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Yemen as Arabian Vietnam

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It wasn’t supposed to end this way. The last soldiers and agents of the world’s biggest and deadliest empire, fleeing Saigon with their thorned tails between their legs as a rag-tag army of half-starved guerrillas inched closer by the hour. The last Bell helicopters, stuffed to the brim with bourgeois refugees of the fascist Yankee quisling state of South Vietnam, bumbling about before they scatter like highway vultures interrupted by a semi as they attempt to pick the last bone clean on a withering carcass. This was unthinkable just a decade earlier, when LBJ decided to turn a contentious civil war into a full blown holocaust. We had thrown everything but the White House kitchen sink at those yellow commie savages; bombs, napalm, agent orange, near institutionalized campaigns of rape and slaughter. We had turned the jungles of Indochina into a living hell, just a few Pinkville’s shy of a full tilt genocide. But they just kept coming. Tiny men and women in black pajamas with hearts like lions, throwing their malnourished bodies into the guts and gears of the war machine. At the end of the day, the empire’s efforts were all for nothing. Billions of dollars, millions of lives, and the sterling reputation we had built on the myths of the Good War were gone like dust scattered to the wind. Was there a lesson to be learned here? Was anybody but Charlie interested in learning it?

Flash forward some forty years and tragedy repeats itself as farce. This time it’s one of the now hemorrhaging American empire’s dauphins, a dick-swinging desert upstart called Saudi Arabia, that is rapidly finding itself overwhelmed by the unintended consequences of its own private Vietnam. After another gaggle of impoverished peasants called the Houthis decided to take their once regional conflict from the northern mountains of Yemen to the bustling capital of Sanaa, overthrowing yet another fascist Yankee quisling state, Saudi Arabia’s swarthy young princeling, Mohammed bin Salman, decided to show the world what he’s made of by burying his poorest neighbor in American munitions. Like his fellow psychopath, LBJ, MBS threw everything he could get his filthy hands on at these poor people; bombs, drones, white phosphorous, mercenary death squads of African child soldiers, and a crippling naval blockade, all with more than a little help from their friends back in Washington. Hundreds of thousands murdered in cold blood. Even more starved, diseased, malnourished, most of them children. But just four years into this genocidal campaign and it’s all falling apart. That handsome young Lothario in Riyadh is left drowning in the dunes as his “allies” flee the scene of the crime.

Even after all the death, misery, fear and loathing, those dastardly Shia barbarians known as the Houthi just keep coming. In fact, they now appear to stand stronger, taller, more furious than ever. Galvanized like steel soldiers in the hell-fires of what should have been their Armageddon. Like the Cong before them, these outgunned young renegades have turned the tables on their tormentors with nothing but sheer rage and tenacity. Baseless conspiracy theories about them being Iranian agent provocateurs aside, they weathered this storm alone, buried the bodies of their children, bided their time and are now in the midst of making minced meat of their wealthy would-be Saudi conquistadors. Striking oil lines with homemade drones, Jerry-rigged in crumbling urban garages from the smashed bits of American machines that haunted their villages long before the onslaught. Trapping Saudi soldiers and their hapless local mercenaries in giant valley-wide ambushes, taking hundreds of Salafi chin scalps at a time. Making a bunch of racist colonial pigs belly-crawl through scorpion infested deserts back to the gaudy glass towers from which they came.

The Saudis are fucked and even their one-time friends know it. Half of their fighting force, sponsored by the equally dreadful United Arab Emirates, are defecting from this blood belching quagmire and turning their attention instead towards rebuilding an independent South Yemen. The Emirates couldn’t be happier with a Dalit house-slave’s throat in their hands. The only thing keeping them in this savage farce to begin with is their hope of securing the shipping routes of the southern ports in cities like the now rebel held Aden. The UAE’s goal of becoming the Persian Gulf’s answer to Singapore appears to be pushing them to the brink of opening a second front against their former besties in Riyadh in order to achieve their own petite imperialist objectives. Prince Salman’s blood spattered vanity project is as dead as South Vietnam.

Once again, another imperial blood feast, billions of dollars, millions of lives and the once sterling reputation of the “new” Saudi Arabian empire built on little more than CNN mythology, gone, demolished like a Zaydi schoolhouse, all for nothing, just another Vietnam scattered like a fist full of sand in the breeze of the Arabian Sea. Is there finally a lesson to be learned here? Yes, but only the Houthi, like their Vietcong counterparts, seem to have learned it. The desert holocaust in Yemen mirrors the jungle holocaust in Vietnam because the imperialist antagonists of both battles failed to learn the basic lesson that no amount of money, high-tech military hardware or unbridled savagery can deter a people determined to be free. It appears all empires are damned to remain forever blind to this lesson no matter how many times peasants are forced to teach it to them, from Algiers to Kabul to god knows who’s next, because imperialism itself is defined by its blindness to humanity. It is it’s strength as well as it’s folly.

We must also take note here that the modern concepts of the western style nation state are at best the fickle illusions of an over-privileged class and at worst a fevered nightmare brought on by fumes of the Industrial Revolution. Trying to cobble a nation together from two separate and distinct societies like the Northern Zaydi Tribesman and the Southern Sunni Proletariat has proven to be as asinine and bullheaded as trying to deny the almost metaphysical unity of two nations that have always been one like Vietnam. Nation building is a cruel fool’s errand and it never works. The lion share of America and it’s imperial offspring’s woes in places like the Middle East and Southeast Asia derive from their insistence on modernizing people they have zero respect for with statist contraptions like capitalism and mass borders. The best lesson the Houthis can take from recent events to their south is that their supposed enemies in that region essentially want the same damn thing, to escape western nation building and finally be left the fuck alone. If both sides can realize this, then they can unite to divide and maybe, just maybe, this hopped up nightmare can finally end.

Imperialism is a heavy weapon in the hands of the powerful. But it’s as good as glass against the will of a people who refuse to be ruled. All empires will crumble because they are designed to deny this basic fact of human nature and any system that denies humanity is inherently unsustainable. To put it bluntly, they quite simply cannot kill us all, but united we can destroy them. Houthis, Hezbollah, Southern Separatists, Kashmiri Separatists, Black Lives Matter, Sovereign Citizens, the Vietcong, the Weather Underground; only together are we too heavy to be moved by any imperial behemoth. Let us all join hands and fuck it up, dearest motherfuckers. Why the hell not? Lets fight like a Houthi.

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Bearing Witness at Aeon’s End: the Wound Becomes the Womb

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PR: Kenn, this question haunts me: Is it still possible, amid constant inundation by the mass and social media simulacrum, for literature, poetry or a music to rouse the heart and foment rebellion against one’s complicity in what amounts to a bondage of sensibility? Naturally, we are given to outrage but, for the most part, it is directed, if we are honest, at our own sense of powerlessness against the mind-stupefying roil of events.

The decimated fauna and flora of the earth are not dying a natural death; the living things of the planet are in the process of being fatally wounded by abuse. As, all the while, all pervasive — therefore invasive — culture of electronic distractions negates apprehension, connection, and communion with the breathing moment. The things of the world that sustain us, body and soul, are dying from both abuse and neglect. Enervated by a sense of emptiness, we seek palliative relieve in manic distractions. We are retailed visual piffle, comprised of celebrity culture and media hype. A contrivance of media-borne mirages — a shell game deploying electronic phantasmagoria, usurping the mind, waylaying desire into precincts of capitalist exploitation — a clip joint shakedown operation.

There is a dopehouse quality to capitalism-inflicted insularity. All too many have been transformed into ghosts of empty appetite. By being estranged from larger orders of our souls and the soul of the world (anima mundi), the citizens of consumer imperium have been rendered down to manic, mindless spirits — death-besotted spirits susceptible to the ersatz eros of fascist spectacle. A toxic red tide of MAGA hats rise and agitate a sea of inert souls. A death cult of economic elite sacrifice flesh before an alter of an insatiable god — an incorporeal deity manifested as protean formations of electrons — an invisible god yet oceanic in its quality of obliterating empathetic imagination in a drowning tide of impersonal craving.

An animal-in-a-cage restlessness is inherent to capitalist modernity. An aura of boredom, fraught with free-floating, nebulous angst, is a constant presence. Historically, there is always the danger of bourgeoisie restlessness and chronic discontent transforming into the sickness of the collective soul known as fascism. Unnerving to witness: Fascism, with its insistence on tangible verities and aggrandisement of action, becomes a desperate attempt to experience freedom by means of a literalizing of death.

Freud averred suicide is an urge to homicide turned inward.  A pandemic of suicide is plaguing the US working class. James Hillman averred, after much study and contemplation on the subject (an early analysand of his committed suicide) when one turns to suicide, the individual is attempting to kill a psychical complex – not oneself. The misapprehension arrives by being afflicted with the phenomenon R. D. Laing termed the False Self and Friedrich Engels termed capitalist false consciousness.

Engels ascribed the process to the phenomenon as the self value system of the capitalist ruling class becoming internalised by the working class, and contact pathos of exposure to the economic elite’s Cult of Success mythos and concomitant mode of mind and modus operandi bristling with manic compensation — to wit, the striving, obsessive, winged, grounding-bereft, split off half of despair. Yet an individual cannot remain airborne, mortals that we are, ad infinitum.

The manic Spirit, enthralled and intoxicated by its own scintillating glow, by compulsion, ascends while the Soul, by nature, makes chthonic descents. Rilke compared the Orphic impulse to a tree — whose roots reach into the singing loam of the earth as its branches are played like the strings of a lyre by the winds of spirit. The Dead must be engaged, their laments acknowledged, or their beckoning will grow into the overpowering admonition of a Death Drive.

Walker Percy limned the psychical landscape thus:

“Death in the form of death genes shall not prevail over me, for death genes are one thing but it is something else to name the death genes an d know them and stand over against them and dare them. I am different from my death genes and therefore not subject to them. My father had the same death genes but he feared them and did not name them and thought he could roar out old Route 66 and stay ahead of them or grab me and be pals or play Brahms and keep them, the death genes, happy, so he fell prey to them.”

— Percy, Walker, excerpt from The Second Coming

The capitalist paradigm is held in the thrall of its inherent death genes. By ecocide or economic collapse (events that will cause the system to reveal its true countenance i.e., fascism) — or by nuclear annihilation, capitalists will succumb to their internalised Thanatopic admonitions. In short, there must come an economic/socio/cultural sea change or the beckoning of the Dead to join them in endless song will prove too potent to resist.

KO: I have been thinking about the absurdity of this age and its delusional mythos a lot lately, Phil. What does it mean to succeed on an increasingly brutal, unequal, unjust and dying world? To attain the hollow grandeur and lucre promised by capitalist mythology? This is an age of stark contradiction where the vaunted and self-insulated “captains of industry” reside within a fragile bubble of a new gilded age. All around us countless species of our biosphere shriek in agony. Ancient forests are felled in a nanosecond. Sprawling coral reefs are bleached to a white, enduring death within days or terribly sullied by damaged oil tankers. And all around us the working class are getting poorer and their population is growing. The rich are getting richer, and fewer. Yet the spectacle continues and grows ever more absurd, more disconnected from reality. And I cannot help think that this is what the ruling class wishes. After all, they have no idea how to fix our collective predicament without dismantling the economic, political and social order that produced and perpetuates it.

