and rejecting antisemitism wherever it hides.

Silence is complicity.

— President Biden (@POTUS) December 2, 2022

Some Republicans, including Mitch McConnell and Susan Collins, have spoken out against these high-profile acts of antisemitism. But others have either been far too mild in their criticism—or altogether silent. Fox News host Tucker Carlson hasn’t said a peep, despite hosting West on his show three days after West’s “death con” tweet.  The Twitter account for Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee didn’t delete a controversial tweet praising West until yesterday’s Infowars appearance, when apparently the antisemitism became too overt for even the GOP to pretend it wasn’t happening. Others, like Mike Pence, have expressed regret at Trump’s dinner with Fuentes but claimed that the former president was not an anti-semite himself.

So Biden’s tweet today raises a curious question: If the president can unequivocally denounce antisemitism in a single tweet, why is it so hard for some on the right to do the same? 

“Mr. Trump explicitly sanctioning tax fraud! That’s what this document shows!”

Mother Jones Magazine -

Manhattan prosecutors on Friday flatly accused Donald Trump of helping executives at his companies commit tax fraud. The allegations came during closing arguments of a trial in which the ex-president’s businesses are charged with allowing key employees to reduce their taxable salaries while simultaneously providing them with off-the-record benefits—like company cars and apartments. For much of the trial, both sides told the jury that the case wasn’t about Trump himself. But after defense attorneys continually referred to Trump in their own closing on Thursday, prosecutors took the opportunity to target him directly.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass showed jurors a memo in which Trump signed off on a request by chief operating officer Matthew Calamari, who had asked for his salary to be reduced by the exact amount that the company was spending on his annual rent.

“Mr. Trump explicitly sanctioning tax fraud! That’s what this document shows!” Steinglass told jurors, leading to a flurry of noisy objections from Trump’s attorneys.

New York Superior Court Judge Juan Merchan eventually sided with the defense, but it did little to blunt the prosecutor’s point, and Merchan allowed Steinglass to tell the jurors that Trump knew all about the alleged tax fraud going on at his company. Neither Calamari nor Trump has not been charged with any crime, but Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty to scheming to reduce his own taxable income in exchange for more benefits from the company.

Steinglass’ claim follows his statements on Thursday that Trump “knew exactly what was going on with his top executives” and that the Trump Organization as a whole “cultivated a culture of fraud and deception.”

Throughout the month-long trial, defense attorneys have argued that “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg”—that is, they sought to portray him as a powerful executive who used his position to cheat on his own taxes without the knowledge of Trump or the Trump Organization as a whole. In fact, defense attorneys argued, Weisselberg actively hid his misdeeds from Trump and his adult children—he betrayed them.  

Prosecutors were initially content to paint Weisselberg—along with other employees who had helped adjust salaries—as executives of a larger business enterprise that deserved to be held responsible as an institution.

But following the defense’s closing on Thursday, which continually invoked Trump’s name, Merchan ruled that prosecutors, too, were mostly free to talk about Trump.

“This case is not about politics, it’s just two corporations helping its executives cheat on their taxes,” Steinglass said in his closing, echoing what he said during opening statements. 

Trump’s attorneys were visibly irritated in court on Friday morning, and they repeatedly objected throughout Steinglass’ closing almost every time he mentioned Trump’s name.

“I’m here to remind you that Donald Trump is not on trial, and we don’t have to prove a thing about what he knew or didn’t know,” Steinglass said. “But the defense has gone to great lengths to try and disclaim Donald Trump’s involvement.”

“This whole narrative that Donald Trump was blissfully unaware is just not true,” Steinglass told jurors.

After jurors left the room, Trump attorney Michael van der Veen angrily demanded a mistrial over Steinglass’ tone during his closing, including the prosecutor’s statement that Trump had personally sanctioned the tax fraud and another instance in which Steinglass referred to Trump and his adult children as “unindicted co-conspirators,” (Steinglass quickly retracted the latter comment after a rebuke from Merchan.) Van der Veen also complained that Steinglass had referred to van der Veen’s defense strategy as “nonsense.”

Steinglass told Merchan that Trump could be called a co-conspirator because he was involved in one of the specific acts for which a crime had been charged. Merchan said he wouldn’t declare a mistrial because Steinglass had taken back the statements in front of the jury.

Jurors were dismissed for the day and on Monday will return to deliberate.

Bats Are Nature’s Death Metal Singers. Who Knew?

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

It has long been known Ozzy Osbourne has a taste for bats. But now it seems the mammals are also fans of his.

Bats greet each other with death metal growls, scientists have discovered, and possess a vocal range which far surpasses that of most humans.

While they emit ultrasonic chirps to echolocate flying insects in the dark, they also engage thick structures in the larynx called ventricular folds to communicate with each other at low frequencies.

The production of sound from ventricular folds, which sit just above the vocal cords, is believed to be rare in the animal kingdom, with bats now gaining membership to an exclusive club populated almost entirely by death metal and Tuvan throat singers.

“If you listen to a bat colony in the summer you can hear these calls very clearly,” said Prof Coen Elemans, who led the research at the University of Southern Denmark. “We don’t know the function of the calls, but they make them when they are annoyed with each other, and when they fly away or join a colony.”

Ozzy Osbourne recalled that he thought the bat was a rubber toy until he bit down and “something felt wrong.”

The finding emerged by chance when the scientists set about studying how bats produce high frequency sounds for echolocation. While taking high speed video of bat vocal cords in action, the researchers noticed the ventricular folds vibrating at low frequencies ranging from one to five kilohertz.

“The only use in humans for these vocal folds is during death metal singing and Tuvan throat singing,” Elemans told the Guardian. “The oscillations become very irregular, they become very rough, and that’s what you get with death metal grunting.”

Osbourne, the Black Sabbath frontman, famously bit the head off a bat while on stage in Des Moines in 1982. He said he believed the bat was a rubber toy until he bit down and “something felt wrong.” The animal may already have been dead when it was thrown on to stage by a teenage fan.

Very few human singers have a vocal range of five octaves, with Mariah Carey and Prince being famous examples. The Danish work solves the mystery of how bats achieve seven.

“We’ve shown that the vocal membranes used for echolocating have a range of three to four octaves, and this different structure then extends the range down,” Elemans said.

Bats have evolved a highly specialized larynx with adaptations that make it perfect for producing ultrasonic chirps up to 120 kilohertz. These high frequency calls act like a flashlight and pinpoint flying insects ahead of the bat. But the chirps are highly directional and travel only a few meters, so the animals needed another means to make low frequency calls to communicate over large distances with one another.

“We think the selection on these echolocation calls is so severe that in order for bats to have a range for communication, they needed to do something totally different,” said Elemans. The study is published in Plos Biology.

Paying for an Overheating Earth

TruthDig.com News -

Whose Planet Are We On?

