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Citizens Assembly: Towards a Politics of Considered Judgement’

Naked Capitalism - 3 hours 58 min ago
Experts in deliberative democracy have been working across the world for around twenty years. Now, all of a sudden, their expertise is in high demand. Interview.

Trump EPA Greenlights ‘Emergency’ Bee-killing Pesticide Over 13.9 Million Acres

21st Century Wire - 4 hours 32 min ago


The following is an environmental report filed by the Center for Biological Diversity

WASHINGTON— The Environmental Protection Agency announced so-called “emergency” approvals today to spray sulfoxaflor — an insecticide it considers “very highly toxic” to bees — on nearly 14 million acres of crops known to attract bees.

The approval includes 2019 crops of cotton and sorghum in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Ten of the 11 states have been granted the approvals for at least four consecutive years for the same “emergency.” Five have been given approvals for at least six consecutive years.

“The only emergency here is the Trump EPA’s reckless approval of this dangerous bee-killing pesticide,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s sickening that even amid the current insect apocalypse, the EPA’s priority is protecting pesticide industry profits.”

The approvals include 5.8 million acres in Texas, which is home to more than 800 species of native bees. Monarch butterflies and eight species of bumblebees, including the rare American bumblebee and variable cuckoo bumblebee, live in Texas counties where cotton or sorghum are grown.

The EPA may approve temporary emergency uses of pesticides, including unapproved pesticides, if it determines they are needed to prevent the spread of an unexpected outbreak of insects.

But the agency has routinely abused this authority, as chronicled in the Center’s report, Poisonous Process: How the EPA’s Chronic Misuse of ‘Emergency’ Pesticide Exemptions Increases Risks to Wildlife. The report found that the alleged “emergencies” cited are foreseeable occurrences.

Last year the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General released a report finding that the agency’s practice of routinely granting “emergency” approval for pesticides across millions of acres does not effectively measure risks to human health or the environment.

In response to a lawsuit by beekeepers, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the EPA’s original registration of sulfoxaflor in 2015. The EPA’s 2016 registration for sulfoxaflor — purportedly designed to ensure essentially no exposure to bees — excluded crops like cotton and sorghum that are attractive to bees.

“The Trump EPA is allowing potentially catastrophic harm to imperiled insect populations,” said Burd. “It’s hard to imagine how much more evidence could possibly be needed for the agency to wake up to the damage they are causing.”

A study published last year in Nature found that sulfoxaflor exposure even at low doses had severe consequences for bumblebee reproduction. The authors cautioned against the EPA’s current trajectory of replacing older neonicotinoids with nearly identical insecticides like sulfoxaflor.

A major study published earlier this year found that more than 41 percent of the world’s insect species are on the fast track to extinction, and that a “serious reduction in pesticide usage” is key to preventing their extinction.

***
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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Categories: Foreign Policy, World

The Dangerous Methane Mystery

Counterpunch - 4 hours 56 min ago

Photograph Source: Mikenorton – CC BY-SA 3.0

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf (“ESAS”) is the epicenter of a methane-rich zone that could turn the world upside down.

Still, the ESAS is not on the radar of mainstream science, and not included in calculations by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and generally not well understood. It is one of the biggest mysteries of the world’s climate puzzle, and it is highly controversial, which creates an enhanced level of uncertainty and casts shadows of doubt.

The ESAS is the most extensive continental shelf in the world, inclusive of the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea, and the Russian portion of the Chukchi Sea, all-in equivalent to the combined landmasses of Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan.

The region hosts massive quantities of methane (“CH4”) in frozen subsea permafrost in extremely shallow waters, enough CH4 to transform the “global warming” cycle into a “life-ending” cycle. As absurd as it sounds, it is not inconceivable.

Ongoing research to unravel the ESAS mystery is found in very few studies, almost none, except by Natalia Shakhova (International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska/Fairbanks) a leading authority, for example: “It has been suggested that destabilization of shelf Arctic hydrates could lead to large-scale enhancement of aqueous CH4, but this process was hypothesized to be negligible on a decadal–century time scale. Consequently, the continental shelf of the Arctic Ocean (AO) has not been considered as a possible source of CH4 to the atmosphere until very recently.” (Source: Natalia Shakhova, et al, Understanding the Permafrost–Hydrate System and Associated Methane Releases in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, Geosciences, 2019)

Shakhova’s “until very recently” comment explains, in part, why the IPCC does not include ESAS methane destabilization in its calculations. Meanwhile, Shakhova’s research has unearthed a monster in hiding, but thankfully, mostly in repose… for the moment. Still, early-stage warning signals are clearly noticeable; ESAS is rumbling, increasingly emitting more and more CH4, possibly in anticipation of a “Big Burp,” which could put the world’s lights out, hopefully in another century, or beyond, but based upon a reading of her latest report in Geosciences, don’t count on it taking so long.

Shakhova’s research is highlighted in a recent article in Arctic News: “When Will We Die?” d/d June 10, 2019, which states: “Imagine a burst of methane erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean that would add an amount of methane to the atmosphere equal to twice the methane that is already there.”

Horror of horrors, the resulting equation is disturbing, to say the least, to wit: Twice the amount of CH4 that is already in the atmosphere equals a CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) of 560 ppm, assuming CH4 is 150xs the potency of CO2 in its initial years. And, adding that new number to current CH4/CO2e of 280 ppm to current CO2 levels of 415.7 ppm, according to readings at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, equals total atmospheric CO2 of 1256 ppm.

In other words, if ESAS springs a big fat leak, the Big Burp, which would only be <5% of the existing frozen methane deposit; it is possible that atmospheric CO2e would zoom up go as high as 1256 ppm.

What happens next?

A recent third-party study, also referenced in the aforementioned Arctic News article d/d June 10th, concluded that at 1200 ppm atmospheric CO2 global heating cranks up by 8°C, or 14.4°F, within a decade. (Source: Arctic News d/d June 10, 2019). Truth be known, that scenario is not problematic, it’s catastrophic and too far along to be classified as a problem. After all, problems can be fixed; catastrophes are fatal.

According to Shakhova’s research, as referenced in Geosciences/ 2019: “Releases could potentially increase by 3–5 orders of magnitude, considering the sheer amount of CH4 preserved within the shallow ESAS seabed deposits and the documented thawing rates of subsea permafrost reported recently. The purpose of this paper is to introduce the ESAS permafrost–hydrates system, which is largely unfamiliar to scientists,” Ibid. (Side note: 3 orders of magnitude is equivalent to 1,000, i.e., a large methane release.)

More from Shakhova: “Here we present results of the first comprehensive scientific re-drilling to show that subsea permafrost in the near-shore zone of the ESAS has a downward movement of the ice-bonded permafrost table of ~14 cm (6 inches) year over the past 31–32 years… However, recent studies show that in some areas very recently submerged permafrost is close to or has already reached the thaw point,” Ibid.

Shakhova’s studies are based upon marine expeditions, including drill campaigns that investigate the thermal regime, geomorphology, lithology, and geocryology of sediment cores extracted from boreholes drilled from marine vessels and not based solely upon climate models calculated on desktop computers.

In conclusion, as the world community continues to accept the reality of climate change as an existential threat, which fact is emphatically spotlighted by the likes of the Children’s Crusade, originating out of Sweden, and the Extinction Rebellion, originating out of the UK, it is important to emphasize the timing factor. Nobody knows 100% for certain how the climate crisis will turn out, but there is pretty solid evidence that the issue, meaning several ecosystems which are starting to collapse in unison, is accelerating, by a lot. So, there is not much time left to do something constructive, assuming it’s not already too late. Speaking of which, a small faction of climate scientists has already “tossed in the towel.”

