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Why Are Right-Wing Conspiracies so Obsessed With Pedophilia?

Mother Jones Magazine -

Zohar Lazar

The children were being sodomized in secret underground tunnels. Their captors drank blood in front of them and staged satanic ritual sacrifices. Sometimes the kids were filmed for pornographic purposes. In total, some several hundred children were subjected to this treatment. And it all happened in the middle of a safe neighborhood where crimes were not supposed to happen, let alone such unspeakable and horrific ones.

Not that anyone else witnessed the abuse. Nor was there any clear evidence that it was actually happening. But people were sure it was real. It made too much sense, they all agreed. “Everything fell into place,” one of them said. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of otherwise normal, relatively well-adjusted Americans truly believed that a massive ring of occultist pedophiles was operating right under everyone’s noses.

The McMartin preschool scandal of the 1980s was a sort of analog version of the more recent Pizzagate, part of a lurid and misbegotten moral panic about subterranean child abuse. Even though the supposed crimes unfolded thousands of miles and several decades apart, under very different circumstances, the two conspiracy theories share the same rough contours. The McMartin saga, which began in 1983 with accusations made by one boy’s mother, came to encompass fantastical claims about a massive pedophile ring lurking beneath a preschool in Manhattan Beach, California. Pizza­gate was concocted during the 2016 presidential campaign and alleged that prominent figures in the Democratic Party were running a child sex ring in tunnels beneath the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in a residential Washington, DC, neighborhood. Both spun off into new theories: Amid a full-on national hysteria, McMartin spawned a series of day-care conspiracies, while Pizzagate has led to QAnon, an even wilder conspiracy theory that postulates that President Donald Trump is on the verge of arresting a throng of liberal elites for facilitating and participating in a sprawling child sex ring. Both drew on natural fears about child safety and supercharged them into national phenomena with real-world ramifications. Both of course were fictions.

Conspiracies centering on the vulnerability of children are neither new nor distinctly American. Wild claims of Jews killing Christian children and using their blood in rituals—the “blood libel”—date back to at least the 12th century and have popped up every so often since then, and long before that Christians were suspected of performing similar rites. “Hurting children is one of the worst things you can say someone is doing. It’s an easy way to demonize your enemy,” says Kathryn Olmsted, a professor of history at the University of California-Davis, who has studied conspiracy theories.

Why do child-abuse conspiracies explode into public consciousness at certain moments? Explanations offered for the peculiar resonance of Pizzagate and QAnon tend to focus on pathologies in the media ecosystem—epistemic bubbles, polarization, the unruly growth of social media. But years before the fracturing of mass culture and the dawn of Reddit and 4chan, the McMartin accusations fed a national spectacle during which scores of people were wrongly accused of sex crimes against children.

The continuities between the McMartin case and Pizzagate suggest a broader explanation for pedophile conspiracies: They aren’t the residue of malfunctions in our media culture. They’re an outgrowth of the normal workings of reactionary politics.

Author Richard Beck, in We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s, locates the roots of the McMartin conspiracy theory in the social progress of the previous decade—particularly in the gains won by women. “In the ’80s you had a strong, vicious anti-­feminist backlash that helped conspiracies take hold,” Beck tells me. “In the ’70s, middle- and upper-middle-class women had started to enter the full-time workforce instead of being homemakers.” This was the dawn of what the economist Claudia Goldin has termed “the quiet revolution.” Thanks in part to expanding reproductive freedom, career horizons had widened sufficiently by the end of the 1970s for women to become, in Goldin’s words, “active participants who bargain somewhat effectively in the household and the labor market.” They were now forming their identities outside the context of the family and household.

The patriarchal family was under siege, as conservatives saw it, and day-care centers had become the physical representation of the social forces bedeviling them. “You had this Reagan-­driven conservative resurgence,” Beck says, “and day care was seen as at least suspicious, if not an actively maligned force of feminism.”

The general context is the same: conservative retrenchment after a period of progressive social gains.

Day care held a prominent place in right-wing demonology. As far back as the 1960s, conservatives were warning darkly that child care “was a communist plot to destroy the traditional family,” as sociologist Jill Quadagno writes in The Color of Welfare. In 1971, President Richard Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, which would’ve established a national day-care system. In his veto message, Nixon used the Red-baiting language urged upon him by his special assistant, Pat Buchanan, saying the program would’ve committed “the vast moral authority of the national government to the side of communal approaches to child-rearing against the family-centered approach.” In a decade of rising divorce rates, at least conspiracism and reactionary social conservatism could enjoy a happy marriage. By the time Judy Johnson came forward in 1983 with allegations that a teacher at the McMartin preschool had molested her child, the country had been primed to assume the worst by more than a decade of child-care fearmongering.

Certainly it wasn’t just the movement of women into the workplace that created the conditions for a reactionary panic. There were other cultural forces at work. The anti-rape campaign of the 1970s, historian Philip Jenkins writes in Moral Panic, had “formulated the concepts and vocabulary that would become integral to child-protection ideology,” in particular a “refusal to disbelieve” victims. The repressed-­memory movement of that era had created a therapeutic consensus surrounding kids’ claims of molestation: “Be willing to believe the unbelievable,” as the self-help book The Courage to Heal put it. “Believe the survivor…No one fantasizes abuse.” And the anti-cult movement of the late 1970s had raised the specter of satanic cabals engaging in human sacrifice and other sinister behavior.

Beck likens conspiracy theories to parables. The ones that stick are those that most effectively validate a group’s anxieties, with blame assigned to outsiders. In a 2017 paper on Pizzagate and pedophile conspiracies, psychology professor Jim Kline, now at Northern Marianas College, argues that conspiracy theories “are born during times of turmoil and uncertainty.” In an interview, Kline goes further: “Social turmoil can overwhelm critical thinking. It makes us get beyond what is logically possible. We go into this state of hysteria and we let that overwhelm ourselves.”

People

The McMartin accusations were a vivid demonstration of the rot in the American social structure, as perceived by conservatives. Perhaps inevitably, the claims metastasized. Now it was hundreds of children who had been assaulted and subjected to satanic rituals, and now, instead of just one McMartin teacher, there was an entire sex ring involved. One boy told of adults in masks and black robes dancing and moaning; of live rabbits chopped to bits by candlelight. “California’s Nightmare Nursery,” People magazine called it. But soon the case began to fall apart. The stories of abuse turned out to have been coaxed out of children by way of dubious and leading questioning. Judy Johnson, who made the initial accusations that her son had been molested, was found to be a paranoid schizophrenic. In 1986, a district attorney dropped charges—at one point there had been 208 counts in all—against all but two of the original defendants. A pair of trials ended in 1990 with the juries deadlocking on some charges and acquitting on the others. After seven years and $15 million in prosecution costs, the remaining charges were dropped.

However flimsy its premises, the case whipped up a national panic. In 1985, a teacher’s aide in Massachusetts was wrongly convicted of molesting 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old boys and girls; the prosecutor had told the jury that a gay man working in a day care was like a “chocoholic in a candy store.” Around that time, employees at Bronx day-care centers were arrested for allegedly sexually abusing children. Five men were sentenced before all ultimately saw their convictions overturned.

Liberals certainly participated in the hysteria—Gloria Steinem donated money to the McMartin investigation—but by and large it was a reactionary phenomenon. What drove the panic, Beck says, wasn’t just the sense that children were being harmed. “It’s that families were being harmed.”

In 2016, three decades after the McMartin trial, WikiLeaks, in cahoots with Russian hackers, published the private emails of top Hillary Clinton adviser John Podesta. In one, Podesta is invited to a fundraiser at Comet Ping Pong. Amateur internet sleuths blew it up into a conspiracy theory about a child-sex ring. The pedophiles communicated in code: “hotdog” meant “young boy”; “cheese” meant “little girl”; “sauce” meant “orgy.” The theory was easily debunked. Eventually it was abandoned by the high-­profile internet figures who’d initially given it oxygen, but not before Pizzagate, as it was immediately dubbed, had spilled over into reality. In December 2016, a 28-year-old man named Edgar Maddison Welch, having driven from North Carolina to Washington, DC, fired an assault rifle inside Comet in a bid to rescue the children he thought were locked away there. No one was hurt. Welch was sentenced to four years in prison.

The QAnon conspiracy picked up where Pizzagate left off, alleging that the liberal elite’s pedophile ring extends way beyond one restaurant and that it is only a matter of time before Trump arrests Podesta, Clinton, and other Democratic power brokers for their crimes. All of this was fueled by an anonymous internet poster dubbed Q, who claims to be a government insider.

With Pizzagate and QAnon, the molesters have changed from day-care workers to the liberal elite, and the politics behind the theories now are more explicitly spelled out. But the general context is more or less the same: conservative retrenchment after a period of progressive social gains. If women’s entry into the workplace in the latter half of the 20th century triggered deep anxieties about the decay of traditional gender roles and the family unit, in the 21st century it was same-sex marriage, growing acceptance of transgender rights, and the seeming cultural hegemony of a social justice agenda. “Q found that fear,” says Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher and a host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast. 

“While Q directly never touches on trans rights or those sorts of things, there is a great deal of anxiety on those sorts of issues,” he says, referring to the QAnon community at large. “They’re concerned generally on the sort of accep­tance of trans people and the oversexualization of children.” On the matter of transgender rights, the conspiracists are aligned with “normal” conservative politics; from the state legislatures to the White House, Repub­licans have made considerable hay out of attacking and overturning various protections that had been extended to trans people.

Conspiracy theories of all kinds draw their energy from social anxieties. Occasionally there is some real basis for the theories. In her book, Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power, Anna Merlan details the belief among black New Orleanians after Hurricane Katrina that the city’s levees hadn’t failed on their own—they had been bombed intentionally to destroy the poor parts of New Orleans. The theory was “rooted in a real event—a 1927 decision to dynamite levees outside of New Orleans, the logic there being that they were going to flood low-lying areas and save the city itself,” Merlan said in an interview with Mother Jones’ Becca Andrews. “[I]t created a lingering sense of suspicion that maybe the government would do this again.”

View points out that the concern about elites preying on children isn’t baseless, either. “The core of elements of the systematic elite child abuse theories—they aren’t crazy,” he says. “There are instances of wealthy powerful abusing children and other people covering it up. Jeffrey Epstein, the Catholic church. People have the sense that elites can commit horrifying crimes and get away with them.” The Epstein arrest earlier this month has done much to ratify the QAnon worldview. “This is just the beginning,” declared QAnoner Liz Crokin, a former gossip journalist. “The Storm is officially here.”

And thus does the legitimate concern about elite predation and impunity get woven into a demeaning and dangerous social crusade. The “Storm” cited by Crokin—also known as “The Great Awakening”—is part of the vivid eschatology that QAnon adherents share with tradi­tional conservative culture warriors, one in which judgment is at last be rendered against liberals, and the nuclear family is restored to its proper place. “One thing they often talk about after ‘The Storm’ is that they imagine that the economy will be restored so that a single income can support a family again,” View says. “They imagine traditional gender roles and norms will be upheld and how children are raised will return to what [it] used to be.”

Down the rabbit hole: Private investigator Ted Gunderson shows a hole dug by parents searching for an alleged secret sex room at the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California.

Larry Davis/Los Angeles Times/Getty

The differences between the pedophile conspiracies of the 1980s and those of today are telling in their own way. There’s the matter of scale. The pedophile witch hunt of the ’80s managed to mobilize entire institutions, with much of the media uncritically amplifying its falsehoods and police taking action based on shoddy nonevidence. Lives were ruined around the country. But except for some reckless far-right pundits and websites, the media hasn’t taken the claims of Pizzagate and QAnon seriously. Earnest conversations about the conspiracies are limited to online image boards and social media.

There’s also the nature of the targets. Where the pedophile conspiracies of the 1980s attacked the institutional emblems of feminist progress, the pedophile conspir­acies of the 2010s attack the cultural emblems of creeping cosmopolitanism. The ritual abuse of the 1980s supposedly happened in the suburbs in state or state-licensed institutions such as schools and child-care facilities. Today the abuse happens in businesses in cosmopolitan cities. Comet Ping Pong, in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of DC, is known as a welcoming space that regularly showcases progressive DIY artists and musicians—“a tangible emblem,” in the words of University of New Haven sociology professor Jeffrey S. Debies-­Carl, “of inclusivity, tolerance, and other progressive values that are threatening to the conspiracy-­prone alt-Right.”

