Counterpunch Articles

Trump’s Climate Denial Gains Strength If We’re in Denial About His Neo-Fascism

Spiking temperatures, melting glaciers, rising seas, catastrophic hurricanes and unprecedented wildfires are clear signs of a climate emergency caused by humans. Denying the awful reality makes the situation worse. The same can be said of denial about the current momentum toward fascism under Donald Trump.

Trump’s right-wing base and leading Republicans are in lockstep with both types of denial. They embrace the most absurd claims about climate, such as Trump’s recent comment during a visit to fire-ravaged California that “I don’t think science knows, actually.” And they refuse to recognize or deplore his autocratic moves.

On the left, hardly anyone doubts the climate crisis. And there’s widespread recognition that Trump’s presidency is a full-blown emergency. But — with justified enmity toward the neoliberal corporatism and militarism of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party — some question or pooh-pooh the importance of ousting Trump with Biden.

Yet no one can credibly dispute, for instance, that Trump is increasingly aligned with white supremacy. Or that Trump is enabling more repressive actions by “law enforcement” and the courts. Any ambivalence about defeating Trump goes against the left’s historic responsibility to fight tooth and nail against the extreme right.

Winning that fight is a victory for humanity as a whole. It also allows space for the left to function instead of being crushed.

But — after nearly four years of the Trump presidency — a normalization process has made denial a real hazard.

The book How Fascism Works, by Yale professor Jason Stanley, describes the dynamic this way: “Normalization of fascist ideology, by definition, would make charges of ‘fascism’ seem like an overreaction, even in societies whose norms are transforming along these worrisome lines. Normalization means precisely that encroaching ideologically extreme conditions are not recognized as such because they have come to seem normal. The charge of fascism will always seem extreme; normalization means that the goalposts for the legitimate use of ‘extreme’ terminology continually move.”

Even now, despite all that Trump has done and is threatening to do, some progressives still have trouble wrapping their minds around the reality of the neo-fascist threat right in front of us in real time. The current “encroaching ideologically extreme conditions are not recognized as such because they have come to seem normal.”

One of the clearest voices about the intertwined perils of the climate emergency and the Trump regime is longtime Green Party activist Ted Glick, who has devoted decades of his life to organizing against climate disaster and a political system with corporate power dominating both major parties.

Nearly 20 years ago, Glick was the Green Party nominee for U.S. senator in New Jersey. In 2007 he went on a “climate emergency fast” (water-only for 25 days) to protest the federal government’s failure to take action on global warming. In 2010, he hung banners inside a Senate office building that said “Green Jobs Now” and “Get to Work,” risking up to three years in prison.

“There are an awful lot of reasons why it is so important for Trump to be defeated and removed from the White House, but I continue to believe that the most important one is the climate crisis,” Glick wrote last week.

“There is no question but that the climate issue is very much connected to many other issues, among them the issues of jobs, poverty, immigration, health care, racism, and war and peace,” he pointed out. “That is why the concept of and the organizing for a Green New Deal must be central not just to the climate movement but to the movement of movements which, alone, can make it happen once Trump is out of the White House.”

And Trump will only be out of the White House four months from now if Biden receives enough votes in swing states this fall.

Glick’s conclusion rings true: “Removing Trump is the prerequisite for everything else. Those who don’t get that on the left should really ponder what will happen to the world’s disrupted ecosystems and the billions of people reliant on those ecosystems under a second Trump administration and beyond. We must do all we can in the next two months to literally save the world.”

Climate change is an emergency. And so is Trumpism. Flames are approaching what’s left of democratic structures in the United States.

Stopping the advent of fascism doesn’t offer any assurance of being able to create the kind of society and world that we want. But failing to stop the advent of fascism would assure that we won’t.

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The Struggle for Bottom Unity in an Age of Division

“The most interesting political questions throughout history have been whether or not humans will be ruled or free, whether they will be responsible for their actions as individuals or left irresponsible as members of society, and whether they can live in peace by volitional agreements alone.”

-Karl Hess

“We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity.”

-Fred Hampton

Solidarity is a bitch when everyone who can afford a knife is slitting each other’s throat. That’s the nasty little limerick that keeps playing on repeat in my skull like a mantra as populist grassroots uprisings devolve into bitter proxy wars between roaming tribes of bitter proles, killing each other over which oligarch’s name they have scrawled across their battle flags. Everyone wants to pick sides. Everyone is trolling for convenient scapegoats. I just see poor people killing poor people while two sick rich candidates arrange their corpses into clever platforms to stand on and promote more war from. The splintering of the George Floyd Uprisings into partisan turf warfare doesn’t just rip up my already bleeding heart because I had so much hope for the revolutionary potential now being squandered. It kills me because I have people on both sides of these gorey shenanigans and they should both be on the same damn team. All poor people should be, regardless of race or even politics.

This philosophy, the crazy little idea that what defines the revolutionary struggle for a better world isn’t about who’s on the left or the right but who’s on the top or the bottom, is known as Bottom Unity. It’s an oddly Marxian libertarian philosophy that serves as the cornerstone to my whole belief system. You see, dearest motherfuckers, I am what’s known as a Panarchist, essentially an anarchist against adjectives. Even though I personally subscribe to a kind of Sorel-in-Drag Queer Syndicalism, I believe that the only way this whole anarchism gig works is if every tribe is free to construct their own private utopia, provided that it be completely voluntary and that it minds its own damn business vis a vis a non-aggression pact. In advocating this ideal I’ve become a strange sort of revolutionary ambassador, forming ties with weirdos across the political spectrum. This is how I’ve built an audience, I lovingly call my dearest motherfuckers, which stretches from Antifa to Boogaloo, and this is why the violence of the last several weeks sickens me so deeply.

When those fucking pigs lynched George Floyd at the height of a virulently unconstitutional socioeconomic lockdown, something deep inside the spirit of the American dispossessed snapped like tinder and an explosion of righteous fury swept across every corner of this deeply sick nation. While the conmen of the news class chased fires like chickens with their heads cut off, I saw something they were clearly too willfully blind to see in the blaze. I saw hope. I saw a country tired of being pushed and united in pushing back. I knew full well the odds of it lasting uncorrupted were stacked against me, but for one brilliant flaming moment, the revolutionary potential seemed endless. Then the charade of our fakakta election circus leaked in and tainted blacktop direct democracy with its fraudulent pseudo-representative cousin. And suddenly motherfuckers started shooting each other instead of aiming their righteous fury where it belonged at the police and the filthy fucking oligarchs they protect and serve. In classic bottom unity fashion, I’m not here to pick sides. Not because I’m some kind of genderfuck Gandhi but because you’re all fucking guilty.

The Militia Movement might be guiltier than most. After all they’re the motherfuckers breaking bread with the enemy. Libertarian gun culture has always had its quirks and bad actors but the shit has gotten ridiculous. Somehow an armed agrarian movement against any form of government regulation higher than a city council has been heinously perverted into a mob of bootlicking pigfuckers with the gag reflex of a bukkake porn starlet. Blue Lives Matter? Motherfucker Blue Lives shot unarmed women at Ruby Ridge and burned babies alive at Waco. Wake the fuck up. In post-Clinton Crime Bill America there is less separating your local heroes in the police from the feds than ever. I blame the influence of Trump. That race baiting huckster hijacked right wing populism and made you all dependent pussies bowing to his cheesy cult of personality.

Militia folk need to recall their Sovereign Citizen roots and act a little bit more like Ammon Bundy, the Malheur raider who has come out in support of Black Lives Matter and defunding the police from the standpoint of a good old boy who doesn’t want the government’s jackboot on anyone’s neck. Defending small business is one thing. I’ve got no beef with rooftop Koreans. But a bunch of bougie brats with paintball guns from the burbs cruising in pick-up trucks to someone else’s city to troll shell-shocked protestors is just hillbilly colonialism. Stop kissing the government’s ass and begging city slickers to shoot you for it. This ain’t what Karl Hess fought for. If that motherfucker could build bridges between the Old Right and the New Left by sharing a spliff with the Weather fucking Underground then you should be able to shout ‘Black Lives Matter!’ with a mouth full of chaw and an AR cradled in your arms.

This doesn’t mean BLM gets off easy, though I may have to temper my vitriol a bit to adjust to the fact that I’m a Queer Celt addressing people of color. I don’t think any sane sentient creature can argue with the logic that all lives can’t matter until Black lives matter, but I do feel like many members of the movement along with their pale faced allies have lost site in the heat of the rhetoric of the fact that a lot of other lives are in the crosshairs of our homicidal police state too. Brown lives, red lives, trans lives and yes even some white lives. If you’re a poor person in this country then your life is expendable. The American police system was designed to protect and serve property and property owners. For centuries this meant straight white cis-men and that’s how white supremacy got grandfathered in to our classist system as an institutional menace. You can’t fight a class war without fighting white supremacy, but you also can’t fight white supremacy without fighting a class war. The two have become interchangeable.

So while yes, Black lives matter, you could just as accurately say poor lives matter. BLM matters because Black people have every right to fight for their own but even they could benefit a hell of a lot more from solidarity than patronage. That means building a network of allies that includes some of those rednecks with ARs. The trailer park will always share far more common ground with the projects than Capitol Hill. Fred Hampton realized this and lead the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party to form a strategic armed alliance with William “Preacherman” Fesperman’s Young Patriots Organization, a radical coalition of hillbilly migrant workers from Appalachia who proudly displayed rebel flags on their jean jackets. You think Hampton was down with that George Wallace horseshit? Fuck no. But Fred Hampton, just like Karl Hess and Ammon Bundy, was down with Bottom Unity.

The chaos erupting in the streets has been a long time coming. Empires don’t grow peacefully and they don’t collapse peacefully either. But the only way poor people are gonna ride this out and build a better world on the ashes is to stop slitting throats and start practicing solidarity. It ain’t easy. The system put a lot of time and money into traumatizing poor people of every color and pitting us against each other. But it’s never too late to make things right. Libertarians and leftists need to let bygones be bygones and join forces to the settle the score with the vile forces of the American Empire, once and for all. Lets get together, brothers and sisters, and make some motherfucking history by making these motherfuckers history.

Soundtrack; songs that influenced this post.

* Garbageman by the Cramps

* (un)Knowing by Young Jesus

* We Can Work It Out by the Beatles

* Sometimes Always by The Jesus & Mary Chain and Hope Sandoval

* Life On Mars by David Bowie

* Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine

* Ruff Ryders Anthem by DMX

* All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem

* Instant Karma by John Lennon

* I Against I by Bad Brains

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Corporate Crime at the New York Times and Washington Post

Corporate Crime Reporter wants to sponsor a corporate crime news event at the Washington Post or at the New York Times.

For the event, we would invite some of the world’s top experts on corporate crime.

We would go through the list of names of people we have interviewed recently– and then add others.

Columbia University Professor John Coffee, author of the new book Corporate Crime and Punishment: The Crisis of Underenforcement.

Jenny Chan, author of the new book Dying for an iPhone.

Duke Law Professor Brandon Garrett, author of Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.

Barbara Freese, author of Industrial Strength Denial: Eight Stories of Corporations Defending the Indefensible, from the Slave Trade to Climate Change.

Dennis Kelleher, CEO of Better Markets.

Professor Ellen Hertz, author of Business and Human Rights: The Limits of Good Intentions.

People like that.

We asked both newspapers how much it would cost for us to sponsor such an event.

We wanted to work out the details.

Neither paper got back to us.

But they did get back to Accenture, MassMutual, Pfizer and Intel, among other major corporations who have sponsored news events at the two newspapers.

In June 2020, Intel sponsored a Washington Post Live event titled Corporate Purpose and Responsibility.

The guests at the event were Intel CEO Bob Swan, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Suzanne Clark, Bombas CEO and co-founder David Heath and Goodr CEO Jasmine Crowe, “to discuss the role and responsibility of CEOs and companies during a time of chaos and crisis.”

According to the transcript of the event, there was no talk of corporate crime or corporate law violations.

On September 17, 2020, Siemens will sponsor a Washington Post Live event titled Infrastructure and Innovation. Nothing about bribery in contracting, which is something Siemens knows a bit about. (The same Siemens of the 2009 guilty pleato Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges and a $443 million fine.)

