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Why Bernie Sanders is Right About the Washington Post–and Corporate Media Overall

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Drawing By Nathaniel St. Clair

Many decades ago, the great media critic George Seldes observed: “The most sacred cow of the press is the press itself.” That remains true today.

Bernie Sanders set off the latest round of outraged denial from elite media this week when he talked to a crowd in New Hampshire about the tax avoidance of Amazon (which did not pay any federal income tax last year). Sanders went on to say: “I wonder why the Washington Post — which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon — doesn’t write particularly good articles about me. I don’t know why. But I guess maybe there’s a connection.”

Sanders has fought explicitly and effectively to raise the wages of Amazon workers as well as millions of others. Yet the mass-media pretense is that the financial interests of the Post’s owner have no effect on the newspaper’s coverage of Sanders.

Corporate denial is the name of that media game. Usually, expressed denials aren’t necessary. But there’s nothing usual about Bernie Sanders, who’s been willing to call out the biases and blind spots of corporate media since he entered politics.

For his latest transgression, Sanders earned purportedly authoritative pushback from the likes of the Post’s top editor, its media columnist and others with high media visibility. “Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor,” Post executive editor Martin Baron declared, “Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest.”

The Post’s media columnist Margaret Sullivan quickly chimed in with a harmonizing tweet on Tuesday, defending her editor boss along with the owner of the paper: “I’ve never seen or heard a hint of @jeffbezos interfering in @washingtonpost coverage.”

CNN’s Chris Cillizza, citing his work at the newspaper for a decade, indignantly wrote: “For the last three of my years at the Post, Bezos owned the company. Not once in all of that time — and I wrote multiple pieces a day about politics and politicians (including Sanders and Trump) over that time — was there ever even a whiff of Bezos’ influence in the newsroom.”

As George Seldes commented long ago, “The most stupid boast in the history of present-day journalism is that of the writer who says, ‘I have never been given orders; I am free to do as I like.’”Error! Filename not specified. Seldes noted that reporters routinely “know from contact with the great minds of the press lords or from the simple deduction that the bosses are in big business and the news must be slanted accordingly, or from the general intangible atmosphere which prevails everywhere, what they can do and what they must never do.”

All Baron or Sullivan would need to do to disprove their own current claims would be to write a bunch of pieces denouncing the man who owns the Post — and then see what happens due to their breach of required self-censorship.

On television, a CNN anchor joined with a USA Today columnist to claim that Sanders’s criticism of the Post’s coverage was free of evidence. The fact that corporate-media employees are vehemently defending corporate media is illustrative of the dynamic. It makes you wonder where career self-interest ends and sincere delusion begins.

Baron, Sullivan, Cillizza and countless other employees of corporate media are well-paid while publicly maintaining their denial in the service of corporate power. So, with the virtues of the Washington Post on parade, Emperor Bezos must be decked out in the journalistic finery of his new clothes, even when the self-interest and implications of billionaire leverage over media are stark naked.

What Bernie Sanders is pointing out is not — and he never said it was — a “conspiracy.” The problems are much deeper and more pernicious, having to do with the financial structures of media institutions that enable profit-driven magnates and enormous corporations to dominate the flow of news and commentary.

The Post’s Baron is ill-positioned to defend his newspaper against charges of anti-Sanders bias. Such bias has been profuse, and it began well before a pivotal moment in the 2016 campaign on the eve of the high-stakes Michigan primary in early March. Then, as FAIR analyst Adam Johnson showed, “the Washington Post ran 16 negative stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 hours.”

This year, the Post has strained to throw negative light on Sanders’s campaign, whether focusing on Wall Street or Venezuela. Nor is the Post far afield from other powerful media outlets. For instance, the New York Times reportage has taken Sanders to task for alleged sins such as desiring to exercise control over his own campaign and failing to please Democratic critics who are actually corporate lobbyists but not identified as such.

Nor is the AT&T-owned CNN far afield from the baseline of cable news giants that supposedly provide a liberal alternative to the odious Fox News. Coverage from MSNBC — owned by Comcast, “the world’s largest entertainment company” — has provoked one assessment after another after another documenting the network’s anti-Bernie bias.

“The corporate-owned and corporate-advertiser-funded media of this country are the biggest barriers between Bernie Sanders and the Oval Office,” I wrote five months ago. “Often functioning as propaganda outlets, the major news media serve as an amplification system for corporate power that has long shielded the Democratic Party from the combined ‘threats’ of social movements and progressive populist candidates.” (I continue to actively support Sanders.)

Journalists who have staked their careers on remaining in the good graces of corporate employers are certainly inclined to say in public that billionaire owners and huge corporations don’t constrain their journalistic work. And in their minds, they might be telling the truth. As George Orwell wrote, “Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip.”

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Bill of Rights: the Last Seduction

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MONDAY, June 16, 1788

Mr. HENRY thought it necessary and proper that they should take a collective view of this whole section, and revert again to the first clause. He adverted to the clause which gives Congress the power of raising armies, and proceeded as follows: To me this appears a very alarming power, when unlimited. They are not only to raise, but to support, armies; and this support is to go to the utmost abilities of the United States. If Congress shall say that the general welfare requires it, they may keep armies continually on foot. There is no control on Congress in raising or stationing them. They may billet them on the people at pleasure. This unlimited authority is a most dangerous power: its principles are despotic. If it be unbounded, it must lead to despotism; for the power of a people in a free government is supposed to be paramount to the existing power. (Bold is Henry’s speech)

Patrick Henry’s objection to the Constitution is given in the above passage. He, and Richard Henry Lee were anti-Federalists, and thought the substitution of the Constitution for the Articles of Confederation as big a revolution as that of 1776. The United States’s unrestrained power of raising taxes and an army outweighs any structural controls within the document. The speech above and the letters below were written between the ratification of the Constitution and the passing of the amendments called the Bill of Rights. Henry and Lee, above all others, championed the Bill of Rights on the grounds that the Constitution not only did not protect rights, but is an instrument of despotism. They hoped, expressly, to limit the powers of the new government. Henry’s surprising opinion of the Bill of Rights is here:

Patrick Henry to Richard Henry Lee (August 28, 1789)

As to my opinion of the Amendments, I think they will tend to injure rather than to serve the Cause of Liberty—provided they go no further than is proposed as Ideas—For what good End can be answered by [page torn] Rights, the Tenure of which must be during Pleasure—For Right without her Power & Might is but a Shadow—Now it seems that it is not proposed to add this Force to the Right by any Amendment—It can therefore answer no purpose but to lull Suspicion totally on the Subject.

Henry supported the Bill of Rights, but not the Bill of Rights we have. Rights without “power and Might” are merely “Ideas.” Henry and Lee objected to the Bill of Rights being administered by the Federal Government, for once under the institutions of the Constitution it couldn’t, obviously, offer protection against them. They had hoped that the states would have the power of protecting rights, that is, protecting their citizens from The United States of America encroaching upon those rights.

Richard Henry Lee to Patrick Henry (September 27, 1789)

My third letter to you on the 14th. inst. will satisfy you how little is to be expected from Congress that shall be any ways satisfactory on the subject of Amendments. Your observation is perfectly just, that right without power to protect it, is of little avail. Yet small as it is, how wonderfully scrupulous have they been in stating Rights? The English language has been carefully culled to find words feeble in their Nature or doubtful in their meaning!

He refers above to this letter:

Richard Henry Lee to Patrick Henry (September 14, 1789)

The preamble to the Amendments is really curious-A careless reader would be apt to suppose that the amendments desired by the States had been graciously granted. But when the thing done is compared with that desired, nothing can be more unlike…3 By comparing the Senate amendments with {those} from below by carefully attending to the m{atter} the former will appear well calculated to enfeeble {and} produce ambiguity-for instance-Rights res{erved} to the States of the People-The people here is evidently designed fo{r the} People of the United States, not of the Individual States {page torn} the former is the Constitutional idea of the people-We the People &c. It was affirmed the rights reserved by the States bills of rights did not belong to the States-I observed that then they belonged to the people of the States, but that this mode of expressing was evidently calculated to give the Residuum to the people of the U. States, which was the Constitutional language, and to deny it to the people of the Indiv. State-At least that it left room for cavil & false construction-They would not insert after people thereof—altho it was moved.

Lee refers to the expression “We the people” that, Henry had asserted, turned the Federal government unfederal and therefore into a despotism. Of course “The people,” a mythical creature, had nothing to do with writing or passing the Constitution. Henry’s objection was that with that expression it bypassed the states. Obviously, the fatal change allowed the Federal Government to neuter the Bill of Rights, for “The people,” in practice, is the government. Lee died in 1794, Henry in 1799. In 1803 the Supreme Court decision, Marbury vs Madison, completed the job by establishing the principle of “judicial review.” Marshall’s decision in Marbury vs Madison is held up as a gem of legal reasoning, the work of a brilliant legal mind, and so it is. John Adams, on his last day in office, appointed Marbury to a judgeship. Jefferson instructed Madison, his secretary of state, to refuse to give Marbury his credentials. Marbury sued. Chief Justice Marshall’s decision was that Marbury had right on his side, but the Court could not offer him justice because the Constitution prevented it from interfering with the executive branch. Since Marshall’s decision involved a “review” of the constitution it established the principle of “judicial review.”

Without anything more needing to be said, cases involving the protections of the Bill of Rights became part of the Supreme Court docket. But this was really, so to speak, the coup de gras. After that the Bill of Rights could no longer, if it ever could, limit the power of the central government. Marshall’s brilliance was that through his declaration of impotence in this case, he gained immense power for himself and even more for the Federal-in-name-only Government. If the strict-constructionist justices of the Supreme Court were honest they would declare that the intention of the signers was to neuter the Bill of Rights and so simply have done with it.

It is too late to remove cases involving the Bill of Rights from the docket of the Supreme Court and return them to the State courts, but perhaps not too late to examine this legal concept “judicial review.” For “review” is review of what? It is purposely left undetermined. The assumed category, the Constitution, has two items, one of which it makes perfect sense to have there, the other not. The plausibility of this claim for power comes from the first item, the Constitution as originally written. For cases that involve it involve the Federal Government itself and how it runs. Surely, the Supreme Court should handle those. Marbury vs Madison was one of these cases. The second item is the Bill of Rights. It is slipped in almost unnoticed. With the term “judicial review” comes its sophistic inclusion within a category where it doesn’t belong. For the Bill of Rights should not be “reviewed” by an institution created by the Constitution. The Bill of Rights was written to protect against the dangerous powers the Constitution created. With this inclusion, The Bill of Rights is neutered without anyone noticing.

Two other venerable legal concepts, both absurd, nestle within this decision. These are the concepts of “precedence” and “lack of jurisdiction.” A lawyer argues from precedence when he argues, citing some earlier case whose circumstances, he claims, are the same as the present one, that the court’s decision should be the same as that in the earlier case. In the earlier case a lawyer presented an argument for the proposed precedent and it was accepted. Therefore we should accept it now. But, clearly, just because someone earlier accepted an argument is no reason to accept it now. The argument must present itself again and we must judge it again in light of the circumstances at hand. And since the quality of the argument itself must bear the burden, that it was accepted earlier is irrelevant. All the concept of precedent does is allow a large body of private knowledge to play a role in deciding cases at law, and so provide a livelihood for lawyers good at burrowing back through these cases while excluding the possibility of those without legal training, that is knowledge of these cases, from defending themselves..

