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This Labor Day, We Need Real Plans to Build Worker Power

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This Labor Day, Democratic presidential candidates will no doubt be touting their support for a $15 per hour minimum wage. None have opposed the idea.

A minimum wage increase would put more money in workers’ pockets. But so far, only two candidates — Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — have far-reaching proposals to give workers something even more important: more power.

Both senators, for example, support the idea of requiring big corporations to give workers a seat in their boardrooms.

Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act would guarantee workers the right to elect 40 percent of their firm’s board of directors. Warren hopes this will help companies break with the “shareholder-first” model that has resulted in a fixation on short-term profits.

In Europe, such “codetermination” policies are widely prevalent, providing unions a strong voice in corporate decision-making. In Germany, for instance, workers choose a significant proportion of company board members — and in certain industries, worker representatives exercise equivalent control to shareholders.

In addition to his Workplace Democracy Plan, which among other things would allow workers to organize throughout entire industries (and not just at their individual workplaces), Sanders is also reportedly developing a proposal to give workers a direct ownership stake in their companies.

This idea also has European roots.

In the UK, for example, the Labour Party program for Inclusive Ownership Funds would gradually shift up to 10 percent of large firms’ stock ownership into worker funds. Workers would receive dividends of up to around $600 per year, with any excess revenue going national welfare programs.

This UK plan can be traced back to a similar, but bolder, proposal in 1970s Sweden.

At that time, Swedish trade unions had agreed to keep wages down as part of an anti-inflation pact with employers and the government. But trade union economist Rudolf Meidner saw how corporations were accumulating excess profits in the arrangement and vowed to do something about it.

Under the “Meidner Plan,” Swedish workers would’ve continued to go without inflation-creating pay raises, but their economic power would’ve increased through the transfer of corporate voting share into new employee investment funds. After just a few decades of operation, Meidner envisioned these funds securing majority control over the Swedish stock market.

The plan sparked a massive corporate backlash. Even ABBA opposed it! (Band members not only topped the global pop charts — they also happened to own several companies.) The country’s center-left Social Democratic Party eventually rejected it, too.

Still, Meidner’s vision remains inspiring. Here in the United States, looking at how executives and wealthy shareholders have pocketed the lion’s share of Republican tax cut windfalls, it’s clearer than ever that we need transformative change if workers are to get their fair share of the fruits of their labor.

A Next System Project poll found that a majority of Americans already support a policy resembling the proposed UK Inclusive Ownership Funds.

Economists have long grappled with how to couple traditional tax and wage policy with the broader question of building worker power. In the 2020 election, both Sanders and Warren have proven serious about confronting the latter challenge — though a few things still separate them.

Sanders deserves special praise for explicitly naming the “working class” movement he hopes to build. Recent reports revealed that Warren’s campaign, by contrast, repeatedly crossed a Culinary Union picket line in Las Vegas, which shows that we must hold “pro-worker” candidates accountable too.

This Labor Day, it’s time this country had a real conversation about building power for the working class.

Finn Collom is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies.

The post This Labor Day, We Need Real Plans to Build Worker Power appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Hong Kong’s Enemy Within

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The bedrock of any nation is its government — the manifestation of its sovereignty and protector of its people. But what if the personal loyalties of a substantial portion of civil servants do not lie with the sovereign? Worse, what if these allegiances are actually more to other powers — forces that are at odds with the sovereign and working to undermine its interests?

Naturally, such a situation would never be tolerated in any normal jurisdiction. Hong Kong, under One Country, Two Systems (OCTS), is not a normal jurisdiction. Its sovereign is China, but large swathes of the special administrative region’s power structure are not only alienated from it, but also feel attached to the Western values and worldview of their former colonial masters. That’s because under OCTS, decolonization has been merely nominal.

Under normal conditions, it would not be a problem if government officials maintained a strict, professional political neutrality, as they are required to do. But in times of extreme stress, like the present, the underlying tensions have burst forth with a vengeance. As the US Empire unleashes a full-spectrum war against China and a color revolution against Hong Kong, the local government has itself become arguably the biggest obstacle in the SAR to a resolution favorable to the sovereign. Over the past two months, it has been increasingly clear that many civil servants are actively or passively helping the very pro-”democracy” protesters and rioters that the administration is trying to curb.

The sickness of Hong Kong’s 180,000-strong government starts at the top. The Carrie Lam administration remains flat on its back, after its knockout two months ago by the blackshirt shocktroops of local Beijing-haters and their Anglo-American allies. As the democracy thugs rampage throughout Hong Kong, terrorizing ordinary folk, disrupting their lives and trashing the economy, all Lam has done is to keep turning the other cheek, offer “dialogue” with de facto terrorists and try to bribe them with cash handouts. That might have made some sense two months ago, but are laughable amid the hugely escalated violence today.

Essentially, top officers of the Hong Kong SAR government are neocolonial civil servants more conditioned to following and executing orders than providing bold, visionary leadership. As a veteran Hong Kong observer says: “Our government is dysfunctional. The top officers took decades to climb to where they are. Each is more concerned about retiring with a hefty pension than sticking their neck out, leaving a bad name in public … or with securing a final promotion. So don’t look for our government ‘leaders’ to calm this perfect storm.”

The problem of neocolonials then extends to all major departments of the SAR administration. How serious is it? A preliminary estimate has been circulating online recently. It places the percentages of pro-”democracy,” anti-Beijing personnel at:

+ Legislators 40%

+ Judges 80% +

+ Department of Justice 50%

+ Medical & Health 30% +

+ Teachers 50% +

+ Education officials 70% +

+ Media (RTHK) 90%

+ Social welfare 95%

+ Environment & Public Health 50%

+ Customs 30%

+ Fire Services 20%

+ Police Nearly 20%

If such figures are anywhere near the truth, they would help explain a phenomenon of fundamental importance: why Hong Kong, in the two decades since reunification with China, has drawn further away from its motherland rather than closer to it.

Government leadership (or lack of it) directly impacts all aspects of life in Hong Kong. When the “Cockroach Revolution” is over, those in charge of a needed reform & rectification campaign to follow will have to do a proper, thorough job. Real decolonization will be essential, if Hong Kong is to have a sound, constructive future as a genuine part of China.

Well-placed mainland friends have started to talk about a “second return to the motherland” for Hong Kong. Both Beijing and Hong Kong got key parts of the first return wrong — quite disastrously, as present events are proving. They must not repeat the mistake.

The author is a veteran journalist based in Hong Kong. He contributes to 21SilkRd in Facebook.

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Politics & 21st Century Discontents: Change It

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We’ve Got Trouble People

We are in a real pickle. Trouble with a capital “T”. Up the creek without a paddle. A clusterfuck of epic proportions. Why? What’s going on?

Humanity, organized civilization and all our relations – birds that fly, fish that swim and zero-to-four-legged biological cousins of myriad categories and descriptions – we stand on the brink of destruction. Whether thru the next decade or so of intensifying climate chaos and mass extinction-collapsing food webs, or sudden and devastating nuclear or other acts of war, we find ourselves up against a wall of potential destruction. What’s the key?

Capital. Class. Race. Gender. Identity. Energy. Food. Water. Poverty and inequality. Migration and deprivation. The issues of our crisis and our peril are utterly overwhelming. A modest and hopefully constructive suggestion: at the very root of all these existential challenges and threats, both originating the devastation and preventing remediation on any truly effective, mass scale, is one basic attribute of our humanity and our politics; no one (me included) likes being told that our behavior is a problem, and that one way or another it has to change.