On October 29th, 75-year-old Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo Bay’s oldest detainee, was finally released by U.S. authorities and flown home to his family in Karachi, Pakistan. He had been incarcerated for nearly two decades without either charges or a trial. His plane touched down in a land still reeling from this year’s cataclysmic monsoon floods that, in July, had covered an unparalleled one-third of that country. Even his own family’s neighborhood, the well-heeled Defense Housing Authority complex, had been thoroughly inundated with, as a reporter wrote at the time, “water gushing into houses.”

Having endured 19 years of suffering inflicted by the brute force of imperialism during America’s “Global War on Terror,” Paracha, along with all of Pakistan, will now suffer through the climatic devastation wrought by the invisible hand of economic imperialism. Indeed, even as his family members were embracing him for the first time since that fateful day in 2003 when he was seized in an FBI sting operation in Thailand, governments and corporations throughout the Global North were sharpening their knives, preparing to reassert their dominance as they do at every year’s U.N. climate conference — this one being COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

But delegates from climate-vulnerable, cash-poor countries like Pakistan and Egypt, along with members of climate-justice movements from across the planet, were also there. Tired of being pushed around, they had other plans.

A Breakthrough and an All-Too-Predictable Flop

At previous COPs, negotiations inside the hall were focused primarily on what’s come to be known as “climate mitigation” — that is, trying to keep future greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere — along with adaptation to climate disruptions, past, present, and future. For the first time in official negotiations, COP27 would also feature the demands of low-income, vulnerable countries eager to be compensated for the devastating impacts they, like flooded Pakistan, have already suffered or will suffer thanks to climate change. After all, the global overheating of the present moment was caused by greenhouse gases emitted during the past two centuries, chiefly by the large industrial societies of the global North. In the shorthand of those negotiations, such polluter-pays compensation is known as “loss and damage.”

At previous climate summits, the “haves” resisted the very idea of the have-nots demanding loss-and-damage compensation for two chief reasons: first, they preferred not to admit, even implicitly, that they had created the crisis now broiling and drowning communities across the Global South, and, second, they had no interest in shelling out the humongous sums that would then be required.

This year, however, the shocking death and destruction inflicted by the inundation of Pakistan and more recently of Nigeria stoked an already surging movement to put loss and damage on COP’s agenda for the first time. And thanks to unrelenting pressure from that climate-justice groundswell, COP27 did end with the United States, the European Union, and the rest of the rich world approving an agreement to “establish a fund for responding to loss and damage.” Echoing the thoughts of many, climate justice leader Jean Su tweeted that the deal was “a testament to the incredible mobilization of vulnerable countries and civil society. Much work still to be done, but a dam has broken.”

If the world does commit sufficient (or even insufficient) funds to pay out on loss and damage (and that’s a truly big if ), vulnerable countries may finally have the means to begin recovering from the latest climate disasters.

The euphoria that followed over the creation of a loss-and-damage fund was well justified. But, as Su noted, the struggle is far from over. In a correction to its story reporting on that agreement, the Washington Post made clear that, although the batter had now been mixed, the cake was anything but in the oven. The paper informed readers, “An earlier version of this article incorrectly said wealthy nations agreed to pay billions of dollars into a loss and damage fund. While they agreed to create a fund, its size and financing mechanism have yet to be worked out.” Those two remaining how-much and how-to-do-it questions are anything but trivial. In the loss-and-damage debate, in fact, they’re the main issues countries have been arguing over for many years without resolution of any sort.

If the world does commit sufficient (or even insufficient) funds to pay out on loss and damage (and that’s a truly big if ), vulnerable countries may finally have the means to begin recovering from the latest climate disasters. Tragically enough, however, there’s little question that, as ever greater amounts of carbon and methane continue to head for our atmosphere, whatever the affected populations may need now, it’s likely just a hint of the sort of compensation they’ll need in a future guaranteed to be full of ever-increasing numbers of disasters like the Pakistan floods.

And the reason for that isn’t complicated: COP27 negotiators failed to match their loss-and-damage breakthrough with any significant progress on reining in greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts to come to an agreement on phasing out the chief sources of those emissions — oil, gas, and coal — flopped, as they have at all previous COPs. The only thing the negotiators could manage was to repeat last year’s slippery pledge to pursue a “phase-down [not ‘-out’] of unabated [not ‘all’] coal [nor ‘coal, gas, and oil’] power.”

On the one hand, civil-society movements prevailed in the debate over loss and damage. On the other, energy imperialism remained all too alive and well in Egypt, as corporate interests and the governments that serve them extended their 27-year winning streak of blocking efforts to drive emissions down at the urgently required rate. Yeb Saño, who led Greenpeace’s COP27 delegation, told Phys.org, “It is scarcely credible that they have forgotten all about fossil fuels. Everywhere you look in Sharm el Sheikh you can see and hear the influence of the fossil fuel industry. They have shown up in record numbers to try and decouple climate action from a fossil fuel phaseout.”

How to Pay?

The World Bank estimates that the floods in Pakistan caused more than $30 billion in damage, while rehabilitation and reconstruction will cost another $16 billion. And that, says the bank, doesn’t even include funds that will be needed “to support Pakistan’s adaptation to climate change and overall resilience of the country to future climate shocks.” The floods seriously harmed an estimated 33 million people, displaced 8 million from their homes, and left more than 1,700 dead. According to the World Bank’s report, “Loss of household incomes, assets, rising food prices, and disease outbreaks are impacting the most vulnerable groups. Women have suffered notable losses of their livelihoods, particularly those associated with agriculture and livestock.” The disaster starkly illustrated the indisputable moral and humanitarian grounds for compelling the governments of rich countries to pay for the devastation their decades of fossil-fuel burning have caused.

For Pakistan in particular, America’s lavishly funded war-making and national-security industries are joined at the hip with the global climate emergency. While those forces are directly responsible for depriving Paracha and countless others of their freedom or lives, the greenhouse-gas emissions they generate have also contributed to the kind of devastation that he came home to when finally released. Furthermore, these industries have wasted trillions of dollars that could have been spent on preventing, adapting to, and compensating for ecological breakdown.

So far this fall, Washington has pledged $97 million (with an “m”) in flood-relief aid to Pakistan. Sounds like a lot of money, but it amounts to just one five-hundredth of the World Bank’s loss-and-damage estimate. In bleak contrast, from 2002 to 2010 alone, at the height of that Global War on Terror, the U.S. government provided Pakistan with $13 billion (with a “b”) in military aid.

To dodge blame and minimize their costs, the rich countries have been proposing a range of alternatives to simply paying loss-and-damage money to low-income ones as they should. Instead, they’d far prefer to have disaster-plagued governments finance their own climate-change recovery and adaptation by borrowing from banks in the North. In effect, rather than obtain relief-and-recovery funds directly from the North, countries like Pakistan would be obligated to make interest payments to banks in the North.

So far this fall, Washington has pledged $97 million (with an “m”) in flood-relief aid to Pakistan. Sounds like a lot of money, but it amounts to just one five-hundredth of the World Bank’s loss-and-damage estimate.

