Counterpunch Articles

Trump’s Own Background Reveals the True Motivation Behind Racist Tweets: Pure White Supremacy

On 14 July, US President Donald Trump sent out a series of menacing tweets directed at the freshman cohort of progressive House Democrats: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilham Omar and Ayanna Pressley. Utilizing his characteristic right-wing bully tactics, he accused them of hating the US and Israel and implored them to “go home,” in spite of the fact that all four of them are US citizens. The tweets have been met with strong backlash in the media and even from erstwhile allies on the international stage including UK prime minister Theresa May. The fact that Trump is a bigot hardly constitutes news, but when shone through the prism of things we already know about him the tweets provide the most decisive proof yet that Trump is at heart a dyed-in-the-wool white supremacist.

Take, for instance, Trump’s own personal background. After all, he can hardly trace his entire lineage back to the landing of the Mayflower. His mother was neither born nor grew up in the States – unlike three of the four progressive congress members he attacked. She immigrated to the US from Scotland as a young adult in the 1930s and gained US citizenship in 1942 – presumably in large part because she married a US citizen, Fred Trump. But Trump’s father hardly could have traced his ancestry back to the Mayflower either. Both of Fred Trump’s parents were immigrants from the Kingdom of Bavaria, which is in modern-day Germany. So, Donald Trump himself is only first-generation US-born on his mother’s side and second-generation on his father’s.

His love life paints a similar picture. His current wife, Melania Knavs, is originally from Slovenia – one of the countries that emerged from the former Yugoslavia. She immigrated to the US in the mid-1990s and became a naturalized US citizen in 2006. Trump’s first wife, Ivana Zelníčková, comes from the Czech Republic and became a naturalized US citizen in 1988. There is a trend emerging here: like Trump’s parents and grandparents, both came to the US from Europe. So, Trump seems to have no problem with immigration – just so long as it is European immigration.

Another interesting contrast is between Trump himself and one of the four progressive congress members he was directing his abuse toward. Unlike the other three, Ayanna Pressley is not of immigrant background but rather African-American. Keeping in mind that the first African slaves were brought to North American shores in 1619 and that the US congress ended the country’s involvement in the slave trade in 1808, it is certain that Pressley’s ancestors were in North America decades if not centuries before Trump’s were. According to a strictly nativist anti-immigration viewpoint, in which people’s right to be somewhere is based on ancestral longevity, she would have more of a right to live in the US than Trump. So clearly, what is important for Trump is not protecting the people who have been here longer, but rather purely skin color. The openly neo-Nazi publisher of The Daily Stormer website, Andrew Anglin, picked up on this fact and commented on it approvingly. “This is not some half-assed anti-immigrant white nationalism. Trump is literally telling American blacks to go back to Africa,” he wrote with glee.

An event that took place in January of this year similarly reveals how Trump subscribes to the view that the US should be for white people and white people only. In a meeting with members of congress, Trump asked why the US should want people to immigrate here from “shithole” countries such as Haiti and those located in Africa. He then asked why more people from countries like Norway don’t immigrant to the US. Here again, he is demonstrating that he is not against immigration in general, but rather against non-white immigration specifically.

Trump’s stance on Latin Americans is also highly revealing. He frequently condemns immigration from Central America such as the migrant caravan – even stating that he can see circumstances in which he would authorize US troops to fire live ammunition at people trying to cross the border. Likewise, he has staunchly opposed immigration from Mexico. In addition to his promise to build a wall along the US’s southern border, he has described Mexicans as “criminals” who “bring drugs and crime” to the US. During his campaign in 2016, he said that a federal judge who was presiding over a case against Trump University could not be impartial because he is “Mexican” – though the judge in question does have Mexican heritage, he was, in fact, born in the US. But both before being elected and since, Trump has courted the Cuban-American exile community in Florida and cozied up to its representatives such as Senator Marco Rubio.

There’s a simple explanation for this seeming contradiction: the Cubans that have come to the US are overwhelmingly of purely European ancestry whereas Central American and Mexican migrants tend to be mixed race. This is due in large part to the fact that in Central America and Mexico there was extensive inter-marriage between European settlers and Mesoamerican indigenous peoples during the colonial period whereas in Cuba the island’s indigenous population was largely wiped out by Columbus and subsequent waves of European conquest (there are many African-descent Cubans, albeit, but they tend to stay put in Cuba). It also has to do with the socio-economic profile of migrants from the respective regions. Because Mexico and most Central American nations have highly unequal capitalist societies, most of the people fleeing are from the poorer social sectors, members of which (like the rest of Latin America) are disproportionately indigenous or mixed race. Cuba, on the other hand, has a more equal socialist society, so the people who leave for the US – and especially those who left decades ago – tend to be from the previously existing bourgeoisie, which (again, like the rest of Latin America) is generally of European ancestry. In short, Cubans are considered white but Central American and Mexicans are not, which explains their hugely divergent treatment by Trump.

But make no mistake, as tempting as it might be to think so, this is not a case of Trump simply being too stupid to see his own inherent hypocrisy. Rather, Trump’s position makes perfect sense in the context of his view of what the US is and ought to be. The country was undoubtedly white supremacist in its foundation and continued to be for well over a century – and arguably even to this very day in some respects. The US constitution originally gave the vote and other civil rights only to white male property owners and considered Native Americans and other non-whites to be subhuman – three-fifths of a person in the case of African slaves. But whereas in a 21st Century context most mainstream politicians – and, indeed, all morally normal people – consider this to have been a bad thing and something that ought to be corrected for, Trump clearly thinks the opposite and instead sees attempts at correction as wrong and worthy of resistance and reversal. There is no better example to illustrate this than Trump’s own statements about US history. In May of last year, he spoke jubilantly about how “our ancestors tamed a continent” and that therefore “we are not going to apologize for America.” This glorying in the European conquest of North America, along with the implicit dismissal of even the slightest suggestion that this process might have contained some element of injustice, is an archetypal white supremacist narrative that stretches back to the nation’s founding. He might as well have said “we white people conquered a continent” and that therefore “we white people are not going to apologize it, even though doing so inherently entailed ethnic-cleansing and enslavement of non-whites on a massive scale.”

In light of this, the term progressive perfectly characterizes what Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar and Pressley stand for. They represent progress toward a better country that moves further away from the white supremacist ideas on which it was founded. Trump, on the other hand, represents regress back to a time when these ideas held greater sway.

From Mad Cow Disease to Agrochemicals: Time to Put Public Need Ahead of Private Greed

The first part of this article documenting the development of BSE in Britain was written by Rosemary Mason and is taken from her new report ‘Why didn’t the UK media report the documentary on Mad Cow Disease?’ It is fully referenced and cites sources and evidence in support of her claims. Additional reporting for the second part of the article was provided by Colin Todhunter.

Mad cow disease is a fatal epidemic neurological syndrome created by the agricultural industry, farmers and food processors.

In 1987, an epidemic of a fatal neurological disease in cows suddenly appeared in Britain. Cows became uncoordinated, staggered around, collapsed and finally died. The disease was called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) because there were holes in the brain where prion protein cells became folded, had linked up and then split to cover the surface of the brain. There were more than 1,300 cases of BSE spread over 6,000 farms.

For at least 40 years, infected slaughterhouse carcasses had been rendered down and recycled into animal feed. Not wanting to waste anything, pressure cooking of the spinal cord and brain produced a sludge known as ‘mechanically-recovered meat’. The regulators allowed it to go into meat products. This processed meat and bone meal was turned into a coarse powder and was fed back to cows. Cows are herbivores and this way they were turned into cannibals.

By 1990, BSE had spread into 14 other species, including cats. Politicians, the food industry, media, the government, farmers and vets said BSE couldn’t jump species to affect humans and it was safe to eat beef. Advertisements were taken out in newspapers and politicians were shown eating steak tartare in the Houses of Parliament to boost the sales of beef. At an agricultural show, the Agriculture Minister John Gummer was seen offering a beef burger to his daughter.

In 1995, the first human under 40 contracted what became known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (new vCJD, related to BSE and belonging to the same family of diseases). By March 1996, there were five cases and the government was forced to alter its advice. Kevin Maguire, a journalist, was lunching with someone in Westminster who said that scientists had discovered that ‘mad cow disease’ could jump species and had been found in humans.

Maguire said that it was a scandal in an effort to get every penny out of a carcass. His newspaper, ‘The  Mirror’, was the first to break the news to the public, saying that humans could catch mad cow disease from eating infected beef and that the government was about to do a U-turn by finally accepting that the brain wasting disease may have been passed to people. This U-turn by ministers – who for 10 years had insisted it was impossible – was a devastating indictment of the British government and probably one of the worst examples of government since the war.

During 1996, 10 more cases of new vCJD in people under 40 were diagnosed. All died within 13 months and there was no cure. In 2005, the authorities thought the disease was over, but in 2009, a case was discovered in a 30-year-old man. Another case appeared four years later. Today, people are living with uncertainty, not knowing if they are incubating new vCJD.

The parents of children who had died from new vCJD said “We trusted government advice.” Each Christmas one mother had sent an e-mail to those she thought responsible with a photograph of her daughter and said your actions have deprived me of my daughter. Another parent from Scotland who had lost his 30-year-old son to the disease had tattooed on his arm the name of his son followed by: ‘murdered by greed and corruption’.

In the documentary ‘Mad Cow Disease: The Great British Beef Scandal’, first broadcast on BBC 2 on 11 July 2019, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, said:

“New Variant CJD is not a natural disease. It is an epidemic we have created. If the agricultural industry hadn’t decided to feed cattle with meat and bone meal, if the food processors hadn’t decided to scrape every last bit of flesh off the carcass, and if MAFF [govt ministry] hadn’t prioritised farming over food safety, all of the people who died would still be alive. This is the tragedy.”

The following is taken from a publication compiled by the European Environment Agency, ‘Late lessons from early warnings’ (Patrick van Zwanenberg and Erik Millstone):

“Many of the UK policy makers who were directly responsible for taking policy decisions on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prior to March 1996 claim that, at the time, their approach exemplified the application of an ultra-precautionary approach and of rigorous science-based policy-making. We argue that these claims are not convincing because government policies were not genuinely precautionary and did not properly take into account the implications of the available scientific evidence.

“… It is, however, essential to appreciate that UK public policy making was handicapped by a fundamental tension. The department responsible for dealing with BSE has been the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), and it was expected simultaneously to promote the economic interests of farmers and the food industry whilst also protecting public health from food-borne hazards. The evidence cited here suggests that because MAFF was expected simultaneously to meet two contradictory objectives it failed to meet either.”

The UK introduced legislation banning the use of contaminated ruminant protein for use in ruminant feed in 1988. By then, a million cows had entered the food chain. At the height of the scandal, British beef had lost around 60% of sales. Prior to the ban, microbiologist Stephen Dealler challenged the government’s claim over safety and was moved from his research lab.

However, Britain continued to export meat and bone meal to Europe. The European Commission asked the UK to introduce an export ban on feedstuffs, but the UK refused to do so. It was not until 1996 that the EC banned these exports.

From mad cows to GMOs and pesticides

Where glyphosate (and other agrochemicals) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are concerned, we again see commercial interests being prioritised and the public interest sidelined. Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup was originally sprayed on crops in 1980 and on grazing land in 1985 (recommended by Monsanto scientists). GMOs entered the commercial market in the US in the 1990s. As shown in the report mentioned in the introduction to this article, the authorities did not heed the advice of key scientists and went ahead regardless.

Readers are urged to consult the report as it documents the duplicity that underpins the agrochemical/GMO agritech sector and describes how science and regulatory processes have been corrupted. In Britain, the government is saying that GM crops and Roundup are safe and intends to introduce these crops after Brexit.

Of course, heavily compromised industry-funded scientists and other lobbyists say the science is decided on GM and that glyphosate is safe. They say anyone who rejects this is anti-science and doesn’t care about world hunger because we can only feed the world by rolling out more GM crops and more agrochemicals. But this is little more than propaganda and emotional blackmail, part of an industry strategy designed to tug at the heartstrings of public opinion and sway the policy agenda.

We need to turn to author Andre Leu who has outlined major deficiencies in pesticide safety protocols. He offers a more realistic appraisal:

“… it is a gross misrepresentation to say that any of the current published toxicology studies can be used to say that any of the thousands of pesticide products used in the world do not cause cancer or other diseases… there is no evidence that pesticides are safe.”

Washington State University researchers recently found a variety of diseases and other health problems in the second- and third-generation offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate. In the first study of its kind, the researchers saw descendants of exposed rats developing prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, obesity and birth abnormalities. The study’s authors say:

“The ability of glyphosate and other environmental toxicants to impact our future generations needs to be considered and is potentially as important as the direct exposure toxicology done today for risk assessment.”

And where GMOs are concerned, they are little more than a flawed technological panacea that ignores the structural causes of malnutrition and hunger.