After all, it’s not that hard to understand their point of view as many ecosystems have already hit tipping points, which means no turning back, no fixes possible, but still, (and, here’s the great hope) nobody really knows 100% for sure how all of this will play out.

Nevertheless, in a perfect world that really/truly “follows the science” a Worldwide All-In Coordinated Marshall Plan to do “whatever it takes” would already be in a full-blastoff mode.

But… It’s not!

The Intellectual Origins of the Trump Presidency and the Construction of Contemporary American Politics

Counterpunch - 4 hours 56 min ago


It is foolish to think that Trumpism and Trumpistas are merely a product of personality. To believe that is to assume that Donald Trump is sui generis, elected under unique circumstances and that the politics and polices produced under him are tied to him. Believing that means also that once Trump leaves office, be in 2020 or beyond, Trumpism will end.

Yet the reality is that Donald Trump is merely the figurehead for Trumpism and Trumpistas. All three are the product of a series of forces that made his presidency and policies possible. The roots of Trumpism are long and deep, and contrary to what some sarcastically may think, there are the intellectual foundations that set the conditions for Trump’s election and his subsequent presidency.

The intellectual roots of Trumpism need to be distinguished from other social forces that have made Trump a persona of the times. A Freudian social psychological analysis of Trumpism would perhaps explain the misogynist and hyper-masculine nature of the movement whereas theories of spatial geography and sociobiology could uncover the roots of the nativism and racism. Neo-liberal economic theory amply would capture the way global and state restructuring of the economy since the 1970s have contextualized the anxieties of Trumpistas, making the racist, protectionist, and misogynist rhetoric of the president so appealing to them. All these are antecedent causes for the movement known as Trumpism.

But there are also intellectual theories that underpin the Trump presidency and the political power which he leverages, and which precludes the constitutional concepts of checks and balances and separation of powers from doing their job. Unlike during the Nixon presidency when constitutional norms prevailed over partisanship, the Trump presidency is defined by the failure of these norms to work. When candidate Trump proclaimed that: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” he might as well have said he would not lose any Republican support in Congress. Despite overwhelming evidence in the Mueller Report that Trump has abused his authority, as well as other clear instances where he has run roughshod on congressional and constitutional norms, the Republicans in both Houses stand firmly behind, making impeachment an impractical check upon him.

The intellectual roots that have made the Trump presidency possible are trifold: The American Political Science Association’s (APSA) advocacy for strong political parties; Neo-conservative unitary executive constitutional scholarship; and Nietzschean-Postmodern journalistic theories denying the validity of objective truth.

Political Scientists and Political Parties

Political parties have occupied an ambiguous role in American politics. The 1787 constitutional framers in Philadelphia either hoped or presupposed they would not exist. Proof of this fact is that parties are not mentioned in the text and that the original process to select the president by the Electoral College presupposed that the person getting the most electoral votes became president and the runner up becoming vice-president. It was only with George Washington’s 1796 farewell speech, the crisis of the 1800 election, and the Twelfth Amendment were political parties begrudging acknowledged constitutionally. But the American concept of parties was always unique.

Classic American politics textbooks would describe them as coalitional, not ideological, built up from the bottom and not a top-down centralized entity. Unlike European-style political parties in parliamentary systems which were strongly ideological, their American counterparts were not. It was not unusual to find conservatives, moderates, and liberals within both the Republican and Democratic parties, even up until a generation ago. For some political scientists such as Morris Fiorina’s 1992 Divided Government, the ideological diversity and heterogeneity of the two major parties are what made governance work and that divided government was not an impediment to governing.

Yet post World War II and FDR presidency, a coalitional of political scientists lamented relatively weak parties in the United States. Some like E.E. Schattschneider in his 1942 Party Government described political parties as America’s second constitution, needed to make it possible to assemble majorities and govern. Many within the political science community agreed with the concept of strong party government, opining for the US to adopt more of a European-style of political parties for America, despite the fact that our constitutional system was separation of powers, not parliamentary, and one where it was not even clear the basic government institutions made party accommodation possible when the goal of the constitutional system, at least in the opinion of James Madison in Federalist number 10, was to break up factions or groups such as parties..

Nonetheless, in 1950 the APSA issued its Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System: A Report of the Committee on Political Parties, advocating for stronger, more disciplined, and ideologically more pure parties. As the report stated in its summary about the condition of political parties in America:

Historical and other factors have caused the American two-party system to operate as two loose associations of state and local organizations, with very little national machinery and very little national cohesion. As a result, either major party, when in power, is ill-equipped to organize its members in the legislative and the executive branches into a government held together and guided by the party program. Party responsibility at the polls thus tends to vanish. This is a very serious matter, for it affects the very heartbeat of American democracy. It also poses grave problems of domestic and foreign policy in an era when it is no longer safe for the nation to deal piecemeal with issues that can be disposed of only on the basis of coherent programs (v).

The traditional loose, almost non-ideological confederate structure of political parties was seen as a detriment and not virtue of American politics. The APSA thus called for what it labeled an “effective party system.” An effective party system would be able to call forth programs and an agenda to which it was committed (1). To do that parties needed sufficient internal cohesion to carry out these programs (1); sufficient party loyalty (2), and the ability of party leaders to enforce discipline in primaries, caucuses and conventions (2). This view of parties also called for greater resistance to outside pressures (19), virtually insulating themselves from external forces.

Importantly, this vision of a party assumed that they would be able to control interest groups and aggregate them together, as opposed to a party being captured by interest groups. This vision of a party relied on a political science folktale that believed in places where parties were strong interest groups were weak, and vice versa. Build strong parties, the belief is, and one would weaken or mitigate interest group competition. This theory, coming at a time when the concept of pluralism as the reigning political science paradigm or description for American politics was emerging, made sense. Encourage interest group formation and competition as a means of distributing political power, according to political scientists such as Robert Dahl and David Truman, and one could promote democracy. But encourage strong parties to bring order and discipline to this competition.

The APSA got what it wanted more or less. As a matter of public policy and court decisions, political parties were strengthened, especially in the last quarter century. Campaign finance laws increased the ability of parties to raise money and court decisions insulated internal party matters from regulation. The upshot was that the two major parties became more internally cohesive and ideologically pure, with recent political science scholarship attesting to how the coalitional nature of the Republican and Democratic parties has receded, producing little if any ideological overlap socially and in Congress.

What we find now in Congress are more like European-style ideological parties with strong internal cohesion and discipline than existed in the 1970s. Such a party, as we see currently in the Republican US Senate, is more responsive to partisan and party pressure incentives than it is to the institutional checks and balances and separation of powers measures envisioned by James Madison and the constitutional framers. A president’s party in power acts to support him almost lockstep, reminiscent of what one would see in a parliamentary government, while the party not of the president’s in the case of the current House, acts more like the proverbial loyal opposition.

While strong parties did emerge, they did not weaken interest groups. The APSA folk wisdom that strong parties would weaken interest groups largely was incorrect. As later research by Theodore Lowi in his 1979 The End of Liberalism described, political parties could be captured by interest groups. Small, cohesive groups, such as Mancur Olson described earlier in his 1965 The Logic of Collective Action, could be potent forces in politics. Small powerful interest groups thus could take over political parties and then use the institutions and structures of the latter to government. This oversight in the strong party theory provided the avenue for groups such as the Tea party and then eventually the Trumpistas and Trump to take over the Republican Party.