That is, our behavior has to change, not simply because somebody is complaining or demanding it, but because of the nature of our condition and the inevitable consequences. If we don’t change, this situation will force changes that we won’t like at all.

Whether the particular issue is our continued addiction to fossil fuels for agriculture, transit, indoor comfort and everything else; neofascist white nationalism, settler colonialism and violence; insane leaders; war and peace between relations in the human family; economic development that enriches and improves society as a whole, rather than polarizing winners and losers; production of goods and services, or reproduction of the species and our so-called civilization; media, fake truth and mass psychological manipulation and extraction of value from vulnerable and unprotected People. Whatever. In our terribly fraught century, it’s all coming to an irresistible head; rapidly, violently and intensely. And at the root of all the political heat and noise around it is the hidden, simple reality: none of us wants to change even tho we obviously have to, or we’re gonna flip this overcrowded lifeboat.

Three immediate consequences follow from this analysis:

1. As to my own and each of our behaviors, it’s absolutely vital that we do everything in our power to avoid and minimize the problems we cause for others. And when we cause such problems, as we inevitably do just by living, we must keep busy consistently, proactively and continually doing everything in our power to make amends;

2. As to others’ behaviors, altho they don’t want to hear it, real political action in the 21st century demands that we model, make and continually insist upon the necessary changes. We have to change how we live. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is trying to fool themselves or others about the real nature our situation; and

3. Accepting the need for changes, and going with it, will make things somewhat better. It really will.

How do We Know That?

Start with a couple of the things that divide us: class and race. English historian E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class depicts mass, historic agency in the 19th century as class formation. There have been many kindred neo-Marxist revisions of class in terms of how we make change ever since. In myriad ways and contexts, gender, generation, race, community and other features of our potentially revolutionary diversity in Power can be “classes”, when we go into action. Understood and acted on, class power is our ultimate weapon. That’s why they don’t teach it in school.

American critical race scholar Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist insightfully distinguishes the “racism” Americans commonly discuss as a negative insult, when it’s simply descriptive of our racist reality, nation and systems. Therefore, there can’t any non-racists, only racists or anti-racists. Wield class power in the service of anti-racism and watch our contemporary clown car of wannabe fascist dictators scuttle for the exits.

Class and race, put them together; the need for real world agency and the need to choose a side for justice. The things that divide us in our collective unconscious, whatever they are and however they change over time, inevitably call on our agency and our choice. They’re ultimately under our own control, but even more important, that makes it real hard for us to hear that our behavior is part of the problem and it has to change. The only thing harder will be the deadly consequences of not hearing it.

Crucially, once we “get” the need for change we can start the healing and getting better if – and only if – we make the right choices and develop our agency. All social movement history proves this essential point. Movement power might not be able to make the revolution or smash domination in all its noxious forms today, but experience shows it’s the only thing that ever really makes anything much better. That’s how we know this.

Beyond the Immediate Consequences

Let’s revisit our three immediate political consequences of the imperative for, and the difficult challenges of, change in our crazed times.

First, those basic constraints on creating problems via our personal behavior collectively mean we have to transcend capitalism. We can’t be not hurting others and making up for historic injuries to them all the time and be capitalists. Good riddance to capitalism, should have been done long ago!

Second, change means survival. No change, no survival. Be straight, persistent, courageous, creative and relentless for system change, against climate change. The youth are already leading this movement brilliantly. Do your part. It’s a matter of your life or your death, and however it comes out you’ll be better if you do your best!

Third, although the future is uncertain as ever and terrifying as hell, part of whatever this necessary post-capitalist future turns out to become is always available to us in the core of our essential humanity. Our agency and our choice. Choose to claim the space, time and personal commitment to radical solidarity the times call for! Of course it’s hard. Of course there are no guarantees. Of course no one likes to hear they must change their problematic behaviors, but that’s life, and we have to be as radical as reality!

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The NRA vs. American Children

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If any doubts remain about the nefarious influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) on the political life of the United States, President Donald Trump’s decision to discuss gun control measures with that organization should dispel them. The offer to discuss these measures is like asking a criminal for his weapon of choice in order to hand it over. This obsequiousness equals that of many legislators, mainly Republican, who refuse to pass effective legislation on gun control measures out of fear of losing NRA support. Scores of people stand to lose, among them a significant number of children and adolescents, whose lives end needlessly by criminal violence.

Children and teens in the United States experience much higher rates of gun deaths and injuries than in any other industrialized country. In 2016, guns killed twice as many children as did cancer; only vehicle crashes were a higher cause of death. That same year, firearm-related injuries killed 3,143 children, while cancer caused 1,893 childhood deaths.

When compared to other countries, the statistics are also surprising. In 2016, children in the U.S. were 36 times more likely to be killed by a gun than the total number of children in the other 12 wealthiest countries in the world. There is also a big difference between the U.S. and low-to-middle income countries. There were five times as many child gun deaths in the former than in the latter, according to 2016 data (the last year this information was available.) “Children in America are dying or being killed at rates that are shameful,” concluded in an editorial Edward W. Champion, the executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The consequences of gun violence are also felt in other ways. Children and teens are affected when a friend or family member is killed or harmed, or when they witness deadly gun violence. School shootings leave scores of children with post-traumatic-stress disorder, leading some to commit suicide. Many of the survivors suffer other serious psychological consequences.

The impact of gun violence is not shared equally across populations. In the U.S., African American and Latino children experience higher rates of gun violence than their white peers; they are 22 and 14 times, respectively, more likely to die by gun homicide than their white counterparts. To a large extent, this is the result of political decisions that create segregated neighborhoods and do not provide economic incentives for development.

So far, the response of both the President and most legislators to this dire situation have been inadequate. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, a well-known supporter of gun rights, refused to convene the Senate back early to discuss this crisis or to commit addressing it with the urgency and care it deserves.

The President’s flippant attitude belittles the problem. At first, he stated his support for more extensive background checks of potential arms purchasers. Later he spoke to Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the NRA, after which he told reporters, “People don’t realize we have very strong backgrounds checks rights now. You go in to buy a gun, you have to sign up. There are a lot of background checks that have been approved over the years, so I’ll have to see what it is.”

A useful comparison can be made between the U.S. and Japan, a country with one of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world. In 2014, there were six gun deaths in Japan, compared to 33,599 in the U.S. Handguns are banned, and only shotguns and air rifles are permitted. In addition, there are mental health and drug tests, and the applicant’s criminal record is checked, as are the records of relatives and sometimes of their co-workers. As a result, gun ownership in 2007 was only 0.6 guns per 100 people in Japan, compared to 6.2 in England and Wales and 88.8 in the U.S.

Dr. Orlando García, an American psychiatrist with decades of experience with perpetrators and victims of violence told me recently, “The chance of being killed or of witnessing shootings and killings have become a way of life. The fascination with guns and violence now reaches all segments of society.”

The NRA calls itself a “human rights” organization. What it doesn’t say is that it promotes legislation that kills innocent American children. Until new and more effective gun control laws are enacted, children will continue to be the helpless victims of criminal gun violence in the U.S.

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We Are All Indigenous

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“All things are interrelated. Everything in the universe is part of a single whole. Everything is connected in some way to everything else. It is therefore possible to understand something only if we can understand how it is connected to everything else.”

These words, the first of the Twelve Teachings of the Sacred Tree, quoted by Rupert Ross in his extraordinary book, Returning to the Teachings, begin to open the biggest truth of all about the burning rainforests of Planet Earth.

