Counterpunch Articles

Stranger Things, Stranger Times

To say we live in extraordinarily strange times is perhaps the ultimate understatement. Strange times indeed, and terrifying as well. Rising global fascism, the continued threat of nuclear war, an imperiled biosphere and a climate that is rapidly heating up. In the US it is even more apparent. There are concentration camps on the southern US border where children are being separated from their parents. Children are being forced to share lice combs and told to drink toilet water. Several have died. People arrested for leaving out water for dehydrated immigrants in the desert. Jackbooted raids are being threatened against undocumented people by President Trump as institutions like ICE reveal a staggering level of racism and blatant fascism. The orange hued megalomaniac in the Oval Office routinely tweets racist screeds or threatens the annihilation of millions of people, from Iran to North Korea. The US military is engaged in several wars of imperialism abroad. And homeless encampments in and around US cities are exploding.

But to watch American mass media one might feel they are in a parallel universe. Case in point, the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things.” I will confess that I do enjoy watching many series on Netflix, including this particular one, mostly for their entertainment value. And I have a bit of an addiction to pop culture. But when I watched the recent third season I was astonished by the level of blatant American propaganda on display, without even a morsel of ambiguity.

If you haven’t watched the previous seasons or this one, don’t worry. I won’t spoil the ending. But the series generally revolves around a group of kids in suburban, middle America in the 1980s. They become swept up in a whirlwind of events involving the US Department of Energy, secret government experiments and a dark power that threatens to destroy everything in the world we know. The entire set and character development is steeped in 80’s kitsch, but it deserves credit for its fast pace, special effects and endearing characters; and there have been some truly remarkable moments of humanity in relation to the struggles of a young and psychokinetically talented girl named Eleven, “El” for short, in earlier seasons.

But in this last season the nefarious machinations of Department of Energy and other US agencies have been jettisoned to focus on the “evil Russians.” No, really. They actually use the term “evil Russians” several times throughout the show. That, along with “Soviet scum.” Now, anyone who has studied American mass media understands how Hollywood has long parroted the talking points of the US ruling establishment and the Pentagon. Russophobia has always been a common plotline. But this is a time where #Russiagate has flooded the consciousness of the American liberal bourgeoisie. Anyone who expresses doubts about the extent of Russian meddling in US electoral politics, even if they are staunchly opposed to the fascism of Donald Trump as I am, are often branded as “Russian bots” or on the Kremlin’s payroll. Pundits like Rachel Maddow and many in the Democratic Party establishment have devoted themselves to the #Russiagate narrative 24/7. So this is not merely done in a vacuum. It plays neatly into American reactionary politics.

In fact, many productions to this day have active CIA, DHS and DoD agents sitting on their sets in advisory roles, and US military hardware has been made readily available for those studios and productions who follow the script, so to speak. So the dialogue of Stranger Things should not come as a surprise. But there are other examples. One scientist, Alexei, expresses a desire to become an American scientist after seeing the “evil” of his government. And an enormous Soviet base, for instance, built deep in the bedrock beneath a shopping mall in the small Indiana town of Hawkins. The silliness of this aside, the fact that the USSR was at the beginning of an economic death spiral at the time is one issue, but the Soviet operatives here are given an almost supernatural physical strength in most cases.

Now of course none of this is to defend the anti-democratic leanings, human rights violations, attacks on journalists, political opponents or LGBTQ people, atrocities, militarism or war crimes of the former USSR or of the current Russian Federation under Putin; but it is to say that US propaganda is alive and well in mass media. And there is a nationalistic impulse for collective amnesia when it comes to the US role in toppling democratically elected governments (Chile, Iran, Honduras, etc), gross anti-democratic and authoritarian atrocities (the internment of Japanese Americans, Red Scare and Jim Crow for three glaring 20th century examples), or enormous war crimes (the nuking of civilians in Japan, carpet bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, Libya, etc.), or crimes against humanity (see Marshall Islands nuke testing, Tuskegee experiments, COINTELPRO, etc.) committed by the American government and military. This rebranded propaganda appears to have resurfaced for a new generation.

In addition to the obvious Russophobia there is another component of the plot in Stranger Things that is striking for the current age. An evil “Mind Flayer” from the dark world of the “Upside Down” takes over the minds and wills of various townspeople. With the backdrop of a “communist menace” various conclusions can be drawn about American Red Scare and its fearmongering about collectivism.  Think: Invasion of the Body Snatchers redux. But one character, a little precocious black girl named Erica Sinclair, makes several pronouncements on the virtues of capitalism. She proclaims at one point: “know what I love more about this country? Capitalism. Do you know what capitalism means? It means this is free market system. which means people get paid for their services, depending on how valuable their contributions are.”

Now little Erica can be forgiven for her ignorance, but the reality for millions of other black kids in 1980s America (or before and since for that matter) was far less forgiving. This was an era marked by Reagan’s ruthless neoliberal order, a “trickle-down” economy that never managed to trickle any material benefits to working class black and brown people, let alone working class whites. And the show never touches on any of the rampant racism at play in the 1980s either; although it includes a palpable identity politics drenched, au courant, bourgeois-based, sexist conscious component of the #MeToo variety.

But the producers of Stranger Things, brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, are the real culprits here. Their net worth is reported to be around $12 million each, so they have certainly benefited from that “free market” capitalism Erica boasts about. One wonders if they notice the mega shantytowns on their way to the studio each day. The ones that are burgeoning throughout California and around the country. I doubt many of them would share Erica’s enthusiasm for the current economic order.

The third season of Stranger Things encapsulates the angst of the American bourgeoisie today. Its appeal to a nostalgia is seen in the excess emphasis on sentimentality and kitsch; and there is a nod of acceptance of authoritarianism in the liberties taken by police chief Jim Hopper, or “Hop,” where his abuses are portrayed humorously. And this at a time where police brutality is off the charts. Its conformity is evident in the constant promotion of corporate products, consumerism and the dominant shopping mall milieu. Nationalism and jingoism are predominant with the US military and 4th of July symbolism playing a key role in the defeat of evil. And there is an ever present fear of an “other” who threatens everything America supposedly stands for: individualism, liberty and shopping, of course.

The American bourgeoisie is in an existential crisis. It is overworked, in perpetual fear of debt or bankruptcy due to healthcare costs, mortgage and rent, education and the costs of daily living. Its privileged status stands threatened by the natural trajectory of capitalism toward gross economic inequity, avarice fueled corruption, the capriciousness of a sadistic “free market,” rising fascism, militarism and an imperiled biosphere that stands to topple the entire house of cards. The so-called “opposition” to the tyrant in the White House has been playing a game of appeasement and focusing on outside “threats” like Russia, instead of tackling the real enemy: the American ruling class establishment. But mass media is incapable of reflecting this reality. To do so, it would need to examine American history accurately, honestly, and with humility, and face the truth about the past and the current untenable arrangement. And that would undoubtedly be the strangest thing of all.

Environmentalists and Wilderness are Not the Timber Industry’s Big Problem

Gallatin Range. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

For decades the timber industry and its political allies have claimed that efforts to maintain Montana’s functioning forest ecosystems and native wildlife have “shut down” logging.  But two recent articles reveal that the basic economic principles of over-supply and over-production in the timber industry are the real problems, not environmentalists, the Endangered Species Act, or being “locked out” of national forests by wilderness designations.   But don’t take my word on it, read on to see what the industry itself has to say.

As Julia Altemus, logging lobbyist and director of the Montana Wood Products Association, told the Missoulian’s Rob Chaney:

“There’s been a lot of over-production across the board.  We have too much wood in the system and people weren’t building. That will make it tougher for us. What would help is if we could find new markets.”

When asked why Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. cut back its mill production cycle from 80 to 50 hours weekly, manager Paul McKenzie told the Hungry Horse News: “It’s purely market driven…demand for lumber across the country is down.”  As reported: “He also said supply has actually been good.”

In fact the “supply” of national forest trees is more than just good.  Last year the Forest Service received no bids on 15.6% of the timber it offered.  That’s 559.5 million board feet of timber that wasn’t cut because the timber industry did not bid on it.  It would take 112,000 log trucks lined up from Missoula to Fargo, North Dakota, to haul that many logs.  That means more than twice as much timber cut on all the national forests in Montana last year didn’t even draw a bid.

For some reason, these timber industry realities don’t seem to matter to Montana’s congressional delegation.  Rep. Gianforte wrote: “Unfortunately, fringe environmental groups…have nearly succeeded in closing our forests to timber management.”  Senator Daines regularly blames “radical environmentalists who are locking us out of our forests.”  And Senator Tester was given Four Pinocchios by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker for his false claim that environmentalists shut down logging in Montana.

Last year the Region One Forest Service, which includes Montana, met 90.9% of their timber sale target, which has risen a stunning 141% in the last ten years.  Due to the over-cutting and over-supply the price offered for standing timber has now fallen.  But the cost to taxpayers continues to climb to staggering heights.

new report by the Center for a Sustainable Economy found “taxpayer losses of nearly $2 billion a year associated with the federal logging program carried out on national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands. Despite these losses, the Trump Administration plans to significantly increase logging on these lands in the years ahead, a move that would plunge taxpayers into even greater debt.”

There’s also a significant cost to our public lands when more logging roads get bulldozed into unroaded areas as streams are filled with sediment and logging pushes big game onto private lands as forest hiding cover is clearcut.

In conclusion, the baseless demand for more logging by Montana’s congressional delegation, the timber industry, and collaborator groups is actually having the opposite effect: it’s reducing production, increasing job losses, and lowering standing timber value — all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

Contrast this with Montana’s booming tourism economy and it’s clear our forested roadless areas are worth more designated as wilderness, as the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act would do, or simply left standing instead of being clearcut for an industry that, by its own admission, is wallowing in oversupply.

Cuban Workers Celebrate Salary Rise From New Economic Measures

‘Today is Cuban workers’ day!’ a Cuban friend told me in late June, beaming at the news that all employees of the island’s ‘budgeted’ state sector would receive significant salary rises, commencing from 1 July 2019. Cuba’s budgeted sector incorporates organisations and entities which operate with a state budget and mostly provide services free to the population without returning revenue to the state. This includes public health, education, culture and sport, public administration, community services, housing and defence. Every one of the 1,470,736 workers in this sector will receive the pay rise, at a cost to the Cuban state of over seven billion Cuban pesos annually. Simultaneously, 1,281,523 pensions will rise, costing an additional 838 million pesos a year and taking the number of direct beneficiaries to over 2.75 million Cubans.

Announcing the salary rise and outlining a set of economic reforms to follow, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and other government Ministers have framed the measures in relation to several factors. First, aggressive steps by the US Trump administration to strangle the Cuban economy by strengthening the US blockade, particularly through the spring 2019 implementation of ‘Title III’ of the Helms-Burton Act, under which US citizens can sue Cuban and foreign interests who ‘traffic’ (engage in any way) in properties they, or their predecessors, owned prior to the nationalisations carried out by Cuba’s revolutionary government from 1960.

Second, determination not to return to the hardships suffered by the Cuban population during Special Period of economic crisis in the 1990s. Díaz-Canel referred to creative measures taken in that period which are currently under study. Third, the demand from Cubans and their organisations for a pay rise, communicated directly to the President and ministers during their regular tours of Cuban provinces, in recent Congresses of the Cuban Workers’ Confederation (CTC) and the National Association of Cuban Economists (ANEC), as well as during public debates over the new Constitution approved in February 2019. Fourth, the measure acknowledges the loyalty and commitment of workers who have stayed in state employment, often in the lowest paid jobs, defending the ‘conquests’ of Cuba’s socialist revolution in health, education, culture, sport and community and social welfare, providing essential services for all Cubans.

Finally, the salary rise is a step towards a broader economic restructuring, comprising changes to the way salaries and prices are set, more flexibility introduced into the planning process with greater initial input from workers, the elimination of the dual currency, more cooperation between state enterprises and non-state entities and foreign investors and greater financial autonomy for state enterprises. These measures aim to boost national production and improve Cuba’s balance of payments, so to withstand the onslaught of US imperialism by advancing the national development plan through to 2030.

Having announced the pay rise on 27 June in Pinar del Rio, Díaz-Canel participated in a two-hour, live broadcast of the daily current affairs programme, the ‘Mesa-Redonda’ (Round Table) on 2 July, explaining the measures with the Minister of the Economy and Planning, the Minister of Work and Social Security and the Minister of Finance and Prices. The following day, a second Mesa Redonda with the same participants largely answered the public’s queries and concerns.

Cuba’s state sector employs over 3 million workers, compared to some 1.4 million in the non-state sector, which consists of cooperatives, private farmers, usufruct farmers (who use state land under rent-free loan), the self-employed and small businesses. Of the state sector workforce, 52%, or 1.6 million workers, are in the ‘enterprise sector’, consisting of productive and commercial entities which sell, trade and receive revenues. Since 2014, many workers in the enterprise sector benefited from incentives to increase production, linking pay to performance, removing salary caps, and providing payment in hard currency (Cuban Convertible Peso [CUC] are received by 60% of workers in the sector). The new salary rise does not apply to them, but to the 48% of state sector workers in the budgeted sector. Some groups of workers in the latter, including healthcare workers, received a pay rise in recent years, but others, including the education sector, were left behind. Workers in the political organisations of People’s Power and a group in public administration had not received a pay rise since 2005.

The new salary scale both raises the incomes of the lowest earners (the minimum monthly salary rises from 225 pesos to 400, up from 125 in 2005) and expands the wage differential between these and the highest earners from between 2.9 to 7.5 times. This aims to ‘reverse the pyramid’ so jobs of greater complexity and responsibility, requiring higher qualifications, receive substantially higher remuneration, serving as an incentive to work towards leadership positions. The average monthly salary in the budgeted sector has risen from 634 pesos in June, to 1065 pesos in July; above the 2018 average salary in state enterprises, which was 871 pesos (up from 600 in 2014). Salaries in the budgeted sector are capped at 3,000 pesos; only those earning over 2,500 pay individual income tax. All employees will now pay towards social security; 2.5% for those earning less than 500 pesos and 5% for those above. Social security payments, including some pensions, were last raised in November 2018; pensions were raised again to a minimum of 280 pesos and all those with pensions under 500 pesos see incomes rise.

Challenges: avoiding inflation and increase national production

While celebrated, the salary rise provokes two issues of immediate concern; the danger of inflation (rising prices) and the need to meet the additional costs to the state without exceeding the previously planned deficit (spending above revenue). Inflation will undermine the positive effect of the pay rise, increased purchasing power, to the detriment of all Cubans, not just the beneficiaries. In a market economy, inflation is caused by increasing the supply of money without a concomitant increase in the value of the goods and services produced.