British historian Norman Cohn, in his book Europe’s Inner Demons, finds elements of pedophile conspiracies throughout history. In the 1st century B.C., members of the Catiline conspiracy, an aristocratic plot to overthrow the Roman Republic, supposedly swore an oath over the entrails of a boy and then ate them. And in the witch hunts of the 15th–17th centuries, tens of thousands of people were tortured and killed over allegations that they’d performed ritual child murder, among other heinous acts.

The conspiracy theories documented by Cohn are fundamentally political. The rituals they describe are the means “by which a group of conspirators affirms its solidarity,” he writes, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing “an existing ruler or regime and to seize power.” The mass witch hunts that followed are political too, based on the “demonological obsessions of the intelligentsia.” The history of American political reaction is full of sex demons. Jim Crow was buttressed by myths about black male virility. Likewise, North Carolina’s infamous bathroom bill was sold in part on the fear that predatory men could say they’re transgender to gain access to women’s bathrooms. Opponents of abortion rights continue to conjure gory fantasies of promiscuous women committing “infanticide,” an incitement that Trump turned into an applause line in an April rally.

In this way, pedophile conspiracies act as a sort of propaganda of the counterrevolution, a fun-house reflection of the real threats to the social order. This is what connects QAnon and Pizzagate to McMartin to the witch hunts of the Middle Ages to the dawn of major religions. The demons may take different forms, but the conspiracy is basically the same: Our house is under attack.

“Decay of morals grows from day to day,” goes one despairing account. A secret cabal is wreaking havoc across the land, the man complains to his friend. Its members “recognize one another by secret signs and marks,” and “everywhere they introduce a kind of religion of lust” that subverts “ordinary fornication.” There is a rumor that they worship the “private parts of their director and high priest.” Maybe the rumor is false, “but such suspicions naturally attach to their secret and nocturnal rites.”

In this dialogue, written by Marcus Minucius Felix in the 2nd century, the Roman pagan Caecilius Natalis speaks of Christians the way Pizzagaters described John Podesta and his fellow liberal elite. Natalis is particularly incensed by the cult’s initiation ritual. The details are as “revolting as they are notorious”: New members are initiated into the cult, he reports, by stabbing and killing an infant who has been coated in dough.

Why I’m Glad About Trump’s Latest Twitter Tirade

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People of color in the U.S. have experienced many variations of the “go back to where you came from” sentiment. In the wake of President Donald Trump’s racist Twitter tirade aimed at “the Squad” of four recently elected women of color in Congress, the Los Angeles Times asked its readers to share their own stories. The anecdotes were painful to read and yet all too familiar to me. Social media threads are filled with similar stories, and, like the outpouring of shocking personal stories that marked the #MeToo movement, white Americans are hearing for perhaps the first time how widespread and deeply ingrained racism is in American culture and how much people of color have endured.

I remember my first experience on the receiving end of this type of hate. It was just a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks. While I was driving on the streets of Los Angeles, a man with a large American flag flying from his car screamed out of his window at me to “go back to my country.” I was shaken, but I was not surprised.

It was certainly not my last time being told to leave the U.S. It is an age-old American insult, a perfect encapsulation of xenophobic ideals about who belongs in this country and who doesn’t. It matters little if the targets of such attacks are natural born citizens, naturalized citizens, legal residents, undocumented immigrants or visitors to the U.S. All that matters is that they represent an “impurity” in the perceived whiteness of America. They need only be nonwhite, have an accent, speak a different language, have a foreign-sounding name or simply issue a criticism about the way things are.

On the one hand, Trump’s latest example of racism has done deep damage and likely traumatized his direct victims, Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. On the other hand, it has created an opportunity to do away with any lingering doubts about where he stands. Media outlets like The Associated Press have called out his racism using plain language and without resorting to euphemisms. “Trump digs in on racist tweets: ‘Many people agree with me,'” reads one headline, a refreshingly direct statement that did not use quotation marks around the word “racist,” or rely on phrases like “racially charged.”

In fact, the AP Stylebook announced a critical change earlier this year, advising journalists to call something racist if it appears so. Although some media outlets are chiding Democrats for falling for the president’s distraction, Trump’s words are actually a misstep on his part, as they have helped clarify claims of his racism in no uncertain terms. It is not a distraction—it is a direct symptom of his presidency. One can argue that it is better for a racist to show his or her true colors than to strongly hint at bigotry and thus preserve plausible deniability.

Trump’s words have also had the effect of uniting a Democratic Party that just last week appeared fractured along racial and political lines. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had openly criticized the Squad in a New York Times interview and was met with swift pushback from Ocasio-Cortez, who accused her of being “outright disrespectful” to the women of color.

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When Trump sided with Pelosi against the Squad, hoping to exploit the division to his advantage, the House speaker may have realized she needed to get on the right side of this battle and moved swiftly to condemn Trump. She rightly sided with her party members in a strongly worded message on Twitter saying Trump’s “plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again.”

Trump literally proved the Squad’s point and made clear that outspoken women of color in Congress were problematic to the white wealthy establishment, forcing Pelosi to adjust her liberal views to step in line and back her colleagues. The liberal leader who earlier this year condemned Representative Omar’s remarks in a resolution about anti-Semitism, was given the chance to prove to the Squad that she is on the side of congress members of color.

Even better, the president is now in the official record as being condemned as a racist by a leading lawmaker. In speaking to her resolution aimed at the president, Pelosi said on the floor of the House: “Every member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us to condemn the president’s racist tweets.” Her use of the word “racist” to describe the president triggered a debate about long-standing rules based on colonial traditions to not insult the head of state—as if Trump has adhered to any reasonable standards of decorum in his relentless insults aimed at the country and its people. In the end, Pelosi’s words prevailed and went on record with the passage of the resolution.

What we can count on from a president like Trump is that when he makes an outrageous statement, he rarely, if ever, backtracks. His go-to tactic has been to double down on his extremism, because in Trump’s world, apologizing is a sign of weakness. And so he stepped even deeper into the morass of his own making by reiterating the sentiments of his offensive tweets in public a day after firing them off, saying, “If you are not happy here, then you can leave.” He said it not once or twice, but five times in the span of a few sentences.

He then proceeded to go even further in justifying his language, saying, “A lot of people love it by the way. A lot of people love it,” prompting responses from white supremacists who chorused that they did indeed love it. One person posted to the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, “This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for.” Trump waded so deeply into the rhetoric and imagery of white supremacist ideology that he has left no doubt in anyone’s mind.

Trump’s words have also helped draw attention to the culpability of the entire Republican Party. A very small handful of Republicans have mildly chastised him. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska issued criticisms that stopped short of calling Trump a racist, and four House Republicans voted alongside Democrats on Pelosi’s resolution condemning Trump’s racism. But the overwhelming majority of Republicans have not only stood by the president silently but have openly defended him.

House Minority Speaker Kevin McCarthy shamelessly turned the tables on the victims of Trump’s hate and claimed, “Let’s not be false about what is happening here today. This is all about politics and beliefs of ideologies.” He laughably added, “This is about socialism versus freedom,” as if a label of socialism—if that even applied in the cases of the four congresswomen—was a reason to deserve racist targeting. So Trump’s words have clarified not only his own racism but that of his party.

Hours after the House resolution passed, Democratic Congressman Al Green introduced articles of impeachment against Trump in the face of opposition from his party’s leadership. Coming so soon after Democrats passed the resolution sent a strong message that lawmakers’ patience is wearing thin. Even though the measure failed, the fact that 95 Democrats did vote to support it is a good sign.

Just as Pelosi had to make her choice, the Democratic Party as a whole has to decide which side it is on. Pursuing impeachment offers Democrats a clear path to prove their anti-racist credentials. Trump deserves impeachment on a list of issues so long that several books have been written describing his crimes and offenses. But if this incident is what it takes to push Democrats to act, so be it.

Trump’s defenders have got to know and understand that history will not judge this president kindly. He has drawn a very clear line in the sand that invites every American to choose a side. The clarity of his racism is a useful tool to measure where America stands. The closet racists who voted for him in droves in 2016 are more exposed than ever as the villains in this epic fight of good versus evil. While millions of Americans tacitly echo the “go back to where you came from” sentiment toward people of color, millions more boldly respond, saying, “We are here to stay and we will prevail.”

The post Why I’m Glad About Trump’s Latest Twitter Tirade appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Congress Hammers Big Tech on Competition, Money, Power

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Big Tech faced tough questions this week as federal lawmakers focused on issues of potentially anticompetitive behavior by technology giants and expressed bipartisan skepticism over Facebook’s plan for a new digital currency.

Companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have long enjoyed nearly unbridled growth and a mythic stature as once-scrappy startups — born in garages and a dorm room and a road trip across the United States — that grew up to dominate their rivals. But as they’ve grown more powerful, critics have also grown louder, questioning whether the companies stifle competition and innovation, and if their influence poses a danger to society.

Both Democrats and Republicans had grievances to air, even if there wasn’t much consensus on what to do about them.

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A Tuesday afternoon panel of the House Judiciary Committee focused on whether it’s time for Congress to rein in these companies, which are among the largest on Earth by several measures. Central to that case is whether their business practices run afoul of century-old laws originally designed to combat railroad and oil monopolies.

For some legislators, mostly Democrats, those laws are in need of updates or at least more stringent enforcement. Ultimately such action could lead to breaking up big online platforms, blocking future acquisitions or imposing other limits on their actions.

Subcommittee chairman David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, charged that technology giants had enjoyed “de facto immunity” thanks to current antitrust doctrine, which typically equates anticompetitive behavior with higher prices for consumers. That allowed them to expand without restraint and to gobble up potential competitors, he argued, creating a “startup kill zone” that prevents smaller companies from challenging incumbents with innovative services and technology.

A panel of four mid-level executives from the companies countered that their firms continue to innovate, that they face vigorous competition on all fronts — including from one another — and, perhaps most of all, that they were not monopolists in any way, shape or form.

Facebook, for instance, has argued that it is not a monopoly because it has many competitors in businesses as diverse as private messaging, photo sharing and online advertising.

So Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado asked Facebook’s head of global policy development, Matt Perault, to name the world’s largest social network by active users. (It is Facebook.) When Perault said he couldn’t, Neguse ticked off four of the six largest — Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp — and had Perault verify that all are owned by Facebook.

“We have a word for that and that word is monopoly, or at least monopoly power,” Neguse said.

The company representatives didn’t help their case by pleading ignorance on multiple occasions. Google’s director of economic policy, Adam Cohen, said he was “not familiar” with how much Google pays Apple for the right to supply the default search engine for Safari on iPhones. (Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, said It was $9 billion in 2018 and $12 billion in 2019.) Cohen also said he was “not familiar” with allegations of widespread fraudulent listings on Google Maps.

Amazon also faced some pointed questioning. Cicilline asked Nate Sutton, an associate general counsel at the online retailer, whether it uses the data it collects about popular products to direct consumers to Amazon’s own in-house products.

Sutton said the company doesn’t use third-party sellers’ data to “directly compete” with them. Cicilline, affecting disbelief, twice reminded Sutton that he was under oath. “Amazon is a trillion-dollar company that runs an online platform with real-time data,” he said.

Expert witnesses suggested it might be time to reassess antitrust policy. Timothy Wu, a law professor at Columbia University who has advocated for more expansive antitrust enforcement, noted concerns about a fall in the number of startups being formed, and wondered aloud whether the U.S. will remain a place where startups thrive and launch new industries.

Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale economics professor, argued that stifled competition has hampered innovation and hurt both smaller businesses and consumers, who have no choice but to surrender their privacy and watch more advertising.

Others, mostly Republicans, rejected what they described as a big-is-bad approach in favor of keeping antitrust enforcers narrowly focused on protecting consumers when there’s clear evidence of harm such as price gouging.

Attorney Maureen Ohlhausen, a former Republican commissioner and acting chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, said the government can still protect against anticompetitive behavior without “reducing the focus on consumer welfare.” She warned against “drastic” steps such as breakups that carry “serious risk of doing more harm than good for competition and consumers.”