Fed up with having unbearable debt burdens thrust upon them time and time again, countries in the South are saying no thanks to the proposition that they go even deeper into debt. In response, the North has been tossing out other ideas. For instance, encouraging development banks like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund to release disaster-hit countries from their obligations to pay some portion of the money they already owe as interest on past debts and use it instead to support their own recovery and rebuilding. But countries in the South are saying, in effect, “Hey, for decades, you’ve used your power to saddle us with punishing, unjust debt. By all means, please do cancel that debt, but you’ve still got to pay us for the climate loss and damage you’ve caused.”

The rich countries have even floated the idea of taking a portion of the money they’ve previously earmarked for development aid and depositing it in a global fund that would pay damages to vulnerable countries suffering future climatic disasters. Note the key to all such “solutions”: no extra expense for the wealthy countries. What a sweet deal! It’s as if, domestically, the U.S. government started issuing smaller Social Security checks and used the money it “saved” that way to pay Medicare benefits.

The new COP27 loss-and-damage fund is supposed to prohibit such shell games, while also pulling climate finance out of the realms of imperialism, debt servitude, and what Oxfam calls the “disaster begging bowl.” What’s needed, says Oxfam, an organization focused on alleviating global poverty, is “a fair and automatic mechanism for financial support — rooted in the principle that those who have contributed most to the climate crisis pay for the damage it causes in countries least responsible and hardest hit.”

How Much and Where to Get It?

When confronted with numbers ending in “-illion,” as Americans were during the debates over the congressional spending bills of 2021 and 2022, it’s easy enough for your eyes to glaze over and miss the orders-of-magnitude differences among such figures. In an American world where the Pentagon budget alone is headed for $1 trillion sometime in this decade, it’s easy enough to forget, for example, that a million of those dollars is just one-millionth of a trillion of them. In response, in discussing the staggering sums needed to deal with our already desperately overheating planet and the amounts available to pay for loss and damage, we’ll now put everything in terms of billions of U.S. dollars.

High-emitting countries like ours have run up quite a climate tab. A June 2022 report from the V-20 group, which represents 55 of the world’s lowest-income, most climate-vulnerable economies, estimates that, from 2000 to 2019, their membership lost $525 billion thanks to climate disruption. That’s a huge blow to a staggeringly large set of countries whose gross domestic products add up to just $2,400 billion. But in the Global North, such sums and even far larger ones, while more than pocket change, are still easily affordable, as that Pentagon budget suggests.

By Oxfam’s reckoning, hundreds of billions of dollars could be raised for paying loss-and-damage by taxing fossil-fuel extraction, international cargo shipping, frequent flying, and other significantly carbon-producing activities. Progressive wealth taxes could net even more: $3,600 billion annually, according to the Climate Action Network (CAN), which also estimates that ending government subsidies to corporations (one-third of which go to fossil-fuel companies) could net $1,800 billion annually. Furthermore, cuts in military spending could free up a whopping $2,000 billion per year globally. The latter could be an especially juicy target. For instance, by CAN’s estimate, the United States’s fair share of payments owed to the Global South for climate mitigation and adaptation, plus loss-and-damage reparations, would come to roughly $1,600 billion over the next decade. And those 10 payments of $160 billion each could be covered if the Pentagon just ditched production of its most disastrously expensive jet fighter, the $1,700 billion F-35, and diverted the money toward climate assistance.

It’s always the government’s job to spend big when America faces a dire emergency, wherever the money comes from. In 2020-2021, Congress passed more than $3,000 billion in Covid relief — enough to pay our international climate tab, as estimated by CAN, for 19 years.

“Our Cause Is One”

Shortly after Saifullah Paracha’s return to Karachi in October, another family, in Sharm el Sheikh 2,340 miles away, had embarked on what reporter Jeff Shenker called “a desperate and possibly reckless mission” to save the life of one of their own: the British-Egyptian human-rights activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah, possibly Egypt’s most prominent political prisoner.

Abd el-Fattah, who has spent most of the last decade behind bars for speaking out against Egypt’s oppressive regime, had been on a partial hunger strike since April. After visiting him on November 18th, his family reported that he had broken his hunger strike “out of a desire to stay alive, but he would resume it if no progress was made regarding his freedom.” His sister Sanaa Seif told reporters inside the COP27 conference hall, “He’s not in prison for the Facebook post they charged him with. He’s in prison because he’s someone who makes people believe the world can be a better place. He’s someone trying to make the world a better place… There are tens of thousands of political prisoners in Egypt. There are more around the world. Climate activists get arrested, kidnapped in Latin America. We face the same kind of oppression, and our cause is one.”

What is Guantánamo Bay but a place where the American empire has practiced its human-breaking tactics for 20 years without accountability offshore of any system of justice? What is the U.N. climate summit but a meeting place where the world’s elite have protected their power for 27 years and counting?

“He’s not in prison for the Facebook post they charged him with. He’s in prison because he’s someone who makes people believe the world can be a better place.”

Living as a “forever prisoner” (as the Guardian dubbed Saifullah Paracha in 2018) was, he once said, “like being alive in your own grave.” Forever wars, forever prisoners, forever climate chaos, forever theft. That’s the world we live in, where governments like those of the United States and Egypt throw innocent Muslims like Saifullah Paracha and pro-democracy dissidents like Alaa Abd el-Fattah into prison for standing in the way of their forever-repressive interests.

Reporting on the struggle to free Abd el-Fattah, Shenker noted, “The phrase ‘We Have Not Yet Been Defeated’ became the unofficial slogan of COP27, a reference to the title of a book by Abd el-Fattah published in 2021, ‘You Have Not Yet Been Defeated.’” Could the perseverance and courage of people like Paracha, Abd el-Fattah, and the activists for climate justice and human rights — both those who attended the conference at Sharm el Sheik and countless others around the world — make it possible someday to drop the “Yet” and say simply, “We Have Not Been Defeated”?

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Nelson Lichtenstein on UC Strike, Marjorie Cohn on Evangelicals’ Supreme Court Lobbying

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

 

Dissent (11/22/22)

This week on CounterSpin: Former Vice President Mike Pence recently said with a straight face that Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was “the most dangerous person in the world.” “It’s not a close call,” he said. “If you ask, ‘Who’s the most likely to take this republic down?’ It would be the teachers unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids.” More evidence, were it needed, that the current struggle for pay and dignity by teaching assistants and adjuncts and researchers at the University of California is really part of a bigger fight about whether educators, at whatever level, are actual workers—and who’s looking out for their rights. We hear from labor historian and UC Santa Barbara professor Nelson Lichtenstein about what’s happening at the University of California.

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Truthout (11/29/22)

Also on the show: Some elite media are expressing concern that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito may have leaked the Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling ahead of time to evangelicals looking to make hay from it. But as Sarah Posner put it at MSNBC.com: While figuring that out matters, it won’t necessarily address the deeper problem, that the court’s conservative majority itself “was deliberately cultivated to expand religious freedom for conservative Christians at the expense of the rights of those deemed less worthy of protection.” We talk with legal expert and author Marjorie Cohn about that.

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The post Nelson Lichtenstein on UC Strike, Marjorie Cohn on Evangelicals’ Supreme Court Lobbying appeared first on FAIR.