When I see the pervasive influence and concurrent numbness induced by the holograms of social media and the surveillance state I am reminded of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. These projections on the wall, holograms of reality, are ubiquitous. Everyone has a portable cave handy, carrying them in pockets or purses.

Screens that alert us to the projected shadows. The things we are told are important. The spectacle. But most of the contents are meaningless images that reinforce depravity, as well as alienation and emptiness. A deceitful mirror that informs us on how we should look, or think, or act. And to never question the order itself. And the insidious sway of this over our consciousness is by design, whether intentional or not, because it emanates from the halls of capital. So then our minds are colonized by the most powerful and moneyed colonizers in all of human history. Yet most of us have difficulty understanding where our agency is curtailed. And this understandable, because the labyrinth is opaque.

Guy Debord had the prescience to understand this power and how it worked before the age of the internet or social media:  “Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.”   This is how social media maintains itself and perpetuates a false reality. Social media, through the manipulation of the brains neurochemicals has created a stranglehold on scores of people. Thus, the person who has it withheld may experience anxiety or even panic, a kind of withdrawal.

But this is a sort of mania defines the capitalist order itself. And so this order has a pernicious effect on every one of us because the world is, with few exceptions, under the domination of capitalism and the “imperial” court who benefits from it.

PR: Kenn, a question, then a poetic digression, of which the latter is political, but not in an overt manner.

How does one spend the fleeting hours of this finite life? Is it possible to escape being held in the thrall of internalised colonisation, a psyche-shackling phenomenon that usurps the days of one’s existence? We are confronted by systemic economic control, inherent to the capitalist order, over both the quality and criteria of one’s existence that hijacks the day, renders barren the womb of the earth’s oceans and seas, and scours away by light pollution the stars. An economic order, conceived for the exclusive benefit of a loose-knit, yet unified by their mutual cupidity, clutch of capitalist ghouls. Hyperbole? Do these ghouls not live off of the flesh of the earth and devour the hours of the lives of the powerless multitudes held in servitude to their insatiable greed?

One cannot reclaim what has been lost to time. One cannot conscript coffin dust in the service of eros. Materialism, both economic and philosophical, have wrought a wasteland, of both landscape and mindscape. Yet the breathing moment resounds with birth cries. The archetype of the redeemer god (examples include, Tammuz; Osirus; Dionysus; Orpheus; Jesus Christ; Attis; Mithras; Horus; Krishna; Persephone) exists in the human psyche — we are held, gripped and grappled, undone, and restored by agencies that are not going to be expelled by materialist credo. Archetypal criteria will hold profound influence over the lives of humanity — all as, by reflex, literalism borne of materialist dogma will leave all too many cold and alienated. To wit, the least important — even irrelevant and counterproductive — question is, whether or not the gods are literal figures because, in regard to the human psyche, Mundus Imaginalis is reality.

How does the archetype of the redeemer god relate to the human psyche and the death swoon of the capitalist order?

When the season of a systemic structure that determines the mode of being of individuals languishing within the decaying system has passed, it is crucial that moribund perceptions of oneself and how one regards the world are pruned away. Applying the lexicon of Mundus Imaginalis, one is confronted with the early spring agonies (“April is the cruelest month”) of Dionysus or, as is the case with Persephone, an autumnal descent into the underworld — there, like a brooding seed, it is possible for the psyche to dream a new psychical order — thus novel societal arrangements — into existence. For example, a drunk’s dismally circumscribed by his bondage to the bottle existence can be broken by a rearrangement of the psyche; thereby, his life is broadened and deepened by ceasing an habitual reliance on alcohol previously utilised to mitigate the stressors of the day and torments of past trauma.

Widespread consumer addiction is a form of collective, negative enchantment. Sanity insists, the spell must be broken. Yet the God of Reason’s admonitions do not prove propitious in a struggle against addiction because its verities are drowned out by the cultural cacophony of a commodified madhouse, whereby Mundus Imaginalis has taken the form of a 24/7, consciousness devouring, mass and social media-borne phantasmagoria. Conversely, trauma and concomitant neurotic compulsions that haunt the mind and paralyse the eros of modernity can be transformed by artistic engagement. The wound becomes the womb thereby birthing novelty. The grail, at last, at the lips of the languishing, near-death, couch potato king restores the land.

Languishing in middle age, from the reality of his imagination, Dante Alighieri became lost in a dark woods, his path blocked on one side by a hungry she-wolf and on the other by a threatening leopard. But a pagan poet arrives on scene, Virgil, protagonist of the Aeneas, a witness to the folly that was the Trojan War and consequential destruction of Troy. Only by passing through the black, iron-wrought gates of Hell, bearing the admonition, ““Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (“Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”) and, later in the epic poem, only after he, led by Virgil, must pass across the loins of Satan in the frozen Ninth Circle would Dante be granted a glimpse, upon entering Purgatory, of Beatrice’s transformative beauty framed in the spheres of Paradise.

The quality of lostness is the redeemer god’s dominion, the baffling terrain on which we are stranded at capitalist eon’s end.  Thus I have made a home in being lost.

But the question persists, how does one spend one’s days?

KO: Time is perhaps, as Einstein once averred, an illusion. And yet we experience it. We sense its passing and not just by numbers, but by what we truly sense. With each new wrinkle on the face, each new diminished ability, each child passing through years of development into adult bodies. So we pass the time, so to speak, regardless of whether we are intentionally doing it. But to live mindful of this is the challenge. And I am loath to use that term given the nauseating manner in which it has been twisted in order to justify each new demoralizing and diminishing assault by the lords of Capital on the working class. But this era demands a new kind of mindfulness, one which turns everything on its head.

I remember wandering through the catacombs of Paris several years ago and marveling at the artistry of this underground necropolis. Here was a place built for the dead. A place not to be seen by the masses. Yet now the masses tromp through its dusty passages daily, snapping selfies and posting check-ins. And so your mention of art and “the wound becomes the womb” made me think of this for some reason. And I think it is the association of art with death, because death, and its constant looming over all who are mortal, is the regisseur of artistic expression.

The Redemption in this age must come, as always has, from radical artists, poets, writers, mystics and philosophers, because they are the most radically dangerous to the order itself. Their resistance to conformity, racism, militarism, the commodification of nature, and blind, rapacious consumerism, presents the greatest challenge to a hegemony which cannot expunge the reality of its destructive nature. It can no longer hide the carnage. As Yemen endures carpet bombing and a manufactured famine and Kashmir and Gaza resist an engineered genocide, refugees flee their homelands in Syria, Honduras and Myanmar, as countless species succumb to habitat loss and pollution, and as the Bahamas lie in ruins from climate changed, angry skies and rainforests in the Amazon, Angola and Australia unnaturally burn to ash, we are all witness to the trajectory of unfettered capitalist, militarism, and industrial exploits. Indigenous peoples on every continent face the brunt of this, of course. But we are all indigenous to this besieged earth. We are born of its loam and kin to every breathing species that crawls, slithers, burrows in it or that flies above it.

So at this eon’s end, as you say, I think we are called to bear witness as we traverse its bitter, blood drenched killing fields. But also to tread with care and with arms locked in solidarity with others who have been cast off, devalued by the imaginary calculus of capital. Those on the margins of empire. Those disappeared or assigned annihilation because of the imaginary borders in which they live, or their dearth of societal status or material wealth, or whom they spend their lives with and love, or their caste, gender, skin pigment, religious affiliations or individual peculiarities. And to reignite a reverence and kinship with the myriad of species outside our own. Those that have been commodified and reduced to barcodes.

To be lost with the lost. I think this is our species last, best hope for redemption.

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Homage to the Tabloids

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Are you ready for some football?  Big story in the LA Times this week: “Will the NFL allow players to use marijuana? League wants Science to determine drug policy. ” It should come as no surprise that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell  is taking refuge behind “More Research is Needed.”

The NFL commissioner serves the interests of the owners (just like the President of the United States).  We know where these gentlemen are at politically because they  have blacklisted Colin Kaepernick for three years, the prime of his career. Their mutual class interest obviously takes precedence over their separate  teams’ interests.  Which means zero tolerance for truly uppity workers.  At upcoming contract talks, when the players’ demand access to marijuana  —a non-opioid analgesic that might protect against traumatic brain injuries— the owner’ game plan will be to stall in the name of Science.

The convergence in one story of two major issues of our day —marijuana and NFL football— brought to mind an old joke about the ultimate newspaper-selling headline: “Queen’s Dog Cured of Polio in Church.” At Walgreen’s that evening I couldn’t help admiring the latest Globe headline:

I thought Attorney General Barr might have authorized Epstein’s exit because ongoing publicity would inform the tabloid-loving masses that the AG’s father, Donald Barr, had set Epstein on the road to riches in the 1970s by hiring him to teach math at the elite Dalton School. (Donald Barr was the principal at Dalton.) My guess and the Enquirer’s exposé are not mutually exclusive.

Around 1995 the missus and I were driving on Highway 1 in Lantana, Florida, when  I noticed a sign in the distance identifying the site as the home of The National Enquirer.  I took the next exit and found it, a large, modern one-story office building fronting on a park with baseball diamonds. I told the receptionist that I was a journalist from California there to pay my respects to “the leading newspaper in America.” She suspected that I was putting her on. I said I meant it:  “Aren’t they all adopting your approach, little by little?”  She recognized my sincerity and we were given a tour of the editorial office. As we were leaving, so was a tall, sleek man in a finely tailored suit who wore wraparound shades and carried an attache case. He looked more like a banker than an editor, and his car was a Mercedes.

A surprising fact we learned on our tour: four of America’s five best-selling tabloids were then headquartered  in Lantana! Somehow, economy of scale even applies to lowbrow gossip production.

Here’s some relevant background  as recounted by Wikipedia:

“In 1926, William Griffin, a protégé of William Randolph Hearst, founded the paper as The New York Evening Enquirer, a Sunday afternoon broadsheet newspaper distributed throughout New York City, using money lent to Griffin by Hearst. It made its debut on September 19, 1926. As partial payment of his loan, Hearst asked Griffin to use the Enquireras a proving ground for new ideas. Hearst took the ideas that worked in his successful publications; the less successful ideas stayed with the Enquirer, and as a result the Enquirer’s sales never soared. During the 1930s and 1940s, it became a voice for isolationism and pro-fascist propaganda. The paper was indicted along with Griffin under the Smith Act for sedition by a grand jury in 1942 for subverting the morale of US troops through Griffin’s editorials against US military involvement in World War II. The charges were later dropped.