The argument for “precedence” on the grounds that the law must be consistent is spurious, for it is never the case that something that happened then and there is automatically in the same category as something that happens here and now. Indeed, if the argument that provided the precedent no longer seems cogent, that would be prima facie evidence that they weren’t. Since two actual events must differ, only an argument can yoke them together, and that argument can be applied directly to the case at hand if it is part of the accepted argument in the earlier case. The requirement for consistency does not serve the cause of justice, but rather creates restrictions on the population, who have to worry about not committing various “crimes” rigidly defined and often of trivial consequence. At the same time it offers loopholes for those who can afford to pay the bookworms of the law.

“Lack of jurisdiction,” is a justification for the court to be unable to give redress in a case because it falls outside its purview. It has some merit in preventing overburdening the court, but once a case has been presented to the only court which could render a verdict such an abdication of responsibility is absurd. When the court determines where justice lies it must be able to provide a remedy. Justice rendered must come ahead of such considerations as “jurisdiction.” Otherwise you end up with a legal system in which justice can legally be denied, as in this case. In Marbury the President, as President, carrying out his duties, is declared above the law. But if the President denying a man what is lawfully his is acting as President, what isn’t? When Nixon said, “When the President does it that means it is not illegal,” he was merely restating Marshall’s brilliant argument in the case of Marbury vs Madison. Is there any better definition of despotism?

But the despotism is not the despotism of a particular man, for of course there is still impeachment and elections every four years. The office of the president, and temporarily the man who fills it, is the despot. The government created by the Constitution is a new being, a parasite upon the person who is President, upon the other office-holding pols, and of course upon the entire population. It has its own “agenda,” war and expansion. The military is its raison d’être. The Bill of Rights “can therefore answer no purpose but to lull Suspicion totally on the Subject [rights].”


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The Root Cause of Mass Shootings is the Rage of Alienation

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Mass shootings prompt simple explanations of the gunman’s motivation. At Columbine High School in Colorado, the killers supposedly snapped after being bullied. The guy who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was wild-eyed carrot-topped nuts. After a massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online pointed to right-wing politics. Simple mental illness—if there is such a thing—appears to be the culprit in Dayton, Ohio. Also misogyny. But the Dayton shooter’s Twitter feed indicates the shooter liked Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. So right-wing media blames his progressive leanings.

And when there is no obvious explanation as in Las Vegas in 2017, when the mass murderer doesn’t leave a final message and doesn’t appear to have subscribed to extremist politics and was financially secure, but drank a lot and may have bought into Internet conspiracy theories, we shrug our shoulders and forget about it. But deep inside we believe there is a simple answer. We just haven’t discovered it yet.

Gun control advocates want to ban assault rifles like the semi-automatic AR-15 used in so many mass shootings. But even if those guns disappeared overnight, gun-related massacres would still occur, albeit with lower body counts. Which would be nice, but it wouldn’t address the big question, the one we secretly ask ourselves after such incidents: where does the rage come from?

Flailing about in search of the enablers of personal mass violence (as opposed to state-ordered mass violence) is useful as far as it goes. The NRA and the gun lobby make money with every firearm purchase. Victims of mental illness go uninsured and thus undiagnosed and untreated. Hateful rhetoric, most common on the right and most recently epitomized by President Trump, legitimize the dehumanization of future victims.

In the beginning, though, is rage.

The blind anger that, like the medieval image of a succubus insinuating itself into a previously healthy brain, suggests that shooting a lot of people is either a solution or at least a satisfying way of venting, is the germ of the idea that leads to the first shot being fired at a military base, an elementary school, a country music concert.

The rage says: “I hate everybody.” It continues: “I wish everyone would die.” It concludes: “I will kill them all.”

I am mystified by the fact that so many people are mystified about rage.

I have been there. I have hated everyone. I have been so depressed that I didn’t care what happened to me. I was furious at how oblivious everyone was to my pain and how nobody cared about me. I wanted them to pay for it. Haven’t you ever felt that way?

Mostly it was when I was younger. In junior high school, when I was relentlessly bullied and beaten up and neither my classmates nor my teachers interfered—to the contrary, they thought it was funny—I fantasized about going to school and shooting everyone there.

When I was a junior in college, I spent finals week at the hospital due to a freak injury. Several of my professors refused to allow me to take a make-up exam because they were lazy, I got Fs and landed on academic probation, and the following semester one mean teacher gave me a C+ and so I got expelled. I lost my job, my dorm room and thus a place to live and wound up homeless on the streets of New York. Watching people go about their day, smiling and laughing and exchanging pleasantries and buying luxuries while I was starving, I despised them. Of course it wasn’t their fault. I knew that. What was their fault, in my view at the time, was their active decision not to engage in the struggle for a world that was fair and just, not just to me, but to everybody.

I imagine that most, if not all, homeless people feel that way watching me stroll down the street on my stupid smartphone. They hate me and they are right to hate me.

The NRA and the weapons business and Congress share responsibility, but what really causes mass shootings is the shooters’ alienation from society.

Why doesn’t America enforce mental health insurance parity? Because the American people don’t care enough to raise enough hell to force our elected officials to do so. If you have ever been broke and needed to see a therapist, you probably found out that they charge at least $200 an hour and that your insurance company probably won’t cover it—assuming that you have insurance. American society’s message to you is loud and clear: we don’t care about you. Go ahead and be insane. Die. Returning society’s contempt for you is perfectly understandable.

The so-called “incel” (involuntarily celebate) movement of men who hate women because they won’t sleep with them is a perfect example of society’s refusal to try to understand a legitimate concern. In 2014 an incel killed six people near Santa Barbara. “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it,” the killer said in a video he posted before his rampage. In 2018 an incel killed 10 people in Toronto with his van.

Experts recommend writing laws to deny incels access to guns, shutting down their online forums so that they don’t work each other up, and improving their access to mental health care. Those may be good ideas. But they ignore the root of the problem.

Obviously no one has to have sex with anyone. Incels don’t have a constitutional right to get laid. But anyone who has ever been young and sexually frustrated (or old and sexually frustrated) knows that sexlessness can literally drive you crazy. Glibly suggesting to awkward or clueless or physically unattractive men to hit the gym and get their charm on is just as hopelessly naïve as Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign. Feeling condemned to a life without love or physical companionship really truly sucks and we could start by acknowledging that.

Rage, I think, comes less from having a problem that feels hopelessly unsolvable than from the belief that no one gives a damn about you or your issues. People need to feel heard. People need to be heard.

Given how callous and unfeeling we are about so much suffering around us and among us, the only thing surprising about mass shootings is that they don’t happen more frequently.

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What Happened at Woodstock?

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Woodstock promotional poster designed by Arnold Skolnick.

Fifty years ago, this week, close to 500,000 youth attended Woodstock. Each of us could tell a story of what happened there. This is mine.

After hitchhiking a couple thousand miles around New England and Canada for the month of July 1969, I returned back to Bowling Green, Ohio, dead tired. I was met by friends on the BG State University campus. They invited me to join them to attend a concert. Where was it and how much did it cost? It was in New York state, where I had just come from. But I was more disheartened by its exorbitant cost. Having just spent my entire savings of $30 on my thirty day road trip I was flat broke and could not afford the $24 gate payment, even if it was for a three day music festival.

Not a problem said Tom Hine, editor of the college newspaper, waving a press pass in front of me. We could get in free. So, I jumped in a car with three others and headed east. Once in the car, I asked what is this concert called? Woodstock came the reply. It meant nothing to me nor anyone else. It was just a place, a misnomer at that, since the concert was actually held in Bethel. Woodstock was 42 miles away. That small town experienced a miles-long traffic jam with folks planning on attending a concert. They were all turned away by police at the edge of town.

Late Thursday evening we found ourselves driving five miles an hour slowly down a narrow, one-lane road clogged with cars snaking through the rolling wooded countryside dotted by pastures of grazing land and tilled fields. The sun had set, we were at a standstill, and there was no sight of any concert. We pulled the car over to sleep on the side of the road and planned on finishing our journey the next morning.

I left the others behind in the car to scout around, checking out encampments that had sprung up in the darkness. Spotting an unadorned canvass tent about the size of a two-car garage, I poked my head inside. Not a person around, just the stern face of Chairman Mao plastered on the front page of some revolutionary newspapers piled in endless stacks spread out across the tent.

I knew from my previous rounds of visiting a dozen campuses that year, who they belonged to; perhaps not the specific name of the group, but one of those sprouting up at the time pledging allegiance to the chairman. They were dedicated to working for the toiling masses and avoided any unnecessary pleasures that might steer them off that course.

Although they were not a fun loving crowd to hang with, here were mounds of evidence that they had landed in the midst of what was to be the nation’s largest celebration of music and marijuana.  Surrounded by hundreds of thousands of half-naked, young bodies swaying and chanting to music over a 3 day weekend, how could they possibly hope to sit down and form collective study groups to discuss how liberalism was the enemy of the people and overthrowing Capitalism should be their calling.

I don’t think they had much success. I never witnessed any study sessions. But that night I was grateful for their optimism, because Mao provided me with a nice bed. I curled up on a pile of their papers and slept peacefully until morning when I rejoined the others to continue our journey.

We continued creeping along beside an endless stream of college kids drifting down the bucolic country road. Waving our press pass out the window, we were able to cut to the front of the line and park a hundred yards from a huge wooden stage under construction at the bottom of a grand semicircular sloping meadow. Two seven story high wooden towers, mounted by the biggest outdoor speakers I had ever seen, flanked the platform.

Construction workers, or rather kids in jeans, were frantically erecting a security fence that stretched from both sides of the stage. It looked like a fragile defense against the sea of bodies pouring over the ridge and down the vast grassy slope from all directions. I felt as if Mosses had freed his people from the boredom of Ohio and such places, and now they had arrived at a promised land of endless music and entertainment.

As the day wore on, the fence continued to reach out but not as fast as the crowd grew. I sat on the ridge musing how this frail demarcation between free access and paid admission was going to encircle the ever-expanding population, like a pair of arms trying to encircle an expanding balloon. By the afternoon, some anonymous voice boomed cheerfully over the sound system, just hours before the concert began, “It’s now a free concert!” As if they had a choice.

Richie Havens, who never reached the prominence he should have, opened the concert strumming his guitar, with no backup. When he sang the Beatles playful tune, “With a Little Help from my Friends”, I thought this was what Woodstock was all about — creating a kaleidoscope of people coming together and celebrating life.

This great gathering brought on a sense of freedom from life’s chores and an invitation to just relax for a time and imagine a better future without the Vietnam War and the racism that had led to Martin Luther King Jr being killed the year before. The Woodstock Nation of peace and love had been born.

However, it was a birth without much advance planning. It seemed most of us had left home with only the vaguest idea of what we would do upon our arrival. Bringing provisions or sleeping bags was an afterthought. I ran into one girl from BGSU who found herself there after simply being asked by a car idling outside her dorm if she knew of anyone who wanted to go to a concert. Grabbing her purse and camera from her room, she jumped in the car, and after an eight-hour drive down Route 6, found herself at the Woodstock festival.

Friday night, Tom and his girlfriend, Elise slept, in the front seat of his aging Pontiac. Fred Zackel, our fellow traveler and journalist, and I traded off between settling in the backseat and the trunk. We brought nothing to eat, not even a sandwich. What were we thinking?