The “indigenous rights” being violated by the exploitation of the Amazon belong to all of us. We are all indigenous. We are all native to this planet — connected to its depth and life and mystery, even as we choose the path of ignorance and avoidance and, in the process, violate our own right to survive.

As the Amazon burns, the face of global ignorance is that of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who earlier this year said, during a visit to the Amazon: “Let’s use the riches that God gave us for the wellbeing of our population.”

By that, of course, he meant, dismantle the protected status of part of the rainforest and give it over to the mining interests to exploit. This is worship of the seductive god of profit and wealth.

Exuding faux-humanity, Bolsonaro also said, according to CNN, “We want to integrate the indigenous into our society. The indigenous are human beings like you and I. They want television, they want Internet, they want soccer, they want to go to the movies. They want to do what we do. They want to go to doctor, to a dentist. That’s what we want for the indigenous people, to integrate them into the society — as human beings, just like us.”

Bolsonaro, of course, was referring not to all of us but to the inconvenient, tribal peoples of the Amazon who are still connected to — and stewards of — the rainforest’s richness and diversity. Declaring them to be “human beings, just like us,” he can push them out of the way and open the land to the interests of miners and loggers, cattle ranchers and soybean growers. This is already happening, of course. Under Bolsonaro, funding for Brazil’s environmental protection agency have been cut by 95 percent, and slash-and-burn agriculture and deforestation have long been eating away at the Amazon, increasing the region’s susceptibility to fire.

And “recurrent wildfires are more likely to hasten the Amazon’s transition to a low diversity and low carbon ecosystem with a fraction of its current social and ecological value,” Jos Barlow and Alexander Lees write at The Conversation. They call the process “savannization” — drying out the rainforest and turning it into a tinderbox.

The interconnectedness at stake here for all humanity boggles the imagination. “If destroyed or degraded, the Amazon, as a system, is simply beyond humanity’s ability to get back: Even if people were to replant half a continent’s worth of trees, the diversity of creatures across Amazonia, once lost, will not be replenished for roughly 10 million year,” Robinson Meyer writes at The Atlantic. “And that is 33 times longer than Homo sapiens, as a species, has existed.”

The issue here is both global and intensely local, but the world is currently divided into national and corporate interests that have the power to ignore and dismiss not only the rights of the tribal peoples who live in the rainforest, but also the rights of the planet at large, to breathe, to survive in eco-diversity.

“The violation of indigenous rights,” writes Naomi Klein, “. . . is central to the violation of our collective right to a livable planet. The flip side of this is that a revolution in respect for indigenous rights and knowledge could be the key to ushering in a new age of ecological equilibrium. Not only would it mean that huge amounts of dangerous carbon would be kept in the ground, it would also vastly increase our chances of drawing down carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in well cared-for forests, wetlands, and other dense vegetation.”

How do we get to this place? How can indigenous wisdom — the understanding that everything is connected — transcend the power to exploit this planet and continue to shrug off the consequences of doing so, pushing them off on future generations? Have we reached a point where the future is now?

And if that is the case, where do we turn for guidance and wisdom? How do we learn, or relearn, how to care for our forests and wetlands, our oceans, our eco-diversity? The “riches that God gave us” are life itself.

Can we flip the faux-humanity of Bolsonaro on its head and declare: We want to integrate ourselves into an indigenous global understanding. Doing so involves more than just scientific expertise; it involves transforming our way of life — beyond television, beyond the Internet, beyond domination and exploitation — to an ever-present awareness of the planet we inhabit. Can we set aside our technology and start learning to listen to it?

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Remembering Mitch Podolak

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Before going to bed last night, I learned from a post I was tagged on on Facebook that Mitch Podolak had died.  If I ever checked my Feed, I might have learned earlier — he had died several days earlier, on August 25th, 2019.  Incidentally, exactly one year after US Senator John McCain died, who was about as different politically from Mitch as it would be possible to be.  (I probably only happen to remember that because I wrote a song about the man when he died.  If I wrote one about Mitch, it wouldn’t be like that one at all.)

I did not know Mitch well, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m pretending that I did, just to get that out there.  But I do feel compelled to say a few things about Mitch.  Well, one thing, mainly:  Mitch was a revolutionary, a communist with a small “c,” of the highest caliber.

You’ll find Mitch being remembered throughout the press in Canada, and they naturally focus on what he was mainly known for — starting up the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and being an organizer of festivals and other things music-related.  The fact that he was politically on the left is not ignored, but it’s not emphasized.  Which makes perfect sense — he wasn’t organizing protests, mostly, he was organizing festivals.

The secret, which Mitch knew well, was that the best protests are festivals.  Or they can be — at least in terms of the part of the protest that occurs on a stage with a sound system.  This is my phrasing, but if you read interviews with Mitch over the years, you’ll hear the same sorts of things, more humbly stated.  An organizer, just like a musician, can be motivated by both the love of music as well as the desire to use music as a tool for radicalization and popular education.  There is no contradiction here, and Mitch very obviously embraced all of the above.

I’ll just share a few brief recollections, too small to call stories, but just a few memories, while they are freshly dredged.

I’ve been to Manitoba three times in my life, and each time the reason for the trip was Mitch and his fellow organizer, Derek Black.  It started with a phone call.  Mitch called me, introduced himself, and said he wanted to organize gigs for me in Winnipeg and Brandon (Brandon being basically the only other city in Manitoba, and it’s very small).

I was happy to have my first gig in Manitoba.  In asking Canadian friends about the guy who had called me, the response was universal, more so among musicians — you got a call from Mitch Podolak?  Cool!  (Sometimes with a tinge of jealousy.)

I just want to stop here to point out that this is not a normal situation for someone like me, for those who don’t know.  I never get gigs at folk festivals, I’m way too offensive for that kind of thing.  I almost exclusively play for activist groups, leftwing political parties, labor unions and stuff like that — not folk gigs with comfortable middle-class people in the audience who are going to be appalled by my first chorus.  “Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable,” that’s my motto (I borrowed it from my friend Utah Phillips).

This motto of Utah’s and mine also very much applied to Mitch and everything he did in life, as far as I can tell, and he did it primarily as an organizer of musical events, of all sizes, from humble house concerts to big festivals with CBC sponsorship.

Staying on this point about how unusual it is for someone like Mitch to call me about doing a gig in Winnipeg:  as an organizer, Mitch knew loads of musicians who could pack a large room in Winnipeg.  He knew I wasn’t one of them, and he brought to Winnipeg not once, but three times over the course of eight years.  And he and Derek apologized profusely on every occasion, that this wasn’t happening on a more frequent basis.

It was a wonderful first gig in Winnipeg, as I recall, and it also happened to coincide with the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon.  The Occupy encampment in Memorial Park there was fantastic, one of the most active in North America of the several dozen I spent time in across the US and Canada in 2011.

I stayed with Mitch during that first visit, and my recollection of his home is of a comfortable but small place.  Probably no bigger or more opulent than the generations of eastern European communists who settled in Ontario and across Canada that Mitch was proud to be a descendant of.

Hanging out in Mitch’s little place with this very large man, it was impossible not to notice the fact that every available space around us was being used for the purposes of hanging slabs of meat that Mitch was drying for the purposes of making sausage or something along those lines.  This was a man who identified strongly with the red political traditions of his family and his community, as well as with the culinary traditions, it appeared to me — for better or for worse, depending.

The conversations were long and rambling and full of great stories.  I’m sure we talked about music as well as politics, but the anecdote from Mitch’s living room in 2011 that I remember most clearly was something he was saying about a protest he had been involved with organizing in the 60’s.  I can’t remember what the protest was about, but a whole bunch of recent immigrants from eastern Europe came to protest the protesters.