“By 1952, when the paper’s circulation had fallen to 17,000 copies a week, it was purchased by Generoso Pope Jr., the son of Generoso Pope, the founder of Il Progresso, New York’s Italian language daily newspaper.[12]It has been alleged that Mafia boss Frank Costelloprovided Pope the money for the purchase in exchange for the Enquirer’s promise to list lottery numbers and to refrain from any mention of Mafia activities.[13]

In 1953, Pope revamped the format from a broadsheet to a sensationalist tabloid… Pope pioneered the idea of selling magazines at supermarket checkouts. In order to get into the supermarkets, Pope completely changed the format of the paper in late 1967 by dropping all the gore and violence and instead focusing on more benign topics like celebrities, the occult and UFOs.”

In recent years the most visible owner of the Enquirer has been David Pecker, a bag man for Donald Trump. This spring a sale to Ron Burkle, a billionaire friend of the Clintons, was supposedly imminent. Burkle would have shielded his friends from front-page stories predicting their imminent deaths (with super-unflattering photos). But he pulled out and the Enquirer was picked up for $100 mill by James Cohen, heir to the Hudson News stores, which will provide distribution at 1,000 airports.

A New York Times piece April 18  reporting the sale informed us: “As part of the deal, American Media, led by David J. Pecker, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, has also agreed to sell two of its other tabloids: the Globe and the National Examiner.”

We infer from the Times’s brief bio of Cohen that he and Ms. Fayne Cohen will put out a cooler, classier Enquirer.

“In 2016 he started a quarterly publication called Galerie with his wife, Lisa Fayne Cohen. Earlier this year, the magazine published a feature titled ‘Discover a Hamptons Dream House Filled With Modern Art.; Its subject was the Cohens’ East Hampton, N.Y., home. Ms. Fayne Cohen serves as the magazine’s editorial director.

“Mr. Cohen and Ms. Fayne Cohen started a serious art collection in 2009. Their condominium at the Plaza Hotel has included works by the artists Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet, Hans Hofmann, Joan Mitchell, George Condo and Mark Grotjahn.

“In 2015 they threw a bat mitzvah for their daughter Jaclyn at a reported cost of over $1 million. The event, which took place under a tent at their home in northern New Jersey, featured the singer Nick Jonas, who performed six of his hits for a reported $300,000.

“Mr. Cohen, who did not respond to requests for comment, has a tabloid connection. His late sister, Claudia Cohen, was a gossip writer for both The Daily News and The New York Post. She was married to the Revlon billionaire Ronald O. Perelman.”

So, are you ready for some highbrow Epstein gossip?

The  business of scientific publishing  was made “startlingly profitable” by a British  entrepreneur named Robert Maxwell, according to a brilliant, thorough analysis that ran in the Guardian two years ago. “With total global revenues of more than £19bn,” Stephen Buranyi reported, “it weighs in somewhere between the recording and the film industries in size, but it is far more profitable.”

Reviewing the Guardian exposé today, we are aware of another dubious achievement of Maxwell’s: his daughter Ghislaine would  become Jeffrey Epstein’s partner in crime.

Robert Maxwell, who was born in Czechoslovakia, died in 1991 after intentionally plunging, accidentally falling, or being pushed off his yacht, The Lady Ghislaine (which was named after his youngest daughter).  Ghislaine, the flesh-and-blood lady, then moved to New York City where she soon hooked up with Epstein. You  don’t have to be a Freudian to wonder: did she see her father in the Brooklyn-born financier or did she coach him to recreate dear old dad? Probably both.

The parallels between Maxwell’s  “apparent suicide” (he had stolen millions from a pension fund and was facing public humiliation and prison) and Epstein’s death in a Manhattan jail cell are obvious and eerie. And so are the similarities between Maxwell’s and Epstein’s courting  of  scientists and other standard operating procedures. As explained by Buranyi in the Guardian:

“Scientific conferences tended to be drab, low-ceilinged affairs, but when Maxwell returned to the Geneva conference that year, he rented a house in nearby Collonge-Bellerive, a picturesque town on the lakeshore, where he entertained guests at parties with booze, cigars and sailboat trips. Scientists had never seen anything like him…

By 1959, Pergamon was publishing 40 journals; six years later it would publish 150. This put Maxwell well ahead of the competition. (In 1959, Pergamon’s rival, Elsevier, had just 10 English-language journals, and it would take the company another decade to reach 50.) By 1960, Maxwell had taken to being driven in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce, and moved his home and the Pergamon operation from London to the palatial Headington Hill Hall estate in Oxford…

“Occasionally, Maxwell would call Noble to his house for a meeting. “Often there would be a party going on, a nice musical ensemble, there was no barrier between his work and personal life,” Noble says. Maxwell would then proceed to alternately browbeat and charm him into splitting the biannual journal into a monthly or bimonthly publication, which would lead to an attendant increase in subscription payments.

Maxwell doted on his relationships with famous scientists…”

The New Yorker has just published a piece by scandal specialist Ronan Farrow: “New documents show that the M.I.T. Media Lab was aware of Epstein’s status as a convicted sex offender, and that Epstein directed contributions to the lab far exceeding the amounts M.I.T. has publicly admitted.”

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Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t

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As a Senator, John F. Kennedy authored Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage in 1957 to highlight the integrity by eight United States Senators who did what they felt was best for the nation not their party and they suffered accordingly.

This week Conservative Party members in Britain’s Parliament demonstrated that type of unique political courage. They voted to stop their party leader, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, from leaving the European Union without a deal governing future relations.

They did so, against the express wishes of their party and PM Johnson, whose followers in retaliation have vowed to kick these dissidents out of the party and bar them from running in the next election. In response to the vote, PM Johnson has proposed calling for a general election on October 15.

As reported in the New York Times, these Conservative rebels took this highly unusual break from their Party’s leadership because they believed Johnson’s actions on Brexit would severely damage the British economy and set “fire to their vision of a big-tent party with priorities beyond Brexit.”

Under the parliamentary system, you cannot run for public office from a political party unless you have that party’s approval, unlike in the U.S. where just about anyone can run as a Republican or Democrat, even if they don’t have the approval of the party. In other words, the Conservative parliamentarians knew that they would very likely lose their seat without the party’s endorsement.

Now think of what is happening with the Republicans in congress under President Donald Trump. He has demanded loyalty from them and has threatened retaliation against those who publicly criticize him. They do not need his approval to run as a Republican for congress, but his 80 percent plus approval rating among Republicans has intimidated any effective opposition to his executive orders and policies that threaten our democratic society.

In May 2019, Justin Amash became the only Republican Congressman to call for Trump’s impeachment for obstructing justice. No other Republican in congress has joined him.

Other conservatives and Republicans have come out in opposition to Trump, but they are either former elected officials, like conservative radio personality Joe Walsh, or journalists like David Brooks and Bill Kristol. They are not sacrificing any public office. However, there are sixteen current Republicans in congress who do not intend on running for reelection in 2020. Could this be an indication that they would rather drop out than fight Trump and his followers?

The significant difference between Johnson and Trump is that Johnson, first of all, was not elected into office by the general public, but rather achieved  his position as a vote of just conservative party members. Second, and just as importantly, there was a national issue that had to be immediately dealt with.

When Johnson took the unusual step of dramatically limiting the time that parliament could meet and debate any Brexit legislation, he forced members of his own party to recognize that something had to be done within days. There has been no comparative single crises with Trump.

Although his actions ignore the norms of acceptable democratic process like Johnson’s did, they consist of a steady stream of actions with long term impacts that often are initially stifled through our court system. So, there is no impending crises that needs to be addressed within days.

Nevertheless, Republicans face the same two major problems with Trump that the conservatives in Britain faced with Johnson: potential national economic damage and a shrinking voter base.

The first stems from tariff wars being conducted solely by the President and an astronomical growth in national debt that shows no slowing down. The second is the continuous  reliance on an increasingly narrow slice of the population. Although not easily seen as grounds for impeachment, they are clearly transforming the Republican Party into a personality driven movement promoting ethnic nationalism at the expense of protecting our general welfare and respecting basic democratic rights.

Which brings us back to the issue of courage. Democracies cannot be sustained on obsequious behavior by politicians whose first concern is to protect their job. It will eventually result either in authoritarian behavior from the top or group think from below. It takes courage to recognize these trends and for elected officials to stop them from growing like a cancer in our society.

The Profiles in Courage chapter on Republican Senator Edmund G. Ross, from Kansas, always stuck in my mind. He cast the deciding vote for acquitting Democratic President Andrew Johnson for impeachment. Ross lost his bid for re-election two years later and none of the other Republicans who voted for acquittal were voted back to congress.

Now, Johnson was not a good president, his policies did not protect the rights of black citizens following the civil war, but the grounds of impeachment were so flimsy that afterwards even some of those most in favor of impeachment realized it would have been a mistake.

It took courage to recognize that maintaining an orderly democracy overrules allegiance to a political party. This past week a select group of British conservative parliamentarians came to that realization. The question is how long it will take for Republicans in congress to get the courage to reach that same conclusion?


The post Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Farewell, John Bolton

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The firing (or, he insists, the resignation) of John Bolton as national security special assistant is being treated by some observers as a great loss for coherence and professionalism in the conduct of US foreign policy. Josh Rogin at the Washington Post, for example, writes on September 11: “Republicans on Capitol Hill lost a key interlocutor and a key ally inside the White House. Many fear Trump will replace Bolton with someone who will feed Trump’s own desire to drastically pull back on U.S. commitments and alliances abroad. Even Democrats acknowledge Bolton was somebody who they knew and trusted to — at the very least — push back against Trump’s worst instincts or false beliefs.”

In short, we are invited to treat Bolton’s departure as another in a long line of “adults in the room” who are gone, leaving Trump to make policy by gut instinct. (“Trump unplugged,” as one former diplomatic put it.) You would think we had lost a voice for peace, human rights, and international cooperation! Let’s get real: Bolton’s departure is a welcome event. His hawkish impulses, if allowed to proceed uncheck, quite possibly would have led to war with Iran, no talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, continued “maximum pressure” on North Korea and Venezuela, and further sanctions against Cuba and Nicaragua. Yes, Bolton was an “adult” when it came to sanctions on Russia, support for NATO, and Trump’s glad-handing of dictators. But on balance, Bolton was as much a menace to real national and international security as his boss.

Various foreign-policy professionals are being quoted as concluding that with Bolton gone, Trump will have the field to himself, with only Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and friends to restrain him. That is indeed worrisome, since Pompeo has been just as militant as Bolton on Venezuela, North Korea, and Iran. The main difference between the two is Pompeo’s loyalty—his willingness to bite his tongue and go along with whatever Trump says or does. US foreign policy will be no less incoherent and erratic in a Bolton-less world. But at least with Bolton gone, we have one less voice for war in Washington.

The post Farewell, John Bolton appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

RCMP Attempt to Silence Critics of Trudeau Foreign Policy

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On Tuesday two RCMP agents came to my house. Two large men in suits asked for me and when my partner said I wasn’t there they asked who she was.