Economy Minister, Alejandro Gil explained that in Cuba’s planned economy, the salary rise should not cause inflation because: (a) the budgeted sector provides free goods and services, so increased salaries cannot push up non-existent sale prices; (b) most retail trade is under state control and subject to administrative controls, that is, fixed or capped prices; (c) the state is not raising wholesale or retail prices, taxes or other payments. Consequently, said Gil, the non-state sector had no excuse for raising prices. Prices in all sectors will be closely monitored and the public was urged to report ‘irresponsible’ and ‘opportunistic’ price raises to authorities to prevent abuses and speculation.

With inflation ‘repressed’, the danger is that as beneficiaries buy more they will quickly exhaust the retails goods currently available, generating scarcity. Already in May 2019 some new limits were introduced for basic foodstuffs purchases following scarcities blamed on the tightening US blockade. To prevent either inflation or scarcity, the Cuban economy must expand the supply of goods and services to the population. Minister Gil revealed plans to develop new and diverse services, like national tourism, which had grown 13% since the start of the year, eating out and communications, including internet access and phone credit.

Although currently excluded from the salary rise, workers in the state enterprise sector can increase their incomes, said Gil, by producing more, but not by charging more. Local development will be fostered on the basis of local resources to meet demand without increasing imports (which bleeds much needed hard currency). Other measures are being designed to retain the hard currency which Cubans receive as pay or remittances, and which is often leaves the country, for example when individuals travel abroad to purchase goods to bring back to Cuba. Instead of prohibiting this, the economy will be directed to meet the demand for such goods and services domestically. New financial services products are being created to encourage savings.

The cost of the salary and pension rise for one year is greater than the 6.4 billion pesos social security budget for 2019 and the planned budget deficit at 6.1 billion pesos.[1] How can the state cover the additional cost without increasing the deficit? The ministers talked in general terms about re-directing investment funds from unimplemented projects and said planned budgets to all entities will be reduced by some 10%, obliging them to prioritise their spending. Meanwhile, all social programmes will be preserved. Some Cubans immediately responded to the news by seeking (re)employment in the state sector, but ministers warned against a return to inflated state sector payrolls stating that only essential workers should be recruited.

Broader economic reforms

The broader economic strategy seeks to strengthen national production and state enterprises, the diversity and quantity of exports, import substitution, productive linkages, self-sufficiency in the municipalities, local development projects, investments, retail trade circulation, agricultural production, food sovereignty and implementation of the housing policy. Diaz-Canel talked about overcoming the obstacles and bureaucracy which Cubans refer to as the ‘internal blockade’ and breaking the pattern of relying on imports. Cuba’s principal imports are food and fuels, which drain billions in hard currency. A critical solution is to increase agricultural production and use of renewable energies. Moving Cuba towards food and fuel sovereignty is a political necessity given the aggressive, extraterritorial imposition of the US blockade. Gil said that the new measures aimed to ‘break the pattern of turning to imports to foster our national industry’; nothing should be imported that could be produced domestically. Cuban workers had long complained about this, he said.

To achieve this, state enterprises will be given more independence in planning, financing, investment, collaboration, and incentives for workers. In turn they must eliminate budget deficits and stop using budgets without proper cost assessments. The ministers talked about replacing ‘administrative controls’ with ‘financial and economic mechanisms’, that is, increasing individual material incentives for workers to expand domestic production, exports and import substitution, essential both to save hard currency and balance the books. Where surpluses rise, bonuses can take workers’ pay up to five times the average salary (currently capped at three times). These measures mean a shift from rigid planning which discourages innovations outside the plan. ‘Anything that increases efficiency must be evaluated for incorporation into the plan’, said Gil. Decentralising the plan implies decentralising access to resources, and so increased autonomy for state enterprises.

State enterprises whose exports exceed the plan will retain all or part of the extra hard currency earnings (after meeting obligations to the state) and can use those funds for essential imports or to pay other national producers. Similarly, non-exporting state enterprises can retain surplus revenues, after payments due to the central fund, and decide how to invest those, including in projects with domestic non-state enterprises and foreign companies. Restrictions on relations between these entities will be removed. Cuban enterprises which supply domestic products and services to foreign businesses operating in the Mariel Special Development Zone will be permitted to retain 50% of their profits. State enterprises will be allowed to sell excess production over their plan in the domestic market. Non-state enterprises may be facilitated to export through arrangements with state entities. The aim is to keep hard currency in the country and foster productive chains in the domestic economy. Other incentives will foster municipal self-sufficiency and increased agricultural productivity.

FINATUR, an existing financial institution in the tourism sector, will provide investment credit directly to enterprises, outside allocations from the Central Fund, to reduce delays and bureaucracy in funding investments. Accordingly, enterprises will be responsible for paying off their own debt to FINATUR. Given US persecution of Cuba’s use of the US dollar, the utility of adopting a crypto currency for commercial transactions is also being evaluated. To prevent the ongoing theft of fuel, GPS will be placed on fuel transporters and the use of digital cards for the purchase of fuels extended.

The National Assembly will discuss the proposed reforms in late July. Díaz-Canel recognised the risks and the importance of the population’s support. ‘In the most difficult times, Fidel and Raul always went to the people.’ This was the essence of the revolution, he said, as the people were the source of wisdom and creation.

Helen Yaffe is a lecturer in Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow, specialising in Cuban and Latin American development. She is the author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution and co-author with Gavin Brown of Youth Activism and Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid. Her forthcoming book We Are Cuba! How a Revolutionary People have survived in a Post-Soviet World will be published in early 2020.

This article was written for the August/September issue of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!


1. However, as the salary & pension rises commence half way through the year, the cost of 2019 is half the annual cost.


What You Don’t Want to be in Trump’s America

Life can be bright in America —
If you can fight in America;
Life is all right in America —
If you’re all-white in America.

West Side Story, film version October 1961.

1961 is way back in history, the year of John F Kennedy’s election, the Bay of Pigs, the first man in space, and lots of racism which was highlighted by the actions of the Freedom Riders, a bunch of studentswho traveled on buses from Washington, DC to Jackson, Mississippi “to challenge segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals.”  They were riding to deep trouble because the whites in the South realized that their racist supremacy was being threatened.

When they got to Anniston in Alabama on May 14 they “were met by a violent mob of over 100 [white] people. Before the buses’ arrival, Anniston local authorities had given permission to the Ku Klux Klan to strike against the freedom riders without fear of arrest. As the first bus pulled up, the driver yelled outside, ‘Well, boys, here they are. I brought you some niggers and nigger-lovers’.” And they were attacked and beaten up. No white person was charged with any infraction of the laws of the United States. Oh happy days!

Which brings us to 2019 and this week’s report about the death in New York of a black man called Eric Garner in 2014. It has taken five years to decide that the policeman who subjected Mr Garner to a choke-hold, a form of seizure that the police department “had banned more than two decades ago” should not be prosecuted.   Mr Garnet died from the effects of the choke-hold and the weight of other policemen piling on him and his last words were “I can’t breath” just before he was proved terminally correct.

The number of black men killed by police continues to rise and if you want to read the chilling details just go to NewsOne and see all about the 60 who have died recently.  You can also see and hear a Montgomery County Policewoman, Danielle Olsen, on camera on May 9 saying “Hey, we’re trying, you want to get out of here fast, right? Y’all niggas been tryin’ to somethin’. If you want to get out of here faster, we have more of our friends to help you get out faster.”

Back to Alabama!

And on to Washington, where the President of the United States also wants to get colored people out faster.  Out of the United States, that is.

Everyone knows the story about Trump’s racist tweets concerning the four colored female members of Congress, so there’s no point in going over it again, but his dramatic assertion of July 16 does merit mention, because when he declared that “Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” he was getting close to speaking a partial truth, for once.

Trump’s tweets reeked of bigotry, and he’s an unrepentant racist, but sure, he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body —  because he hasn’t got any bones at all and is morally spineless and totally devoid of any anatomical material that would make him upright, principled and honorable.

His inherent racism stems from the same source as his so-called bone-spurs that prevented him from going off like the 2.2 million draftees who had to hazard their lives in Vietnam, where over 50,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese and other Asians died in a useless war.  He was a yellow-bellied chicken-hearted coward in the 1960s and hasn’t changed a bit. Those of us who served in Vietnam (sure, I was an Australian, but we were all on the same side, however wrong we all were about a useless war) can have nothing but contempt for the lily-livered Trump and his ilk who partied on back home while so many of their contemporaries took their chances against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army.

As recorded in the New York Times,

“Back in 1968, at the age of 22, Donald J Trump seemed the picture of health. He stood 6 feet 2 inches with an athletic build; had played football, tennis and squash; and was taking up golf. His medical history was unblemished . . . But after he graduated from college in the spring of 1968, making him eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, he received a diagnosis that would change his path: bone spurs in his heels.”

Excuse me while I puke.

Remember US infantry officer Captain Humayun Khan who died in Iraq?  As reported in the UK’s Daily Telegraph,  Khan “was killed in 2004 by a suicide car bomb. He ran toward the suspicious vehicle after ordering his men back, and it detonated outside the gates of a compound where hundreds were eating breakfast. He was the only military casualty” and was awarded a Bronze Star. The gallant Humayun Khan was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, of immigrant Pakistani parents.

Humayun Khan’s father dared to speak at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, “criticising Mr Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and questioning whether he had read the US Constitution.”  He said, perceptively, that Trump had “sacrificed nothing and no one” and was then subjected to a tirade of abuse by the presidential candidate who wasn’t going to let a Muslim immigrant Gold Star parent say things like that.

Does that remind you of any other outbursts of invective involving a target with more courage in his left pinkie than Trump has in his entire boneless body?  His cheap vileness about John McCain struck a low, even for Trump, for after McCain had the temerity to criticise Trump for a racist outburst about Mexican migrants (“they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists”),  the bone-spur hero “went on a Twitter spree, hurling some 21 insults at McCain in just five days. On July 18 [2015] Trump escalated the tension when he said McCain was not a war hero ‘because he was captured’ and ‘I like people who weren’t captured’.”

It is very difficult to understand why so many Americans voted in favour of Trump, knowing that he sneered at a Vietnam war veteran who had been tortured by his captors, but that’s the way things are in the USA today. And there’s plenty of evidence that Trump’s nauseating attitude strikes a deep and popular chord with many millions.

In a packed arena at East Carolina University on July 17 Trump told the crowd that the four Members of Congress he had spitefully abused are nothing less than “hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down. They don’t love our country. I think, in some cases, they hate our country. You know what? If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.” He specifically named Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who was born in Somalia, and in response to his venomous hate-filled tirade, the crown chanted “Send her back! Send her back!”

Trump is taking America right back to the era of racial intolerance, hatred and bigotry.  He’s Alabama-bound, and happy racist days are on the dark horizon.

I beg you, Americans: get rid of this man before he destroys your wonderful country.

The Inequality of Equal Pay

“Equal pay! Equal pay!” the crowd chanted at the rally for the women’s soccer team after the ticker tape World Cup victory parade in New York. They were loud and insistent—and they didn’t mean it.

Team captain Megan Rapinoe confirmed this in her speech during the rally. She didn’t merely call for equal pay. She also thanked her teammates for their part in the triumph and then specified the contributions by the obscure uncelebs who bolstered them. She named the coaching staff, technical staff, medical staff, support staff, massage therapists, videographers, chef, security and media people.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “You make our jobs so easy. We don’t have to focus on anything other than what we have to do on the field. Thank you for that.”

The Thailand team didn’t have this level of support. They lost to the Americans 13-0. The teams that kept the score closer, like Spain and France, probably didn’t have such thorough assistance either. So they lost too.

Although Rapinoe rightly cited the support personnel as necessary for her team’s success, she didn’t say they should get equal pay. Nor did the countless commentators also demanding Equal Pay! They want the players to get paid on a par with members of the US men’s team. Or as Rapinoe said, the women should get double their current pay, and then double or quadruple that next time. The crowd claps and cheers.

But why should only the stars get the celestial rewards? They couldn’t be stars without the helpers Rapinoe listed.

Whatever the Market Will Bear

The traditional answer has been that everybody should get equal pay for equal work, as political party platforms have often said in appealing to women voters. Do professionals with salaries boosted by university degrees really work more than the janitors who clean their offices? Do money shufflers snagging millions per year really work more than the farm laborers gathering their food? Put the shufflers out in the fields and they will wilt faster than the crops they’re picking.

These brain teases have no clear or easy answers. So the usual resolution has been to concede that compensation should be whatever The Market will bear, with occasional stipulations that this ought not to be skewed by gender, race, ethnicity and such. But that solution supposes The Market is some disembodied entity, like the laws of physics, that impersonally grinds out ordained consequences.

It’s not. It’s a human contrivance that systematically favors some and punishes others. Rapinoe’s recitation of her team’s non-starring members proves this. The support staff were not players on the field but they were part of the team. Yet only the players became celebrities who can command bigger paychecks and endorsement deals bigger than that, because the global sports and media apparatus turned them into stars. This is The Market at work.

But take away the support staff and the team will get crushed like Thailand. Take away the decades of public policy and dollars devoted to developing women’s athletics in secondary schools and universities, and there won’t even be a squad capable of competing at the international level.

The team couldn’t function without the support, just as the hedge fund office couldn’t function without the janitors working overnight to prepare the place for the next day’s operations. These drudges are essential personnel, otherwise they wouldn’t have their jobs and meager paychecks at all.

So why do the stars get vastly greater rewards in money and acclaim? That’s hardly equal pay for equal work.

Dynastic Alliances

Or why did MacKenzie Bezos get just $38 billion in her recent divorce settlement with Jeff. Forbes estimates his net worth at $110 billion, most of which he accumulated during their marriage. Her share reflects only a portion of his Amazon stock. And she got no part of his Blue Origin space exploration toy, nor any of his Washington Post media toy. The settlement didn’t specify which one of them got which of their six properties (apparently meaning homes, mansions, ranches and the like). Whatever, she got far less than half of the couple’s assets. That’s hardly equal pay for equal work.

If she gets hitched again, it won’t be with the stable boy. Wealth tends to merge with wealth.

Consider some Hollywood sorts lately in the news. Camille Grammer was married to the actor Kelsey, until she wasn’t anymore. Upon departure she collected a $30 million settlement, which was deserving because “I just didn’t sit back, buying fancy clothes and shoving bonbons in my face. I mean, I worked hard.” Then she married an attorney at Arant Fox, one of the most gilded law firms catering to the bi-coastal Midases.

Love and romance may waft through these arrangements. But they are also dynastic alliances, which have a very long history, and not just because they unify and preserve fortunes. They also consolidate the power that property confers and transfer it through generations.

If the demand for equal pay does not pay attention to this, it will become a demand for ever greater dynastic consolidation.

Adventures in Script-Writing

Over the years I’ve had approximately twenty scripts produced at small theaters in and around Hollywood and Orange County. None of these plays were celebrated or spectacular, mind you, just some offbeat comedies (in what might be called the “minimalist” tradition) that were fortunate enough to attract modest audiences willing to pay $25.