Unlike Mitch’s family background of leftwingers and artists, more recent immigrants from eastern Europe, having had the decidedly mixed blessing of growing up behind the Iron Curtain, are often decidedly less sympathetic to socialism of any kind.  But what was so memorable about this little tale was not that patriotic Canadian immigrants showed up to protest the protesters, but how Mitch got rid of them:  he went over to their lines, probably using his knowledge of various eastern European languages to his benefit, and quickly convinced them that he would report their activities to the authorities in their home countries in eastern Europe.  Fearing for their family’s safety back home, they abandoned their counter-protest.  I’m still not sure what I think of that tactic, but I really enjoyed Mitch’s recounting of it.

The morning after my first gig in Winnipeg, Mitch took me for a short walk.  There were other people in the house, but I admit the only ones I remember were James Keelaghan and Nathan Rogers.  James is one of the best songwriters alive today, and Nathan’s father Stan was, too, before his untimely death.  I don’t remember what we talked about over breakfast, only that when we entered the house, Stan introduced me to James and Nathan, saying, “David is another member of your profession,” to which James immediately shot back, “oh, you’re a prostitute, too?”

When Mitch first organized the Winnipeg Folk Festival back in 1976, it was apparently initially planned as a one-off celebration of the centenary of this city with its long history of labor struggle.  As far as I know, the last big event Mitch was involved with organizing was another centenary event, the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike, last May.

Mitch had had a bad fall since I’d last seen him, and was now using a wheelchair to get around.  I was concerned about the state of his health when I first met him, but it had certainly declined much faster because of that fall, it seemed.  Despite his physical circumstances, he was happy to be at the festival he had been instrumental in organizing, and between the music on the stage in front of him and friends around him who he had known in many cases for decades, it was a good last event I’d say.

Because of the union sponsorship, Mitch was able to bring in musicians from across the US and Canada that were some of his favorite of what we could call the more politically-oriented performers on the folk music circuit, or in my case, performers not on that circuit at all, except when Mitch and Derek are organizing the gig.

It was a lovely day at that festival at Memorial Park, the same place Occupy had occupied.  I knew and loved most of the performers already, but it was my first time hearing Maria Dunn, who blew me away, along with Joe Jencks, James Keelaghan, and a great set from Nathan Rogers.

Sitting with Mitch in the park with this kind of array of musicians, and people who had been working with Mitch on festival organizing efforts in some cases since the 1970’s, Mitch was in great form for reminiscing.  I think the conversation began with talking about how good the various performers on the stage were, and Mitch got to talking about all the people around on the grass who he had known for such a long time in so many different contexts.

That day the one he talked about the most was Nathan.  Mitch started the record label that Stan Rogers had been on.  When Stan died in a plane crash after playing in Texas at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1983, Nathan was two.  Mitch talked about the sort of black hole that Stan’s death left the community with, and he talked of his love for Nathan, and some stories from Nathan’s childhood, in which Mitch clearly played a major role.  Despite such a terrible loss, Nathan seems to have turned out very well.  (Which seems like a strange comment to make about a guy who’s only a few years younger than me, but in any case, it’s true.)

To whatever extent Mitch was responsible for that fact I don’t know, but the deep, swelling love within his heart was unmistakable, and, in fact, on his sleeve.  Mitch Podolak was a beautiful human being, full of life and love.  A truly great organizer, a person who brought many, many people together, and created models for others to do the same.  And most definitely a red.  Well done for a life well lived, Mitch.  L’Chaim.  You are now officially off the hook for trying to read that 1917 Yiddish edition of Das Kapital you found.

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The Last Act of the Human Comedy

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There is nothing new to our story. The flagrant lies and imbecilities of the inept and corrupt leader. The inability to halt the costly, endless wars and curb the gargantuan expenditures on the military. The looting of a beleaguered populace by the rich. The destruction of the ecosystem. The decay and abandonment of a once-efficient infrastructure. The implosion of the institutions, from education to diplomacy, that sustain a functioning state. The world has seen it before. It is the familiar disease of the end of a civilization. At first it is grimly entertaining, even amid the mounting suffering. But no one will be laughing at the end.

Human nature does not change. It follows its familiar and cyclical patterns. Yes, this time, when we go down the whole planet will go with us. But until then we will be mesmerized by fools and con artists. What are demagogues like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, positive psychologists and Candide-like prognosticators such as Steven Pinker other than charlatans who insist the tragedy facing us is not real? What are the technocrats and scientists arguing that education and Western civilization can turn us into rational beings other than shamans? What are the corporate titans who make their fortunes off the arms, chemical, fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries that are destroying the natural world other than high priests demanding human sacrifice?

There is one human story. Dressed in new clothing and using new tools, we endlessly relive it. If we still read philosophy, literature, history, poetry and theology we would not be surprised that greed, hedonism and hubris have easily defeated empathy and reason. But because we do not, because we spend hours each day getting little bursts of dopamine from electronic screens, we think we are unique in human existence. We are unable to see that the climate conditions that allowed civilizations to flourish during the last 10,000 years will soon be replaced by a savage struggle to survive.

Human beings have inhabited the planet for about 200,000 of its 4.5 billion years. For most of those 200,000 years, humans did not radically alter the ecosystem. But the Industrial Revolution, which began about two and a half centuries ago, saw human beings extract fossil fuels, tapping into a hundred million years of sunlight stored in the form of coal and petroleum. The energy from fossil fuels provided unparalleled wealth and military superiority to the planet’s industrialized north, which used its power to subjugate most of the rest of the globe to cheaply extract resources and abuse cheap labor. The human population rapidly climbed to over 7 billion. The air, water and ice have seriously degraded under the onslaught as the planet shifts from one climate to another, a climate that will no longer be hospitable to human habitation.

The only existential question left is how we will choose to wait out the finale. But to pose that question is to defy the cultural mania for hope, the yearning for collective self-delusion. If reality is grim, you banish it. You invent impossible scenarios of inevitable salvation. Which explains how we ended up where we are.

Most of the climate activists and operatives of democracy see themselves, like the wider consumer culture, as being in the business of selling hope. Without hope, they argue, people would succumb to despair. People would not resist the looming catastrophe. Of course, the opposite is true. Hope, or rather false hope, exacerbates despair and lethargy. It infantilizes the population. Carbon emissions may continue to rise, the polar ice caps may continue to melt, crop yields may continue to decline, the world’s forests may continue to burn, coastal cities may continue to sink under rising seas and droughts may continue to wipe out fertile farmlands, but the messiahs of hope assure us that all will be right in the end. Only it won’t. We will not be able to adapt. Those who sell you the false hope that we can adapt are as self-deluded as those who brand global warming a hoax. And, at least subconsciously, many people know it.

The longer we publicly deny the bleak reality before us and privately cope with our existential dread and pain, the more crippling despair becomes. This schizophrenic existence is a form of emotional abuse. It is imposed on us by a dominant culture that will not allow us to speak this tragic truth. This censorship forces us to struggle with reality in solitude, eroding our confidence in our perceptions and judgments.

Andrea Dworkin in her essay “A Battered Wife Survives” wrote of effects of sustained abuse, saying that “one’s mind is shattered slowly over time, splintered into a thousand pieces. The mind is slowly submerged in chaos and despair, buried broken and barely alive in an impenetrable womb of isolation. This isolation is so absolute, so killing, so morbid, so malignant and devouring that there is nothing in one’s life but it, it. One is entirely shrouded in a loneliness that no earthquake could move.”