An increasing number of prominent reports and voices are now arguing that we do not need toxic chemicals to feed the world and that if we maintain our economic and agricultural course we are headed for disaster. FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva recently called for healthier and more sustainable food systems and said agroecology can contribute to such a transformation.

Moreover, the new report from the UN  High Level Panel of Food Experts on Food Security and Nutrition – Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition – argues that food systems are at a crossroads and profound transformation is needed. Many high-profile reports and figures have been saying similar things for years.

It is therefore disconcerting that the British government seems oblivious to the need of the hour and remains intent on pursuing an obsolete neoliberal, water-polluting, soil degrading, health destroying, unsustainable model of food and agriculture at the behest of corporate interests.

Mad cow disease did not just suddenly appear from nowhere. It was created by humans, particularly the farming industry and food processors. The British government kept on maintaining that eating beef was perfectly safe. A scientist who spoke out was silenced. The interests of the beef industry were paramount.

Evidence suggests there could soon be a second wave of cases affecting humans. It will be among people with a genetic predisposition towards longer incubation periods than the first patients had. This genetic predisposition is shared by half the British population. Some 177 people (as of June 2014) have contracted and died of vCJD.

That number is dwarfed when it comes to the spiralling rates of disease and illness that we now see among the British population. This too hasn’t happened for no reason. We see clear trends between the rising use of agrochemicals (especially glyphosate) and rising rates of morbidity, while much of the media and policy makers remain silent on this connection.

From the ‘great British beef scandal’ of the 1980s to ongoing pesticide issue, the profit motives of rich corporations continue to trump the public interest.

In Crisis of Democracy, We All Must Become Julian Assange

The US government’s indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange marked the worst attack on press freedom in history. Assange has been charged on 18 counts, including 17 violations of the Espionage Act. James Goodale, former general counsel of The New York Times, who urged the paper to publish the Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration noted, “If the government succeeds with the trial against Assange, if any, that will mean that it’s criminalized the news gathering process.”

On June 12, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid has signed the extradition papers. Assange’s hearing is now set to begin next February. He is now being held in London’s Belmarsh prison for what amounts to a politically motivated, 50-week sentence given by the judge for him violating bail conditions in 2012 in order to seek and obtain political asylum in Ecuador against the threat of extradition to the US.

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who visited Assange in a notorious UK prison previously referred to as “Britain’s Guantanamo Bay”, assessed that Assange has been subjected to prolong psychological torture by the US government and its allies for nearly a decade. While this multi-award winning journalist, who has revealed the governments’ war crimes, suffers in jail, the British government that has been a key player of this political persecution recently held a Global Conference for Media Freedom.

Despite its stated mission of protecting the safety and rights of journalists, the conference failed to address the degrading and inhumane treatment of Assange and the US government’s prosecution of the publisher that could set a dangerous precedent for press freedom. This hypocrisy of all was best shown by the fact that this gathering was hosted by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt who, last month, told the US TV that he would happily extradite Assange to Trump’s America where former CIA officer John Kiriakou indicated that he would receive no fair trial and face life imprisonment.

True face of Western liberal democracy

What is this Western governments’ coordinated attack on this Australian native who published truthful information, in the public interest, about the US government? Over 10 million documents that WikiLeaks released with a pristine record of accuracy informed people around the world about corruption and wrongdoing of governments and corporations. But most importantly, they exposed the true face of Western liberal democracy.

What is Western liberal democracy? It is a particular style of governance that was developed in the US and exported around the world. Political theorist Sheldon S. Wolin (2008) described it as “modern managed democracy” and attributed its creation to the framers of the Constitution. Wolin described how the Founding Fathers made a system that favored elite rule and that “the American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy” (p. 228).

This managed democracy relies on secrecy and deception to control the will of the populace. In this system, press works as a propaganda machine. Journalists become gatekeepers, whose job is to maintain an illusion of democracy through restricting the flow of information and controlling narratives. Now, WikiLeaks’ disclosures on government secrecy have pierced a façade of democracy and began challenging the hidden power inside the system.

Crisis of legitimacy

WikiLeaks revelation, coupled with the 2008 financial meltdown, triggered the global crisis of legitimacy. People came to recognize the unfairness and injustice inherent in the system, where rules don’t apply to everyone equally. Weakening of public trust in institutions spawned a cycle of protests around the world.

In 2011, Amnesty International recognized the role of WikiLeaks’ documents in instigating global revolutionary uprisings. The US diplomatic cables leak helped generate a powerful force that finally toppled the corrupt Tunisian dictator Ben Ali. The fire of self-immolation and global awakening confirmed by the US embassy cables, spread like wildfire through social media and lit the passions of Egyptians in Tahrir Square.

From Spain, Greece, and the London riots to the Occupy movement, waves of action for self-determination were reaching the West. This crisis of liberal democracy didn’t just emerge in 2011. The roots of the problems that we are now facing are found at the birth of the American republic.

The truth is that the country has been in crisis from the very beginning. Although the Constitution was founded on the revolutionary ideas that rejected the power of the King’s monarchy, it contained contradictions and was far from being perfect. A constitutional republic was built in violation of the ideals infused in the Declaration of Independence, manifested in genocide of natives, the enslavement of blacks, and the suppression of women.

One of influential figures in America’s earlier development, Thomas Jefferson, predicted and warned his fellow citizens about the seed of corruption within, when he feared, there would come a time when the American system of government would degenerate into a form of “elective despotism”.

Invention of new journalism

Julian Assange, through his work with WikiLeaks responded to this crisis that has existed all along inside this nation. How did he do it? To examine this question, we have to look at who Julian Assange is.

When Assange was once asked to describe what exactly he does in life, he answered; “I am an activist, journalist, software programmer expert in cryptography, specialized in systems designed to protect human rights defenders.”

Assange is an excellent journalist. He published material at a scale and speed that has never been seen before, winning numerous journalistic awards. But he is much more than just a journalist. With a variety of skills and talents, he made significant contributions to the larger society. He was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize and was a recipient of the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal, the Sam Adams Award and the Voltaire Award for Free Speech, among others.

Perhaps the best way to describe him would be that he is an innovator at heart. Innovators understand the problems that exist in our society and come up with solutions. What were the problems that Assange identified? He recognized anti-democratic forces inside the history of the United States. He also understood that within the existing political system there is no mechanism for ordinary people to check on this power. Upon this analysis, he found a way to tackle this problem by inventing a new form of journalism. WikiLeaks was the solution.

Problems of unaccounted power

The framers of the constitution wanted to have power over people. As a testimony to this, the original draft of the constitution did not have a Bill of Rights. They were added to the constitution as amendments. This didn’t come about without struggle. The proponents of the Bill of Rights demanded them in order to safeguard individual liberty and challenged those who seek to preserve levers of control.

Even after the constitution was ratified with a Bill of Rights, the problem of this unaccounted power was never truly addressed. The wording of the First Amendment reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Here, the First Amendment was aimed to restrict the governmental power. It was specifically addressing what Congress can’t do. However, the constitution didn’t ensure that corporations would not be able to make laws restricting the freedom of speech. With the infiltration of commercial interests and the consolidation of media, the big business class has found a way to regulate free speech on their terms. The establishment of corporate media turned journalists’ First Amendment protection into a privilege that they can use against the public.

New mechanism of accountability

Journalists, who have now become a new class of professionals, no longer share interests with ordinary people. They are systematically placed to serve the agendas of the powerful state. For instance, The New York Times has publicly acknowledged that it sends some of its stories to the US government for approval from “national security officials” before publication.

With the merger of the state and corporations, the power of private companies to influence governments and erode civil liberty has increased. Transnational corporations can now revoke and restrict basic rights at any time, crossing the judicial boundaries on the borderless cyberspace. Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter censor free speech online and, without warrant, they spy and invade the privacy of people.

Civil right activist Audre Lorde once wrote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In a tyranny of corporate takeover, Assange through his work with WikiLeaks found solutions to this problem of corporate subjugation of journalism. WikiLeaks provides vital tools that make it possible for everyday people to dismantle the master’s house.

At the core of this invention is scientific journalism. By publishing full archives in a searchable format, WikiLeaks gave ordinary people a mechanism to independently check the claim of journalists and to hold those unelected powers accountable. This way, the whistleblowing site enabled a true function of free press and opened a door for democracy.

Call for real democracy

With the Trump administration’s prosecution of Assange, we are now seeing a deepening crisis of enlightenment values. In Chinese, the word for crisis is composed with two meanings. It signifies danger and opportunity. This attack on free press poses great threat to democracy, but at the same time, it presents an opportunity that has never been available before.

With great courage, Assange responded to the crisis of legitimacy. He sacrificed his personal liberty in order to give us a chance to create a society where we have privacy for the weak and transparency for the powerful. Now, this man who defended our rights, is made defenseless. He is not allowed to use a computer and has limited access to his lawyers, making him unable to adequately prepare for his legal defense.

In a message sent out from a high security prison, where he is being held in solitary confinement, he asked everyone to take his place. Democracy requires ordinary’ people’s participation in power. In order for us to alter this oppressive system, change ought to be made first within ourselves. Each of us needs to start exercising our right to free speech, assemble and associate with one another and organize a society, governed not by elite few, but through networked hearts of common people.

Even after his imprisonment, Assange continues to fight. He endures isolation and character assassination with the latest CNN hit piece twisting embassy surveillance records against him. Assange remains silenced. He is suffering for all of us, for us to seize this opportunity to take back the power that belongs to us. Let us fight for his freedom. Let us complete the great work of justice and democracy he started with WikiLeaks. His plight of curtailed freedom is a call for a real democracy. We all must now take his place and claim our own significance. We must become Julian Assange, for his struggle is ours. We are all Julian Assange.

The Immoral Silence to the Destructive Xenophobia of “Just Leave”

Donald Trump tweets “why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” and doubles-down by then accusing four sitting members of Congress of hating America (referring to Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY; Ilhan Omar, MN; Rashida Tlaib, MI; and Ayanna S. Pressley, MA). Only one of the four, Omar, was born outside the US, and was a refugee fleeing war in Somalia.

“Just leave” is a dog-whistle for white nationalism. Research shows that supporters and opponents of Donald Trump respond differently to racial cues. Simply put: Trump intentionally and incessantly works to make white people angry at minorities, his divisiveness is working. Hate crimes in the U.S. are up, especially in pro-Trump areas and places where he held rallies. His divisive rhetoric was a motivating force for mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand and other hate crimes here and abroad, as cited by the attackers themselves in most cases. A bigoted bully his entire career, openly and unapologetically racist for decades, it is dishonest to pretend there is a debate; then there is the dishonesty of silence.

The breadth of silence of silence from the Republican party (and his rise in Republican voter support shown in subsequent polls) showcases the tacit support of the insinuation that people of color are foreigners. Either Trump speaks for American conservatives or their cowardice is too great to mount any opposition. Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy stands by Trump’s side and nods approvingly with Trump’s messages that minorities are a threat to American safety, values, and people of color do not belong. Majority Senate leader Mitch McConnell, a descendant of slave owners (census records show two of his great-great-grandfathers owned more than a dozen slaves) pretends to be the statesman and tells everyone to calm down, as if Trump should be permitted to engage in all the cruelty and bullying that suits him.

Since the 1780’s the great American Melting-Pot has been an important metaphor. It was used to articulate the blending of different cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities into a single American identity. The logical extension of a true support for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness combined with the acknowledgement of “created equal” that is perhaps best expressed E pluribus Unum—out of many, one—our national motto.

These time-honored values are not defended by those who truly need to model them, as history shows. In Rwanda, leading to the 1994 genocide, the Hutus failed to defend Tutsis when bigoted leadership called them “cockroaches.” German non-Jews failed to stand up to Hitler as he ramped up in the early 1930s with actions not dissimilar to Trump right now. This is comparable to McCarthy and McConnell failing to correct Trump’s anti-brown bigotry.

It is not easy to push back against bigotry. In McCarthy’s Bakersfield, CA, where I’m from, I remember the lesson well. In high school in the 90’s “just joking” racism bought me acceptance, and speaking out against pejorative slurs earned me the recognition of “race traitor.” I can tell you every time I spoke out it made a difference, and I slept at night. Even if you didn’t speak out about the “very fine people” neo-Nazis in Charlottesville (Trump’s approving words), you can say something about the concentration camps at the Mexican border; you can defend the Americans being told to leave, we need to be united on this.

McDonald’s: Stop Exploiting Our Schools

Corporate America is looming larger and larger in U.S. public schools. That’s not a good thing for educators, students, or workers.

Nowhere could this be more clear than the case of McDonald’s, whose founder once scouted locations for new stores by flying over communities and looking for schools. The fast food giant pioneered methods of attracting school children to its stores — from Happy Meals to marketing schemes like McTeacher’s Nights.

McTeacher’s Nights have become almost commonplace in many parts of the country. Here’s how they work.