Live theater, particularly when you’re doing original scripts, is a fascinating process. You start by submitting a script to the artistic director of a theater. If they agree to produce it, you hold auditions, cast the roles, conduct rehearsals (usually four to six weeks), have your “tech week” (where the cast dresses in their costumes, and all the technical stuff—lights, musical cues, and special effects—are integrated into the performance), followed by opening night. Which is both exhilarating and terrifying.

Original plays are also challenging in ways that established plays are not. The difference between an actor doing material by a dead playwright like Arthur Miller or Agatha Christie, and doing material by a famous but living playwright like Christopher Durang or Beth Henley, is that the actor is never going to suggest to the director that the script be changed. Not in his or her wildest dreams would they suggest such a thing. (“Can’t we shorten that speech by Hamlet?” Make it lighter?”)

But it’s different when they’re working off a script that has not made it to Broadway or has not and never will be memorialized. And it’s especially different when the playwright himself is not only sitting in the room, but is apparently willing to listen to ways of making the play “better.” Let me make clear that this is not a complaint, because it largely derives from one of my own suggestions.

At the traditional “read-through”—where the principals meet for the first time, introduce themselves, and then proceed to read the script aloud from cover to cover—I make a point of telling everyone, in that spirit of camaraderie and hearty fellowship that has defined “theater people” for centuries, that I am open to suggestions. Please feel free.

Alas, some of those suggestions, while offered earnestly and sincerely, have annoyed me. Here are two examples.

One of my previous scripts had a scene in it where an obnoxious and offensive medical doctor belittles a patient by screaming insults at him. “You dumb son of a bitch,” she shouts at him, “I’m telling you there’s something wrong with your medulla oblongata!”

I’m not suggesting that her line was so funny it would have the audience rolling in the aisles, but—don’t ask me why—I’ve always considered the term “medulla oblongata” to be intrinsically humorous. Hearing that term has always made me smile.

But one of our actors politely took me aside and informed me that, given the man’s symptoms (as I recall, something to do with motor skills), the proper reference point would be the “cerebral cortex” and not the medulla oblongata.

It was clear he was sincerely interested in improving the play, and had come to me in the belief that being “anatomically correct” would help us. Not wanting him to feel I was blowing him off, I agreed to change it. Dumb move. The term “cerebral cortex” was greeted with dead silence. It didn’t get so much as a courtesy chuckle.

The other suggestion spoke of political correctness. The play in question was set 100 years in the future, a literary device that writers love to fiddle with as it gives them free license to make up all kinds of sociological and philosophical stuff that indirectly serves as an indictment of our contemporary values.

The protagonist is a “regular guy,” a file clerk diagnosed with a terminal disease in 2017, who has himself cryogenically frozen and thawed out a century later, in the hope that science now has a cure for what ails him. To the extent that terminal cancer can be made funny, this was a comedy.

One of the things this “Everyman” learns, to his shock, about the world one-hundred years in the future is that cosmetic surgery is now very much in vogue. One instance of a new trend is the huge increase in the number of penis transplants.

The way it works is that a wealthy, youngish but undersized Japanese businessman swaps his penis with an elderly, “well-hung” Norwegian lumberjack. The Japanese businessman is surgically outfitted with a much larger penis, and the Norwegian gentleman receives a smaller but perfectly functional unit, plus a very generous pile of cash.

Without going into details, toward the end of the play our protagonist becomes upset at hearing some terrible news. He freaks. In a fit of despair, he shouts in agony to a group of doctors, “I would’ve been better off selling my pecker to some little Jap!!” To be absolutely clear, using this pejorative language is exactly how this coarse and ignorant man would speak.

The director called me at home and told me the cast was uncomfortable with the term “little Jap.” They viewed it as “racist.” Up to this point in rehearsals, they were doing a magnificent job. I was in awe of their talent. So it stunned (and annoyed) me that at this late stage of the game they would suddenly cite objections to the script.

It turns out that it wasn’t “sudden.” They’d been uncomfortable with the terminology all along, but didn’t speak up until now. The director also said that the cast—both men and women—found the phrase “well-hung” to be offensive.

The way I saw it, I had only three choices. I could meet with the cast and try to make the case for leaving the language in, by asking them to consider the source and context. I could tell them to behave as professionals, and just play the goddamn part the way it was written. Or I could omit the whole penis transplant segment, and move on. I chose the third option.

To confess, once I got over the sting of being “scolded,” I admired their sentiments. These were men and women in their late twenties and thirties, and I was old enough to be their father. They honestly didn’t enjoy trafficking in the glib ethnic stereotypes common to my generation, not for a cheap joke. And for that they had my respect.

That said, I’m still nursing a grudge for having, in a weak moment, agreed to remove “medulla oblongata.” It will take me years to get over it.

Say Goodbye to MAD, But Remember the Fight for Free Expression

The Los Angeles Timesand other media outlets recently announced that MAD magazine was going to cease publishing a hard copy or newsstand edition and will only be available through subscription and in comic-book stores.  More troubling, at year’s end it will cease being published.  Say goodbye to the ever-subversive freckled-faced of Alfred E. Neuman.

Comedian “Weird Al” Yankovic was MAD’s first guest editor and moaned the announcement, tweeting: “I am profoundly sad to hear that after 67 years, MAD Magazine is ceasing publication. I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid — it’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird.  Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.”

MAD was introduced in 1952 as a comic book, the first issue written by its editor, Harvey Kurtzman.  In ’55, Bill Gaines, head of Educational Comics (EC), a small New York publisher at 225 Lafayette Street, launched it as a magazine.  It was billed as “Tales calculated to drive you MAD?  Humor in a Jugular Vein.”  It initially adhered to the 32-page comic-book convention, offering four stories that parodied other EC comics and sold for 10¢.

Its readership peaked in 1974 at more than 2 million but in recent years it seems no longer relevant.  MAD joins a growing number of satirical publications that have disappeared.  Spy, founded and edited by Graydon Carter and Kurt Anderson, closed in 1998 and The Onion ceased as a print publication in 2013, though it continues online.


The sad state of American journalism is reflected in the fact that none of the innumerable media reports about the impending closing of MAD mentioned the battle Gains fought with the post-WW-II culture-war censors.

Looking back in 1983, Gaines recalled, “In the ’50s I was an extreme liberal.”  He admitted, “I’m not against abortion, I’m not against pornography, I’m not against living together without getting married because I’ve been doing it with my dear young lady here for 10 years, and the last thing in the world I would do is get married because I’m convinced that will wreck it.”  Gaines was a classic Brooklyn liberal who had backed Pres. Roosevelt and fought in the war.

When the war ended, comics were a mass-market phenomenon.  In 1945, the Market Research Company of America estimated that 70 million Americans (about half the nation’s population) read comic books.  The greatest number of these readers was young people between 6 and 11 years; it reported that 95 percent of boys and 91 percent of girls read them.  It also found that adults between 18 to 30 years were avid comic consumers; 41 percent of men and 28 percent of women reported regularly reading comics. One study estimated that in 1946 nearly 540 million comics were published and, by the mid-‘50s, monthly sales had skyrocketed to an estimated 90 million.

No one knew what comic book would find an audience, so innovation was encouraged – and knockoffs were an accepted feature of the business.  People from all ethnic backgrounds and walks of life, including precocious youths, African-Americans and even women, got their start working in comics, including such popular authors as Patricia Highsmith, Stanley Kauffmann and Mickey Spillane.  The media “establishment” — consisting of “serious” writers, artists and critics — looked down on comics, dismissing them as an unsophisticated kids medium.

Comics were part of an insurgent youth-oriented culture, a consumerism complemented by movies, music, fashion and cigarette smoking. It was a subversive culture rooted in rebellion, challenging parental authority and sexual standards.  It was a culture threatening established order; juvenile delinquency represented stepping over the line.  The battle over delinquency would remake the nation’s moral order.

Between 1941 and 1957, the FBI found in its 1959 Uniform Crime Reports, juvenile court cases increased 220 percent.  While predominately an urban phenomenon, it reported that in 1957 youth crime increased7 percent increase in the suburbs and 15 percent increase in rural areas.  FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover joined the chorus of those exhorting Americans to “stop mollycoddling juvenile criminals. It is against the instincts of most Americans to get tough with children.”  He added, “But the time has come when we must impose sterner penalties and restrictions on young lawbreakers for the protection of the law abiding.”

In late-1953, the U.S. Senate established a special subcommittee to investigate juvenile delinquency.  As part of its efforts, it held public and private hearings in Washington, DC, Boston, Denver and Philadelphia that culminating, in April ’54, in New York.  Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN), an ambitious politician, was a member of the subcommittee. He believed “obscene” media came in all forms and contributed to the rise of youth crime.  However, he singled out comic books, especially those labeled crime and horror, for promoting violence.

Kefauver was not alone in assailing comic books.  In 1954, the Book-of-the-Month Club assailed Batman: “It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.”  The media decried Superman, some wondering if he was not a fascist; Wonder Woman was condemned as “a morbid ideal. … Her followers are the gay girls.”  And Cat-woman was attacked because she was “… vicious and uses a whip.”  Popular comics like The Crypt of Terror and The Vault of Horror were denounced as “sex horror serials” and “pulp paper nightmares” that created “ethical confusion.”

The Senate’s hearings on juvenile delinquency and comics was held in New York on April 21, 1954, and continued the next day, the 22nd, and concluded on June 4th.  Kefauver made a short introductory comment, adding the FBI’s authority to his remarks: “I think it is also important to point out that Mr. J. Edgar Hoover’s report of yesterday shows … juveniles … comprise 53.6 percent of those arrested for stealing automobiles.”

Fredric Wertham, a noted psychiatrist and author of Seduction of the Innocent (1954), testified as an expert witness on the effects of comic books.  He insisted that comic-book advertisements promoted unhealthy products, including rifles, knives, daggers and even whips.  He argued that comics perpetuate racial stereotypes; heroes were nearly always white, while the villains were often portrayed as ethnic minorities whether foreign born, Orientals, Italian or of dark-skinned races.  And he claimed, “all comic books have a very bad effect on teaching the youngest children the proper reading technique, to learn to read from left to right.”

Wertham concluded his testimony with these memorable lines: “Well, I hate to say that, Senator, but I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry. They get the children much younger. They teach them race hatred at the age of 4 before they can read.”

After a lunch break, Gains took the witness stand.  He was alone among comic book publishersto voluntarily appear before the committee.  A WW-II veteran, he took the proverbial bull by the horn and challenged the committee’s underlying premise. “I was the first publisher in these United States to publish horror comics.  I am responsible, I started them,” he proclaimed.

Gains then directly challenged Wertham.  “It would be just as difficult to explain the harmless thrill of a horror story to a Dr. Wertham as it would be to explain the sublimity of love to a frigid old maid.”  Going further, he insisted, “Pleasure is what we sell, entertainment, reading enjoyment.   Entertaining reading has never harmed anyone.” He invoked Judge John M. Woolsey’s 1934 decision, U.S. v. One Book Entitled Ulysses by James Joyce, lifting the ban on the legendary novel to legitimize horror as a form of free speech.

Following his opening remarks, committee members took up the battle with Gaines over horror comics.  Kefauver challenged Gains:

Kefauver:  Here is your May issue. This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding a woman’s head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that’s in good taste?

Gaines:   Yes sir, I do – for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding her head a little higher so that blood could be seen dripping from it and moving the body a little further over so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.

Kefauver: You’ve got blood coming out of her mouth.

Gaines:  A little.

The afternoon’s sessions ended with brief appearances three creative industry representatives.

“I’ll tell you the truth,” Gaines later admitted I was so nervous when I was up there that I barely knew what I was doing,”. “First of all, I’d been up all night writing my introductory speech, which I wrote with Lyle Stuart [EC’s business manager].”  He had been up every night during the preceding week, dropping Dexedrine tablets and drinking coffee nonstop to keep going.  “And when I got into the Senate Subcommittee hearings my Dexedrine wore off,” he lamented.  “A wet sponge, that’s how I felt.  And I didn’t know what I was doing.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there.”  The committee faced him like a “prosecuting attorney” and he felt shamed, guilty.  “… It was rough answering all these questions.  Everybody looking at you like you’re a freak and a criminal and so on and so forth.”

It its final report, Kefauver’s subcommittee warned: “This country cannot afford the calculated risk involved in feeding its children, through comic books, a concentrated diet of crime, horror and violence …. Rather, the aim should be to eliminate all materials that potentially exert detrimental effects. To achieve this end, it will require continuing vigilance on the part of parents, publishers and citizens’ groups.”


During the postwar period, comic books were subject to repeated waves of censorship campaigns, including comic-book burnings.  During the period of 1947 to ’49, more than one hundred cities across the country, big and small, passed laws or ordinances to ban the display or sale of comic books. These campaigns took place in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles; in Baltimore, Cleveland, Hartford, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New Orleans and Sacramento as well as Ann Arbor (MI), Coral Gables (FL), Falls Church (VA), Hillsdale (MI), Mt. Prospect (IL) and Nashua (NH).

The anti-comics climate heated up in ’54 and ’55 with more than a dozen states either considering or enacting legislature to regulate or suppress comic books.  Among those states were California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

The most contentious efforts to censor comics took place in New York State because a good number of the publishers operated out of Gotham.  In 1948, the U.S.Supreme Court, in Winters vs. New York, struck down as unconstitutional a state law prohibiting the publication and/or distribution of material “principally made up of criminal news, police reports, or accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures, or stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust or crime.” However, in ’49,NYS assemblyman James Fitzpatrick organized the Joint LegislativeCommittee to Study the Publication of Comics to fashion legislature to circumvent the Court’s ruling.  In ‘54, the state legislators passed a number of bills to restrict comic books, but Governor Thomas Dewey vetoed them on constitutional grounds.  However, in ’55, the new governor, Averill Harriman, approved what was dubbed the “Fitzpatrick Act” restricting comics.

Ray Bradbury published his sci-fi classic, Fahrenheit 451, in 1953.  The title signifies the temperature at which book-paper burns.  It’s a dystopian novel about postmodern “firemen” who censor threatening texts by burning them and the small, isolated communities of people committed to keeping the written word — as a memorized, spoken text — alive.  Bradbury wrote his classic tale against a background of book burnings taking place in communities around the country.

In 1945, students of Saints Peter and Paul School, in Wisconsin Rapids, WI, participated in a school-sponsored comic-book collection drive and then burned the comics.  Other book burnings took place in West Virginia, Illinois and New York.  In Cape Girardeau, MO, the Girl Scouts led the charge.  They collected comics and brought them to St. Mary’s, a local Catholic high school, where students held a mock trial as to whether comics were “leading young people astray and building up false conceptions in the minds of youth.” The student jury found the comics guilt and the students burned them.

MAD was radical not in an ideological or conventional leftist sense, but subversive in that nothing was above critical exposure and mockery.  It mocked Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Superman and even Sen. McCarthy.  In a 1954 piece entitled, “What’s My Shine!,” it linked the popular game show, “What’s My Line,” to the Army-McCarthy hearings, punning one of McCarthy’s closest aides, David Schine.  For some, MAD was more radical than contemporary “progressive” publications like DissentCommentaryPartisan Review and The New Leader.