Apparently, the concert promoters weren’t thinking either, since they provided only a paltry number of food booths. With so few food venues, many of us had to scavenge for food among the other concertgoers. After spending hours doing just that, I rejoined our camp after nightfall, carrying a watermelon, a gift from some generous hippies. We ended our first day eating watermelon and listening to folksinger Joan Baez sing about labor activist Joe Hill.

Saturday morning brought heavy humidity, warm rain, and oozing mud. Decorum, if it ever applied to this group, soon washed away. Strangers were hugging, sharing food and joints, and to my surprise, feeling free enough to shed their clothes in public. Standing in front of me in an open field a young college couple calmly took off their t-shirts and pulled their jeans down, then plunged into a muddy pond, joining other naked bodies. I thought about joining the fun, but lacking a towel and being doggedly practical, I took a pass, not wanting to spend the rest of the day filmed with mud.

In a cluster of a half million young people, I thought I’d run into at least a dozen folks I knew, but I didn’t, except for Louise Conn, a fellow BGSU graduate and our student council chaplain who read Winnie the Pooh at the council meetings. After I had been elected the student body president, I politely converted the position of chaplain to one of poet, reasoning that the position was intended to lift everyone’s spirits, regardless of their faith.

I assumed I’d never see Louise after graduation. But here we were, carefree, happy, and sharing a joint, high above the stage on the ridge behind the largest mass of bodies I’ve ever seen. Canned Heat came up and started playing “Goin’ up the Country.” Its strong driving beat filled the air like a mad piper’s tune. In response, the entire Aquarian tribe before us stood up and began dancing. Louise grabbed my hand and said we had to go down and stand next to the stage.

As Canned Heat played on, we descended the knoll, dancing and twirling around gyrating bodies. Unfortunately, in the frenzy, my sandals fell off and Louise’s hand slipped away. I searched for my sandals in the torrent of jumping legs, flying arms, swaying torsos, all spinning to the beat of “On the Road Again.” Miraculously found I the sandals, but I never saw Louise again.

Despite the apparent chaos of the gathering, an implicit bond of celebration kept folks in a cooperative mood. That day, the Cultural Revolution’s music drowned out calls for a violent revolution. Woodstock itself was the most successful political expression of the sixties. It wasn’t a protest against anything in particular. Rather, it was a shout out against the status quo by celebrating a culture of peace, a message attracting more people than any single prior rally.

The media assumed that a gathering of hundreds of thousands of youths smoking cannabis, dropping acid, and going naked, couldn’t lead to anything good. There was only one New York Times reporter at Woodstock. He later told another writer how his editors wanted him to emphasize how the event was teetering on a social catastrophe and to downplay the level of cooperation among the thousands of strangers who for three days gathered with no formal supervision. I never saw a single police officer the whole time there.

In contrast, less than four months later, a one day outdoor concert, held at the Altamont Speedway, in California, that attracted close to 300,000, did not have the same peaceful outcome. Street hardened Hell’s Angels provided limited assistance and security for $500 of free beer.  Alcohol consumption fueled multiple fistfights and property damage at Altamont.

The crowd got so uncontrollable that the Grateful Dead refused to go on stage and perform. Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane was punched in the head and knocked unconscious by an Angel during their band’s set. Whereas at Woodstock, hippies led by a free spirited character called Wavy Gravy provided security, and the performers were not in fear of their lives. Clearly, just bringing youth together around music was not enough to result in a blissful event.

At Woodstock there was a shared set of values, reflected in its promotional material and setting. Unlike Altamont’s rock and roll concert in a racetrack, Woodstock was advertised as “Three Days of Peace and Music” in the countryside. There were a few drug overdoses, one resulting in death, and two non-drug related accidental deaths; similarly, Altamont experienced three accidental deaths, but with a smaller audience and over a single day.

However, given that half a million people came together at Woodstock for a weekend with minimal infrastructure and police presence, it was a miracle there were so few incidents. I like to think that Woodstock was the embodiment of the peace and love ethos that permeated the sixties.

The Woodstock books and movies, magazine articles, and academic reflections would all come later; but for those three days in the summer of 1969, it felt as if youth shared a belief that they could both enjoy life and change the world; social justice at home and abroad was important, and doing something about it was possible.

Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. from the Miami Herald, put it nicely this past week, “…what drew the Woodstock generation together was ultimately not anger but a hope that yet tugs at the imagination, the hope of a better, fairer, cleaner, saner more peaceful world.” All we had to do was sustain that hope for the rest of our lives.

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Sick to the Stomach: Pesticides and the Cocktail of Toxicity

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Dame Sally Davies is the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England and recently released the CMO annual report for 2019. The report focuses on UK engagement with global health and forging partnerships.

However, there appears to be no mention of cancers in the report, a serious omission according to environmental campaigner Rosemary Mason. Like many others, she has been campaigning tirelessly for many years to draw attention to the links between agrochemicals and certain cancers and health conditions.

In response to the report, Mason has written an open letter addressed to Sally Davies (and has also sent a copy to Werner Bauman, CEO of Bayer).

Mason’s letter is presented below.

Dear Professor Dame Sally Davies

I have just read your CMO’s Report for 2019 in the Lancet. I note your statement: Across the UK, there are significant and widening inequalities in a range of health outcomes, including healthy life expectancy, infant mortality and obesity.

What about the huge increases in cancers in the UK? Were you asked by Werner Baumann (Bayer CEO) not to mention them while he tries to decide whether to fight the 18,400 lawsuits from people in the US who claim that Roundup caused their cancer or to settle them? If you add the 13,605 new cases of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosed in 2015 (the latest figures produced for the UK) and they all were to take out lawsuits against Bayer, he would probably agree to settle.

Pesticide Action Network UK’s analysis of the last 12 years of residue data published by the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF)shows that there are unacceptable levels of pesticides present in the food provided through the Department of Health’s School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS). Residues of 123 different pesticides were found, some of which are linked to serious health problems such as cancer and disruption of the hormone system.

In many cases, multiple residues were found on the produce. This is another area of serious concern as the scientific community has little understanding about the complex interaction of different chemicals in what is termed the ‘cocktail’ effect. We have also found that the levels of residues contained on SFVS produce are higher than those in produce tested under the national residue testing scheme (mainstream produce found on supermarket shelves). When Nick Mole, Policy Director of PAN-UK sent these findings to the Department of Health, he was told that pesticides are not their concern.

That is a shocking statement to hear from an organisation meant to be protecting people’s health. There are many papers that show that obesity is associated with low diversity of bacteria in the gut microbiome. Thousands of UK children, mainly in deprived city areas, are already classed as severely obese when they leave primary school. Children are being poisoned from their very first days at school. It is no wonder children in Britain have the highest levels of obesity in the world and the UK is the most obese country in western Europe.

Were you aware that documents released under a freedom of information request showed that between the coalition taking power in May 2010 and the end of 2013 the Department of Health alone had 130 meetings with representatives of the industry?

Yours sincerely

Rosemary Mason


Rosemary Mason also attached a 20-page document to the letter for the attention of Sally Davies and Werner Bauman.

In it, Mason states that each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers in the UK and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers.

In the UK there were 13,605 new cases of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2015 (and 4,920 deaths in 2016)2: there were 41,804 new cases of bowel cancer in 2015 (and 16,384 deaths in 2016); 12,547 new cases of kidney cancer in 2015 (and 4,619 deaths in 2016); 5,736 new cases of liver cancer in 2015 (5,417 deaths in 2016); 15,906 new cases of melanoma in 2015 (2,285 deaths in 2016); 3,528 new cases of thyroid cancer in 2015 (382 deaths in 2016); 10,171 new cases of bladder cancer in 2015 (5,383 deaths in 2016); 8,984 new cases of uterine cancer in 2015 (2,360 deaths in 2016); 7,270 cases of ovarian cancer in 2015 (4,227 deaths in 2016); 9,900 new cases of leukaemia in 2015 (4,712 deaths in 2016); 55,122 new cases of invasive breast cancer in 2015 (11,563 deaths in 2016); 47,151 new cases of prostate cancer in 2015 (11,631 deaths in 2016); 9,211 new cases of oesophageal cancer in 2015 (8,004 deaths in 2016); and 5,540 new cases of myeloma in 2015 (3,079 deaths in 2016); 2,288 new cases of testicular cancer in 2015 (57 deaths in 2016); 9,921 new cases of pancreatic cancer in 2015 (9,263 deaths in 2016); 11,432 new cases of brain cancer in 2015 (5,250 deaths in 2016); 46,388 new cases of lung cancer in 2015 (and 35,620 deaths in 2016). In the US in 2014 there were 24,050 new cases of myeloma.

Mason wonders whether industry influenced the decision not to mention cancers in the CMO 2019 report and reserves a special place for Bayer in her document.

Bayer has stated that transparency creates trust. The company says it embraces its responsibility to assess its products’ safety. An advertisement that Bayer placed in Politico and the Farmers’ Guardian on 19/12/2018 said:

“Transparency creates trust. At Bayer, we embrace our responsibility to communicate how we assess our products’ safety — and we recognize that people around the world want more information around glyphosate. This month, we published more than 300 study summaries on the safety of glyphosate on our dedicated transparency website.”

However, Mason implies this is little more than PR and provides a brief and disturbing history of the company and claims that Bayer has never been transparent in its life.

She then goes on to note that life expectancy is falling in Britain and the US and argues that people are being poisoned by weedkiller and other pesticides in our food.

As mentioned in Mason’s letter, Pesticide Action Network UK’s analysis of the last 12 years of residue data (published by the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food) shows there are unacceptable levels of pesticides present in the food provided through the Department of Health’s (DoH) School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS).

Residues of 123 different pesticides were found, some of which are linked to serious health problems such as cancer and disruption of the hormone system. Moreover, residues contained on SFVS produce were higher than those in produce tested under the national residue testing scheme (mainstream produce found on supermarket shelves).

In her document, Mason also discusses the deleterious effects of agrochemicals on the gut microbiome, the collective genome of organisms inhabiting our body, and notes increasing levels of obesity are associated with low bacterial richness in the gut. She refers to certain studies and lays the blame squarely at the door of agrochemicals, not least the use of glyphosate, a strong chelator of essential minerals, such as cobalt, zinc, manganese, calcium, molybdenum and sulphate. In addition, it kills off beneficial gut bacteria and allows toxic bacteria such as clostridium difficile to flourish. She states that two key problems caused by glyphosate residues in our diet are nutritional deficiencies, especially minerals and essential amino-acids, and systemic toxicity.

At this point, it must be stressed that children and young people are especially vulnerable. In a 2016 article that appeared in The Guardian, developmental neurobiologist and science writer Mo Costandi discussed the importance of gut bacteria and their balance. In adolescence, he explained, the brain undergoes a protracted period of heightened neural plasticity, during which large numbers of synapses are eliminated in the prefrontal cortex and a wave of ‘myelination’ sweeps across this part of the brain. These processes refine the circuitry in the prefrontal cortex and increase its connectivity to other brain regions. Myelination is also critical for normal, everyday functioning of the brain. Myelin increases a nerve fibre’s conduction velocity by up to a hundred times, and so when it breaks down, the consequences can be devastating.