Earlier Tuesday, a Facebook executive appeared before a Senate panel to defend the company’s ambitious plan to create a digital currency and pledged to work with regulators to achieve a system that protects the privacy of users’ data. David Marcus, who leads the Libra project, faced sharp criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

“Facebook is dangerous,” asserted Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee’s senior Democrat. Like a toddler playing with matches, “Facebook has burned down the house over and over,” he told Marcus. “Do you really think people should trust you with their bank accounts and their money?”

Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona said “the core issue here is trust.” Users won’t be able to opt out of providing their personal data when joining the new digital wallet for Libra, McSally said.

Marcus returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to face grilling from House lawmakers.

___

AP Business Writer Marcy Gordon contributed to this article from Washington.

The post Congress Hammers Big Tech on Competition, Money, Power appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Lindsey Graham: Trump Isn’t Racist Because He Wouldn’t Attack Somalis Who Supported Him

Mother Jones Magazine -

One of President Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters in the Senate has a novel explanation for why his racist attacks against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) were not in fact racist: If she were a Trump supporter, the president wouldn’t want to send her back to Somalia.

Trump first lashed out at Omar and other liberal congresswomen of color in a series of tweets on Sunday telling them to “go back” to the countries they came from. (Of them, Omar, an American citizen, was the only one not born in the United States.) He escalated the conflict at a campaign rally Wednesday night, when he visibly enjoyed a chant of “Send her back! Send her back!” from his supporters.

But on Thursday, when asked by a reporter if Trump’s comments were racist, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) responded, “No, I don’t think it’s racist.”

His reasoning? “A Somali refugee embracing Trump would not have been asked to go back,” Graham said. “If you’re a racist, you want everybody from Somalia to go back cause they’re black or they’re Muslim.”

Graham is the latest in a string of GOP lawmakers to avoid condemning Trump’s repeated targeting of Omar and the other members of a progressive clique of first-term congresswomen: Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—whose wife is a naturalized citizen like Omar—also avoided condemning the president’s racism when asked by a reporter about Trump’s tweets. McConnell simply responded, “The new people who come here have a lot of ambition, a lot of energy, tend to do very well and invigorate our country.”

During debate over a House resolution on Tuesday to condemn the president’s attacks, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) highlighted Trump’s past racist remarks. “Saying immigrants from Mexico are rapists is racist,” he said. “Birtherism is racist.” But before he could continue, a chorus of GOP lawmakers—led by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.)—began making an outcry. “Out of order!” they yelled. Collins then took the lectern and requested that Swalwell’s words “be taken down.”

When pressed by the reporter about Trump’s remarks on Thursday, Graham said, “If you think he’s racist, that’s up to you. “The bottom line is that if you embrace his policies, it doesn’t matter where you come from—he probably likes you.”

Iran Acknowledges Missing Tanker Was Seized in Persian Gulf

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Iran said Thursday its Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country, and hours later released video showing the vessel to be a United Arab Emirates-based ship that had vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend.

The announcement solved one mystery — the fate of the missing ship — but raised a host of other questions and heightened worries about the free flow of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most critical petroleum shipping routes. One-fifth of global crude exports passes through the strait.

The incident happened with tensions running high between Iran and the United States over President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal.

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Iranian state television did not at first identify the seized vessel but said it was intercepted on Sunday and was involved in smuggling some 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of Iranian fuel. Iran did not identify the nationalities of the crew.

Crude prices, which had been falling since last week, ticked higher almost immediately after the announcement.

Iran said the tanker was seized south of its Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz. Neighboring Qeshm Island has a Revolutionary Guard base on it.

Hours after that initial report, Iranian TV released footage of the ship surrounded by Guard vessels and showed the registration number painted on its bridge, matching that of the UAE-based MT Riah.

The Panamanian-flagged tanker stopped transmitting its location early Sunday near Qeshm Island, according to data on the tracking site Maritime Traffic. However, it often did so over the past two years when nearing Iranian waters, other tracking data shows.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, declined to comment.

It was not immediately clear whether the seizure was a straightforward attempt by Iran to curb oil smuggling or also an effort to assert its authority in the strait and send a message to its rivals in the region. The UAE has long lobbied for tougher U.S. policy toward Iran, though more recently it has called for de-escalation.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the seized vessel was at best a “small tanker” and that Iranian forces are cracking down on fuel smuggling daily.

“We live in a very dangerous environment. The United States has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss,” he told reporters at the United Nations in New York. Zarif accused the Trump administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through sanctions.

Iranian media reported earlier this month that some 8 million liters of government-subsidized Iranian fuel are smuggled daily through Iran’s borders to other countries where prices are much higher.

Analysts at the Israeli-based maritime risk analytics company Windward said that the Riah has been at sea for the past two years and has a pattern of turning off its location transmitters for days at a time, particularly when entering Iranian waters.

The firm said data suggests that for more than two years that the 58-meter (190-foot) Riah had been clandestinely receiving fuel from an unknown source off the UAE coast and delivering it to other tankers, which then take it to Yemen and Somalia.

No distress calls were made from the Riah, and no ship owner reported a missing vessel.

The ship’s registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, told The Associated Press it had sold the vessel to another company, Mouj Al-Bahar. A man who answered a telephone number registered to the company told the AP it didn’t own any ships.

Officials in the UAE said the ship was neither UAE-owned nor operated and carried no Emirati personnel.

In past weeks, the Persian Gulf region has seen six attacks on oil tankers that the U.S. has blamed on Iran, the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone by Iranian forces and a tense encounter between Iran’s Guard and the British navy. Iran has denied involvement in the attacks or the British naval encounter.

The U.S. has also sent thousands of additional troops and increased its security presence in the region.

Meanwhile, Iran has begun increasing uranium production and enrichment beyond the limits of the 2015 accord in a bid to pressure Europe to find ways around U.S. sanctions.

On Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a phone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, urged European signatories of the deal to speed up their efforts to stop U.S. pressure, his website reported. He said efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear activities “are not acceptable under any circumstance.”

___

Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran. Associated Press writers Ian Phillips in New York and Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.

The post Iran Acknowledges Missing Tanker Was Seized in Persian Gulf appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The House Just Voted to Raise the Minimum Wage to $15

Mother Jones Magazine -

The US House voted 231-139 on Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, bringing Democrats one step closer to their goal of more than doubling the current rate of $7.25 an hour, which has not changed since 2009.

Thursday’s vote fell largely along party lines, with three Republicans supporting it and six Democrats opposing it. The annual income for someone working full-time at the current federal minimum wage is about $15,000.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that he would not bring the bill to a vote before the Senate, claiming that a minimum wage hike “would kill jobs and depress the economy.” But research has shown that areas that have already raised the minimum wage, such as New York, have seen poverty decrease with no negative effects on jobs.

Research shows that hiking the minimum wage to $15 would kill jobs and depress the economy at a time when it’s thriving for the American people. We are not going to be taking that up in the Senate. pic.twitter.com/SiyXGBDKkr

— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) July 18, 2019

Despite the obstacles to the $15 wage becoming law, many Democrats celebrated the House’s vote as the positive outcome of grassroots organizing, including fast food workers’ strikes for fair wages.

Today is historic.

A few years ago, people laughed and called us "crazy" when we called to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Today, the U.S. House is voting on legislation to do just that.

That is what happens when working people build a movement for change.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 18, 2019

#RaiseTheWage Act passes!

Here's what #FightFor15 workers had to say leaving the Capitol pic.twitter.com/uIknhK17is

— Fight For 15 (@fightfor15) July 18, 2019

Trump Attempts to Disavow “Send Her Back” Chant He Visibly Enjoyed During Rally

Mother Jones Magazine -

President Donald Trump on Thursday attempted to distance himself from the “send her back” chants that erupted at a campaign rally the previous night during his tirade about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a naturalized US citizen who as a child fled Somalia’s civil war. Trump now claims he “was not happy” with the bigoted refrain.

“I was not happy with it,” Trump told reporters from the Oval Office. “I disagree with it.”

Asked why he didn’t stop his supporters from continuing with the chant, Trump insisted that he, in fact, did. “Well, number one, I think I did. I started speaking very quickly,” he claimed. “I disagree with it, by the way. It was quite a chant, and I felt a little bit badly about it.”

But videos of the rally show Trump nearly basking in the crowd’s chants and listening to it for more than 10 seconds before proceeding with his remarks. Despite video evidence contradicting Trump’s comments from the Oval Office, several news outlets ran with the headline the president clearly desired. 

Crowd at tonight's Trump rally in North Carolina breaks out into chants of "Send her back!" as the president attacks Rep. Ilhan Omar pic.twitter.com/0q5L39W61h

— Jon Passantino (@passantino) July 17, 2019

The president’s sudden effort to disavow the chant comes amid rare but mild condemnation from conservatives, though most have yet to acknowledge that his recent attacks against Omar and other Democratic congresswomen of color are racist.

During the 2016 race, Trump similarly claimed that he didn’t approve of the infamous “lock her up” chants demanding jail time for Hillary Clinton. That chant remains a popular rallying cry at his political rallies.

Trump on Thursday also asserted that there was a difference between the chant and his Sunday tweets telling the congresswomen to “go back” to their “crime-infested countries.”

President Trump on "send her back" chant: "I was not happy with it. I disagree with it." pic.twitter.com/qEplHgf2vM

— CSPAN (@cspan) July 18, 2019

Are Veterans Finally Through With Forever War?

TruthDig.com News -

This piece originally appeared on antiwar.com.

It is undoubtedly my favorite part of every wedding. That awkward, but strangely forthright moment when the preacher asks the crowd for any objections to the couple’s marriage. No one ever objects, of course, but it’s still a raw, if tense, moment. I just love it.

I suppose we had that ubiquitous ritual in mind back in 2007 when Keith – a close buddy and fellow officer – and I crafted our own plan of objection. The setting was Baghdad, Iraq, at the start of the “surge” and the climax of the bloody civil war the U.S. invasion had unleashed. Just twenty three years old and only eighteen months out of the academy, my clique of officers had already decided the war was a mess, shouldn’t have been fought, and couldn’t be won.

Related Articles by by TomDispatch

Me and Keith, though, were undoubtedly the most radical. We both just hated how our squadron’s colonel would hijack the memorial ceremonies held for dead troopers – including three of my own – and use the occasion of his inescapable speech to encourage we mourners to use the latest death as a reason to “rededicate ourselves to the mission and the people of Iraq.” The whole thing was as repulsive as it was repetitive.

So it was that after a particularly depressing ceremony, perhaps our squadron’s tenth or so, that we hatched our little defiant scheme. If (or when) one of us was killed, the other promised – and this was a time and place where promises are sacred – to object, stand up, and announce to the colonel and the crowd that we’d listen to no such bullshit at this particular ceremony, not this time. “Danny didn’t believe in this absurd mission for a minute, he wouldn’t want his death to rededicate us to anything,” Keith would have said! Luckily it never came to that. We both survived, Keith left the army soon after, and I, well, toiled along until something snapped and I chose the road of public dissent. Still, I believe either of us would have actually done it – even if it did mean the end of our respective careers. That’s called brotherhood…and love.

I got to thinking on that when I read a story this week which was both disturbing, refreshing, and sickening all at the same time. A major opinion poll’s results were released which demonstrated that fully two-thirds of post 9/11 veterans now think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “weren’t worth fighting.” That’s a remarkable, and distressing, statistic and one that should give America’s president, legislators, media, and people as a whole, serious pause. Not that it will, mind you, but it should! It’s doubtful that US military combat vets – who are more rural, southern, and conservative than the population at large – have ever so incontrovertibly turned on a war, at least since the very end of Vietnam.

On one level I felt a sense of vindication for my longtime antiwar stances when I read about the study – in the Military Times no less. But that was just ego. Within minutes I was sad, inconsolably and completely melancholy. Because if, as a “filibuster-proof” majority of my fellow veterans (and maybe even our otherwise unhinged president) believes, the Iraq and Afghan wars weren’t worth the sacrifice, then consider the unsettling implications. It would mean, for starters, that the US flushed nearly $5.9 trillion in hard-earned taxpayer cash down the toilet. It means that 7,000 American soldiers and upwards of 244,000 foreign civilians needn’t have lost their ever precious lives. Hundreds of thousands more might not have been injured or maimed. 21 million people wouldn’t have become refugees. The world, so to speak, could’ve been a safer, better place.