Unitary Executive

The second intellectual trend of the Trump presidency is located with the concept of the unitary executive. This concept is located in language found both in the Constitution’s Article II vesting clause (“The executive power shall be vested in the president”) and Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers 70, 71, and 73. The unitary executive theory declares that all executive branch power is vested in the president and Congress is limited in its ability to limit presidential appointment and removal power.

The unitary executive theory was given its first Supreme Court endorsement in Myer v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 135 (1926). Here the Court gave the president broad constitutional authority to remove an executive department official who had been confirmed by the Senate. That decision seemed to grant broad presidential powers over the executive branch, grounded in the Article II vesting clause and concept of separation of powers. The executive branch is of one entity, under control of the president, whose power cannot be curtailed by Congress. Myer is the touchstone for conservative constitutional scholars endorsing a strong president.

The modern origin of the unitary executive theory is traced to Justice Scalia’s dissent in Morrison v Olson, 487 U.S. 654, 691 (1988) where the Court upheld the then special prosecutor law and insulation of that person from significant presidential control. Scalia’s dissent saw this law as a separation of powers violation. Lee Liberman, former clerk to Justice Scalia and then a vice-president in the Federalist Society, was also sharply critical of the decision in a famous 1989 essay. Liberman’s was a formalist critique, seeing in the special prosecutor law an unwarranted intrusion on presidential authority.

Morrison came at a time when Ronald Reagan was president and conservative legal scholars were slavishly seeking to uphold executive authority, especially at a time when a new special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was appointed to investigate illegal activity in that administration regarding the illegal sale of weapons to Iran and use the proceeds to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. The unitary executive theory was renewed again when George H. Bush was president, especially post 9-11, when his authority to wage the war on terror was judicially contested.

At a time in the 1980s and then early 2000s when Republicans were occupying the White House, and able to appoint federal court judges, the focus of Scalia, Liberman, and then Steven Calabresi and Kevin Rhodes in their 1992 “The Structural Constitution: Unitary Executive, Plural Judiciary” was to endorse executive prerogatives and control over all administrative agencies, eschewing the idea that there limits on what presidents could do. If all executive power was embodied in the president, then he could dismiss inferiors as desired, issue executive orders unchecked, and manage administrative agencies and make decisions despite congressional mandates or whatever Congress, the law, or specifically the Administrative Procedures Act demanded.

An offshoot of the unitary executive theory in the hands of Scalia and conservative legal theorists was first a downplaying of the use of congressional legislative intent in interpreting statutes. Scalia saw ascertaining such intent as impossible, while at the same time advocating for the use of originalism when seeking meaning in the Constitution. Rejecting congressional intent as a way to interpret statutes clearly weakened the legislative branch, empowering the courts (stacked with conservative Republican judges) to determine what a law meant.

Second, weakening Congress also led to conservatives embracing the administrative law classic decision of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). Chevron empowered both the courts and the executive branch by declaring that federal judges should in cases of statutory ambiguous defer to reasonable interpretations by administrative agencies. Contrarily, if the statute was clear, the courts would give it its plain meaning. Under Chevron, Congressional intent was irrelevant, and they were cut out of the picture when it came to what regulations meant, again strengthening presidential power.

The import of the conservative constitutional scholars was to emphasize separation of powers over checks and balances, and executive authority over Congress. Drawing upon dubious legal history, this unitary executive concept saw a continuous and growing string of presidential authority from George Washington to the present elevating the power of the executive branch over Congress.

The unitary executive theory has enabled Donald Trump’s presidency in many ways. It is his use of executive orders to bypass Congress. It is efforts to escape congressional oversight by evading subpoenas preventing the Treasury Secretary from turning over the president’s tax records, or refusing to allow executive or former executive department officials to testify before the House. It also includes defiance in terms of declaring an emergency to fund a border wall and simply to act as if the Administrative Procedures Act does not matter and Trump himself can simply refusal to comply with the law. Conservative legal theorists, more so than anyone, built the legal edifice upon which Trump presidential authority is justified.

Denial of Truth and the Rise of Alternative Facts

The third intellectual trend enabling Trumpism is the questioning of truth and the rise of alternative facts and allegations of fake news. The Washington Post and other journalism outlets have documented more than 10,000 lies Trump has told since becoming president. His presidency to large part is rooted in a denial of truth, a questioning of the orthodoxy of the traditional establishment, especially the mainstream media and official sources of government knowledge, including the intelligence community.

Clearly there is an institutional basis to the rise of alternative facts and the capacity of the Trumpistas to deny truth. The fragmentation of the media market and the attendant knowledge bubbles consumers live in, the rise and dominance of the social media, and the emergence of Fox national news as a de facto state media for Trump and the Republican party are just some of the institutional basis for the ability of the president and his supporters to obscure truth. Moreover, as historian Richard Hofstadter described in his 1963 Anti-Intellectualism in American Life or as captured in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible which used the Salem witch hunts as a backdrop to criticize the McCarthyism of the 1950s, there is a deep seated distrust for knowledge and intellectuals in the US. No doubt all this has played into the rise of Trumpism.

Yet there too is an intellectual source for this questioning of objective truth. More deeply, one can trace it to a trend in modern philosophy that perhaps starts with Rene Descartes’ seventeenth century skepticism that became a major pillar of one wing of how to think about knowledge. Eighteenth century philosopher David Hume similarly questioned the empirical certainty of our perceptions. But Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of all knowledge as perspectival, rooted in the notion of the will to power, is the most direct influence upon a group of thinkers in the 1970s and 1980s who came to question the concept of objective truth.

The Postmodern movement raised legitimate questions about what constitutes truth and knowledge and how both are formed. These postmodern philosophers were Jean Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard, and Jacques Derrida. In the field of science, Paul Feyerabend’s name can be added to the list, as well as Michel Foucault. Foucault asserted that knowledge is produced through the operations of power, suggesting a relativity and contending basis for knowledge and truth.

It is not clear that abstract and complex philosophy directly provides the intellectual foundations for Trumpism. Where it does play out is in terms of journalism. While much has been written about the history of journalism in America and how traditionally it was partisan, there was a golden era post-World War II until perhaps the 1980s when at least the belief in seeking the truth was the basis guiding the gathering dissemination of the news. Walter Cronkite, the long-term famous anchor or the nightly CBS news, signed off with his “And that’s the way it is” moniker every night, reinforcing the idea that he was reporting just the facts. Similarly, the premise of Bob Woodward’s and Carl Bernstein’s 1974 All the President’s Men was the pursuit of a second source to corroborate allegations of Richard Nixon’s role in Watergate. Truth existed, and the task of journalists, the media, or the news establishment was to find and report it. Truth stood in juxtaposition to bias.

Journalism schools and pedagogy at that time emphasized this belief in objectivity. All the President’s Men was an inspiration for many who went to journalism school, as were the role models of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and many other professional journalists at the time. Don Gillmor, professor the University of Minnesota established the field of journalism that emphasized the need for objectivity, source corroboration, and the elimination of bias as means of enhancing the status of the profession and its pursuit of truth. What best captures this golden age of journalism are the movies The Post (2017) and Spotlight (2015), respectively depicting the Washington Post under Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee in its pursuit of Nixon and the Boston Globe uncovering the sex abuse and cover up in the Catholic Church. Old-line journalists get teary-eyed watching these movies because it captured the press at its best, but also recognizing that those days of such zealous reporting were gone.