Teachers and other public school employees prompt students and parents to eat at their local McDonald’s on an otherwise slow night. Then teachers volunteer their time behind the cash register, serving students and their families junk food, while McDonald’s workers are often told not to go in that night for their shift.

A small amount of the proceeds — about $1 to $2 per student — then goes back to the school.

Many students have grown up with these seemingly innocuous fundraisers. Hundreds, if not thousands, happen across the U.S. each year, according to Corporate Accountability and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Meanwhile, thanks to gross underfunding of public schools, such fundraisers get less scrutiny than they should. Beyond the obvious problem of enlisting teachers — the people children trust most, next to their parents — to serve young people junk food, there’s also the issue of labor rights.

Teachers are already woefully underpaid for the service they provide our communities. McTeacher’s Nights engage these teachers to volunteer additional hours, often displacing low-income McDonald’s workers in the process.

What results is what one former McDonald’s CEO described as philanthropy that’s “99 percent commercial” in nature. What do we call it? Exploitation.

Teachers need to be standing in solidarity with McDonald’s employees, not at cross-purposes. They are our students, family members, and our neighbors. For their long hours working on their feet, they are often paid poverty wages.

And as a recent report from the National Employment Law Project finds, the corporation is failing in its legal duty to provide employees a safe work environment. Dozens of women from California to Florida have filed complaints alleging sexual harassment by supervisors and co-workers in McDonald’s stores and franchises. And thousands of workers in 10 cities walked off the job to protest these abuses.

In the education field, we know the importance of a strong union to prevent abuses like these. Yet McDonald’s has been accused of union-busting, and even firing employees for attending Fight for $15 rallies to raise the minimum wage.

That’s why more than 50 state and local teachers unions have signed an open letter challenging McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook to end McTeacher’s Nights. And this year, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), representing 1.7 million members and 3,000 local affiliates, adopted a resolution rejecting all corporate-sponsored fundraisers for schools.

It’s time for McDonald’s and other corporations to stop exploiting our schools, children, and their own workforce. Until they do, we will continue to stand with McDonald’s workers in their fight for a living wage and a safe workplace — and for teachers fighting for the funding their local schools need.

We encourage others to stand with us.

Cecily Myart-Cruz is a veteran teacher, activist, and the Vice President of the United Teachers Los Angeles/NEA.

This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

Our Veggie Gardens Won’t Feed us in a Real Crisis

Massive flooding and heavier than normal precipitation across the US Midwest this year delayed or entirely prevented the planting of many crops. The situation was sufficiently widespread that it was visible from space. The trouble isn’t over yet: Hotter-than-normal temperatures predicted to follow could adversely affect corn pollination. Projections of lower yields have already stimulated higher prices in UN grain indexes and US ethanol. Additionally, the USDA is expecting harvests to be of inferior quality. Furthermore, the effects of this year could bleed into 2020; late planting leads to late harvesting which delays fall tilling, potentially until next spring, when who knows what Mother Nature will deliver.

Accuweather’s characterization of this as a “one-of-a-kind growing season” is literally true only in terms of its exact circumstances (given increasingly chaotic events) but not in its intensity (which will surely be exceeded). Prudence would dictate that we heed this year’s events as a warning and get serious about making preparations for worse years. Literal cycles of “feast or famine” have marked agriculture since its birth and sooner or later we will experience significant shortages here in the US, if not from the weather, than from war or lack of resources.

The Midwest floods and their possible repercussions for the food supply got some attention in the news (though not enough). One of the most common suggestions I saw on social media was: “Plant a garden!”

If only it were that simple.

I used to be a small-scale organic farmer so take it from me: totally feeding yourself from your own efforts is very, very challenging. Though some friends and I tried over multiple seasons, we never succeeded, or even came anywhere close.

First of all, consider what you eat. Yes, you. What do you eat at home? At work? When you go out? Okay, what percentage of that can be raised in the bioregion where you live? If you have trouble answering this question, don’t feel bad. I would guess that the proportion of the US population with practical agricultural knowledge is lower than in any other society in history.

Looking at the subset of your current diet that can be grown in your area, is it enough to live off of? Is it well-balanced and does it provide enough calories? If not, what will you add to fill it out? This is purely an exercise of course, but there’s the rough draft of the menu you’re going to survive on. How will that work? I mean logistically?

Let’s take carrots. They’re popular, they’re nutritious, and they can be grown all over the US without too much trouble. What’s a year’s worth of carrots look like? How many ten-foot rows would it take to produce that many? When are they best seeded? How much space, water and amendments do they require? What tools do you need? Are there diseases or insects to worry about and what’s the best way of dealing with them? When do you pick them? How long will the harvest keep?

Now go through all those questions for everything else on your list.

Then add it up: all the space, hours, and equipment.

Does it look daunting? If it doesn’t, you left something out.

Without going through all of the above, here’s what you’re probably not thinking of right now: The typical US American diet is only 10-20% fruits and veggies―like you might grow in your backyard―and the vast majority is made up of grains and proteins in one form or another.

What vegetable does nearly everyone grow in their home garden? Tomatoes. How do they eat them? Often enough, on a sandwich or in pasta. That’s wheat or rice or some other grains. How many people have ever planted rice or wheat in their back yards?

Meat is also grains because that’s what’s fed to animals. This includes the majority of grass-fed cows, who are “finished” (fattened up) on grains on a feedlot prior to slaughter. So if you want meat in your home-grown diet, you’ll need to plant for those mouths too. You might end up concluding that you don’t need as much as you thought you did. (BTW, historic paleolithic diets were supplemented by hunting meat but were dependent on gathering roots, seeds, berries, etc.)

When my friends and I tried the grow-all-your-own-food challenge, we quickly got educated about the difficulties of grains and other staple crops. I’m not just talking about planting and raising, which are hard enough, but harvesting and processing. Wheat, for example, is easy to grow, but there’s a number of steps from mature spikelets in the field to flour in the kitchen, including threshing and winnowing. In 2008, we attempted to harvest and process a third of an acre of wheat entirely by hand. Over two dozen people participated during a two week period. I kept careful notes and after all was said and done, each hour of labor produced 2.6 lbs of wheat berries, cleaned and ready to grind. To put that into perspective in the context of our current Capitalist mode, if you were paying people $15/hour, the labor cost of each pound would be $5.77.

We also experimented with quinoa, dry beans, flour corn, millet, buckwheat, flax, and other crops. Each one required its own set of techniques. Overall, our yields were much lower than we expected and the work much harder than we wanted. (For an accounting of our efforts, including tables of data, see this report.) Not to say I didn’t enjoy it; I did. But I also wasn’t actually depending on it.

When I think about the possibility of some kind of food supply crisis in the US, all I can do is shake my head. We do not have a safety net to catch us if we fall. If we want one, we needed to start working on it yesterday. Just putting in another raised bed in your backyard ain’t gonna do it. You can’t live off of spinach, cucumbers and green beans. (You can survive just on potatoes if you have to, but guaranteeing year round availability is tricky.)

I’m not saying we shouldn’t plant veggie gardens. We should put in as many as we can and fight to keep them when they’re threatened. But let’s not kid ourselves that a few heads of broccoli (or even a wheel barrow of zucchinis) will get us through an actual breakdown of the agricultural system. It won’t. If we want a shot at doing that, we need to put in some meaningful time and effort, and it will necessarily be outside the system.

I gave it a try for a few years with a bicycle-based urban farming operation in Portland, Oregon. It was a helluva lot of fun (see my book, Adventures in Urban Bike Farming), but had no lasting effect. Of the forty-some gardens we got going, only one remains that I know of.

I suspect that the warning we’ve received from Mother Nature this year about the vulnerability of our agricultural system will go unheeded. If we were smart, we would be reorganizing the whole kit and caboodle around small-scale operations in localized foodsheds. It wouldn’t be rocket science. But it wouldn’t be making Cargill, Tyson and Monsanto rich.

Which goes to show again: if we want to survive, we need a revolution.

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A Homeless Rebellion – Mission Statement/Press Release

Written by James Douglas, Matthew Vernon Whalan and homeless citizens of Brattleboro

Brattleboro, Vermont — James Douglas, a homeless citizen of Brattleboro, was arrested on July 11, 2019, at 12:30 a.m. for sleeping in Plaza Park downtown. People who sleep there at night do so because they have no other safe place to go. Now that park is no longer safe.

We in the homeless community feel that the police enforce and threaten to enforce the trespassing ordinances randomly – not consistently – and on public property, which, for the homeless, is like being terrorized; you never know when they will show up.

Due to the recent increase in arrests, no trespass citations, and threats of arrest toward homeless people by police, the homeless community of Brattleboro will be taking direct action in order to demand 3 basic concessions from the community at large.

These three demands are: 1) In the long-term, we demand housing. 2) In the short-term, we demand to be treated with dignity and respect – and no longer with prejudice – by the non-homeless community of Brattleboro. 3) Also in the short-term, we want consistent opportunities to publicly platform homeless voices on the subject of homeless life in the local democratic process – such as in selectboard, the local press, and other forums. The community at large will never understand the realities of homeless life unless homeless people are on the frontlines of information gathering and decision-making related to their lives.

The homeless community of Brattleboro and its allies will be participating in a series of demonstrations over the coming months themed around these three demands. The first of these demonstrations will take place on Monday, July 22, at 4:45 p.m., at which time homeless demonstrators and their allies will surround Plaza Park with Douglas, standing side by side and holding signs with messages themed around the three basic demands cited above – housing, dignity and respect, and a primary role in the political process. The goal is to perform the demonstration while the Amtrak Train is stopped at five p.m. so that those stuck in traffic nearby cannot drive past without noticing our protest.

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Parallel Lives: Cheney and Ailes

Still from The Loudest Voice (Showtime).

Two of the more infamous Republican Party operatives have become the subjects of biopics within the past year. In “Vice”, a 2018 film now available on Amazon streaming, Adam McKay portrayed Dick Cheney as a cynical opportunist who was both responsible for the “war on terror” and the extension of executive power that enabled the Bush White House to suspend habeas corpus. Currently running on Showtime, “The Loudest Voice” examines the life of Roger Ailes as a modern-day equivalent of Citizen Kane if Orson Welles had portrayed his fictionalized version of William Randolph Hearst as a monster straight out of his mother’s womb.

The two subjects have quite a bit in common. To start with, they were both products of an America that Norman Rockwell once painted but no longer exists. Growing up in Casper, Wyoming, Cheney enjoyed life in “The Oil City” that was ranked eighth overall in Forbes magazine’s list of “the best small cities to raise a family.” Ailes hailed from Warren, Ohio, a mid-sized city like Casper, that like the rest of the pre-Rust Belt region relied on manufacturing to provide the solid middle-class existence portrayed in Rockwell paintings. His father was a foreman in Packard Electronics, a subsidiary of General Motors. Just like Michael Moore, whose father worked for GM in Flint, Ailes idealized the Warren of his youth, seeing it as a place where motherhood, apple pie and the flag reigned supreme. Like Steve Bannon, Ailes’s right-populism revolved around the notion of making a new world of Warrens possible by keeping out immigrants and toughening up trade policies long before Donald Trump became President.

Both men also suffered from long-term health problems. After smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day for 20 years, Cheney had to pay the piper. Nine major heart surgeries starting in 1988 culminated in a seven-hour heart transplant operation in 2012 that has left him on the sidelines politically, accentuated by the bad will his support for the invasion of Iraq had accrued. Even after everybody else had said their mea culpas, Cheney told Chuck Todd on a 2014 Meet the Press show that “Saddam Hussein previously had twice nuclear programs going. He produced and used weapons of mass destruction. And he had a ten-year relationship with Al Qaeda. All of these things came into play.”

Ailes’s health problems were congenital. Born a hemophiliac, he was browbeaten and even beaten by his father to not give an inch to the illness that would finally kill him in 2017 at the age of 77. After hitting his head in his Palm Beach home, he suffered a subdural hematoma that was aggravated by his hemophilia. Nobody seemed to miss his passing, especially all the women he victimized sexually at Fox News.

Turning now to the two biopics, my verdict is that “Vice” is the far inferior work suffering from a misplaced satirical intent that is mismatched to its subject matter. Like the 2017 “The Death of Stalin”, it tries to apply the SNL gloss on the surface of a nightmare that is continuing to this day. McKay probably wasn’t capable of anything more weighty since his CV is made up films like “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”, and seven episodes for SNL between 2000-2001. As I labored to stick with this jokey movie to the bitter end, I couldn’t help but think of it as an unintentional “Springtime for Hitler”.