Those ever-so-logical conclusions should dismay even the most apathetic American. They should make us all rather sad, but, more importantly, should inform future decisions about the use of military force, the role of America in the world, and just how much foreign policy power to turn over to presidents. Because if we, collectively, don’t learn from our country’s eighteen year, tragic saga, then this republic is, without exaggeration, finished, once and for all. Benjamin Franklin, that confounding Founding Father, wasn’t sure the American people could be trusted to “keep” the republic he and other elites formed. It’d be a devastating catastrophe to prove him right, especially in this time of rising right-wing, strongman populism in the Western world.

So consider this a plea to Congress, to the corporate media establishment, and to all of you: when even traditionally more conservative and martial military veterans raise the antiwar alarm – listen! And next time the American war drums beat, and they undoubtedly will, consider this article encouragement to do what Keith and I promised way back when. Object! Refuse to fight the next ill-advised and unethical war. Remember: to do so demonstrates brotherhood and love. Love of each other and love of country…

Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen

The post Are Veterans Finally Through With Forever War? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Congo Ebola Outbreak Declared an International Emergency

TruthDig.com News -

GOMA, Congo—Congolese soldiers and police will enforce hand-washing and fever checks now that the deadly Ebola outbreak has been declared an international health emergency, authorities said Thursday.

Soldiers and police will “force” people who resist taking the key steps to help contain the disease that has killed more than 1,600 people in the past year , said the outbreak response coordinator at Congo’s health ministry, Dr. Aruna Abedi.

“It’s not possible that someone refuses to wash their hands and have their temperature checked at a very critical moment in this outbreak,” Abedi told reporters in Goma, the city of more than 2 million people where a first Ebola case was announced early this week. The major regional crossroads is on the Rwanda border and has an international airport.

The World Health Organization’s rare emergency declaration Wednesday night for the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history came after a WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to recommend it, to the impatience of some health experts who for months had expressed alarm.

Congo’s increased use of soldiers and police could bring objections from some residents and health workers in an outbreak taking place in what has been called a war zone.

This outbreak is like no other, unfolding in a turbulent part of northeastern Congo where dozens of rebel groups are active and wary communities had never experienced the disease before. Health workers have faced misinformation and even deadly attacks that have hampered the critical work of tracing contacts of infected people and deploying an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine.

Wednesday’s declaration quickly led to fears among some Congolese authorities and residents that governments might close borders or take other measures that could hurt the local economy. Congo’s health minister has resisted the characterization of the outbreak as a health emergency.

Rwanda’s government said surveillance measures at the border would be tightened, but traffic was flowing normally through the border on Thursday.

One Congolese, 25-year-old Clovis Mutsuva, told The Associated Press that while the declaration might bring in needed funds to help contain the outbreak, any border closures would make locals “more unhappy.” A lot of key local merchandise such as fuel comes from Kenya and neighboring Uganda, Mutsuva said.

“This scares us because Goma risks becoming isolated from the rest of the world,” added Katembo Kabunga as some people in the city received vaccinations.

While the risk of regional spread remains high, the risk outside the region remains low, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after Wednesday’s announcement. Last month saw the first confirmed cases in Uganda and a case just 70 kilometers (43 miles) from the border with South Sudan, where a recently ended civil war badly weakened the health system.

The international emergency “should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help,” Tedros said. WHO has estimated “hundreds of millions” of dollars would be needed to stop the outbreak.

Some aid groups say they hope the declaration will spark a radical shift in Ebola response efforts to help address community resistance. The medical charity Doctors Without Borders said the outbreak is still not under control.

This is the fifth such declaration in history. Previous emergencies were declared for the devastating 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, the emergence of Zika in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic and polio.

WHO defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response. WHO was heavily criticized for its sluggish response to the West Africa outbreak, which it repeatedly declined to declare a global emergency until the virus was spreading explosively in three countries and nearly 1,000 people were dead.

___

Maliro reported from Beni, Congo.

The post Congo Ebola Outbreak Declared an International Emergency appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

33 Die as Attacker Ignites Blaze at Japanese Anime Studio

TruthDig.com News -

TOKYO—A man screaming “You die!” burst into an animation studio in Kyoto, doused it with a flammable liquid and set it on fire Thursday, killing 33 people in an attack that shocked the country and brought an outpouring of grief from anime fans.

Thirty-six others were injured, some of them critically, in a blaze that sent people scrambling up the stairs toward the roof in a desperate — and futile — attempt to escape what proved to be Japan’s deadliest fire in nearly two decades. Others emerged bleeding, blackened and barefoot.

The suspect, identified only a 41-year-old man who did not work for the studio, was injured and taken to a hospital. Police gave no details on the motive, but a witness told Japanese TV that the attacker angrily complained that something of his had been stolen, possibly by the company.

Most of the victims were employees of Kyoto Animation, which does work on movies and TV productions but is best known for its mega-hit stories featuring high school girls. The tales are so popular that fans make pilgrimages to some of the places depicted.

The blaze started in the three-story building in Japan’s ancient capital after the attacker sprayed an unidentified liquid accelerant, police and fire officials said.

“There was an explosion, then I heard people shouting, some asking for help,” a witness told TBS TV. “Black smoke was rising from windows on upper floors. Ten there was a man struggling to crawl out of the window.”

Japanese media reported the fire might have been set near the front door, forcing people to find other ways out.

The building has a spiral staircase that may have allowed flames and smoke to rise quickly to the top floor, NHK noted. Fire expert Yuji Hasemi at Waseda University told NHK that paper drawings and other documents in the studio also may have contributed to the fire’s rapid spread.

Firefighters found 33 bodies, 20 of them on the third floor and some on the stairs to the roof, where they had apparently collapsed, Kyoto fire official Kazuhiro Hayashi said. Two were found dead on the first floor, 11 others on the second floor, he said.

A witness who saw the attacker being approached by police told Japanese media that the man admitted spreading gasoline and setting the fire with a lighter. She told NHK public television that the man had burns on his arms and legs and complained that something had been stolen from him.

She told Kyodo News that his hair got singed and his legs were exposed because his jeans were burned below the knees.

“He sounded he had a grudge against the society, and he was talking angrily to the policemen, too, though he was struggling with pain,” she told Kyodo News. “He also sounded he had a grudge against Kyoto Animation.”

NHK footage also showed sharp knives police had collected from the scene, though it was not clear if they belonged to the attacker.

Survivors said he was screaming “You die!” as he dumped the liquid, according to Japanese media. They said some of the survivors got splashed with the liquid.

Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni, was founded in 1981 as an animation and comic book production studio, and its hits include “Lucky Star” of 2008, “K-On!” in 2011 and “Haruhi Suzumiya” in 2009.

The company does not have a major presence outside Japan, though it was hired to do secondary animation work on a 1998 “Pokemon” feature that appeared in U.S. theaters and a “Winnie the Pooh” video.

“My heart is in extreme pain. Why on earth did such violence have to be used?” company president Hideaki Hatta said. Hatta said the company had received anonymous death threats by email in the past, but he did not link them to Thursday’s attack.

Anime fans expressed anger, prayed and mourned the victims on social media. A cloud-funding site was set up to help the company rebuild.

Fire officials said more than 70 people were in the building at the time.

The death toll exceeded that of a 2016 attack by a man who stabbed and killed 19 people at a nursing home in Tokyo.

A fire in 2001 in Tokyo’s congested Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people in the country’s worst known case of arson in modern times. Police never announced an arrest in the setting of the blaze, though five people were convicted of negligence.

The post 33 Die as Attacker Ignites Blaze at Japanese Anime Studio appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Shocking Origins of the Jeffrey Epstein Case

Mint Press News -

Despite his “sweetheart” deal and having seemingly evaded justice, billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was arrested earlier this month on federal charges for sex trafficking minors. Epstein’s arrest has again brought increased media attention to many of his famous friends, the current president among them. 

Many questions have since been asked about how much Epstein’s famous friends knew of his activities and exactly what Epstein was up to. The latter arguably received the most attention after it was reported that Alex Acosta — who arranged Epstein’s “sweetheart” deal in 2008 and who recently resigned as Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary following Epstein’s arrest — claimed that the mysterious billionaire had worked for “intelligence.” 

Other investigations have made it increasingly clear that Epstein was running a blackmail operation, as he had bugged the venues — whether at his New York mansion or Caribbean island getaway — with microphones and cameras to record the salacious interactions that transpired between his guests and the underage girls that Epstein exploited. Epstein appeared to have stored much of that blackmail in a safe on his private island.

Claims of Epstein’s links and his involvement in a sophisticated, well-funded sexual blackmail operation have, surprisingly, spurred few media outlets to examine the history of intelligence agencies both in the U.S. and abroad conducting similar sexual blackmail operations, many of which also involved underage prostitutes. 

In the U.S. alone, the CIA operated numerous sexual blackmail operations throughout the country, employing prostitutes to target foreign diplomats in what the Washington Post once nicknamed the CIA’s “love traps.” If one goes even farther back into the U.S. historical record it becomes apparent that these tactics and their use against powerful political and influential figures significantly predate the CIA and even its precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In fact, they were pioneered years earlier by none other than the American mafia.

In the course of this investigation, MintPress discovered that a handful of figures who were influential in American organized crime during and after Prohibition were directly engaged in sexual blackmail operations that they used for their own, often dark, purposes. 

In Part I of this exclusive investigation, MintPress will examine how a mob-linked businessman with deep ties to notorious gangster Meyer Lansky developed close ties with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) while also running a sexual blackmail operation for decades, which later became a covert part of the anti-communist crusade of the 1950s led by Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), himself known throughout Washington for having a habit of drunkenly groping underage teenaged girls. 

Yet, it would be one of McCarthy’s closest aides who would take over the ring in later years, trafficking minors and expanding this sexual blackmail operation at the same time he expanded his own political influence, putting him in close contact with prominent figures including former President Ronald Reagan and a man who would later become president, Donald Trump. 

As will be revealed in Part II, after his death, this blackmail operation continued under various successors in different cities and there is strong evidence that Jeffrey Epstein became one of them.

 

Samuel Bronfman and the Mob

The Prohibition Era in the United States is often used as an example of how banning recreational substances not only increases their popularity but also causes a boom in criminal activity. Indeed, it was Prohibition that greatly increased the strength of the American mafia, as the top crime lords of the day grew rich through the clandestine trade and sale of alcohol in addition to gambling and other activities.

It is through the bootlegging trade of the 1920s and the early 1930s that this story begins, as it brought together key figures whose successors and affiliates would eventually create a series of blackmail and sex trafficking rings that would give rise to the likes of Jeffrey Epstein, the “Lolita Express” and “Orgy Island.”

Samuel Bronfman never planned to become a major producer of liquor but true to his family’s last name, which means “brandy man” in Yiddish, he eventually began distributing alcohol as an extension of his family’s hotel business. During Canada’s Prohibition period, which was briefer than and preceded that of its southern neighbor, the Bronfman family business used loopholes to skirt the law and find technically legal ways to sell alcohol in the hotels and stores the family owned. The family relied on its connections with members of the American mafia to illegally smuggle alcohol from the United States.

Soon after Prohibition ended in Canada, it began in the United States and, by the time the flow of illegal alcohol had turned the other way, the Bronfmans – whose business ventures were then being led by Sam Bronfman and his brothers — were relatively late to an already flourishing bootlegging trade.

“We were late starters in the two most lucrative markets – on the high seas and across the Detroit River. What came out of the border trade in Saskatchewan was insignificant by comparison,” Bronfman once told Canadian journalist Terence Robertson, who was then writing a biography of Bronfman. Nonetheless, “this was when we started to make our real money,” Bronfman recounted. Robertson’s biography on Bronfman was never published, as he died under mysterious circumstances soon after warning his colleagues that he had uncovered unsavory information about the Bronfman family.