The Culture Workers Go On Strike

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Earlier this month, I spent a morning with Rachel Urkowitz on the picket lines in front of Parsons School of Design and the New School, which is part of the latter. Rachel is my closest friend, an artist who has taught at Parsons for nearly 20 years, instructing a generation of students about color, light, and the history of visual culture. At all the schools under the New School umbrella, 87 percent of instructional staff are adjuncts like Rachel. Yet although they make up the vast majority of professors, the pay gap between them and, say, administrators is enormous: The adjuncts’ salaries comprise only 8.5 percent of the overall budget, with some instructors saying that they make only $4,000 per class. It is impossible to live on such low salaries, especially in places with high housing costs such as New York City.

The mood on the lines was aggrieved but also joyous with burgeoning solidarity. One adjunct tap danced; another blew a shofar; a third had a union sign pinned to their baby’s pram. “Where’s Our Social Justice,” a sign read, perhaps referring to a director of brand strategy for the college who told a student reporter that “social justice plays a role in the New School’s branding”—or more elliptically to the fact that the college was founded over 100 years ago by progressive intellectuals. Tenured professors came to show support, while truck and ambulette drivers honked in appreciation as they passed. It was, for a moment, a version of New York City where those who show students how to write and those who drive groceries cross-country see common cause, their struggles creating mutual recognition, a kind of democratic kismet.

This season culture workers are organizing against their own exploitation. Professors of art, workers at museums, and assistants at a publishing house have all gone on strike or staged public protests during contract negotiations. Call this a black-turtleneck-worker uprising rather than a white-collar one. “Wages are stagnant and we earn far lower salaries than our peers elsewhere,” the union representing employees at the Brooklyn Museum recently tweeted. They’ve been busy protesting outside their work site. During one action, workers held up signs decrying the vacuity of the VIP opening for the museum’s haute couture fashion exhibit: One read, “You can’t eat prestige.” (The union is calling for a 7 percent salary increase this year and raises of 4 percent per year for each of the two years following.) Unions are currently on strike at the publisher HarperCollins and at the University of California system, where 48,000 academic workers are sitting out their underpaid teaching gigs.

The culture strikes also point not just to new waves in labor rights but equity successes within arts institutions.

Throughout the museum sector, there is also a surge of collective actions. In Beacon, New York, and other sites around the country, the staff at the Dia Art Foundation have voted to form a union. Ohio museum workers, known as Columbus Museum of Art Workers United, recently voted nearly unanimously in favor of unionizing with Afscme Ohio Council 8. At the Field Museum in Chicago, workers urged their CEO to recognize their union, and in Philadelphia, after a 19-day strike, museum workers were recently able to get their employer to agree to wage increases totaling 14 percent across the life of the contract until July 2025. It’s such a phenomenon that cultural strikes have even led to that ultimate proof-of-trend, their own podcastArt and Labor.

These uprisings reveal just how much brain work has become gig work. According to the advocacy group the New Faculty Majority, 75.5 percent of college faculty work outside tenure-track positions. While that leaves their careers far more tenuous than in previous generations, it does carry one positive side effect: Working for multiple institutions to survive means workers cross-pollinate more than they used to. Interacting with other cultural and academic institutions means that they share their new intelligence about employment and contracts with their brethren and unionization thus catches on more rapidly.

This group is part of what I have called Middle Precariat, or the precarious middle class. It’s a group I got to know well while working on my last book, Squeezed, where I focused on adjuncts who lived on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program support and schoolteachers whose salaries were so low in expensive cities that they had to moonlight as Uber drivers, literalizing “the Uberification” of education. I argued that we need to see these workers in a continuum with other contingent workers.

Part of why this reckoning is happening now is that inflation has made their already challenging livelihoods even more impossible to subsist on. The Great Resignation and the unionization in other sectors have also helped spur on these actions. They were inspired by new organizing and unionization drives, like those at Starbucks or REI, companies that had a progressive lacquer that didn’t always match their work conditions (much like the New School). Several of these striking culture workers also pointed to how they were now too a part of a gig-based economy, much like Amazon workers, subsisting in underpaid but also fractured workplaces. Lee-Sean Huang, a part-time assistant professor at Parsons, who is now also representing the part-time faculty at the New School, said that before the strike, he was so caught up in teaching and various other work that it was hard to see the bigger picture of the institution. Another Parsons adjunct, Molly Ragan, had, before the strike, felt isolated while teaching and that her work as contingent faculty took place in “silos that were built by design, to keep us from sharing our frustrations but also our joys.”

Ragan, 28, teaches two classes a semester, earning roughly $10,000. The inadequacy of this pay is why she also works full time for the United Auto Workers, the union that now houses the professors’ union, as well as those of the Brooklyn Museum workers and the striking editorial assistants in midtown. Ragan for one feels newly connected not only to her colleagues but to what she describes as “the beautiful world of organizing.” In the past, some of these culture workers weren’t particularly aware of how unions functioned. This isn’t entirely surprising, as individualism was often baked into museums and academia, fields where participants were encouraged to venerate singular creation. But some of these auteurist fixations are also dissipating.

The culture strikes also point not just to new waves in labor rights but equity successes within arts institutions. Having achieved some level of diversity means that there are now art workers who are not heirs and there are a growing number of them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 33,600 such jobs in 2021 and these jobs are estimated to grow at 12 percent between 2021 and 2031, a faster pace than jobs overall.

The culture worker strikes also betoken something of a return to an earlier time of unionism.

In addition, some of these workers are now attending workshops about equity yet still can’t pay for their rent, and the hypocrisy is hard to miss, as Laura Raicovich, former director of the Queens Museum and author of the book Culture Strike, explains to me. The lip service toward social justice inevitably provokes a question: If these academic and cultural institutions can’t pay their workers fairly, how can they claim to be inclusive in their marketing literature? The gap in pay between CEOs and regular workers has grown dramatically: That is true in the academy and museums as well. But this rise in income inequality has been accompanied by recognitions—rhetorically, personally, and politically—of the problems of inequity.

Ragan believes that this awareness has only intensified over the last few years. “There’s a whole new class of precarious workers out there who’ve been radicalized throughout the pandemic,” Ragan said. “We’re using those containers—structures that already exist, like the UAW, to help us finally build strong unions.”

The culture worker strikes also betoken something of a return to an earlier time of unionism. While some conservative politicians bemoan such a revisitation of 1970s America—as Aaron Timms put it, “nostophobia”—the cultural and academic workers would seem to benefit from disruptions of business, including the formation of new unions and strikes by existing ones.

By the end of last week, bargaining was stalling and the adjuncts I spoke with didn’t have high hopes for a satisfying resolution. On Monday, the New School union put out a press release vowing to continue the strike for a second week through the Thanksgiving holiday. “The New School’s reputation rests on its progressive history and professed values,” the union said in the release. “Its treatment of the faculty fails to meet those values.”

“The final deal will be some kind of compromise,” Huang mused to me, suggesting that any agreement will be one that both sides will not be fully at peace with. But for him and others, there was a realization that striking itself was not separate from teaching but rather “a continuation of being an educator, only this time the lesson is about organized labor.”