Media scholars such as Juan Ramon Munôz-Torres noted how journalism too was impacted by the Postmodern questioning of objectivity. Gradually, reporting objective facts or truth came to be questioned. Of course this questioning of truth was reinforced by the fragmentation of the media market and audiences and a drive toward for-profit journalism that placed greater emphasis on market share and appealing to viewers than telling them what they needed or should know.

A way to capture this change was thinking in terms of the traditional task of journalists to interview or consult a variety of sources to determine was is truth or true. The shift gradually became one of now interviewing or consulting various sources and reporting those opinions. Old-school journalism was like being assigned the task of finding out what “1+1 =?” and the task was to report the answer was “1.” Now the task would be to report that “Some say it is 1, some say it is 2, some say it is 3.” Reporting came to reflect perspectivalism, objectivity required reporting all sides of the debate, not finding the truth.

As I argued elsewhere, this merger of for-profit journalism along with politics produced politainment–a combination of politics and entertainment. Politainment premiumed the celebrity aspect of politics, giving an advantage to candidates and personalities who best could master the new pop culture trends affecting news. Ronald Reagan a former actor is one example, as was Bill Clinton’s famous 1992 saxophone appearance on the Arsenio Hall show another in terms of how politainers could take advantage of a shift not just in what is reported but the overall focus of where people got their news and what was considered news.

This shift in journalism standards meant reporting opinion or contrasting views, or simply one side of the issue. If one can consult a different television station or news source and get a different perspective on what is truth, the concept of objective facts collapses. It becomes easy to discount news that is disagreeable as simply alternative facts or fake news. Unlike during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson where the difference between what his administration was saying about the war in Vietnam and the reality that reporters saw produced the credibility gap that helped undermine his legitimacy, this is no longer the case with Donald Trump. The collapse in the belief in truth, at least from a journalistic or media perspective, gives Trump free license to lie, claim, or deny anything he wants, and his partisan base seems unmoved by this. Governing by falsehood, or the big lie, empowers the presidency to act without fear that its actions will be checked by an aggressive media watchdog.

Constructing the Trump Presidency

The Trump presidency thus has benefitted from the intellectual work of political scientists who yearned for strong party government, conservative constitutional scholars who elevated a dubious theory of a unitary executive to a fashionable legal theory, and a philosophical-journalist line of scholarship that disassembled a belief in objective truth. These were intellectual trends emerging well before Donald Trump became president. In fact, these trends constructed Donald Trump and made is presidency possible.

Trump is simply the latest in a lineage of politainers advantaged by the new rules of journalism. His mastery of the new celebrity, entertainment, for-profit news industry gave him the ability to overcome the strong party government that had been constructed by the political science community. He and interested groups also exploited the weaknesses in party governance by capturing the GOP. Once elected, Trump continues to benefit from the journalism and partisan trends, but also from the powerful intellectual forces creating the modern presidency. These trends are not going away when Trump is no longer president. They are forces that have produced Trumpism, nourished Trumpistas, and which make challenging the power of the current president so difficult. Trumpism is a feature of contemporary America politics, with or without Donald Trump as president.

 

Thus Spoke the Bond Market

Counterpunch - 4 hours 56 min ago

Photograph Source: Katrina.Tuliao – CC BY 2.0

The titles of a few recent articles give some idea about what has been going on in the bond market lately: “The Bond Market Is Giving Ominous Warnings about the Global Economy” (Irwin 2019), “History Tells Us Why the Fed Should Take the Inverted Yield Curve Seriously” (Coppola 2019), “Donald Trump’s Beautiful Economy is Now on Full Recession Alert” (Evans-Pritchard 2019), and “Investors Could Tip the US Economy against Themselves: There’s Risk for a Self-fulfilling Cycle of Market Instability and Economic Disruptions” (El-Erian 2019).

It is likely that Friday, 31 May 2019 will be considered to be one of the milestones of the ongoing global financial crisis that started in the summer of 2007. It is because, in a sequence of two tweets on Twitter, President of the United States (US) Donald Trump declared that 5% tariffs would be imposed on all goods coming into the US from Mexico, until the time the inflow of illegal Mexican migrants stopped. This, as the ongoing US–China trade war that started early in 2018 had already escalated in May 2019.

On the same day, although there was no mention of the “r-word,” JP Morgan economist Michael Feroli said that he expected the US central bank, the Federal Reserve (Fed), to lower key lending rates two times later this year: one quarter-point cut in September, followed by another quarter-point cut in December. And on the same day, citing the same expectation because of growing risks to the economy from trade tensions, JP Morgan analysts revised down their year-end targets on 2-year Treasury yields to 1.40% from 2.25% and on 10-year Treasury yields to 1.75% from 2.45%.

On Sunday, 2 June 2019, President Trump summarised the current state of the trade war in a sequence of three tweets. Also, on 2 June 2019, Morgan Stanley released a research note in which its chief economist Chetan Ahya argued that a recession could begin in nine months if President Trump pushes to impose 25% tariffs on an additional $300 billion of Chinese exports and China retaliates with its own counter-measures. He wrote: “With the latest developments suggesting that trade escalation is still in play, the impact of trade tensions on the global cycle should not be underestimated.”

Recall that only three months ago (Öncü 2019), while many had been admitting the possibility of a global slowdown, there had been a near consensus that a global recession was nowhere near the horizon. So the Morgan Stanley research note was a major change of mind by a major global financial player.

The Bond Market

As Pedro Nicolaci da Costa, director of communications at the Economic Policy Institute, noted, while daily gyrations in the equities steal the headlines, bonds are Wall Street’s sleeping giant. He wrote and I agree: “What happens with Treasury notes is often a more relevant indicator of broader economic trends” (da Costa 2019).

On 22 March 2019, the spread between the 10-year and 3-month Treasury yield (10y–3m spread) went negative for the first time since the last US recession that ended in June 2009. It remained negative until 26 March 2016 after which it became positive and remained positive until 22 May 2019. The significance of this is that since World War II, every time a recession occurred in the US, the 10y–3m spread went negative shortly (usually 6–12 months) before the recession started, although the reverse has not been the case always.

When this spread goes negative, most people call the yield curve inverted. But, this would be correct only if the yield curve is a straight line so that any arbitrarily selected points on it would give us the same slope. However, the slope of any non-straight curve changes from point to point so that while a section of the curve may be inverted, another section may be upward sloping. Since the yield curve is hardly ever a straight line, the 10y–3m spread is not the only possible measure of the yield curve slope. Another popular measure is the 10y–2y spread and there are several others.

The significance of the 10y–3m spread, in its academic popularity goes back to the paper by Estrella and Mishkin (1996). In this and later papers, they documented a strong predictive power of this particular term spread for recessions and economic activity. Later, similar measures had been employed for other advanced capitalist countries, such as Germany, United Kingdom (UK), Canada and the like, and similar relationships between yield curve inversions and recessions have been found. And, unfortunately, many of the yield curves are inverted around the world these days.

The Euro area, the UK, Switzerland and Canada all have inverted yield curves at shorter maturities. Hong Kong’s yield curve is inverted along almost its full length. Japan and South Korea have flat yield curves that could invert at any time. (Coppola 2019)

Of course, it goes without saying that whether such local inversions always lead to local recessions and such collective inversions always lead to global recessions has always been debatable. Naturally, many has dismissed the yield curves’ predictive ability of recessions, but history is filled with the examples of those who lost their shirts after ignoring the yield curves’ warnings, at least, in advanced capitalist countries.

Black Monday?