Why didn’t they email or call me to talk or set up a meeting? If they have my address, the RCMP certainly has my email, Facebook, Skype or phone number. My partner asked for their badges, took their photo and asked them to leave the hallway they had entered.

They returned the next day. Not wanting to interact, my partner ignored them. They rang the doorbell multiple times over many minutes. After she saw people at the restaurant across the street wondering what was going on – from the ground you can see into the front of our place – she poked her head down the stairway where they caught her eye. They asked why I didn’t call even though they didn’t leave a number.

The visits are a transparent effort to intimidate me from directly challenging the government’s pro-corporate and pro-empire international policies.

The day before their first visit to my house two RCMP officers physically removed me from a press conference when I asked Transportation Minister Marc Garneau about Canadian arm sales to Saudi Arabia. When I sat down at an event that was already underway an officer took the seat next to me. When I began to ask a question at the end of the press conference he used the cover of private property to try to block me. On this video one can see the RCMP agent asking the building security twice if I’m welcome in the space. Deferring to police, the security guard tells him I’m not welcome. The RCMP agent, who doesn’t have the right to remove me from the room without a directive, then uses the authority derived from a representative of the building to physically eject me and threaten arrest.

Last Wednesday lawyer Dimitri Lascaris and I were blocked from a talk by the prime minister at the Bonaventure Hotel in a similar way. In my case an RCMP agent called out my name as I entered the hotel and then accompanied me in the elevator, through a long lobby and down an escalator to ‘introduce’ me to hotel security. The representative of the hotel then said I wasn’t welcome, which gave the officer the legal authority to ask me to leave. Lascaris details the incident in “The RCMP’s Speech Police Block Yves Engler and Me From Attending A Speech By Justin Trudeau.”

After starting to write this story, I was targeted by the RCMP for removal from a press conference by Justice Minister David Lametti. On Thursday, a Concordia University security guard, who I walked past to enter the room, came up to me 15 minutes later and asked for my press credentials. There were two dozen people in the room who didn’t have press credentials and the release for the event said nothing about needing them. The RCMP agent admitted that he asked Concordia security to approach me. He also said he was only there for the physical — not political — protection of the minister, but refused my suggestion that he and the Concordia security agents sit next/in front of me to ensure the minister’s physical safety.

(Here is the question I planned to ask the Justice Minister: “Minister Lametti you have an important decision to make in the coming days about whether you believe in international law and consumer rights. As you know the Federal Court recently ruled against your government’s decision to allow wines produced on illegal settlements in the West Bank to be labeled as ‘Products of Israel’. While anti-Palestinian groups are pressuring your government to appeal the decision, the NDP and Greens want you to stop wasting taxpayer money on this anti-Palestinian agenda. Will you commit to accepting the court’s sensible ruling that respects consumers, international law and Palestinian rights?”)

Over the past six months Lascaris, I and other members of Solidarité Québec-Haiti and Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix have interrupted a dozen speeches/press conferences by Liberal ministers/prime minister to question their anti-Palestinian positions, efforts to topple Venezuela’s government, support for a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president, etc. We are open about our actions and intentions, as you can read in this commentary. We film the interruptions and post them online. (If any illegal act were committed the RCMP could easily find all they need to charge me on my Facebook page!) The interruptions usually last no more than a couple of minutes. No politician has been stopped from speaking, let alone threatened or touched.

Did the RCMP receive a directive from a minister to put a stop to our challenging their policies? The federal election is on the horizon and government officials will increasingly be in public. The Trudeau government is playing up its ‘progressive’ credentials, but the interventions highlight how on one international policy after another the Liberals have sided with corporations and empire.

From the government’s perspective, having their PR announcements disrupted is a headache, but that’s democracy. The right to protest, to question, to challenge policies outweighs politicians’ comfort.

The post RCMP Attempt to Silence Critics of Trudeau Foreign Policy appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Hempress Sativa: “Rastafari Should be Protected”

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Hempress Sativa with writer Stephen Cooper at the Dub Club in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper.

Hempress Sativa is one of the most dynamic and talented performers – male or woman – in reggae music today. Currently at work on her sophomore album following her extremely impressive debut “Unconquerebel” – and its dub version with legendary sound engineer Scientist (“Scientist Meets Hempress Sativa in Dub”) – Hempress Sativa is a spiritual, powerful, deeply conscious Rastafari singer. Born into a musical family, she grew up surrounded and nurtured by some of the biggest names in Jamaican music.

On July 31, I interviewed Hempress for over thirty minutes after her dynamite show at the famed Dub Club in Los Angeles with Scientist. We spoke about her live performance of “Wah Da Da Deng,” that has been viewed over 12 million times on YouTube; her new single “Boom Shakalak” and the official video; the cliquishness of the reggae industry; her relationship with reggae legends Sister Caroland Brigadier Jerry; how the reggae music business can provide fairer and more equal opportunities for women performers; marijuana; Rastafari culture; lingering discrimination against Rastas in Jamaica and what can be done to combat it; and much, much more. What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations.

Q: Greetings Hempress, it’s a joy and a blessing to meet and reason with you. I’m a big fan of your music and I think your debut album “Unconquerebel,” that you released about two years ago, is superb.

Hempress Sativa: Thank you.

Q: But before talking about your album and your new single “Boom Shakalak” – which you sang tonight [and] which I really dig – if it’s okay, I’d like to begin by asking about the live performance you gave on February 25, 2015, at the Song Embassy Yard in Papine. [This is in] the part of Jamaica where I know you were raised; you performed your massive tune “Wah Da Da Deng” with [producer] Paolo Baldini.

Hempress Sativa: Yes.

Q: I want to ask about that because I along with more than twelve million other people have seen that video of you singing in Papine that day, over 4 years ago now, and there’s not a soul who knows anything about music who could watch that video and [not be blown away by your undeniable] talent.

Hempress Sativa: Thank you.

Q: Could you talk just for a minute about that performance, how it came about, and the reaction you’ve received from people who’ve seen [it]?

Hempress Sativa: I originally started out working with “Jah Over Evil” and he introduced me to “Mellow Mood” and that’s how I got in touch with Paolo Baldini. They told us they had a setup where they were just playing versions. [And they said,] “Feel free to come out and just pick a song.” And the day we went there we were reasoning with them about where they’re from and what they’re into and things like that. And we decided that we were gonna participate. Myself and other members in Jah Over Evil.

Q:  Does that Song Embassy Yard in Papine have any particular significance?

Hempress Sativa: No. It’s just that it’s in Papine. I was born and raised in Papine but at the other side of that area, further down.

Q: And was that [dynamite, jaw-dropping performance recorded in] one take?

Hempress Sativa: Yeah that was one take. (Laughing)

Q: Wow. Ok.

Hempress Sativa: Some people don’t believe me. (Laughing)

Q: You have such an incredible focus and flow in that video. The last thing I want to ask about it is: What was going through your mind that day, because you were so serious, so focused when you walked up to the mic?

Hempress Sativa: Alright. Some people don’t understand, when you’re doing anything, you have to be focused. You have to lock-in. And hone-in. And give your all. And that’s what happened. Sometimes I tend to not recognize [my] facial expressions because I’m so [focused]. And people don’t necessarily understand that I’m not sad or angry. I’m so focused in my mind that it’s almost like I’m outside of myself, you know? So I don’t have no control over [my] facial expressions or movements. I kinda just go with the energy and that’s it.

Q: Let’s talk about your new single that you released in the spring, “Boom Shakalak.” This is a very cool song. In my opinion it bears some similarities to the song “Rock It Ina Dance” on your debut album [“Unconquerebel”]; they sound different but both have a definitive dancehall and a sound system vibe. Do you agree with that?

Hempress Sativa: I agree. And that’s very important to me because my whole life I grew up with a father who is a Selecta. He’s a person who would get up at five o’clock in the morning and start to play vinyl. And the music would continue throughout the day. And I’m not making up any type of story when I tell you he was a person who would stay around [his] sound system the whole day without eating, without breaking for nothing. That’s how serious music is to my father. I grew up in a household where constantly, all hours, we have to be listening to vinyl. And my father is a very conscious man. You never heard one slack song coming from his selection. Strictly roots music. So that sound system culture is something I am very proud of. Something I see almost dying out inna Jamaica. And it’s something I want to preserve. That’s why I’ve incorporated it so much in my music.

Q: In your lyrics you often hail up your dad –

Hempress Sativa:  All the time. Because I personally feel that my father [doesn’t] get enough respect. I don’t feel like people recognize my father [despite] all the great works he’s put in the Jamaican music fraternity.

Q: And for the sake of the interview, we’re talking about Albert “Ilawi Malawi” Johnson, selector for the “Jah Love” sound system. This was a Brigadier Jerry sound system?

Hempress Sativa: The Jah Love sound system did not belong to Brigadier Jerry. Both of them being from the Twelve Tribes of Israel organization and just being there on a regular basis would participate; one playing [the] system and the other one would “toast” – which is DJ[’ ing] over the mic – which was Brigadier Jerry. My father was playing the music. So that’s how they first started out.

Q: One difference I noticed lyrically between those two songs, Boom Shakalak and Rock it Ina Dance, is your view on promoters. Because you “big up” the promoter in Rock it Ina Dance, but in Boom Shakalak you take a more critical stance.

Hempress Sativa: Yes!

Q: [I’m thinking about] [t]wo different lyrics [in that song]: (1) where you say “promoter pocket fat,” and (2) “promoters, advance my lion if you want…” Now I want to make sure I get this part right…

Hempress Sativa: “. . . if you want to dance ram.”

Q: Advance my lion if you want to dance “from?”

Hempress Sativa: (Laughing) “Ram.” It means make it full to capacity.

Q: Nice. It’s important to know these things –

Hempress Sativa: Yeah, because people have a hard time understanding my [accent]; it’s very strong. (Laughing)

Q: But people should take the time to learn what you’re saying, because it’s dope when they do.

Hempress Sativa:. (Laughing) Yeah, that is why I am saying to them, it’s nice to come to the stage where everybody can dance and feel good, but at the end of the day, mi still want everyone to take the opportunity to listen to what is actually being said. Because you might not even know what you a-dance to. You might not really agree. And I want to make sure you’re supporting me – [that] we’re on the same page. [That] [y]ou don’t have any misconception of who I am or what I stand for. So any little thing you see or you read that can help me to advance better – to have a better connection with my fans where they understand the music, that’s something that I want to do.

Q: Respect. Which is why I’m glad we’re doing the interview. Now I really dig the new [official] video you made for Boom Shakalak. And I understand it was filmed in downtown Kingston.

Hempress Sativa: Yeah.

Q: Can you say more about the location where the video was filmed, why did you chose that particular part of Kingston? Was there a particular reason or vibe [about] that part of Kingston?

Hempress Sativa: Yeah we wanted to get down into the town aspect, and kinda connect with the real roots people. Real people who are actually supporting the music out there inna Jamaica. And that is why we went there, you know? We never really had any scenes really planned. We just wanted to go there to perform, basically. And that is what we did. We basically went there and set up the riddims and the songs and just started to sing. And just tried to get [people] to pay attention. I even made new fans down there doing that. Because many people never even knew about Hempress Sativa until that morning we [went] out there to shoot the video. So it was just one way of connecting with the people out there.