The post The Culture Workers Go On Strike appeared first on Truthdig.

Make the Blues America’s National Anthem

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Recently my wife Janet and I splurged on tickets to a spellbinding concert by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The music was memorable, as was an offhand comment by orchestra leader and trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis. Introducing a blues number, Marsalis suggested that the blues should be America’s national anthem.

The audience laughed. But I took this as a serious and brilliant suggestion. It’s worth some discussion.

The blues is a uniquely American (at first solely African American) musical form. Unlike minstrel tunes and cakewalks, it wasn’t easily hijacked by the dominant culture to parody and demean African Americans; nor was it, like ragtime, adapted by Blacks from popular Euro-American dance forms like the march or the two-step. Instead, it erupted directly as a raw response to degrading conditions forced upon resilient, creative people by the deeply racist society that had kidnapped and enslaved their ancestors. In both form and expression, the blues was startlingly original. And, in its first iterations, there was almost nothing commercial about it.

The blues began to emerge in the South, probably around the time of the Civil War. However, an exact year or place is impossible to pin down. It began as rural, improvised vocal music that invited simple instrumental accompaniment. It quickly caught hold and flourished, persisting alongside spirituals and, later, ragtime. In 1909, W.C. Handy copyrighted what is often cited as the first blues composition, “The Memphis Blues,” but it was not written strictly in the form of a blues, and was preceded by Jelly Roll Morton’s “New Orleans Blues,” composed in 1902. During the 1920s, blues singer-composers like Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith and Ma Rainey were so popular that the New York-based commercial tunesmiths of Tin Pan Alley churned out dozens of songs with the word “blues” in their titles — songs that, in form and spirit, had little to do with real blues.

The musical form of the blues is simplicity itself: three chords spread over 12 bars in 4/4 time, with lots of repetitions (there are also 8- and 16-bar blues forms, and extra chords can be judiciously added to provide more musical variety). In its essence, the blues is so uncomplicated that any teenage kid with a guitar can get in on the action, as three British lads named Clapton, Page and Richards did in the early 1960s, going on to make fortunes that eluded the Black American blues artists they were imitating.

Why would the blues make a great national anthem? 

First, almost anything would be better than our current anthem. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is hard to sing and has lyrics that only a historian can relate to. Hardly anyone really likes it, though most Americans, when asked, say they’d prefer to stick with it rather than change to a different song. 

Many of the oft-suggested alternatives are characterized by corny triumphalism or smarmy patriotism (“America the Beautiful,” “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” or “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean”). The best of the front-runners is undoubtedly Woody Guthrie’s folksy “This Land Is Your Land.”

The blues, however, has a lot going for it as a long shot candidate. Blues may be America’s greatest cultural gift to the world; if not, it’s certainly on the shortlist. It was the key contributor to the origins of jazz, rock and roll, funk, soul, R&B and hip hop, and it deeply influenced country and western, and bluegrass music. Without blues, it’s fair to say, there might be little recognizably American music. Blues embodies human resilience in the face of adversity and suffering. It’s therefore the perfect musical tonic for a nation founded on slavery and genocide (Native Americans have the incentive to play the blues with genuine feeling; check out Cecil Gray’s “Native Blues”), and a country of extreme economic inequality whose fossil-fueled luck is starting to run out.

Indeed, Americans will have plenty of reasons to sing the blues as this century wears on — as their nation’s oil and gas production inevitably declines; as climate change worsens droughts, wildfires and megastorms; as decades of unsustainable economic growth turn to decades of contraction; as mountains of government, corporate and consumer debt come due; and as festering resentments (urban/rural, racial and regional) further erode an already fraying set of norms that enable political and legal systems to function. The key to national survival will be a collective willingness to share the pain (instead of blaming scapegoats), celebrate our common humanity and build a new culture that’s both ecological and humane. I can think of no music more fitting as a soundtrack for that enterprise than the blues. 

One argument against the blues as America’s national anthem is simply that blues is more of a musical genre than a specific composition. Should a particular blues song be proposed to Congress? 

If so, then first consideration should go to the works of Bessie Smith, who wrote and performed many of the most popular blues ballads of the last century. (My personal pick would be her “Dirty No-Gooder’s Blues.”) Then there’s B.B. King’s “Every Day I Have the Blues” and Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail.” For boomers and rockers, a top choice might be Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child.”

The possibilities are nearly endless. But why should we be required to choose? Maybe each official occasion could open with a different blues song. Of course, the chances of Marsalis’s suggestion being taken up by officials in Washington are virtually nil. But I still dream of a World Series game kicking off with a rousing, full-throated chorus of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle.” In that fantasy future, America might actually redeem itself.

The post Make the Blues America’s National Anthem appeared first on Truthdig.

Donald Trump’s Lawyers Might Have Made a Huge Mistake

Mother Jones Magazine -

During closing arguments on Thursday in the criminal tax fraud case against Donald Trump’s companies, Trump’s attorneys did their best to blame everyone but Trump himself. They told the jury that the alleged fraud was the fault of rogue employees, some of whom had been employed by the Trump family for decades. But after laboring for weeks inside a Manhattan court room to minimize mention of their famous client, attorneys for both Trump-owned companies on trial invoked the former president’s name and discussed his role, which, they insisted, was minimal.

That may have been a major tactical error.

Trump’s companies—not Trump himself—are the defendants in the case. But as soon as prosecutor Joshua Steinglass started his own closing statement, he went straight at Trump, personally. “Donald Trump knew exactly what was going on with his top executives,” Steinglass told the jury. His closing was then paused for the evening, set to resume on Friday morning with what Steinglass told the jury will include much more detail about Trump’s role in the alleged tax fraud. The cliffhanger elicited furious protests from Trump’s attorneys, who reiterated as they had throughout the trial that everyone, including the judge and prosecutors, had agreed that Donald Trump the person was not on trial.

But Judge Juan Merchan swatted down that objection, telling Trump’s team late Thursday that they were the ones who had opened the door to direct focus on the former president. “It was the defense who invoked the name Donald Trump numerous times,” Merchan said. 

That was one of a several apparent errors Trump’s defense team made on Thursday, and it set up a potentially dramatic close to the trial when Steinglass finishes his closing statement on Friday. Trump’s attorneys, who have already spoken, will have no opportunity to argue back. 

Their final defense argument started on a rocky note Thursday when they began showing jurors a series of slides that were described as quotes from the trial transcripts of key testimony delivered by witnesses. But following an objection from Steinglass, it turned out that not all of those quotes were accurate. In fact, at least one shown to jurors was something that prosecutors had previously objected to and that Merchan had agreed was to be removed from the official transcript. However, the only thing the defense team had actually removed from the passage before presenting it to jurors was the prosecutor’s objection and the judge’s words agreeing with that objection.

“It’s problematic, and I don’t fault people for being upset about this,” Merchan told defense attorney Susan Necheles, who has represented the Trump Organization in the trial. Necheles was allowed to edit her statement, but throughout the day continued to get scolded by Merchan for repeatedly crossing boundaries of what the attorneys were allowed to tell the jury. 