In August, 2020, the Washington Post Live hosted an event titled America’s Health Future sponsored by UnitedHealthcare unit Optum – a pharmacy benefits manager. UnitedHealthcare is the largest health insurer in the United States. No talk at the event about single payer Medicare for All, which might crimp UnitedHealthcare’s style, if not put it out of business. (No note of California’s $173 million fine against the company’s PacifiCare unit in 2014 for some 900,000 violations of state law, or health care fraud in general.)

In July 2020, the Washington Post sponsored an event titled Chasing Cancer – sponsored by Pfizer. Nothing about Pfizer’s repeated run-ins with the law overforeign bribery and domestic health care fraud.

The New York Times has a similar pay to play news event series.

A September 17, 2020 New York Times event titled The New Prognosis for High-Tech Health Care is being sponsored by Deloitte. Nothing about accounting fraud, nothing about a $2 million SEC sanction in 2019 or the $149.5 million payment it made in 2018 to settle False Claims Act charges.

A July 30, 2020 New York Times DealBook DeBrief with Thomas Friedman was sponsored by Accenture. Accenture also sponsored the November 2019 DealBook Conference. (The Accenture of the $64 million payment in 2011 to settle False Claims Act charges.)

In July 2020, MassMutual sponsored a New York Times event titled Unfinished Work: Representation and Democracy.

“Reflecting on 100 years since women’s suffrage, in a presidential election year, many groups are still fighting for unimpeded access to the vote,” the Times explained in its description of the event. “Who still faces obstacles to voting?” What can be done to change it?”

I have a question.

What can be done about what Professor Coffee calls “the crisis of underenforcement of corporate crime”?

Would like to discuss that at the New York Times and the Washington Post.

How much would it cost to put that item on the agenda?

This post originally appeared on Corporate Crime Reporter.

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Change and Decay: A Time of Transition

It’s the beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere, a beautiful and refreshing space between the heady days of summer and the chill of winter, a transitional time. And collectively we are living through a time of global transition; a shift from one civilization, colored by certain influencing qualities, to a new time, growing out of the old but infused with a different energy, with distinct unifying qualities and evolving modes of living.

Inherent in this natural movement is the promise of change, but also resistance and tension, resulting in conflict and fragmentation. Ancient divisions are being strengthened, new divisions fermented, injustices highlighted; under the action of cleavage all are being drawn to the polluted surface of human affairs.

With every day the weight and impact of the new intensifies, the forces of the old, the forms and systems, institutions and structures decline, fragment and decay. Despite this disintegration, attachment to the familiar is strong, and change in any direction, particularly when it threatens to weaken the control of the controllers, evokes a strong opposing reaction. Broad lines of demarcation between people desperate for a different way (the majority in many cases), for social justice, environmental action and freedom, and those fighting to maintain the status quo have become increasingly stark.

Resistance is fierce among those groups that are wedded to the existing unjust, dysfunctional ways, many of whom hold the reins of power – political and corporate; believing in the doctrine of greed, which has served them well, and defining life in narrow materialistic terms, they refuse to see any alternative to the ideology of money and nationalism, and will fight to the bitter end. But transition to a new way of living is beginning and will accelerate, impacting on all areas of society. Some transitional trends have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, including working practices, transportation (particularly in cities) and the shift to online shopping.

The old is established, its modus operandi defined, institutions and systems, ideologies and values well known, imbedded in the minds of all. The shape of the ‘new’ is not known, forms need to evolve, but its qualities are becoming clear. It speaks of unity, cooperation, tolerance and understanding, social justice and freedom. Universal perennial principles held within the hearts of many for generations, which under the ideology of division, have been ignored or buried, at best partially honored, selectively demonstrated; broad principles that will increasingly determine the tone of the new civilization.

Modes of living, systems, institutions and values are formal reflections, or constructs, of the consciousness of those within society, local and global; the nature of this consciousness is the underlying cause of the interconnected crises facing humanity and constitutes the fundamental crisis; we are the real crisis. All proceeds from this murky source, and, for the required transitions to take place a much needed shift in attitudes is needed; a move away from actions motivated purely by selfish gain or reward to a growing sense of social and environmental responsibility; a transition from fear, desire and division to unity, love and compassion. This is a process that has been building in momentum over the last forty years or so, leading to the unprecedented global protest movement (including the passionate response to the environmental emergency) among other positive developments.

As transition becomes more widespread and momentum builds, it is crucial that in those areas impacted most (the energy sector for example, and, with the expansion of artificial intelligence, all forms of manufacturing), the changes be just, and in order to be lasting, are made with the broadest possible consensus. Of the many changes needed a radical transition in consumer habits is foremost: Like many areas of contemporary life consumerism is an integral part of the socio-economic system, an immoral paradigm sitting at the core of many, if not all of our problems, that must be radically overhauled if social justice, and indeed peace (for there will never be peace without justice), is to be brought about.

Consumerism, including the consumption of animal food produce, is the underlying cause of the environmental emergency; a change in lifestyles and movement away from excess to sufficiency is imperative if we are to reverse centuries of environmental vandalism. Changes in education are also key – a transition (already underway in some countries, and theoretically prominent) away from a system of propaganda and conditioning, with schools and colleges functioning as little more than feeding grounds for employers, to creative centers of learning that encourage independent thinking, freedom from sociological and psychological conditioning, and self-enquiry. Creating social justice – something again that is conditional on changing the economic model – facilitating freedom for everyone everywhere, and bringing about an end to prejudice of all kinds are other key areas of change. And while there is a growing awareness of the need for acceptance and understanding, ignorant flag-waving groups bent on violence still soil our streets, defame our shared humanity.

Tolerance and acceptance in opposition to division and bigotry is one area of many in which polarities of views can be seen, the environmental emergency is another, as is immigration, education, and state support for, say, health care. Differences, which often find a focus in political allegiances, but differences which run much deeper and are broader in tone, between those who are in tune with the rhythms of the age and backward-looking fearful groups attached to old ways of thinking and living, who are determined to obstruct any progressive movement for change. Change that cannot be stopped, but change that can be delayed, and given the intense need – the crippling poverty, armed conflict, displacement of people, and, the major issue, the environmental emergency – delay is something neither we nor the planet can countenance. The house is on fire, our house is on fire and urgent sustained action is desperately needed.

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WAP It Good

Don’t run, walk, or crawl towards the Apocalypse. Dance. This most curious form of human movement, unlimited in its variety and meanings, and instantly recognizable even by other species (our dog would go berserk when her masters began shimmying across the living room of an evening) seems as pleasant a way as any to tip into the abyss—twerking or twisting, sashaying or salsaing. The reason to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic is so that you can have one last dance before the icy waters close around you.

Yet even as Trump cranks up the speakers of Armageddon, he won’t move to the music. The bitterest of presidential pills is not the president himself. Still harder to swallow is the fact that he can’t dance. Moving images of him in the clinch at the 2017 inaugural ball gripping and grinning with Melania to “My Way” have caused lasting side effects in millions: vomiting, hives, intermittent blindness, irritable bowel, and, in a few undocumented cases, erections lasting more than six hours. Warning: click the link below only after consulting a physician; persons under 90 years of age require parental consent to view.

The more fitting—and clinically approved—Sinatra song for Trump is Kern and Hammerstein’s ”I Won’t Dance.”

Among the maddest ironies of the Trump presidency is that the Non-Dancer-in-Chief wants to cancel TikTok. Like Trump, I have no idea what TikTok is—or didn’t until the chest-thumping wallflower in the Oval Office began threatening to pull the plug. There has been tough talk of national security, privacy issues, and the escalating trade wars with China. It’s all pure bluster. The real reason is that Don can’t dance, and if he can’t, no one else should either.

But there’s nothing like a threatened ban to get one’s ears to perk up and eyes to peel.

The way into this wormhole was shown me by New York Times pop music critic and critical shopper Jon Caramanica. He added his lump of sugar to this tempest in more than two hundred million (and counting) tea cups —WAP. At the risk of sounding like a Rip Van Winkle prodded awake by a selfie-stick, allow me to inform you that those letters aren’t just PAW backwards (as in what presidential gropers do to the non-consenting), but stand for Wet-Ass P-Word.

A dutiful reader of the offerings from Times music desk, I carefully considered Caramanica’s reasoned arguments in support of this unabashed extolling of the glories of female sexual pleasure. After all, the proud purveyors of WAP—two virtuosic, if triumphantly unvirtuous entertainers who do their thing under the names of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion—were just having “good,” if not clean, fun. Caramanica reminded us that literary and cinematic giants from Philip Roth to Bernardo Bertolucci, not to mention Madonna, have already described the maneuvers and mechanics of sex, long before these two women turned their talents to the topic. Male Rappers have been talking dirty for years, so it was high time that women got into the act.

A couple of weeks before Carmanica’s piece on WAP ran, I soon learned as I dosey-doed from link to link, the Guardian jumped to the song’s defense against conservative culture warriors by deploying that most unsexiest of words: Empowerment.

The forces arrayed against WAP’s literal outpouring of female sexuality—naked statues spurt water from various organs, the steps leading up to the garish mansion in which pleasure is sought run with fluids—were led by the monotone and miserable Ben Shapiro. His outraged recitation of the lyrics on his Daily Wire podcast has assured him a place of dishonor in the hall of puritanical infamy. Ben was having none of the claims that WAP marked an advance in autonomy and fulfillment for women.

From what might be called the left, a glowering Russell Brand agreed that replicating the structures of capitalist male hegemony should hardly be lauded. WAP simply fed the insatiable Beast with more product, even if differently packaged: it was sex for sale, however gratifying it may be to some that two women were setting the terms of the exchange and reaping the proceeds.

There is much to feast on visually and poetically in WAP’s orgy of metaphors: mops get plunged into buckets; big Mack trucks get parked in little garages; golden-assed knockers on Prussian blue doors beg to be knocked; gilded serpents strike at the camera; boa constrictors slither around the swim-suited singers; CGI tigers engage in a striped threesome; a king cobra with a hook is yearned for; Cardi’s tongue licks the air between fingers spread in a V—for Victory and Vagina. When tired of the titillations of metaphor, these last-wave feminists happily turn to the explicit: “this pussy is wet, come take a dive … When I ride that dick …” etc. CGI leopards flirt with a human dominatrix in leopard rig. Women in fetish gear hump floors and do the same in the ankle-high water of an atrium pool, then turn over and raise their pelvises to the glass ceiling. Male voices chant menacingly that there are “hoes in the house,” but no man is in sight.

The beknockered doors of this pleasure palace lead to the limitless delights of TikTok. Even conservative peer Andrew Lloyd Webber boogies to the WAP beat then adds his own Phantom of the Opera organ chords to the legion of mash-ups. Top Influencer Addison Rae (nineteen years old; graduate of Calvary Baptist Academy and now student at Louisiana State) does her interpretation of the hip-grinding, floor-fucking dance for her 60 million TikTok followers (the second highest figure on the platform) along with and new admirers like the Musical Patriot. Rae’s mom posted her own version, then her dad, too. Here’s one compilation, a seven-minute epic.

Caramanica took an avuncular attitude to all the riffs and reactions to WAP. The platform provided a fun intergenerational forum to TikTok about sex, he argued, much looser and more constructive then talking about—or fulminating against it.

Yet with its blinding colors and numbing consumerism, the viral WAP video is strangely devoid of the sexual energy it purports to celebrate. One of the most revealing of the song’s metaphors casts the vagina as a credit card machine to be swiped by the nose. The fungible penis becomes a hassle-free form of payment. With WAP, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion have literally created their own brand of hedonism, its wet wish-list reading more like a monthly statement than a hymn to eros.

That it’s all about the money is proven by the sheepish attempts of corporate hunks Microsoft and Oracle to get TikTok to be their partner, even while Trump flashes his switchblade from the wings. With the clock ticktocking down and the president’s killjoy curfew just days away, it looks like the Chinese visitor will be sent home, her love affair with Land of the Free and the Foolish cut—in a bit of poetic (in)justice—short.