Gut microbes control the maturation and function of microglia, the immune cells that eliminate unwanted synapses in the brain; age-related changes to gut microbe composition might regulate myelination and synaptic pruning in adolescence and could, therefore, contribute to cognitive development. Upset those changes, and there are going to be serious implications for children and adolescents.

Findings published in the journal ‘Translational Psychiatry’ provide strong evidence that gut bacteria can have a direct physical impact on the brain. Alterations in the composition of the gut microbiome have been implicated in a wide range of neurological and psychiatric conditions, including autism, chronic pain, depression, and Parkinson’s Disease.

Many important neurotransmitters are located in the gut. Aside from affecting the functioning of major organs, these transmitters affect our moods and thinking. Feed gut bacteria a cocktail of biocides and is it any surprise that many diseases are increasing?

Yet we are still being subjected to an unregulated cocktail of agrochemicals. Regulatory agencies and governments appear to work hand in glove with the agrochemical sector.

In her document, Rosemary Mason discusses the nexus between government, health institutes, the Gates Foundation and a profiteering pharmaceuticals industry and the fact that many of its products escape effective regulatory controls and are pushed onto an unsuspecting public, especially children.

Mason touches on a lot more but also notes a failure by the media to discuss the impact of agrochemicals on public health primarily because so many journalists are fed reports and press releases by the very organisations with an interest in protecting industry.

Perhaps her most damning comments are reserved for Cancer Research UK (CRUK):

“CRUK’s vision ‘is to bring forward the days when all cancers are cured’ is complete fabrication by the pesticides industry.”

It’s a bold statement. Readers can access Rosemary Mason’s latest document here (and all her previous documents here) and may draw their own conclusions.

The post Sick to the Stomach: Pesticides and the Cocktail of Toxicity appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Was It a Thumbs Up Sign or a Finger Gun Pointing at Us?

Counterpunch Articles -

I have to say it doesn’t take very long for Kansas’ 1st district Rep. Roger Marshall and his staff to feel like as though they are the victims of their constituents’ concerns and not the other way around.

This time it started on Sunday, August 4 with some singing and chalking on Rep. Marshall’s sidewalk. The chalking included images as well as text such as

“Providing water to refugees is not a crime”

“More mass shootings than days in 2019: 250 and counting”

“‘I think the country is safer today than it was three years ago’ — Roger Marshall” (This was the weekend of the El Paso and Dayton shootings.)

A car drove by with people hanging their heads out and shouting obscenities and something about how “gun control won’t fix it.” And I thought to myself, they’re right. It’s not enough. The problem is much deeper and needs a cultural shift away from social, political and economic injustice as a whole.

The next day, I went as usual to SMoC, my “Sidewalk Museum of Congress” studio, and just as I was getting ready to lay down my work mat, out of the corner of my eye I see a figure inside Marshall’s office come toward the door. For a second I thought the staff person was coming to talk to me, but nothing happened. Did she come to lock the door? Maybe she was intimidated by our chalking from the previous day, and when she saw me coming, was further intimidated and quickly locked the door. But I’m not sure.

Five minutes later my fellow-artist friend Rena joined me, and as she was laying her stuff out, I told her what I thought just happened. After a few minutes we decided to go in and submit a few questions we had hammering at our brains for Marshall about the recent mass shootings.

Marshall’s office has two doors, one of which is behind where I usually sit. It has an old curled up paper sign on it telling visitors to use the other door, around the corner. That’s the door that Marshall used to make a quick getaway, a year ago August 8, when we were protesting some of the same stuff we are today and demanding to meet him.

We haven’t seen him since. (Well, he did have a townhall meeting in Salina on April 20, but the local community access TV posted on Facebook saying “This is Easter weekend, so the crowd wasn’t large due to a lot of family activities around town this weekend.”)

Here Rena and I were again, our questions ready, my phone video on, and as we knocked on the door, Marshall’s staff person opened it and, seeing my phone, told me to please stop recording. I turned the phone off and we tried to voice our two questions for Marshall to a very defensive staff person as she typed them into her computer. Then we went outside to continue working.

I am a native of India, and you know it’s a small world in which government policies affect minimum wage workers, day laborers, farmers, peasants and their families halfway across the globe when your own Kansas member of Congress makes it into one of your native country’s newspapers. The Hindu reported on August 6, “US Congressman Roger Marshall said once again, Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do with China, now in regard to their currency. ‘US producers, workers and consumers have waited long enough for an administration who would stand up to China. I’m thankful it’s finally happening,’ he said.”

Recent severe weather and market uncertainty have impacted Kansas farmers. So on the day that the Hindu reported Marshall’s thankfulness for the tariffs, we decided to write an all-caps message at SMoC using some Kansas crops —soybean, wheat, corn and sorghum. Rena came up with a good one: TRUMP HARMS FARMS.

As we started to fill our palms with the grains to plant them on the concrete, I thought I saw someone nearby taking our picture. Then he walked by us and disappeared around the corner only to appear a little later with Marshall’s staff person, who was smiling and shaking his hand. The scene happened very fast, and only I saw it; Rena’s back was to them. Then the guy got into his car (oddly, with Florida plates) and drove off. Almost immediately, Rena got an email from Marshall’s office regarding our questions (see below.)

We sat back down to continue with what we were doing, and a few minutes later a pedestrian wearing sunglasses just walked right into me, stepping on our “TRUMP HARMS FARMS” slogan-in-the-making and saying, “I’m sorry, I’m hard of seeing.”

Seconds earlier, another guy in a passing car had blown his horn; Rena looked up at him and her eyes went dark. My back was to the street, so I was sitting there wondering what she’d seen when the guy in sunglasses crashed into me.

As we tried once again to finish the work we’d come there to do, Rena told me about the driver who blew the horn. Gesturing with her hand, she said that she couldn’t be sure if it was a thumbs-up sign he’d given her or a “finger gun”.

Fortunately, we had perched my phone on a little tree on the sidewalk to record the making of our grain slogan in time lapse. Rena patted the tree gently and exclaimed “Thank you tree.” (We had not been thankful for our phone experience inside Marshall’s office the previous day.) You can see for yourself part of the strange sequence of events that interrupted our SMoC studio work that day. Coincidence? Paranoia? What just happened?

One of my questions for Marshall the previous day was whether he still believed himself when he’d said, “I think the country is safer today than it was three years ago,” and whether he was ready to take that statement back.

This is the response we got back from his office while we were planting TRUMP HARMS FARMS on Marshall’s sidewalk:

“Thank you for stopping by Congressman Roger Marshall’s District Office in Salina, Kansas yesterday. This email is to advise that your opinion was filed with Congressman Marshall and our legislative team in Washington, D.C.”

My “opinion?” It was a question. Once again Roger the Dodger is living up to his reputation and ignoring his constituents’ concerns.

I shouldn’t have to go into my Congressman’s office with my video camera in hand to begin with. But let’s face it, I’m paranoid that in the shadow of whatever is left of our democracy, artists like Rena and me are an exposed sidewalk target.

Wouldn’t you be?

SMoC diary to be continued…

Please go here to see a SMoC experience from October, 2018. By the way, the Republican campaign headquarters that featured in that incident is now a CBD shop lol!


The post Was It a Thumbs Up Sign or a Finger Gun Pointing at Us? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Elizabeth Warren and the Slow Boring of Hard Boards

Mother Jones Magazine -

Several people have recommended to me a Politico piece about Elizabeth Warren’s fight to win loan forgiveness for students who had been defrauded by Corinthian Colleges after it went bankrupt. As the story opens, Warren is on Air Force One trying to enlist President Obama’s help:

Earlier, Warren and others had helped convince the Education Department to agree to cancel the loans for some of those for-profit college students, opening the door to forgiveness for hundreds of thousands of people. Now, Warren was waging a new battle against Obama’s Treasury Department, which was planning to hit students with steep tax bills on their forgiven loans.

….Warren’s goal, according to people familiar with the conversation, was not just to convince Obama that it was possible to do something that his own administration was telling him was impossible. It was to persuade him to spend some of his political capital — which was in short supply as he battled against a Republican Congress — on a group of struggling low-income students who had been defrauded by a now-defunct for-profit college chain.

Implicit in that conversation was a threat: If he didn’t act, Obama could have a public image problem on his hands in the form of a loud, popular senator who had already been raising hell about his Education Department. Not long after the Air Force One flight, the Treasury Department told Warren it had found a way to stop the students from being hit with tax bills after all.

….One former Education Department official called it an “inside/outside strategy”: Warren would hammer the administration publicly at the same time she worked behind the scenes with those government officials, acting, many felt, as an ally.

The whole piece is worth reading on its own merits, but I’m dubious that it tells us much about Warren’s “theory of change,” a buzz phrase that’s very big these days among activists. The story provides a pretty good look at Warren’s distinctive combination of tenaciousness, policy chops, and grassroots support, but it’s not clear to me how well her style would translate into being a good president. After all, this is fundamentally an account of a very small policy change that no one was really opposing and that required only the support of a president of her own party. But the challenge facing a president is to implement sweeping policy changes in the face of an entrenched opposition.

Policy chops aren’t all that helpful here beyond a certain minimum, and in any case Warren’s detailed policy expertise is in a fairly narrow area. In the vast majority of cases she’ll have to rely on her staff, just like any other president. Grassroots support is certainly helpful to a president, but Warren would soon learn that progressives have a habit of dumping you if you deviate even a little bit from the pure cause. That leaves tenaciousness, which I have no argument about. That’s helpful no matter what—though a president has to pick and choose her spots instead of simply rolling out plan after plan for everything.

How much does all this matter? In fairness to Warren, I’ve never been very taken with obsessing over a candidate’s “theory of change” to begin with. It all seems a little naive and overintellectual. You want a real theory of change? Here it is: build up enough public support for your cause that you can win the presidency along with a 300+ majority in the House and a comfortable filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. That’s pretty much it. Tedious outrage about “incipient fascism” aside, the United States is still a democracy. If you want change, you have to convince a big chunk of the population to support it. The rest is details.

Others may see this differently, but for all the sound and fury out of Fox News on one side and the #Resistance on the other, I continue to have no sense at all that Americans are truly ready for a grassroots revolution of any kind. Events could change that, but most of us are simply too comfortable to take up pitchforks these days. For the time being, the best theory of change is the good old slow boring of hard boards.

The US Government Doesn’t Care About Afghan Women

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This article originally appeared at TruthDig. In once, and to some extent still, relatively cosmopolitan Baghdad, Iraq, I once saw three young female college students from Mustansiriyah University walking home from class. They couldn’t have been more differently clothed. One wore a full burqa that exposed only her eyes; another a hijab, a more modest … Continue reading "The US Government Doesn’t Care About Afghan Women"

The post The US Government Doesn’t Care About Afghan Women appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Americans Oppose Israel Lobby Junkets

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Seventy members of the U.S. Congress (16% of the total membership) are visiting Israel during recess. Most of the private funding for the junket arrives through an entity called the American Israel Education Foundation. AIEF officially formed as a "supporting organization of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee" (AIPAC) in 1988 and applied for tax … Continue reading "Americans Oppose Israel Lobby Junkets"

The post Americans Oppose Israel Lobby Junkets appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Falsetto Is Here to Stay

Mother Jones Magazine -

I hate falsetto. That doesn’t mean I hate you unless you also hate falsetto. De gustibus. But to me it sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. So naturally I was curious when Vox put up a video claiming to chart the popularity of falsetto in pop music over the years.