The case centers on millions of dollars in fringe benefits paid to top Trump Organization employees—benefits like cars, apartments, and even envelopes of cash—that prosecutors say the company provided instead of paying salary. That set-up allowed the company to pay employees more without the employees having to pay income taxes on the benefits, according to the prosecution. This summer, Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of tax fraud, admitting that he lied on his tax returns about compensation he received from the Trump Organization; he promised to testify against the company but not Donald Trump personally, in exchange for a lighter jail sentence. Weisselberg will be sentenced following the conclusion of this trial, but if prosecutors say he cooperated with their case, they will recommend five months in jail—likely to be served at New York City’s Riker’s Island jail—for the 75-year-old.

Trump’s attorneys used their closing statements to blame all the wrongdoing in the case on Weisselberg and an outside accountant, Donald Bender, who helped prepare the company’s taxes. According to Necheles and fellow Trump attorney Michael van der Veen, who represents Trump Payroll Corp.—one of several hundred subsidiaries of Trump’s business empire—Weisselberg is a confessed tax cheat, and it’s all on him.

“Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg,” van der Veen repeatedly told the jury. 

Both Necheles and van der Veen tried to belittle Weisselberg and Bender, accusing them of greed and—particularly in Bender’s case—incompetence. Both lawyers mockingly mimicked Bender’s voice on the stand.

Jurors seemed unimpressed, watching stone-faced or with expressions of boredom as the attorneys made their case.

On Friday, Steinglass will continue his closing argument. Jurors will begin deliberations on Monday.

Correction, December 2: Judge Juan Merchan’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.

Are Police Helicopters Worth the Cost?

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Beni Benitez was 13, and lying in bed trying to fall asleep, when a bright flash made him open his eyes. His siblings were asleep on the bottom bunk. But a glaring light shone into the room, and the windows started shaking. His anxiety spiked as he heard the vibrating chop of a police helicopter.

Growing up just south of Downtown Los Angeles, Benitez was used to hearing police overhead. But that night, the aircraft’s spotlight was fixed on his apartment building. Minutes later, patrol cars pulled up, sirens blaring. Officers told Benitez’s family to wait outside while they searched for a suspect.

“They went in, and they trashed our place,” Benitez said. He felt a lot of emotions: anger, fear, humiliation. The experience led him to think that police officers misuse the power of the badge to inflict pain, physical and mental.

“I would say that it’s shaped a lot of the things that I now do,” said Benitez, a 22-year-old activist who dreams of becoming a counselor for young people in his neighborhood. He now sees the police helicopters as not just intimidating, but as wasteful government spending.

“Why is it that we’re still funding these systems that keep oppressing us, and hurting us and harming us, when the solution is investing in us?” he said.

Benitez is among a growing number of activists, academics and political figures questioning the usefulness of police helicopter programs. Amid a broader debate over law enforcement budgets, reform advocates are asking whether helicopters bring value to public safety worth the costs incurred and harms inflicted.

Los Angeles’ police and sheriff’s departments have amassed among the largest helicopter units of any local law enforcement agencies in the world, costing city and county residents tens of millions of dollars each year for patrols that disproportionately hover over low income communities of color, according to government records.

The helicopters have hovered for decades with little evidence of their necessity. The departments’ claims about the effectiveness of aerial patrols rely mainly on studies they conducted more than 50 years ago. Those early studies are not only outdated, they were dubious from the start, and more recent and comprehensive tests suggest no correlation between the use of aerial patrols and declines in crime rates, and that such patrols cost more than they’re worth in terms of benefits, according to a review of the research and interviews with experts.

A university research team is looking at whether the flights may be disrupting sleep and causing health problems, with disproportionate harms in low income Black and brown neighborhoods. And advocates like Benitez are calling to shift funds out of helicopter units and into improving access to education, housing and other necessities.

“That constant presence up in the sky is harmful, and that’s by design,” said Matyos Kidane, an activist with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, a volunteer group working to end police surveillance. “These helicopters cost millions of dollars and are burning fuel surveilling poor neighborhoods,” he said. “That’s resources that the poor community down there needs, and it’s being burned right above them.”

Most Americans know police helicopters from live news broadcasts of high speed car chases and portrayals in films, songs and TV shows. If you live in a place like Los Angeles, you’ve also seen and heard them overhead. 

Helicopter patrols are “presented as exciting and powerful,” said Caren Kaplan, a University of California, Davis, professor who studies how law enforcement uses military aerial technologies. “That’s how it gets normalized, because it’s so ubiquitous in popular culture.”

Nationwide, choppers have become a widely accepted policing tool since Southern California law enforcement agencies first tested them for patrols five decades ago.

At the time, government and private interests aligned to sell helicopters to police. But the studies that convinced hundreds of U.S. cities and counties to invest in helicopter patrols—and which the LAPD cites as evidence of ongoing effectiveness—relied on dubious methodologies, making their findings questionable.

Helicopters seemed promising when a Hughes Aircraft Company salesman pitched Los Angeles’ police and sheriffs on a “flying police car” in the mid-1960s. Urban unrest, especially the Watts revolt in 1965, convinced both agencies to test frequent aerial patrols as a way to control racial justice protests by surveilling neighborhoods and coordinating officers on the ground.

“Watts is this major point where the use of air patrol, and helicopters in particular, becomes really important for the police,” said Max Felker-Kantor, an historian and author of the book Policing Los Angeles. As law enforcement leadership became increasingly concerned with riots, they adopted a mindset of “We need to have all these new techniques, we need new gear,” Felker-Kantor said.

Los Angeles, a sprawling metropolis with complex geography, has had a police force relatively small for its population when compared to cities like New York. In the 1960s the police and sheriffs were intent on repurposing technology built in Southern California for war and space exploration, with the hope of professionalizing their operations and expanding their reach.

Los Angeles law enforcement agencies’ desire to test helicopters coincided with President Lyndon B. Johnson declaring a “war on crime” and setting aside money for local law enforcement agencies. 

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, then run by Sheriff Peter Pitchess, rented three Hughes helicopters and obtained the biggest law enforcement grant ever awarded by the federal government to test patrols in 1966. The authors of the report on the pilot program, Project Sky Knight, claimed chopper surveillance could prevent crime and “multiply force” by making law enforcement visible and audible across wide swaths of the landscape.

The LAPD conducted a similar federally funded test of helicopter patrols soon after, supported by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which also touted the benefits of aerial policing, including for reducing property crimes and increasing arrests.

Once effectiveness was “proven” by both agencies, Aviation Unit Chief Hugh MacDonald, who helped spearhead Sky Knight, retired from the sheriff’s department and joined Hughes Aircraft in using the reports to market helicopters to other law enforcement agencies, hundreds of which adopted the aircraft.

Neighborhood associations have protested against law enforcement helicopters since the flights began in the 1960s.