But even if it runs into a fatal typhoon on the way home, the good ship TikTok’s celebration of the choreographed quickie will allow for lots of last dances on the way down.

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On the Chicken Egg Farm 

On the Chicken Egg Farm 

The bullseye
With its golden center
Isn’t that an egg as well?
Well?
Maybe, she said, you freeze
an egg, and though it cracks
it remains intact
then slip it in a sock like that
and go and give a cop a whack
shout ham and eggs
and smack his head
it’s likely, though,
he’ll shoot you dead
That’s what she said
And we all laughed
With the unceasing humming
and unceasing harms
on the chicken egg farm
And sang this song:
If I were born
on a chicken egg farm
I’d like to be born
a chicken’s son
You know, right?
what they do to them?
The daughters get
their beaks snipped off
and worked like slaves
until they drop
but the sons are killed
on the day they’re born
they suffer much less
on the chicken egg farm

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Police Bureaucracy and Abolition: Why Reforms Driven by Professionals will Renew State Oppression

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The demands are clear: defund and abolish police. As those calls grow, so will efforts by reformers to propose new rules and regulations that they say will “improve” and restore “legitimacy” to policing. These bureaucratic reforms reflect the failed thinking that built up the carceral state, and they will make policing harder to dismantle. Reforms like this are meant to pacify social movements, replacing community self-determination with the “expertise” of lawyers, academics, and other professionals who are complicit in oppression.

Bureaucratic reforms are not just too little. They are also dangerous. Decades of judicial oversight, transparency legislation, and self-auditing requirements have not reduced the power of the carceral state. To the contrary, they have created a vast punishment bureaucracy giving political legitimacy and social inertia to a system of mass caging rooted in enslavement. Applying this same regulatory framework to the governance of policing will only expand the reach and harm of policing, just as it has helped to make the prison-industrial complex bigger, harsher, more durable, and racist as ever.

The chief proponents of police bureaucracy are typically professionals whose authority depends on working closely with the carceral state. Consider the recent L.A. Times op-ed by University of Texas professor Sarah Brayne, “One way to shrink the LAPD’s budget: Cut costly and invasive big-data policing.” Brayne spent years embedded within the Los Angeles Police Department as a doctoral student at Princeton. Despite the op-ed’s title, it never proposes reducing let alone “cutting” any police surveillance. Instead Brayne writes about the “secrecy” that “shrouds” LAPD’s data systems. She notes that New York City recently required “the NYPD to disclose which technology it uses and what data it collects.” She proposes that “Los Angeles should follow suit.”

Brayne asserts that “surveillance technologies are largely missing from today’s urgent conversations.” That voice is “missing” only if one ignores local activists. Here in Los Angeles, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition has fought to dismantle LAPD surveillance since 2011, recently forcing LAPD to end its LASER, Chronic Offender, and PredPol surveillance programs. An abolitionist organization, Stop LAPD Spying has also organized against laws like the one Brayne proposes importing from New York. That law, named the POST Act, tasks the NYPD with writing “surveillance impact and use policies” to post on their website, where the public has 45 days to comment. While police are asked to “consider” the comments, NYPD is not required to make changes or to share the information that underlies their conclusions, which will be framed by NYPD’s army of lawyers.

These laws are also often coupled with efforts to limit use of a particular surveillance technology, like the restrictions on facial recognition enacted by San Francisco and the recently proposed Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, introduced by Senator Ed Markey and others this June. Explaining the bill, Markey acknowledged calls “to dismantle the systematic racism that permeates every part of our society” and noted that face recognition “physically endangers Black Americans.” But at the same time that his bill seeks to freeze police use of face surveillance, it outlines details of the regulatory scheme that Congress would enact to end the moratorium, including “auditing requirements,” “standards for use and management,” and “minimum accuracy rates.”

The idea behind these reforms is that policing can be tamed through paperwork and rules. This whitewashes the harm of surveillance, which will be used for racial domination no matter if it is lawful or unlawful, no matter if “accurate.” The politicians and lawyers behind the POST Act last month celebrated their “tremendous” and “vital” victory. But the truth is that legislation like this is the easiest possible win in this moment, betraying the bolder visions of the mass movement calling to abolish police.

No one is taking to the streets facing down tear gas to demand police bureaucracy. To the contrary, today’s protests originate in the failure of past reforms, which have done little to end policing’s death toll. These protests have made police abolition a serious conversation. Whether and how legislation can be abolitionist are important questions. But if legislation is a goal, that power should be used to ban particular forms of surveillance, not just create a bureaucracy to regulate them. Calls for surveillance oversight ignore the lessons of past struggles against federal national security surveillance and Red Squad repression, which led to the creation of bureaucracies like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the NYPD’s Handschu guidelines. Rather than dismantling policing, reforms like this help police adapt to criticism, to reinvent and rebuild.

When the POST Act was enacted, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition criticized the reform as “surveillance bureaucracy” and observed that laws like this presume “that our communities want to be surveilled, so long as the state follows a heavily stacked process, pretends to consider input, and checks off a few baseline legal requirements.” At the time, it may have appeared odd for activists from Los Angeles to criticize local legislation in another state. But Stop LAPD Spying observed that the “national uprising against police terror will be used to force similar reforms across the country.” We are seeing that now.

To be sure, this isn’t the first time a reformer who worked closely with police has proposed surveillance bureaucracy laws for Los Angeles. In 2015 the ACLU’s local Director of Police Practices sent a proposal for a similar local law that he had drafted to an LAPD deputy chief, asking “if you have any concerns with any of the provisions that are in here” and inviting ideas for “provisions you think should be in here but aren’t.” The ACLU later pushed a statewide version of similar legislation. An ACLU press release announced that the bill would offer “a seat at the table” and foster “public debate” to build community assent for surveillance.

This relates to the deeper issue with reforms like the POST Act, reflected both in who is advancing these proposals and in what these laws will create. Reform like this is pacification: it takes power away from the people, directing opposition into a bureaucratic process that marginalizes community voices, while elevating voices that support police or – at most – compromise with them. And at the end of the day, these reforms allow police to say that the community “controls” surveillance (“community control” is even in the title of the ACLU’s model surveillance bureaucracy legislation, curiously named CCOPS) when the truth is that police set the agenda and violently hold the power. After securing “public” approval, police continue their harm with a claim of legitimacy. This is nothing like abolition. It’s not even de-policing, reducing the scope of what police do. It’s police preservation.

Abolition is decolonization. More than just ending policing and prisons, it’s a practice of building a new world. Those institutions are weapons of settler colonialism and racial capitalism, but they aren’t the only ones. Abolition requires dismantling all the weapons made using those ideologies. It requires dismantling universities, which colonize and hoard knowledge while credentialing experts who work to maintain oppression. It requires ending imperialism, whose wars, borders, and extraction are police violence on a planetary scale. And it requires dismantling the legal bureaucracies that legitimate and sustain a system of mass torture and killing.

Far more than dismantling and defunding though, abolition requires building the autonomy and self-determination that the carceral state denies. This begins with advancing the political vision of those who policing harms. Academics like Brayne aren’t the only people with ideas about how to address the harm of surveillance in Los Angeles. Brayne is using her authority to argue against the views of movement organizers who are working to dismantle LAPD surveillance. No matter her intentions, Brayne’s expertise comes from riding around in police cars and helicopters, shadowing police as they hunted people. In contrast, grassroots organizers speak from working to empower the communities harmed by policing.

Academics and lawyers don’t need to get in the way of liberation. Instead of solely thinking about social problems, they can think with movements struggling to transcend those problems. They can defer to the deep expertise of communities marginalized by the state and participate in the daily work of building political power, advancing self-determination, and dismantling oppressive structures. They can amplify community leadership in an effort to ensure lasting social change, contributing their “expertise” to collective liberation rather than being another cog in the technocratic management and bureaucratic rationalization of structural violence.

The positive task of surveillance abolition – building a world without mass suspicion and supervision – poses questions that need deep attention. Surveillance extends beyond the hard social control and violence of police and prisons. “Surveillance,” writes Simone Browne, “is the fact of antiblackness.” Its purpose is to harm communities and administer an oppressive social order. Rather than settling for “community control” of this violence, communities that are resisting surveillance from the perspective of liberation are creating a new historical horizon, where at first light these important questions can be confronted and then in the fuller light of a new day can help new ways of life built around democratic self-administration to bloom. Advocating for reforms like the POST Act keeps us lost in the darkness of our present condition.

Abolitionists have long known that the purpose of policing is to violently maintain an oppressive social order. New rules and criteria will not end that violence. Instead, they will just lead police to invest more resources and expertise into monitoring and avoiding compliance with the latest rules. This will make our system of mass suspicion, incarceration, and banishment harder to dismantle. If academics and lawyers wish to play a role in advancing liberation, they need a radically different approach to expertise as well as deference to those working to build a world without policing. Reforms that build police bureaucracy go in the opposite direction, placing more authority in elite hands and giving police new footing to expand their violence.

The post Police Bureaucracy and Abolition: Why Reforms Driven by Professionals will Renew State Oppression appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Could the Days of the Conventional Office Be Over?

Photograph Source: three6ohchris – CC BY 2.0

The COVID-19 lockdown left many people the world over with no alternative but to work away from their offices, generating a rapid growth in working from home (WFH) as a result.

This has produced radical, and some say irreversible, changes to work practices and their attendant locations, as well as the hitherto characteristic ways people had of travelling to work.

According to McKinsey, “estimates suggest that early this April, 62 percent of employed Americans worked at home during the crisis, compared with about 25 percent a couple of years ago”.

McKinsey’s research found that “80 percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home. Forty-one percent say that they are more productive than they had been before and 28 percent that they are as productive”.

Other studies confirm McKinsey’s findings.

A recent study by Morgan Stanley found that only 34% of UK workers who could return to the office have actually done so, and many businesses have announced that they will extend the choice to WFH for the foreseeable future.

Facebook has said that 50% of its jobs will be remote within 10 years; Twitter is letting almost all its global workforce to WFH indefinitely, if they wish; the global law firm Slater and Gordon has relinquished its London office; fund manager Schroders says employees can continue to work flexibly for an indefinite period, as have investment bank JP Morgan and the legal firm Linklaters.

According to federal statistics the US’s real-estate industry is massive, being valued in 2018 at $2.7tn, or 13% of GDP.

The demand for office space is now at its lowest since the 2008 Great Crash, and this does not take into account the cumulative impact of this decline on the restaurants, coffee shops, bars and high-end retailers reliant on office workers’ lunch and after-work spending, as well as falling tax-revenues for city governments.

Corporations are also using the surge in teleworking to reduce real-estate costs significantly.

A case in point is MediCopy, a rapidly-growing Nashville-based medical records company, which added a second office two years ago, and was about to lease a third in June. But since the pandemic nearly all of MediCopy’s 200 staff have worked from home, and the company has given up both of its additional offices, converted its headquarters into a training centre, thereby saving $350,000 a year in leasing costs.

It is estimated that some corporations could reduce their real-estate costs by 30%, and those that opt for a fully virtual office-model could wipe-out nearly all of these costs.

Two further benefit of the virtual office for corporations are:

1) Reducing their level of risk by having employees work in many different locations.

2) Accessing new pools of talent with fewer locational constraints. When Ken Wissoker, editorial director of Duke University Press moved to New York in 2014, along with his spouse who had taken up a position at CUNY Graduate Center, he was able not only to keep his position at Duke, but also become CUNY’s Director of Intellectual Publics. Admittedly Wissoker’s move took place before the current pandemic, but this does not detract from the fact that teleworking reduces locational constraints.

At the same time, it would be premature to pronounce the wholesale demise of the conventional office. There was already a move away from offices located in the downtown areas of big cities before the COVID-19 lockdown.

According to Bloomberg Real Estate Report:

The suburbs are clearly on their way to becoming a favored asset class for offices … Companies that don’t want to cram employees into headquarter offices are considering smaller, satellite offices in the suburbs closer to where their employees live. Microsoft, to name one example, recently signed a 400,000-square foot lease in Reston, Va. with Boston Properties in an expansion of its smaller nearby space.