You’ll have to watch the video if you want the whole story, including the difference between falsetto and a naturally high voice, but in the end they came through. They used Pandora metadata to score all the Top 10 songs since 1958, and then tossed out everything (mostly hip hop) that didn’t include any singing. Once that was done, here’s what they came up with:

I was born in an unusually falsetto-less year, but since then there’s no real trend to speak of. The ’70s were a strong decade for falsetto and the aughts were a weak decade, but that’s about it.

Unfortunately for me, they also discovered that falsetto songs charted better and longer than other songs, so it’s here to stay. Oh well.

Vindicating Tulsi Gabbard on Syrian Use of Chemical Weapons

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In the aftermath of the second Democratic primary debate on July 31, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard emerged as the most Googled of all candidates, an indication that her performance (which included a stunning takedown of California Sen. Kamala Harris over her criminal justice record) attracted the attention of many viewers. This heightened level of attention produced blowback, both from Harris, who dismissed Gabbard as “an Assad apologist” (a reference to Syrian President Bashar Assad), and from the mainstream media, typified by CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who alleged that Gabbard—a major in the Hawaiian National Guard, with two tours of duty in the Middle East under her belt—is taking the side of Assad over the U.S. intelligence community and U.N. inspectors when it comes to assigning blame for chemical weapons attacks against Syrian civilians.

“What you are referring to are [sic] cynicism as skepticism that I have expressed, because I’ve served in a war that was caused by people who lied to us, who lied to the American people, who presented false evidence that members of Congress and U.S. senators believed and voted for a war that resulted in the loss of lives of over 4,000 of my brothers and sisters in uniform,” Gabbard replied to Cuomo. “It’s our responsibility as lawmakers and as leaders in this country to make sure that our U.S. military is not being activated and deployed to go to war unless we are certain a) that it serves the best interests of the American people; and b) that that action will actually have a positive impact. The questions I’m raising are based on this experience that I’ve had.”

As someone who challenged the position of the U.S. government regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs before the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, I believe that Gabbard’s skepticism over allegations that the Assad government used chemical weapons to attack the towns of Khan Shaykhun in 2017 and Douma in 2018 is well placed.

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Gabbard has detailed her concerns about allegations of chemical weapon use in Syria on her campaign website. Her position, and her reliance on the work of Theodore Postol, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who has published critical assessments of both the Khan Shaykhun and Douma incidents, has drawn the ire of many in the mainstream media and elsewhere, including Eliot Higgins, founder of the website Bellingcat, who published a scathing rebuttal of both Postol’s work and Gabbard’s reliance on it.

My purpose here is not to check the veracity of Postol’s research, rebut Higgins’ claims or fact-check Gabbard’s web page. What I will do, as a veteran Marine Corps intelligence officer and experienced weapons inspector, is throw my weight behind Gabbard’s expression of skepticism.

The chemical incident at Douma on April 7, 2018, has been largely debunked—the initial claims regarding the use of the nerve agent sarin have been shown to be false, and evidence has emerged that indicates that a pair of chlorine tanks claimed to have been dropped by helicopters belonging to the Syrian military as weapons were, in fact, manually placed at the scene by opposition forces. There is no doubt that the initial assessment of the situation used by the U.S. government to justify a military strike in response to the allegations regarding Douma was fundamentally flawed, and that Gabbard—alone among all the Democratic presidential hopefuls—was correct to expressed her doubt over its veracity.

More complicated is the incident that occurred at Khan Shaykhun on April 4, 2017. Here, investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) claim to have uncovered evidence that civilians from Khan Shaykhun were exposed to Sarin. The key question surrounding the Khan Shaykhun incident isn’t whether Sarin was used, but rather who used it. The U.S. government and the OPCW have concluded that the Syrian government is responsible for the attack. Postol, Gabbard and I all have concerns over that conclusion.

No independent investigator has been to the site of the Khan Shaykhun incident, including the OPCW investigators who assert Syrian government responsibility. This is a crucial fact that fundamentally affects how data is evaluated. Khan Shaykhun was, at the time of the alleged attack, under the control of opposition forces loyal to the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida offshoot. Several nongovernmental organizations also were present, including the White Helmets, a civil defense/rescue organization, and the Syrian American Medical Society, or SAMS, which provides volunteer medical care in opposition-controlled Syria. Both the White Helmets and SAMS operated under the auspices of the Nusra Front while working in the Khan Shaykhun region. In conducting its investigation, the OPCW relied exclusively upon the White Helmets and SAMS for information regarding the alleged attack, access to alleged victims of the attack for interviews and medical testing, and physical samples alleged to have been removed from the scene of the attack.

This reality is fatal to the credibility of any finding issued by the OPCW. In my 10-plus years as a weapons inspector in both the former Soviet Union and Iraq, I helped write the book on on-site inspections, including developing initial procedures for establishing chain of custody for chemical samples gathered during an inspection. I can assert, without fear of being contradicted, that there can be no formal, legally binding attribution or conclusion made from evidence that lacks an absolute chain of custody from moment of collection to final analysis. This was the case with the United Nations Special Command (UNSCOM) in Iraq, and with the U.N. mission to investigate alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria. That mission, which operated in Syria from Aug. 19 through Sept. 30, 2013, is on record as rejecting numerous evidentiary materials on the basis of being unable to “independently verify the information received” or “verify the chain of custody for … sampling.”

The OPCW, however, modified its procedures to allow the introduction of both the White Helmets and SAMS into the evidentiary chain of custody, embracing them as a means of information verification even though OPCW investigators were not part of the initiating processes involved in witness selection and screening. This failure to adhere to fundamentals has cast doubt on the credibility of the OPCW’s findings, if for no other reason than that it allowed an al-Qaida-affiliated entity—the Nusra Front—to fundamentally shape its investigation, thereby opening its conclusions to challenge.

Postol and Higgins expend significant effort on discussing the science of sarin; I take a more basic approach to the Khan Shaykhun incident: How did the sarin get there? The OPCW concludes that “a relatively large bomb” delivered “from a medium or high altitude, of between approximately 4,000 and 10,000 m[eters]” is the probable delivery means of the sarin used at Khan Shaykhun. This assessment is highly problematic, especially because it was impossible for the aircraft the OPCW asserts was used to deliver this bomb—a Syrian air force Su-22—to accomplish this task. If it was impossible for the Syrians to drop a chemical bomb on Khan Shaykhun from an aircraft, then the entire episode, as recounted by the OPCW—based upon evidence provided by the Nusra Front, the White Helmet and SAMS—must be viewed as a fabrication.

The OPCW cites radar maps provided by the United States and France that place an Su-22 aircraft over Khan Shaykhun on the morning of April 4, 2017. “The aircraft was depicted as flying in a circular loop pattern in the vicinity of Kafr Zayta and north-east of Khan Shaykhun,” the OPCW report noted. “The map indicated that the closest to Khan Shaykhun that the aircraft had flown had been approximately 5 [kilometers] away.”

This information conforms with Syrian air force logs provided to the OPCW by the Syrian government, as well as a statement provided by a Syrian pilot who flew the Su-22 aircraft on the morning of April 4; the pilot claimed the closest he had flown to Khan Shaykhun was seven to nine kilometers, while carrying out an attack using conventional munitions near the village of Kafr Zayta, situated approximately eight kilometers southwest of Khan Shaykhun.

The OPCW said it consulted with an unnamed “weapons expert” to determine “the confluence of distance and altitude from which it might be possible to hit Khan Shaykhun with an aerial bomb.” The “expert” concluded that “depending on a number of variables such as altitude, speed and the flight path taken, it would be possible for such an aerial bomb to be dropped on the town from the aforementioned distances.” The OPCW did not provide the variables used by the “expert” in making this determination, or an example by which these variables could produce the outcome claimed.

There is a simple reason why it did not—the “expert” is dead wrong.

A briefing provided by a Russian air force officer directly contradicts the OPCW claims that an Su-22 aircraft dropped a bomb on Khan Shaykhun on the morning in question. For the Su-22 to carry out an attack, the Russian officer noted, it must visually acquire the target and, from an altitude of no more than 4,000 meters, fly directly at the target at a speed of 800 to 1,000 kilometers per hour. Based upon these parameters, the release point of a bomb would be between 1,000 and 5,800 meters distant from the target. Even then, the Su-22 would require an additional three to nine kilometers to make a turn away from the target after dropping the bomb. The radar track used by the OPCW shows an Su-22 aircraft flying west of Khan Shaykhun, on a path parallel to the town. The flight path is not consistent with that needed to deliver a bomb on Khan Shaykhun.

While Western “experts” have dismissed the Russian presentation as a charade, I find it credible. As a former aircrew member of a Marine Corps OA-4 Skyhawk light attack aircraft, which possesses performance characteristics similar to that of the Su-22, I have flown air-to-ground strike missions similar to that claimed for Khan Shaykhun. I could fly the flight profile indicated by the U.S. radar track 100 times, and never get a bomb anywhere near the area where the Khan Shaykhun crater in question is located. This point is furthered by the fact that a basic analysis of the crater puts the azimuth of strike nearly perpendicular to the line of flight of the Su-22 when passing west of the town; for a bomb to have been delivered, the aircraft would have had to significantly depart from its flight path, overflying the target, before turning and resuming its course. The radar shows no such deviation. (The “loops” flown by the aircraft north of Khan Shaykhun could likewise never have provided the direction of attack needed to deliver a bomb to the crater in question.) This is the crux of the problem facing the OPCW—it claims that an aerial bomb loaded with sarin was used to strike Khan Shaykhun, and yet the evidence it provides regarding the presence of the sole vector capable of delivering this weapon—the Syrian Su-22—disproves its case.

The tale of the Syrian Su-22 represents both the alpha and omega of the allegations of Syrian government complicity regarding the use of sarin at Khan Shaykhun. One can debate sarin persistency, alternative vectors for agent delivery and other tangential issues until they are blue in the face. But for the Nusra Front, White Helmet and SAMS narrative to be viable, there must have been an attack by a Syrian air force Su-22 that delivered an aerial bomb to the center of Khan Shaykhun. Yet the evidence provided demonstrates conclusively that this could not have occurred. Based upon this reality, everything that follows must be viewed as a “false flag” incident or, as Gabbard’s website notes, “evidence to suggest that the attacks may have been staged by opposition forces for the purpose of drawing the United States and the West deeper into the war.”

“I believe,” Gabbard states on her website, “that we should all carefully look at the evidence before coming to any conclusions as to whether or not al-Qaeda or the Syrian government were responsible for these particular attacks.” That she has done so with a critical eye is not only commendable, but what one would expect from a soldier who seeks to be the commander in chief of the U.S. military.

That the mainstream media continue to attack Gabbard for her stance on Syria and chemical weapons is indicative of the low bar that exists for American journalism today. That President Trump and all the Democratic presidential candidates have failed to display a modicum of intellectual curiosity about what really happened in Douma and Khan Shaykhun should alarm any American who professes to care about issues of war and peace.

The post Vindicating Tulsi Gabbard on Syrian Use of Chemical Weapons appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

WeWork Announces IPO While the Announcing Is Good

Mother Jones Magazine -

Adam Neumann is the founder and CEO of WeWork, a company that buys large blocks of urban office space and then subdivides them into smaller spaces for rent to entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, and so forth. In the past this has been considered a fairly boring kind of business, but WeWork has inexplicably been able to brand itself as a tech company and is currently valued as if it were Facebook or Google. Naturally it plans to go public soon, which means that today it released its registration documents for an upcoming IPO.