The federal government continues to fund local law enforcement helicopter units. The Justice Department has given more than $2 million to such units since 2008. The Defense Department has also donated more than 300 “demilitarized” helicopters, originally valued at $94 million overall, to sheriff’s, state police and highway patrol departments in 30 states since the 1990s. Florida, Alabama, California, Tennessee and Texas sheriffs have received most of those helicopters.

Los Angeles’ police and sheriff’s departments now maintain at least 17 helicopters each and keep those choppers in the air for regular day and night patrols.

To this day, the LAPD’s Air Support Division defines its “functional objectives” based on the early study, according to its policy manual. The department also promotes the NASA study on its website

But even if the findings were not outdated, they were likely inaccurate to begin with, experts said.

The federal government itself has acknowledged that “historically, the debate regarding the benefits and costs of airborne policing has been void of rigorous evaluation and empirical data,” according to the National Institute of Justice’s most recent review of law enforcement helicopter operations in 2012.

Nicholas Shapiro, a University of California, Los Angeles, professor who is currently studying the health and climate impacts of law enforcement helicopters in Southern California, said, “There’s just huge logical leaps” in the early studies.

Shapiro’s research team identified fundamental problems with the crime predictions and comparisons underpinning the LAPD helicopter study, such as conflating increased arrests with prevented crime and comparing real crime rates to modeled predictions. The study’s authors also excluded data from 1965, when the Watts riots occurred, because they acknowledged this data would skew their results.

“What they think that they’re seeing in terms of efficacy is relying upon not just methodological problems, but the inferential limitations of their evidence are really dramatic,” Shapiro said.

Elliot Framan, a researcher who worked on the 1970 study of the LAPD’s helicopter program, said an updated review would be warranted. “Clearly, police procedures and equipment, much less the situation on the ground, have changed enormously,” he said. “A new study might be more effective and worthwhile.”

Paul Whitehead, a sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario, agrees that the early studies were flawed. Whitehead was invited by the city of London, Ontario, Canada, to conduct a more recent study of helicopter patrol effectiveness in 2000. 

The early studies had “very poor research designs,” Whitehead said, which “lead to serious questions about the validity of their findings.” Many were “done with the purpose of finding the evidence that helicopters improved policing. And everything was aimed at reaching that conclusion even before the first piece of data was collected,” he said. 

As such, Whitehead sought to address those deficiencies in his own study, which remains the most comprehensive of its kind. 

Whitehead found that helicopters did not reduce crime rates and, because they were so expensive to buy and operate, any cost savings that came from using them for patrols did not come close to equaling their expense. 

“Do helicopter patrols reduce crime? The answer is no,” Whitehead said. 

Since then, a more limited test in 2019 by four police districts in Sweden similarly found that helicopter patrols had no significant effect in deterring crime.

Chopper One TV Series (1974)

As Los Angeles’ helicopter patrols persist, some residents are raising concerns that the flights may be disproportionately targeting Black and Latino neighborhoods, harming the mental and physical health of their residents. 

Over the years, the LAPD has internally tracked limited data on its helicopter flights, and used that data, along with predictive policing algorithms, to plan hundreds of flights each month. The department flew more than 6,000 of these data-driven missions in 2021, which is a 30% increase since 2019. But many of the metrics the department documents replicate problems from its early study and appear to generate patrols mostly targeting low income communities of color.

This use of data “provides a sort of technological veneer to reaffirm the kinds of policing practices they’ve already been historically engaged in,” said Andrea Miller, a Pennsylvania State University professor who studies the relationship between technology and security. Miller said that when police departments like the LAPD use past crime data to predict future crimes and decide where to concentrate their patrols, it creates a cycle wherein the most policed communities continue to be overpoliced.

Areas in South Los Angeles, including the 77th Street, Southwest and Newton police divisions that cover neighborhoods including Hyde Park, Crenshaw and Historic South Central, are among those most frequently patrolled by police helicopters and for the longest time, according to LAPD records. Residents have noticed the persistence of these patrols. 

Neighborhood associations have protested against law enforcement helicopters since the flights began in the 1960s, mainly because of air and noise pollution. At the time, Silver Lake residents thwarted the LAPD’s effort to build a heliport in Elysian Park. But by the 1980s, the police department built the world’s largest law enforcement helipad in downtown, allowing for today’s around-the-clock flights.

“I feel like I’ve never lived in a place where helicopters weren’t disturbing the peace,” said Tauheedah Shakur, 26. She grew up in South Los Angeles but recently moved to the Westlake neighborhood near MacArthur Park because of rising housing costs. Shakur said that helicopter noise and lights often wake her in the night, heightening her anxiety, which can cause panic attacks. She worries that police officers observing from the sky could someday mistake her for a threat. 

“I’m just afraid that one day they’ll get trigger happy from the helicopter and shoot me in my community. These are constant things I worry about,” Shakur said. “Helicopters really enforce that feeling of no safety, even in my own house.”

Concerns like those are exactly what a team of researchers at UCLA are setting out to study. 

Environmental scientist Nicholas Shapiro is examining whether Southern California’s law enforcement helicopters are disrupting sleep and negatively affecting mental and physical health, educational attainment and workplace performance. 

Gina Poe, a UCLA neuroscientist specializing in sleep studies, and Kate McInerny, a UCLA student, are working with Shapiro to measure how loud the helicopters sound at different distances and altitudes. They will pair that sonic map with flight records to figure out how much the noise disturbs sleep in various neighborhoods. 

The researchers are also studying whether there are racialized disparities in where agencies are concentrating patrols. Their preliminary analysis suggests patrols tend to fly more frequently over Black communities, for longer durations and at lower altitudes, which could have greater health effects.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration typically regulates how low aircraft can fly, law enforcement helicopters are exempt from those restrictions and often hover below the altitudes permitted for other flights. 

Flying low has caused at least one situation when helicopter noise prevented officers on the ground from hearing each other, with deadly consequences. In July 2021, LAPD officers in two separate cars responded to a call about a man with a knife. As the helicopter chopped overhead, the officers who arrived later couldn’t hear confirmation that the man was no longer armed and fatally shot him. The California Department of Justice is investigating the shooting.

The LAPD did not respond to Capital & Main’s questions and said it was “unable to accommodate [our] request” for a ride-along on a helicopter flight.

This drawing of an aircraft hovering over residential areas topped a 1969 flyer distributed by activists in protest of proposals to build a helicopter landing site near Los Angeles’ Elysian Park.

For more than 50 years, Southern California city and county governments have routinely shelled out tens of millions of dollars annually for law enforcement helicopter operations. Kenneth Mejia, an accountant recently elected to oversee Los Angeles’ finances as city controller, wants to reexamine aerial policing and see if any of those funds could go toward other government services.

“Everyone wants to know, why do we have so many helicopters?” Mejia said. “Is that money being used efficiently? Effectively? Is crime going down? Are the helicopters actually doing something? If so, show us the numbers.”

The police budget in Los Angeles is currently around $3.2 billion, almost half of the city’s discretionary funding and 30% of the entire budget. Mejia said that as controller he will audit the LAPD’s performance, with a focus on helicopter operations, because they are an expensive part of everyday life for Angelenos.