Samuel Bronfman pictured in 1937 with his sons Edgar and Charles

Key to Bronfman’s success during American Prohibition were the ties his family had cultivated with organized crime during Canada’s Prohibition, ties that led many prominent members of the mob in the United States to favor Bronfman as a business partner. Bronfman liquor was purchased in massive quantities by many crime lords who still live on in American legend, including Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Moe Dalitz, Abner “Longy” Zwillman and Meyer Lansky. 

Most of Bronfman’s mob associates during Prohibition were members of what became known as the National Crime Syndicate, which a 1950s Senate investigative body known as the Kefauver Committee described as a confederation dominated by Italian-American and Jewish-American mobs. During that investigation, some of the biggest names in the American mafia named Bronfman as a central figure in their bootlegging operations. The widow of notorious American mob boss Meyer Lansky even recounted how Bronfman had thrown lavish dinner parties for her husband. 

Years later, Samuel Bronfman’s children and grandchildren, their family’s ties to the criminal underworld intact, would later go on to associate closely with Leslie Wexner, allegedly the source of much of Epstein’s mysterious wealth, and other mob-linked “philanthropists,” and some would even manage their own sexual blackmail operations, including the recently busted blackmail-based “sex cult” NXIVM. The later generations of the Bronfman family, particularly Samuel Bronfman’s sons Edgar and Charles, will be discussed in greater detail in Part II of this report.

 

Lewis Rosenstiel’s dark secret

Crucial to Bronfman’s Prohibition-era bootlegging operations were two middlemen, one of whom was Lewis “Lew” Rosenstiel. Rosenstiel got his start working at his uncle’s distillery in Kentucky before Prohibition. Once the law banning alcohol was in force, Rosenstiel created the Schenley Products Company, which would later become one of the largest liquor companies in North America.

Though he was a high school drop-out and not particularly well-connected socially at the time, Rosenstiel happened to have a “chance” meeting with Winston Churchill in 1922 while on vacation in the French Riviera. According to the New York Times, Churchill “advised him [Rosenstiel] to prepare for the return of liquor sales in the United States.” Rosenstiel somehow managed to secure the funding of the elite and respected Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers to finance his purchase of shuttered distilleries.

Officially, Rosenstiel is said to have built his company and wealth after Prohibition, by following Churchill’s advice to prepare for Repeal. However, he was clearly involved in bootlegging operations and was even indicted for bootlegging in 1929, though he evaded conviction. Like Bronfman, Rosenstiel was close to organized crime, particularly members of the mostly Jewish-American and Italian-American mob alliance known as the National Crime Syndicate.

Subsequent New York state congressional investigations would allege that Rosenstiel “was part of a ‘consortium’ with underworld figures that bought liquor in Canada [from Samuel Bronfman]”, whose other members were “Meyer Lansky, the reputed organized crime leader; Joseph Fusco, an associate of late Chicago gangster Al Capone and Joseph Linsey, a Boston man Mr. Kelly [the congressional investigator testifying] identified as a convicted bootlegger.” Rosenstiel’s relationship with these men, particularly Lansky, would continue long after Prohibition and Samuel Bronfman, for his part, would also maintain his mob ties.

In addition to his friends in the mob, Rosenstiel also cultivated close ties with the FBI, developing a close relationship with longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and making Hoover’s right-hand man and longtime assistant at the FBI, Louis Nichols, the Vice President of his Schenley empire in 1957.

Despite their similar backgrounds as bootlegger barons turned “respectable” businessmen, Bronfman’s and Rosenstiel’s personalities were drastically different and their relationship was complicated, at best. One example of the dissimilarities between North America’s top liquor barons was how they treated their staff. Bronfman was not necessarily known for being a cruel boss, whereas Rosenstiel was known for his erratic and “monstrous” behavior towards employees as well as his unusual practice of bugging his offices in order to hear what employees said about him when he wasn’t present.

Rosenstiel was connected to both the FBI and to organized crime

Such differences between Bronfman and Rosenstiel were also reflected in their personal lives. While Bronfman married only once and was loyal to his wife, Rosenstiel was married five times and was known for his relatively closeted bisexual antics, a part of his life that was well-known to many of his close associates and employees.

Though for years there were only hints to this other side of the controversial businessman, details emerged years later during a divorce proceeding brought by Rosenstiel’s fourth wife, Susan Kaufman, that would back the claims. Kaufman alleged that Rosenstiel hosted extravagant parties that included “boy prostitutes” that her husband had hired “for the enjoyment” of certain guests, which included important government officials and prominent figures in America’s criminal underworld. Kaufman would later make the same claims under oath during the hearing of the New York’s State Joint Legislative Committee on Crime in the early 1970s.

Not only did Rosenstiel organize these parties, but he also made sure that their venues were bugged with microphones that recorded the antics of his high-profile guests. Those audio recordings, Kaufman alleged, were then kept for the purpose of blackmail. Though Kaufman’s claims are shocking, her testimony was deemed credible and held in high regard by the former chief counsel of the Crime Committee, New York Judge Edward McLaughlin, and committee investigator William Gallinaro and aspects of her testimony were later corroborated by two separate witnesses who were unknown to Kaufman.

These blackmail “parties” offer a window into an operation that would later become more sophisticated and grow dramatically in the 1950s under Rosenstiel’s “field commander” (a nickname given by Rosenstiel to an individual to be named shortly in this report). Many of the people connected to Rosenstiel’s “field commander” during the 70s and 80s have again found their names in the press following the recent arrest of Jeffrey Epstein.

 

The “Untouchable” Mobster

Bronfman and Rosenstiel became legendary in the North American liquor business, in part due to their fight for supremacy in the industry, which the New York Times described as often erupting “into bitter personal and corporate battles.” Despite their dueling in the corporate world, the one thing that united the two businessmen more than anything else was their close connection to American organized crime, particularly renowned mobster, Meyer Lansky.

Lansky is one of the most notorious gangsters in the history of American organized crime and is notable for being the only famous mobster that rose to notoriety in the 1920s that managed to die an old man and never serve a day in jail. 

Lansky’s long life and ability to avoid prison time was largely the result of his close relationships to powerful businessmen like Bronfman and Rosenstiel (among many others), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. intelligence community as well as his role in establishing several blackmail and extortion rings which helped him keep the law at arm’s length. Indeed, when Lansky was finally charged with a crime in the 1970s, it was the Internal Revenue Service that brought the charges, not the FBI, and he was charged with and acquitted of tax evasion.

Lansky was remarkably close to both Bronfman and Rosenstiel. Bronfman regularly threw “lavish dinner parties” in Lansky’s honor both during and after Prohibition. These parties were remembered fondly by Lansky’s wife, and Lansky, in turn, did favors for Bronfman ranging from exclusive protection of his shipments during Prohibition to getting him tickets to coveted “fight of the century” boxing matches. 

Rosenstiel also threw regular dinner parties honoring Lansky. Susan Kaufman, Rosenstiel’s ex-wife, claimed to have taken numerous pictures of her ex-husband and Lansky socializing and partying together, photos that were also seen by Mary Nichols of The Philadelphia Inquirer. In addition, Lansky, per Kaufman’s recollection, was one of the individuals that Rosenstiel sought to protect from legal scrutiny as part of his child prostitution and blackmail ring targeting high-ranking officials, and he was overheard saying that if the government “ever brings pressure against Lansky or any of us, we’ll use this [a specific recording taken at one of the “parties”] as blackmail.” 

Lansky was known to address Rosenstiel as “Supreme Commander,” a title that would later be used to refer to Rosenstiel by another individual deeply connected to the mob and sexual blackmail operations, previously referred to in this report as Rosenstiel’s “Field Commander.”

Lansky also had close ties to the CIA and U.S. military intelligence. During World War II, Lansky –along with his associate Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel — worked with Naval intelligence in what was codenamed “Operation Underworld,” an operation that the government denied for over 40 years.

Journalist and noted chronicler of CIA covert activities, Douglas Valentine, noted in his book The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World that the government’s cooperation with the mafia during World War II led to its expansion after the war and set the stage for its future collaboration with U.S. intelligence.

According to Valentine:

Top government officials were also aware that the government’s Faustian pact with the Mafia during World War II had allowed the hoods to insinuate themselves into mainstream America. In return for services rendered during the war, Mafia bosses were protected from prosecution for dozens of unsolved murders. […]

The Mafia was a huge problem in 1951 [when the Kefauver Committee was convened], equivalent to terrorism today. But it was also a protected branch of the CIA, which was co-opting criminal organizations around the world and using them in its secret war against the Soviets and Red Chinese. The Mafia had collaborated with Uncle Sam and had emerged from World War II energized and empowered. They controlled cities across the country.”

Indeed, the CIA forged ties with Lansky not long after its creation at the behest of CIA counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton. The CIA would later turn to the Lansky-linked mob in the early 1960s as part of its consistently fruitless quest to assassinate the Cuban leader, showing that the CIA maintained its contacts with Lansky-controlled elements of the mafia long after the initial meeting with Lansky took place.

The CIA also had close connections to associates of Lansky, such as Edward Moss, who did public relations work for Lansky and was said to be of “interest” to the CIA by the agency’s then-inspector general J.S. Earman. Harry “Happy” Meltzer was also another Lansky associate that was a CIA asset and the CIA asked Meltzer to join an assassination team in December 1960.

In addition to the CIA, Lansky was also connected to a foreign intelligence agency through Tibor Rosenbaum, an arms procurer and high-ranking official in Israel’s Mossad, whose bank – the International Credit Bank of Geneva – laundered much of Lansky’s ill-gotten gains and recycled it into legitimate American businesses.

Lansky outside the High Court of Israel where he sought permission to emigrate in 1972. Photo | AP

Journalist Ed Reid, author of the Virginia Hill biography The Mistress and the Mafia, wrote that Lansky was attempting to entrap powerful people through sexual blackmail as far back as 1939. Reid contends that Lansky sent Ms. Hill to Mexico, where his West Coast connections had established a drug ring that later involved the OSS, the forerunner to the CIA, to seduce numerous “top politicians, army officers, diplomats and police officials.”

Eventually, Lansky was credited with obtaining compromising photos of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover sometime in the 1940s, which showed “Hoover in some kind of gay situation”, according to a former Lansky associate who also said that Lansky had often claimed, “I fixed that sonofabitch.” The photos showed Hoover engaged in sexual activity with his long-time friend, FBI deputy director Clyde Tolson. 

At some point, these photos fell into the hands of CIA counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton, who later showed the photos to several other CIA officials, including John Weitz and Gordon Novel. Angleton was in charge of the CIA’s relationship with the FBI and Israel’s Mossad until he left the agency in 1972 and, as was recently mentioned, he was also in contact with Lansky. 

Anthony Summers , former BBC journalist and author of Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, has argued that it was not Lansky, but William Donovan, the director of the OSS, who obtained the original photos of Hoover and later shared them with Lansky. 

Summers also stated that “To [gangster Frank] Costello and Lansky, the ability to corrupt politicians, policemen and judges was fundamental to Mafia operations. The way they found to deal with Hoover, according to several mob sources, involved his homosexuality.” This anecdote shows that Lanksy and the CIA maintained a covert relationship, which included, among other things, the sharing of blackmail material (i.e. “intelligence”). 

It is also possible that Hoover was ensnared by the mob during one of Rosenstiel’s blackmail “parties,” at which Hoover sometimes found himself in attendance with prominent figures of the mafia. Hoover was said to have worn women’s clothing at the some of the events and Meyer Lansky’s wife later said that her husband had photos of the former FBI director in drag. Furthermore, Hoover is on record showing an unusual concern in the FBI’s handling of Rosenstiel’s criminal links as early as 1939, the same year that his close associate Lansky was actively orchestrating the sexual blackmail of powerful political figures.

The blackmail acquired on Hoover and the mob’s possession of the evidence has been cited as a major factor in Hoover’s decades-long denial that nationwide networks of organized crime were a serious issue. Hoover asserted that it was a decentralized, local issue and therefore outside of the bureau’s jurisdiction. By the time Hoover finally acknowledged the existence of national organized crime networks in 1963, it was so entrenched in the U.S. establishment that it was untouchable.