One can well image Bill Gaines roaring in his grave, gleeful over how he ultimately got his sweet revenge.  The moralists who so persecuted him, most notably Kefauver and Wertham, have long been relegated to the dustbin of history.  And the comic business that he spent more than three-decades of nurturing – soon to pass into the magazine graveyard – is today a multi-billion-dollar, international industry.

This Is Heaven!: A Journey to the Pearly Gates with Chuck Mertz

Note: This is merely a humble recount of a vision and it in no way reflects the *real actions of Chuck Mertz, Jesus Christ or anyone else.

Note: This is a translation of a dream-like state and therefore cannot be fully understood within the constraints of narrative and the naturally alienating medium of reconstruction of experiences through words that cannot fully capture the original feeling. Alas, we are left with only memories, shades of what could have been for another person, in another time. Brother Mertz brings us closest to the radical imagination necessary for empathy. Empathy, or even better democracy, leads to an explosion of new states of mind that enriches the remarkable human mind which is perpetually bound by capital and survival, which both frightens away imagination and leaves no energy or utility for it. A free market relies on competition and fear for creation and therefore can only create more intricate modes of destruction and imprisonment. Rather, Brother Chuck, teach us your ways of looking deep into the soul of another and finding that at least for a moment, one can exit the constraints of the ego, and become radically different, not only in the liberal sense of distance—which is categorical but in the biotic sense that finds the lion lies with the lamb not out of kindness—but rather out of mercy. Find whatever truth in these words from Brother Chuck, and leave the rest.

I passed through what felt like a million tight doors made of gelatin to reach a land that was pure, good and above all, honest. Waiting on the other side, and this really was the other side, was a man who I thought I recognized immediately as radio man Chuck Mertz. Chuck had an uncommon glow surrounding him. In fairness, it may be a feature of the man you just miss on the radio, but upon further examination, I had to conclude that there was something different about this man. Something divine, that is.

Chuck looked like a cross between the same three pictures of Chuck online and the millions of pictures of Jesus Christ. Needless to say, the Chuck was clear, the Jesus, murky. Chuck wore a tattered sweatshirt and was accompanied by a floating microphone. He wore sandals, although seeing there were only pictures of Chuck from the chest up on *Google, much of in between was missing.

Chuck and I found ourselves facing each other in a capacious field. The silence wasn’t deafening, it was absolute. The background sounds and smells so common to our ungodly earth were taken out and I felt no bothers at all. The scene begged for addition, seeing subtraction was impossible. It remained unlikely that I would be the one to bring anything more, fearing to upset the balance that could only be described as seraphic.

I didn’t feel it was right to speak in the presence of such unworldly power so I stayed silent for what seemed like days. It was hard to tell because the sun never set here. Alarmingly I wasn’t thirsty or hungry either. I was never tired, but that may have been because I was dreaming. I never had to use the restroom. Nor did I need to wear anything to protect me from the sun, which was full and radiant.

Chuck seemed at peace with this scenario. I knew he was a chill guy but his calmness now made me restless, or it should have. Could Chuck really stand this long without distressing about late-stage capitalism? This was where I felt the need to assert myself. I took a deep breath and cried out, with a crack in my voice: “Where am I?”

Chuck spoke back with a pace that was as graceful as the finest dancer and it seemed like his words could neither tip the balance one way or the other.

“My brother” he began, and I felt perturbed by this use of direct language, “why does it matter?” I began to think, and having not come up with a reason, for I was perfectly content, said nothing. This time, Chuck did not let the quiet linger and he continued:

“You are in heaven. I know no other word to describe this place. Although even that word does not do it justice.”

“So, I am dead?” I wasn’t ready for his answer, because I hoped I was.

“As you would understand it, yes. Are you uncomfortable?”

I didn’t know what to make of this question. I was perfectly comfortable, in the comforting sense of the word. Why would I care though, about comfort having just found out I was dead? Upon contemplation the question had some wisdom precisely because the comfort was so pristine I truly did not care that I was dead, and I had no desire to be alive again.

“I am comfortable. In fact, I have no desires of any kind.”

“That is because they are all fulfilled. You must be wondering where everyone else is, yes? What the rest of heaven is like? It’s not just me in a field.”

I was wondering that, now that he brought it up. I hadn’t thought of it before. I was overwhelmed by contentment. This alarmed me, but why should it? Sensing me, Chuck went on.

“We can go to see them. Now, or whenever you want.” Before I saw them, I needed a question answered that I had always had about heaven, and it kept, even as all other questions had deserted me in the face of a state that defied improvement.

“Is heaven different for every person?”

“Everything is different, for everyone.” This was true, and my mind rested. Chuck went on, answering my question after his point was proven.

“Heaven is not a place, exactly. You shouldn’t worry. Never worry.” This helped me even less in answering the question, and only helped me in forgetting it.

“Come, my brother” and I followed Chuck. As we began to move my mind became preoccupied with earthly questions. How did everyone in heaven have time to meet with Chuck, if there were billions of people who needed him? How was it possible that everyone had their desires fulfilled when on earth there was always conflict between what each of us wanted? I thought the first question could be answered, and the second question wouldn’t be. So I asked about Chuck’s schedule and he said:

“I am having office hours at Cary’s Lounge. You’re welcome to join, my brother.” Giving up on any answers, I let my mind evaporate into a stupor that was both pleasant and hallow. We came to a single window, that stood on its own, at about the perfect place for breaking it.

“You want to break the window, yes?” Chuck asked. I did. And a rock formed in my hand. I threw the rock and the window shattered. To my amazement, there was not a mess on the ground. I was, as Chuck had taught me, suspicious, but he urged me on:

“Don’t worry. Please, come.” And so I came through the window and we were met by a familiar face. The great Ralph Nader! Ralph looked well, although he was hard to read.

“Mr. Nader here is our driver. He is taking us to heaven.” So we got in the car and it was the smoothest ride imaginable. The car didn’t have seatbelts, and I was almost sure we didn’t need them. Still, I had to wonder what Mr. Nader, who is the reason we have seatbelts in cars now, thought about that.

Chuck told me that this was merely a tour. I could live here soon, but only if I wanted to. I couldn’t imagine not wanting to. I was so stupefied by the entire situation that I didn’t ask what he meant. Chuck told me that we would be passing by all my fulfilled desires. All I needed to do was tell Mr. Nader what they were and he would drive by where they were currently being fulfilled.

So we passed by everything I thought I needed. Lavish homes, beautiful women, pressed clothes and no labor to speak of. Money, I thought to myself, need not spin its evil web here, and money was gone. Children who looked up to me as a hero. A muscular body. A bountiful feast. Even magic powers. Captive friends. Land to protect and cultivate. Creepy paintings. Fast cars. A camera on the savages for entertainment. And, almost as an afterthought, no homeless people (too messy).

On that thought, the car dragged to a halt.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. I was angry. I had forgot about Ralph.

“My brother” Chuck said, “we have reached what Marx called a contradiction. It is here where Ralph stops the car because he does not know which way to go.”

“What do you mean, Chuck?”

“For example, say that you wished that your heaven had no Chuck Mertz.”

“I would never wish that!” I tried to defend myself at what felt like an attack.

“No, I must say this position of Jesus is a rather new one for me. I think your love for me is pure.”

“Pure! Yes, it is all pure!”

“Yes, but you see purity is where we find our contradiction. “

“Go on!” I urged Chuck, for he was pausing again. Seeing the relationship to time was detached, I couldn’t say how long he paused for. Weeks, months, years.

“If you really wanted me to go on, I would already be going on. This is heaven. You make all of the rules. You are only having me pause because you do not want to hear the rest, or are not ready to.”

“Does that mean I am also making up everything you say, Brother Chuck?”

“Remember the Albus Dumbledore quote: “Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

“So am I merely constructing a recreation of my generation’s Bible? With myself cast as the protagonist?”

“At least this one has a happy ending” Chuck said with a glitter in his bluest eye.

I must have been ready for my original question, as the answer flowed from Chuck’s inner depths, without a prompting.

“Remember back to when you learned about Santa Claus. The first question the child asks is: how does Santa make it to every house? From a young age we are aware of the material limitations of the world. It is at that age that we are more aware than ever of these constraints. At that age, a cookie on top of the countertop is out of reach. Even if we were a baby that was 100 feet tall with arms the size of tree trunks this cookie would be out of reach. It is not the physical and mental restrictions that limit the child, but the place the child is given in society. The child is aware that there are rules because she is always breaking them. Once we gain power in the world this changes. Once we trade in the natural inclinations of our soul and opt instead for society’s acceptance, approval, reward, and most importantly mercy, it is only then that we begin to forget how materially restricted our world is for both the underprivileged and rebellious. As a child we know that Santa could not come to every house in one night because we know that the world has its ecological and physical limits, as we run up against them everyday. It is only when we become old enough to conquer the world that we begin to forget the process of our own fragile and vain existence.”

We were interrupted by the snores of Brother Ralph from the front seat. I began to laugh, but Chuck scolded me.

“You must have thought it was funny to have a man of such importance fall asleep during my speech. A cheap and ageist joke.”

Stunned at this shift in tone from the comic Chuck, I was let off the hook when he continued:

“Although you did want to be scolded for it. Good for you.” Was this heaven after all? I was being complemented for seeking punishment, but it was only years later that I discovered that Chuck was joking here, and may have been joking the whole time, for all I know.

“We’ll keep Ralph snoring. You see the Santa Claus paradox?”

“Yes, I do. Santa Claus cannot exist because it would be materially impossible for him to reach every house.”

“We are living in a world that believes that it can and should fill every material gap. This is a world that stops at nothing to achieve its most ludicrous desires. Even when these desires are fulfilled there remains a longing and we come across a class of elites that will never be satisfied. Every corner of the earth must be drilled and extracted from, every person worked to the bone, for every last drop of fantastical valor. And yet, we judge the poor the most harshly. I am a man of judgment, my brother. Make no mistake.”

“How does Santa then exist in the modern world?”

“He very well may come true, in his own way. Not just through bums hired in malls to play him. Could we not imagine that the world needs a certain fantasy so much that we would be willing to sacrifice all our loved ones and liberties to achieve it? And most horrifying, we wouldn’t even notice what we have lost, except in passing, as just another thought on the bullet train of overstimulation on the road to alienation from the fundamental human condition.”

“Brother Chuck, wasn’t it you who just said that if it happens inside your head, then it must be real?”

“Let me answer that. There is truth that no experience, by any person, in any time, is any more real than another. Each of us is truly as valuable and beautiful as the next. Each of us belongs to the same kingdom of God and each of us at our base have the same soul and essence. So in that sense, the scare about the loss of religion is quite overblown. I would argue that religion never existed as the pure truth we think of. In all its forms it has always been a way to explain the human condition when used sincerely. In this way we could say there has never been a time when we have been closer to God than we are now. This is because we are discovering ourselves in ways that are not bound by historical institutions that attempt, but always fail, to explain God. This is what we remember. If all things earthly are imperfect, then all attempts to find the true religion have failed. The only blasphemy that one can have is to pretend to have found the answer and call your sister lost just because her path is different than yours.”

“But Brother Chuck, weren’t you just saying we have been in a state of moral decay?”

“What we have is the actualization of conquest over the earth in its most severe form to date. And our conquest over each other within the human race is at a notable, although certainly not singular high in many respects, such as wealth inequality. So in that sense, we are destroying ourselves willfully, although not completely knowingly because there remains the distance between the different segments of God’s soul. These different segments occupy different bodies, or even different groups of bodies, but we all are all one. In that sense, I do find the modern subject, so entranced by their own ascetic to be one that is not immoral per se, but simply unknowingly self-destructive precisely because the self is miscalculated within a body that will never reach perfection and a mind that will never find resolve. It is in this way that the singular unit of God’s world must become chaotic as its innards compete for God’s reward of salvation. Which is silly, really. We are all God, we are all saved. The only risk of falling from God’s grace is to become something you are not, for we are all God until we destroy ourselves.”

“What does any of this have to do with heaven?”

“Brother, I am coming. Heaven is much the same way. We have our own desires but they have material limits. To live in heaven, where all one’s desires are achieved, is possible. Anything is possible. However it comes within a context of other actors within the world. The most painful thing for anyone to hear is that their own desires may stomp on someone else’s. This is why we find that heaven remains a mathematical impossibility, although there will always be someone who tries. It is through this process that God wields his justice—and it is only here where he has no mercy. On the poor man, God has mercy. He brings him truth, or at least death. The rich man is abandoned by God—left to live within his own misery and regret.”

“It is worse than that, Chuck. It is anguish. I am living in this heaven, where I have all I want. And yet all I feel is desperation. I want to hurl myself off a bridge and never look back.”

“How would that help you? You are already dead.”

“It will be like this, forever, then?”

“Forever and always. Your only job now is to make sense of it. Your only job is to enjoy it as much as possible.”

“Why? Why can’t it change?”

“Because this is what you want. You asked for all of this, and now you have it. You know that the world slaves for your benefit, you know that the world burns for your energy, and you know that in every crying child, you see yourself. You are yourself. You cannot escape that part of you is crying. Yet to know truly how this child is, you would have to become her. You would have to know that you, like the child, suffers, toils and is never rewarded for it. You would have to know the world has no fair rules and that the sole merit in this life is finding yourself in all its unexpected places. You will never find yourself here. You will never escape your box of glory and excess because you can’t.”

“I want to see. I want to see how this is made. How this world runs and who it runs on.”

“And then what will you do? You will never be happy and the whole world will always be sad.”

“Chuck! Stop this Chuck! Stop it now! I am dying inside. Never has there been a pain this great. Never known to man.”

“I think you should ask your slaves about that.” Chuck knew that would get me but it also made me feel better. Finally an acknowledgement of the real.

“The left leg cannot walk forward the same time as the right leg. We are one body but we are not the same. We are of one spirit but we can never know exactly what the rest of the body is thinking.”

“What is it thinking?”

“The same as you. How can I end this?”

“Why did I choose this? Why couldn’t I have saved them? Wouldn’t we all feel better?”

“Perhaps. And yet you question me now. How can you doubt fate? This is exactly who you are meant to be. You want to help these people? Stop looking back. You left them here. You left them here to die. And you chose to do that. Maybe you felt scared. Maybe you just had the wrong instincts. But look at you now. Look at you learning, growing, thinking.”

“You haven’t told me how I can help them.”

“Become the world again. Return to it and soon this instinct of helping yourself will spread.”

“It is kindness, that you seek, Brother Chuck?”

“Kindness dies in darkness. What I am looking for is wisdom. Wisdom to know that there has never been a happy man who acts against himself. If you know this. If you trust this. Then when the time comes, you will do what you must, and you will feel better.”

“It won’t get better, will it?”