Although the 10y–3m spread went negative for the second time on 22 May 2019 and widened on 29 May 2019 to its deepest level of about -10 basis points since the onset of the global financial crisis in the summer of 2007, the real damage occurred on Monday, 3 June 2019, after the events described earlier. At one point on 3 June, the 10-year yield went down to 2.067% from 2.5% at the beginning of May and the 10y–3m spread was about -28 basis points. Although this was not as large a spread as the ones witnessed in the summer of 2007, it was sizeable to say the least.

Another notable event occurred in the Eurodollar futures market. Eurodollar futures prices reflect market expectations for interest rates on 3-month Eurodollar deposits for specific dates in the future. The final settlement price of Eurodollar futures is determined by the 3-month London Inter-bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) on the last trading day. On 3 June, the spread between the June 2019 and June 2020 Eurodollar futures contract reached an astonishing -79 basis points (also a type of inversion), unseen and way larger than the comparable spreads in the summer of 2007.

However, despite all these, and given that nothing significant happened to the equities, although the technology index NASDAQ dropped 1,61% after reports that the US antitrust officials were preparing to investigate companies such as Apple, Facebook and Alphabet, the broad market index S&P500 dropped only by 0.3%.

Therefore, 3 June 2019 was not a Black Monday as we had learned during the rest of the week; at least, for the time being.

On the morning of Tuesday, 4 June 2019, at a Fed research meeting in Chicago, the Fed Chairperson Jerome Powell said:

I would first like to say a few words regarding trade negotiations and other developments. We do not know how or when these issues will be resolved. We are closely monitoring the implications of these developments for the U.S. economic outlook and, as always, we will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion (emphasis mine), with a strong labour market and inflation near our symmetric 2 percent objective.

And, suddenly, all market participants became happy; many started debating whether the Fed would cut the interest rates in the coming June meeting or in the July meeting or in the September meeting, and major stock markets around the globe started going up again. To put it differently, the Fed and its chair Jerome Powell responded to the bond market as they were “required.” In addition, the central banks of Australia, India, New Zealand, Malaysia and Philippines—all cut interest rates—and the European Central Bank, Bank of England and Peoples Bank of China have all turned dovish.

Furthermore, on top of other bad news regarding economic developments from around the world, on 7 June 2019, the US non-farm payroll report came way worse than expected. Only 75,000 additional jobs were added, while economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for a gain of 180,000 jobs. This increased the likelihood of a US recession further and, therefore, the likelihood of a rate cut by the Fed in the near future. And, hence, the world equity markets have become even happier and most of the major world equity indices finished the week on a cheerful tone.

To Sum Up

The world’s major central banks had managed to avoid the risk for a self-fulfilling cycle of market instability and economic disruptions, as El-Erian (2019) warned on Monday for another week. Yet, despite some small variations at some maturities, the US yield curve remained more or less as it was at the beginning of the week.

So, who knows what is going to happen to the world economy and financial markets in the not-so-distant future?

References

Coppola, F (2019): “History Tells Us Why the Fed Should Take the Inverted Yield Curve Seriously,” Forbes, 30 May.

da Costa, P N (2019): “The Bond Market May be Signalling Something Worse than a Recession: Distrust in America,” CNN Business, 7 June.

El-Erian, M (2019): “Investors Could Tip the US Economy against Themselves: There’s Risk for a Self-fulfilling Cycle of Market Instability and Economic Disruptions,” Bloomberg, 3 June.

Estrella, V and F Mishkin (1996): “The Yield Curve as a Predictor of US Recessions,” Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Vol 2, No 7, pp 1–6.

Evans–Pritchard, A (2019): “Donald Trump’s Beautiful Economy Is Now on Full Recession Alert,” Telegraph, 3 June.

Irwin, N (2019): “The Bond Market Is Giving Ominous Warnings about the Global Economy,” New York Times, 29 May.

Öncü, T S (2019): “Are We Heading towards a Synchronised Global Slowdown?” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 54, No 6, pp 10–12.

This column was published first on 15 June 2019 in the Indian journal Economic and Political Weekly.

 

Iran Shoots Down Strategic U.S. Drone - Is Ready For War - Puts "Maximum Pressure" On Trump

Moon of Alabama - 4 hours 56 min ago
Early this morning Iranian air defense shot down a U.S. high attitude reconnaissance drone: DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have shot down a U.S. “spy” drone in the southern province of Hormozgan, which is on the Gulf, the...

Japanese and German Doubts on U.S. Drumbeat Towards Iran War

Counterpunch - 4 hours 58 min ago

Photograph Source: Official U.S. Navy Page – Public Domain

Japan since 1945 has been the most abjectly deferential of U.S., even more so than the U.K. Tokyo rarely strays far from Washington’s line on any global issue. It notoriously supported the Iraq wars if 1991 and 2003-present, both based on lies. Japan’s loyalty, like Britain’s is strategic; while all alliances with the U.S. are promoted as based on “common values” they are mainly based on capital and global capitalists’ needs. Both the U.K. and Japan are for the time being part of the U.S. imperialist camp, under strong pressure to side with it when it decides to provoke war.

When George W. Bush turned to Tony Blair’s Britain and asked for support for a war on Iraq, Blair became Bush’s poodle. The slavish cooperation with the U.S. in that disastrous, criminal war remains a matter of national shame. Germany and France avoided that by noting that the U.S.’s case was weak if not based on fabrications. They showed it is possible for major allies to defy the U.S., (although recall how enraged members of Congress were at France’s betrayal).

Last week two tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman and the U.S. immediately blamed Iran. Almost immediately British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt declared: “We are going to make our own independent assessment, we have our processes to do that, (but) we have no reason not to believe the American assessment and our instinct is to believe it because they are our closest ally.”

The German foreign minister Heiko Maas on the other hand, responding to U.S. “evidence,” stated blandly, “The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.” Maas visited Tehran last week to try to mediate between the U.S. (which wants conflict with Iran) and Iran (which wants to avoid conflict).

Meanwhile Japan (the world’s third largest economic power, just ahead of Germany) also doubts the U.S. accusations against Iran, designed to justify war. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was in Iran holding talks with top leaders when a Japanese-owned tanker bound for Singapore was attacked by what the U.S. claims was an Iranian attack.

“The U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation,” says one senior government official, while an Abe aide says, “These are not definite proof that it’s Iran. Even if it’s the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it.”

Apparently the Japanese around Abe lack the British instinct to swallow U.S. bullshit. Worse, they are asking uncomfortable questions. The anonymous Foreign Ministry source notes that while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims that “only Iran” had the capability to conduct the tanker attacks, this is simply not true. “That would apply to the United States and Israel as well,” says the rational skeptic.

Yes, people in the Japanese foreign Ministry are suggesting that the U.S. or Israel might have staged “false flag” attacks to justify a military attack on Iran. It’s good that they’re wondering.

Japan has every reason to seek cordial relations with a fellow Asian nation it has traded with since the eighth century. Japan has been one of Iran’s largest oil customers. The U.S. command that Japan end all trade with Iran offends national dignity. Worse, the U.S. effort to sabotage the Iran Deal and assert what the Chinese call “long arm jurisdiction” tramples on nations’ sovereignty. And the expectation that all nations accept U.S. conclusions about its foes’ actions (the Syrian government’s alleged use of sarin gas, the Libyan government’s supposed genocidal intentions) is insufferably arrogant.

The world is tired of U.S. lies. They did not start with Donald Trump, a pathological liar who may genuinely believe—in the moment—that his father was born in Germany, or that Obama was born in Kenya. The U.S. has been losing credibility for many years, while the crimes attending its wars-based-on-lies have spread fear and hatred of this country.