With my press credentials for Showtime, I have been able to watch 5 episodes of “The Loudest Voice”, now queuing up for the 4th episode this Sunday. If you have Showtime, do not miss this scathing portrait of a true monster who is played to perfection by Russell Crowe. Or find a friend who does have Showtime since the 7-part series succeeds both as entertainment and social history. The conflict in the United States between the Trumpified Republican Party and those on the left has been gestating from the time that Ailes became the founding President of Fox News in 1996. Those who yelled “Send Her Back” at Trump’s rally in North Carolina yesterday are the prototypical Sean Hannity/Tucker Carlson viewer. It was Ailes’s intention from the moment he began Fox News to build a powerful movement based on racism, nativism and faux populism. Regrettably, his legacy continues in the Trump White House.

While this is not a determining factor in the quality of the two biopics, “Vice” made some unwise casting decisions, largely dictated by “star power”. While Christian Bale does a good job impersonating Cheney with makeup and a fat suit that probably took six hours each day to get right (as was the case with Russell Crowe as Ailes), you never stopped seeing an impersonation for a single second. With Bale being cast against type, you fixated on the transformation rather than the character. Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld was an even bigger mistake since he too was cast against type. If it was impossible to get Bale as Batman out of your mind, it was uber-impossible to not think of all the feckless comic losers Carell played in his entire career. Rumsfeld was scary; Carell as Rumsfeld was just senseless.

Turning now to the substance of the two films, “Vice” can best be described as the sort of satire Stephen Colbert employed when he played Bill O’Reilly. His writers wrote hyperbolic dialog for him that was intended to make the audience laugh at his stupidity even if it became somewhat obvious at a certain point that the show’s joke was a one-trick pony. McKay, who wrote and directed, makes no attempt to make Cheney and Rumsfeld say things they would have said in real life. He puts words into their mouth that are obviously a liberal’s attempt to mock those he views as the enemy. In essence, he is spoon-feeding liberal bromides to the audience who he does not trust as being able to distinguish good guys from bad.

The film is riddled with bogus dialog but probably none is more egregious than the scene outside of Kissinger’s office when Rumsfeld was a counselor to Nixon and Cheney was his aide. They are discussing plans to bomb Cambodia:

Rumsfeld: They’re going to bomb Cambodia.

Cheney: That’s impossible. That would have to be approved by Congress and I’m over there every day

Rumsfeld: Fuck Congress. Unless you’re in it. Then it’s the greatest deliberative body on earth. But we’re not, so fuck it.

Cheney: I thought the President campaigned on ending the war?

Rumsfeld: Shhhh. Listen to me…Because of the conversation Nixon and Kissinger are having right behind this door, five feet away from us… in a few days, 10 thousand miles away… (Script indicates a cut to a peaceful Cambodian Village going about its day to day life with a WHISTLING SOUND far above…) … a rain of 750 pound bombs dropped from B-52s flying at twenty thousand feet will hit villages and towns across Cambodia…thousands will die and the world will change either for the worse or the better.

(From the screenplay.)

Rumsfeld might have said any number of things if he had been chatting with Cheney outside of Kissinger’s office but the words in the script were not his, nor anything remotely similar. They were placed there for the actor to recite so the audience would be appalled by his inhumanity. Like CNN and MSNBC every night, the entire purpose of “Vice” was to reassure audiences that they had pure souls just like Adam McKay.

The creative team around “The Loudest Voice” was an all-star team. The Executive Producers included Tom McCarthy and Gabriel Sherman, who also co-wrote the first episode. McCarthy wrote the Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Spotlight”, a 2015 film about the Boston Globe’s reporting on the Catholic Church pederasty scandal. Sherman is the author of “The Loudest Voice in the Room”, a biography of Ailes that included interviews with 614 people but not the big cheese himself who tried in vain to squelch the book.

Sherman, a minor character in the series, becomes a lightning rod for Ailes’s hatred in episode 5 when he discovers that the veteran reporter has begun interviewing people for his book. He authorizes a “Brain Room” that functions like an intelligence agency researching every article Sherman has written and sending private detectives out to follow his every move. In keeping with the half-muted anti-Semitism of the Trump era, Sherman was characterized by Fox as a “Soros operative” because he was associated with the New America Foundation.

Roger Ailes started out innocently enough as the producer for The Mike Douglas Show in 1965, an afternoon variety program that was based on pop culture rather than racist demagogy. In 1967, Richard Nixon was a guest. After the show, Ailes told him that he needed a media advisor. So persuasive was Ailes that Nixon hired him on the spot.

After a successful stint as campaign adviser to Republicans like Reagan, Bush ’41, and Giuliani, Ailes returned to TV where “The Loudest Voice” begins. In 1995, Ailes was forced to resign from CNBC after it was bought by Bill Gates and NBC. After it was relaunched as MSNBC, Ailes went to work for Rupert Murdoch as head of the newly launched Fox News. In a key scene, Ailes meets with top management to give them their marching orders. Fox News would not bother trying to reach liberals. Instead, it would offer up red meat to Rush Limbaugh listeners who had made talk radio such a powerful institution. Let CNN and MSNBC have the liberals, he exclaimed. We’ll take the rest of the country and fuck everybody else—the watchword of the Trump administration.

Playing Ailes to perfection, Russell Crowe depicts a media mogul who demands total loyalty from his underlings, offers good jobs to women in exchange for a blow job, and sees his TV hosts as hitmen and women against everybody on the left—the left eventually defined as including Republicans like those who put out The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine that went bankrupt because it refused to toe the Trump line. Crowe, like great actors of earlier generations such as Laurence Olivier and Spencer Tracy, could not be cast against type because he was never one-dimensional to begin with. Watching him throw paperweights against underlings who challenged his demands or cursing at Barack Obama on the TV set is more than watching an actor perform. It is like watching Roger Ailes’s avatar—simultaneously revolting and compelling, like a roadside crash.

In one of my favorite scenes in the series, which occurs in episode 3, Ailes is waiting to meet with leading Democrats to discuss a truce that will tamp down the vitriol Fox News has been directing at Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. Sitting down and working on some prepared remarks, his old friend David Axelrod sidles in and greets him. They chat good-naturedly about old campaigns that they ran against each other’s candidates and then shake each other’s hand warmly. Their dialog:

Ailes: I was surprised about the Biden decision. He’s a good man but dumb as an ashtray.

Axelrod: He plays well for us where we need him to. The Catholics, the military, the union guys.

Ailes: He plays well with the whites.

Axelrod (grinning): It doesn’t hurt.

Big in the Bungalow of Believers

Free tickets from a friend sent my companion and me to a production of the musical Big staged by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre on a sunny Sunday afternoon in July. My companion grew up in London and spent many an afternoon and evening in that greatest of theatre-city’s myriad venues seeing the greatest British actors of the later part of the twentieth-century. Never one to hold this lucky start in life against her partner or anyone else, she is no snob and embraces the live and the local from the West End to the East Bay.

Berkeley Rep has its home in the Julia Morgan Theatre, named after the famous Bay Area architect. The building is a half mile down College Avenue from Morgan’s alma mater, the University of California. Set on the gracious grid of streets gently inclining from the foot of the steep Berkeley Hills to the shores of the San Francisco Bay, the building was completed in 1910 as a Presbyterian church. The years following the 1906 earthquake marked a boom for Morgan’s still-young practice. In the aftermath of that catastrophe came a wave of immigration in the opposite direction from the Manifest Destiny: from west to east, from San Francisco to Berkeley and Oakland. Arts-and-Crafts houses and churches sprang up in what had been pasture-land and orchards.

The goodly Presbyterians of Berkeley moved to a new building on College Avenue in the 1970s and their original church became an arts center, then, a decade ago, a theatre. Morgan had designed a low-slung structure of redwood with stained-glass windows peering out from beneath rather ponderous eaves: a biggie-sized bungalow for believers.

The conversion to a theatre meant that the altar became a stage and that the windows Morgan had set off in contrast to the darkly stained wood were blocked out: when the muses displaced the apostles, the interior light would have to be artificial not natural. This makes her church-cum-theatre far more somber (one might even say more Presbyterian) than Morgan must have wanted, necessarily distorting her conception of the place. I’m all for repurposing churches, but such transformations can be more than a touch dissonant. I’ll never forget my first visit to the vast gothic reaches of the decommissioned St. Laurens’ Church in Alkmaar in The Netherlands in 1991 to practice for an organ competition. A rock-climbing competition was underway up the high whitewashed walls.

I’m not sure if Morgan would have felt honored or dismayed by having her name put to a theatre that she conceived of as a church.

Whatever the case, the place puts me in mind of an Adirondack hunting lodge. Entering the theatre offers a kind of rustic escape from the mellow urban climes of Berkeley, though why exactly one would want to seek refuge from a bright and breezy summer day is a bit of a mystery. The craziness of the world writ large can be happily be fled, a perfect afternoon in Northern California only with reluctance. Perhaps only the theatre can make good on that transaction.

Big the musical is based on the 1988 film of the same name—one of Tom Hanks’ early hits. It’s standard make-a-wish and suffer/enjoy the consequences stuff. A soon-to-be-teen boy frustrated with being condescended to and ordered about by adults—especially his cloying mother—can’t wait to be Big. Before you know it, little Josh has been turned into a physical adult by an automated carnival wizard at a northern New Jersey fun fair.

The overly sentimental treatment of these Oedipal themes of motherly love and resentment colliding with filial affection and disgust can be hard to take, though mom’s smotheringly maudlin effusions were delivered in Berkeley with terrifying and terrified commitment. Still, the gags about dirty socks and taking the garbage out got some laughs from the many kids in the audience.

But Josh becomes a man only on the outside. Inside he remains a child. Fleeing from home, he soon finds himself promoted to vice president at a faltering toy company run by corporate hacks with no regard for kids and, more fatally, no childish fantasy—no sense of fun. The most famous scene in the movie comes when Josh dances around on a giant floor piano keyboard, stomping out melodies, eventually in tandem with the toy company chief, in the showroom of FAO Schwartz on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

That tuneful set-piece and the pleasantly kid-friendly plot already made Big an alluring target for conversion to a musical, a retrofit that duly came in 1996 in the capable hands of composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby (with book by John Weidmann). Their songs make abundant use of descending bass-lines above which melody lines strive upward towards independence (from parents and convention) and towards the fulfillments and disappointments of love. The composer/lyricist pair capably command an entertaining range of styles: perky teen tunes, lush Broadway solos and duets, exuberant production numbers, pseudo-Modernist choruses, a clever send-up of Mozartean classicism to capture the dreadful trial of a grown-up dinner party to which Josh’s new adult girlfriend (also an executive in the toy company) drags him to meet her awful friends.

The story revolves therefore around a boy on the threshold of puberty catapulted into a romance with a grown woman who is already in a sordid affair with yet another mid-level executive in the toy company. Sex is the elephant in the room. For an American family matinée this beast should be cuddly and cute rather than urgent and threatening. On the Berkeley boards, as on Broadway, it is fascinating to see how this confrontation is handled.

When Susan maneuvers her way into Josh’s apartment with a bottle of champagne in her purse and hopes of seduction in her heart, he eventually invites her to stay for a “sleep-over,” informing her matter-of-factly that he has “to be on top.” Josh then climbs to the upper bunk bed and flops down to sleep. Her later lessons in carnal knowledge, if any, are not imparted on stage. What Josh will do with that knowledge on his return to teendom and the girl he covets back in New Jersey is not broached either.

Especially in Berkeley, with its long tradition of social sensitivity, with many a #MeToo and Black Lives Matter placard in the mullioned arts-and-crafts windows, one has to wonder about a show like Big. Even if the Julia Morgan encourages escape and blots out the sun, the world has a way of seeping into the theatre—and not only because the news is full of Jeffrey Epstein and his depredations

(Im)mature Josh is the titular center of the entertainment, but Susan steals the limelight towards the end of the first of the musical’s two acts when her string of songs fills her with agency and desire. She knows what she wants: Josh. True, she has no idea that he is really just child, even if what attracted her to him is his guileless, juvenile behavior.

When the lights came up for intermission, my companion pointed out that, even without Epstein (and Clinton and Dershowitz and others) in the headlines, the gender roles could not have been reversed. Imagine the Berkeleyites delighting in a thirty-something man conniving his way under cover of song into the bunkbed of a thirteen-year-old girl inhabiting the body of a full-grown woman. Yet the other way around meets no resistance. My companion provided her own interpretation: women have always been infantilized, so to put one in the junior role would be not just creepy, but redundant. Even when they grow up, women are rarely allowed to be Big.

The Northern Spotted Owls’ Tree-Sit

….based on a true story occurring in the Mattole Watershed, July 2019

One still June night, when the moon hung bright, and the wind blew a minor key

And the fog made a bridge across Rainbow Ridge from the redwoods to the sea

Two owls, gone astray from their range in Coos Bay where their nest in a fir had been felled

Floated down to a knoll near the blue Mattole, by sheer hunger and faintness compelled.

Well, they’d fasted a week, so each sharpened his beak, and searched through the darkness for prey,

And to their surprise they encountered the eyes of two tree voles not far away.