A survey released on July 16, 2020, by the Site Selectors Guild confirms Bloomberg’s findings.

Suburbs and mid-size cities, followed by rural areas, will be the biggest gainers in new corporate expansions and relocations, with large urban areas falling to the bottom of the list, according to the survey, which sought to ascertain changes and trends in corporate location strategy prompted by the COVID-19 crisis.

The survey asked members to identify locations that are “likely” or “very likely” to be sought after by corporations looking to expand, relocate, or open new units in the next 12 months, and found that 64% chose suburban areas, 57% chose mid-size cities, 31% chose rural areas, with just 10% choosing large urban areas.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a premium on physical distancing in office spaces, as well changing the forms of transportation used by office workers.

The choice of a suburban location, usually a leafy corporate park with lakes and trails for walking and jogging, allows for the construction of new and more energy-efficient buildings, and of course shorter commutes in the main.

Americans have saved more than 32.9 million hours of commuting by car during the lockdown, according to research conducted by the freelancing platform Upwork.

For the average person who commuted to work daily before the lockdown, this represents more than 4 full days of time freed-up for other activities, especially in 10 commuter-heavy metro areas across the US (see below).

Upwork found that people working remotely due to the lockdown saved an average of 49.6 minutes a day, amounting to more than 4 days since teleworking became significant after mid-March, and people stopped commuting.

The savings involved bear not just on time saved but also household budgets.

To quote Adam Ozimek, Upwork’s chief economist: “To put this into perspective, commuters who were commuting by car prior to the pandemic have saved over $2,000 each since mid-March”.

Ozimek points out that across the US, those taking a break from commuting could be saving as much as $183m a day in key commuting costs such as fuel, as well as vehicle maintenance and repairs.

To determine areas where commuters taking such breaks derived the most benefit, Upwork compared the results of its survey with data from the US Census Bureau to pinpoint metro areas having the most jobs that could be done away from the office. Of the 261 regions researched, the top 10 locations where teleworkers save the most time on commutes are:

1) East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania: 83.6 minutes per day

2) New York-Newark-Jersey City, New York and New Jersey: 76.2 minutes per day

3) Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, District of Columbia and Virginia: 71.9 minutes per day

4) Vallejo-Fairfield, California: 70.4 minutes per day

5) San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California: 70.2 minutes per day

6) Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut: 69.2 minutes per day

7) Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois: 67.5 minutes per day

8) Bremerton-Silverdale, Washington: 67.3 minutes per day

9) Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Massachusetts and New Hampshire: 66.8 minutes per day

10) Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California: 66.6 minutes per day

Greater worker autonomy, enhanced teleworking, workers being able to arrange work settings to their personal satisfaction, and more accessible leadership, all facilitated by technology, is however not always the panacea it is made out to be.

Internet provision can be sketchy in some parts of the country (as numerous colleges and universities which moved to online instruction soon found out), it is easier for junior teleworkers to fade into a cyber-background and be overlooked, and the shared know-how and camaraderie made possible by gathering around a coffee-maker, etc., is harder to reproduce in WFH.

At the same time, not all corporations are eschewing offices in metro areas. The growth in WFH is driving down the price of office space, which makes this a good time to buy for some corporations.

Earlier this year Amazon acquired the Lord & Taylor building– an 11-story property in Midtown Manhattan that formerly served as Lord & Taylor’s flagship department store– for $978m. The building will house 2,000 Amazon workers.

These eye-catching purchases of downtown office space notwithstanding, the WFH trend set in motion by the COVID lockdown appears irreversible.

The post Could the Days of the Conventional Office Be Over? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

I Watched “Cuties” So You Wouldn’t Have to (But You Should)

Still from “Cuties.” (Netflix).

A brigade of pearl-clutching, virtue-signaling, cancel-culture keyboard warriors wants you to know that Cuties (Mignonnes — it’s actually a French film) is a bad, bad movie that no one should watch and that Netflix should immediately remove from its lineup.

According to US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) Cuties may be, and according to US Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) it actually is, child porn. It sexualizes young girls and, per Gabbard, will “whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade.”

In reality, Cuties is the moving story of an 11-year-old girl attempting to grow up too fast, at the most intractably confusing age, and across the lines dividing two conflicting cultures. There’s nothing remotely pornographic about it, and the “sexualization” part of the story line isn’t even close to approvingly wrought.

Amy (played by Fathia Youssouf), her mother, and her brother are Senegalese immigrants to France.

Culture Number One: As a young Muslim girl, she’s already being groomed by the family matriarch (a great-aunt) for the day when she’ll find herself swaddled head to toe in white and presented to a man as his property. Her father, not physically present in the film, is expected to arrive shortly from Senegal, bringing with him a second bride (to Amy’s, and her mother’s, distress).

Culture Number Two: As a young student in the secular French school system, Amy perceives the currency of “maturity” with her peers as encompassing how little clothing and how much makeup one can wear, and especially how suggestively one can pose. She discovers, finds herself intrigued by, and through sheer force of will makes herself part of, a dance troupe of other 11-year-olds who call themselves (surprise) “The Cuties.”

Naturally, family and cultural conflict ensue, as does adolescent acting out of various kinds.

Fortunately there’s a happy ending, which I’ll refrain from spoiling with detail but give you this simple gloss on: Amy ultimately decides it’s better to just roll with being eleven years old, both sets of cultural expectations be damned.

Cuties isn’t a comfortable movie. It’s not supposed to be a comfortable movie. Nor is it supposed to be titillating or obscene, and it isn’t those things either.

Is it a great film? That’s for you to decide, and I hope you’ll do so yourself after watching it instead of letting Ted Cruz or Tulsi Gabbard decide for you sight unseen.

In fact, I’m grateful to Cruz, Gabbard, and their “I saw Sarah Good with the Devil!” hangers-on for inspiring ME to watch it. If there’s any redeeming aspect to cancel culture (of either political wing), it’s that convenient and self-serving public outrage serves as a  reasonably reliable predictor of what might be worthwhile.

The post I Watched “Cuties” So You Wouldn’t Have to (But You Should) appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Aligning Ignorance With Bigotry: Trump Attempts to Rewrite History

Photograph Source: daveynin – CC By 2.0

In what appears to be a blatant appeal to the white supremacists in his base, President Donald Trump has made clear his attempt to both defend and rewrite the history of racial injustice in the United States while eliminating the institutions that make visible its historical roots.

As Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, recently pointed out:

“Not in generations has a sitting president so overtly declared himself the candidate of white America.”

Trump has defended Confederate symbols and monuments and refused to criticize those right-wing groups that appropriate them in the interests of legitimizing racial bigotry and hatred.

He has attacked The New York Times’ 1619 Project, in use in California public schools, as being anti-American. The project analyzes the history and legacy of American slavery. Trump wants it investigated by the Department of Education and has threatened to defund schools that include the project in their teaching.

As the presidential election gets closer, Trump is desperate to reassert his white supremacist and white nationalist views, even though they’ve never been hidden during his presidency.

After all, his white supremacist ideology is the cornerstone of his appeal to the reactionary and bigoted elements of his base.

That explains why he’s issued an order to rid the federal government of programs engaged in racial sensitivity training, which he labels as “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”

It explains why he’s condemned NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag.

‘Organized forgetting’

Some would argue that Trump’s latest investment in the logic of white supremacy and historical amnesia is a product of his ignorance of history.

But there’s more at work here than Trump’s power-drunk ignorance of the past. And it’s more dangerous and sinister than what’s often found in authoritarian regimes — it’s a racialized politics of organized forgetting.

At the heart of Trump’s attack on racial injustice is an attempt to replace historical consciousness with historical amnesia.

This purging of history is endemic to totalitarian regimes. In these dark times, history is once again being rewritten in the interests of tyrants and oppressive groups that do everything they can to cleanse it of elements of resistance and truth.

Trump’s rewriting of history and his attacks on forms of education that address racial injustices are happening at a moment when ignorance is aligning itself with the forces of bigotry.

Trump’s condemnations are malicious in their disdain of criticism and their attempts to undermine the value of historical consciousness. He attempts to render invisible the historical understanding of critical social issues that lie on the side of social and economic justice.

When the calls and struggles for racial justice are labelled as unpatriotic or dismissed as un-American, the abyss of fascist politics is not far away. But to misread or deny history denigrates those who have fought the battles of the past and risked their lives for the promises of a substantive democracy.

The danger of ignorance

As the great American essayist James Baldwin stated perceptively in his 1972 book No Name in the Street: “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

Trump’s ignorance floods the Twitter landscape daily. He denies climate change along with the dangers that it poses to humanity, discredits scientific evidence in the face of a massive pandemic, claims that systemic racism doesn’t exist in the United States and mangles history with his ignorance of the past.

Implicit in Baldwin’s warning is that the greatest threat to democratic societies is a collective ignorance that legitimizes forms of organized forgetting, social amnesia and the death of civic literacy.

Under the Trump regime, historical amnesia is used as a weapon of miseducation, politics and power. Trump wants to erase the struggles of those who fought for justice in the past because they offer dangerous memories and lessons to the protesters marching in the streets today.

Efforts to erase the progress of the past, including emancipation, is a centrepiece of authoritarian societies. These efforts cause public memory to wither and the threads of authoritarianism to take root and become normalized. They’re often accompanied by a broader attack on critical education, civic literacy, investigative journalists and the critical media.

But Trump’s defence of white supremacy, obvious in his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement — which he labels as a threat to white Americans and a “symbol of hate” — is particularly dangerous.

As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson recently wrote:

“All of this is nothing less than undisguised white supremacy. Trump wants white voters to fear the Black Lives Matter movement. He wants them to see it not as a demand for justice and fairness but as a mortal threat to white privilege.”

Four years of nods to fascism

While some critics eschew the comparison of Trump with authoritarian regimes, it’s crucial to recognize the four years of alarming actions by this administration that echo the horrors of a fascist past.

Rejecting a comparison to fascism makes it easier to believe that we have nothing to learn from history and to take comfort in the assumption that it cannot surface once again.

But no democracy can survive without an informed and educated citizenry. Historical amnesia provides the conditions for the truth to disappear, conspiracy theories to proliferate and education to be stripped of its critical function.

What should every we all learn from Trump’s manipulation of racist fears as a political strategy? One crucial issue is that democracy cannot function without an informed citizenry; it demands constant attention, and must be reborn with each generation.

No democracy can survive the assault if it’s left unchallenged.

Fortunately, across the globe, people in the streets, in classrooms and in the media are taking a stand. Success from their efforts cannot come fast enough.

This essay first appeared in The Conversation.

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Fact Checking Democratic and Republican Conventions

Photograph Source: ctot_not_def – CC BY 2.0

When capitalism’s billionaire twin parties convene every four years to select their would–be head-of-state, it’s important to get the facts straight. Critical readers in my near-octogenarian generation – the same as Donald Trump’s and Joseph Biden’s – should have a basic familiarity with historically established facts. I leave it to younger observers of these two historic parties of the ruling rich to research for themselves.

The Democrats nominated Donald Trump as their presidential candidate; the Republicans nominated Joseph Biden, or was it the other way around?

The Republicans are known as the billionaire party of war, racism, sexism, poverty, tax cuts for the rich, climate catastrophe, environmental destruction, the COVID-19 pandemic, mass deportation of immigrants and big capital, while the Democrats are the billionaire party of war, racism, sexism, poverty, tax cuts for the rich, climate catastrophe, environmental destruction, the COVID-19 pandemic, mass deportation of immigrants and big capital. The differences are important!

The facts are important! Here some fact checking is in order, lest my “lesser evil” friends charge me with misrepresentation.

War

Trump touted a long list of generals as his ardent campaign supporters in the run up to the 2016 elections. In the run up to the 2020 elections Biden cites a long list of former Trump-supporting generals as his own. Biden is clearly the leader in this prestigious category of military-industrial complex contractors and Pentagon tops.

Both parties nearly unanimously approved the 2019-2020 war budget of $1 trillion annually, counting the unmentioned extra money for the CIA’s secret wars. To be more fact-checking precise, the Democrats upped Trump’s original war budget request by some $40 billion which the Republicans graciously accepted. Trump’s war party continued in slightly different forms all seven U.S. wars, most of them initiated by Barack Obama.