Awhile back National Security Advisor John Bolton had a plan to overthrow the democratically elected , internationally recognized government of Venzuela. He announced U.S. recognition of a pretender, and secured European support for him; this was routine procedure, whipping the allies into compliance. It was announced that “the international community” was backing the U.S. puppet. But this imagined “community” excluded China, Russia, India and most countries. There was some saber-rattling, but the crisis has apparently passed.

Perhaps annoyed at this failure, Bolton turned his attention to Iran, arranging for Trump to declare an “emergency” (ostensibly due to some Iranian moves, but really to allow for delivery of arms without Congressional oversight to Saudi Arabia). Having declared that bogus emergency, he has arranged a bogus crisis involving alleged, possibly staged attacks on tankers off Iran. Britain’s Conservatives are saying, fine, we’re on board. But the Germans and Japanese are balking.

Recall that Germany and Japan were the U.S.’s two main antagonists in the Second World War. Their defeat resulted in occupation and obligatory alliance with the occupying power. There are today 56,000 U.S. troops in Japan and 35,000 in Germany; these are the largest deployments outside the U.S. Pompeo and Bolton want these nations to fall in line with their policy of toppling the Iranian regime and transforming Iran into a bastion of U.S. and Israeli influence in a refashioned Middle East dominated by the Saudi-Israeli anti-Shiite alliance.

The neocons’ dreams of a U.S.-dominated Middle East are just that—fantasies. They fantasized in 2011 that they could pull together pro-U.S. forces in Syria to topple the corrupt regime. They were unable to recruit anyone. They fantasized that the vicious toppling of Gadhafy in Libya would bring pro-U.S. forces to power in Libya that same year. But Libya remains in chaos. There is no respect in the world for U.S. “leadership” in any issue pertaining to the Middle East.

Instead, the U.S. is associated with lies; calculated, dishonest manipulation of information to condition public opinion; massive, intrusive global surveillance and violation of billions of persons’ privacy; persecution of whistle-blowers who reveal its war crimes, record of prison torture, and systemic political corruption. So when these war mongers ask the world to join them in condemning Iranian attacks in the Gulf of Oman, the world necessarily responds: “Wait…we don’t believe you any more… You’ve cried ‘wolf’ too many times…”

In Japanese, there’s no exact equivalent to saying “Fuck you!” This is due, I think, to the fact that in Japanese culture fucking is an unequivocal good, and so to wish it on somebody would be to pronounce a benediction (“may you be fucked!”). It doesn’t make sense as an insult. The closest equivalent is “Shine!” which means “Die!”

Thus for the Japanese to say “Fuck you” to Pompeo, Bolton, and Trump would be to say “Shine! Death to U.S. imperialism!” which is exactly what they and the Germans and we and everybody else should be saying.

The Fragility of Democracy: Hong Kong, China and the Extradition Bill

Counterpunch - 5 hours 29 sec ago

Photograph Source: Studio Incendo – CC BY 2.0

It has been a history of turns and the occasional betrayal, but Hong Kong’s experiment with democracy, incubated within the Special Administrative Region, was always going to be contingent on some level. Its colonial past is a poke, a reminder of British bullying, the corruptions of opium and a time when Qing China was torn and a compulsive signer of unequal treaties. The 99-year lease over the New Territories, along with some 235 islands arose from the second Convention of Peking, signed on June 9, 1898 by Li Hung-chang under the official gaze of British interests. It was never recognised either by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek nor Mao Zedong’s victorious communists.

In 1993, former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher revealed how China’s reformist Deng Xiaoping had been more than forthcoming about threats regarding Hong Kong in their September 1982 meeting in the Great Hall of the People. In The Downing Street Years, Thatcher recalls how an “obdurate” Deng “said that the Chinese could walk in and take Hong Kong back later today if they wanted to.”

Thatcher’s retort was one of admission and promise: the British would not be able to stop them but “this would bring about Hong Kong’s collapse. The world would then see what followed a change from British to Chinese rule.” Deng, despite this threatening account from Thatcher, was happy to entertain an idea that would become the basis of arrangements after 1997, namely, the principle of one country, two systems. The official Chinese account of the meeting is naturally more tepid, with Deng merely suggesting that Beijing might “reconsider the timing and manner of the takeover” should the road leading to the takeover prove rocky.

Thatcher never quite understood the reality that Hong Kong’s continued existence under British rule till the handover date was very much, as the veteran journalist Murray Sayle noted, a case of approval from Beijing precisely because it was in its interests. Mainland China and Hong Kong were entwined in a way the mainland and Taiwan were not.

The subsequent Joint Declaration in 1984 between the PRC and Britain came with the proviso that China’s takeover of Hong Kong in 1997 would abide by certain conditions, including the retention of certain democratic structures and an independent judiciary. The expiry of those arrangements is set for 2047.

Hong Kong’s fragile independence has had prodding reminders from Beijing’s ever suspicious functionaries. In 2015, Chinese security agents whisked off five men involved with the Causeway Bay Books store. Its name had been made on the sales of books describing the risqué private lives of Communist Party officials.

Each of the abductees duly appeared on Chinese television to confess to a range of crimes, the usual potpourri of violations expected from a repressive apparatus. A statement had been made, though the owner and manager of Causeway Bay Books, Lam Wing-kee, continues to play the game of smuggling everything from smut to history, hoping that officials on the mainland will be able to turn a blind eye when needed. And a large eye it has to be, given the range of items deemed contraband by the Communist Party’s Central Leading Group for Propaganda and Ideology.

None of this is to say that mass protest has not had its gains, though suggesting that Hong Kong has a history of obstreperous civil dissent is pushing it a bit far. The attempt to implement a national security law in 2003 by then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa promising life sentences for treason, secession, subversion and sedition resulted in its indefinite suspension after half-a-million protesters turned out to vent their anger. This was despite the troubling existence of Article 23 in Hong Kong’s Basic Law which expressly authorises the Special Administrative Region to pass laws prohibiting treason, secession, sedition and subversion. Subsequent Chief Executives Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Leung Chung-ying had little stomach to push through legislation under the section. Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is biding her time, waiting for a “suitable climate”.

The latest round of mass protests have suggested that the climate in question is some way off in forming, though it is fearful of the authoritarian winds coming from President Xi’s mainland. Xi’s speech on his 2017 visit for Lam’s swearing in was prickly and threatening: “Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government… or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible.”

The current crop of protests have a fundamental object: taking the Extradition Bill off the books. The bill, should it become law, would see local and foreign criminal suspects make their way into the labyrinth of mainland justice, puncturing the one nation, two systems principle. The protesters, numbering some 2 million over the weekend, did witness the unusual spectacle of Chief Executive Lam issuing an apology, though the bill remains suspended. Nothing less than her resignation is demanded, though she retains the backing of the power that counts.

The democratic movement in Hong Kong has, in short, been one of fits and starts, often discouraged, an erratic example of changing attitudes both in Britain and the PRC. British officials have not always been allies to the democratic cause, preferring to smother it at points before the liberal incarnation encouraged by the last governor, Christopher Patten. Even then, Hong Kong still had more in common with the governing commercial structure of the Italian city state of Venice than Westminster. Mainland China, taking a view to the horizon, continues to gnaw and nibble at existing protections, as is to be expected.