More astonishing yet, and causing upset, also thwarting their instinct to zoom in:

The voles took their ease on the angular knees of a beast unmistakably human.

These owls were not chicks and they’d studied the tricks of this species well known to be wily.

Was this a new study? Each looked at their buddy. The human regarded them shyly.

Though weary, these owls had got pluck in their bowels, also wit, self-assurance and poise.

And though prospects be dark, be there but a spark, they’d act without panic or noise.

So the owl who was bigger soon marshalled his vigor, saluting the being in that tree:

“What scientist sits in a tree in the mist, with such tasty young voles on their knee?”

“My name it is Rook. Turn around, take a look” said the human, with intake of breath:

Below they beheld what the chainsaw had felled: tree corpses moon-frozen in death.

“This tree they want too, so a road can push through to reach forests at further locations

But we know such plunder rips planets asunder. I’m here for unborn generations”.

The owls, much impressed, now the human addressed: “We’ve just made a strenuous portage

From habitat natal, where there is a fatal owl nesting and foraging shortage.”

The smaller owl, blinking, went on” We’ve been thinking of one generation that begs

To make an appearance. We need to find clearance. To speak more directly, my eggs.

Now, humans get queasy: it makes them uneasy when species like us go extinct

It reminds them that they might soon go the same way and the risk, to be plain, is distinct.

Our survival’s in doubt, so that gives us some clout. If they locate our nest, they’ll protect it!

We’ll search for a site in a tree that looks right, then build noisily so they detect it.”

The owls disappeared, and that day Rook was cheered by much squawking and owl exclamation

And soon a small horde of biologists roared to the ridge for site documentation.

And thus was begun a campaign that soon won the allegiance of Doctors of Science:

For if there is hope for our planet, the scope is a great interspecies alliance.

Save the owls! Save the trees! Save the whales! Save the bees! Save the birthright of fledgling and child

For while Empires crush, there’s an instant of hush when our hearts hear the call of the wild.

Bernie Sanders, Anti-Imperialism and Venezuela

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Throughout the last century, socialists have faced an uphill battle within the United States. Unlike other similarly high-income countries, the U.S. has largely remained a bastion of deeply individualist attitudes and unregulated capitalist policies.

Yet, over the span of the past decade, socialism has transformed from a demonized ideology to a publicly discussed economic model that many Americans are now seriously considering. Indeed, the Pew Research Center just last month published data showing that 42 percent of the country has a positive view of socialism, including 65 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters.

There is no doubt that Senator Bernie Sanders has boosted socialism’s favorability. In 2016, he became one of few Democrats to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic candidacy. While he lost the nomination, his candidacy both rehabilitated the idea of socialism and vividly altered public discussions, putting propositions like “Medicare for All” and free higher education on the Democratic agenda.

Similar to decades past, though, Bernie’s opponents have resurrected Cold War phobias. And although the Soviet Union dissolved nearly 30 years ago, critics have found a new country to scream in response to Sanders’ popularity: Venezuela.

A quick perusal of conservative outlets, from the Heritage Foundation to the National Review to Fox News, will find you a litany of articles likening a potential Sanders presidency to an economic implosion à la Venezuela. All other serious Democratic candidates have avoided and even explicitly denounced socialist policies. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, provided Trump with a standing ovation when he denounced socialism during his recent State of the Union Address, and she has described herself as a “capitalist to the bone.”

While Sanders himself has continually pointed to Scandinavia as providing inspiration for his policies, critics have sought to seize upon his disposition toward the Venezuelan government as evidence that he would allegedly destroy the U.S. economy “because socialism.”

Sanders, however, has never embraced the Venezuelan government — either under former President Hugo Chavez or now under President Nicolas Maduro. He never met with these leaders. He never claimed that Venezuela serves as a model of a socialist society. In fact, in 2016, he even specifically stated: “When I talk about democratic socialism, I’m not looking at Venezuela. I’m not looking at Cuba. I’m looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden.”

And, while it’s true that Sanders has not referred to Maduro as an outright dictator, he has continually noted that recent presidential elections were flawed, and he has called for new elections in the country.

Anyone who suggests that Sanders wishes to “turn the U.S. into Venezuela” is a bad-faith actor. They’re distorting reality and deceiving citizens.

Where Sanders meaningfully differs from other Democratic frontrunners like Joe Biden and Warren, though, is in his commitment to an anti-imperialist, anti-interventionist foreign policy.

While others have supported economic sanctions, Sanders has recognized that sanctions harm poor citizens much more than they harm governments. While others have called for the Venezuelan military to rise up against Maduro, Sanders has drawn attention to the nefarious role played by the United States throughout Latin America, including its support for coups that have resulted in military regimes like the one formerly ruled by Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile. While others have called for isolating Venezuela, Sanders has positioned himself as someone who would prefer engagement on mutually respectful grounds.

Given the recent popularity of socialism, Americans seem far less susceptible to Cold War-style smear campaigns that simplistically attempt to demonize socialism. Though the causes are more complex than “because socialism,” it’s true that countries like Venezuela and North Korea are failing. It’s also true that many countries guided by capitalist ideas are failing. Argentina, for one, recently elected businessman Mauricio Macri. Yet, since coming to power, the Argentine economy has faced currency depreciation, high inflation and rising unemployment.

People are traveling more than ever to countries with socialist-oriented policies, they have access to more information than ever demonstrating the benefits of socialist policies, and, within the United States they experience an array of inequalities in their own life surrounding, for example, health and education.

All of these dynamics diminish the effectiveness of fear-mongering around socialism. People know that they could have better access to opportunities and resources. People know that rationing insulin, getting priced out of college opportunities, and getting priced out of owning houses and raising families after college due to exorbitant student debt, do not constitute the good life. And if capitalism won’t provide such opportunities, it’s no surprise socialism will garner ever more support among the population.

This article first appeared on Inside Sources.

Cuba and a New Generation of Leaders Respond to U.S. Anti-People War

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

For almost 60 years Cuba has successfully defended its socialist revolution against a steady onslaught of U.S. aggressive actions, serious enough at times to warrant extraordinary measures. Cuba, for example, established alliances with the Soviet bloc of nations in the early 1960s, readjusted its economy and politics following the Soviet collapse, and sharpened its intelligence capabilities in response to terrorist attacks continuing into the 1990s.

Another set of far-reaching measures is in order now. The Donald Trump administration, intervening aggressively, has disabled both embassies, added restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and on spending there, limited remittances Cuban-Americans send to family members on the island, continued to recruit and finance a political opposition, and implemented Title III of the 1996 Helms Burton Law – aimed at discouraging foreign investments in Cuba.

These actions compound Cuba’s pre-existing economic difficulties, among them: excess imports, insufficient exports, reduced agricultural production, decreased worker productivity, and heavy foreign debt.

On June 27 Cuba’s Council of Ministers announced a comprehensive, multi-faceted response to the recent U.S. aggressions. As reported by Granma, the newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party, and by other Cuban media, the Council’s decisions constitute an agenda for ongoing planning of multiple processes leading to change. The ministers in their statements appealed to Cubans’ sense of nationhood, unity, and culture.

Alejandro Gil Fernandez, Minister of Economy and Planning, provided a summary. The government seeks to increase production generally, diversify and increase exports, substitute endogenous products for imports, promote “productive chains,” strengthen state enterprises, bolster food sovereignty and food production, promote local development, fully implement housing policies, and put “science at the service of solving economic problems.”

Gil Fernandez and Minister of Finances and Prices Meisi Bolaños Weiss joined in discussing salary and pension increases taking effect in July. By the end of 2018 the average state-sector salary had risen from 600 pesos per month to 871 pesos, and as of July will be 1067 pesos. The idea is that increased salaries and pensions will facilitate consumer purchases and thereby stimulate domestic production.

Price controls and anti-inflation measures will be in effect. Future salary increases will depend largely on worker productivity. The cost of the increases is being squeezed into the 2019 budget. To prevent a shortfall, transfers of state funds and their use will be more tightly controlled than in the past, and state agencies will cut spending in other areas.

Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s president and president of the Council of Ministers, on July 2 discussed the reforms on national television, as did other ministers. “We come to this Round Table,” he announced, “to summon everyone to engage in this work with intelligence and love.” And “we have not renounced – nor will we – the idea that our small economy, under siege for these 60 years, will be prosperous and sustainable.” Despite “a U.S. craving for us to return to the Special Period, we are now in better condition to overcome difficulties.”

Salary and pension increases, Díaz- Canel maintained, will lead to coherent pricing and prepare the way for an end to subsidies and Cuba’s dual currency. Those benefiting represent “the sector in which the conquests of the Revolution are defended; they offer important public services.” He called upon workplaces to implement the proposed changes and asked that Cubans align personal interests with the interests of society.

Díaz- Canel urged officials “to phase out administrative methods and adopt economic and financial methods” to be able to handle changing patterns of consumption, marketing, and pricing. Alluding to bureaucratic hindrances, he promised to address “what some call an internal blockade.” The government will promote workers’ commitment to efficiency and productivity. And “cadres and officeholders need preparation to avoid skewed interpretations of the changes.”

The quality of political leadership emerges as a decisive factor as Cuba copes with U.S. war without guns and with lingering problems of its own.

Díaz- Canel epitomizes Cuba’s new generation of revolutionary leaders. Since taking office in April 2018, he has traveled throughout the island, often in company with other ministers. In local meetings, workplaces, and the countryside, he communicates in person with citizens.

Everywhere Díaz- Canel is generous with praise for colleagues and for the Cuban people. They and the nation’s history appear to be his North Star. He refers often to moral and ethical values and not at all to state power. Nor does he dwell upon political enemies who are Cuban.

Speaking to the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) on June 30, he described “delving deeply into the extraordinary creative reserves of the Cuban people. The truth always awaits us there.” Cubans, he noted, are “challenged to give continuity to a unique historical process … a superior cultural event that transformed a small, backward nation, from the roots, into an unquestionable world power, not for its material resources, but rather for its human and emotional resources.” He extolled “a Revolution that has always placed human beings at the center.”

On July 13 Díaz-Canel spoke at the conclusion of the recent session of Cuba’s National Assembly, which featured working sessions of the various parliamentary commissions. He pointed out that, “the 38 activities that the commissions investigated are precisely those that relate to complaints emerging in surveys of public opinion. We decided they were the very ones that require major government actions and solutions.”

The president’s speech covered legislation approved by the Assembly, Cuba’s economic situation, U.S. hostilities, Cuba’s position in the world, and more, including personal reflections.

As regards being president: “I know about the sincere concern of those who think that we demand too much, that any credit derives exclusively from our personal action, and that we even take on tasks that ‘are not those of a president’ … I ask myself what task doesn’t belong to a president in a nation like Cuba, in a Revolution like ours, when we follow the examples of Fidel and Raúl.

“We believe profoundly in collective work,” he declared, adding that “our Council of Ministers is acting, in general, with the intensity and urgency that life demands of us. We begin with constant interchange with the people, with an ear to the ground.”

“In this new stage,” for example, “the key is in the regions and municipalities and in development of localities where they are aware of all they create. Advances there benefit people more directly.” And, “We have to keep on searching out our material and human reserves, looking to monetary savings as a source of income and to our spirituality as a source of creative energy.”

He was optimistic: “[W]hat adversaries ignore is that 60 years of sanctions, threats, and aggression of all kinds have stiffened our resistance. The historical experience of the revolution is an indispensible book of lessons. The first one is about personal, direct interchange with the people. They are the permanent source of creativity and encouragement.”

For Mexican political analyst Ángel Guerra Cabrera, President Miguel Díaz-Canel represents “a total revelation in taking on maximum responsibility for the state.” He notes that, “In our region there is not a single conservative president currently who exhibits even one quality marking a true statesman.” The fact of a highly competent political leadership surely is a favorable prognostic sign for Cuba, now battling to emerge from a newly reinforced U.S. siege on its economy.

How the Goliath of the Jerusalem Settler Movement Persuaded the World It’s Really David

Photograph Source: Gellerj – CC BY-SA 3.0

Israeli police forced out the Siyam family from their home in the heart of occupied East Jerusalem last week, the final chapter in their 25-year legal battle against a powerful settler organisation.

The family’s defeat represented much more than just another eviction. It was intended to land a crushing blow against the hopes of some 20,000 Palestinians living in the shadow of the Old City walls and Al Aqsa mosque.

Dozens of families in the Silwan neighbourhood have endured the same fate as the Siyams, and the Israeli courts have approved the imminent eviction of many hundreds more Palestinians from the area.

But, unlike those families, the Siyams’ predicament briefly caught public attention. That was because one of them, Jawad Siyam, has become a figurehead of Silwan’s resistance efforts.

Mr Siyam, a social worker, has led the fight against Elad, a wealthy settler group that since the early 1990s has been slowly erasing Silwan’s Palestinian identity, in order to remake it as the City of David archeological park.