Congressional crime consultant Ralph Salerno told Summers in 1993 that Hoover’s willful ignorance of organized crime for most of his career as FBI director “allowed organized crime to grow very strong in economic and political terms, so that it became a much bigger threat to the wellbeing of this country than it would have been if it had been addressed much sooner.”

 

J. Edgar Hoover: Blackmail Victim? 

Most records place the beginning of Hoover’s relationship with Rosenstiel in the 1950s, the same decade when Susan Kaufman reported that Hoover was attending Rosenstiel’s blackmail parties. Rosenstiel’s FBI file, obtained by Anthony Summers, cites the first Rosenstiel meeting as taking place in 1956, though Summers notes that there is evidence that they had met much earlier. After requesting the meeting, Rosenstiel was granted a personal face to face with the director in a matter of hours. The FBI file on Rosenstiel also reveals that the liquor baron heavily lobbied Hoover to aid his business interests.

During that time, the salacious details of Hoover’s sex life were already known to the U.S. intelligence community and to the mob, and Hoover was aware that they knew of his closeted sexuality and penchant for women’s clothing. Yet, Hoover apparently seemed to embrace the very type of sexual blackmail operation that had compromised his private life, given that he was seen at many of Rosenstiel’s “blackmail” parties in the 1950s and 1960s, including at venues such as Rosenstiel’s personal home and later at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel. Hoover’s penchant for dressing in drag was also described by two witnesses who were not connected to Susan Kaufman.

Hoover with Dorothy Lamour on the set of The Greatest Show on Earth in 1951

Soon after their first “official” meeting, the public relationship between the two men quickly flourished, with Hoover even sending Rosenstiel flowers when he fell ill. Summers reported that, in 1957, Rosenstiel was heard telling Hoover during a meeting, “your wish is my command.” Their relationship remained close and intimate throughout the 1960s and beyond.

Like Rosenstiel, Hoover was well-known for amassing blackmail on friend and foe alike. Hoover’s office contained “secret files” on numerous powerful people in Washington and beyond, files he used to gain favors and protect his status as FBI director for as long as he wished. 

Hoover’s own propensity for blackmail suggests that he may have associated with Rosenstiel’s sexual blackmail operation more directly, given he already knew he was compromised and his involvement in the operation would have served as a means of procuring the blackmail he coveted for his own purposes. Indeed, if Hoover was merely being blackmailed and extorted by the Lansky-Rosenstiel connected mob, it is unlikely that he would have been so friendly to Rosenstiel, Lansky and the other mobsters at these gatherings and participated in them with such regularity. 

According to journalist and author Burton Hersh, Hoover was also tied to Sherman Kaminsky, who ran a sexual blackmail operation in New York involving young male prostitutes. That operation was busted and investigated in 1966 extortion probe led by Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan, though the FBI quickly took over the investigation and photos of Hoover and Kaminsky together soon disappeared from the case file.

Hoover and Rosenstiel’s deep ties would continue to develop over the years, an example of which can be seen in Rosenstiel’s hiring of long-time Hoover aide Louis Nichols as the Vice President of his Schenley liquor empire and Rosenstiel’s donation of over $1 million to the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation, which Nichols also ran at the time. 

There is also more than one documented occasion wherein Hoover attempted to use blackmail to protect Rosenstiel and his “field commander,” none other than the infamous Roy Cohn, the other key figure in Rosenstiel’s sexual blackmail operation involving minors.

 

The Making of a Monster

Decades after his death, Roy Cohn remains a controversial figure in large part because of his close, personal relationship with current U.S. President Donald Trump. Yet reports on Cohn, both in recent and in past years, often miss the mark in their characterization of the man who became closely associated with the Reagan White House, the CIA, the FBI, organized crime and, incidentally, many of the figures who would later surround Jeffrey Epstein.

To understand the true nature of the man, it is essential to examine his rise to power in the early 1950s, when at just 23 years old, he became a key figure in the high-profile trial of Soviet spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and later in the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. 

Cohn’s dedication to anti-communist activities in the 1950s is allegedly what first endeared him to J. Edgar Hoover who he first met in 1952. During that meeting, as described by Hersh in Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America, Hoover expressed admiration for Cohn’s aggressive and manipulative tactics and told Cohn to “call me directly” whenever he had information worth sharing. From that point on, Cohn and Hoover “traded favors, effusive compliments, gifts and elaborate private dinners. It quickly became ‘Roy’ and ‘Edgar.’” Hersh also describes Hoover as Cohn’s soon to be “consigliere.” 

The date and circumstances around Cohn’s introduction to Rosenstiel is harder to come by. It is possible that the connection was made through Roy Cohn’s father, Albert Cohn, a prominent judge and an influential figure in the New York City Democratic Party apparatus then-run by Edward Flynn. It was later revealed that the Democratic organization dominated by Flynn and based in the Bronx had long-standing connections to organized crime, including associates of Meyer Lansky. 

Regardless of how or when it began, the relationship between Cohn and Rosenstiel was close and was often likened to that of a father and son. They were said to frequently salute each other in public and remained close until Rosenstiel was near death, at which point Cohn attempted to trick his then-barely conscious and senile “friend” and client into naming him the executor and trustee of the liquor magnate’s estate, valued at $75 million (more than $334 million in today’s dollars). 

LIFE magazine reported in 1969 that Cohn and Rosenstiel had for years referred to one another as “Field Commander” and “Supreme Commander,” respectively. Media references to these nicknames appear in other articles from the period. 

Though LIFE and other outlets had interpreted this as merely an anecdote about the nicknames shared in jest between close friends, the fact that notorious crime lord Meyer Lansky also called Rosenstiel “Supreme Commander” and the fact that Cohn and Rosenstiel would later become intimately involved in the same pedophile sex ring, suggests that there may have been more to these “nicknames.” After all, the mob to which Rosenstiel was connected often used military-themed titles like “soldier” and “lieutenant” to differentiate the rank and importance of its members. 

Once he had made his connection with Hoover, Cohn’s star began to rise even higher in Washington. Hoover’s recommendation of Cohn would become the deciding factor in his appointment as Sen. McCarthy’s general counsel over Robert Kennedy, a rival and bitter enemy of Cohn’s.

McCarthy covers the mic while having a whispered discussion with Cohn during a 1954 committee hearing. Photo | AP

Though Cohn was ruthless and seemingly untouchable as McCarthy’s counsel and helped the Senator destroy many careers during both the red and lavender scares, his antics in relation to his work on the committee would eventually lead to his downfall after he attempted to blackmail the Army in return for preferential treatment for committee consultant and Cohn’s rumored lover, David Schine.

After he was forced to leave McCarthy’s side due to the scandal, Cohn returned to New York to live with his mother and practice law. A few years later New York Judge David Peck, a long-time associate of former CIA director Alan Dulles, orchestrated Cohn’s hire to the New York law firm, Saxe, Bacon and O’Shea, which would later become Saxe, Bacon and Bolan after Tom Bolan, a friend of Cohn’s, became a partner in the firm. Upon his hire, Cohn brought the firm a slew of mafia-linked clients, including high-ranking members of the Gambino crime family, the Genovese crime family and, of course, Lewis Rosenstiel.

 

What happened in Suite 233?

The connections Roy Cohn built during the 1950s made him a well-known public figure and translated into great political influence which peaked during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Yet, as Cohn built his public image, he was also developing a dark private life which would come to be dominated by the same blackmail pedophile racket that appears to have first begun with Lewis Rosenstiel. 

One of the “blackmail” parties Susan Kaufman attended with her then-husband Lewis Rosenstiel was hosted by Cohn in 1958 at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, suite 233. Kaufman described Cohn’s suite as a “beautiful suite…all done in light blue.” She described being introduced to Hoover, who was in drag, by Cohn, who told her that Hoover’s name was “Mary” in a fit of barely concealed laughter. Kaufman testified that young underage boys were present and Kaufman claimed that Cohn, Hoover and her ex-husband engaged in sexual activity with these minors.

New York attorney John Klotz, tasked with investigating Cohn for a case well after Kaufman’s testimony, also found evidence of the “blue suite” at the Plaza Hotel and its role in a sex extortion ring after combing through local government documents and information gathered by private detectives. Klotz later told journalist and author Burton Hersh what he had learned: 

Roy Cohn was providing protection. There were a bunch of pedophiles involved. That’s where Cohn got his power from — blackmail.”

Perhaps the most damning confirmation of Cohn’s activities in Suite 233 comes from statements made by Cohn himself to former NYPD detective and ex-head of the department’s Human-Trafficking and Vice-related Crimes division, James Rothstein. Rothstein later told John Decamp, a former Nebraska state senator who investigated a government-connected child sex ring based in Omaha, among other investigators, that Cohn had admitted to being part of a sexual blackmail operation targeting politicians with child prostitutes during a sit-in down interview with the former detective. 

Flags fly over the main entrance of the Plaza Hotel in New York City in 1982. Suzanne Vlamis | AP

Rothstein told John DeCamp the following about Roy Cohn:

Cohn’s job was to run the little boys. Say you had an admiral, a general, a congressman, who did not want to go along with the program. Cohn’s job was to set them up, then they would go along. Cohn told me that himself.”

Rothstein later told Paul David Collins, a former journalist turned researcher, that Cohn had also identified this sexual blackmail operation as being part of the anti-communist crusade of the time.

The fact that Cohn, per Rothstein’s recollection, stated that the child-sex blackmail ring was part of the government-sponsored anticommunist crusade suggests that elements of the government, including Hoover’s FBI, may have been connected at a much broader level than Hoover’s own personal involvement given that the FBI closely coordinated with McCarthy and Cohn for much of the red scare.

It is also worth noting that among Hoover’s many “secret” blackmail files was a sizeable dossier on Senator McCarthy, the contents of which strongly suggested that the Senator himself was interested in underage girls. According to journalist and author David Talbot, Hoover’s file on McCarthy was “filled with disturbing stories about McCarthy’s habit of drunkenly groping young girls’ breasts and buttocks. The stories were so widespread that they became ‘common knowledge’ in the capital, according to one FBI chronicler.” 

Talbot, in his book The Devil’s Chessboard, also cites Walter Trohan, Washington Bureau Chief of the Chicago Tribune, as having personally witnessed McCarthy’s habit of molesting young women. “He just couldn’t keep his hands off young girls,” Trohan would later say. “Why the Communist opposition didn’t plant a minor on him and raise the cry of statutory rape, I don’t know.” Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that those “planting” minors on their political foes were McCarthy’s allies and close associates, not his enemies. 

The question that necessarily arises from revelations regarding Cohn’s activities in Suite 233 is who else was Cohn “protecting” and servicing with underage prostitutes? One of them could very well have been one of Cohn’s close friends and clients, Cardinal Francis Spellman of the Archdiocese of New York, who was said to have been present at some of these parties Cohn hosted at the Plaza Hotel. 

Spellman, one of the most powerful figures in the Catholic Church in North America who was sometimes referred to as “America’s Pope” was accused of not only condoning pedophilia in the Catholic church and ordaining known pedophiles including Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Teddy” McCarrick, but also engaging in it himself to such an extent that many New York area priests widely referred to him as “Mary.” Furthermore, J. Edgar Hoover was said to have a file detailing the Cardinal’s sex life, suggesting Spellman’s involvement in the ring and pedophile protection racket in which Cohn and Hoover were personally involved.

Cardinal Francis ‘Franny’ Spellman. Photo | Museum of the City of New York

People close to Cohn often remarked that he was frequently surrounded by groups of young boys, but seemed to think nothing of it. Similar off-handed comments about Epstein’s penchant for minors were made by those close to him prior to his arrest. 

Controversial Republican political operative and “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, who — like Donald Trump — was also a protégé of Cohn, said the following about Cohn’s sex life during an interview with The New Yorker in 2008: 

Roy was not gay. He was a man who liked having sex with men. Gays were weak, effeminate. He always seemed to have these young blond boys around. It just wasn’t discussed. He was interested in power and access.” (emphasis added)

Compare this quote from Stone to what Donald Trump, who was also close to Cohn, would later say about Jeffrey Epstein, with whom he was also closely associated:

I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.” (emphasis added)

Though it is unknown how long the sex ring at the Plaza Hotel continued, and if it continued after Cohn’s death from AIDS in 1986, it is worth noting that Donald Trump purchased the Plaza Hotel in 1988. It would later be reported and confirmed by then-attendees that Trump “used to host parties in suites at the Plaza Hotel when he owned it, where young women and girls were introduced to older, richer men” and “illegal drugs and young women were passed around and used.” 