Thatcher’s prognostication that China could not continue to reap “the benefits of a liberal economic system […] without a liberal political system” proved, like certain assessments by the Iron Lady, off the mark, if not off the park. This leaves the protesters with much to do. Beijing, in the meantime, simply waits, and those with elephantine memories will recall Thatcher’s tripping on the stairs leaving the Great Hall of the People in 1982. “Bobbling her handbag,” writes Paul Theroux of this episode in his pungent Letter from Hong Kong, “her pearls swinging, and with her arse in the air and her face flushed with fear, the prime minister of Great Britain appeared to be kowtowing to Mao in his nearby mausoleum.” Such is the cunning, if vulgar turn, of history.

 

On the Morning Consult Poll, Margins of Error, and the Undecideds in the Democratic Primary

Counterpunch - 5 hours 5 min ago

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Morning Consult regularly has Joe Biden a fair bit higher than every other polling firm at this point, and, as they usually have had throughout the 2020 Democratic primary cycle to date, also have Bernie Sanders a little higher than the average.

Morning Consult also has, by far and away, the largest sample size each week, with a reported margin of error (MOE) of 1%. So, is Morning Consult or its MOE wrong? Or are all the other polling firms missing something that Morning Consult is onto with its large sample size and, per my diving into their full tables has sent to me over the course of three weeks around Biden’s entry into the race, fair weighting of a broad array of demographics?

Based on data in the chart below and further explanation below, I think neither view is quite wrong. It’s just that Morning Consult is mishandling undecided voters in a way that over estimates Biden’s share and, to a lesser extent, Sanders’ share. (MC in the chart = Morning Consult; DK = Undecided or Don’t Know respondents.)

I wrote about this problem (and proved absolutely correct) ahead of the UK General Election in 2017 here. And I spent a bit of time on it for this 2020 Democratic cycle in this article, but without the specific focus on Morning Consult.

When polling firms simply flush “undecided” or “don’t know” voters from their sample and then report the findings without any other adjustments, they automatically boost the leader an extra amount, and where the lead is already big, the problem becomes even worse. Now, I am not sure if this is what Morning Consult is doing (they failed to respond when I asked, even though they’ve graciously sent along their cross tabs on two other occasions).

There is strong reason to suspect that they are just getting rid of undecided respondents willy nilly in a way that, predictably, boosts Biden especially. Column B in the above chart are Morning Consult’s numbers as reported for June 10-16. Column C is what you get if you put back in the current average of other polling firms’ undecided/don’t know respondents. Biden’s share drops 6.4%; Sanders’ drops 2.7%. And this brings them both into pretty close alignment with the strict average of all polls in the field at least one day in June (and RealClearPolitics’ overall average right now as well).

In fact, Elizabeth Warren at a 3.1% difference is the only candidate’s average that falls outside the 1% MOE as compared to the June strict average. Buttigieg is at 1.7%, but since I’ve found over several election cycles that a strict 10 day average is generally right within a 1% margin, on the gap between two leading candidates or parties on the final results, this hardly seems remarkable.

Now, my #10at10 average will keep Morning Consult’s results in them as presented by Morning Consult. I’m even more against unscrewing polling for presentation in averages than FiveThirtyEight (which uses a non-transparent House Adjustment on polls). The basic point of this exercise is to show 1) once again, that how a polling firm handles undecideds matters quite a bit and 2) that there really may not be as big of difference as there would initially seem between Morning Consult and the rest of the recent results we have seen. Elizabeth Warren’s total is lower than the recent average, outside the MOE, on this account, but with results for Warren ranging from 5% to 19% nationally over the course of June so far, this one difference among twenty-one candidates as polled by Morning Consult is not really all that surprising.

If you assume that Morning Consult is getting about an average number of undecided/don’t know respondents as other pollsters, but are flushing them from the sample without any adjustment, their results are pretty consistent with the rest of the field right now: Biden in the low 30s, Sanders around 16 or 17%.

In Barcelona, Being a Fearless City Mayor Means Letting the People Decide

Counterpunch - 5 hours 6 min ago

Losing Barcelona. That was the headline on the story in Jacobin this week. A local vote in a far-off city; had I not just returned from Barcelona, I might have left it at that.

The truth is, US media give us so little coverage of goings-on elsewhere, and so little context as to why Americans should care, there’s little incentive to keep up; but Barcelona’s different. For close to a decade now, it’s been what my friend Sol Trumbo Vila calls a beacon for the possibilities of transformative change at the city level.

Led by former housing activist Ada Colau, who was elected Mayor in May 2015, Barcelona’s government has been in the hands of a movement that had become a political party—Barcelona en Comú. They won office on a pledge to “develop the city as a commons,” meaning a place for people, not a profit center for speculators and extractive corporations. In office, Colau halted new hotels, stopped thousands of foreclosures, supported worker owned cooperatives, and formed the state’s largest publicly-owned utility. They also encouraged a free, neutral, cooperatively owned broadband network called Guifi.net that offers low price WiFi and a prize-winning alternative to the telecom giants.

Colau established new systems of governance with more local consultation. Did she solve all the problems of an austerity-hit city hemmed in by bans on borrowing, hiring and expanding the public budget? No. Did she figure out ways to work with others without disappointing their base? Not always. Most damaging was their fence-sitting on the Catalan independence question. Having seen the footage of heavily armed federal police literally batoning people as they clung to their forbidden ballot boxes, I get it why separatist Ernest Maragall may have scored 4,800 more votes than Colau in this May’s vote.

But Losing Barcelona? Maragall and Colau actually stood neck and neck in council seats when the Jacobin article appeared. They were both left of center parties. Colau could have teamed up with him to stay in government but lose the Mayor’s post, or she could have partnered with more left-of-center winners—Pedro Sanchez’s socialist party (PP), which came in second after a high profile surge in national elections earlier in the month. In the end, Colau was re-elected mayor by the city council with the support of the Socialists and the backing of former French prime minister, Manuel Valls.

So, Losing Barcelona? Even if Colau had lost the election, the commons agenda is seeded deep into the city. In an interview, even crusty Maragall endorsed support for cooperatives and digital democracy and the Fearless Cities network that Colau and others helped to start.

And at the level of principle, Colau has not finished making change yet. Having polled her base last weekend, Colau put the question to the people. Barcelonans had the chance to vote on what deal she should make. Let the people decide. Putting that principle into practice has got to be a win, no matter what.

You can see our coverage of the Fearless Cities network, and a special we produced on the Transformative Cities movement, at our website, LauraFlanders.org.

Humor: Stop These Language Abuses

Counterpunch - 5 hours 7 min ago

Phone Bots

A decade ago, voice mail bots would say “I’ll record your message now,” and “I’ll try that number” as if “they” were real people and there was really an “I.” Now voice synthesized bots, especially with airlines and tech companies, want a whole conversation. Elevating the “I” that doesn’t exist to a conversational partner they now says “I didn’t catch that––can you say it again?” and “I thought you just said…is that right?”

It is tempting to verbally abuse these poseurs. But of course they can’t be insulted. When you say “Go to hell” they’ll say “I’m sorry we’re having trouble. I thought you said Wisconsin Dells?”  Continue your tirade against them they will say, “Nantucket? Did you say you want to travel to Nantucket?”

Waitstaff Soliloquies

How many times have you looked forward to conversation with a dinner or lunch companion only to get an unwanted speech at your table courtesy of waitstaff? “Tonight we feature a blanched, lanced, pureed pate basted in caramalized seasonal acorns…..”?  Do deliverers of these tableside filibusters think we can’t read? And if they are going to orally deliver the food choices, why even have a menu?