This should make Neumann even richer than he is now, but apparently that’s not enough for him. Earlier this year WeWork changed its corporate brand to We Co., obviously a critical part of its growth strategy. Naturally it then needed to acquire the trademark to “we.” Can you guess who owned that trademark? Huh? Can you? Bloomberg tells us:

The name was owned by We Holdings LLC, which manages some of the founders’ stock and other assets. WeWork said it paid the founders’ company $5.9 million for “we” this year, based on a valuation determined by a third-party appraisal. WeWork legally changed the company name last month.

That’s right, it was owned by Adam Neumann. And a completely objective appraisal paid for by Neumann decided that Neumann should be paid a completely objective $5.9 million for selling his trademark to his own company.

Isn’t that great? Don’t you wish you could do that? And it all seems so pointless. Neumann has already cashed out about $700 million worth of his stake in the company prior to the IPO, and since he still owns a third of the company¹ he’ll be worth somewhere north of $10 billion after it’s over, even though WeWork has never come close to making money and is currently burning cash at the rate of a billion or three every year. So I guess every dollar counts.

¹I think. WeWork’s S-1 form shows that Neumann owns 115 million shares of the company out of a total of 338 million pro forma shares. At least, that’s my best guess. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore, but it’s remarkably hard to figure this out even from formal SEC documents.

Gunman Wounds at Least 6 Police Officers in Philadelphia

TruthDig.com News -

PHILADELPHIA — At least one gunman opened fire on police Wednesday as they were serving a warrant in a Philadelphia neighborhood, wounding six officers and triggering a standoff that extended into the evening, authorities said.

None of the officers’ injuries were considered life-threatening, Philadelphia police Sgt. Eric Gripp said. They were being treated at hospitals.

The shooting began around 4:30 p.m. as officers went to a home in Nicetown, a north Philadelphia neighborhood of brick and stone row homes. Shots were still being fired three hours later, police said.

Officers were negotiating with the gunman and imploring him to surrender, while urging people to stay away from the area, Gripp tweeted.

Two officers became trapped inside the house amid the gunfire, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Live video from news stations showed a massive police presence, with dozens of squad cars and officers, many of them with guns drawn.

Temple University locked down part of its campus, and several children and staff were trapped in a nearby daycare.

Police tried to push crowds of onlookers and residents back from the scene. In police radio broadcasts, officers could be heard calling for backup as reports of officers getting shot poured in.

Dozens of officers on foot lined the streets. Others were in cars and some on horses.

One officer appeared injured and was taken away in a police car. Video also showed two other officers carrying a man and putting him in the back of a police car.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said its agents responded to the scene to assist Philadelphia police.

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr were briefed on the shooting, officials said.

The post Gunman Wounds at Least 6 Police Officers in Philadelphia appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

‘People Are Demanding Accountability for the Fossil Fuel Industry’ - CounterSpin interview with Sriram Madhusoodanan about climate justice

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

Janine Jackson interviewed Sriram Madhusoodanan about climate justice for the August 2, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Climate disruption presents a test for corporate news media: Will they act on the understanding that a conversation that doesn’t acknowledge that unprecedented measures need to be taken is an irresponsibly detached conversation? Will they vigorously expose the corporate actors, the fossil fuel companies and their executives, who continue to dissimulate and deny? Or will they go on giving those that profit from harm-causing industries pride of place in the conversation about how to mitigate that harm?

Corporate media’s response to some promising state-level developments in climate action is not itself very promising. Our next guest will explain work you might not know about, being done to push fossil fuel companies out of the way of climate justice solutions. Sriram Madhusoodanan is deputy campaigns director at the group Corporate Accountability; he joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Sriram Madhusoodanan.

Sriram Madhusoodanan: Thank you so much, Janine; glad to be here.

JJ: I was alluding to the Supreme Court decision earlier this year that cleared the way for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to pursue her investigation of Exxon Mobil—about what it knew about climate change and when it knew it, essentially. It was on the wires, AP and Reuters, but it didn’t get the kind of major attention you would hope.

But before you talk about that, the background for such an investigation, the need for it, is that the fossil fuel industry is just vigorous in doing whatever it takes to resist change. They’re really quite aggressive and proactive, you might say.

Sriram Madhusoodanan: “There are very real solutions to addressing the climate crisis, and they’re being deployed by people around the world.”

SM: Absolutely. I think this is the story we’ve seen play out over decades, really, when we now see the internal documents that have come to light, for example, showing that Exxon, as far back as the 1960s, really knew the extent to which climate change was going to be the path that we were on, the modern kind of climate disruption that we’re seeing, almost a climate disaster happening every week, I believe, according to a recent UN report.

So it is very telling that this is the path the fossil fuel industry has been on for so long, and when faced with a choice of doing the better thing, in terms of advancing a just transition, or choosing a path of climate denial and political manipulation, the industry quite simply chose to protect the billions and billions of dollars a year in its own profit.

JJ:  And this was part of that: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was investigating Exxon Mobil. So, as part of their strategy, they sued her. And that’s the case that the Supreme Court refused to hear?

SM: That’s right, yes. So the Supreme Court really refused to hear Exxon’s bid for dismissal on the Massachusetts AG case. And just to back up for a second, Exxon has really fought tooth and nail against every move to hold it legally liable, countersuing up a storm, not just with the Massachusetts attorney general investigation, but a number of different instances. And this is quite simply a tactic of delay and intimidation, and an attempt to use their considerable resources to delay, distract and fundamentally to obstruct this process.

JJ: Healey said that she thought the Supreme Court ruling might put an end to what she called Exxon’s “scorched earth campaign” to block these kinds of investigations.

As you’re intimating, this ruling, it’s heartening, not only for Massachusetts, though; Massachusetts is not alone in this sort of investigation.

SM: Absolutely. This is a big win for other states, cities and communities who want to hold Exxon accountable. We have an ongoing investigation and lawsuit from Attorney General James, now, in New York state. And there are a number of cities that are taking the fossil fuel industry to court. And this decision really does clear the way for Healy’s investigation into what Exxon has known for over 50 years about climate change, and brings us one step closer to finding out exactly what they knew, and what they did to cover it up.

JJ: So it’s having some echo effect, in some sense. It was a state attorney general that brought the big lawsuit, or one of them, that became the biggest lawsuit against big tobacco, was it not?

SM: Yes, and there’s absolutely a number of parallels to the history we saw with attorney general investigations into the tobacco industry. One, for example, is that, as we saw with the tobacco AG investigations, part of the settlement in the US, particularly from Minnesota’s state attorney general, was to bring to light and release a trove of internal documents that really illustrated the true story of what the industry had been doing to cover up what it knew about the addictive nature of nicotine and cigarettes.

And similarly, we can see, really, to what extent Exxon and others hid from the public the causes and severity of the climate crisis. And I think, more importantly, when those tobacco documents were released, and the truth of what the industry did was revealed, it really ushered in a whole new era of accountability and legislation to hold the industry accountable.

And at the international level, at the UN, at the state and local level here in the US, people are similarly demanding accountability for the fossil fuel industry. And this is exactly the kinds of investigation and moves to hold the industry accountable and liable for its actions that we need in this moment.

JJ: Yeah, documents make things harder to deny, even if they’re things that seem like they’re going on in broad daylight anyway. Documentation is always important.

And fossil fuel companies are kind of a big PR operation; they do their own research, they offer these “market-based” solutions. And for corporate media, that’s enough cover — you know, “Oh, this didn’t come from BP, it came from the ‘Energy Futures Institute,’” or whatever horse hockey — to present that as a valid position in a debate: “Some people say, X, Y or Z.”

And I kind of wonder what it will take for extractive industry to be presented that way in the media, instead of this kind of credulity that we see. I feel like media have to take a turn, in the same way that it did with tobacco, in terms of the way it presents these corporate actors.

SM: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right there. Media have an incredibly important role to play in telling the story. And it shouldn’t be understated, we cannot talk about climate change enough. And it’s important that when we talk about it, we tell the story in the right way.

So to, one, foreground the fact that the industry has known about the severity of climate change for decades. I mentioned as far back as the 1960s, but a recent document came to light, within this initial trove of documents from Exxon, that showed that in the 1980s, they knew, and had predicted with a fair degree of accuracy, what the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would be in 2019.

And that’s just astounding, to think that before I was born, for example, that Exxon had known exactly what it was doing if it kept on this path of extractive economy and of climate disruption. And so media have an absolutely critical role to play in foregrounding who was responsible, and that where we are today, in a moment of upheaval and climate disruption, was also a deliberate choice on the part of a number of incredibly powerful entities, corporations and CEOs at the helms of those entities as well.

JJ: Yeah, you can’t keep bringing these folks forward as credible actors, once you know that dissimulation has been part of their modus operandi, it seems to me. It should affect the way they’re treated as sources on the stories.

SM: Absolutely, absolutely. And then to take it one step further, to really address and to have a much more skeptical eye to the trade associations, which you mentioned earlier, that are driving their agenda, seemingly under the guise of being nonprofits or acting in the public interest, simply putting forth “innovative solutions,” when, in fact, they were set up for very intentional purposes by the industry to advance an industry-driven agenda, and to feed these false, market-based solutions that, at the end of the day, don’t do anything to actually shift the industry’s business model, which is fundamentally at odds with the direction we need to go as a collective species on this planet, if we’re going to weather the storm, so to say.

Truthout (7/10/19)

JJ: A recent piece by your Corporate Accountability colleague, Patti Lynn, that I saw on Truthout reminded us that

under today’s global power structures, the people who will be the most affected are the same ones who are currently experiencing the harshest effects of climate change.

No wonder then, that women, communities of color, communities in the global South, youth, low-income communities and Indigenous communities around the world have been developing just climate solutions that will address this crisis. What we need now is to move the fossil fuel industry and its backers out of the way so these solutions can be implemented.

There really isn’t a scientific, or even an environmental, response to climate disruption that is not a political response to current relationships of power, is there, really?

SM: You know, that’s absolutely right. And I think it’s a really critical point to bear, that there are very real solutions to addressing the climate crisis, and they’re being deployed by people around the world and in the US most impacted by this crisis today. Solutions like energy democracy, agroecological practices, ecological restoration to recover natural carbon sinks. And you imagine where we could be today in implementing these kinds of climate solutions if the industry had not for so long really stood in the way. It’s damning when you think about it from that perspective. But absolutely, what’s needed in this moment is for the industry to get out of the way, and for us to make sure that these real solutions that are already being deployed in communities around the world are given the center of focus and the scale that they need in order to really be the focus of a global response to this crisis.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Sriram Madhusoodanan, deputy campaigns director at the group Corporate Accountability. You can find their work online at CorporateAccountability.org. Sriram Madhusoodanan, thanks so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

SM: Thank you.


Words We’re Not Hearing From Leaders Who Should Be Saying Them

TruthDig.com News -

On April 4, 1968, the night Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death, Robert F. Kennedy, campaigning for the presidency, climbed up on a flatbed truck at a rally in an African American section of Indianapolis.

“Do they know about Martin Luther King?” he asked someone. Not everyone did. This was before 24-hour cable news and the internet. News traveled slowly compared with today.