Afghanistan War

Said Obama in Jan. 2014: “With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.” Yet Obama had upped U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 100,000, half of them the privatized mercenary troops of the Erik Prince-led Blackwater Worldwide type, the largest privatized mercenary army in U.S. history. Trump, on the other hand, employed a renamed Blackwater operation for the similar reasons. After 19 years, under Democrats and Republicans, U.S. troops, covert and overt, remain in Afghanistan.

Yet Obama declared he was a man of peace and was accordingly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Trump has declared that he is a man of peace and will bring some troops home from Afghanistan. He has been nominated by a two Norwegian parliamentarians for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Obama maintained the largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. Trump, a “fucking moron,” according to his former Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson, proposed to a private National Security Council meeting that the U.S. increase its tactical nuclear weapons capacity “one hundred fold.” Trump proposed to the Congress a sixth arm of the U.S. military, the Space Force, to weaponize outer space. By a vote of 377–48 the Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives approved the bill creating the Space Force, passing it on to the Senate. Trump signed this largest bi-partisan war budget to date.

Electoral College

The Republicans stole the 2016 election with resort to the anti-democratic Electoral College system, wherein the Southern states of the old segregationist slaveocracy can garner enough delegates for a candidate to win the presidency without winning the majority of all votes cast in the nation. The Democrats, on the other hand, held sway in the Electoral College for 75 years by resort to their control of the racist segregationist former slaveocracy Dixiecrat states up until the Nixon era. Before Nixon, the Democrats held sway by running a Northern “liberal” for president and a Southern racist bigot in the V.P. spot to “balance the ticket.” When the overtly racist Southern Democrats jumped ship to the Republicans in the 1960s, the Democrats looked to the heirs of the “Old South” to win elections and ran former Georgia segregationist-turned-liberal Jimmy Carter for president. Al Gore Jr. — son of Al Gore Sr., a historic Tennessee racist bigot — was also slated for the Democrats’ top spot as was Arkansas’s Bill Clinton, whose Southern roots were touted to win the white racist Southern vote.

Complicated? Yes, but the end result is that both parties maneuver to govern in the interests of the billionaire elite. The Democrats are the party of these billionaire elites while the Republicans are the party of these billionaire elites. My fact-checking here is more precise. According to Forbes Magazine, Biden’s billionaire supporters total 131 while Trump’s total a mere 99.

Climate crisis/Global warming

Trump is the candidate of the oil monopolies while Biden is the candidate of the oil monopolies. Trump, the Republican, is a climate crisis denier. He withdrew from the UN’s COP-25 in Madrid, Spain. With regard to the U.S. imperialist war against Syria he bragged, “We got the oil.” Obama-Biden were the world’s greatest frackers. They granted the oil monopolies unprecedented rights for offshore drilling. They drilled the Arctic Circle. They killed 500,000 people in Syria to control the oil. They supported the fascist-led coup in Ukraine to secure fracking and pipeline rights in Eastern Ukraine.

Immigration

Trump is a racist bigot, demanding a wall to keep immigrants out while banning Muslim immigrants. Obama-Biden deported three million immigrants, more than any president in U.S. history before or since.

Criminal Justice

Trump and his Republicans are openly racist bigots. Obama, Biden and Clinton orchestrated “criminal justice” legislation that created the present-day near slave labor prison-industrial complex wherein the U.S. ranks first in the world in the number and percentage of its people in jail – the majority Black, Latinx and Native American.

Tax cuts and “economic stimulus packages”

During 2008-9 recession Obama’s Democrats, allied with the Republicans, engineered the largest corporate bailout and corporate economic stimulus package in U.S. history. During 2020 recession, Trump’s Republicans, joined at the hip with the Democrats, engineered the largest corporate bailout and corporate economic stimulus package in U.S. history. Again, the differences are important!

Unemployment

Using the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Labor Force Participation Rate,” under the Obama-Biden Democrats, the percentage of eligible workers without jobs stood at 35 percent. Under Trump’s Republicans, the figure today stands at 39 percent. Under both parties, today’s “employed” are increasingly part-time, low wage, “gig” or “casual” workers with few benefits or positive future prospects.

Labor rights

Under the Obama-Biden Democrats, labor rights, pensions, overall social services and the percentage of unionized workers declined to historic lows. Under Trump’s Republicans labor rights, pensions, overall social services and the percentage of unionized workers declined to historic lows.

Tax cuts for the rich

Under the Democrats, tax cut legislation for the rich reached new heights. Under the Republicans, tax cut legislation for the rich reached new heights.

Civil liberties

President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act that allowed the military to indefinitely detain without charges terrorist suspects, including American citizens arrested in the United States. Trump, using Obama’s legislation, threatened to deploy the military to do the same in Portland and other cities.

Top Democrats support Biden: Top Republicans support Biden

On August 20 a group of 73 former Republican national security officials and former Republican members of Congress issued a statement in support Joe Biden. Two weeks later, a group of nearly 100 former lawmakers called “Republicans and Independents for Biden” followed suit. The same for super PAC “43 Alumni for Biden,” which consists strictly of former members of the George W. Bush administration. Former NSA and CIA Director and Four Star Air Force General Michael Hayden, who authorized dragnet surveillance of millions of Americans under the rationale that the “unreasonable search and seizure” criteria of the 4thamendment had fluid meaning, and who misled Congress about the extent of the CIA’s torture of “terrorist” suspects, also joined the Biden team. John Negroponte, who served Republican administrations in various capacities including Deputy Secretary of State, Director of National Intelligence, Ambassador to Mexico, Honduras, and the U.N., also declared allegiance to Biden’s campaign. Negroponte served as Reagan’s Ambassador to Honduras (Nov. 1981-May 1985), where he helped orchestrate the covert and illegal funding of the Contra War against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government as well as the notorious Honduran death-squad Battalion 3-16 trained by both the CIA and FBI. My fact-checking arithmetic here tells me that Biden is a couple of points ahead of Trump in the warmongering supporter count. Just a detail!

Personality

Here the Democrats have a distinct advantage; Trump is an openly racist, sexist, anti-abortion, homophobic, warmongering, science-denying bigot. While Obama-Biden-Clinton were closeted racist, sexist, anti-abortion, homophobic, warmongering, science-denying bigots. My “lesser evil” friends might take issue with these last categorical assertions. I would respond that any serious fact checker will find that the rights of the oppressed, the rights of women, including the right to abortion, have been substantially diminished regardless of which billionaire party is in office. The same with warmongering and climate catastrophe, with the Democrats, a Cheshire cat grin always in place to beguile unwary observers, usually in lock step with the scowling Republicans.

Break with the twin parties of capital!

Today, and especially during capitalism’s election-time charade, as witnessed during the DNC and RNC orchestrated online hoopla, we see the drive to impose a Potemkin Village world, a “Truman Show” reality, a happy world of compliant citizens accepting the status quo without question. This charade is running on empty. The COVID-19 pandemic and the mass mobilizations of the nation’s most oppressed — often multi-racial mobilizations of youth — have exposed the horror of systemic U.S. racist brutality for all to see. The DNC media hucksters for four days posed themselves as the instant caring cure to remedy centuries of monstrous slavery and across-the-board capitalist racism and social oppression. The Republicans too had their cure, showcasing Trump’s family entourage and for a few minutes his one Black administration official, while blaming “violence” on “outside agitators” on the far left, socialists and antifa. Both parties lied with impunity to advance their wing of their predatory system into the White House.

That rapacious capitalism has no solutions to the multiple crises confronting humanity is testified to by the unprecedented millions in the streets crying out for justice, affirming Black Lives Matter, while denouncing capitalism’s systemic racism and its myriad inherent evils. The central task confronting socialists today is how best to win the confidence of and unify this newly-radicalizing generation toward a fundamental break with the twin racist-imperialist capitalist parties. For the first time in a long, long while, the fighting forces to do so are in motion as never before. They have appeared in the streets in unprecedented number – estimated at 15-26 million – and won the hearts and minds of tens of millions more. They carry with them the potential to achieve wondrous victories that can be coalesced in new and independent forms of struggle aimed at a direct challenge to capitalist rule, including the organization of a mass, independent Black political party and the rebirth of a fighting labor movement free from its current stifling bureaucracy and advancing on the class struggle road.

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Life in Cancer Alley

Shut up and let corporate America — and also, for that matter, corporate Taiwan — get on with its business. We have ethane to crack and plastic to produce. We dare not let America run out of shopping bags!

Environmental racism? Don’t be ridiculous.

This is the message the activists of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” — a heavily industrialized, 85-mile strip of land along the Mississippi River, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge — have gotten from the local powers that be regarding their determination to prevent the construction a gigantic, highly toxic, 14-plant plastics-production complex in their midst.

The plant would be built by Formosa Plastics, a Taiwanese company, in St. James Parish, one of the Louisiana River Parishes, a low-income, primarily black community that already has far more than its share of industrial pollution. Hence the name: Cancer Alley. The proposed facility, which Formosa calls the Sunshine Project (named after a local bridge), would be one of the largest plastics plants in the world. It has been given both state and local approval — after all, it represents an investment of $9.4 billion — so it’s up to the residents to fight back on their own to save their community.

This has been the work of a group of local residents called RISE St. James, which has been pushing back against the project with the help of various environmental organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a federal lawsuit against Formosa Plastics and has managed to put a temporary halt on construction.

According to the Center: “The permit allows Formosa to release thousands of tons of toxic air pollutants every year, more than doubling the air pollution for all industrial facilities in an area already known as ‘Cancer Alley’ because of health problems related to industrial pollution. Formosa could also emit up to 13 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, the equivalent of three coal-fired power plants.”

The project would double the amount of toxic air emissions in St. James Parish and more than triple the levels of cancer-causing chemicals in the region, the Center points out, noting: “Among the pollutants the Formosa Plastics complex would emit are ethylene oxide, benzene and formaldehyde — all known carcinogens.”

The plant would be built about a mile from a local elementary school. And, complicating the horror of this proposal, part of the land it would occupy is the site of an old cemetery — for slaves, who labored on a nearby plantation. And the irony doesn’t stop there.

As change.org points out, while Formosa Plastics enticingly claims that the new plant will create thousands of jobs, the company plans to build dormitories to house out-of-state workers. Thus: “It is obvious that St. James residents will get the pollution, but not the jobs.”

And finally, in the realm of irony: The country of Taiwan has tightened regulations on petrochemical companies, according to Bloomberg News, forcing Formosa Plastics to look elsewhere to satisfy its expansion needs. The company chairman has said his company can save a lot of money “by investing in Texas and Louisiana rather than at home. A ton of ethylene costs $300 to make in the U.S., about a third of the cost in Taiwan. And officials are more amenable in the U.S. . . . ‘In Taiwan the government treats petrochemical investment as a polluting industry and stigmatizes us.’”

Local activist Anne Rolfes put it this way: “They are looking at us as a colony.”

And all this is just one aspect of the fossil fuel industry’s enormous “plastic pivot,” as the New York Times put it. The industry, fearing a steep decline in demand for fossil fuels because of the nuisance of climate change, sees the production of plastic, out of its enormous fossil fuel reserve, as its future, even if, in fact, it hastens the destruction of everyone’s future.

“Formosa’s project is part of the industry’s plan to steeply increase U.S. plastic production over the next decade,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity. “More than 300 new petrochemical industry projects have been proposed since 2010, most of them in poor communities and communities of color along the Gulf Coast and in Appalachia.”

And producing plastic causes environmental hell at both ends of the process: The air and water permit, which the state of Louisiana granted to Formosa, is “a poisoning permit,” as RISE St. James founder Sharon Lavigne told me. And on the post-production side of the issue, plastic . . . ahem, never goes away. Plastic residue — our millions of tons of primarily single-use plastic — along with microplastics, or nurdles, the tiny pellets used to make plastic products, are choking and killing our rivers, lakes and oceans.

For instance: “Formosa’s proposal will create more unneeded plastic, which is the most common type of marine pollution. Unless we stop building plants like the proposed Formosa project, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the world’s oceans by 2050,” as change.org points out.