“No. They will suffer. You can’t save them. But it is here where I say you save yourself. You are no good to this heaven a dead man. You may not be worth it. But none of us are. All of us are nothing in God’s kingdom. All you can do is become something.”

“What can I become in a world like this? All the people, enslaved in my name. All the earth, owned in my name. I am all of it already.”

“Are you? Or do you just own it? Let it go. Let it grow. What was once your purity is now your power. Today you let that go. Let the world flourish and you will find to your comfort that it is just as capable of neglect as you are. It remains just as afraid. Just as alone. Life is all a misunderstanding. We all want to do something. We all want to be adjusted. We all want what is right. But none of it makes sense. There are so many contradictions that you will never be satisfied. Therefore you must do what you must.”

“How is this heaven? Why am I such a coward? And why did you put me here? Do you want to punish me?”

“Yes, of course I do. Look what you did to my people. You are being punished. What is a greater curse than perfection? Therefore I suggest you be just a little grateful for your regret and your despair about the conditions you have created. It is the one ounce of humanity I have left for you. If not for this, what would you feel? What would you remember?”

“Will I ever be happy, Chuck? Will I ever recover?”

“Unlikely. How would I know? If this remains your question, you have a long way to go.”

Chevron’s Oil Spill Endangers Kern County


A massive oil spill even bigger than the Plains All American Pipeline disaster off Refugio Beach in Santa Barbara County in 2015 has occurred in Kern County, as first reported by Ted Goldberg at KQED. The latest disaster has spilled more than 798,000 gallons of combined oil and wastewater into the surrounding area over the past couple of months.

The spill occurred about 3.5 miles from the town of McKittrick and about 6 miles from the nearest farm. The incident is about 35 miles west of Bakersfield, the historic center of California’s oil industry for over 100 years and also the heart of Southern San Joaquin Valley agribusiness operations, including those owned by Linda and Stewart Resnick, the owners of the Wonderful Company.

Chevron first reported the spill to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services on June 12. It took place in the Cymric Oil Field, where Chevron uses steam injection, an extreme oil-extraction technique.

The report said the “release is due to unknown causes and the material seeped from the ground into an intermittent unnamed dry streambed, no waterways were impacted, the release is stopped, the material is naturally contained in a canyon, there is no impact to wildlife, a contractor will handle cleanup with Chevron oversight once Chevrondetermines the cause of the seep.”

The agency responsible for regulating the fossil fuel industry in California, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), “adopted weaker restrictions on the practice earlier this year, making these operations even more dangerous,” according to a statement from the Last Chance Coalition.

On last Friday, Jason Marshall, the acting oil and gas supervisor at DOGGR, ordered Chevron to immediately “take all measures” to the stop the flow and “prevent any new surface expressions” near the oil well site.

This latest disaster takes place in a state where Big Oil and Big Gas have captured the regulators from top to bottom. The oil industry is the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the trade association for the oil industry in California and other Western states, is the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying organization.

Representatives of groups in the Last Chance Coalition responded to the latest oil industry disaster in California with their perspectives on the oil spill.

“This toxic spill proves that the stakes are too high to trust DOGGR and other regulatory agencies to protect communities,” said Juan Flores, a Kern County community organizer with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. “The fact that these regulators consistently put industry interests over health and safety is unacceptable. Enforcement of existing regulations and enactment of basic protections like health and safety zones are long overdue.”

In 2018 at the request of Chevron and other oil companies, state regulators under the helm of Governor Jerry Brown and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Donald Trump approved an exemption that removed protections from an aquifer in the Cymric Oil Field, according to the coalition.

“Those agencies assured the public that allowing injection would not endanger nearby groundwater because the fluids would not migrate. This spill brings into question the assumptions behind that decision,” the coalition said.

Linda Hutchins-Knowles, California Senior Organizer for Mothers Out Front, said, “We have lost all faith in the ability of DOGGR to do its job of protecting Californians, and we call on the Governor to completely reform this corporate-captured agency. Regulators should not be allowed to own stock in the very industry they’re supposed to regulate. As California faces serious water scarcity, we need increased protections for our aquifers, not weakened rules.”

“Because much of California’s remaining oil is heavy or otherwise hard to access, extreme-extraction techniques like steam injection and fracking are increasingly widespread. These practices are incredibly carbon-intensive — making California’s oil even more climate-damaging — and pose a serious contamination risk to nearby air and water sources,” the coalition stated.

News of spill follows firing of DOGGR head for doubling fracking permits

The news of the spill came just hours after Governor Newsom’s office fired DOGGR head Ken Harris for doubling the fracking permits issued during his time as governor — without his knowledge, according to Newsom – and reports of conflicts of interest among senior officials, as documented in my reporting on a groundbreaking report by Consumer Watchdog and the Fractracker Alliance.

From January 1 to June 3 of 2018, the State’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) approved 2,365 new oil and gas well permits and 191 fracking permits, according to Department of Conservation data analyzed by Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Alliance.

The data shows that this year regulators have increased the number of permits granted for drilling new wells by 35.3%, well reworks by 28.3%, and fracking by 103.2%, as compared to the permitting rate during the final year of the Brown administration in 2018.

Even more alarming, of the 2,365 well permits issued, 1064 or 45% of them benefitted oil companies invested in by DOGGR officials, the groups reported.

The news of the spill also came just as Governor Gavin Newsom appointed a former Exxon/Mobil and Northrup Grumman employee to the South Coast Air Quality Management Board.

Despite the enormous threat to human health, water and the environment, California — constantly portrayed as the nation’s “green leader” by state officials and media — continues to be one of the nation’s top oil-producing states and its crude oil is among the dirtiest.

The Last Chance Alliance, including over 500 public-interest groups, is calling on Governor Gavin Newsom “to stop permitting for fossil fuel projects and commit to a just transition plan to phase out the state’s existing fossil fuel extraction, starting with wells within 2,500 feet of homes and schools.”

“Doubling down on new drilling is incompatible with climate leadership, and for the first time we’re seeing a California governor recognize and begin to act on this reality,” opined Kelly Trout, a senior research analyst at Oil Change International. “Acknowledging the need to ‘transition away from oil and gas extraction’ is huge because it resets expectations. State agencies should be focused on how to rapidly and justly wind down oil and gas extraction, not on easing the way for Chevron and other polluters to drill us further towards disaster.”

“Clean air, fresh water, and safe housing are fundamental human rights, which are under constant threat from the unrelenting climate crisis and reckless fossil fuel extraction,” said Matt Nelson, Executive Director, “Families across California deserve to live in safe communities, free from climate devastation, harmful fossil fuel companies, and corrupt government agencies. We deserve a state government that is not afraid to protect our climate and all the people. Holding DOGGR accountable is a step on a path toward the California leadership we want and need.”

“We’re incredibly grateful to the governor for taking this information seriously and acting quickly. However, in its current structure, DOGGR has never demonstrated an ability to put public health and safety first and it needs greater reform than just a new leader,” said Gladys Limon, executive director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “Californians also need immediate action to remediate the harms that have been caused in communities across the state, starting with the implementation of a 2,500 ft. health and safety buffer.”

DOGGR calls spill a ‘surface expression’ of oil and water

The Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) responded to the big oil spill in a statement, saying it “continues to address a large oil release known as a ‘surface expression’ of oil and water in a dry streambed in the Cymric oil field located in Kern County.”

“This kind of discharge can occur when steam injected under pressure to produce oil breaks through natural geologic barriers to the surface. The seepage began on May 10 and ceased that same day,” the agency wrote.

“It was reported to DOGGR, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, and the Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response. The flow reactivated a second time on June 8, flowing intermittently for five days. On June 23, the seep started again. Numerous steps were taken to stop the discharge and it was eventually contained. In all, the releases totaled approximately 19,000 barrels (798,000 gallons) of a mixture of about one-third oil and two-thirds water,” according to a DOGGR statement.

The flow of oil and water has ceased, confirmed on July 12 by DOGGR officials. DOGGR field engineers are conducting regulator site inspections and remain on call in the nearby area.

“The seepages were contained by an earthen dam,” the agency continued. “A combination of shutting in nearby injection wells and activating idled production wells to ease pressure on the formation appeared to help stem the flow. Chevron deployed loud air cannons to keep wildlife away.”

“Vacuum trucks are removing the pooled oil and water. Preparation to remove contaminated soil from the site is underway. A licensed civil engineer will be surveying the site to determine when it will be safe to bring in the crews and equipment necessary to do the job,” DOGGR stated.

DOGGR also reported that “there are no reported injuries or threats to drinking water or to waters of current or future beneficial use at this time.”

Annie Leonard, Executive Director at Greenpeace USA, said the Chevron spill “clearly shows that California needs stronger climate leadership from the Governor. Yet, instead of steering the state in the right direction, Governor Newsom has approved oil and gas permits at double the rate as Governor Brown before him.”

“Oil and gas infrastructure will never be free from spills and leaks—or from spewing climate pollution. We face a growing public health crisis and climate emergency stoked by rampant oil and gas development. It’s time for a reckoning. Governor Newsom, it’s time to stop the expansion of fossil fuels in California,” concluded Leonard.

Background: Big Oil regulatory capture from top to bottom

In spite of California’s “green” image, Big Oil and other corporate interests have captured California regulators from top to bottom. The oil and gas lobby is the most powerful corporate lobby in California — and the Western States Petroleum Association is the single most powerful lobbying organization.

From 2001 to 2017 Chevron and AERA contributed $129 million of the $170 million spent by oil and gas interests to fund California political campaigns.

The Western States Petroleum Association, the oil and gas trade association of which Chevron and Aera are members, was the top-spending lobbyist in Sacramento in 5 of the last 7 election cycles. WSPA has spent a total $83,107,421 lobbying since 2005. Chevron spent $44,876,606 in that period, while Aera spent $5,627,258.56.

The latest conflicts of interest by eight DOGGR officials revealed by Consumer Watchdog are only the latest in series of conflicts of interests held by state regulatory officials. In one of the biggest conflicts of interest of the past 20 years, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Catherine Reheis-Boyd, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create faux “marine protected areas” in Southern California. Her organization was promoting the expansion of offshore fracking and drilling at the same time that she led the effort to create “marine protected areas” in the same region from 2009 to 2012.

It is no surprise that these faux “marine protected areas” fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil and gas drilling, pollution, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering. Yet the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV), the Ocean Conservancy and other big “environmental” NGOs claimed that the privately led process that Reheis-Boyd lead was “open, transparent and inclusive,” even though it was anything but.

Reheis-Boyd also served on the task forces to create “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast.

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: (5) working in collaboration with media; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.

Because of this money and the power that Big Oil wields in California, the Jerry Brown administration, in stark contrast with its “green” facade, issued over 21,000 new oil and gas drilling permits in California. That include more than 200 permits for offshore wells in state waters — wells within 3 miles of the California coast.

The latest revelations by Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Alliance show that the Newsom Administration, in spite of the hopes of fishermen, conservationists, environmental justice advocates and Tribal leaders, could be even more committed to serving the interests of oil and gas industry leaders than the Brown administration was.

In addition, the state of California under Brown — and now under Gavin Newson – controls four times as many offshore oil wells in state waters as Trump’s federal government controls in California waters. You can view the map showing the location of wells here.

This money and power also allowed the oil industry to write the cap-and-trade bill, AB 398, that Governor Brown signed in September 2017, as well as to twice defeat a bill to protect a South Coast marine protected area from offshore drilling.

Ironically, the same WSPA president that led the charge to defeat a bill to protect the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve from offshore oil drilling chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create these “marine protected areas” on the South Coast.

In addition, her organization served as the lobbyist for Plains All American, the pipeline responsible for the Refugio Oil Spill and the fouling of the same so-called “marine protected areas” that the “task force” she led helped to create. Over 140,000 gallons of crude spilled in the 2015 Plains All American Pipeline oil spill at Refugio State Beach in 2015.

These apparent conflict of interests should have been front page stories, but the reporters and editors in the mainstream and most alternative media outlets were apparently afraid to cover the deeper stories behind the sanitized narratives about the Refugio Oil Spill and the defeat of the bill to protect the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve.

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A Racist President and Racial Trauma

When an American person of color hears—“go back to where you came from”—those very words epitomize racism. They are white code for “you do not belong here”. And “you are not white” and therefore “you are not us”; and as such, you are not part of this country, the United States, which should be white.

Yet, when the President of the United States remarks with racist rhetoric, more specifically, when President Donald J. Trump uses the bully pulpit through racist tweets—how as a country are we moving toward “making America great again”? And by the way, “make America great again” (MAGA) is racist code for “make America white again” (MAWA), which was reiterated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

This is the era we live in. How is this an example for our children and their future? What America is this? Why is this tolerable today? Why are Republicans mostly silent about the president’s discriminatory comments?

On July 16th, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution, 240-187, censuring the President’s racist tweets and stated it: “…Strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color…”

Remember Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017? On July 15, 2019, a Virginia judge sentenced, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, James Fields, to life plus 419 years for killing Heather Heyer and injuring more than two-dozen others by ramming his car through a crowd in Charlottesville on August 12th, 2017. The night before there was an organized neo-Nazi and white-supremacist rally, where young men carrying torches, held a vigil of hate, and chanted: “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us!” The following day, President Donald J. Trump, declared: “I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee…and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides…”

Excuse me Mr. President, if you are chanting, “Jews will not replace us!’—you are not among the fine people in this country protesting for legitimate issues and for the betterment of humanity. You are shouting racist rants. Also, isn’t it ironic Mr. President that General Robert E. Lee himself never wanted any statues built in his image or to commemorate the Civil War in any way?

Here is what President Donald J. Trump tweeted on Sunday, July 14th: “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly…and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime…These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”

It is remarkable these words come from the President of the United States. Certainly, we have had racist presidents in our history, perhaps, Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, and Richard Nixon, prominently come to mind. Moreover, we have had slave owning presidents, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.

Yet, we live in the 21stcentury, and before Trump, we elected our first African-American president in Barack Obama. Even so, President Donald J. Trump began his presidential bid by declaring Obama was not born in the United States, the so-called, “Birther Movement”. Where are Republicans reproaching this overt racism? What about Republicans such as Senator John McCainin the 2008 Presidential election correcting audience members about whether or nor not then Senator Barack Obama was a U.S. citizen: “…No ma’am, no ma’am, he is a decent family man, who I just happen to have disagreements with…”

Trump’s tweets on Sunday, July 14thwere not just about anyone but directed at four freshman U.S. Congresswomen—all women of color. Additionally, all of them are citizens of the United States. So, Trump’s history of racist rhetoric, first denying U.S. citizenship to former President Barack Obama, is presently extended to four U.S. Congresswomen along the same veins of racist ranting. These targeted U.S. Congresswomen in question are: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Representative Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (D-Minnesota), Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), and Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan). Only Omar was foreign-born in Somalia but she lived most of her life as a refugee in the United States and is a full U.S. citizen.