“I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight,” he said. “Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort.”

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In his brief speech that followed, Kennedy asked a stricken people to rise above grief and anger, to heights almost inconceivable in that terrible decade of the 1960s. A half-century later, his words are an example for this time of mass murders and race hatred. But today, politicians don’t seem to be able to find the words to inspire a shaken nation and rise above the muck of the presidential campaign.

When Kennedy spoke, the nation was torn, every bit as divided as it is now. There was the debate over the Vietnam War. Police assaulted African Americans and Latinos protesting racial segregation and denial of the vote. Segregationists murdered protesters. College students massed against the war and racism. Bombs planted in buildings were weapons of protest. America was in revolt.

“In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in,” Kennedy told his audience. “For those of you who are black—considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible (for King’s death)—you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization—black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

“Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

At this point, we must be reminded that there was another side to this story. Kennedy had a hypocritical side. It is told in the archives of Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, and in the journalism of the time.

In October 1963, Kennedy, then attorney general, authorized wiretaps on King’s home and the offices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the request of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover insisted that one of King’s closest advisers was secretly a member of the Communist Party. The FBI’s counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) subjected King to surveillance, according to the Stanford archives. It “produced alleged evidence of extramarital affairs but no evidence of Communist influence.”

This history is relevant today.

Law enforcement will no doubt be given more power in the search for white terrorists. In the Hoover-COINTELPRO era, law enforcement—from the FBI down to the local police—were given such latitude, and some of the cops indulged their right-wing feelings. There’s some—maybe much—of that among today’s law enforcement, now directed against immigrants and African Americans who protest police conduct. These feelings no doubt will be part of the new war against extremists, led by a president who encourages white extremists and his toady of an attorney general.

The Kennedy who eulogized King rose above the man who was persuaded by Hoover to wiretap King.

Toward the end of Kennedy’s life (he was assassinated in June 1968) he exemplified the words and thoughts of Abraham Lincoln, another inspirational speaker. Seeking to bring the nation together in his first inaugural address, Lincoln said, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Almost a century later, with the country almost as divided as it was on the eve of the Civil War, Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis reflected the spirit of Lincoln, in words that should guide this generation of politicians.

As he summed up his thoughts, he said, “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

“Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

Sadly, today’s politicians are too cautious, too inarticulate, too glued to the polls to rise to this terrible moment of American history.

The post Words We’re Not Hearing From Leaders Who Should Be Saying Them appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Cuccinelli’s Family Tree Suggests His New Immigration Rule Might Have Blocked His Ancestors

Mother Jones Magazine -

On Monday, while rolling out a sweeping rule designed to make it harder for working-class immigrants to get legal residency, US Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli turned to his family’s history. When his Italian American grandfather, Dominick, brought two of his cousins to the United States in the 1950s, he made sure they spoke English and could provide for their own needs, Cuccinelli said. The USCIS director returned to that story in an op-ed published the next morning by CNN and in an interview with the station later that evening.

The new “public charge” rule Cuccinelli is pushing would deny green cards to people immigration officials decide are likely to use even small amounts of government assistance. The policy has the potential to deny permanent legal residency to hundreds of thousands of people and could end up being the Trump administration’s most significant attack on legal immigration. 

Cuccinelli’s decision to justify the policy using his own family’s story raises an obvious question: Would the Cuccinellis have been let in under the new rule? Fortunately, a person named Ken Cuccinelli—the name of both the USCIS director and his father—started filling in a highly detailed family tree on Ancestry.com in November 2018 and continued updating the tree as recently as July. (USCIS did not respond to a request for comment about whom the account belongs to.)

According to the family tree, Cuccinelli’s great-grandfather Dominic Cucciniello was born in 1875 in the south of the newly formed nation of Italy and came to the United States in 1896. On his 1930 census form, Dominic, then a 54-year-old US citizen, stated that he was a laborer and homeowner in Hoboken, New Jersey. At the time, the census gauged Americans’ wealth and status by asking whether they owned a radio; Dominic did not. By the time of the 1940 census, he had bought a home in Jersey City worth $5,000, about $90,000 in today’s money. He appeared to be retired at 65 after completing zero years of schooling.

He had made a life for his family in America, despite being the type of person the new public charge rule might exclude. Charles Kuck, a Georgia-based lawyer and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, says that in light of Cuccinelli’s likely family history, “Cuccinelli has no idea what he is talking about and would just as happily exclude and deport his own family.”

Dominick Cuccinelli, a son of Dominic Cucciniello, was born in 1910 in New Jersey, but only barely. Ken Cuccinelli Jr.’s grandfather was conceived in Italy and then born in a home in Hoboken, according to an email from Ken Sr. that Ken Jr. posted to Facebook in 2011. Dominick was a US citizen by birthright and went on to complete five grades of school. In 1940, he was an unemployed truck driver who had been looking for work for five weeks. He had worked a total of 16 weeks the year before, earning $350 in total. (The average income in the United States that year was $1,368.) Still, his situation was not unusual in the wake of the Great Depression, when unemployment averaged 18 percent throughout the 1930s. Ken Sr. wrote in the 2011 email that Dominick “was a diligent worker that was not stopped by injuries, illness, or other maladies that often would take his peers out of the game.”

Cuccinelli’s great-grandfather Dominic Cucciniello, who was born in Italy and had no schooling, was the type of person the new public charge rule might exclude.

In 1954, Dominick brought his relatives Mario and Silvio over to the United States, according to Cuccinelli’s statements and travel records posted to Ancestry.com. Mario and Silvio’s father, Luigi Cucciniello, Dominick’s first cousin, came with them. Dominick’s son, Ken Cuccinelli Sr., went on to get an engineering degree from Catholic University in 1967 and become a vice president at a natural gas company. Ken Jr. went to a Jesuit high school in Washington, DC, the University of Virginia, and George Mason Law School. He was elected to the Virginia state senate in 2002 and became the state’s attorney general in 2010. In 2013, after securing the Republican nomination for governor, he lost to Terry McAuliffe. Trump named him acting director of USCIS in June. 

Cuccinelli’s claim that he isn’t pulling up the ladder on people like his own ancestors is a strange one. His argument is essentially that when his family came, there wasn’t as strong a social safety net as today. Now that permanent residents can access government assistance like Medicaid, the United States needs to make sure it doesn’t admit people who will end up using those programs, he says. (Federal law explicitly allows green card holders to receive these benefits, though generally not until five years after receiving permanent residency status.)

The public charge rule has been on the books since 1882. It was originally intended to keep out people deemed likely to end up in poor houses and become completely dependent on the government. Under guidelines created in 1999, the rule applied only to people expected to receive most of their income from the government, a high bar that allowed the vast majority of people to pass the public charge test.

Opponents of the new rule, which sets a much lower bar, have argued that the real goal is to admit fewer black and brown immigrants from the countries President Donald Trump routinely denigrates, since immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico are expected to be the most affected. Cuccinelli has done little to dispel that notion. At the rollout of the new rule on Monday, a reporter asked Cuccinelli whether the United States was still the nation that, in the words of the Emma Lazarus poem enshrined at the Statue of Liberty, asked other countries to “give me your tired, your poor.” Cuccinelli said he wasn’t prepared to take anything off Lady Liberty. Then, in an interview with NPR on Tuesday morning, he proposed an addition: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

That evening, CNN’s Erin Burnett replayed the clip of Cuccinelli’s poem revision before asking him what he thinks America stands for. Cuccinelli’s response provided a less convoluted explanation for why he might support excluding poor immigrants today. “Well, of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe,” he said. 

Kashmir Could Become the New Palestine

TruthDig.com News -

On August 5, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill in the Indian Parliament. The bill divides the Indian State into two parts: the Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Legislative Assembly in the state has been suspended. Its elected officials have been placed under house arrest. The press has been gagged, protests have been violently disbanded, and social media has been shut down.

A bill in parliament suggests the normal function of democracy; the actual situation on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir is undemocratic.

T.K. Rangarajan, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) member of parliament, condemned the government’s decision. “You are creating another Palestine,” he warned. Despite the gag on the press, news began to filter out. Before Shah introduced this bill, his government sent tens of thousands of Indian troops into Kashmir. There is no official number, but it is often said that there are nearly 600,000 Indian troops in the state. That a population of 12 million people needs this kind of armed action suggests that they are an occupied people. Rangarajan’s parallel with Palestine is credible. As each day passes, Kashmir resembles the West Bank.


Last year, my colleague and friend Shujaat Bukhari was murdered. Shujaat was a journalist who had tracked the levels of anger in Kashmir as a result of the behavior of the Indian government and its army. The use of the military, long curfews (some for two months on end), brazen violence against young people, and denial of dialogue have created a dangerous situation. “This is a political bomb that can explode with even a minor trigger,” he wrote.

In July, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report that showed that terrible violence had become routine. The military has been using metal shotgun pellets, arbitrary detentions, and “cordon and search operations.” The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society’s calculations showed that casualties have escalated over the past few decades to be the highest in 2018. Their report on torture shows that thousands of civilians have been arrested and imprisoned without charge, and tortured. There was no sign that the violence would end.


The BJP-led government kept the reorganization policy under wraps. No one was informed about this before Shah made his speech in parliament. There was no discussion allowed in Jammu and Kashmir, neither in the Legislative Assembly nor in the press.

The Constitution of India (1950) created a federalist structure, with states and local government sharing power with the central government. In this case, the central government—led by the right-wing BJP—simply set aside the federal provision of the Constitution and went ahead with its policy. Not only is this policy against the federalism of the Constitution but was also applied in an undemocratic manner.

Change of Special Status

Jammu and Kashmir, like many of India’s border states, has a special status in the Indian Constitution. Articles 35A and 370 ensure the integrity of the state and allow its autonomy in aspects of governance. In India’s northeastern states, article 371 offers states from Mizoram to Sikkim the same kind of autonomy. The BJP has said that it would not annul article 371. The action was taken pointedly against Kashmir.

The Supreme Court, as recently as 2018, had upheld the constitutionality of article 370, while the special presidential order of 1954 that inserted Article 35A cannot be easily dislodged. Legally, the BJP-led government’s actions should and will be challenged in court. But the damage is done. A suffocated Jammu and Kashmir feels the weight of the BJP’s pillow on its face.

There is nothing new about the harsh treatment of India’s border states. Violence from the northeast to Punjab has become utterly common. This is often in the name of securing the state from its enemies. But the violence of the state has been a greater spur to the alienation of the people from Nagaland to Kashmir than any gesture from China or Pakistan. The behavior of the BJP-led government is along the grain of this violence, which had been legally secured through the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958, which gave the Indian military license to behave like an occupying army along the border region.

To Delhi, the border regions have always been threatening. Rather than integrate the population in a humane manner, it has—for decades—sought to treat the people of the border regions as a threat. That has been the “special status” of the border.


Will the Indian government release maps of the new union territories of Ladakh and of Jammu and Kashmir? It is unlikely.

In 1962, India and China fought a war over territory in Ladakh and the northeast of India. China seized the territory of Aksai Chin, which forms a considerable part of the high plateau of Ladakh. That territory allowed China to build a road to connect Tibet to Xinjiang province. It is now effectively Chinese territory. It is highly likely that the BJP government has informed the Chinese of its action in Jammu and Kashmir and has now ceded any claim to the Aksai Chin region. A map of Ladakh will be truncated, with Chinese control of Aksai Chin now acknowledged.