But those who speak up about this are the ones who get in trouble. Rolfes and her fellow activist, Kate McIntosh, were arrested several months ago after they left a box of nurdles, gathered from the Texas coast, at the home of an oil and gas lobbyist in Baton Rouge. The gathering of the microplastic pellets was part of an awareness-raising event held last December called “Nurdlefest.”

And Lavigne was also threatened with arrest when she laid flowers on the slaves’ cemetery grounds that Formosa intends to dig up. She vowed she would not be silenced. This is life in Cancer Alley these days.

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A “Persistent Eye in the Sky” Coming to a City Near You?

“Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.” That same persistent eye in the sky may soon be deployed over U.S. cities.

At the time he made that comment about surveillance drones over Afghanistan, Maj. General James Poss was the Air Force’s top intelligence officer. He was preparing to leave the Pentagon, and move over to the Federal Aviation Administration. His job was to begin executing the plan to allow those same surveillance drones to fly over American cities.

This plan was ordered by Congress in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. It directed the Departments of Defense and Transportation to “develop a plan for providing expanded access to the national airspace for unmanned aircraft systems of the Department of Defense.” Gen. Poss was one of nearly two dozen ex-military officers who, starting in 2010, were put into positions at the FAA to oversee drone integration research. With little public scrutiny, the plan has been moving forward ever since.

If you’re thinking that this is a partisan issue, think again. This plan has been enacted and expanded under Presidents and Congresses of both parties. If you’re uncomfortable with a President Biden having the ability to track the movements of every Tea Party or Q-Anon supporter, you should be. Just as we should all be concerned about a President Trump tracking…well, everybody else.

Along with civil liberties, a major concern must be safety. The military and the drone manufacturers, principally General Atomics, are arguing that the technology has advanced far enough that flying 79-ft. wingspan, six-ton drones over populated areas and alongside commercial air traffic is safe. We have one response: self-driving cars. Self-driving cars present a technological problem that is an order of magnitude simpler than aircraft flying hundreds of miles per hour in three dimensions. Yet they still can’t keep these cars from plowing into stationary objects like firetrucks (or people) at 60 mph in two dimensions. Are we really comfortable with pilotless aircraft operating in the same airspace as the 747 at 30,000 feet that is bringing your children home for Christmas? These drones have a troubled history of crashing and unfortunately, the process for determining whether these drones are now truly safe has been compromised by having the military, which wants this approval, largely in charge of the testing.

Which brings us to San Diego. Last October, General Atomics announced that they would be flying their biggest, most advanced surveillance drone yet, the SkyGuardian, over the City of San Diego sometime this summer. The stated purpose was to demonstrate potential commercial applications of large drones over American cities. In this case, the drone would be used to survey the city’s infrastructure.

But when General Atomics first began preparing for the flight, the goal was a very different one: Back in 2017, military technology analysts were predicting that by 2025, drones similar to those used in Afghanistan and Iraq would be hovering above U.S. cities, relaying high-resolution video of the movement of every citizen to police departments (and who knows who else). When there was public pushback to this police department drone use—even a pro-industry reporter called the idea “dystopian”—General Atomics changed the purpose of the flight from providing data to the police to “mapping critical infrastructure” in the San Diego region.

The FAA, which is responsible for granting permission to General Atomics, has kept the process secret. When the Voice of San Diego asked for more information, the FAA refused on the grounds that this supposed commercial demonstration was actually “military.” The Voice of San Diego is now suing to get answers and the ACLU has also expressed concern about the flight. Amid the scrutiny, General Atomics quietly announced that the flight was cancelled, but this is certain to be a small hiccup in their long-term plan.

In fact, General Atomics’ drones are already being used domestically. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) flies Predators over parts of the U.S.- Mexico and U.S.-Canadian borders. Recently, CBP has expanded their reach, using these drones to assist police in Minneapolis, San Antonio and Detroit in the wake of protests against police brutality. Deeply concerned, members of Congress wrote to federal agencies denouncing the chilling effect of government surveillance on law-abiding Americans and demanding an immediate end to surveilling peaceful protests.

The concerns of these members of Congress should be echoed by the general public. What are the possible effects on our civil liberties from having high-tech surveillance platforms circling over millions of Americans, gathering information about our every move? We know from past experience that every government surveillance technology that can be abused has been abused. Allowing this powerful technology to be taken from overseas wars and turned inward on American citizens isn’t something that should happen without a robust public debate. The implications for civil liberties are too profound.

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Lies My Fuehrer Told Me

The President has never lied to the American public on COVID.

–White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany

It doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel like he was ever lying to anybody.

— North Dakota Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer

I’d be careful about using the word “lie.” “Lie” implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead.… [W]hen Donald Trump says thousands of people were on the rooftops of New Jersey on 9/11 celebrating, thousands of Muslims were there celebrating, I think it’s right to investigate that claim, to report what we found, which is that nobody found any evidence of that whatsoever, and to say that. I think it’s then up to the reader to make up their own mind to say, “This is what Donald Trump says. This is what a reliable, trustworthy news organization reports. And you know what? I don’t think that’s true.”

–Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerald Baker on how the media should present Trump’s “falsehoods,” January 3, 2017

Donald John Trump is a murderous liar whose atrocities the American people continue to abide. Finally, after months of silence, mainstream media pundits and editorials are beginning sense the danger he poses to the republic, as they question whether Trump will voluntarily leave the White House if he is voted out of office, a necessary outcome if America is to maintain the illusion that it is still a democracy. In order to set itself on a trajectory toward social justice, the purge – and it must be a purge – cannot stop with his ouster. We need to ask ourselves how our leaders – political, “religious,” and journalistic – could continue to countenance Trump, how white evangelicals could support a man whose moral compass consistently points south to Hades, and how conservative pundits and putative journalists could have repeated his lies and maintained their silence about them while being fully aware that they were not only untrue but obviously intended to deceive, even as hundreds of thousands of Americans died. They must all be held accountable.

One might speculate as to why they tolerate Trump. Aside from their moral bankruptcy, my first guess would be that Trump has something on them. Recall that Trump’s late mentor and fixer was Roy Cohn, a mouthpiece for FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, a man who knew a thing or two about leveraging dirt gathered on one’s political enemies. In his book Disloyal, another Trump fixer, Michael Cohen, has written that in 2016 Trump had him suppress “racy” photos of Jerry Falwell Jr to secure the support of the now disgraced evangelical leader. No doubt, Trump has dirt on others that he has mined to extort support for himself and protection against his enemies and a potential post-election prison term. Trump’s personal familiarity with the art of the smear may also explain why our Golden (Shower) Boy kowtows to Putin. It may be less out of a fondness for autocrats than hands on experience of the efficacy of extortion and the human weaknesses that make it a tenable strategy for securing and maintaining power.

Then again, the answer may be less complex. Trump’s enablers may simply be unapologetic miscreants whose idolatry is not motivated by the threat of exposure. Sometimes a scumbag is just a scumbag.

Regardless of what motivates these scoundrels, their lies take a toll, which leads to another, far more disturbing question: Does it really matter? Do we, to borrow Melania Trump’s inquiry, really care? Did we ever? After all, while Trump’s college records, I.Q., and tax returns are a well-kept secret, his mendacity is not. Our current awareness of his proclivity for naked nihilism doesn’t arise from some epiphanous revelation that the emperor has no clothes. When it comes to corruption and maleficence, Trump has always been as transparent as those old anatomical Visible Man model kits, though that which is exposed is not a network of internal organs but a web of calculated deceits and feints. The tawdry spectacle of his indiscretions was out there for all to see well before he became president, and much more has come to light since. Indeed, judging by the current spate in tell-all books about him, with more on the way, Trump could probably use them to build his wall, should he be granted another term.

An agitated Trump insists to a black female journalist that she is misquoting him when she says that he promised a vaccine in by the end of the year, only to add that it may come “before November,” hinting that it might be ready “even before a very special date.” Video of Trump’s initial statement reveals that the journalist did, in fact, accurately quote him.

He recommends ingesting bleach as a cure for COVID-19, only to deny it later, claiming the remark was sarcasm.

He denies that he ever called John McCain “a loser” and boasts about how much he loves his soldiers, or at least those who have not been captured, maimed, missing in action or killed.

The fact that videos of Trump uttering these words exist and will now be endlessly re-aired to highlight his mendacity does not faze him. We already know Trump lies; we know he lies both badly and “bigly,” but never with any consequences.

In short, Trump is a liar – and a bad one at that. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Indeed, does the concept of a “bad liar” – both in its technical and moral senses – mean anything anymore? “A lie told often enough,” the propagandists insist, “becomes the truth,” but it does something far more insidious: it inures us to dishonesty and undermines the very notion that facts and reality matter.

This is not gaslighting; it is pure, poker-faced “A-Guide-to-the-Married-Man” stonewalling. For at day’s end, like the flummoxed wife of that film’s philandering husband, in the face of a cascade of interrogatory evasions designed to obfuscate the reality of what we have seen and heard, we simply give up and, discombobulated, meekly ask Trump what he wants for dinner, or in the case at hand, if he wants another term.

How ironic it is, then, that even during the early days of the Trump administration, the media debated whether it was journalistically responsible to label Trump’s falsehoods “lies,” although eventually, overwhelmed by their frequency, some outlets such as The Washington Post began to count them (as of July 9, 20,055 and rising) and their columnists and fact-checkers finally label them as such. Their initial dictum was just to report what he said without speculating as to his intent and present the reader/viewer with the facts. That in the eyes of Trump and his supporters, the media was the “enemy of the people” and facts in the age of information overload reduced to items on an a la carte menu from which to be chosen depending on convenience and gut feelings had not yet sunk in. Perhaps, like Trump himself, the media felt that calling out his lies would cause the American people to panic, to lose faith in our system of governance. One might have hoped they had learned from their mistakes: After all, when Trump came into office, we were still reeling from the after effects of seven years of war in Iraq started on the basis of another series of lies largely unchallenged by the mainstream media. (Tellingly, those who told the truth – Edwin Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange – have become “enemies of the state.” More recent whistleblowers, like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, have been vilified by the usual suspects.)

Or perhaps, like Bob Woodward, they decided to hold out until they saw the bottom line and the prospect of higher circulation, steeper paywalls, and larger ratings, which itself should be a source of rage.

Technology has not been of much help here. The panopticonic state with its cellphones, television cameras, security cameras, and body cams and other forms of mass surveillance has not provided, as Jeremy Bentham once envisioned, a voyeuristic “mill for grinding rogues honest.” Instead, it has produced new, more elaborate ways to evade, delay and potentially conceal the truth.

Nor it is the problem merely that Trump’s lies; he also has others lie for him. As The New Yorker’s Masha Geesen observed in 2018, “Lying for Trump has become … a familiar practice in American politics.” The endless parade of Trumpist prevaricators includes not only those who worked in his administration – Ronny Jackson, Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, H.R. McMaster, and John Kelly – and his stalwart Republican defenders – Mitch McConnell, Mark Meadows, Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan – but also some members of the Fourth Estate – Lou Dobbs, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, or at least those hanging out in its infotainment gazebo. Politico reports that Health and Human Services chairman Michael Caputo, and other top officials, altered CDC reports on COVID-19 so that their findings better squared with Trump’s lies, even going so far as to suggest victims of the disease were to blame for contracting it, a telling emendation given that the disease disproportionately afflicts people of color. Like a syphilitic Midas, Typhoid Trump corrupts everything he touches, or, less generously, freely indulges those actively seeking to wallow in their baser own instincts. Nothing, including DHS, ICE, the CDC, the FDA and HHS, escapes his poisonous embrace. To paraphrase Trump, “When you’re president they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Eager to vilify BLM and Antifa, Trump’s enablers hold their tongues when it comes to militia and vigilantes. To say that they maintain their silence, however, is to mischaracterize the depths of their immoral stealth. Asked repeatedly by CNN’s Dana Bash if he condemned the murderous actions of Trump-supporter Kyle Rittenhouse, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, evaded the question, repeatedly mouthing the words, “It’s a tragedy.” (The tragedy is that he did not have the cojones to answer Bash’s question.) This is the same Johnson who a year earlier in an interview with Bash refused to condemn Trump’s statement demanding four progressive Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back to their country” and accusing them of being incapable of “loving our America.” Instead, he quoted Martin Luther King on judging people by the “content of their character not the color of their skin.” How, one wonders, does Johnson judge Trump’s? Given the evidence of Johnson’s own palpable lack of character and judgement, it is best he steer clear of ever quoting King again.