Q: They seemed to be very into the song for sure.

Hempress Sativa: The amount of support I got that day [was incredible]; we had people saying, “Oh Hempress, you want to use my cart? You want to use my cart?”

Q: Cool. Now if you had to describe to somebody what the major vibe and message of Boom Shakalak is, how would you describe it?

Hempress Sativa: I would describe it as a nostalgic new era of roots, rock reggae. It’s basically me wanting to preserve the thing that I grew up in, dancehall culture. And the dancehall culture that I’m making reference to is not the genre that I know that people would know of as dancehall. Dancehall used to be a place that is a hall where they used to have dance.

Q: Big sound? Big amplifiers? Big speakers?

Hempress Sativa: Yes, stacked up. And a selector is there playing vinyl records. So that is something that I want to preserve. And [so] we incorporated a big sound system in the video as well. And the dancing aspect –

Q: I love that.

Hempress Sativa: Yeah, [I wanted to] show people you can dance and have a good time. Where you don’t have to be lewd. You don’t have to be slack. You don’t have to be gyrating in such a way where you give a negative energy.

Q: There’s a very cool vibe to the video.

Hempress Sativa:  Yeah, it’s just relaxed.

Q: A blog on your website indicates [Boom Shakalak] will be featured on your next album. What can you tell the fans about [this] second album that you’re working on? How far along are you in putting together another album? And can you say, if you know, when folks can start [looking for it]?

Hempress Sativa:  The album will be out in January 2020. Featured on the album we’ll have a lot of collaborations. The album is very relaxed. You can look for a lot of singing on this album, and just more cool melodies. More catchy songs.

Q: In 2013 you told the Jamaica Observer that you think favoritism amongst disc jockeys is “hurting artists” and “keeping artists down.” Also, a year ago, in an interview with “Gibbo,” –

Hempress Sativa:  Yes.

Q: – you said, “Sometimes this reggae industry is cliquish.” I wondered if you still feel –

Hempress Sativa: I still stand by everything that I’ve said in 2013 to this day. It has not changed.

Q: But because your star, I would say, has risen since that time; you’ve been so successful; you’ve been touring; you’ve had great[, well-attended] European [performances]. And people are really starting to learn more about Hempress Sativa. Now that you’ve become more known in the industry, do you feel that you’re more accepted?

Hempress Sativa: No. And let me tell you this: people don’t know what it takes for us to reach where we are. We’ve never been given any handout. We’ve always worked 100 percent investing our own money, investing our own resources. Sometimes going without just so we can get the music out. So we can create the studio time. Pay the band to come and record things. We don’t have no companies supporting us. And that is something that I realized, when you’re independent you have a harder time. Because you don’t have that connection to that individual over there that has the money. You don’t have their resources. You don’t have their mailing lists. You don’t have their disc jockeys on deck. You have to basically just be hoping that people are open-minded. And willing to listen to your music. And are really willing to support you. That’s why we’re grateful for the few disc jockeys who are willing to [play our music] without asking for any money. There’s a lot of “payola” in Jamaica, that is something that they don’t talk about. Enough! I’m not looking [for] any friends, I’m talking the truth. The minute we stop doing that [in Jamaica] you’ll find a lot of people come out of the shadows who’ll have wonderful talent. Where other people can listen to it and be encouraged. Those people are being drowned [out]. Dem a-drown out. Because first, they don’t have the money. And if you don’t have the money, how are you going to pay the disc jockey? If you can’t pay the disc jockey, how are you gonna get your song on the radio? And if you can’t get your song on the radio, who is going to listen to you? Give thanks to social media now. Back in the days we never had it like this now where you can [show-off your talent]. You [didn’t] have that [then]. And even then you still have algorithms which prohibit a certain reach [for] a certain artist in the same way in certain areas. So there’s always bias, in every aspect of this thing that we’re doing.

Q: Hempress, last fall I was blessed to interview Sister Carol at the first ever L.A. Reggae Vegan Fest. Now I know you “big up” Sister Carol in one of your songs, “Rock It Ina Dance”; you’ve performed with her before; she attended your album launch party; so it’s probably fair to say that she’s been an influence to you.

Hempress Sativa: Yes I!

Q: How young were you when you first met Sister Carol?

Hempress Sativa: I’ve been knowing Sister Carol since I was a little girl. Because, as I said, I grew up in the Twelve Tribes of Israel sound system, culture, [and] organization. [And] my parents would take me over there whenever [my dad] was playing to just lay down on the lawn. My mother would have us there listening to our father play [the] sound system. Sister Carol, Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor, Brigadier Jerry, [Sister] Nancy, all of dem used to be there as a little girl growing up. These are all members of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. They come from over there. So growing up as a little girl, I knew Sister Carol because of my father. She’s someone who will always hear me out and give me full-couraging words. And I look to her as a mentor. Someone I can call up and bounce ideas off of. And she will give me words of encouragement, [and] a sense of direction. So we’re grateful for Sister Carol.

Q: Recently I described your style to someone as unique, but a bit of a cross between Sister Carol and Lauryn Hill.

Hempress Sativa: (Laughing)

Q: Would you agree that your style could be described that way?

Hempress Sativa:  People can describe a style because it’s their opinion and how they hear it, but personally for me, I think my sound is very unique. Yes, it has cadences and [resemblances] of other [artists’s] styles. Because it’s natural. I grew up with these people. [And] I love Lauryn Hill. She’s one of my favorite MCs. [And] I love Sister Carol because she’s one of the first women who came out on the dancehall scene. And they [showed] sisters can be royal. [How] sisters can be a “Black Cinderella.” So it’s natural for you to see these things bleed off in me. From me. Because they’re two people who have influenced me greatly.

Q: Sister Carol said that Brigadier Jerry had a huge influence on her career [and] that he really “instilled a courage” in her. I was curious [whether] by the same token you may have had a similar experience because Brigadier Jerry was in the background [as you were growing up], whether he would encourage you [to sing], too?

Hempress Sativa: I’ve been knowing Brigadier Jerry since I [was] a likkle girl. His son and I used to go to the same school, be in the same class. To this day we’re idrens. We’ve done music together. “Dread at the Control,” if you’ve ever heard of that song with Micah Shemiah; that’s Brigadier Jerry’s son [T.J. a.k.a. “Likkle Briggie,” too]. So he’s somebody who has influenced me, too, because mi grew up listen[ing] to my father [play his music] over and over again. So listening to him, I rate that man as the king of dancehall. That’s how I see Brigadier Jerry.

Q: I’ve started learning more about Brigadier Jerry. It seems like he was big into encouraging female artists –

Hempress Sativa: His sister is [Sister Nancy]!

Q: I [don’t think] I knew that.

Hempress Sativa: Yes! And they all used to [perform] on the Jah Love sound system – toasting!

Q: A July 3rd article published in the Gleaner [had] what I humbly thought was a paternalistic headline, “Female Artistes Encouraged to Do Their Best at Sumfest.” Because why wouldn’t they want to do their best anyway? Sumfest is of course the large reggae festival held annually each summer in Jamaica. The article went on to say that “in a lineup of predominately men” the five chosen female artists had “little room for error.” Now Hempress I know you’ve performed at Sumfest before –

Hempress Sativa: Twice.

Q: And also, last year, in an interview with Magnetic magazine, you said you were fascinated by Lauryn Hill because she “showed that a female [artist] could hold her own in a jungle of testosterone.”

Hempress Sativa: Of course.

Q: So I want to ask you the same question I asked Sister Carol: In your opinion, what are some of the things that need to happen, steps that should be taken, [and] reforms that are needed for the reggae music business to provide fairer and more equal opportunities for women performers?

Hempress Sativa: Simple. Level the playing field. Make it equal where you don’t have such a high standard set for women, and such a low standard set for men. A man can go onstage and sing any amount of foolishness and everybody will support that; the minute a girl goes onstage and [sings] lyrics full of impactful words, they don’t take her serious. They only look upon a woman as some type of object. You can go onstage and expose yourself, they don’t take your music serious[ly]. So it’s not necessarily for the woman to do anything. The industry needs to take the veil from over their face and stop pretending like they’re not doing these type of things. All over the world it’s the same thing. Even me going to a show, I’m treated with the least amount of respect that they’d give a man.

Q: So women need to stand up for themselves?

Hempress Sativa: They need to stand together. We need to stand together. We’re not less than anyone.

Q: And demand equal treatment?

Hempress Sativa: Of course. Not only us, but the people who are going to these events. [They also] need to be the ones to be vocal. Because they’re the ones that are buying the tickets, they’re the ones supporting the shows. So they have a power also, to demand more female [performers] on the lineup[s].

Q: For sure, Hempress, and respect for that. There was a lot of coverage recently about Sumfest, and there was an article about marijuana – and [this] being the first year that they had various people who support dispensaries attend[ing] Sumfest; there was a symposium they [did] a day or two before the festival [began]. And I wanted to ask you [because] you’ve been an advocate for marijuana for a long time: What are some specific things the government of Jamaica should do to ensure that Rastas – persecuted and discriminated against for so long over herb – can secure a bigger share of the profits now being reaped from marijuana?

Hempress Sativa: I think specifically for the Rastafari community, for example, the licenses that they’re issuing [are] hard to obtain. It’s too expensive. [And] there are too many requirements. Especially for the Rastafari community [that] has been persecuted, even incarcerated. You have Rastaman being abused for using the plant. I feel like if you can lock up these people, you can also expunge their records expediently. You can give them some type of incentives [and accommodations] for all the things they have been going through and [have] endured. They should be given the opportunity to have access to [a] license.

Q: It should be similar in some sense to reparations?

Hempress Sativa: Yes!

Q: Because [Rasta farmers] can’t compete in the same community with big corporations –

Hempress Sativa: The things that they’re asking for someone to run a farm should be more relaxed when it comes to the Rastafari community. Because we are the ones who have been telling people [for so long] all the wonderful medicines and uses of the [herb].

Q: And now Rastas should be the ones –

Hempress Sativa: We should be the ones to benefit before any other.

Q: Respect. Your [marijuana] advocacy has been grounded in your Rastafari background, and because of this, and because it plays a significant part [in] your music – including your stage name – you’ve often been sought out and asked [for your] opinions about herb. When were you first introduced to smoking marijuana? And was it with your parents or with someone else?

Hempress Sativa: [When] I [was] a little girl my parents used to steam the stalk of the marijuana plant in coconut milk. And [they’d] give us that as tea. [And] [s]ince I [was] a likkle baby I’ve never had any illness. I’ve never had any sickness. I’ve never once had a mental breakdown. And I can’t say this goes for everybody, but I’m telling you about me. My parents being Rasta, a lot of people will judge them, but that’s fi their opinion – they’re entitled to judge whoever they want to – but me, knowing the fullness of what the plant has done for me since I was a little girl . . . . And since I was a little girl, my parents used to give me a draw of a marijuana spliff. Yeah.