She went on to ask “What is reality?” and then answered.

<blockquote>The woman who was a battered wife and has escaped knows the answer: reality is when something is happening to you and you know it and can say it and when you say it other people understand what you mean and believe you. That is reality, and the battered wife, imprisoned alone in a nightmare that is happening to her, has lost it and cannot find it anywhere.</blockquote>

Compared with the earth, none of us are around for very long. We are, to the cosmos, ephemerons. Our little lives blink on for a moment and then go dark. Nothing truly important can be achieved in a single lifetime. We must work toward something greater than ourselves. We must live fully, as Dworkin did, by summoning the courage to confront the starkness of the human condition and demanding justice, not because it will be achieved, since in its perfect form it will never be achieved, but because it defines us as distinct and sentient individuals. Justice cannot be fought for in the abstract. It must be grounded in a concrete confrontation with power—which is almost always embedded in white, male patriarchy—on behalf of the oppressed. This means sustained acts of defiance and civil disobedience that shut down city roads, airports and pipelines. Corporate capitalism and imperialism, which created the ecological debacle, will be destroyed or these forces will kill us in an unprecedented global genocide.

“The struggle for climate justice is a struggle at the crossroads of historic and present injustices and a looming disaster that will prove to be, if allowed to unfold unchecked, the mother of all injustices,” writes Wen Stephenson. “Because the disaster that is unfolding now will not only compound the suffering of those already oppressed (indeed, is already compounding it); it may very well foreclose any hope of economic stability and social justice for current and future generations. Why, then, does the term ‘climate justice’ barely register in the American conversation about climate change? Lurking in that question is a tension at the heart of the climate struggle: a tension between the ‘mainstream’ climate movement (dominated by largely white, well-funded, and Washington-focused green NGOs) and those—most often people of color—who have been fighting for social and environmental justice for decades.”

Resistance grounded in action is its own raison d’être. It is catharsis. It brings us into a community with others who are coping with the darkness by naming it but refusing to submit to it. And in that act of resistance we find emotional wholeness, genuine hope and even euphoria, if not an ultimate victory.

“The certitude that there is no salvation is a form of salvation, in fact is salvation,” wrote E.M. Cioran. “Starting from here, one might organize our own life as well as construct a philosophy of history: the insoluble as solution, as the only way out.”

As the Grand Inquisitor pointed out in “The Brothers Karamazov,” those who possess the emotional and intellectual fortitude to face what lies before them will always be in the minority. There is a numbing comfort that comes with surrendering moral autonomy for abject servility and obedience, and this comfort is especially attractive in a crisis.

“No doubt there will be free societies in the future as there have been in the past,” writes the philosopher John Gray in “Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals.” “But they will be rare, and variations on anarchy and tyranny will be the norm. The needs that are met by tyrants are as real as those to which freedom answers; sometimes they are more urgent. Tyrants promise security—and release from the tedium of everyday existence. To be sure, this is only a confused fantasy. The drab truth of tyranny is a life spent in waiting. But the perennial romance of tyranny comes from its promising its subjects a life more interesting than any they can contrive for themselves. Whatever they become, tyrannies begin as festivals of the depressed. Dictators may come to power on the back of chaos, but their unspoken promise is that they will relieve the boredom of their subjects.”

And yet, no more than 3% to 5% of the population need be engaged to challenge despotic power. This means, first, naming and accepting reality. It will not be easy. It means grieving for what is to come, for there is certain to be mass death. It means acting, even if defeat is certain, to thwart those who would extinguish us. Extinction Rebellion plans to occupy and shut down major city centers around the globe in October. This is a good place to start. By defying the forces of death, we affirm life.

The post The Last Act of the Human Comedy appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Problem Officers Under Scrutiny in Criminal Justice Crusade

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BOSTON—During the 22 years he spent in prison after being convicted of killing a Boston police detective, Sean Ellis believed there was something suspicious about the officers who led the murder investigation. He just couldn’t prove it.

It would take years of digging and scores of public information requests from his attorneys to uncover evidence that several officers investigating the 1993 murder case were involved in criminal activity — information that wasn’t shared with the defense.

A Superior Court judge in 2015 ordered a new trial for Ellis and his murder charges were later dismissed.

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Defense attorneys have long run up against a brick wall when trying to discover whether an officer has credibility issues that could set their client free.

But the case of Ellis and more recently, Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, born Robert Williams, is fueling calls among civil liberty groups and reform-minded district attorneys to make the system more transparent. It is part of a larger call to address criminal justice reform at a time of growing anger over police shootings and wrongful convictions often involving African-Americans.

Five years after protests that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, activists have been pushing prosecutors to create lists of problem police officers, limit the use of the officers on them and review cases these officers worked to determine whether cases should be dropped or if defendants should be exonerated.

“In addition to charges, this is the other thing that prosecutors can be doing — making it very hard for officers to engage in the kind of conduct that should lead to them being fired,” said Scott Roberts, the senior director of criminal justice campaigns for Color of Change, an online racial justice organization, which is calling for prosecutors nationwide to create lists.

The Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors have a constitutional responsibility to share information favorable to the defense, including law enforcement officers with credibility issues. It is often called the Brady rule.

Wrongdoings that can land an officer on a so-called Brady list or database include lying on a police report, excessive force, bigoted comments or crimes such as drunken driving or domestic violence. Some lists also include officers under investigation, though they could be removed if the allegation is dismissed. Others have expanded the list to include lab technicians and others who might testify on the government’s behalf.

With no clear guidance from the courts on how that information should be shared, critics have chided prosecutors for failing to keep track of problem officers and going out of their way to keep information from the defense — either by failing to disclose the details about the officer, choosing not to put the officer on the stand or dropping a case altogether. Criminal justice advocates said the Brady rule violations have long been a problem and continue to pose a risk to innocent defendants.

“It’s a serious issue,” said Samuel Gross, the founder and senior editor of National Registry of Exonerations which has tracked 2,472 exonerations, mostly due to Brady violations. “We know from repeated scandals that there are a substantial number of officers who have engaged in concerted patterns of abuse and done dreadful things.”

In July, a Pennsylvania appeals court overturned Mill’s decade-old conviction on a drug and gun case over questions about the arresting officer’s credibility. Mill pleaded guilty this week to a misdemeanor gun charge in a deal that ends the legal limbo surrounding the 2007 arrest.

Several district attorneys have made these lists or databases central to their agendas while lawsuits in several states call for the list to be public.

In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner, who was a defense attorney for 25 years, said he didn’t know a list existed when he took office. Krasner said there was no effort in the past to share the list of names — filed away under the name Damaged Goods — with defense attorneys. Krasner took over a list with less than 100 officers and created a larger database in which automatic notifications go out when a case involves a problem officer. The list could be expanded to include officers accused of making racist and violent social media posts.

Krasner doesn’t think anyone in the data base should be on the force, but he’s only limited to controlling their participation in cases.

“It is a position of public trust and people who are on that force may be called as witnesses in criminal matters,” he said. “It simply doesn’t make sense for the public to fund people who are incapable of doing the work.”

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner formalized an “exclusion list” with 58 names including nearly two dozen officers found to have written racists social media posts. Her office has also dismissed about 100 cases involving officers with credibility issues and ruled officers on the list may not be allowed to testify at trials or submit a case to her office.

“People want fairness and justice for all,” Gardner said. “No one wants to pick and choose when an officer decides to be credible. What is at stake is the whole criminal justice system.”