So, where all of these U.S. Congresswomen come from is the United States of America, not some foreign country. But in the mind of President Trump, their ethnic origins define them, whether these are: African-American, Palestinian-American, Puerto Rican-American, or Somali-American—somehow, they are “not” American because they are “not” white? These women are alleged to come from sh**hole countries, just because they are women of color. When in fact, they all come from the United States. Mr. President your racist ranting and racist tweeting is making the United States a sh**hole country by elevating racism as acceptable discourse. Why should white supremacist and neo-Nazi hateful communications become normalized ways we talk about difference?

The four U.S. Congresswomen held a press conference on July 15th, refuting the president’s racist remarks. These four women directly explained why President Trump’s tweets were and are harmful, not only to them, but for the country as a whole. Then, the House of Representatives led by Nancy Pelosi (D-California), passed a resolution rebuking President Trump.

Let me be clear and go further.

I have been writing about racism for a decade now as a social and cultural anthropologist. I teach students how and why racism is a destructive social construct. And, let me repeat, “racism discourse”, in all of its multiple forms, is very, very damaging, hurtful, and dangerous.

In 2009, I wrote an article, titled: “Mayan Cognition, Memory, and Trauma”, which was partially about the mental health damages caused by memories of racism, specifically against Mayan-American immigrants.

I believe one of the central arguments of that essay is still pertinent today. It is the idea that racism, and memories of racism, have traumatic effects upon an individual over time. In the article, I theorized such memories may be characterized as “synchronic trauma” and “diachronic trauma”. In other words, memories of racism occur at specific times but also may be carried forward over time and maybe constant over time. An individual may remember when someone said, for example, “go back to where you came from” and remember who said it, when they said it, and where they said it. That racist remark may always be remembered throughout an individual’s lifetime.

Likewise, an individual may experience racism as an everyday occurrence. Racism may be part of one’s experience at school, or at work, or during leisure. When individuals are harmed by racism, then racism itself may be part of what is called “structural violence”. This is to say, for example, when racism prevents individuals from getting good jobs, from attending good schools, or from having fair pay—all become structures of violence which are engrained in society. Racism, in this sense, maybe a barrier, and therefore, transforming into those structures of violence for prevention.

Racism is violent in the real sense too because its discourse may be violent in nature. It may threaten real violence. It is also violent through the real actions which supports it systemically, such as the slavery of African-Americans in the South prior to the Civil War, or the lynching of African-Americans during the Jim Crow South, or the genocide of Native Americans, or more recently, the mass shootings at synagogues, or attacks of mosques.

This president is reckless. Regardless, of the political gains he may wish to have for the upcoming presidential elections in 2020 against his rival democratic opponents, his racist rhetoric may have far lasting consequences for the children of this country. It is the normalization of racism and racist discourse which may cause the most harm. I truly worry about my nieces and nephew and what world they may inherit because of such racism as acceptable and customary.

On July 17th, President Trump held another MAGA political rally and incited the attending crowd by falsely declaring Congresswoman Ilhan Omarsupported Al-Quaeda and deceitfully charged her with being an anti-Semite, as the crowd yelled: “Send her back! Send her back!”

As Americans, we should all remember the immortal words of our founders in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

And finally, we need to remember the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Peace: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

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Spying on Julian Assange

History’s scope for the absurd and tragic is infinite. Like Sisyphus engaged in permanent labours pushing a boulder up a slope, the effort of making sense of such scope is likewise, absurdly infinite. To see images of an exhausted and world-weary Julian Assange attempting to dodge the all-eye surveillance operation that he would complain about is to wade in the insensibility of it all. But it could hardly have surprised those who have watched WikiLeaks’ battles with the Security Establishment over the years.

Assange is not merely an exceptional figure but a figure of the exception. Despite being granted asylum status by an Ecuadorean regime that would subsequently change heart with a change of brooms, he was never permitted to exercise all his freedoms associated with such a grant. There was always a sense of contingency and qualification, the impending cul-de-sac in London’s Ecuadorean embassy.

Between December 2017 and March 2018, dozens of meetings between Assange, his legal representatives, and visitors, were recorded in daily confidential reports written by an assigned security team and submitted to David Morales, formerly of special ops of the marine corps of the Spanish Navy. The very idea of legal professional privilege, a fetish in the Anglo-American legal system, was not so much deemed non-existent as ignored altogether.

The security firm tasked with this smeared-in-the-gutter mission was Spanish outfit UC Global SL, whose task became all the more urgent once Ecuador’s Lenín Moreno came to power in May 2017. The mood had changed from the days when Rafael Correa had been accommodating, one at the crest of what was termed the Latin American Pink Tide. Under Moreno, Assange was no longer the wunderkind poking the eye of the US imperium with cheery backing. He had become, instead, a tenant of immense irritation and inconvenience, a threat to the shift in politics taking place in Ecuador. According to El País, “The security employees at the embassy had a daily job to do: to monitor Assange’s every move, record his conversations, and take note of his moods.”

The revelations of the surveillance operation on Assange had had their natural effect on the establishment journalists who continue taking the mother’s milk of conspiracy and intrigue in libelling the publisher. CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Kay Guerrero and Arturo Torres seemed delighted in finding their éminence grise with his fingers in the pie, making the claim, with more than a whiff of patriotic self-importance, how “surveillance reports also describe how Assange turned the embassy into a command centre and orchestrated a series of damaging disclosures that rocked the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States.” Rather than seeing obsessive surveillance in breach of political asylum as a problem, they see the quarry obtained by UC Global in quite a different light. The WikiLeaks publisher had supposedly been outed.

The trio claimed to have obtained documents “exclusive” to CNN (the labours of El País, who did the lion’s share on this, are confined to the periphery) – though they have not been kind enough to share the original content with the curious. Nor do they make much of the private security materials as such, preferring to pick from the disordered larder that is the Mueller Report.

The CNN agenda is, however, clear enough. “The documents build on the possibility, raised by special counsel Robert Mueller in his report on Russian meddling, that couriers brought hacked files to Assange at the embassy.” Suggestions, without the empirical follow-up, are made to beef up the insinuated message. “While the Republican National Convention kicked off in Cleveland, an embassy security guard broke protocol by abandoning his post to receive a package outside the embassy from a man in disguise.” The individual in question “covered his face with a mask and sunglasses and was wearing a backpack, according to surveillance images obtained by CNN.” So planned; so cheeky.

Another line in the same report also serves to highlight the less than remarkable stuff in the pudding. “After the election, the private security company prepared an assessment of Assange’s allegiances. That report, which included open-source information, concluded there was ‘no doubt that there is evidence’ that Assange had ties to Russian intelligence agencies.” Not exactly one to stop the presses.

CNN, in fact, suggests a figure demanding, unaccountable, dangerous and entirely in charge of the situation. It is the psychological profile of a brattish historical agent keen to avoid detection. (Here the journalists are keen to suggest that meeting guests “inside the women’s bathroom” in the Ecuadorean embassy was a shabby enterprise initiated by Assange; the obvious point that he was being subject to surveillance by UC Global’s “feverish, obsessive vigilance”, to use the words of El País, is turned on its head.)

He is reported to have “demanded” a high-speed internet connection. He sought a working phone service, because obviously that would be unreasonable for any grantee of political asylum. He requested regular access to his professional circle and followers. Never has such a confined person been deemed a commander, an orchestrator and master of space. “Though confined to a few rooms inside the embassy, Assange was able to wield enormous authority over his situation.”

The account offered by Txema Guijarro García, a former advisor to Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño and an important figure dealing with the logistics of granting Assange asylum in 2012, is decidedly different. In general, “relations between him and the embassy staff were better than anyone could have expected. The staff had amazing patience and, under difficult conditions, they managed to combine their diplomatic work with the task of caring for our famous guest.”

The language from the CNN report suggests the mechanics of concerted exclusion, laying the framework for an apologia that would justify Assange’s extradition to the United States to face espionage charges rather than practising journalism. It is a salient reminder about the readiness of such outlets to accommodate, rather than buck, the state narrative on publishing national security information.

It is also distinctly out of step with the defences being made in favour of publishing leaked diplomatic cables being expressed in the Tory leadership debate in Britain. While it should be construed with care, the words of Boris Johnson in the aftermath of the publication of British cables authored by the now ex-UK ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, are pertinent. “It cannot conceivably be right that newspapers or any other media organisation publishing such material face prosecution”. Even Johnson can take the pulse of history accurately once in a while.

A Trump Plan to Throw 50,000 Kids Out of Their Schools

In 1968 — just a week after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination — Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, or FHA.

The law secured everyone’s right to housing regardless of race, national origin, disability, familial status, sex, or religion. The FHA protects people from discrimination when they’re renting, getting a mortgage, or seeking housing assistance — including applying for public housing or housing vouchers.

Now the Trump administration is going against that legacy, proposing a regulation that will target immigrant families living in government-subsidized housing.

They want to require every single family member in federally assisted housing to have their immigration status screened by the Department of Homeland Security. If just one resident is undocumented, the new policy will effectively block the entire household from receiving any housing benefits — even for legally documented residents and citizens.

Undocumented people are already ineligible to apply for government benefits. Instead, the rule directly targets “mixed-status” families. In mixed-status families — who all contain members who are legally eligible for public benefits — subsidies are only provided to those eligible members. The family pays the prorated market rent for all non-eligible family members in the household.

So the proposed rule will obliterate affordable housing options for low-income Americans simply for having an immigrant family member who is currently ineligible (which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re undocumented either — immigrants can have legal status and still not be eligible for public assistance programs).

In short, this rule will have an unprecedented discriminatory impact on families from other countries, regardless of their legal status — a clear violation of the FHA’s prohibition of discrimination based on national origin.

It’s yet another attack from this administration again immigrants — and a way to continue its separation of immigrant families. It would force a mother, who might be ineligible for benefits on her own, to face the impossible choice of separating from her child so they could keep their home, or forcing the entire family into homelessness.

The government’s own analysis shows that more than 55,000 children — who are U.S. citizens or otherwise eligible to receive housing benefits — could face eviction under the proposed rule.

“This cruel and needless targeting of struggling immigrant families,” members of the House Financial Services Committee wrote to Secretary Ben Carson, “only contributes to historic patterns of inequality, which ultimately hinder the U.S. housing market and American economy.”

The families impacted the administration’s cruelty will suffer a grave injustice even after doing everything right under U.S. law. They face being ripped apart simply because some of their family members were born somewhere else.

This is a sad reality for many immigrant Americans, and particularly for the Latino community, which appears to be a primary target of the Trump administration. The Trump administration cannot target these communities — there is strength in numbers, and we will not allow them to prevail.

Precinct or Neighborhood? How Barcelona Keeps Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Global Capital

Barcelona’s Montjuïc fairground occupies twenty-seven hectares of municipal land, an area equivalent to twenty-one blocks of the city’s Eixample district. Its centrality is enviable, its installations obsolete, and its use is discussible, to say the least. Is today’s Barcelona using this public land in a way that best fits its needs? There’s plenty of time before December 2025 to talk about this calmly, rigorously, and democratically. This is the expiry date for the extension that former Mayor Xavier Trias granted to Fira de Barcelona, a fortunate tenant that pays a peppercorn rent of just 25 euro cents per year for each of the built-up 140,000 square meters of the precinct. But it doesn’t look as if this debate is going to happen. On February 19, 2019, the present mayor Ada Colau, and Quim Torra, President of the Government of Catalonia, announced the signing of an agreement which, with the slogan “One Fair, Two Fairgrounds”, envisages an investment of 380 million euros for renovating the Montjuïc fairground and extending that of the adjoining municipality of Hospitalet. Given the enormity of this announcement, it is surprising, not to say shocking, that journalists and activists haven’t asked to see the text of the agreement or plans of the “Univers Montjuïc” renovation project, which is to be inaugurated at the centenary celebrations of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. Without any debate being thrown open to the city, the City Hall has simply taken it for granted that this huge closed precinct will remain at the foot of Montjuïc.

The word “precinct”—from medieval Latin precinctum (enclosure or boundary line)—is relevant. Barcelona has kept this space closed for exclusive and excluding uses that are not exactly in tune with the general interest. Although facing such serious threats as air pollution, the climate catastrophe, gentrification, and the disruptions caused by digital corporations, the city is uncritically hosting, in municipal installations, mega-events that will swell the coffers of the motorbike, automobile, real estate, tourist, and mobile phone sectors. A good example of the contradictions involved was the last Mobile World Congress. A few days before the big feminist demonstration on March 8, it was revealed that the Congress was paying hostesses in accordance with their body measurements while, at the same time, right at the peak of what one newspaper called a “perfect storm” of air pollution, it filled the streets with chauffeur-driven cars taking many of the 109,000 participants all around the city. A hundred and nine thousand tourists, in the name of innovation and entrepreneurship, come to Barcelona for four days and the city’s precariat serves them tapas and drinks, makes their beds, and washes their towels. A hundred and nine thousand tourists, all coming by plane, inspired the fairground president Pau Relat to call for extensions to the airport with a fourth runway so that Barcelona can become a “top-ranking” city (whatever that means). Relat doesn’t seem satisfied with the City Hall’s efforts to endow the city with congress infrastructure, even though in 2007, it funded the construction of the city’s second fairground in Hospitalet—of more than 240,000m² and one of the ten biggest in Europe—and, just one year ago, it ceded the Barcelona International Convention Centre (75,000m²) to Fira de Barcelona until 2050.

No one can say, then, that Barcelona lacks infrastructure that can serve as venues for big events. Although some people are still dreaming of organizing new Olympic Games or another World Fair, the fact is that the city has plenty of tourist, real estate, and economic attractions for “competing” on the European scale. What Barcelona does suffer from, by comparison with other European cities, is a deplorable lack of affordable housing. More and more people in this professedly hospitable city are having difficulties paying their rent. All of a sudden, around the time of the recent municipal elections, the various political groups seemed to acknowledge the (already well-known) fact that Barcelona’s public housing stock is ten times less than the European average and started saying that it must be expanded. This has opened up a debate about the lack of available land in a very compact city limited by its geography so, on the one hand, there was a whole array of fanciful proposals like allowing taller buildings in the city, adding attics on roof terraces, and even constructing an artificial island near the coast. On the other hand, they all opined that the housing problem “must have a metropolitan dimension”, the unstated underlying idea being that public housing should be constructed on the city outskirts, leaving the central neighborhoods for the tourist industry and real estate market.