Meanwhile, Deputy Director of DHS Ken Cuccinelli and Acting Secretary Chad Wolf (once again American democracy is threatened by a misplaced chad; hopefully the results will not be as disastrous the time around) downplay the threat of white supremacy to national security while overstating the menace of “Antifa,” “socialists,” “anarchists,” “radicals,” “transgender black Marxists,” and other boogeymen without apparently being too worked up about panicking the public. Others manufacture conspiracies, including one that painted 75-year old white peace activist Martin Guigino as an “Antifa provocateur” armed with “Mission Impossible”-grade hi-tech doohickeys and Tom Savini-level makeup effect skills.

Trump screams about anonymous sources, yet he’s not too great about naming his own. As The Washington Post noted in 2016, Trump attributes much of what spews from his mouth to anonymous “people” (“lots” of them, in fact) who have, allegedly, informed him that, among other things, Obama “didn’t want to know about Muslim terrorism,” “[the Iran deal] is worse than stupid,” Ted Cruz was “born in Canada,” Vince Foster was “absolutely murdered,” “they had spies in [his] campaign, and the 2020 election will be “rigged.” These “sources” remain unnamed.

We have seen the clashes of armed, self-styled militias with BLM protesters. And yet there are those who stubbornly insist that fascism cannot happen here and who ignore the vicious irony that these armed militiamen are allowed to roam the streets while unarmed blacks are suffocated and shot dead. In Wisconsin, Rittenhouse walks free after killing two protesters and maiming a third. Meanwhile, in Colorado, a black child is suspended from school and has the police sent to his home for playing with a toy during an online class, though I suppose we should be relieved they did not shoot and kill him seconds after their arrival.

The mendacity of those in power should not surprise us. Those who have pledged to “protect and serve,” whether politicians or police, continue to betray the public trust. For to the champions of “law and order”, the proud boys (and girls) who worship Trump as their ochre Übermensch, their own paunchy Aryan Homelander blessed with, according to Trump’s former physician Ronny Jackson, the “good genes” that prove his triumph of will über alles, lies don’t matter. And so long as they can lie and be lied to with impunity and without complaint, why should they? For in their eyes, Trump’s lies are not lies at all, but the benevolent paternalistic largesse of an infallible patriarch protective of his faithful brood.

 

 

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Logging Will Do Nothing to Help Us Out of This Mess

Smoke in the Cascades. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

As I write this, my hometown of Talent, Oregon is a disaster area, and I am in tears over the destruction of my neighborhood. Lives have been forever changed by this tragedy that could have been avoided with better planning.

Our elected officials have neglected to take action on community safety, focusing mostly on backcountry logging projects, and this destruction took place on their watch.

We simply were not prepared.

Consider, it took hours to reach safety in miles-long traffic jams. Ashland has a single lane leaving town heading north to Interstate 5, jammed with escaping traffic. As grateful as I am for our brave emergency responders, they were understandably overwhelmed and grossly underfunded.

We have been falsely promised that if only forest managers can thin, smoke levels would drop and wildfires would be less intense.

The Almeda fire had nothing to do with forests. Hundreds of urban structures burned in a domino effect ignited by embers cast for miles ahead of flames by unusually strong winds, extreme temperatures and excessive drought as homes became fuels.

Wildfire activity follows drought cycles and global-regional temperature spikes that dictate local fire weather. The Pacific Coast has been in excessive drought since March, aided by unprecedented summer temperatures, historically low humidity levels, and strong winds that scientists have been warning us about at least since the tragic Paradise-Camp fire disaster.

Consider that in 2017, 1,300 wildfires in the interior of British Columbia spread rapidly during extreme summer heat. Aided by strong winds, smoke billowed into the southeasterly flow of the jet stream, eventually settling in the valley. This year, fires from as far away as treeless Siberia again poured smoke into our region as, for the first time in recorded history, Siberia experienced triple-digit temperatures. Wildfires in California recently broke out during an unprecedented heat wave with temperatures soaring past 120 degrees, spinning off rare pyro-tornadoes and sending smoke into nearby states. Escaped campfires, accidental sparks and “gender-reveal” parties contributed.

Meanwhile, the climate of Oregon becomes increasingly like that of Redding, greatly upping the ante that such extreme conditions will become the new “abnormal,” as is the case for much of the dry West.

Instead of prayers and thoughts from elected officials, we need real action that rebuilds communities with safety first and foremost. We desperately need an infusion of disaster aid, relocation assistance, and proper planning to make sure this never happens again. This means planning for home hardening and defensible space along with sufficient shelters for every single community. Local planners need to have escape routes ready to go on a moment’s notice with a central warning system accessible to all residents in real time.

Retraining timber managers in law enforcement to monitor recreation use in extreme fire weather would prevent future unwanted fire ignitions. Nationwide, some 80% of all fires are human-caused, about half of them in our region by people. Road and campground closures are a must in red-flag warnings, no matter how unpopular.

Logging will do nothing to help us out of this mess. Based on the most comprehensive study ever conducted of 1,500 forest fires across the West, forests with the most logging burned in the severest fires. This was also shown for a large fire near Roseburg in 2013 that raced through densely packed tree plantations under extreme fire weather (high temperatures and wind gusts). So, instead of logging forests, they should be managed to contribute to climate safety.

Climate-safe forest management means protecting older forests on public lands from logging to absorb and store atmospheric carbon while allowing logged-over areas decades to recover. For instance, the landmark Northwest Forest Plan reversed the dangerous trend of global warming pollution from excessive logging in the 1980s to public forests now acting as vast repositories of carbon. Logging, mostly on private lands, emits up to 10 times more carbon than even the largest wildfires.

By most accounts, scientists give us but a decade to greatly cut global warming pollution before all hell breaks loose. The way we manage forests and urban areas right now will affect generations to come as carbon has a long hang-time in the atmosphere — decades to a century.

As an evacuee, it’s only natural for me to feel angry about the abject neglect for public safety that could have been avoided with proper planning by elected officials in a region that is feeling unprecedented pain. It is irresponsible for our state and local elected officials to continue ignoring the obvious connection to climate chaos going forward.

This column originally appeared in the Medford Mail Tribune.

 

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Fighting Fire With Fire: What Tribal People Know About Forest Ecosystems

In more than 20 years of living in Southern California, I have never been in a potential fire evacuation zone—until now. The entire state is seemingly on fire with a record-breaking 2 million acres already burned this year alone, with months to go before the end of fire season. The situation is so dire that the state’s fire officials are warning they “simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire.”

Fires are burning from the northern-most part of the state down to the border with Mexico, and tens of thousands of Californians are under evacuation orders. While fire is normal in California, the sort of out-of-control wildfires that spread rapidly and burn ferociously every few weeks are neither natural nor inevitable. Most importantly, there are long-term solutions available if we would only implement them.

Currently, media and public focus is on how the fires begin, as if wiping out every source will solve the underlying problems of a perfect storm of fire-ready conditions. A “gender-reveal” party on one of the hottest days of the year that relied on pyrotechnics to reveal the gender of an anticipated baby set off what is being called the El Dorado Fire. That fire burned more than 10,000 acres in an area about 70 miles East of Los Angeles. Although there has been much-deserved vitriol aimed the perpetrators and at such parties in general, the fact is conditions are perfect for massive wildfires and it matters little what sparks them.

In California’s Bay area, more than 10,000 lightning strikes triggered hundreds of fires in August. In November 2018, the worst wildfire in the state’s history burned more than 150,000 acres and killed dozens of people, wiping out the retirement community of Paradise. The devastating Camp Fire was sparked by the utility company PG&E’s faulty power lines. Unless long-term actions are taken to address the conditions under which such fires burn, the causes of future fires could be illegal fireworks, an unauthorized barbecue or even a spark from a cigarette. The more pressing matter is why there are conditions for such extreme fires in the first place.

Climate change is one of the culprits. Wetter weather earlier in the year results in greater brush growth which then dries out when hotter-than-usual weather later in the year turns it into fuel. Climate scientists predicted that “a much greater number of extremely wet and extremely dry weather seasons,” will “have a major effect on the lives of Californians.”

The other culprit is the abundance of fuel in a state that has always had wildfires. Ali Meders-Knight is a Mechoopda tribal member from Chico in the northern part of California. For more than 20 years, she has practiced what is now called Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and has worked as a liaison for tribal forestry programs addressing precisely the problem of California’s mismanaged land and fuel that end up giving rise to out-of-control deadly fires. In an interview, she explained to me that “The plants and the land are adapted to fire. [The area is] used to fire; it wants fire.”

Greenpeace explained that “A ‘put out every fire’ approach to wildland fire management for decades has left us with a fire deficit which can fuel unusually big, hot fires.” California’s unique ecosystem has evolved based on a cycle of periodic fires that certain species of wildlife and flora depend upon. But Western colonization of the state resulted in the wiping out of Indigenous knowledge of fire management. According to Meders-Knight, “you have the option of having a little bit of fire, or a whole lot of fire. But you never have the option of having no fire.”

California Senator Dianne Feinstein has taken the lead on fuel management in the state but has done so in an entirely wrong-headed fashion. Claiming to “protect communities from wildfires,” the Democratic senator’s bill was apparently meant to, “improve management and speed up restoration of forest landscapes in California.” But in reality, it offers a convenient cover for the logging industry that has been part of the problem in the first place.

Greenpeace summarized that “Heavy-handed fire suppression is strongly supported by the logging industry whose spokespersons now, ironically, call for more aggressive logging to remedy the mistake they helped perpetrate in our forests for decades.” Meders-Knight denounced Feinstein’s bill as “primitive,” “extremely uneducated,” and akin to “disaster capitalism.” The logging industry is interested only in tearing down trees for profit and has no interest or expertise in land management and restoration, or watershed management.

For decades, the state banned the Native cultural practice of burning firesin California. Now, Meders-Knight is part of a new generation of tribal leaders training and certifying people in the Indigenous wisdom that for generations informed the management of wildfires. In a nutshell, the idea is to fight fire with fire—literally. The training begins with identifying and understanding the state’s natural flora and fauna and the role each species play in the ecosystem. Indigenous fire management uses controlled fires to manage fuel that has built up, but such fires are not implemented during the hottest part of the year. Rather, they are done during slightly wetter seasons when winds are also low.

How would such ancient technology work in our modern setting? Meders-Knight explained that the optimal days for controlled fire burns are hard to predict weeks or months in advance, which means that the state’s permitting process needs to be far more flexible. And firefighters, whose job it is to put out every fire during the hottest months of the year, could be trained as “fire technicians” to manage fire in other months—thereby making their jobs less dangerous and overwhelming than they are now. She sees this as a “workforce development initiative” that could be part of a “green jobs” project in the state, especially at a time of mass unemployment and a housing crisis. Prison inmates who are recruited to fight California’s fires could also benefit from such a program.

What is remarkable is that Indigenous techniques of firefighting could also help mitigate climate change. In Australia, similar Aboriginal technology for fighting wildfires has already been implemented on a small scale. The program has proven invaluable for the short-term goal of reducing deadly fires, and the long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions that fuel global warming. According to the New York Times, “an Aboriginal burning program started seven years ago has cut hot and destructive wildfires in half and reduced carbon emissions by more than 40 percent.” Just as in California, “in Australia, fire was a crucial tool in managing the land before the arrival of Europeans.”

The solutions to California’s horrendous and deadly fires have been around for centuries. It is not inevitable for the world’s fifth-largest economy to succumb to the devastation of deadly fires. The difference between Feinstein’s approach to fire management and Indigenous fire technology is that the former has simply not worked, and is based on a Western capitalist, profit-based model of short-term financial gains by an extractive industry. Meanwhile, the latter approach is grounded in painstaking work that does not inflate a corporate bottom line and instead results in a collective benefit to the state’s inhabitants. What path will we choose?