Q: Do you remember how old you were?

Hempress Sativa: 10. I used to see dem [and say,] “give me draw,” [and] they’d give me a draw. I first burn a spliff for myself, a whole entire spliff, at the age of 17. And I did that with my mother. And she said to me, “You see, you have people who don’t understand the importance of marijuana. And they mix it with all these things because they want to get a false high.” She said, “Never go out and smoke with anyone. If you want to smoke, come and [see] your mother and have [a] reasoning.” That’s how I used to smoke herb, with my mother. She’s the first person that I actually sat and rolled a spliff with. And we burned a spliff and reasoned about His Imperial Majesty.

Q: As a mother, have you given a lot of thought to the way you’re going to introduce your son to smoking herb, and do you have an opinion about how old a child should be –

Hempress Sativa: I don’t smoke herb with my child. My child [doesn’t] even mind that I smoke. I don’t want to give him the impression that because my parents did – [it was] easier for me, [because] we [were] growing up in different times. Different types of herbs being grown now. I don’t want to make [a] mistake and jeopardize my son’s future. Just because of my opinion. I wouldn’t give [herb] to my child. People mentally develop different now. Back in the days it was more of a spiritual thing. The herb was more organic then. There wasn’t so many fertilizers, so many chemicals. You used to get the purest form of the herb. So you got the purest vibration out of the herb. It’s different now. There’s many different strains of herb. Many hybrids. You have to know what you are getting into. And my son, he is here in America. So I don’t want him to get involved in so many different types of herbs. You have so many false, synthetic herbs. You have to be very careful.

Q: You were part of a documentary celebrating and talking about herb with Bushman and Jah9 not too long ago. And in that documentary, Jah9 talked for some time about how once she began smoking herb out of a steam chalice, she began steaming exclusively; she said she won’t smoke herb any other way. How do you prefer to smoke herb, and especially for Americans and non-Rasta readers, can you explain or describe how smoking out of a [steam] chalice compares to a different way of smoking?

Hempress Sativa: This is what I want people to understand: don’t get too caught up in what you a-see artists a-do. Because not everyone is doing it the right way. I see people steaming herbs – and steaming herbs requires you to have either coconut or calabash or a bamboo bottom. You’re supposed to put a certain amount of water in it to engage the herb. [And] there’s a gauge that separates the herb from the coal that is on top. So when they draw the heat from the coal, it opens up the trichomes in the herbs. So you better get to the root of it by finding the elders who can really show you the fullness. Because what I realized with the steam chalice, [in] my opinion, many people are using it incorrectly. Because if you’re steaming the herbs there’s no way you’re supposed to be burning the herb and getting any level of smoke out of it. And the herb is being charred. So people have to be very careful. People just want to say they are steaming the herbs; they have to be doing it the right way for me to take them serious.

Q: If you do [steam] the right way, and you have all the proper equipment, is that the superior way to smoke?

Hempress Sativa: That is one of the most superior ways to smoke.  

Q: In your song “Skin Teeth” – a dope riff on Horace Andy’s “See A Man’s Face” – that you sang tonight, about backstabbers, fake people, and fake friends, you sing “steam chalice and post for the Instagram post.”

Hempress Sativa: Uh-huh.

Q: Which made me think that similar to fake Rastas, who nonetheless grow dreadlocks and claim they are about Rasta and “one love,” that there are some people who will in the same way, adopt the steam chalice and use that image superficially or falsely, to claim a Rasta identity.

Hempress Sativa: Not necessarily. What I was making a reference to is a person and a friend – a friendship. Because [you have] many people who you steam chalice with. You have many people who you sit down and you break bread with. Who you’re driving in your car together with and you’re having all these conversations with. Just [about] regular life and your family. You invest so much time in a friendship. And then at the end of the day it amounts to naught because they have no good intent for you. So that is what we’re talking about. These people who post on Instagram [etcetera] and you call them your “friends”; these are the people you have to be very careful of.

Q: Right. They might be using you.

Hempress Sativa: Exactly.

Q: In [your song] “Rock It Ina Dance” and even more so in “Natty Dread,” your [sizzling] collaboration with Ranking Joe, you sing about wearing “Clark” boots and “dressing well-clean.” Now I’ve heard Protoje and other Rasta artists promote Clarks in their music before and honestly, if I imagined an army of Rastas, they’d all be wearing Clarks. But when, [and] how, [and why] did Clark boots become an essential component of a Rastaman or Rasta-woman’s footwear?

Hempress Sativa: Clark boots [are] not necessarily what Rastas are wearing, but that comes from the dancehall culture. From way back in the days. Man a-toast. Man [have] a nice pants-length, an “Arrow” shirt, and Clarks boots, looking very clean and dapper. So that is where it comes from. It’s a cultural expression of Jamaican people.

Q: Respect.

Hempress Sativa: Because we like to look clean, we like to look well-nice.

Q: Dressed up for the dancehall?

Hempress Sativa: For the dancehall. Because it was a way of expressing yourself. Showing your own style. You have some who used to wear the diamond socks – so everyone expressed themselves through dem fashion.

Q: And when you come onstage you’re always dressed to the nines.

Hempress Sativa: Well it’s important to me, you know? Because I want to make people know how important Africa is on a daily basis for me. So I like to wear the African garments fi make the black people know, we’re special too. We need to remember our heritage, our culture, where we’re coming from.

Q: Hempress, there was an editorial recently in the Gleaner called “Hair Today.” It [commended] California for passing a new law that bans discrimination against black people who wear their hair naturally in braids, locks, afros, and other hairstyles. The editorial ended [by noting] “from time to time, the issue has surfaced in Jamaica, particularly in schools where administrators have frowned on dreadlocks as a form of improper grooming.” As a Rasta woman and mother living in Jamaica, how widespread or rampant does discrimination against Rastas – at schools, in the workplace, out in public, in the government – still occur in Jamaica?

Hempress Sativa: It still occurs, especially in schools. So for example, I wanted to get my son into a school in Jamaica. And one of the first things I had to ask them was whether they would accept him with [his] locks. Because I’ve taken my son to schools already and they’ve basically denied him; he met all the criteria, but because of his hair [they said] it would have been a problem. And when they gave a reason, it made no sense.

Q: That’s terrible.

Hempress Sativa: They said they wanted to differentiate the boys from the girls. I said that is so stupid. Because hair shouldn’t be what differentiates anybody. Hair is something natural growing from your body.

Q: Will the school system do anything if you were to go and complain?

Hempress Sativa: When you complain to the Ministry of Education they do nothing. Especially when it’s a private school.

Q: What should the government and good conscientious people of Jamaica do to stamp out discrimination that still lingers against Rastas in Jamaica?

Hempress Sativa: The government needs to put legislation and laws in place that protects Rastafari people and Rastafari culture. That’s something they can do. Also the people after going so long inna Jamaica knowing all the things that Rastafari has [stood] for need to [have] the initiative to speak up. Because when you look, Rasta culture brings all the tourists [to] Jamaica. Rasta culture bleeds out inna reggae music that everybody loves so much. And Rasta culture help[ed] to bring out the culture of dancehall where all these people gravitate to. So in essence, Rastafari people should be protected.


The post Hempress Sativa: “Rastafari Should be Protected” appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Joie-de-Job: Staying High, at Work

Counterpunch Articles -

On listening to Alabama Shakes frontwoman and three-time Grammy winner Brittany Howard’s “Stay High,” an early release from her debut solo album Jamie due out next Friday, I thought of Matsuo Bansho’s sixteenth-century haiku: “Beginning of all art / a song when planting a rice field / in the country’s inmost part.” Perhaps implied in those three lines is the fulfillment of work done not just in the natural world, but in harmony with it. Bansho’s voice calls from a vanished time before our separation from that world.

The title of Howard’s “Stay High” might suggest an ode to drugs. However irresistible, even addictive the song is, the Sacklers of Purdue Pharma aren’t likely to try and buy the rights to it. The song is about the joys of living, not with opioids, but thanks to work and family and community—that last word so abused by politicians and pundits that its rehabilitation in this song can only be partial.

Effortlessly it seems, the song makes its irrepressible case for good feeling. But it is the video that brightens away any possible ambiguity that might creep past the music’s glowing enchantments.

The video, shot on location in Howard’s home town of Athens, Alabama, will be seen and heard by many as a corrective to visions of a racially divided south that are projected not just by the current president but by many of his critics. Howard is the child of a mixed marriage that made her the sometime target of bigotry as a child. She has certainly earned the right to loft a hymn to unity in her hometown and beyond it.

The video, which as of this morning had tallied six million hits, begins with a close-up of a mid-century clock. Alongside, it employee time cards await punching. Ambient sounds of a factory accompany blurry background images of hard-hatted workers. Shots of long-armed robots working at super-human speed are intercut with humans at their tasks. One machine fills up fifty-pound sacks of poultry feed next to a man who seals the bags. Another worker sweeps the floor. All these jobs are a few ticks away from being automated out of existence. Even the happy music can’t allay these ominous visual tones. The robots don’t quit for the evening.

The clock goes five: a reasonable, even old-fashioned nine-to-five, plenty-long-enough-already workday.

Quitting time is the cue for the music to start. Rhythmic guitar chords start us off at a pleasant pace, not running from the job site but ambling towards evening above a friendly bass line. Above this plush, a tiny bells ring out a precious melody. Only the hard-hearted will be able to suppress a smile.

Shuffling towards the camera, saying goodbye to boss and co-workers, comes the video’s central figure, based on Howard’s father. According to Howard, he’s the unofficial mayor of Athens, beloved by all, a font of humor and goodwill, a man who loves to dance. This warmth is confirmed by his cheery cameo in the video.

The actor playing this central part is middle-aged, powerful and fit. He looks like an NFL linebacker because he was one: Terry Crews, retired football player turned actor, former host of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire and more recently, emcee of America’s Got Talent, in addition to various dramatic roles. I’ve always found it odd that the first of these shows chops the question mark from its title. Why? The answer is too obvious: almost everyone who isn’t one already. Crews, too, is a generous onscreen presence, though it might grate on some that this winner in the celebrity economy, a man who presides over the plucking of those other precious few to share in some of the spoils, should be the one having a jolly time at his work: he can afford it.

After punching and saying his goodbyes, Crews makes it to the daylight beyond the factory door and begins lip-synching to Howard’s singing. Crews’ bonafides as master of the art come in the form of his championship belt from Lip Sync Battle.

He breaks into song in a euphoric falsetto: it’s an endearing ploy, the burly worker’s voice rising like a feather above the industrial fray. What he/she sings as he passes by the foreman (played by Howard in one of many of her own cameos in the video) on the way to his pick-up is another witty inversion—unlikely praise of the wage-slave slog just concluded: “I already feel like doing it again, honey.”