In fact, what metropolitan Barcelona needs to do if it is to be more just and sustainable is to uphold the social and functional mixture of its urban fabrics. Reluctance to accept this idea became evident with two recent clashes. The first was about Via Laietana 10, a huge 18,000 m² building of municipal property where the PSC (social-democrat) party councilor Jaume Collboni wanted to house a center for “digital entrepreneurs”. Local grassroots movements very sensibly opposed the project, arguing that what such highly gentrified neighborhoods like the Gothic Quarter and El Born need are not more metropolitan-scale facilities but the 160 public housing units that the building could accommodate. In the end, the conflict was resolved when the City Hall promised to use the property for housing. The digital entrepreneurs will serve Barcelona better if they go to animate some hyper-passive part of the city. The second, still ongoing conflict is that between the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) and the Raval-Nord Primary Health Care Centre (CAP) over the abandoned Misericòrdia Chapel. The MACBA wants to expand into the chapel while the CAP wants to move there and thus remedy the precarious state of its facilities in the neighborhood. Once again, local movements have argued that the Raval district has too much metropolitan-scale infrastructure and too few local facilities. Any extension to the MACBA would be better for the city if it were located in another less central and less pressured area. This was the choice made by the MoMA in New York when it opened its new center in Queens instead of Manhattan.

Perhaps new economic attractions would benefit peripheral dormitory towns, which only have housing. In the center-city neighborhoods, damaged by gentrification and hyper-activity of the tertiary sector, there is a need for public housing and local facilities to strengthen the neighborhood fabric. Big events shouldn’t be held in the city center. The 1929 Barcelona International Exposition venue was in what were then the outskirts and now the site of the Fira de Montjuïc. It wasn’t held in the site of the 1888 World Fair, which had, by then, been integrated into the city after being turned into what is now the Ciutadella Park. Now that Fira de Barcelona includes the Hospitalet fairground, the Montjuïc precinct should be opened up to the city. It could hold a typical Mediterranean neighborhood the size of Barceloneta. A compact neighborhood of smallish apartment buildings with party walls, squares on a human scale, and transversal corridor streets connecting the surrounding mixed neighborhoods. A neighborhood opening into a linear park, rather than the current densely-trafficked Avinguda Maria Cristina which (on paper) is designated a green zone. A neighborhood of mixed uses, small local businesses, and productive spaces for an economy rooted in the territory and coexisting with the Font Màgica (Magic Fountain) and the National Palace as background heritage. Above all, it should be an affordable neighborhood that can embrace between five and ten thousand public housing units that would help to combat the city’s spreading gentrification. An open, diverse neighborhood and not a uni-functional closed precinct.

Translation by Julie Wark.

Will Any Disgusted Republicans Challenge Trump in the Primaries?

In 1956, then Senator John F. Kennedy authored a best-selling book titled Profiles in Courage, in which he told the stories of Senators in American history who, on principle, bucked the tides of power. Today, some Republican writer or conservative syndicated columnist – George Will or Max Boot – should write a book called Profiles in Cowardliness. It should cover Republican leadership’s near total cowardliness in the face of Donald Trump, whom they despise on many fronts. Many in Republican leadership believe he has hijacked their Grand Old Party (GOP).

Clearly the Republicans – except for Rep. Justin Amash, who recently quit the Party after accusing Trump of impeachable crimes – are intimidated by this foul-mouthed president. Republican politicians are cowed by Trump’s bellicose personal rhetoric. We have seen this cycle repeat itself countless times, with the media boosting their ratings by recklessly repeating Trump’s insults.

Republicans remember what Trump did to Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio during the 2016 Republican primary. They observe how loud-mouthed Donald spews toxic falsehoods at Democrats and gets away with it. Why, Republicans ask themselves, should they take any chances provoking this unstable Twitter Emperor and his ditto-heads on social media whom he deliberately incites? The answer: because patriotism demands action.

Donald Trump acts as if he is above the law – coming off his career as a corporate criminal, he has become a government outlaw. He has always cheated justice. Trump flouts the Constitution, refuses to faithfully execute the laws preventing corporate crimes, and obstructs justice. Just as bad are Trump’s ethical and personal failings; he has brought disgraceful personal behavior, serious daily lies, expensive nepotism, denials of grave realities facing the country, bigotry, violent incitement, and disrepute to the White House. All of these failings are why the Founding Fathers gave impeachment authority to the House of Representatives and the authority of open trial to the Senate.

There are many more indictable and impeachable offenses, but the focus here is on why the entire GOP has completely fallen in line. Only former Republican Governor of Massachusetts William Weld has dared to officially challenge Trump in the upcoming Republican primary. This week, former Republican Congressman and Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford announced he is testing the waters for a run against President Trump, emphasizing Trump’s huge expanding deficits. It is shocking that so few opponents have emerged considering Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and remains more consistently unfavorable in the polls than any president in modern times.

Republicans must think “crooked Donald” is invincible. So why try? Plenty of Republican politicians consider Trump to be a clear and present danger to Party and country. They include Former Senators Flake and Corker; current Senator Mitt Romney; former Governor of Ohio John Kasich; former New Jersey Governor and EPA head, under Reagan, Christine Todd Whitman; and former House Speaker Paul Ryan. All have spoken out about Trump’s dangerous ignorance and loutishness. All believe him to be unqualified and fear his reckless actions. On trade, immigration, climate crisis, and his open admiration of brutal dictators, they find him appalling.

Yet there are few signs of a serious challenge. In the 1990s, John Kasich was the Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. At the time he was critical of the wasteful, unauditable Pentagon budget then (imagine now). Asked about 2020, Kasich told The Washington Post that he’s “never gotten involved in a race that [he] didn’t think [he] could win,” adding, “things are very volatile in this business and you just cannot predict what might change.” Such words hardly signal anything beyond extreme caution.

One would think, these persons and others who could take on Trump (for example, the very popular former Governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean) would want to stand up for traditional Republican principles and positions (think about Senator Robert Taft, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and of course, Abraham Lincoln). In sharp contrast, current Republican leaders almost never criticize Trump publically apart from a mild op-ed (Romney) or the occasional public comments (Whitman).

It gets worse. Apart from William Kristol, Trump’s arch-critic, there doesn’t seem to be any activity among Republican kingmakers to find a challenger or even consider mounting a third party accountability challenge from the political right.

There is someone, were he younger, who would take on Trump. He is former Republican Senator from Connecticut, Lowell Weicker. He was known in the Senate as a ferocious defender of the Constitution and was prominent during the Watergate hearings that exposed Richard Nixon.

Apart from elected officials, what about those cabinet secretaries and White House chief of staff, whom Trump praised to the skies, before he drove them out with a frenzy of ruthless epithets (“dumb as a rock,” etc.)? They know the insides of mad Trump’s White House, which would receive media attention.

At the least, Republicans who challenged Trump in the primaries would put Trump on the defensive and hold him more accountable.

Time is passing on the road to November 2020. There are countless Republicans who deeply believe that Trump is a disgrace to his office and a threat to the Republic, as well as to the future of the Republican Party. Who amongst them will stand up and be counted?

Is their moral courage totally AWOL?

The BS about Medicare-for-All Has to Stop!

It is increasingly clear that the wagons have circled both in the Democratic National Committee and in the news media to shut down any possibility of a national health plan as proposed by Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP)or Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The media for their part, keep touting — almost a year and a half before Election day, and just under a year after next year’s Democratic primary voting and caucusing, that two “centrists” (who should be called the Establishment candidates, both neo-Liberals in the Clinton mold) — Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the “leading candidates” for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Biden is quoted favorably for perpetuating the lie that establishing a new “single-payer” program of government insurance covering everyone would mean “starting from scratch” and taking away everyone’s current employer-funded, or Obamacare subsidized health insurance.

Meanwhile, Harris, who was against Medicare for All before she was for it, and who now talks about “funding” it with taxes on Wall Street, is treated like the voice of reason, when in fact she’s just blowing smoke and confusing the issue deliberately.

So let’s get this straight.  Funding a program of what Bernie Sanders and health care activists call Medicare for All, would cost an estimated $30 trillion over the next 10 years (that last bit about over ten years tends to get left out of articles criticizing the plan), as in this report in the National Review.  But it’s not just right-wing media that obfuscate.  In a CNN interview of Harris, reporter Kyung Lah just says Sen. Sanders says the plan will  “require a middle-class tax cut” to fund.

But Lah doesn’t say, and Harris, who is smart enough to know, but doesn’t want to admit publicly, that the US healthcare system today already costs more than $3 trillion per year and will cost much more than $30 trillion over the next 10 years.

Here’s the real story.  As things stand presently, health care costs in the US account for 18% of total US Gross Domestic Product. That is to say, 18 % of all economic transactions in the US, government and private sector, go for medical care. That’s 18% of $21.1trillion in 1019, or about $3.7 trillion. In constant dollars over the course of the next decade that would be $3.7 trillion.

That figure includes the cost of Medicare for the elderly and disabled — a program that is already funded by taxes paid by individuals and their employers (the federal budget for Medicaid, financed by those taxes, is about $600 billion this year).  Add to that the amount for Medicaid, which provides health benefits for one-in-five Americans unable to obtain private insurance and which is funded by the federal government and the states (also about $600 billion this year), and taxpayers are already funding some $1.2 trillion of the US health care bill through taxation. Then add in the cost of private insurance, paid by both employers and employees, or for those working at stingier employers, or for themselves, through insurance offered under the ironically named Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which is about $2.2 trillion, and the cost of medical care paid out-of-pocket because it’s not covered by increasingly loophole-plagued insurance plans (another $400 billion, and Americans and their employers are already paying a total of $3.6 trillion per year for health care. But this haphazard free-marked/government-funded tacked-together chaos that we call American-style healthcare still leaves  30 million citizens uninsured!

Now note that all of those expenditures — all $3.6 trillion of it — would be eliminated to be replaced by dedicated taxes paid by citizens and private companies to fund a real Canadian-style system of what is being called Medicare for All.   On top of that, there would be no more worrying about paying medical bills, worrying about whether pre-existing conditions would be covered, worrying about losing a house because of medical expenses, or losing benefits if one lost a job, or needed to go out on strike to fight for better pay or working conditions.  Your publicly funded health care would be a right, just like the right of free speech or the right to vote.

So saying, as CNN reporter Lah does so disingenuously, that the Sanders Medicare for All plan will “require a middle-class tax hike” is a grotesque fraud on the public.  Medicare for All, which even a right-wing Koch-Brothers study claimed disparagingly would cost $30 trillion in tax funding over a ten-year period, while true, would actually cost some $6-7 trillion less in constant dollars than the current joke of a “system” we have in the US.

I would point out, for those who don’t know it, that Canada, our neighbor to the north, has had a kind of “Medicare for All” system in place since 1976 — in fact it’s called Medicare.  And that system, which covers the medical care of all Canadians, no exception, and is financed entirely by taxes paid by individuals and businesses,  is so popular that even though Canada and its provinces (which actually administer the system) all have been governed more often by conservatives than liberals or socialists over the intervening years, not one government, even the arch-conservative federal government of Stephen Harper that preceded the current one led by Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, dared to cut it or to try to undo it.  To do so would be to face immediate ouster, so popular is Canada’s Medicare program.

I would add that even in the UK, which has a truly socialist health care system, where much like our huge and, from a point of quality, if not access, excellent Veterans Health Care System, features public hospitals owned by the government and physicians and support staff who are government employees paid salaries, not fees for service, no conservative government has dared to try and undo the system put in place by a Labour government just after the end of World War II nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

Harris deserves to be pummeled in upcoming debates, at her campaign appearances and in the media for her failure to admit that Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would not increase the costs of healthcare by raising taxes, but would reduce those costs by freeing those 160 million Americans who are currently in costly bondage to their employers, depending on them for offering mostly crappy private health insurance coverage that they would lose if they lost those jobs, would end taxes for increasingly privatized Medicare and for hard to get and always threatened Medicaid, and would slash the costs of prescription drugs (now running at close to $500 billion a year).

Meanwhile, while in place of those taxes, and while eliminating private payment and employer payment of insurance premiums, there would surely have to be taxes paid by individuals and businesses to fund a new public insurance system like Medicare for All, Harris and other half-hearted “backers” of the Sanders program — and Sanders himself — should be calling for massive cuts in military spending, now at a record $1.3 trillion per year, with some of the savings going to fund public healthcare. That would be real “national defense”!

I don’t object to Harris’s proposal in her pathetic CNN interview, that taxes be increased on Wall Street and the Financial sector to fund health care,  but that’s small beer compared to the funds available from cutting the US military down to size and ending the current imperial policy of endless wars and of military action instead of diplomacy in foreign affairs.

First though, we need an honest debate about Medicare-for-All — not one that hides the issue behind false warnings about “increased middle-class taxes” to fund it.

Everyone will save money under Medicare-for-All, and we will have a far, far healthier population to show for it.  Even Sanders himself has done a poor job of making this point in his campaigning. Why doesn’t he just say it: Americans will be financially, and medically, better off if they paid a bit more in taxes to obtain full coverage under Medicare for All and eliminated the premiums they and their employer now pay increasingly costly and less adequate private insurance coverage.

The clear advantage of government-provided over privately funded health care is why every other developed nation in the world, and many less-developed ones, has some form of nationally-funded health care system that treats health care as a right, why every one of those countries has spends less total money as both a share of GDP and national budget, and on a per-capita basis than we do in the US, and yet, in all developed country cases and in many less developed countries, also have better health statistics (life expectancy, infant mortality rates, incidence of diabetes and untreated high blood pressure, etc.).

Time for some god-damned honesty about this issue from both our politicians and the media!

Why the Canadian Government is Bullying Venezuela

Since the attempted U.S. coup against Venezuela on January 23, backed by the Lima Group of which the Justin Trudeau government is an active member, Canada’s corporate media have joined in a chorus of hate and disinformation against the Bolivarian Revolution, with the criticism focusing on Nicolás Maduro, the country’s constitutionally elected president.

In response to the nationalization of certain companies by the previous Chávez government, a number of Canadian companies have undertaken legal battles.

At the same time, a debate has arisen among workers, trade unionists, and social and political activists. A few months ago, the Cuban daily Trabajadores reported the response of Canadian affiliates (over 5 million workers speaking through their unions) in support of Venezuela’s right to self-determination and to be free from interference by the United States and the Lima Group in its internal affairs. New actions and statements are still emerging from the grassroots.

Examples include a series of articles that have appeared in the alternative press and on Canadian social networks, especially those representing left-wing and progressive forces; indeed, anyone who opposes foreign interference. These pieces lead us to wonder: what is Canada up to and why?

These authors bravely question the traditional media, which only have space for writers who make sure to use key words like “contested elections” and to call Maduro an “authoritarian” in their pieces. Such phrases afford credibility to the narrative put forward by the United States and the Lima Group to the effect that interference in Venezuela’s affairs is a putative matter of “humanitarian” necessity.

The corporate media suppress any attempt to give a serious answer to the question: why Canada? In this way, despite Canada’s pretense of being a paragon of freedom of expression and the press, the truth is being hidden from the public.


Canadian academic Nino Pagliccia, in a piece recently published, writes:

“The search for gold in the mythical place of El Dorado in Latin America drew armies of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and caused many deaths of indigenous people. The gold remained elusive, but Spain colonized most of the region and exploited other riches until the Latin American independence movements of the 19th century.