Costs include the initial purchase of helicopters and specialized software and equipment like cameras and searchlights. Then there are ongoing expenses like maintenance, insurance and fuel, as well as the costs of training and employing flight personnel and outfitting them in safety gear.

The LAPD’s helicopter unit cost at least $215 million over the last decade.

High costs have led some agencies to scale back their helicopter operations in recent years. For example, the police department in Kansas City, Missouri, was an early adopter that rapidly expanded its unit in the 1970s. But by 1995, the department reduced its aerial personnel from 30 to eight. And in 2001, it shrunk its fleet from seven to three helicopters.

In Los Angeles, neither the police nor the sheriff’s department releases its total helicopter budget, and public city and county databases do not clearly identify expenses associated with aerial operations. But Capital & Main identified at least a portion of those costs by compiling city spending records.

The LAPD Air Support Division spent at least $27 million in 2021, including roughly $7 million for new helicopters and equipment, $5.2 million for maintenance, $3.6 million for parts, $1.5 million for labor, $1.3 million for fuel and at least $8.5 million in payroll, according to city records. 

Since 2009, the LAPD has spent at least $43 million on helicopters, equipment and training. Some specialized equipment has also been donated by the Air Support Angels Foundation valued at $138,300 in 2022 and a total of almost $50,000 in the three years prior. 

The city of Los Angeles also spent about $77 million on maintenance, $50 million on parts, $27 million on labor and $19 million on fuel for the LAPD’s helicopters between 2010 and 2021, according to city records. This means that the LAPD’s helicopter unit cost at least $215 million over the last decade.

Mejia, the city’s controller-elect, said that a proper audit of the helicopter unit would look at how funds are being spent and determine if any of that money could be better allocated to other services, departments, resources or assets, such as housing assistance, animal services or youth development.

The Los Angeles City Council created a Youth Development Department in 2021 and funded it with $1.4 million. This year the council increased the budget to $2.5 million. That is roughly equal to the cost of fuel and infrared cameras for helicopter policing last year.

Capital & Main requested budget and operations records from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Aero Bureau but the department did not provide them. In 2020, the Sheriff’s Department said that helicopter maintenance alone costs at least $23 million per year. The Sheriff’s Department’s total budget this year was $3.6 billion, but because its Aero Bureau is paid for through a “specialized and unallocated” account, it’s unclear how much of that is spent on helicopters.

The Aero Bureau has been accused of misspending in the past. In the 2010s, retired Sergeant Richard Gurr alleged that a $29 million Board of Supervisors-approved contract to update 12 helicopters included millions in overcharges and unnecessary equipment. Los Angeles County’s auditor-controller investigated these and other alleged improprieties in 2012 and found that most were unsubstantiated, although there were “weaknesses” in the bureau’s purchasing practices, such as a lack of competitive bidding for repair services.

Last year, the county audited the Sheriff’s Department again and found that it failed to get permission before building a helicopter landing pad on private property near Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s home. Villanueva lost his reelection campaign and will be replaced by Robert Luna, a former Long Beach police chief.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department declined to respond to Capital & Main’s questions and requests for public records.

The post Are Police Helicopters Worth the Cost? appeared first on Truthdig.

The Secret Reason the US Is Still in Syria

Mint Press News -

Syria has drifted from the headlines, but the U.S. is still stealing their oil, occupying large swaths of their land, and economically obliterating them.

This month, UN special rapporteur Alena Douhan came back from Syria and demanded an end to all sanctions imposed by US and its allies.

In her statement, Douhan said, “The economy is hostage to a protracted economic crisis with growing inflation and frequent devaluation of the national currency” – Basically, most Syrians can do nothing but hope to survive.

These are not fighters, these are not terrorists hurling grenades at Americans. These are completely regular people who spend every day trying not to die from American sanctions. 

And you might say, “Well, that’s the Syrian government’s fault. Why don’t they just give the people what they need?”

But the Syrian government can’t help their people because the U.S. and our allies have made sure they can’t help their people. Washington has cut most Syrians off from the food, medicine and raw materials they need to live.

It’s tough to overstate how bad things are in Syria. According to Douhan, “90 percent of all Syrians today are forced to live below the poverty line with around 12 million grappling with severe food insecurity.”

We have proof that sanctions kill thousands, if not millions. They even cause immense death and suffering when done internally. When economic war is waged against a country’s own citizens, it has a different name. It’s called “austerity.”

A landmark study in 2017 found the conservative U.K. government committed “economic murder.” The study linked the country’s austerity programs to 120,000 deaths in just a few years. If that many people are murdered by cuts to welfare and healthcare, just imagine the number of deaths of innocent people caused by not even having clean water in Syria.

Similarly, a former UN rapporteur on human rights said in 2020 that American sanctions on Venezuela had killed 100,000 people.

Last year, the UN human rights council demanded an end to all unilateral sanctions. They said, “Punishment of ‘innocent civilians’ through government sanctions must end.”

The UN statement continues, “The experts underscored that people in targeted countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and Iran, sink into poverty because they cannot get essential services like electricity, housing, water, gas and fuel, let alone medicine and food.”

Watch the full report above to find out what the US actually wants in Syria.

Lee Camp is an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and activist. Camp is the host of Behind The Headlines’ new series: The Most Censored News With Lee Camp. He is a former comedy writer for the Onion and the Huffington Post and has been a touring stand-up comic for 20 years.

The post The Secret Reason the US Is Still in Syria appeared first on MintPress News.

The New McCarthyism: Angela Davis Speaks in New York After Critics Shut Down Two Events

Democracy Now! -

When high school students in Rockland County, New York, invited renowned activist and professor Angela Davis to speak, the event got shut down in two different venues over protests that she was “too radical.” But the students persevered, and Angela Davis addressed a packed church Thursday night. “I talked about the importance of recognizing that through struggle, through organized struggle, through the efforts of people who come together and join hands and join their voices together, we’ve made changes in this country,” says Davis. We also speak with community activist Nikki Hines, who supported students at Rockland County High School when they invited Davis to speak and who says “misinformation” drove the protests.

Inside Israel's Cover-up & U.S. Response to Murder of Palestinian American Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

Democracy Now! -

More than six months since the Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed while reporting in the occupied West Bank, “there is still no accountability in what happened,” says journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous. He is the correspondent on a new Al Jazeera documentary for the program “Fault Lines” that investigates Abu Akleh’s May killing. It draws on videos and eyewitness accounts of Abu Akleh’s killing to establish that Abu Akleh was fatally shot in the head by Israeli forces, a finding supported by numerous other press investigations. The Biden administration also recently opened an FBI probe into her killing, but Israel is refusing to cooperate and has continued to deny responsibility. Abu Akleh, who was one of the most recognizable faces in the Arab world, had worked for Al Jazeera for 25 years and held U.S. citizenship. We play excerpts from the Al Jazeera documentary, “The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh,” and hear from Shireen’s niece Lina Abu Akleh. “We want there to be accountability. We want there to be justice,” she says.

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