The factory’s three enormous silos of the facility dwarf him. It belongs to Aviagen, a corporation claiming itself as “the world’s leading poultry meat science company”; the facility in Athens “is the only bio-secure feed mill in the United States,” one committed to “pathogen-free’ production.” That explains the guy sweeping in the video. The only thing that’s contagious at this chicken coop is Crews’ joie-de-job.

Later Howard/Crews qualifies this declaration of love:

We work hard and grind and hustle all day
(Yes, we do)
There comes a time, there comes a time
At night, where we get to play.

In the gig economy of today’s America that time gets ever shorter. The unhurried rapture of the song works in dissonant counterpoint to the harried, cacophonic pace of millions trying to make ends meet.

Crews must suffer no teeth-grinding traffic and nerve-fraying encounters as he makes his way. To the chorus, “I just want to stay high with you,” he crosses the steel frame bridge over the coffined Tennessee River. As presented in this video the landscape is not much blighted, though the skeletal remains of a wooden barn alongside rusty silos capture the state to which agro-biz giants like Aviagen have pushed the American family farm, already receding into a past as mythic Bansho’s rice paddy.

Still behind the wheel, he/she meows disapprovingly at the dark and downcast—presumably those without Aviagen jobs:

‘Cause where I come from
Everybody frowns and walks around
With that ugly thing on their face.

We do not see any of these people in the video’s images of this very place of frowns: in the song’s Athens there are only smiles elicited by Howard’s euphoric melodies.

Crews stops by the Hometown Grocery. In the parking lot, black and white kids hang out and get the beat; mom and daughter sing along while loading their food into their trunk. Inside the well-lit, well-stocked store more folks join in: these are the real townsfolk putting their best face and voice forward for these precious seconds of celebrity. The cashier lane lights flash to the ding of those happy bells. There’s not a food stamp in sight.

Every spirit is raised: every grave in the city cemetery sighted from the pick-up window is adorned with fresh carnations. A personalized green light waves the pick-up into main street with its lovely brick facades. There’s a song line outside the soft-serve ice cream place. The coffee shop where Crews picks up pastries is filled with jolly customers even after five o’clock; out front Howard’s dad is greeted by the actor who plays him with a neighborly dance move.

The singing pick-up driver continues past folks not sequestered from the sultry summer evening inside in the air conditioning, but instead enjoying the street view from their porches. Come twilight even the cops have joined the dance party outside the ice cream shop.

The coda keeps cycling through “I just want to stay high,” like a prayer for that feeling to endure in eternity, Crews drives past a row of cottages with weather-beaten siding and patched up roofs, finally pulling up alongside a chain-link fence. Brown paper grocery bag under his arm like an inflate-gate football, his kids run to hug him. On the porch his white wife smiles at his return. Never mind that Crews lives in a vast McMansion in Santa Clarita as well as a fortress in the sky in downtown L.A.

Stay High is a utopian song, Panglossian pop that artfully, ecstatically, evades reality. But there is truth in it, too. The voice of the rice planter is still in us. On rare occasions it sings.

The post Joie-de-Job: Staying High, at Work appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Debate #3 Roundup

Mother Jones Magazine -

I’m still trying to find a rhythm for responding to the primary debates. After watching so many of them over the years I simply don’t trust that my personal judgment means much anymore. So instead I’m trying to figure out how our average Joes and Janes might respond, but I doubt that I’m really much good at that either. It’s a dilemma.

That said, here’s my usual random collection of observations:

  • Andrew Yang didn’t do himself any favors. He looked like a guy who knew he had no chance and wasn’t even really trying to persuade anyone.
  • Julián Castro also didn’t do himself any favors. I agree with the conventional wisdom that his “are you forgetting what you said” crack to Joe Biden was so meanspirited and so transparent that it could end up being his death knell. For what it’s worth, it was also counterproductive. Biden will either demonstrate that he’s mentally sharp or he won’t. Castro’s crack probably did little except generate sympathy for Biden.
  • As a general comment, I wish the candidates could all work on speaking English as understood by ordinary people, not lefty activists. Phrases like othering and systemic and intellectual property and communities of color are great for academic seminars but baffling to virtually all ordinary people.
  • The foreign policy part of the debate was kind of a train wreck. It would be nice if (a) the questions were better and (b) the candidates actually sounded like they cared. For the most part, they didn’t.
  • Kamala Harris seemed oddly distant tonight. She spoke mostly in monotones, with no sense of passion and nothing especially interesting to distinguish herself from the others.
  • Amy Klobuchar did better than usual, but she’s got a tough job. She’s explicitly trying to sell herself as a moderate candidate, but it’s hard to see how she makes up any ground on Biden in that contest. Maybe she’s just hoping that Biden self-destructs at some point and she takes over as the champion of the middle.
  • Nothing about labor, mostly because the moderators didn’t bother asking about it. Still, everyone on stage was in favor of teachers making more money, and the best way to do that is to allow them to unionize everywhere. It’s also just about the only leverage a president has over teacher pay, which is exclusively a state issue.
  • Elizabeth Warren did well with the exact same routine she’s used in the other debates: avoiding attacks and being very clear about exactly where she stands and what she wants to do. What surprises me is that the other candidates are letting her get away with it. She’s a front-runner now, and they need to start taking some shots at her and forcing her on the defensive.
  • I continue to think that everyone is blowing it on immigration. It’s fine to talk about DACA and paths to citizenship and all that, but is it really politically suicidal to also mention that, yes, border security matters and there are things we should do to keep illegal immigration down to modest levels?
  • Some of the questions are getting old. Harris was once again asked to defend her record as California attorney general. Biden was once again asked to prove that he wasn’t a racist pig back in the ’70s. These are fair questions, but we’ve already been through them. Let’s move on.
  • Everyone promised to pull out of Afghanistan immediately. No one was willing to acknowledge that the Taliban is pretty likely to run the place in short order if we do that.
  • It annoys me that everyone implicitly jumped on the “education in crisis” bandwagon. In general, American schools aren’t crap and American students haven’t gotten stupider. Up through middle school they do better than boomers ever did and even by the time they graduate they’re a little ahead. Nor are public schools “good” and charter schools “bad.” In both cases, some are good and some are bad. We should be interested in figuring out what makes them good and bad, not pretending that either of them is inherently superior.
  • There’s one thing about American education that is bad, though: the black-white achievement gap. It’s a national disgrace, but no one on stage really even wanted to acknowledge it, let alone offer any serious solutions. It was just a long panderfest about lack of money and too few black teachers and systemic racism. Does that stuff go over well even in the black community?

Overall, none of the top candidates did anything so good or so bad that it’s likely to have a big impact on the race. On the bright side, the overall quality of the answers was better than before; the interruptions were less frequent; and there was a general coherency that was missing in the first two debates. The practice is doing everyone some good. A full transcript of the debate is here.

Exit John Bolton, But Will That Mean an End to His Failed Foreign Policy?

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Many who oppose the aggressive foreign policy of the United States under President Donald Trump, which has resulted in record numbers of bombs dropped, regime change operations against Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran and Hong Kong, the abusive use of unilateral coercive measures (sanctions) and record military budgets, cheered when uber-hawk, John Bolton was removed as the … Continue reading "Exit John Bolton, But Will That Mean an End to His Failed Foreign Policy?"

The post Exit John Bolton, But Will That Mean an End to His Failed Foreign Policy? appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

The Madness of James Mattis

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This article originally appeared at TruthDig. Last week, in a well-received Wall Street Journal op-ed, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis delivered a critique of Donald Trump that was as hollow as it was self-righteous. Explaining his decision to resign from the administration, the retired marine general known as “Mad Dog” eagerly declared himself “apolitical,” … Continue reading "The Madness of James Mattis"

The post The Madness of James Mattis appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

After Bolton, Trump Goals Remain Unrealized

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The sudden and bitter departure of John Bolton from the White House was baked in the cake from the day he arrived there. For Bolton’s worldview, formed and fixed in a Cold War that ended in 1991, was irreconcilable with the policies Donald Trump promised in his 2016 campaign. Indeed, Trump was elected because he … Continue reading "After Bolton, Trump Goals Remain Unrealized"

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Democrats Spar About Policy and Party Identity in Latest Debate

TruthDig.com News -

HOUSTON — The three leading Democratic presidential candidates clashed over health care, immigration and President Barack Obama’s legacy on Thursday in a fierce debate that pitted an aggressive Joe Biden against liberal rivals Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

“This is America,” said Biden, his party’s early front-runner, before calling Sanders “a socialist.” He later declared, “I stand with Barack Obama all eight years, good bad and indifferent.”

The top White House hopefuls faced off for the first time alongside seven other candidates who are under increasing pressure to break out of the pack. All assailed Trump without mercy.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker called Trump a racist. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke called him a white supremacist. And Kamala Harris, a California senator, said Trump’s hateful social media messages provided “the ammunition” for recent mass shootings.

“President Trump, you have spent the last two-and-a-half years full time trying to sow hate and vision among us, and that’s why we’ve gotten nothing done,” Harris declared.

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The Democrats primary contest has been remarkably stable, but the debate comes at a pivotal point in the campaign as more voters move past their summer vacations and begin to pay closer attention to politics.

Polls show that a strong majority of all voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction under the first-term president’s leadership. But nine months into their nomination fight, divided Democrats have yet to answer fundamental questions about who or what the party stands for beyond simply opposing Trump.

The debate is shaped by evolving issues of race, gender, generation and ideology that again exploded into public view on the debate stage Thursday night.

Obama himself emerged as a hot point as the discussion shifted to health care and immigration in particular.

Sanders said Biden, Obama’s two-term vice president, bears responsibility for millions of Americans going bankrupt under the “Obamacare” health care system.

Biden slapped back at both Sanders and Warren and contended they haven’t yet explained how they would pay for Sanders’ government-backed “Medicare for All” health care plan.

Castro, who served as Obama’s housing chief, kept the pressure on the front-runner.

The 44-year-old Texan appeared to touch on concerns about Biden’s age when he accused the former vice president of forgetting a detail about his own health care plan. At 76, Biden would be the oldest president ever elected to a first term.

“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Castro asked. “I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that you have to buy in and now you’re forgetting that.”

He added: “I’m fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama and you’re not.”

The ABC News debate was the first limited to one night after several candidates dropped out and others failed to meet new qualification standards. A handful more candidates qualified for next month’s debate, which will again be divided over two nights.

Besides the infighting, viewers saw the diversity of the modern Democratic Party.

The debate, held on the campus of historically black Texas Southern University, includes women, people of color and a gay man, a striking contrast to the Republicans. It unfolded in a rapidly changing state that Democrats hope to eventually bring into their column.

The debate shifted to gun violence in a state shaken by a mass shooting last month that left 22 people dead and two dozen more wounded.

In an emotional moment, O’Rourke said that there weren’t enough ambulances at times to take all the wounded to the hospital.

“Hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said, as the crowd cheered.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar noted that all the candidates on stage favor a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. She favors a voluntary buy-back program on assault weapons, however.