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, which covers Houston, has formalized a system for its disclosure database that now includes 1,593 names going back to the 1980s — and allows a judge to decide if disclosure is necessary. Ogg’s office has dismissed 27 cases and is reviewing 1,400 other convictions after credibility issues emerged regarding one of the officers in a deadly drug raid. Prosecutors say the probe has grown to 14,000 cases.

“Every witnesses’ bias and credibility can be tested and police officers are no exception,” she said. “The idea is that the law is applied equally to everyone.”

Police unions have responded to the lists with lawsuits and lobbying to prevent the release of the names or limit their use by prosecutors.

“It’s unfair and improper to arbitrarily add officers to this list without some fair and balanced protocol,” John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia police union, said in a statement. “It’s damaging to officers’ reputations and livelihood.”

Many state laws prevent the data from being made public because it involves officers’ personal information. Some databases also include unredacted criminal investigative material that is not subject to public information laws. Lawsuits demanding the list be made public have been filed in New York and New Hampshire.

“Defendants have no idea whether prosecutors are making disclosure they need. Defendants have no idea whether police chiefs are sending the right names over to prosecutors,” said Gilles Bissonnette, the state legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Harris County and St. Louis have refused to release the names as does Philadelphia.

But advocates for publicizing the police data have scored several legal victories of late.

A court in Philadelphia ordered Krasner last year to turn over the names from the previous list to an association of public defenders. And in New Hampshire, the ACLU and several media outlets successfully sued the state to have the list of 260 officers released. The state’s attorney general’s office has appealed the ruling to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The California Supreme Court this week ruled that a suspect’s right to a fair trial outweighs the privacy rights of officers who might have a history of bad behavior. Justices rejected a lower court ruling that barred the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department from giving prosecutors the names of deputies accused of improper conduct.

For Ellis, the debate over these lists comes too late.

Suffolk County prosecutors didn’t keep a list of officers’ names when Ellis was convicted in the killing of detective John Mulligan. It was created in 2013.

Ellis said he believes he wouldn’t have gone on trial if his defense team had known about the officers, several of whom pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy, civil rights and tax violations. Judge Carol Ball concluded that Ellis’ arrest was a rush to judgment based on an inadequate police investigation.

“I knew that this wasn’t right because I knew I didn’t do what I was accused of,” said Ellis, 45, who was sentenced to life after two mistrials.

He might have gone to college or been able to attend his father’s funeral. He would’ve been with his mother as she battled cancer. Instead, he was denied a request to go to his dad’s funeral.

He now lives with his mom and sister in Massachusetts and works as an administrative assistant earning $15 per hour.

“It’s like I lost my life,” Ellis said. “I went in as a teenager and here I am getting out as a 41 year old. I don’t believe what happened to me happens in a vacuum. I believe it’s common place. It’s the way the system works.”

___

Associated Press writer Jake Bleiberg contributed to this report from Dallas.

The post Problem Officers Under Scrutiny in Criminal Justice Crusade appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Andrew Yang Gets a C- For His Climate Plan

Mother Jones Magazine -

When I evaluated the climate plans of the top Democratic candidates, I didn’t include Andrew Yang because he wasn’t really a top candidate. But he’s an interesting candidate, and several people have asked what I think of his plan. So let’s take a look.

In terms of spending, he’s proposing $4.9 trillion. However, $400 billion of that is “Democracy Dollars,” which is unrelated to climate change. That gets us to $4.5 trillion, but this is over 20 years, so you need to cut all of Yang’s numbers in half to get a ten-year figure comparable to the other candidates. This gets us to about $2.2 trillion over ten years, slightly larger than Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Based on this number, here are some of the details:

  • $1.5 trillion to finance loans for household investments in renewable energy.
  • A carbon tax of $40 per ton, rising to $100 per ton, with half returned to American families.
  • And end to all fossil fuel subsidies.
  • $100 billion for grid modernization.
  • $25 billion in R&D for thorium-based molten salt reactors and nuclear fusion reactors.
  • $150 billion for sustainable agriculture.
  • $125 billion for “net zero” ground transportation.
  • $35 billion to help people move to higher ground.
  • A small amount of R&D focused on geoengineering.

There are things to like and things to dislike about Yang’s plan. I like the fact that he’s willing to explicitly support 4th Gen nuclear power as a “stopgap” measure, which is a good way of putting it. I like that he’s willing to allocate money directly to adaptation. I like that he’s willing to talk about geoengineering.

I’m less enamored with his carbon tax and dividend proposal. It’s true that the regressive nature of a carbon tax is a problem, but simply returning the money to low-income families means the carbon tax will probably have little value in reducing carbon emissions. This is the worst of all worlds: a carbon tax that will generate public opposition but not really accomplish much.

I’m not excited about the huge loan program for household investments. This is something that I need to look into further, but I’m not sure that residential solar provides the biggest renewable bang for the buck.

Yang also goes out of his way to allocate specific amounts for a large variety of programs. This probably doesn’t matter that much, but it still sets a bad example. Yang shouldn’t pretend that he knows down to the dollar how much we should spend on every little thing.

Finally, as you all know, I judge climate plans largely on how much they dedicate to R&D. Yang never says directly how much R&D spending he supports, but it’s possible to subtract from his topline number all the spending that definitely isn’t R&D. By my rough accounting, this leaves about $250 billion max for R&D over the next ten years. This is a pretty small number.

Yang also barely even mentions the global nature of global warming. Even if the United States gets to net zero carbon emissions, what are we going to do to spur the rest of the world to follow? Yang has a sentence or two about this, but that’s all.

Put all this together, and by my admittedly idiosyncratic standards Yang’s plan isn’t especially impressive. I’d give it a C-.

Catastrophic Category 5 Hurricane Dorian Makes Landfall in the Bahamas

Mother Jones Magazine -

Hurricane Dorian made landfall Sunday afternoon at Elbow Cay, Abacos in the Bahamas. The Category 5 storm came ashore with wind speeds up to 185 miles per hour and gusts up to 220 miles per hour.

The National Hurricane Center is reporting that Dorian is now tied with the 1935 Labor Day hurricane for the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record. Scientists don’t think that climate change will  increase the frequency of hurricanes, but it will make them more dangerous. As the planet warms, we can expect to see more intense rainfall associated with storms and more destructive storm surge, which is when a storm’s wind pushes water inland.

The eye of #Dorian has made a second landfall at 2 pm EDT (1800 UTC) on Great Abaco Island near Marsh Harbour. Maximum sustained winds were 185 mph at the time. This is tied for the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record with the 1935 Labor Day hurricane. pic.twitter.com/O9hrotTTbS

— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 1, 2019

Footage of the hurricane shows trees bending from the force of the winds.

RIGHT NOW – A look from just minutes ago in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, as the western eyewall moves over Grand Abaco Island with wind gusts more than 200 mph.
: National Fisheries Association of The Bahamas #bahamas #Dorian #HurricaneDorian @WeatherNation pic.twitter.com/xMMiPdW1k3

— Meredith Garofalo (@GarofaloWX) September 1, 2019

Storm chasers in the Bahamas are reporting that the boards used to shield windows are being pried off by the winds.

11:40 am. Pounding. CRASHING. Boards prying off windows. We're moving children to a safe space, wrapping them in blankets. 969 mg. #DORIAN

— Josh Morgerman (@iCyclone) September 1, 2019

And it’s not just the wind, the storm surge is also inundating communities. 