Andy Lucchesi, a male model who had helped organize some of these Plaza Hotel parties for Trump said the following when asked about the age of the women present: “A lot of girls, 14, look 24. That’s as juicy as I can get. I never asked how old they were; I just partook. I did partake in activities that would be controversial, too.”

 

The Roy Cohn Machine 

Roy Cohn was only at the beginning of his career when he waded his way into the underground sexual blackmail ring apparently led by Lewis Rosenstiel. Indeed, when Cohn first met Hoover, he was only 23 years old. Over the next three decades or so, before his death from AIDS-related complications in 1986 at the age of 56, Cohn built a well-oiled machine, largely through his close friendships with some of the country’s most influential figures.

Among Cohn’s friends were top media personalities like Barbara Walters, former CIA directors, Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy, media moguls Rupert Murdoch and Mort Zuckerman, numerous celebrities, prominent lawyers like Alan Dershowitz, top figures in the Catholic Church and leading Jewish organizations like B’nai B’rith and the World Jewish Congress. Many of the same names that surrounded Cohn until death in the late 1980s would later come to surround Jeffrey Epstein, with their names later appearing in Epstein’s now-infamous “little black book”. 

Reagan meets with Rupert Murdoch, U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Wick, and Roy Cohn in the Oval Office in 1983. Photo | Reagan presidential library

While President Trump is clearly connected to both Epstein and Cohn, Cohn’s network also extends to former President Bill Clinton, whose friend and longtime political advisor, Richard “Dirty Dick” Morris, was Cohn’s cousin and close associate. Morris was also close to Clinton’s former communications director, George Stephanopoulos, who is also associated with Jeffrey Epstein.

Yet, these were only Cohn’s connections to respectable members of the establishment. He was also known for his deep connections to the mob and gained prominence largely for his ability to connect key figures in the criminal underworld to respected influential figures acceptable to the public sphere. Ultimately, as New York attorney John Klotz stated, Cohn’s most powerful tool was blackmail, which he used against friend and foe, gangster or public official alike. How much of that blackmail he acquired through his sexual blackmail operation will likely never be known.

As Part II of this exclusive investigation will reveal, Cohn and Epstein, and the sexual blackmail operations they ran share many things in common, including not only many of the same famous friends and patrons, but also connections to intelligence agencies and consortiums of mob-linked businessmen, the modern-day equivalents of Samuel Bronfman and Lewis Rosenstiel who have since rebranded as “philanthropists.” 

Part II will also reveal that Cohn’s operation was known to have successors, as revealed by a series of scandals in the early 1990s that have since been swept under the rug. The significant amount of overlap between Epstein’s and Cohn’s covert activities in sexual blackmail and their ties to many of the same powerful individuals and circles of influence strongly suggest that Epstein was one of Cohn’s successors.

As will be shown in the final installment of this report, Epstein is only the latest incarnation of a much older, more extensive and sophisticated operation that offers a frightening window into how deeply tied the U.S. government is to the modern-day equivalents of organized crime, making it a racket truly too big to fail.

Feature photo | A composite image shows from left to right, Lewis Rosenstiel, Jeffrey Epstein, and Roy Cohn. Graphic | Emma Fiala

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post Hidden in Plain Sight: The Shocking Origins of the Jeffrey Epstein Case appeared first on MintPress News.

No Justice for Eric Garner

TruthDig.com News -

What follows is a conversation between activist Kamau Franklin and Marc Steiner of The Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.

ERIC GARNER I told you the last time. Please just leave me alone.

NYPD OFFICERS [inaudible]

ERIC GARNER Take – left what? I didn’t sell anything.

BYSTANDER You tell him fam.

ERIC GARNER I did nothing. We sitting here the whole time, minding our business. Ya’ll touching me. And you want to grab me? [NYPD and GARNER scuffling]

BYSTANDERS Oh! Don’t do that. No! Damn man. Why they doing that to him? [scuffling continues]

ERIC GARNER I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. …

MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. That video just always shakes me to my core. Eric Garner was killed five years ago today, almost to the hour when we were taping this interview now. The day before the fifth anniversary of the death of Eric Garner at the hands of a police officer on Staten Island, Attorney General Barr through US Attorney for Brooklyn, Richard Donoghue, announced they were dropping the federal civil rights case against New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo. All of us remember Eric Garner crying out, as you’ve just seen on this video, “I can’t breathe,” gasping for breath before he was killed. His death and others like his— Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, all the others— led to the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. The lack of justice for this killing and the others like it are what we have to talk about today.

We are joined by Kamau Franklin, who’s an attorney and founder of the community movement Builders, Inc. and joins us from Atlanta. And Kamau, welcome. Good to have you back with us here on The Real News.

KAMAU FRANKLIN Thanks for having me.

MARC STEINER I mean, as I watch this, you know, realizing this announcement came literally a day before the fifth anniversary. It was pretty, I won’t say shocking, but was still stunning to me and stopped me for a moment as I realized what was happening. Talk a bit about why you think what happened, happened.

KAMAU FRANKLIN Well, maybe stunning, but not unexpected, right?

MARC STEINER Right, right.

KAMAU FRANKLIN I think, you know, part of what happened in this case is that this, as you read off some of the names and there are names even before that— Sean Bell— others prior who’ve been killed by the police. And the norm has been that these police officers have either not been indicted, or in the rare cases that they have been, they’ve been acquitted at trials. So I think any organizer, any advocate, any attorney could not look at this and say that this was something that they did not expect based on the history of prosecutors, whether federal or at a state level, bringing charges against the police officers for excessive use of force. And as we say in the organizing and activist community: the system ain’t broke; this is how it is supposed to and/or intended to work.

MARC STEINER Well, I want to come back to that very thought. I want to share, as we’re talking about this, these two videos. The first one we’re going to look at right now is the district attorney announcing that there will be no civil rights trials.

US ATTORNEY RICHARD DONOGHUE While the department does not normally publicly discuss a decision not to bring charges, we felt that this matter is an exception because it means so much to our community and beyond. For the family to suffer as this family has for too long has only compounded the loss. But these unassailable facts are separate and distinct from whether a federal crime has been committed. And the evidence here does not support charging Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo or any other officer with a federal criminal civil rights violation.

MARC STEINER And we’ll explore what those mean in just a moment, but I want to also play at this moment for all of you the video of the family— mother and [daughter] of Eric Garner— and what they had to say after this announcement was made.

GWENN CARR, MOTHER OF ERIC GARNER Five years ago, my son said “I can’t breathe” eleven times. And today we can’t breathe because they have let us down. All the officers who was involved in my son’s death that day need to be off the force. The streets of New York City is not safe with them walking around. Five years ago, it was me. It was my family. Today or tomorrow it could be your family. You killed my son. And you won’t get away with it.

EMERALD SNIPES, DAUGHTER OF ERIC GARNER And they didn’t do they job. We called the Department of Justice. They didn’t do their job. So, no. I’m going to stand outside and I’m gonna scream it. Pantaleo needs to be fired! He needs to be fired! There is no waiting. There is no nothing. The statute of limitations ends tomorrow. Eric died 07/17/2014. We’re 07/16/2019. Five years later, and there’s still no justice. So no, there won’t be no calm. No, there won’t be no peace. No justice, no peace.

MARC STEINER So let’s start, Kamau, with what happened earlier in the first video when the US Attorney said that there’s no federal crime committed, there’s no evidence of a federal crime being committed. So let’s talk about that from your perspective, and what the other side of that story is.

KAMAU FRANKLIN Yeah. I think that’s patently untrue. This was a chargeable offense. The federal prosecutor would have to show that the officer willfully used excessive force in violation of Mr. Garner’s civil rights. I think the video evidence is clear that that officer applied a chokehold to Mr. Garner, took him down on a chokehold, a chokehold which is banned in New York, has been banned for over two decades. After he released the chokehold, he immediately put his knee on top of his neck and his hand on top of his head, applying pressure that continued the same type of pressure that was at when the chokehold was on hold, causing a reaction that led to his death.

The federal prosecutors throughout the history of this case—And this case goes back to the Obama era with Eric Holder and then Brooklyn Federal Attorney Lynch. They had a back and forth about whether or not to prosecute, and Holder wanted to prosecute and Lynch at the time did not. And later when Lynch took Holder’s place, she did decide then to enter into a prosecution stage in this particular case. And obviously after the election of Trump, nothing was done until now at the end of the statute of limitations. And then Barr makes this callous announcement through the Justice Department— Barr being the Attorney General— that they would not bring any civil rights charges against the officer.

MARC STEINER So, you know, before we go to the family and what this portends as well. I mean, staying with us for a moment. It would be easy for us to sit here and go, oh this is Trump putting out his new US Attorney for Brooklyn, this is all Barr’s doing. But the reality is, as you alluded to a moment ago, this does go back to the Obama administration because of the internal arguments there between the Civil Rights Division and the rest of the Justice Department of whether or not to prosecute. And Lynch was there but she came back and became the Attorney General and allowed it to go on, but it still didn’t open it up. So, I mean, I thought—

KAMAU FRANKLIN I think this goes back to, I’m sorry, but this goes back to what we talked about earlier, you know, we can go to the Bush era. You can go back to the Clinton era.

MARC STEINER Right. Right.

KAMAU FRANKLIN The history of federal prosecutions is basically nil. And as we spoke about a little earlier, the last time there was a federal prosecution of this kind of case was over 20 years ago. And that was the Anthony Baez case where he was placed in a chokehold by Officer Francis Livoti and was convicted on civil rights charges. So very similar in some ways to this particular case, but a different outcome.

MARC STEINER So you were involved in that as an organizer back in the late 90s when that happened. So what’s the difference? Is this because the Baez case was just an anomaly, that these things never happen? I mean, you know, the Civil Rights Division got involved when people were killed in the South sometimes doing the Civil Rights Movement, but not much beyond that. Never in the other things that ever happened down there. So was Baez an aberration? And if it was an aberration, what does that mean? What has to change? How do you change it?

KAMAU FRANKLIN I certainly do think it was an aberration. I think the history shows that 20 years later, if no other police officer around the country could be convicted on civil rights charges for killing unarmed black men in particular, then it shows that this was something that took place at a special time, a special place, with the right evidence that allowed this prosecution to go through and for this conviction to happen. But under other circumstances, cases that had videotape evidence, cases that had eyewitness evidence, these types of prosecutions either weren’t pursued at all again, either at the federal level or at the state level. And when they were pursued at the state level, they ended in acquittals either by a jury or by a judge. And that speaks to how the system works.

The system works to protect police officers through the prosecution system, through the judicial system, because these folks work day to day with these police officers. These are the folks who gather evidence for them. These are the folks who they hold up high as the protectors of stopping criminal activity and so forth. And so, the justice system, the so-called justice system, the so-called judicial system, does not want to be seen in their estimation as anti-police. And prefer to be seen as pro-police even if that means that they look anti-black because they can handle an anti-black sentiment, but they can’t handle, in their own estimation, not being considered part of the good ol’ boy system.

MARC STEINER So, I mean, it’s never easy to prosecute and convict police. We saw that happen here in Baltimore with the Freddie Gray instance. We’ve seen it in all the other instances that take place around this country. It’s always a very difficult process. But rising out of this and the other murders that took place at the hands of the police, was the Black Lives Matter movement. And it seems as if—I’m thinking about Garner’s family and how they responded, and it seems as if on a larger national scale since Trump was elected, whatever the juxtaposition of events were or are, that that movement— decentralized as it is and was— isn’t out in force as it was, while these things are still going on.

KAMAU FRANKLIN No, I think that’s correct. I think, you know, I guess there’s a lot of internal struggles that happen in terms of the centralization of that movement or not. And let’s remember the Black Lives Matter movement came from organizers, but it came from folks who were not directly involved in the local organizing at the time that the hashtag took on. And so you had local organizers who were in the street on these cases and who brought the attention needed. And then you had the hashtag that gave it more of a national feeling of resistance through these types of issues and that did involve organizers who then would go on the ground when these cases took place. But I think, you know, again in terms of their own internal contradictions, but I think in addition to that, the not having real clear victories, the election of Trump, really just took the sting out of what would be considered somewhat of an umbrella movement of forces.