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Corporations That Have Been Fined More Than $13 Billion in Penalties for Misdeeds Have Pocketed COVID Bailouts

In implementing the CARES Act passed by Congress to rescue the economy from the effects of the pandemic, the Trump Administration has directed tens of billions of dollars in aid to companies with a track record of misconduct. This transfer of public wealth to private bad actors will likely turn out to be more expensive than the TARP bailout of the banks a decade ago, given that much of the new aid will not be repaid.

My colleagues and I at Good Jobs First have found that more than 43,000 regulatory violators and other business miscreants have so far received $57 billion in grants and $91 billion in loans, including many that are forgivable. Over the past decade, the penalties paid by these companies for their misdeeds amounted to more than $13 billion. Our findings are summarized in a new report titled The Corporate Culprits Receiving COVID Bailouts.

We derived these numbers through a careful comparison of the CARES Act data we have compiled for our Covid Stimulus Watch website and the entries covering the past decade in Violation Tracker.

More than 87 percent of the CARES Act recipients with a record of misconduct are small businesses, while the other 13 percent are units and subsidiaries of larger companies. The latter received $55 billion in grants and $53 billion in loans, while the smaller companies received $2 billion in grants and $38 billion in loans. The large companies account for 90 percent of the penalty dollars.

The largest violation category among all 43,000 companies is government contracting at $5.6 billion, or 42 percent of the total. Employment-related penalties and consumer protection penalties each add up to about $3 billion (23 percent), while environmental and safety penalties total $1.6 billion (12 percent).

Hospitals (both for-profit and non-profit) and other providers that received funding from healthcare-related CARES Act programs account for $9 billion of the penalties, or 68 percent of the total. More than half of these penalties derive from Medicare and Medicaid billing fraud.

Source: Good Jobs First.

Recipients of small-business loans account for $3 billion of the penalties (23 percent), with the largest portions coming from wage theft and workplace safety and health violations.

There are two other groups of CARES Act recipients with a significant history of misconduct: colleges and universities getting aid through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund and airlines receiving massive levels of assistance through the Payroll Support Program. They paid $900 million and $600 million in penalties, respectively.

Seventy CARES Act recipients had been involved in cases that included criminal charges. Of these, 33 of the defendants were large companies, which paid total penalties of $3 billion. The 37 smaller defendants paid $47 million.

While the bulk of CARES Act spending comes in the form of grants and loans, the Federal Reserve is also seeking to prop up the commercial credit market by purchasing corporate bonds, especially those issued by Fortune 500 and Global 500 corporations. The corporations whose bonds have been purchased by the Fed account for more than $100 billion in penalties over the past decade. Because the purchases, which averaged about $3 million per company, are small in comparison to the size of these corporations, we decided not to include the associated penalties in the main analysis of the report.

The revelation that tens of thousands of CARES Act recipients have records of misconduct — including some cases of a criminal nature — raises serious questions about how the aid was distributed. It appears that little screening was done by federal agencies before awarding grants and loans, partly because there were no strict eligibility requirements written into the CARES Act. In some programs the money was apportioned by formula rather than choosing some recipients over others.

In the Paycheck Protection Program there was an application process, but it was handled by banks – which received commissions for their efforts – rather than the Small Business Administration. The application form required business owners to state whether they personally had been convicted or pled guilty to felonies such as fraud and bribery, while for the companies themselves the only issue seemed to be whether they had been debarred by a federal agency.

While little can be done about aid awards that were technically legal, there are steps the federal government could take with regard with two categories of recipients. The first consists of those companies and non-profits which were accused of defrauding the federal government and which paid civil penalties (usually through a settlement) for False Claims Act violations. The other category consists of those involved in cases that were serious enough to be brought with criminal charges.

Given that companies involved in FCA cases are usually allowed to continue doing business with the federal government after paying their penalty, it would be difficult to debar them from future Covid stimulus programs. These companies should, however, be subject to additional scrutiny to ensure they do not resume their fraudulent behavior while receiving grants and loans.

The most compelling case for excluding a group of companies from participation in future aid programs concerns those with a history of criminal misconduct. The PPP provision dealing with corrupt business owners should be applied to businesses themselves, especially when the firms involved are larger entities. Doing so would protect taxpayer funds and serve as a deterrent against future corporate criminality.

Originally posted at Dirt Diggers Digest.

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Myths and Lies About Poverty in America

“The poor will always be with us,” say the cynics.

No doubt, some will always be wealthier than others. We wouldn’t want to live in a society that forced all to be equal. But poverty isn’t inevitable. The 30 million people in America who lived in poverty even before the pandemic when unemployment was at record lows needn’t exist in that state.

Too many myths and lies cloud our understanding of the poor. Most poor people are not black. More are white than black, female than male, young than old. More have a high school education. Some graduate.

Poverty in America used to be far worse; about a third of Americans lived in poverty in the 1950s. Poverty was reduced, dramatically, by Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The war on poverty was defeated not by poverty, but by the war in Vietnam, which sapped resources, attention and will.

Most poor people work when they can. They take the early bus. They do the hardest jobs for the least amount of money. They bear the most amount of stress. They care for the children of others. They tend to the sick. They serve food in restaurants. They sweep the streets. They clean bedpans beneath hospital beds that they cannot lie in when they get sick. Many are essential workers who are at greater risk in the pandemic.

When the pandemic forced the economy to shut down, millions lost their jobs — and their health care at work, if they had any. Over 30 million still draw unemployment, with over a million new applicants each week as companies continue to lay off workers. Many more children are hungry.

Public policy — the “stimulus checks,” the enhanced unemployment insurance, the expansion of food stamps (SNAP), the partial moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, the aid to businesses if they kept their employees on payroll — saved millions from poverty.

Now those benefits have expired, but the unemployment remains high. Many companies are declaring bankruptcy. Many are slashing payrolls with permanent, not temporary layoffs.

Again, public policy could help. The House passed another rescue package — the HEROES ACT — that would provide another round of stimulus checks, sustain enhanced unemployment benefits, continue the expanded food stamps, extend the payroll protection subsidies and provide aid to states and localities to avoid the layoffs of millions of public employees.

The Republican Senate refused to act — and refused to compromise. Senate leader Mitch McConnell put together a $1 trillion alternative but didn’t even try to get his members to support it. Twenty Republican senators opposed doing anything.

The nonpartisan Urban Institute noted that a second round of stimulus checks alone would keep 8.3 million people out of poverty from August to December. The extension of enhanced unemployment benefits would keep 3.6 million out of poverty. The continuation of food stamp expansions would keep about 1.7 million out. If all three were enacted, 12.2 million people would be kept out of poverty for the rest of the year.

Mitch McConnell refused to act. Donald Trump, the great “deal maker,” refused even to get involved. After the benefits expired, McConnell finally decided to pass a bill out of the Senate, but his Republican colleagues would support only about $300 billion in new money for a bill that did not include the stimulus checks, did not include the SNAP benefits and limited unemployment assistance to $300 a week, half of what it was in the first rescue package. They voted to put millions of Americans into poverty.

Public policy matters. We could eliminate poverty in this country with sensible policy. Raise the minimum wage to a living wage; empower workers to organize and negotiate a fair share of the profits they help to produce. Guarantee affordable health care for all. Provide affordable housing for all. Provide high-quality pre-K and quality education for all. Add a jobs guarantee, so that instead of forcing workers onto unemployment when the economy slows or their company goes belly up, they can move to a public job doing work that is necessary — from retrofitting buildings for solar heating to caring for our public parks to providing care for the elderly and more.

Let’s not fool ourselves. America has millions of people in poverty because Americans choose not to demand the policies that would lift them out of poverty. Because corporate CEOs choose profits and bonuses over fair pay for their workers. Because small-minded legislators are more responsive to those who pay for their party than those who are in need.

This isn’t complicated. The recent decision to block action on a second rescue package is a decision to increase the number of Americans in poverty, the number of children who go hungry. The Bible teaches we will be judged by how we treat the “least of these.” We should shudder at that judgment.

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The DHS is Trying to Tie US Activists to Foreign Movements — Here’s Why We Should be Skeptical 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is taking a new tack in its efforts to combat the leaderless and decentralized antifa movement under its Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence. The DHS is targeting purported antifa activists by linking them with Kurdish-aligned foreign movements, according to leaks published by The Nation last month. The move is unprecedented, it’s wrong, and furthermore, it’s a threat to Americans’ civil liberties.

By aligning antifa with foreign movements, the DHS is embarking on new territory, where American citizens, even those who take up arms to fight ISIS, are treated as enemy combatants.

A leaked 6 page For Official Use Only (FOUO) report from the DHS lists less than a dozen American citizens connected to groups like the YPG (People’s Protection Units), YPJ, and the Peshmerga. The report claims to link anti-fascists in the United States to a handful of American travelers who volunteered their support for the Kurdish populations in northeastern Syria.

This linkage is problematic for a number of reasons. First, the federal government has no legal authority to lump an almost entirely domestic movement in with its list of foreign terrorist organizations — a list which is quite long, but which to date excludes any American-based groups. Moreover, such a designation would seem absurd given the fact that anti-fascists have staged just one attack since 1994 that led to fatalities. (This number may have increased after the recent killing of a member of Patriot Prayer.)

Surveillance is another worry. Americans generally enjoy certain constitutional protections against undue government surveillance, but those protections all but vanish when the government can establish a connection between citizens and a foreign power. The NSA relied on the pretext of foreign connection (Americans’ communications were intercepted as the organization collected data on its foreign targets) to justify encroachments on the rights and liberties of American citizens through its  “incidental” collection of call records under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. Correspondingly, when that connection is dubious, as is the case here, the civil liberties of all Americans, not just those of anti-fascists, suffer.

For example, consider Brace Belden, who completed a six-month tour fighting alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against ISIS in late 2016 and early 2017.

Belden risked life and limb to combat the Islamic State in Syria and succeeded in gaining attention for the YPG, regarded as one of the “most effective bulwarks against ISIS.” We should be honoring the sacrifices he made in his service to freedom. Instead, he’s been implicated in the DHS report as, essentially, a domestic terrorist. Like many of the other fighters listed in the report, Belden does not identify with any antifa group. “I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of any antifa organization, ” he told The Nation.

It’s ironic that the U.S. would look to criminalize those who volunteer and put their lives at risk to fight alongside Kurdish-led forces in the middle east, given that Kurds once served as a regional ally. But last year, the U.S. abandoned its longtime ally, leaving the Kurdish population to be slaughtered by Turkish invaders. And today, the US is using freedom-fighting citizen’s affiliation with Kurdish troops as an excuse to vilify anti-fascists across the U.S.

Kurdish-led forces were an essential component of the U.S.’s fight against the Islamic State, and they served as an important counterbalance to Russia and Iran’s influence. An astonishing 11,000 Kurds have lost their lives in the fight against ISIS. The Americans who stood by them and volunteered to take up arms in this fight are better thought of as heroes rather than terrorists.

This isn’t the first time Americans have travelled to foreign countries to stand in solidarity against authoritarianism. In the 1930s, an estimated 3,000 Americans united as The Lincoln Brigade to join international forces in fighting for the democratic Second Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco’s emerging fascist regime. While the great majority of these fighters were affiliated with the far-left, even late Senator John McCain wrote candidly for The New York Times, expressing “admiration for their courage and sacrifice in Spain.”

While many are aware of the U.S.’s efforts to root out communism domestically through measures like the House Committee on Un-American Activities, what many don’t know is how the U.S. actively engaged in intrusive measures of surveillance and employed confidential informants against members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The connection between the Americans who fought against authoritarianism as members of the Lincoln Brigade and those who continue to fight against ISIS’s sheer brutality alongside marginalized populations in Syria cannot be lost.

In an unprecedented period of dialogue on issues of race, social justice and policing, the DHS’s actions are unconscionable. Today, our nation is using the actions of a handful of brave individuals — people who have risked their lives fighting the Islamic State — to deny the rights of domestic activists. So long as the U.S. continues down this current path, American citizens will be subject to additional measures of repression, and our civil liberties will erode.

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