The Kashmir region is divided between India and Pakistan. On both sides of the border, the Kashmiri people face undemocratic treatment. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) runs through Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. It is a $46 billion project that runs from the Gwadar Port in Balochistan along the Karakoram Highway into China. Last year, troops from China’s People’s Liberation Army were spotted along the highway, not far from the line of control between India and Pakistan.

At the same time, Chinese construction crews have been building a roadway near (or in) Bhutan, a country whose foreign policy is run by India. This road in the Doklam area raised the temperature between India and China, with diplomatic notes flying from one capital to the other.

The Indian government’s move on Jammu and Kashmir should not merely be seen as an internal matter. It is inextricably linked to the geopolitical atmosphere around the region. Pakistan has taken the matter to the United Nations, while India’s senior diplomat has hastened to China. China has thus far supported the Pakistani position. This is not about democracy for them, but the Belt and Road Initiative.

For the BJP-led government as well, this might be as much about fears of the expansion of China’s Belt and Road project as it is about a long-standing project to bring Kashmir to heel. Both of these motivations are in play.

Lal Ded

Either way, the hospitals in Jammu and Kashmir fill up with injured civilians. It has been hard to celebrate Eid in the state. Journalist Mudasir Ahmad visited the Lal Ded maternity hospital in Srinagar. He met Bilal Mandoo and Raziya, who were sitting with their stillborn baby. Stuck in the curfew, complications at the birth led to the death of their child. They are trapped in the hospital. “I feel like I’m choking here,” says Raziya. She speaks for all Kashmiris.

The hospital is named for a 14th-century mystical poet Lal Ded. She wrote a poem centuries ago that speaks to the uncertainty of her homeland:

I’ve been unchained from the wheel

of birth and death.

What can the world do to me?

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, 2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016) and Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017). He writes regularly for Frontline, the Hindu, Newsclick, AlterNet and BirGün.

The post Kashmir Could Become the New Palestine appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Colombia Diary — Driving in Colombia

Mother Jones Magazine -

I don’t know how many people rent a car when they visit Bogotá. If you’re mostly exploring the city you’ll do it via taxis and public transportation. (Pro tip: as near as I could tell the ratio between taxis and passenger cars was about 1:1.) If you’re making only one or two trips outside the city, there are buses that will take you. But if you want to do what I did, which is to use Bogotá as little more than a home base for daily trips outside the city, then a car is the way to do it. With that in mind, here are some miscellaneous observations.

Even/Odd Days

You are only allowed to drive in Bogotá on certain days. If your license plate ends in an even number, you’re banned from the city on even-numbered days. Ditto for odd-numbered license plates. I don’t know if this applies to cars that are merely going in or out via major arteries and I never found anyone to ask. In any case, I was going to leave the city every day regardless, even if I got a ticket, so it didn’t really matter.

In the event, I got no tickets—not that I know of anyway. I guess it’s still possible that I’ll get a big packet in the mail someday filled with photos of me driving on the wrong day; making illegal U-turns; and driving down streets reserved for buses. Nothing yet, though. And I’ll note that I got curious one day and started counting license plates. Only about 80 percent were driving on the correct day. The other 20 percent were scofflaws, but nothing seemed to happen to them.


Overall, the traffic in Bogotá struck me as ordinary big-city traffic. I’ve seen worse in LA and New York. And the drivers themselves were generally not all that aggressive. So that’s not something to be worried about.

Traffic on Avenida NQS around 9 in the morning.

But there are a few things that make Bogotá traffic insane, especially for tourists. Most streets are one-way, which is not a big problem. However, often two streets in a row are one-way in the same direction, and this can be a problem. You move on the next street and finally turn in the direction you wanted, but then the street dead ends and you can only go in a direction that takes you even farther away from your destination. You try to backtrack, but then you run into a street that’s temporarily closed for construction. Then there’s another street that’s closed because it’s been turned into a pedestrian mall. If you know the city well, none of this will bother you. If you don’t, you’ll end up 20 blocks away from where you wanted to go, banging your head on the steering wheel and wondering if you’ll ever make it back. Much of this is deliberate. A regular reader who lives in Bogotá emailed me this:

There’s a story here about Enrique Peñalosa Londoño, the former mayor of Bogotá who is now back to being the current mayor. Ten years ago or so, he had a mission to rebuild the city in such a way that pedestrian walkways get built first, bus lanes get built second, and commuter car roads get built last (from his point of view, those rich folks can drive on dirt roads until the city gets around to serving them last).

Gary Hurst (documentary film maker that did the film Helvetica) did a wonderful film called Urbanized in 2011 and Enrique Peñalosa Londoño was a major segment in the documentary (and in the time devoted to the Mayor, he gives a great analysis of his city’s traffic problems, as well as how he plans to manage it all). The entire film is a great watch, and Mayor Peñalosa Londoño was one of a couple standout visionaries in the film that (almost) gave me hope for the future of human sprawl.

If the mayor want to screw the Colombian fat cats and the rich Americano tourists, I guess I can’t argue with that. But it’s something definitely worth thinking about before you decide to tackle the streets of Bogotá.

The TransMilenio

Twenty years ago Bogotá decided to build a citywide network of dedicated bus lanes. On the big avenues this meant taking about six lanes out of service in the middle of the road. The center two lanes were coverted into stations, and each station had half a dozen different sections dedicated to different bus lines. Like a subway, then, you just have to enter the station and find the right platform for the bus you want.

A TransMilenio bus pulls into a station. As you can see, the station takes up two lanes, there are two bus lanes, and there are two bus lanes in the other direction. On big avenues, a total of 6 traffic lanes were taken out of commission and handed over to the TransMilenio.

This has been a big hit, but it presents drivers with a problem: If you’re on a major avenue with a TransMilenio line in the middle, there’s no place to make a U-turn across the dedicated bus lanes if you decide you’re going in the wrong direction. You’re left with two options. First, you can drive a long time until you do finally find a place to turn around. They exist every ten or twenty miles or so. Second, you can wait until you approach a major street that has a bridge over the TransMilenio line. With Google maps in hand you can probably figure out how to get there—eventually. Then you go over the bridge and figure out to merge into the traffic going in the direction you want. If you’re lucky, there will be a simple loop to get you on. If you’re less lucky, you’ll have to take some educated guesses and hope that one or two of them allow you access to the Avenue.

It’s Construction Century in Bogotá

Streets are torn up everywhere. Other streets have been turned into pedestian ways. Others are restricted to buses. And still others simply dead end for no apparent reason. There are orange banners strewn all over the city that tell you (I think) what’s what and where the detours are. To use them you’ll need to read Spanish and have some familiarity with the layout of Bogota’s streets. Good luck.


As our Colombian friend Ana has told us, all cars in Colombia are equipped with automatic doors that lock after 30 seconds. It’s for your protection! There are two lessons to be learned from this:

  • If you leave your car, even if you absolutely, positively know it’s just for a few seconds to take a look at something, take you car keys with you. Every time.
  • When the rental folks give you an emergency roadside assistance number, don’t just toss it aside. Enter it in your cell phone and then dial it immediately to make sure you entered the country code etc. correctly.

My car, locked, with the keys safely inside.

Speed Limits

Speed limits are very low in Colombia. On the Autopiste Norte, a very nice multi-lane highway (though not a full restricted-access superhighway) the highest speed limit is 80 km/hr. For you Yankee imperialists, that’s 48 mph What’s worse, a lot of people tool along at 40 mph or less. I’m not talking about trucks or motorbikes, just ordinary passenger cars that are happily backing up traffic behind them at 40 mph.

Nor does there seem to be an official concept of a fast lane and a slow lane. On a two-lane highway, there are just two equal lanes. Trucks hang out in the left lane if they feel like it, as do the pokers driving 40 mps. The only exceptions are the motorbikes, which reliably stay in the right lane.

The upshot of all this is that you should double the time you think it will take you to get anywhere. The autopistes are limited to 48 mph in theory, and in practice you’ll be lucky to sustain 35-40 mph for all but a few wide open sections. And when you exit the main highway, all bets are off. The road you choose might turn out to be perfectly nice, but still twisty enough to keep you from going more than 30 mph. Then again, it might turn out to be mostly unpaved and you’ll be lucky to sustain 20 mph.

Traveling Outside Bogotá

This was the most mysterious part of my trip. I am very much hoping that someone will chime in with some trick that I was missing the entire time I was driving through small towns in Colombia.

Here’s an example. Suppose you’ve reached the town of Tunja and want to exit to the south to continue home to Bogotá. Here’s a map that tells you how to do it:

Coming in from the west, there’s no way to get through Tunja except to snake a path directly through the center of town.

You’re coming in on Highway 60, which becomes Carrera 19 in town. Keep going south and it becomes Calle 22. Make the left onto Avenida Colon and follow it around a curve to Carrera 10. This will take you to a roundabout that allows you turn south onto Avenida Oriental, which become Oriental 21, then Oriental 20, 19, 18, 17, 14, 10, 8—at which point it becomes highway 55—and then Oriental 7, 6, 5b, 5, and finally Oriental 4, which merges into Carrera 14. Then it truly becomes Highway 55 and heads you home.

Is there a way to shortcut this mess? I tried. I figured I was due for some good luck, so when I got to Calle 24 I turned east toward Avenida Oriental. This is the green dashed line. Unfortunately, Calle 24 was a bridge that went completely over Avenida Oriental on Viaducto Norte. A couple of miles later there’s a roundabout that allowed me turn around onto Viaducto Sur. This takes me over Avenida Oriental again and becomes good old Calle 24. Google Maps suggests a quick left on Carrera 7 and another left on Calle 22, and that finally gets us to Avenida Oriental and south out of the city.

This was pretty typical. It’s one thing to have a weird route that shunts everyone through the busiest part of town, and it’s yet another to have “shortcuts” that don’t work but aren’t obvious on Google maps. But it’s a whole nother level of fucked-ness to have no signage anywhere along the way to assure you that you are indeed still on Highway 60 until it transitions to Highway 55.

If anyone has traveled in Colombia and can crack this code for me, I’d appreciate it. Don’t worry about making me look like an idiot. I don’t mind.

Bottom Line and Most Important Rule

Put all of this together and the upshot is that it will probably take you twice as long to get anywhere as you think. It’s a minimum of an hour just to get out of Bogotá and after that you’ll be driving pretty slowly and almost inevitably making mistakes that might take one minute to fix or 20 minutes to fix. Don’t let it bother you. If you need to pay an extra toll, pay it. 8,000 pesos is only three bucks. Just pay it and keep moving. If you stop for lunch, make it someplace quick. The food is probably just as good.

Where to Stay?

Without knowing any of this, I chose to stay in Central Bogotá. That was probably a mistake because it takes too damn long to get from centro to anywhere outside the city. My tentative guess now is that you might actually be best off staying at an airport hotel on the west side of town. From there you can exit the west end of town in a few minutes and hook up with roads leading north, south, and west. If you want to go east to drive over the mountains—which I recommend—even that’s not too hard. You just follow the airport highway east and it will take you to Carrera 1 and then over the mountains. And if you want to visit the city the TransMilenio will whisk you right in. If I had it to do over again, that’s probably what I’d do.

TOMORROW: Friday, Kevin’s last day in Bogotá. But it will be surprisingly photogenic thanks to a business class seat with a clean window.


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