Mr Siyam has served as a spokesman, drawing attention to Silwan’s plight. He has also helped to organise the community, setting up youth and cultural centres to fortify Silwan’s identity and sense of purpose in the face of Israel’s relentless oppression.

However, the settlers of Elad want Silwan dismembered, not strengthened.

Elad’s mission is to strip away the Palestinian community to reveal crumbling relics beneath, which it claims are proof that King David founded his Israelite kingdom there 3,000 years ago.

The history and archeological rationalisations may be murky, but the political vision is clear. The Palestinians of Silwan are to be forced out like unwelcome squatters.

An Israeli human rights group, Peace Now, refers to plans for the City of David as “the transformation of Silwan into a Disneyland of the messianic extreme right wing”.

It is the most unequal fight imaginable – a story of David and Goliath, in which the giant fools the world into believing he is the underdog.

It has pitted Mr Siyam and other residents against not only the settlers, but the US and Israeli governments, the police and courts, archaeologists, planning authorities, national parks officials and unwitting tourists.

And, adding to their woes, Silwan’s residents are being forced to fight both above and below ground at the same time.

The walls and foundations of dozens of houses are cracking and sinking because the Israeli authorities have licensed Elad to flout normal safety regulations and excavate immediately below the community’s homes. Several families have had to be evacuated.

Late last month Elad flexed its muscles again, this time as it put the finishing touches to its latest touristic project: a tunnel under Silwan that reaches to the foot of Al Aqsa.

On Elad’s behalf, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, wielded a sledgehammer to smash down a symbolic wall inaugurating the tunnel, which has been renamed the Pilgrimage Road.

Elad claims – though many archaeologists doubt it – that in Roman times the tunnel was a street used by Jews to ascend to a temple on the site where today stands the Islamic holy site of Al Aqsa.

The participation of the two US envoys in the ceremony offered further proof that Washington is tearing up the peacemaking rulebook, destroying any hope the Palestinians might once have had of an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Mr Friedman called the City of David complex – at the core of occupied Palestinian Jerusalem – “an essential component of the national heritage of the State of Israel”. Ending the occupation there would be “akin to America returning the Statue of Liberty”.

While Israel, backed by the US, smashes Silwan’s foundations, it is also dominating the sky above it.

Last month Israel’s highest planning body approved a cable car from Israeli territory in West Jerusalem into the centre of Silwan.

It will connect with the City of David and a network of boardwalks, coffee shops and touristic tunnels, such as like the Pilgrimage Road, all run by Elad settlers, to slice apart Silwan.

And to signal how the neighbourhood is being reinvented, the Israeli municipality enforcing the occupation in East Jerusalem recently named several of Silwan’s main streets after famous Jewish rabbis.

Former mayor Nir Barkat has said the goal of all this development is to bring 10 million tourists a year to Silwan, so that they “understand who is really the landlord in this city”.

Few outsiders appear to object. This month, the tourism website TripAdvisor was taken to task by Amnesty International for recommending the City of David as a top attraction in Jerusalem.

And now, Elad has felled the family of Jawad Siyam in a bid to crush the community’s spirits and remaining sense of defiance.

As it has with so many of Silwan’s homeowners, Elad waged a decades-long legal battle against the family to drain them of funds and stamina.

The Siyams’ fate was finally sealed last month when the Israeli courts extended the use of a 70-year-old, draconian piece of legislation, the Absentee Property Law, to Silwan.

The law was crafted specifically to steal the lands and homes of 750,000 Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948 by the new state of Israel.

Ownership of the Siyams’ home is shared between Jawad’s uncles and aunts, some of them classified by Israel as “absentees” because they now live abroad.

As a result, an Israeli official with the title Custodian of Absentee Property claimed ownership of sections of the house belonging to these relatives, and then, in violation of his obligations under international law, sold them on to Elad. Police strong-armed the family out last week.

To add insult to injury, the court also approved Elad seizing money raised via crowdfunding by more than 200 Israeli peace activists, with the aim of helping the Siyams with their legal costs.

Palestinians such as Jawad Siyam exist all over the occupied territories – men and women who have given Palestinians a sense of hope, commitment and steadfastness in the face of Israel’s machinery of dispossession.

When Israel targets Jawad Siyam, crushes his spirits, it sends an unmistakeable message not only to other Palestinians, but to the international community itself, that peace is not on its agenda.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

 

Merger Mania: the Military-Industrial Complex on Steroids

Photograph Source: Elton Lord – Public Domain

When, in his farewell address in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the “unwarranted influence” wielded by the “military-industrial complex,” he could never have dreamed of an arms-making corporation of the size and political clout of Lockheed Martin. In a good year, it now receives up to $50 billion in government contracts, a sum larger than the operating budget of the State Department. And now it’s about to have company.

Raytheon, already one of the top five U.S. defense contractors, is planning to merge with United Technologies. That company is a major contractor in its own right, producing, among other things, the engine for the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive Pentagon weapons program ever. The new firmwill be second only to Lockheed Martin when it comes to consuming your tax dollars — and it may end up even more powerful politically, thanks to President Trump’s fondness for hiring arms industry executives to run the national security state.

Just as Boeing benefited from its former Senior Vice President Patrick Shanahan’s stint as acting secretary of defense, so Raytheon is likely to cash in on the nomination of its former top lobbyist, Mike Esper, as his successor. Esper’s elevation comes shortly after another former Raytheon lobbyist, Charles Faulkner, left the State Department amid charges that he had improperly influenced decisions to sell Raytheon-produced guided bombs to Saudi Arabia for its brutal air war in Yemen. John Rood, third-in-charge at the Pentagon, has worked for both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, while Ryan McCarthy, Mike Esper’s replacement as secretary of the Army, worked for Lockheed on the F-35, which the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has determined may never be ready for combat.

And so it goes. There was a time when Donald Trump was enamored of “his” generals — Secretary of Defense James Mattis (a former board member of the weapons-maker General Dynamics), National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Now, he seems to have a crush on personnel from the industrial side of the military-industrial complex.

As POGO’s research has demonstrated, the infamous “revolving door” that deposits defense executives like Esper in top national security posts swings both ways. The group estimates that, in 2018 alone, 645 senior government officials — mostly from the Pentagon, the uniformed military, and Capitol Hill — went to work as executives, consultants, or board members of one of the top 20 defense contractors.

Fifty years ago, Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire identified the problem when he noted that:

“the movement of high ranking military officers into jobs with defense contractors and the reverse movement of top executives in major defense contractors into high Pentagon jobs is solid evidence of the military-industrial complex in operation. It is a real threat to the public interest because it increases the chances of abuse… How hard a bargain will officers involved in procurement planning or specifications drive when they are one or two years away from retirement and have the example to look at of over 2,000 fellow officers doing well on the outside after retirement?”

In other words, that revolving door and the problems that go with it are anything but new. Right now, however, it seems to be spinning faster than ever — and mergers like the Raytheon-United Technologies one are only likely to feed the phenomenon.

The Last Supper

The merger of Raytheon and United Technologies should bring back memories of the merger boom of the 1990s, when Lockheed combined with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin, Northrop and Grumman formed Northrop Grumman, and Boeing absorbed rival military aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas. And it wasn’t just a matter of big firms pairing up either. Lockheed Martin itself was the product of mergers and acquisitions involving nearly two dozen companies — distinctly a tale of big fish chowing down on little fish. The consolidation of the arms industry in those years was strongly encouraged by Clinton administration Secretary of Defense William Perry, who held a dinner with defense executives that was later dubbed “the last supper.” There, he reportedly told the assembled corporate officials that a third of them would be out of business in five years if they didn’t merge with one of their cohorts.

The Clinton administration’s encouragement of defense industry mergers would prove anything but rhetorical. It would, for instance, provide tens of millions of dollars in merger subsidies to pay for the closing of plants, the moving of equipment, and other necessities. It even picked up part of the tab for the golden parachutes given defense executives and corporate board members ousted in those deals.

The most egregious case was surely that of Norman Augustine. The CEO of Martin Marietta, he would actually take over at the helm of the even more powerful newly created Lockheed Martin. In the process, he received $8.2 million in payments, technically for leaving his post as head of Martin Marietta. U.S. taxpayers would cover more than a third of his windfall. Then, a congressman who has only gained stature in recent years, Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT), began to fight back against those merger subsidies. He dubbed them “payoffs for layoffs” because executives got government-funded bailouts, while an estimated 19,000 workers were laid off in the Lockheed Martin merger alone with no particular taxpayer support. Sanders was actually able to shepherd through legislation that clawed back some, but not all, of those merger subsidies.

According to one argument in favor of the merger binge then, by closing half-empty factories, the new firms could charge less overhead and taxpayers would benefit. Well, dream on. This never came near happening, because the newly merged industrial behemoths turned out to have even greater bargaining power over the Pentagon and Congress than the unmerged companies that preceded them.

Draw your own conclusions about what’s likely to happen in this next round of mergers, since cost overruns and lucrative contracts continue apace. Despite this dismal record, Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy claims that the new corporate pairing will — you guessed it! — save the taxpayers money. Don’t hold your breath.

Influence on Steroids

While Donald Trump briefly expressed reservations about the Raytheon-United Technologies merger and a few members of Congress struck notes of caution, it has been welcomed eagerly on Wall Street. Among the reasonsgiven: the fact that the two companies generally make different products, so their union shouldn’t reduce competition in any specific sector of defense production. It has also been claimed that the new combo, to be known as Raytheon Technologies, will have more funds available for research and development on the weapons of the future.

But focusing on such concerns misses the big picture. Raytheon Technologies will have more money to make campaign contributions, more money to hire lobbyists, and more production sites that can be used as leverage over members of Congress loathe to oppose spending on weapons produced in their states or districts. The classic example of this phenomenon: the F-35 program, which Lockheed Martin claims produces 125,000 jobs spread over 46 states.

When I took a careful look at the company’s estimates, I found that they were claiming approximately twice as many jobs as that weapons system was actually creating. In fact, more than half of F-35-related employment was in just two states, California and Texas (though many other states did have modest numbers of F-35 jobs). Even if Lockheed Martin’s figures are exaggerated, however, there’s no question that spreading defense jobs around the country gives weapons manufacturers unparalleled influence over key members of Congress, much to their benefit when Pentagon budget time rolls around. In fact, it’s a commonplace for Congress to fund more F-35s, F-18s, and similar weapons systems than the Pentagon even asks for. So much for Congressional oversight.

Theoretically, incoming defense secretary Mike Esper will have to recuse himself from major decisions involving his former company. Among them, whether to continue selling Raytheon-produced precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for their devastating air war in Yemen that has killed remarkable numbers of civilians.

No worries. President Trump himself is the biggest booster in living memory of corporate arms sales and Saudi Arabia is far and away his favorite customer. The Senate recently voted down a package of “emergency” arms sales to the Saudis and the UAE that included thousands of Raytheon Paveway munitions, the weapon of choice in that Yemeni air campaign. A similar vote must now take place in the House, but even if it, too, passes, Congress will need to override a virtually guaranteed Trump veto of the bill.

The Raytheon-United Technologies merger will further implicate the new firm in Yemeni developments because the Pratt and Whitney division of United Technologies makes the engine for Saudi Arabia’s key F-15S combat aircraft, a mainstay of the air war there. Not only will Raytheon Technologies profit from such engine sales, but that company’s technicians are likely to help maintain the Saudi air force, thereby enabling it to fly yet more bombing missions more often.

When pressed, Raytheon officials argue that, in enabling mass slaughter, they are simply following U.S. government policy. This ignores the fact that Raytheon and other weapons contractors spend tens of millions of dollars a year on lobbyists, political contributions, and other forms of influence peddling trying to shape U.S. policies on arms exports and weapons procurement. They are, in other words, anything but passive recipients of edicts handed down from Washington.

As Raytheon chief financial officer Toby O’Brien put it in a call to investors that came after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, “We continue to be aligned with the administration’s policies, and we intend to honor our commitments.” Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson made a similar point, asserting that “most of these agreements that we have are government-to-government purchases, so anything that we do has to follow strictly the regulations of the U.S. government… Beyond that, we’ll just work with the U.S. government as they are continuing their relationship with [the Saudis].”

How Powerful Are the Military-Industrial Combines?

When it comes to lobbying the Pentagon and Congress, size matters. Major firms like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon can point to the jobs they and their subcontractors provide in dozens of states and scores of Congressional districts to keep members of Congress in line who might otherwise question or even oppose the tens of billions of dollars in government funding the companies receive annually.

Raytheon — its motto: “Customer Success Is Our Mission” — has primary operations in 16 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. That translates into a lot of leverage over key members of Congress and it doesn’t even count states where the company has major subcontractors. The addition of United Technologies will reinforce the new company’s presence in a number of those states, while adding Connecticut, Iowa, New York, and North Carolina (in other words, at least 20 states in all).