But the search for gold never really ended, be it black gold – crude oil – or real gold of which Venezuela has plenty. The United States has publicly declared that is interested in the black gold. In the meantime, Canada has remained more secretive about its aspirations in its ventures in Venezuela. The truth is that Canada has corporate interests in the mining sector, and gold in particular.

We ask, is Venezuela Canada’s modern day El Dorado?”

Canadian political analyst Yves Engler’s recent blog post also deserves to be quoted at length:

“In a bid for a greater share of oil revenue, Venezuela forced private oil companies to become minority partners with the state oil company in 2007. This prompted Calgary-based Petro-Canada to sell its portion of an oil project and Canadian officials to privately complain about feeling ‘burned’ by the Venezuelan government…

A number of Canadian companies clashed with Hugo Chavez’ government over its bid to gain greater control over gold extraction. Crystallex, Vanessa Ventures, Gold Reserve Inc. and Rusoro Mining all had prolonged legal battles with the Venezuelan government. In 2016 Rusoro Mining won a $1 billion claim under the Canada-Venezuela investment treaty. That same year Crystallex was awarded $1.2 billion under the Canada-Venezuela investment treaty. Both companies continue to pursue payments and have pursued [sic] the money from Citgo, the Venezuelan government owned gasoline retailer in the US.

In 2011, the Financial Post reported that ‘years after pushing foreign investment away from his gold mining sector, Venezuelan President Chavez is moving on to the next stage: outright nationalization.’ Highlighting its importance to Canadian capital, the Globe and Mail editorial board criticized the move in a piece titled “Chavez nationalizes all gold mines in Venezuela…

Barrick Gold founder Peter Munk wrote a 2007 letter to the Financial Times headlined ‘Stop Chavez’ Demagoguery Before it is Too Late.’” [Munk wrote] … “aren’t we ignoring the lessons of history and forgetting that the dictators Hitler, Mugabe, Pol Pot and so on became heads of state by a democratic process? … autocratic demagogues in the Chavez mode get away with [it] until their countries become totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia… Let us not give President Chavez a chance to do the same step- by-step transformation of Venezuela…

Canadian mining investment in Latin America has exploded since the 1990s… No Canadian mining firm operated in Peru or Mexico at the start of the 1990s yet by 2010 there were nearly 600 Canadian mining firms in those two countries. Canadian mining companies have tens of billions of dollars invested in the Americas. Any government in the region that reverses the neoliberal reforms that enabled this growth is a threat to Canadian mining profits.”

The banks too, says Engler, have worked to bring about this liberalization:

“A few days after Chavez’s 2013 death the Globe and Mail’s ‘Report on Business’ published a front-page story about Scotiabank’s interests in Venezuela, which were acquired just before his rise to power. It noted: ‘Bank of Nova Scotia [Scotiabank] is often lauded for its bold expansion into Latin America, having completed major acquisitions in Colombia and Peru. But when it comes to Venezuela, the bank has done little for the past 15 years – primarily because the government of President Hugo Chavez has been hostile to large-scale foreign investment.’”

These considerations no doubt explain why the Trudeau government has been involved in Donald Trump’s attempted coups against Venezuela. Canada is also spearheading the economic sanctions imposed on the country, which recent studies have termed genocidal. Indeed, US-Lima Group policy represents a declaration of war, even though there has yet to be any military intervention as such.

Is this the only way Canada can defend the interests of its companies in Venezuela? Surely not. There must be much more “Canadian” approaches that it can draw upon.


Trabajadores (Cuba)


China and the Swine Flu Outbreak


This is anniversary year in China. Thirty years have passed since Tiananmen Square and 70 have gone since the People’s Republic was founded. A century has elapsed since the Treaty of Versailles and the anger that it sparked resulting in the May Fourth protest movement for cleaner government and 125 since the outbreak of a calamitous war with Japan. A sensitive time. But one anniversary looms that will be barely commented on even as its ramifications impact every household. August will mark one year since the outbreak of African swine fever, or swine flu, that has decimated the country’s pig herd.

The pork industry is worth about $128 billion in China and the country’s 375 million pigs make up just under half the planet’s total.

The number of pigs China will fatten to prepare for slaughter and sale this year is predicted to fall by 20 percent, from 2018. This is the worst annual slump since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began counting China’s pigs in the mid-1970s.

China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs disclosed in a report that China had 375 million sows and piglets at the end of March, down from 428 million in December.

The pig virus has not skipped species and doesn’t harm humans, at least not yet, even if they eat tainted pork. The virus for pigs, though  is fatal and spreads easily. No vaccine can prevent infection, or treat it. If a single pig is found to test positive for the virus, the entire herd has to be slaughtered. Farmers usually suffer substantial financial losses in the process.

It can be carried in clothing, infected blood, or fluids from urine, saliva or faeces, and on tires and shoes. There are concerns that Chinese provincial governments are suppressing data and asking pork companies not to report new outbreaks.

It was first detected outside Africa in 1957, in Portugal but never before has it spread so rapidly and damagingly. All of the 33 provinces and regions in China have been affected. Other countries are battling the outbreak. The disease has been found in Mongolia, Cambodia and North Korea.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization believes cases reported by local governments are underestimates. Farmers in China are suspected of selling infected meat rather than report outbreaks due to a lag in often inadequate compensation and being burdened by inspections. Local government officials may also be reluctant to report outbreaks fearing it would reflect badly on them.

This outbreak was first detected in China in August in Liaoning province in the northeast. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs immediately responded with emergency measures.All pigs in a three-kilometer zone around an infected herd had to be killed, according to guidelines more observed in the breach. Roadblocks were meant to be set up and inspection and disinfection stations established within a 10-kilometer buffer zone. Again, not strictly implemented.

Pork is the meat of choice in China and no meal is complete without it. Braised in sauce as Mao Zedong demanded, in dumplings or just planly fried or boiled, pork accounts for nearly three-quarters of Chinese meat consumption.

Pig rearing in China, despite large industrialized farms, remains a predominately a small-scale affair. Pigs also provide cheap garbage disposal services. They are fed left over scraps and provide manure and meat for the farm. Their centrality to life is reflected in the Mandarin character for home which depicts a pig under a roof.The economic impact is being felt. China’s National Bureau of Statistics last week said that  that the Consumer Price Index hit 2.7 percent in May, the highest level in more than a year.

Overall food prices jumped by 7.7 percent last month compared to the same period in 2018.As the party celebrates seven decades in power in October, in banquet halls where pork will be served on tables illuminated by cut-glass chandeliers, their appetite may be diminished by the realization that surging food prices carry the risk of instability.

Highest Anxiety

Thanks for emailing, asking why I’m writing articles less frequently or for inquiring about my health.

I could respond with, “I’m insane.” Or, “I’m losing my sanity.”

Instead, I tell you I reached a point, a tipping. What I haven’t added is that this tipping has tipped even further to full-blown, over-the-edge politician derangement syndrome.

In order to compose a submission to CounterPunch, I need to scrutinize “the news” and read opinions of those I trust. Really, I’d prefer to be an ostrich, burying my senses in the sand, but truth is I’m addicted. Addicted to that which I’d prefer to avoid—”the news.” Like anyone with an addiction who reaches that state of being “tired of waking up sick and tired,” I often vow to escape the trap. Yet back I am within 24 hours, consuming, reading every available detail. You know, he said/she said, Pelosi vs The Squad, Trump vs The Squad. Trump’s tweets, the Biden/Trump push-up challenge, the 24-hour cycle of inanities along with what is authentically devastating—war, war carnage, pesticides detected in mother’s milk and in the urine of infants, the threat of ICE raids and arrests, detained immigrants and caged children, climate catastrophe, the small amount of time we have to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, heatwaves, unprecedented temperatures, thawing permafrost, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, the likelihood of mass migrations, extinctions, omnicide.

This week I was shocked to read that the House of Representatives ordered the Pentagon to investigate the possibility that ticks may have been used as biological weapons. Then I was shocked that I was shocked. Because nothing should shock us about the lengths to which US Empire will go to prey upon not only the Other but on our planet. I don’t just see dead people, I also see weaponized bedbugs, weaponized roaches, weaponized mosquitoes. Anything that can be weaponized will be weaponized. Or has been weaponized. Or will be weaponized.

Onward Christian soldiers.

It’s trite to accuse Trump of yelling fire in a crowded theater but that’s the reality. Appearing at a North Carolina rally, he demonized Ilhan Omar, placing a bullseye on her body. The crowd roared, tearing into his raw-meat incitement with, “Traitor,” “Treason,” “Send her home.” Earlier in the day, he’d said Omar is married to her brother.

I’ve told you I take the pulse by scanning reader comments. Sorry I can’t provide a link to The New York Times piece germinating this one:

…Trump supporters were interviewed about why they support him. One woman said, ‘Because I love the way he hates!’ I’m having a lot of trouble getting past that because I don’t think she is the only Trump voter who feels that way. What is happening to our country?!

“Because I love the way he hates!” This is a Rorschach of Trump supporters’ pathology.

Donald Trump is framing the narrative. With each tweet and speech, he throws lighter fluid on already-smoldering coals. Establishment “news” bigmouths salivate, either to defend or condemn, dropping the previous focus. Jeffrey Epstein who?

Our planet isn’t receiving even palliative care.

Meanwhile, migrant children are dying in US detention centers.

I’m stressed. Anxiety disorder is the most common form of mental illness. If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I’d need to be committed.

Weapons of the Weak

As I navigate life as a queer disabled woman, I frequently think of Yale political scientist James C. Scott’s concept of the “weapons of the weak.”

Scott poses that while we usually think of resistance as overt, organized protests or rebellions, marginalized people often resist in more hidden ways: “foot-dragging, evasion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, and sabotage.”

Americans are plenty used to hearing arguments about identity. But one of the most common coping mechanisms of impacted people is simply to remain silent.

These methods of non-cooperation with the dominant group in society are effective when more obvious and organized forms of fighting back won’t work, particularly when they would be met with violence.

The first time I thought of the weapons of the weak in relation to my own life was about a year ago. I was reading a sociology book to prepare for a major exam for my PhD program.

A man at my table saw the book and decided to chat me up about it. He confessed he never studied sociology, and then proceeded to attempt to teach me something about it, saying something inaccurate and racist about Asians in the process.

I’m not a race scholar, but between me and this guy, I was the expert. I have a bachelor’s in East Asian Studies and I spent a few years teaching sociology courses on race. I tried to push back, gently telling him he was incorrect, without calling him racist.

I tried twice. He doubled down. I could see I wasn’t going to be heard. He kept going on and on, since he thought I clearly needed some instruction on the matter (the technical term for this is “mansplaining”). I thought of James C. Scott, and I put my nose in my book, and I pretended to read until the man ran out of steam.

Since then I’ve used this tactic a few times. I think it’s time to use it again, in another way.

I just met a man who seems nice and well-meaning, but he talks about women and LGBTQ people in a way that makes my skin crawl. He’s not overtly hateful, but he’s far too comfortable making jokes queer women might find unsettling.

I don’t know how to set him straight. Instead, I think when I see him at social gatherings, I’ll politely say hi and then avoid him.

In addition to being queer, disabled, and a woman, I also belong to several dominant groups in America: I am white, middle class, and educated.

I am certain that in my life, at various times, I have made people of color, working class people, and others feel uncomfortable the same way those straight men did to me. I absolutely did not mean to, and yet I can name incidents when I did.

I am sure that, at times, the people I offended felt it was safer and more effective to avoid me than to correct me. Speaking up is risky, since I could have hurt them worse instead of listening.

When you belong to a dominant group, it’s hard to know what a marginalized group is thinking or feeling, or how you can become an effective ally to them. A major roadblock to change is thinking that your experience as a straight, white, middle class, etc. person informs you about the experiences of marginalized peoples. It doesn’t.

Understanding that and opening yourself up to being educated by people with less privilege than you is a first step to change. Even better, instead of waiting for them to educate you, seek out resources to educate yourself as best you can.

Washington vs. The Squad

You’ve heard the cliche: If you’re taking heat from “both sides,” you must be doing something right. It’s dubious advice, but it fits pretty well for “the Squad” — the progressive first-year Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.

Donald Trump recently tweeted that these four women of color “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.” He accused them of “hating America” and urged them to “go back.”

Of course, all four are U.S. citizens, three were born here, and the only immigrant in the group — Omar — has lived here longer than the first lady. And, of course, that’s not the point. Trump “was not making a factual claim,” argues The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer. “He was stating his ideological belief… that only white people can truly be citizens.”

Democrats agreed — all the way up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who rightly called the comments “racist” and “disgusting,” and passed a resolution condemning Trump’s remarks.

Here’s the awkward part: Only days before, Pelosi was waging her own war against the Squad.

When the Squad opposed a Pelosi-backed measure funding Trump’s immigrant internment camps in exchange for paltry concessions, Pelosi ridiculed them as just “four people” living in a “Twitter world” — even though nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose the administration’s border policies.

Earlier, Pelosi had ridiculed the Green New Deal — the most sweeping climate and industrial policy ever proposed, and a key priority for Ocasio-Cortez — as a “green dream or whatever,” and staffed a weak committee to study it with compliant, fossil fuel-funded allies.

Not long after, she led an abortive charge to slander Omar as anti-Semitic for criticizing the Israeli government. (After significant pushback, Pelosi changed her tune.)

“This isn’t about America’s welfare or Omar’s qualifications,” wrote Dina Nayeri, herself a refugee, after Trump’s attack on Omar. Instead, Trump and his allies “see Omar’s potential and are desperate to clip her wings.”

Might the same be said of the Democratic leadership?

Through their passionate advocacy of popular causes, these women have gained massive social media followings — the freshman Ocasio-Cortez has over 2 million more Twitter followers than the veteran legislator Pelosi. They’re running to Pelosi’s left, and making an impact doing it.

Medicare for All, student debt cancellation, tuition-free college, and a Green New Deal — all policies members of the Squad have championed — are enormously popular with the public, though Trump and Pelosi, for different reasons, have resisted them.

The women used Trump’s attack to pivot back to those issues. Don’t “take the bait,” said Pressley. “This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern, and consequence to the American people.”

“We love all people in this country,” said Ocasio-Cortez, explaining their support for universal health care and education. Trump, Omar added by contrast, is “keeping children in cages and having human beings drinking out of toilets.”

They concluded by calling for impeachment — another move both Trump and Pelosi, again for different reasons, have resisted.

“I represent the third-poorest congressional district in this country, one that is made up of working people, who have been targeted by this administration,” said Tlaib, who comes from Detroit. “I urge House leadership… to take action to impeach this lawless president today.”

Pelosi and Trump are, of course, not the same, and Trump’s attack was far more vile. But both appear to feel threatened by the Squad’s progressive, movement-driven politics.

Unlike Trump, Pelosi could still embrace the energy these women have brought to her party. Whatever she does, I’d urge everyone else to turn off the cable news and listen to the Squad themselves. If you don’t like the way business normally gets done in Washington, you might like what you hear.