Wow! New video coming in out of the #Bahamas. The surge from #HurricaneDorian is putting the whole town of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay, Abaco underwater video by Chamon McIntosh #dorian #hirricane #Dorian2019 pic.twitter.com/jHBDNPK5ny

— James Wieland (@SurfnWeatherman) September 1, 2019

The storm, which was expected to hit Puerto Rico but abruptly changed course, is expected to impact the southeastern United States next week. But as the island was preparing for the storm earlier this week, Donald Trump took to twitter to attack Puerto Rico and its leaders and to repeat the lie that the territory has received $92 billion in Hurricane Maria relief aid.

Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for “anywhere.”

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2019

Despite Hurricane Maria reaching Category 5 status, Trump said that he’s never heard of a storm in that category.

Trump: "I'm not sure that I've ever heard of a Category 5."

This is the fourth Category 5 hurricane to strike the United States during his presidency. Irma, Maria, Michael, Dorian. pic.twitter.com/xWLYuQRTBU

— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 1, 2019

Watches and warnings have been posted along the western Florida coast, while Georgia and the Carolinas remain on alert. 

One Day After Mass Shooting, New Laws in Texas That Expand Gun Access Go Into Effect

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Texas’ new gun laws, which expands where Texans can bring their guns, goes into affect on Sunday, just one day after a gunman killed 7 people and wounded 20 others in Midland and Odessa. 

The nearly dozen new laws, championed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, vastly expands where individuals can bring their guns—including school parking lots, foster homes, churches, and rental properties. One of the laws, inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, allows Texans to open and conceal carry during natural disasters. Another prevents homeowners associations from regulating gun ownership. And it’s not just guns. Texans will now be legally able to carry pointed keychains, clubs, and brass knuckles. 

The expansion of gun laws was in response to the shootings at a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017 which left 26 dead and 20 injured and a shooting at Santa Fe High School in 2018 where 10 people died and another 13 were wounded. But instead of making it harder to obtain guns, the Texas legislature pushed the “good guy with a gun” narrative, which claims that only someone else with a gun can stop a gunman. Before the laws went into effect, a white supremacist gunned down 22 people at an El Paso Wal-Mart in August.

At the National Rifle Association convention in 2018 held in Dallas, Abbott proposed a solution for gun violence plaguing his state. “The answer to gun violence is not to take guns away, the answer is to strengthen the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said during a speech. “The problem is not guns, it’s hearts without God.”

Texas already had some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, and now, after two mass shootings in one month, gun laws will be even more relaxed. Former Democratic state Rep. Wendy Davis, who ran for governor in 2014 and is currently running for Congress, said she was “heartbroken and so angry” over the new laws. “Unbelievably, Texas’ gun laws are set to become MORE lax tomorrow,” she also said, “thanks to lawmakers who are more interested in courting the NRA than they are protecting the lives of people they were elected to serve.”

I am heartbroken and so angry about this. Unbelievably, Texas’ gun laws are set to become MORE lax tomorrow thanks to lawmakers who are more interested in courting the NRA than they are protecting the lives of people they were elected to serve. #Odessatx https://t.co/nu1OJnTR3v

— Wendy Davis (@wendydavis) August 31, 2019

The Deadly Mistake Corporate Media Keep Repeating

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Rich and poor countries see the challenge of the growing crisis quite differently: for the wealthy it revolves around climate denial, while for those in poverty it’s a matter of life and death.

In the developing world, climate news is presented by the media as an international problem. In the rich world newspapers, broadcasters and websites tend to see it as a political issue, according to researchers at the University of Kansas.

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And in the richest country of all, climate news is presented as a contentious issue. That is, according to a massive study by Californian scientists, the people who say climate change is not happening, or not a problem, get 49% more coverage than the scientists who have the evidence that it represents a serious and accelerating crisis.

Even in the mainstream outlets, distinguished climate scientists tend to get no more visibility than those – often not scientists – who challenge their conclusions.

Journalism is based on fairness: a willingness to listen carefully to competing arguments. In the newspaper trade, this is called balance. But according to three researchers who worked through 200,000 research papers and 100,000 digital and print media articles, the balance is false.

Propaganda campaign

“It’s not just false balance; the numbers show that the media are ‘balancing’ experts − who represent the overwhelming majority of scientists − with the views of a relative handful of non-experts,” said Anthony LeRoy Westerling of the University of California, Merced.

“Most of the contrarians are not scientists, and the ones who are have very thin credentials. They are not in the same league with top scientists. They aren’t even in the league of the average career scientist.”

He and two colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that they identified 386 prominent climate contrarians – mostly English-speaking academics, scientists, politicians and business people – and 386 distinguished climate scientists.

They then identified the 100 most prominent of each group in the 100 most prominent media outlets. Across the spectrum, the contrarians achieved the higher score, with more than 26,000 articles presenting their views, compared with17,530 presenting the science for climate change. When they zeroed in on 30 selected media outlets the score evened, but the difference was less than 1%.

“It’s well known now that a well-financed propaganda campaign on behalf of conservative fossil fuel interests led mainstream media to frame reporting on climate change science as political reporting rather than science reporting,” Professor Westerling said.

“Most of the contrarians are not scientists, and the ones who are have very thin credentials. They aren’t even in the league of the average career scientist”

“Political reporting focuses its narrative around conflict and looks to highlight competing voices, rather than telling the story of the science.”

In the global study, scientists report in the journal Global Environmental Change that they examined the framing of media coverage in 37,000 articles in 45 countries on all inhabited continents between 2011 and 2015, to find that the deciding factor in perception was simple: the gross domestic product per capita, the economists’ favourite measure of wealth.

In the rich countries, the issue was presented as if it revolved around domestic politics and climate science. In the poorer countries, it became an international issue and the concerns were centred on the impact of the climate crisis.

“As communications researchers we want to know, if climate change entered public discussion more than 30 years ago and we’ve been covering it as a global problem since, why can’t we slow the warming climate down,” said Hong Vu, who studies mass communication at the University of Kansas.

“If we want the public to have better awareness of climate change, we need to have media imparting it in an immediate sense. By looking at how they have portrayed it, we can better understand how to improve it, and hopefully make it a priority that is reflected in policy.”

The post The Deadly Mistake Corporate Media Keep Repeating appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Mocks the “Straight Pride” Parade

Mother Jones Magazine -

On Saturday afternoon, dozens of people made up of far-right activists, Trump supporters, and free speech advocates took to the streets in Boston for a so-called “straight pride” parade. The mostly male group attracted a large amount of  protesters—and a mocking tweet from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“For men who are allegedly so ‘proud’ of being straight, they seem to show real incompetence at attracting women to their event,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Seems more like a ‘I-Struggle-With-Masculinity’ parade to me.” 

For men who are allegedly so “proud” of being straight, they seem to show real incompetence at attracting women to their event.

Seems more like a “I-Struggle-With-Masculinity” parade to me.

Hope they grow enough over the next year to support / join LGBTQ fam next #Pride! https://t.co/DUb52ktWOP

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 31, 2019

The marchers carried “straight lives matter” signs as well as American flags and pro-Trump signs. 

The #StraightPrideParade now on its way to City Hall Plaza. #Boston25 pic.twitter.com/44RayYZVRU

— Kelly Sullivan (@ksullivannews) August 31, 2019

The organizers of the parade, titled Super Happy Fun America, said the point of the parade was to raise awareness of the alleged issues facing the straight community and poke fun of pride parades that are held around the world in support of the LGBTQ community. But according to a Buzzfeed report, the organizing group has ties to white nationalist groups.

Protesters clashed with marchers and Boston police reported that 34 arrests had been made and the city’s EMS spokesperson said nine people had been taken to the hospital. Ocasio-Cortez followed up her tweet with a call to contribute to the bail fund for the activists who’d been arrested while protesting. 