Meanwhile, if the merger is approved, the future Raytheon Technologies will be greasing the wheels of its next arms contracts by relying on nearly four dozen former government officials the two separate companies hired as lobbyists, executives, and board members in 2018 alone. Add to that the $6.4 million in campaign contributions and $20 million in lobbying expenses Raytheon clocked during the last two election cycles and the outlines of its growing influence begin to become clearer. Then, add as well the $2.9 million in campaign contributions and $40 million in lobbying expenses racked up by its merger partner United Technologies and you have a lobbying powerhouse rivaled only by Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense conglomerate.

President Eisenhower’s proposed counterweight to the power of the military-industrial complex was to be “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.” And there are signs that significant numbers of individuals and organizations are beginning to pay more attention to the machinations of the arms lobby. My own outfit, the Center for International Policy, has launched a Sustainable Defense Task Force composed of former military officers and Pentagon officials, White House and Congressional budget experts, and research staffers from progressive and good-government groups. It has already crafted a plan that would cut $1.2 trillion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade, while improving U.S. security by avoiding unnecessary wars, eliminating waste, and scaling back a Pentagon nuclear-weapons buildup slated to cost $1.5 trillion or more over the next three decades.

The Poor People’s Campaign, backed by research conducted by the National Priorities Project of the Institute for Policy Studies, is calling for a one-year $350 billion cut in Pentagon expenditures. And a new network called “Put People Over the Pentagon” has brought together more than 20 progressive organizations to press presidential candidates to cut $200 billion annually from the Department of Defense’s bloated budget. Participants in the network include Public Citizen, Moveon.org, Indivisible, Win Without War, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, and United We Dream, many of them organizations that had not, in past years, made reducing the Pentagon budget a priority.

Raytheon and its arms industry allies won’t sit still in the face of such proposals, but at least the days of unquestioned and unchallenged corporate greed in the ever-merging (but also ever-expanding) arms industry may be coming to an end. The United States has paid an exorbitantly high price in blood and treasure (as have countries like Afghanistan and Iraq) for letting the military-industrial complex steer the American ship of state through this century so far. It’s long past time for a reckoning.

The Devolution Will Be Televised: Our Body-cam President

Gil Scott-Heron was only partially correct when he predicted the revolution would not be televised. “There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers in the instant replay,” he sang. While the revolution may not be aired live in prime time, in the age of mass surveillance, the abuses that may give rise to it are. Yet despite our body-cammed, go-to-the-video response to police brutality and other overt authoritarian abuses, there are few signs of a brewing revolution, televised or not.

Donald Trump is America’s body-cam, the not so smart smartphone streaming medium through which the nation glimpses itself. Like these instruments of public surveillance, Trump presents to us a portrait of American life that is as unrelenting in its ugliness as it is gruelingly uncomfortable to watch, prompting swift if disingenuous denials of a reality that for far too long had been rejected in favor of national hagiography.

Decades before these devices, Americans of color had complained of police malfeasance only to be met with condescending skepticism. Today, these technologies have helped to mitigated such skepticism, providing a digital archive of atrocities that make what was once hidden glaringly apparent to all but the most flagrant deniers. In a similar way, Trump has exposed the perennial undercurrents of American racism, bringing them to the surface for all to see: Torch-bearing white supremacist march in Virginia; nationally, an alphabet soup of negrophobic whites (BBQ Becky, Cornerstore Caroline, Coupon Carl, ID Adam, Pool Patrol Paula, et al.) take up the white wo/man’s burden of policing black and brown bodies; the sordid tragedy of humanity caged at its southern border.

With Trump in power, the devolution has been televised, in 4K, 24/7/365 as the nation binge watches the erosion of its deceptively adulatory national self-portrait. In those halcyon pre-Trump days, we liked to speak of “polite racism,” a gentlemen’s agreement for the new millennium, the perfect anodyne for the “post-race,” Change-and-Hope Obama years. The days of raw, unapologetic racial animus, white America told itself, were a relic of its past. To a large degree, the corporate media promulgated this myth, until the internet, social media, smartphones, and body cams belied it, and a narcissistic, camera-hungry plutocrat replaced the man who gave it a semblance of naïve credence. Trump has become the personification of this new-yet-old America: boorish, bigoted, undeservedly boastful, the buffoonish embodiment of a nation that benefits from the exploitation of others while vigorously denying that it does.

Salon’s Amanda Marcotte observes, “What drives the Trump base isn’t actually Donald Trump himself. It’s the bigotry. Everything else is gravy.” It is not that Trump has demonstrably made America more racist but that he has given racists – and those who refuse to see them – a face to rally around. Indeed, it is all too easy to dismiss Trump’s base as “trolls” – both among the general public and in attendance at his recently convened “social media summit” – as MAGA-hatted troglodytes with a penchant for white extremism and xenophobia, since this would spare the rest of America the discomforting but necessary angst of unflinching self-reflection. However, while their views may arguably be fringeworthy, they themselves are not marginal; instead, they occupy positions of power and authority, as they have historically, from the days of slave patrols and paddyrollers, Jim Crow and more recently Stop and Frisk and Broken Windows. In each case, they view themselves as Guardians and Defenders of a threatened republic and the whiteness for which it stood – and defiantly still stands, the same roles that Trump envisions himself performing with every sniffle-punctuated vilification of its citizens of color.

A number of recent reports expose the extent to which normalized extremism permeates the ranks of those who serve and protect the state. The investigative website Reveal reports it was able to join dozens of closed Facebook hate groups which have as its members hundreds of active duty and retired cops “at every level of American law enforcement, from tiny, rural sheriff’s departments to the largest agencies in the country, such as Los Angeles and New York police departments.” Currently, over 50 police departments across the nation are under investigation.

The Associated Press reports that police departments in five states (Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Missouri) have launched investigations into their officers’ public Facebook accounts following the publication of a database that revealed racist, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant posts, some glorifying police brutality. In Philadelphia alone, 72 police officers have been placed on administrative duty, with “several dozen” possibly facing disciplinary action and termination for racist Facebook posts.

There is nothing particularly new here, save the spate of coverage. As the Intercept reports, a 2015 classified FBI Counter Terrorism Policy Guide noted law enforcement’s “deep historical connections to racist ideologies” and the “longstanding strategy [white extremist groups] “to infiltrate the law enforcement community.” The report also called out the practice of such groups of encouraging “ghost skins” – those who publicly conceal their white supremacist views so as to pass undetected into the mainstream and covertly advance their cause – to pursue jobs in law enforcement in order to alert them to police investigations.

Of course, extremist infiltration is not confined to “America’s finest.” In 2006, ten years after the armed forces cracked down on white extremists in its ranks, the Southern Poverty Legal Center reported that these groups had once again infiltrated the military. According to a Department of Defense investigator cited in the report, “Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don’t remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members.” During the Iraq War the military cast a blind eye to such individuals in order to meet its recruitment goals.

More recently, ProPublica reported the existence of “I’m 10-15,” a secret Customs and Border Protection agency racist Facebook group whose membership consists of 9,500 current and former Border Patrol agents.

This not a matter of a “few rotten apples”; this is the orchard: When Mark Morgan, former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the newly installed acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, justifies such confinements on the grounds that he could “unequivocally” tell just by “looking at their eyes” that “so-called minors” held in detention were “soon-to-be-MS-13 gang members,” there can be no doubt the rot is endemic, infesting both the rank and file and the top.

The devolution will be televised.

On July 4th, the world had foisted upon it a “Salute to America,” with Trump as three-ring carnival barker, a gauche spectacle that featured tanks stationed in front of the Lincoln Memorial and waves of military aircraft flying over the Washington Monument – indeed, if you look closely, you could, despite Trump’s previous insistence to the contrary, even see an F-35 fighter, though if he actually believed in their literal invisibility, it would make them a poor choice for an air show. (Still, Trump probably defended his choice to include them by insisting earlier versions of these Wonder Woman jets were used by American militias to secure British airports during the Revolutionary War.) All that was absent were clear skies and goose-stepping soldiers, though given Trump’s authoritarian proclivities, the latter may not be far behind.

Yet, as Americans sat before their TVs to celebrate their independence, immigrants and asylum seekers lingered – and continue to linger – in standing-room-only cages in unsanitary condition and drinking from toilets as their children grow sick and die. And when members of Congress toured detainment centers in El Paso, Texas, the “trolls” emerged from beneath their cyberspace bridges to greet them with jeers and Islamophobic slurs. Actions speak louder than words, or, it seems, Facebook posts.

It is telling, however, that some prefer to debate the nomenclature of exclusion rather than act against policies that repeat the nation’s historical mistakes and confront its ugly past. Some were offended that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to these facilities as “concentration camps,” claiming she callously invoked the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. However, concentration camps did not originate in Nazi Germany but in South Africa’s Boer War and America’s own racist, genocidal past, one whose legacy includes not only the internment of Japanese-Americans at Tule Lake, Manzanar, Gila River, and Granada, but also Native Americans to Ross’s Landing, Fort Cass, and Fort Snelling, and the “sheltering” of freed African Americans slaves so-called contraband camps, many of whose conditions resembled those of today’s detention centers, though we have tended to describe these facilities with a variety of palliative euphemisms: “relocation camps,” “internment camps,” “assembly centers,” “Indian camps,” and “reservations” that minimize their role in the removal, confinement, and, yes, death of people of color in America. And in the shadow of this bowdlerized history, FOX News apparatchik brush off their present-day iteration as “overcrowded luxury hotels,” “border schools,” and, as Laura Ingraham dismissively described them, “summer camps.”

If the above names are not as familiar Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka or Buchenwald, it is because they reflect a history that Americans would prefer to ignore, as well as the fact that Nazi concentration camps and the racial policies that preceded their construction were inspired by America’s. As Yale Law school professor James Q. Whitman notes in his Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, in 1928 Hitler “spoke admiringly about the way Americans had ‘gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few thousand and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage.’” In Adolf Hitler, historian John Toland goes a step further, explaining, “Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild West; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination – by starvation and uneven combat – of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.” And while the debate over nomenclature and “false equivalencies,” has been reengaged, we should not lose sight of their similarities. In 1998, the Japanese American Nation Museum and American Jewish Committee issued a joint statement that emphasized these commonalities, pointing out that “[d]espite differences, all had one thing in common: the people in power removed a minority from the general population and the rest of society let it happen” (my emphasis), which seems as apt a description as any of the shared intent of those who create such facilities and the complicity of those who permit their use.

Body cams can be turned off; our body-cam president has not – and arguably should not, at least until Americans have fully inspected the toxic reality of what their nation is. I am tempted to say “has become,” but it has been this way for some time; it is simply that Trump has brought its racism out into the open.

As the 2020 election approaches, the question facing Americans is often framed in terms of whether, they will ignore Trump’s all too obvious flaws and grant him another four years (that this remains a serious possibility after two and a half years of lies, scandals, and overtly racist tantrums, including his latest slander of Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, is frankly stupefying). What this question fails to address is the far more unsettling matter of why, through our inaction and that of our political leadership, we allow him to remain in office when constitutional mechanisms exist to remove him. And yet, even if Trump were successfully ousted, I cannot help wonder if this would be the equivalent of turning off a body-cam so that we can once again indulge our perpetual state of denial, for in the absence of political will directed at eliminating the systemic sources of our dysfunction, changes at the top of the hate chain will only be cosmetic and placatory.

Psychology Stories: Children

Photograph Source: diario fotográfico ‘desde Palestina’ – CC BY-SA 3.0

The majesty and burning of the child’s death…. After the first death, there is no other.

– Dylan Thomas

The sniper who shot at Muhammad the child
Beneath his father’s arm
Wasn’t acting alone

– Aharon Shabtai, J’Accuse

If you are overcome by the horrific crimes against the humanity of children and then wonder how this can be, it may help to understand stories that adults tell children in their day-to-day lives. What kinds of core beliefs justify so much atrocity? My understanding comes in part from psychoanalytic work with children and adults. There are countless children’s stories, but I will focus here on Roger Hargreaves’ Little Miss Helpful and compare it to the Hobans’ A Birthday for Frances, and then touch on Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi’s revelatory documentary about the Masada and Samson heroic suicide terrorism stories told to Israeli children as they grow up.

Normalizing the pathological is a counterpart to the practice of “Pathologizing Kids”, written about recently by Martha Rosenberg’s Counterpunch article.

Little Miss Helpful is part of a 130 book series of Little Miss and Mr. Men pocket-sized, inexpensive books published by Penguin-Random House and promoted as one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. According to the Wikipedia, the books sold “100 million worldwide across 28 countries”. The illustrations are basically one-dimensional emoticons with heads and bodies blended in one big bubble. There is no separation or intercession between a thinking head and acting body. The stories give no impression that there is an inner life of thinking, feeling, or sensing.