Meanwhile, Trump noted he’d be in Baltimore at a Republican retreat during the debate and wasn’t sure he’d get a chance to watch. But he predicted the Democratic nominee would ultimately be Biden, Warren or Sanders.

“It’s going to be very interesting,” Trump said. “I’m going to have to watch it as a re-run.”

The leading Democratic candidates may not have another chance to face off for quite some time.

The Democratic field may be divided into two groups when they meet in October because more than 10 candidates qualified for the next round.


Peoples reported from Washington.

The post Democrats Spar About Policy and Party Identity in Latest Debate appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Democratic Candidates Take on a Tough Opponent: Their Own Past Selves

Mother Jones Magazine -

The Democratic presidential contenders spent less time attacking each other on Thursday than in their previous two debates, and more time confronting a different target: the ghosts of their own past stances that haven’t aged well.

The top 10 candidates who shared the stage Thursday embraced a range of progressive policies that were fringe ideas just three years ago in 2016. Some supported buying back assault weapons. Others vowed to support reparations for African Americans. The most progressive defended eliminating private health insurance.

But as the party moves to the left on most major issues, several candidates faced lingering questions about their past positions. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads in the polls, faced the biggest test as he was repeatedly grilled on stances he’s taken over nearly half a century in politics. But his sharpest challenge came on the issue of immigration. Moderator Jorge Ramos asked him to clarify where he stood on President Barack Obama’s record of removing millions of undocumented people from the United States—a record that earned Obama the nickname “deporter-in-chief” among immigration advocates. “Are you prepared to say tonight that you and President Obama made a mistake about deportations?” Ramos asked. “Why should Latinos trust you?”

Biden didn’t answer the question, instead highlighting Obama’s program to allow Dreamers to postpone deportation. When Ramos challenged that Biden hadn’t answered the question, Biden simply replied, “I’m the vice president of the United States.”  

Sen. Kamala Harris of California, whose path to the nomination requires winning over many of the more moderate and African American voters now supporting Biden, also faced questions about her past—in her case, as a prosecutor. The senator, moderator Linsey Davis of ABC noted, now supports criminal justice reforms that she opposed as a prosecutor in California.

It’s a question Harris has faced since entering the race, and she came prepared to answer it. “There have been many distortions of my record,” she responded. The reason she became a prosecutor, she said, was to “have the ability to reform the system. I would try to do it from the inside.” 

The candidates embraced a range of progressive policies that were fringe ideas just three years ago in 2016.

Harris had finally released a sweeping criminal justice platform on Monday that supported some policies she once opposed as a district attorney and attorney general, including ending cash bail and legalizing marijuana. But on Thursday, Harris framed her record as an asset: “Knowing the system from the inside, I will have the ability to be an effective leader and get this job complete.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota faced similar scrutiny of her record as a prosecutor in Minneapolis. Specifically, Davis pushed Klobuchar on accusations that when black men were killed by cops, she too often sided with the police. Like Harris, Klobuchar was ready for this question. Klobuchar acknowledged a little evolution on this issue: When she was district attorney in the late 1990s and early 2000s, she said, grand juries decided whether to prosecute police officers. Now she believes prosecutors should handle those decisions directly and be accountable for them. Beyond that, she framed her record as one of taking the concerns of the African American community seriously.

The candidates attempted a difficult balancing act between consistency and evolution, authenticity and opportunism—Biden most of all. Throughout the evening, he aligned himself with Obama’s record while distancing himself from policies that are now unpopular among liberal Democrats, like deporting millions of immigrants. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, the other Obama administration alum on the stage, confronted Biden on this, prompting Biden to clarify, “I stand with Barack Obama all eight years, good, bad and indifferent.”

It’s not uncommon for a candidate, particularly one with a link to a past administration, to struggle with defining himself in relation to the past. In 2016, Hillary Clinton attempted to champion the successes of her husband’s administration but distance herself from the parts that have fallen out of favor with the party. And Obama’s legacy hovered over the entire evening, from health care to foreign policy. The other candidates struggled with how to both hug and push away the popular 44th president. When the debate kicked off on the issue of health care, nearly all of them stopped to give credit to Obama for the Affordable Care Act before discussing how they would go further to expand access to affordable health care.

This struggle isn’t new, but it seems particularly poignant right now, as the Democratic candidates fall into two general camps: those who promise a more moderate return to a pre-Trump normalcy, and those arguing that today’s problems predate Trump and necessitate bigger solutions and a decidedly different chapter than the past.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who revamped his campaign message after the mass shooting in his home town of El Paso, named the problem head on when it came to immigration. If elected, he promised to “face the fact that Democrats and Republicans alike voted to build a wall that has produced thousands of deaths of people trying to cross to join family or to work a job,” he said. “That we have been part of deporting people, hundreds of thousands just in the Obama administration alone, who posed no threat to this country, breaking up their families. Democrats have to get off the back foot, we have to lead on this issue, because we know it is right.”

After the third debate, it’s clear that some candidate are still figuring out how to lead on an issue when their past complicates their message.

Iraq Daily Roundup: Fijian Soldier Dies in Iraq

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At least one person died, and six children were wounded: A Fijian soldier died in August in Iraq. The details surrounding the death have not yet been published widely, but it does not appear to be combat-related. Six children were wounded when a bomb exploded in a playground in Yangecha near Tuz Khormato.

The post <I>Iraq Daily Roundup</I>: Fijian Soldier Dies in Iraq appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

“Hell Yes, We’re Going to Take Your AR-15”

Mother Jones Magazine -

On the debate stage in Houston Thursday night, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke promised to do the very thing that congressional Democrats have been promising all week not to do: Take away your guns. Well, some types of guns, anyway. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said, noting that those assault-style weapons are designed for the battlefield and intended to inflict as much death and destruction as possible.

Q: Are you proposing taking away AR-15s and AK-47s?@BetoORourke: "I am, if it's a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield …Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore." pic.twitter.com/gZlb39AAyF

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) September 13, 2019

This isn’t the first time O’Rourke has made this assertion, though it’s certainly the most prominent forum in which he has done so. When news broke that the perpetrator of the August 31 mass shooting in Odessa, Texas, had used an AR-type rifle to kill seven people, O’Rouke took to Twitter to declare, “Buy them all back”—a reference to the proposal he released in the wake of the August shooting in his hometown of El Paso that left 22 dead. That shooter used an AK-47-style assault rifle.

Since the El Paso shooting, O’Rourke drawn new attention to his a struggling White House bid with radical candor on the topics of gun control, racism, and immigration. That approach drew explicit praise from many of his opponents Thursday. And even if they haven’t quite matched O’Rourke’s rhetoric, many of them are backing the type of ambitious gun control legislation that previous Democratic presidential candidates had shied away from. Among the 10 candidates who qualified for the debate, each and every one of them supports an assault weapons ban (though some, like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, haven’t embraced mandatory buy-backs for existing weapons). Many of the candidates support even stricter measures that didn’t get a mention, such as licensing for firearms, which would require gun owners to register their weapons with the federal government. 

The presidential candidates’ positions stand in stark contrast to the situation in Congress after a summer of mass shootings in El Paso; Odessa; Gilroy, California; and Dayton, Ohio. Since February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been blocking a House-passed bill to require a background check for every gun sale. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) have been in talks with the White House to come up with a compromise background checks proposal that President Donald Trump—ever the waffler on gun control—might agree to sign. “Right now on Mitch McConnell’s desk are three bills: Universal background checks, closing the Charleston loophole, and passing my bill to make sure domestic abusers don’t get AK-47s,” Klobuchar noted during the debate.

This week, the House Judiciary Committee advanced three more gun control measures—including a bill to enact so-called “red flag” laws that would allow law enforcement to take guns away from people who pose a risk to themselves or others. But congressional Democrats’ legislative package is nowhere near as ambitious as what the presidential hopefuls proposed in on the debate stage in Houston. Later this month, the House will hold a hearing on the various assault weapon bans that lawmakers have introduced, but there’s very little will among the Democratic caucus to actually pass them.

But in Houston, the 2020 hopefuls weren’t dealing with a GOP-held Senate or vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in swing districts. They’re dealing with a base that is sick and tired of congressional inaction in the face of repeated massacres. As conversation on the topic drew to a close, Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a tactical shift: Get rid of the Senate filibuster so that a simple majority can pass the measures that her NRA-backed Republican colleagues will not.

Castro and Biden Spar Over Semantics, Health Care

Mother Jones Magazine -

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro sparred with former Vice President Joe Biden in a contentious moment at Thursday’s third Democratic presidential debate, arguing that Biden couldn’t keep the facts straight about his own health care plan. But Castro seems to have misheard Biden’s own words.

Castro said that Biden’s plan would leave 10 million Americans without health insurance by requiring Americans to opt in to receive coverage.

“You would require them to opt in, and I would not require them to opt in. They would automatically be enrolled,” Castro said. “That’s a big difference, because Barack Obama’s vision was not to leave 10 million people uncovered.”

Wearing a shocked facial expression, Biden replied, “They do not have to buy in. They do not have to buy in.”

“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Castro said, as the audience gasped. “I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in, and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy in.”

Earlier in the debate Biden had in fact said that those who couldn’t afford private insurance would be automatically enrolled in the public option.

“Anyone who can’t afford it gets automatically enrolled in the Medicare-type option we have,” he said about 10 minutes earlier. He did, however, use the phrase “buy in,” saying, “If you lose the job from your insurance company, from your employer, you automatically can buy in to this.”

I’ve re-watched the segments where Biden talked health care and it seems pretty clear to me that Castro is, well, wrong. He never said opt-in. He said that if people lose their jobs they can automatically buy into Medicare

— Sam Stein (@samstein) September 13, 2019

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) were unamused with the squabble.

“This is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable,” Buttigieg said. “This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington. Scoring points against each other. Poking at each other.”

Klobuchar chimed in, “A house divided cannot stand.”

Kamala Harris Delivers a Message to Donald Trump: There’s One Reason You Haven’t Been Indicted

Mother Jones Magazine -

During Kamala Harris’ opening statement at Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, the former attorney general of California delivered a scathing message to the president, who, she said, “we all know is watching.”

“President Trump, you’ve spent the last two and a half years full-time trying to sow hate and division among us,” Harris said. “You have used hate, intimidation, fear, and over 12,000 lies as a way to distract from your failed policies and your broken promises.”

She suggested his conduct was not just hateful, but criminal.

“The only reason you’ve not been indicted is because there was a memo in the Department of Justice that says a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime,” she added, ending on a note of unity: “What you don’t get is that the American people are so much better than this and we know that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us, regardless of our race, where we live, or the party with which we’re registered to vote.”

Watch her full opening statement below:

.@KamalaHarris spoke directly to Donald Trump in her opening statement tonight: “The only reason you’ve not been indicted is because there was a memo in the Department of Justice that says a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.” https://t.co/bZBn8oBOhR pic.twitter.com/BiBPbHS8cS

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) September 13, 2019


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