And so today I think what you need again is that local organizing that’s done at a fever pitch that really puts some pressure on these police officers and the judicial system. But I just want to say that I don’t know if that’s enough at this stage, right? Because it’s not like that hasn’t been done before. So organizers have been in the streets trying to get justice. We just have a broken—We have a system that was setup to work a certain way, and it protects those police officers, and that’s how that system works. There might be every now and then some individual cases of justice, but it is a hard, long struggle to get real justice out of this system.

MARC STEINER And I think the responses around the country have been very local. I mean, it happened here in Baltimore, other cities I’m aware of, where movements like here when Tyrone West was killed by police officers. His family for the last several years every Wednesday, have had “West Wednesdays” and they’re out in the street reminding people this has happened and we have to change things. And so the question then as we close is, you know, as you look at the anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, we see this horrendous video as Eric Garner died at the hands of the police officers, the movement is still there on some levels. The question is, what is the political response now given the world we’re facing, the election coming up? How do you think all this fits in?

KAMAU FRANKLIN I think a lot of this has to do, I mean, this is a larger question and issue in some ways. But the ideological output of organizers here in the United States is different than other places in the world. And what I mean by that is the sustained, in-the-street movements that folks have in other places is not something that is part and parcel these days to organize our activities. Organizing activities, they may last one or two days. If you get longer than that, you’re lucky.

So I think there’s got to be a better shift. There’s got to be a bringing together of national interests in organizations to really make some hard pushes. But, you know, it’s an uphill battle because again, I think that you’re dealing with a so-called justice system that works to protect the police officers, that works to protect judges, that works to protect criminal investigations on black people and other folks of color, immigrants and so forth, because it feels like it’s protecting white interests in some ways. It feels like it’s protecting moneyed interests in some ways. And that battle is something that is long to be fought, and I don’t see a clear breakthrough coming anytime soon unfortunately.

MARC STEINER And I should have said this at the top, but I did not. Just to remind folks that Officer Pantaleo—The internal investigation was done, the report’s not been released, people are calling on de Blasio— the Mayor of New York— to throw him off the force at the very least. And so, that piece is still happening, and we’ll see what happens with that in the coming week or two when that goes on. And I want to thank you, Kamau Franklin, for taking your time with us once again here at The Real News. And obviously, this is one of the issues that we’re going to stay on top of. Thank you so much.

KAMAU FRANKLIN Thank you. Thank you for having me.

MARC STEINER And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you for joining us. Take care.

The post No Justice for Eric Garner appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

AOC, Sanders, and Warren Rally Around Ilhan Omar Following Trump’s Racist Attacks

Mother Jones Magazine -

Following President Donald Trump’s racist tweets about four congresswomen of color and his refusal to quell supporters who chanted “send her back” in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) at a campaign rally Wednesday evening, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to Twitter to offer some words of encouragement.

“To all those scared for our future: we can get through this better than we started,” she wrote in a tweet that garnered more than 100,000 likes. “We have the power to triumph over hatred, division, and bigotry.”

To all those scared for our future: we can get through this better than we started.

We have the power to triumph over hatred, division, and bigotry.

But decency cannot be taken for granted. It is something we must create, advance, and actively work to build each and every day.

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 18, 2019

Omar herself responded with a quote from Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

-Maya Angelou https://t.co/46jcXSXF0B

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) July 18, 2019

The hashtag #IStandWithIlhan was trending on Twitter Thursday morning as elected officials—including Democratic presidential candidates—expressed their support for Omar, one of the first two Muslim congresswomen.

#IStandWithIlhan and am proud to work with her in Congress.

Trump is stoking the most despicable and disturbing currents in our society. And that very hatred and racism fuels him. We must fight together to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of our country.

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) July 18, 2019

#IStandWithIlhan against attacks from this racist president, and we should all remember this definition of patriotism. https://t.co/PzFT1bNfF2

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) July 18, 2019

Why Are Billionaires Like Jeff Bezos So Obsessed With Space?

TruthDig.com News -

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing is this year, and it’s worth recalling the memo that then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson wrote to President John F. Kennedy: “If we do not make the strong effort now, the time will soon be reached when the margin of control over space and over men’s minds through space accomplishments will have swung so far on the Russian side that we will not be able to catch up, let alone assume leadership.”

That sense of urgency has shifted over the decades from government to the private sector, where billionaires like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, among others, are displaying profound enthusiasm in regard to the notion of exploiting space. Their interest appears to go well beyond space tourism for the thrill-seeking one-percenters, even though that’s what gets most of the media attention. As Cathal O’Connell reports for Cosmos Magazine, “Already companies are sending up 3D printers to produce replacement tools in space. Next we could see orbiting factories making products for sale on Earth or automated robots constructing satellites the size of a football field.”

If this all seems as exotic as those old 1930s “Flash Gordon” films did to the audiences of the day, recall that the experience of the Apollo 11 moon landing showed that reality has a way of catching up quickly to Hollywood fantasy (it also shows that when sufficient government resources are harnessed to a higher common purpose, good results can happen surprisingly quickly and efficiently). Once the likes of Bezos, Branson, Musk, and others find a way to economically hoist heavy machinery into space (and it is becoming more economic), permanent “off-Earth” manufacturing could become a reality. But this raises an interesting issue: who chooses the technological alternatives that set out our future? Should this decision solely be left in the domain of the private sector? Should space be privatized in this matter? What about NASA? Consider the future: Forget about the threat of moving a Midwestern plant from, say, Ohio, to Mexico or China. Next time, it could be a robot-filled factory in space that takes your job.

To be clear, nobody is suggesting a return to medieval-style craft guilds. At the same time, it is worth noting certain salient aspects about technology: rather than acting in the service of mankind, technology has often been used in a way that creates a momentum of its own that establishes limits or controls what becomes socially possible. It is wrapped in an aura of linear progress and scientific inevitability, conveniently ignoring that its benefits are often skewed most heavily to the power brokers who initiate and champion its use. This is a principle danger of subcontracting space to billionaire plutocrats, whose ambitions and interests might be inconsistent with society’s broader public purpose. This is to say nothing of the increasing de-skilling of labor that could follow, if they are not integrated into this process somehow.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip notes, the government-sponsored race to the moon spurred considerable “advances in computers, miniaturization and software, and found its way into scratch-resistant lenses, heat-reflective emergency blankets and cordless appliances,” all of which had tremendous benefits for society as a whole. But today, the government has largely lost its “moonshot mindset” and space, in turn, has increasingly become the focus of the oligarch class, seeking to enhance profit opportunities as well as exploiting the increasing trend of displacing human labor with machines. This is despite the fact that Professor Seymour Melman’s own research illustrated that if you give workers decision-making power on the shop floor, productivity tends to increase substantially.

Without a doubt, there are many benefits to be derived from the work being done in the cosmos. For example, the microgravity conditions pertaining in space are considered ideal for developing materials, such as protein and virus crystals, observes Sarah Lewin, in a piece discussing the incipient development of “off-Earth manufacturing.” The insights developed by these crystals could enhance drug research and provide useful new therapies and medical treatments for infections and diseases (such as heart disease and organ transplants). Space also enhances the scope for producing high-tech materials, whose production is otherwise adversely affected by the Earth’s gravity, one example being a “fiber-optic cable called ZBLAN, … [which, w]hen manufactured in microgravity… is less likely to develop tiny crystals that increase signal loss. When built without those flaws, the cable can be orders of magnitude better at transmitting light over long distances, such as for telecommunications, lasers and high-speed internet,” according to Lewin.

We shouldn’t be oblivious to the considerable human costs associated with work in the government’s space program—“Microgravity sets our fluids wandering and weakens muscles, radiation tears through DNA and the harsh vacuum outside is an ever-present threat” (to quote Lewin), to say nothing of the risk of death itself—which are mitigated considerably when you can do things with machines alone. At the same time, left unchallenged or unmonitored, these billionaires could use space to quietly initiate further radical changes to our social structures.

It starts with ownership models. There’s an interesting paradox of futuristic 24th-century economic visions in space being built on the 12-to-13th–century ownership models that make up Silicon Valley. Wealth sharing ownership models should be conceived as part of the futuristic vision if we don’t want to be saddled with human wealth disparities reaching factors of 12 or 15 zeros. Ideally, NASA (or some other space agency) should take a leading national developmental role in the production of goods in space, and then subcontract to manufacturers to do the actual production processes, rather than the other way around.

Of course, if the government does ultimately decide that space privatization is not a great thing, no doubt Silicon Valley and its market fundamentalist champions will trot out the line about the inefficient government fighting “technological inevitability”—a typical playbook from the Silicon Valley oligarchs (i.e., you can’t fight technological progress, so let’s just set up something like a Universal Basic Income—UBI—that acts like a painkiller, but masks the symptoms of economic injustice and fails to address the underlying causes of exploitation and inequality). That’s one major risk of “off-Earth” production when it becomes a plaything of the rich alone. That’s to say nothing of the fact that the billionaire class is already benefiting from a long series of government-funded innovations undertaken in the past, as Professor Marianna Mazzucato has illustrated in her work, “The Entrepreneurial State.”

One of which was the government-led (and funded) space program: at its funding peak, the lunar space program employed over 400,000 Americans. The management, national commitment and personal motivation of the participants were just as important as the technology itself in terms of ensuring the program’s success. It’s hard to see that sort of coalescing of interests in the absence of an overriding government stake when it comes to the production of manufactured goods in an environment outside a planetary atmosphere.

There is another unhealthy aspect to uncritically acceding to a paradigm in which supposedly superhuman entrepreneurs are selflessly taking up the baton from a tapped-out public sector. It becomes self-serving for the billionaires, and implicitly justifies and entrenches the economic status quo. As journalist Amanda Schaffer has argued: “If tech leaders are seen primarily as singular, lone achievers, it is easier for them to extract disproportionate wealth. It is also harder to get their companies to accept that they should return some of their profits to agencies like NASA and the National Science Foundation through higher taxes or simply less tax dodging.” That self-entitlement also manifests itself in other ways. Just look at the way that Elon Musk treats his own employees to get a better sense of this. Or Jeff Bezos’s labor practices at Amazon.com.

It’s undoubted that orbital manufacturing will yield innovations in technology, medicine and material science in the next few decades. But we should recall that technology doesn’t simply have an autonomous momentum and direction that inexorably leads to social progress. Likewise, it bears recalling (as Professor Seymour Melman once observed) that technology “is applied in accordance with specific social criteria wielded by those with economic decision power in the society.” Melman’s implicit argument is that technology can be used to enhance worker control or to create more yet alienation. The government, therefore, shouldn’t be reduced to the role of passive minority shareholder collecting dividends or royalties from a privately run space enterprise. That’s the old market fundamentalist model that has failed pretty badly on this planet, let alone replicating it in space. So before we get too wrapped up in all of the exciting new goodies that Jeff Bezos and his fellow space enthusiasts can create for us, let’s also ensure that this move to “the final frontier” doesn’t simply become a new form of technological control and enslavement, in which the benefits continue to be distributed in a profoundly illiberal direction as they are here on planet Earth.

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

Marshall Auerback is a market analyst and commentator.

The post Why Are Billionaires Like Jeff Bezos So Obsessed With Space? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Iran Cracks Down on Oil Smuggling Out of Iran

Mother Jones Magazine -

Here’s the latest from the Persian Gulf:

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has seized a foreign tanker and 12 crew members accused of smuggling Iranian fuel, according to reports carried by Iranian state media Thursday….Quoting a Revolutionary Guard statement, the media reports said the tanker was caught transporting smuggled Iranian fuel to unspecified foreign customers. It was detained Sunday, the report said, after departing Iran’s Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway through which a significant percentage of the world’s traded oil is transported.

Wait a second. I thought that Iran wanted to smuggle oil out of the country and it was the United States that wanted to stop it? Or is this not so much smuggling as it is just outright theft? And how is the UAE involved in this? Or are they? It’s getting hard to tell the players without a scorecard these days.

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