One way to support the local LGBTQ community impacted by Boston’s white supremacist parade?

Contribute to the Bail Fund for the activists who put themselves on the line protecting the Boston community:https://t.co/z2NRSqHMve

(Any $ left over goes to @MassBailFund+@Boston_GLASS) https://t.co/G9xhIda6sF

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 1, 2019

The UN Could Save the Amazon With One Simple Move

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This piece originally appeared on Truthout

The Amazon is burning. Nearly 75,000 fires have started in the iconic Brazilian rainforest this year to date, an 84 percent increase from the year before. Since August 10, a spate of intentionally set fires have been raging in the Amazon. But Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, let them burn for two weeks before sending firefighters to put them out following an international outcry.

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Fires ravaging the Amazon pose imminent peril to the 34 million people and 3 million species of animals and plants that live in the world’s largest rainforest, which covers 2 million square miles.

Damage from the raging fires will change the face of the planet. The rainforest is home to 10 percent of the species on Earth, including many types of plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else.

“The loss of the Amazon’s biodiversity will be beyond devastating for the planet,” Dahr Jamail wrote in Truthout, noting that many scientists consider the Amazon to be the Earth’s most important site of biodiversity.

“An International Crisis”

French president Emmanuel Macron tweeted, “Our house is burning. Literally,” and exhorted, “Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!” Bristling at Macron’s exhortation, Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter, “The French president’s suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century.”

In light of Bolsonaro’s refusal to provide resources to extinguish the fires, Macron threatened to block the Mercosur-European Union trade deal. Bolsonaro capitulated. He allocated $7 million and sent 44,000 troops and military aircraft to the burning areas.

But that falls short of what is needed to put out the fires and save the Amazon. “We’re talking about battling what will be hundreds of fires burning simultaneously, beyond any road network, distributed across thousands of miles,” according to Douglas Morton, head of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s quite a challenge to mobilize resources for one of these fires, but to simultaneously track down and put out a number of these sorts of fires … demands essentially a full press,” adding, “You really do need thousands of people.”

The countries in the G-7 – the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada – donated $20 million to help fight the fires, but Bolsonaro refused to accept the money unless Macron apologizes. Bolsonaro is playing games while the Amazon burns.

Donald Trump, who skipped the climate meeting at the G-7 summit, later said he hadn’t agreed to contribute to the $20 million because of lack of coordination with Bolsonaro.

Moreover, even if accepted, this money would not be sufficient. Rick Swan, of the International Association of Fire Fighters, told The Washington Post that, by comparison, to extinguish the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Northern California, “the costs alone were $100 million.”

In other words, a massive international effort is needed to end the Amazon fires.

Bolsonaro’s Appeal to Anti-Colonial Politics Is Deeply Cynical

Those who are critical of ongoing colonial and neocolonial dynamics but who are not entirely familiar with the context of the fires in Brazil may at first be skittish about backing international efforts to pressure Bolsonaro to end the fires. In truth, however, Bolsonaro’s appeal to anti-colonial politics is deeply cynical and should not deter progressives with anti-colonial commitments from backing international endeavors to end the fires.

The cynicism of Bolsonaro’s anti-colonial appeal is evident in the context of widespread popular protests in which Brazilians have marched holding signs with messages, such as “The Amazon belongs to the world, and we need the world’s help right now” and “SOS.” Protesters took part in some 30 demonstrations across Brazil last weekend, and thousands of demonstrators marching in Rio chanted, “The Amazon stays, out with Bolsonaro.”

Indigenous peoples in Brazil have also made clear that they hold Bolsonaro’s government responsible for the destruction of the Amazon. The Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) issued a statement expressing “extreme concern about the rapid destruction of the Amazon rainforest, home to our families and to all the resources we need to live.” COIAB stated, “The related record rates of deforestation and outbreaks of fire are a consequence of the anti-indigenous and anti-environmental genocidal speeches of this government.”

A group of Indigenous Huni Kuin leaders recently called for a stop to the fires, saying: “Nature is crying and we are crying. If we don’t stop this destruction of Mother Nature, future generations will live in a completely different world to the one we live in today. This is Mother Nature’s cry, asking us to help her. And we are working today so that humanity has a future. But if we don’t stop this destruction, we will be the ones that will be extinguished, burned and the sky will descend upon us, which has already begun to happen.”

The UN Security Council Should Order International Firefighters and Economic Boycott

As empowered by the United Nations Charter, the Security Council should find that the fires in the Amazon pose a “threat to the peace” and order measures to restore and maintain international peace and security. Those measures “may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations.”

The Council should require that member states refrain from entering into trade agreements with Brazil unless and until it agrees to allow international economic and physical firefighting assistance. As Moira Birss, Amazon Watch’s finance campaign director said in a release issued by the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA), “Now that the world is finally paying attention, it’s important to also understand that governments and companies around the world are emboldening Bolsonaro’s toxic policies when they enter trade agreements with his government or invest in agribusiness companies operating in the Amazon.”

In addition, the Council should order member states to contribute money and personnel to fight the fires raging in the Amazon.

There is precedent for this type of resolution. In 1985, the Council passed Resolution 569, which condemned the South African government’s policy of apartheid. It urged UN members to adopt measures including suspension of all new investment in South Africa, prohibition of the sale of South African currency and coins, restrictions on cultural relations and sports, suspension of guaranteed export loans, prohibition of new nuclear contracts, and prohibition of sales of computer equipment that could be used by the South African police and army. The international boycott of South Africa led to the end of the apartheid regime.

All UN member countries are bound by the resolutions of the Security Council. Article 25 of the Charter says, “The members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.” And Article 49 states that the UN members “shall join in affording mutual assistance in carrying out the measures” upon which the Council decides.

Bolsonaro’s Policies Have Exacerbated the Fires

Fires do not ignite themselves in the rainforest. “Basically, the Amazon hadn’t burnt in hundreds of thousands or millions of years,” said William Magnusson, a biodiversity specialist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Brazil. According to National Geographic, “A growing number of manmade fires have plagued the Amazon in recent years, imperiling the ecosystem. The rainforest is not built for fire.”

Farmers in the Amazon cut down trees to clear the area for planting. Miners and loggers start fires to cover their illegal activities. And some fires are set to force Indigenous peoples from their land. Bolsonaro, however, has fanned the flames in the Amazon.

New York Times analysis found that for the first six months of 2019, Bolsonaro’s pro-development, anti-environmental policies led to a 20 percent decrease in enforcement measures aimed at protecting against deforestation, as compared to the same period in 2018.

“Bolsonaro must take immediate, comprehensive steps to not only extinguish these fires but also address the root causes of this environmental catastrophe: the roll-back of environmental and indigenous rights protections and the recklessness of the profit-seeking agribusiness industry,” Christian Poirier, program director at Amazon Watch, said on the IPA release. But, he added, “This burden isn’t on the Brazilian government alone. We are all global citizens of our shared planet and must take shared responsibility for its preservation.”

We must act internationally to save the precious Amazon rainforest. Citizens of the 15 member countries on the Security Council should pressure their governments to vote in favor of a resolution calling for an economic boycott of Brazil and the provision of resources to quell the forest fires. The future of our planet is at stake.

The post The UN Could Save the Amazon With One Simple Move appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

A Bee Picture

Mother Jones Magazine -

I’ve been taking lots of bee pictures lately, so here’s a picture of a bee. Because why not? It’s better than whatever’s in the news lately.

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