“Little Miss” is a caricature, not a character. “Little Miss” is a cute and sarcastic term. “Little Miss Helpful was one of those people who loves to help other people, but who ends up helping nobody. Do you know what I mean?” The story goes from one slapstick incident to another, with physical pain being funny but never conveyed as painful, dangerous, or shaming. Every attempt to help turns into a silly mess, and Little Miss Helpful learns nothing and is never regretful or empathic. The explicit moral: Helping is Ridiculous. In some of the other books, the presenting problem is fixed by magic or resolved when Little Miss or Mr. Man is humored by Mr. Happy’s positive thinking. Do these stories distill the worldview of capitalism?

In contrast, A Birthday for Frances shows how a little girl can struggle and even change when confronted with some of the knottiest of human problems. It is Frances’ little sister’s birthday, and Frances must deal with her own jealousy, resentment, rationalizations, and her all-or-nothing belief about the distribution of desirable goods.

“Your [my] birthday is always the one that is not now”. The characters are possums but the illustrations depict subtleties of many emotions. Frances’ parents are parental, neither matriarchal nor patriarchal, and they sense when to offer help and when to step aside as they infuse a sense of proportion and reality to Frances. Frances draws mean pictures and relishes being witch-like. Both sisters remember mean things they’ve done to each other. Frances experiences psychological conflict: she cries as she does, and does not want to give her sister a present. She does buy with her own money a gift that she knows her sister will like – a chocolate “Chompo” bar, something she would love to eat too. She struggles with holding on to it, giving it a ‘Squeeze” as she is finally able to give it to her sister. There is no magic in this story. Their mother comments on how wishes to settle conflicts is “a special kind of good wish that can make itself come true.” And Frances is able to say to her sister “You can eat it all, because you are the birthday girl”. Frances is a child who is already quite a full person: she loves words and she makes up rhymes, songs, and expressive stories in the process of knowing herself.

The Mograbi documentary Avenge But One of My Two Eyes shows ways that adults clearly indoctrinate children with stories. Mograbi films parents, teachers, religious and military leaders depicting the Samson and Masada stories in compellingly exciting, frightening, and seductive ways that tap specifically into the various anxieties at different phases of development. The adult story-tellers conflate fiction and reality: a father graphically describes to his very young children how “Samson The Hero” disgorged and mutilated a lion, dramatizing how sadism is the key to security. A group of older teens, as part of their military training, hear about heroic Masada leaders and are asked what they would do if under siege by an occupying force, and without hesitation or any hint of irony, the majority said they would commit kamikaze acts against the military occupiers. A religious leader whips up sexualized frenzy as he conflates ancient Philistines with modern Palestinians.

I presented a detailed analysis of this film at the 2008 Gaza Community Mental Health Programme/World Health Organization “Building Bridges” meeting held just before Operation Cast Lead erupted against Gaza.i The telling of the stories evokes unquestioning admiration of powerful authority when children are beginning to form their own values; guides press for loyalty to the group at a time when teens waver between individual and group identity. The stark outcome is that these children and adolescents identify with historic victimhood as an entitlement to be grandiose aggressors like Samson or the Massada leaders.

A different and respectful message comes from Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

The Coal Industry is Not a Major Employer

Photograph Source: Surface coal mining in Wyoming – Public Domain

The NYT had a column by Eliza Griswold talking about the prospect of job loss in coal mining areas due to efforts to restrict greenhouse gas emissions. While it is often traumatic for workers to lose jobs, especially long-held jobs, it is important to realize that relatively few jobs are at stake in the coal mining industry.

For example, in Pennsylvania, one of the states mentioned in the piece, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are now 5,000 coal mining jobs in the state. The state has over 6 million workers, which means that coal mining accounts for roughly 0.08 percent of employment in the state.

Kentucky has 5,800 jobs in coal mining, with total employment of 1,950,000. That comes to a bit more than 0.3 percent of total employment.

Even in West Virginia, the heart of coal country, there are only 23,000 jobs in coal mining out of a total of 740,000 jobs. This comes to a bit more than 3.0 percent of total employment.

In all three states there were sharp drops in employment in the industry in the past, which drastically reduced the importance of coal mining employment.

It is a bit peculiar that the earlier declines in coal mining employment, which were primarily due to productivity growth (specifically, replacing underground mining with strip mining — a policy often opposed by environmentalists), received relatively little attention in the media or from politicians.

By contrast, the prospect of considerably smaller future declines due to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is drawing extensive attention.

Corporate Gangster: Adani’s Pursuit of Scientists

The Adani conglomerate should be best described as a bloated gangster, promising the earth even as it mines it. Like other corporate thugs of such disposition, it will do things within, and if necessary outside, the regulatory framework it encounters. Where necessary, it will libel detractors and bribe critics, speak of a fictional number of as yet non-existent jobs, and claim that it is green in its coaling practices. It will also hire legal firms claiming to be trained attack dogs and hector the national broadcaster to pull unflattering stories from publication and discussion.

As a marauder of the environment, the Indian mining giant has left little to chance. It has politicians friendly to its cause in Australia at both the state and federal level, but it faces an environmental movement that refuses to dissipate. It also has a problem with environmental science, particularly in the area of water management. Conditional approvals have been secured, albeit hurried in the aftermath of May’s federal election, and even here, further testing will have to be done.

Given the inconveniences posed by scientists wedded to methodology and technique, the company did not surprise in freedom of information findings by the environmental group Lock the Gate that it had asked the federal environment department for “a list of each person from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia involved in the review” of the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan (GDEMP) and Groundwater Monitoring and Management Plan (GMMP).

In a bullying note to the Department of Environment and Energy (DOEE) in January 25 this year, Hamish Manzi, head of the company’s environment and sustainability branch officiously gave a five day limit to the request, claiming that it “simply wants to know who is involved in the review to provide it with peace of mind that it is being treated fairly and that the review will not be hijacked by activists with a political, as opposed to scientific, agenda.” Manzi had noted “recent press coverage regarding an anti-coal and/or anti-Adani bias potentially held by experts reviewing other Adani approvals.” For Manzi, the only expert worthy of that name would have to be sympathetic to the mining cause.

The corporate instinct is rarely on all fours with that of the scientific one. The former seeks the accumulation of assets, profits and dividends; the latter tests hypotheses using a falsification system, a process that can only ever have fidelity to itself. The corporate instinct is happy to forget troubling scientific outcomes, and, where necessary, corrupt it for its ends. Where the science does not match, it is obviously the work of ill-motivated activists or those inconvenienced by conscience.

The Union of Concerned Scientists in February 2012, through its Scientific Integrity Program, supplied readers with a list of fields where science, and scientists, have been attacked or compromised. More importantly, it notes how governments become the subject of influence, their decisions ever vulnerable to wobbling. “Corporations attempt to exert influence at every step of the scientific and policy-making processes, often to shape decisions in their favour or avoid regulation and monitoring of their products and by-products at the public’s expense. In so doing, they often attempt to fundamentally alter the decision-making process.”

The methods of corrupting science are not exhaustive, but the UCS report suggests a view tried ones. Research, for instance, is either held up by the company in question or terminated. Scientists are intimidated or coerced through threats to job security, defunding and litigation. Defective methodologies in testing and research are embraced. Scientific articles are ghost written, with corporate sponsorship blurred. Negative results are slyly underreported; positive results are glowingly celebrated. And never forget good old fashioned vilification.

The FOI documents regarding Adani’s conduct show the company as a witchdoctor wooing the federal government into timed releases of information and an obsession with preventing a broader public discussion of findings. A January 9 email from Adani to DOEE demanded that CSIRO/GA reports not be circulated to third parties or the public. The next day, the department obligingly informed the company that it would only share advice with Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science.

The uncovered documents also show a certain degree of cyber stalking at play. On January 15, a staff member of Geoscience Australia wrote to DOEE expressing concern that the company had viewed LinkedIn profiles of employees. Such concerns did little to ruffle the growing accord between the department and the company.

The abdication of government to the corporate sector is one of the more troubling features of this tawdry chapter in Australian non-governance. Corporate giants know they must enlist the support of representatives who they can trust to be of sound mind. History is replete with successful lobbying efforts in the name of corrupted science.

In 2007, ReGen Biologics, a New Jersey company, faced a sceptical Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerned with Menaflex, a device intended to replace knee cartilage. With the FDA’s rejection came a mobilisation effort. Politicians were sought and cultivated. In December that year, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Rep. Steve Rothman all wrote to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. The Commissioner’s ear had been bended sufficiently to lead to a new review headed by Dr Daniel Schultz, head of the FDA’s medical devices division. Scepticism vanished; the product was approved. In 2010, a shamefaced FDA had to concede that it had erred and duly revoked approval.

Instead of defending practices of departments and professionals engaged in the task of assessing the merits of such ventures, individuals such as the Australian deputy prime minister suggest that Adani might have a point in is heavy-handed enthusiasm to root out contrarians. In Michael McCormack’s view, Adani “were made to jump through more environmental hoops than perhaps any previous project in the nation.” They merely “wanted to determine… that those arguing against their proposals were not just some quasi anti-development groups or individuals.” The thug’s narrative has found a home in the hearts of the anti-scientific representatives that currently rule the Canberra roost. Scientists have been warned.

National Polls Don’t Mean Much. Here’s Why.

“Here we go with the Fake Polls,” President Donald Trump tweeted on July 15.  “Just like what happened with the Election against Crooked Hillary Clinton.” He’s complaining about several polls that show him losing the national popular vote to various Democratic presidential aspirants, in some cases by double digits.

He has a point. In 2016, most polls showed Hillary Clinton winning handily and most Americans seem surprised when Trump emerged victorious.

On the other hand, Trump’s future isn’t quite as indisputably bright as he’d have you believe.

We’re looking at two separate problems.

The first problem is the false perception that there’s a “national popular vote” or, concomitantly, “winning nationally.” There isn’t.

The second problem is that in recent years polling techniques just haven’t produced very accurate results.

First, the “national popular vote”:  Hillary Clinton received more votes nationwide than Trump did in 2016, but lost the election because  all of each state’s electoral votes go to the winner of the popular vote in that state (except Nebraska and Maine, which apportion their electoral votes by congressional district). A narrow win in a state gets you exactly as many electoral votes as a landslide and vice versa.

Clinton won California, beating Trump by more than 4 million votes. Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump nationwide. But Trump racked up 304 electoral votes to her 227 with small-margin wins in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Nationally, the election turned on fewer than 80,000 individual votes in those last three states.

That’s how it works. A “national” poll can’t tell us who will win a presidential election because it doesn’t capture the relevant data.

Second, the problem with polling as such: Pollsters are having a harder time identifying and reaching representative samples of likely voters who willingly share their preferences.

In 2016, I predicted (six months in advance) that Trump would win Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Friends told me I was crazy to think he’d win any of those states. He won them all — and with them, the election.

My formula for predicting the outcome those states was simple: I believed that any state in which Clinton didn’t enjoy at least a 5% polling advantage would go for Trump, because Trump was  activating a demographic — rural Republicans — that was going to turn out at much higher than usual levels but that pollsters weren’t reaching.

What’s Trump’s 2020 problem? A few tens of thousands of Democratic votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and possibly Florida would enough to reverse the Electoral College outcome.

In 2016, Trump was at the top of his turnout game and the Democrats were at the bottom of theirs. He has nowhere to go but down. They have nowhere to go but up.

My prediction: Trump won’t win any states in 2020 that he didn’t win in 2016. The question is how many states (and thus how many electoral votes) the Democratic nominee can wrench from his grasp. Two would be enough, if one of them is Florida. Without Florida, it would take three.

It’s closer than it looks, folks.

Africans Solving African Problems; Bringing Peace to Sudan

The recent peace deal being implemented in Sudan was brokered by African leaders without any interference or even input by non African players ie the UN or western countries. As a matter of fact the deal was made in Asmara, Eritrea where the head of the Sudanese military that had overthrown the long time despot Omar Al Bashir sat down for two days with Eritrean mediators, agreed to the deal, flew back to Khartoum and announced the deal a few hours later.

No western “input”, no UN involvement, actually no African Union involvement to speak of, though the AU spokesperson was allowed to make the public announcement of the peace deal.

Just like the last, hopefully, South Sudan peace deal, the only one that has been pretty much successful, the road to peace in the Horn of Africa once again ran through Asmara. And not one so called “expert” in matters African has pointed out the obvious, that it was only a few hours after returning from Eritrea that the deal was announced.

Say something positive about a “socialist country”, Eritrea? They all seem to know how NOT to bite the hand that feeds them. Nothing positive can be said about Eritrea, no ways no how. Never mind that peace has descended on Sudan, or at least the capital Khartoum, and it arrived on the wings of a jet direct from Asmara.

So once again, as in the case of Ethiopia’s “Peaceful Revolution”, peace has broken out in the Horn of Africa, or at least a major step in that direction, and credit must be given to those who deserve it, the leadership of Eritrea. It’s a matter of Africans solving African problems, the only way real, durable peace anywhere on the continent will be obtained.

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