Retail Emcees

It happens all the time. You’re shopping to the backdrop of a pleasant oldie on the PA system and just before the song get to the hook, a supervisor breaks in and says “Attention associates. It is time for your ten minute break. Remember to clean up the break room when you are done.” (The more employees are abused, the more likely their title is elevated to “associate.”) Other retail establishments now have sensors that tell them when you have entered a certain section. “We are aware you have entered our beach towel and summer accessory section. Please let us know if you require help.” So much for anonymous browsing but it’s cheaper than hiring an employee.

Checkout Bots

Just as restaurants discovered years ago that people would bus their own tables, retail establishments have discovered that people will check out their own purchases. Except that the bot who welcomes you and asks for your debit card also often accuses you of being a thief. “Please remove the unscanned items you just placed on the platform. Please scan them now. Help [security] is on the way.” Once the bot decides you are not a thief, it can’t wait to get rid of you. Before you even take your receipt it says to the presumed next customer, “Welcome. Please select your language.”

Your Personal Computer and Trainer

What exactly does the word “personal” add to computer, trainer, banker, adviser, diet plan, identification number or debt consultant except dollars?  Personal as opposed to what? Having to crowd around one newspaper posted in Red Square as old photos used to show? No one feels compelled to say personal toothbrush.

Duckin’ and Divin’ Annual Reports

The worse the year, the wordier the annual report. Instead of saying we’re major down again this year  it’s “In light of the scheduled spinoff of the disappointing biotech division and reengineering of the global sales network, pretax earning shortfalls are roughly equal to those seen in 2018* when annualized, weighted by country and indexed to inflation.” (*when most of you sold)

Current Farm Crisis Offers Opportunity For Change

Counterpunch - 5 hours 8 min ago

JFK, as it turns out, was not correct when he noted 60 years ago that the word ‘crisis’ is a combination of the Chinese brush strokes meaning danger and opportunity.  While he was linguistically incorrect, we get what he was saying. A crisis situation can be the impetus for change, an opportunity to figure out a better way and in the spirit that Kennedy meant it, a better way for society in general.

While unemployment rates are down and hourly wages are increasing slightly, the increased cost of living—up 14% over the last 4 years and stark economic inequality, no, the economy is not “ the greatest economy in the history of our country”. Health insurance coverage is inadequate —if you can’t afford to live, if you are sick with no recourse, that is a crisis. And on top of that, the overarching threat of an increasingly variable and changing climate can be labeled as nothing other than a clear and growing crisis.

Most any farmer, or rancher anywhere in the US, would nod in the affirmative if asked whether or not there is currently a crisis in agriculture. In the minds of farmers, fishers and ranchers the cause of the crisis can be easily summed up, low prices—pay prices below the cost of production.

While many other farmers and I see unprecedented adverse weather as undeniable evidence of a changing climate which is a contributing factor to the current economic crisis, that is not a universally accepted idea among farmers. None would deny however, that prices are historically unfair with 2019 farm income  predicted to be below the average seen for nearly the past century.

They know the weather in the past year at least, has been awful and while many are unwilling to admit that we are dealing with a changing climate, not just bad weather, most are looking for answers. They are looking for ways to survive in a changing agricultural environment—no matter what its cause, wondering what those solutions to the current system might look like.

To this point and in my memory in all my 40 years of farming, farmers have been told we need to work harder, get bigger and embrace all the new technology. Whether that means moving ever larger numbers of livestock into confinement, genetically modified seed and its compliment of pesticides and fertilizer, or the machinery sometimes costing more than the value of my farm—no matter, buying the technology is our only option. In the end we are supposed to be thankful we can be a part of the global marketplace, even if it is controlled by multinational corporations and investment banks that determine the cost of everything we buy and the price of everything we sell.

So what might a different system look like? Could we have a system that allowed farmers of any size to be profitable? A system that satisfied the farmers need for fair prices and a dignified life? A system that produced quality food as determined by a partnership between those who grow food and those who eat it? A system where everyone could afford good food, produced in a manner that might actually benefit the environment?

Could we establish a framework that depended less on global markets, more on local production and healthy diets rather than continuing the trend of going all in a western diet”  and pressuring the rest of the world to follow? Certainly the medical community and the environmental community would support these changes, but agribusiness and my people, farmers, perhaps not so much.

Clearly those controlling the current food system are opposed to any changes that would cut their profits by a shift away from processed foods, grain fed animal products, large scale intensive crop mono-cultures and a global food chain or a shift to any sort of low input sustainable agriculture. Those entities that profit from the current destructive and fragile food system fight, through their lobbying efforts and campaign funding, to maintain its existence. One wonders if those in positions of political power dismiss the Green New Deal as a platform for change because they really believe it is unnecessary, that it is truly untenable, or, are they unconcerned about environmental disaster, opposed to an economy that works for everyone, or are they just unwilling to kill their golden goose?

Farmers are lured onto the bandwagon of a global food supply with the mantra that “we need to feed the world” despite the fact that the world would rather and couldfeed itself, on its own terms. Supposedly, producing more at a lower price and expanding export markets is the answer to our low farm prices. This will be achieved only by breaking down trade barriers and in effect, forcing importing countries to eat what we sell them—like it or not. Canadian dairy farmers fear that enactment of the new NAFTA (aka USMCA) will “knock the bottom out of their market”. Canada could not absorb our surplus even if their dairy economy were destroyed.

Seriously, this picture is wrong, and in these times of low farm prices, devastating floods, massive soil loss, wildfires and people demanding an ethical, healthy diet, the time could be ripe to end our system of industrial farming and replace it with agroecology.

We need to look at the problem through several lenses, first the farm price issue. The solution to low farm prices is farm justice—farmers getting paid a fair price for producing an ethical product. Just as during the Great Depression of the 1930s, we need supply management, parity pricing (coupling farm prices to production costs) and farmer owned, government insured grain reserves. In the process of returning to sensible farm programs, we can end controversial tax-payer subsidies that supposedly help bolster low farm prices.

As we have seen in real time, export markets and government subsidies do not make farmers profitable. Placing too much dependence on one foreign buyer as we did in the case of the soy export market to China, is a seriously flawed strategy. Similarly, placing too much emphasis on growing corn and soy, as the basis for production agriculture is, a ticking bomb waiting for growers and the environment. Multinational grain companies profitably ride the market on the backs of farmers whether they are in the U.S., South America, or anywhere else in the world—buy low, sell high.

Secondly, the question of whether livestock can be part of an ethical or environmentally sound food system is a knotty issue. The fact that large numbers of livestock in the US are currently raised in confinement situations, is a major part of the problem. Livestock production must be matched to a consumer diet with a much lower animal protein content. This would mean raising vastly lower numbers of ruminants (cattle, sheep, etc.) on pasture and forage and again, lower numbers of pigs and poultry on pasture supplemented with crop waste and grain unsuitable for the human food chain.

Still, one must also remember that livestock are a vital part of integrated agroecological farming systems in the Global South. Generations of farmers, especially organic farmers, know the value of humanely raised livestock as part of a sound crop rotation, one that maintains permanent grasslands, sequesters carbon in the soil and feeds people locally.

Logic would dictate that yes, farmers need to grow less corn, soy and livestock and it must be of higher quality and, it will bring them a higher price. Some cropland can go back to grass and native prairie, forest and growing fruits and vegetables. In the end, the Ogallala aquifer could survive and the Gulf dead zone could return to a productive fishery.

The current agricultural model places value only on volume of production, not nutritional quality of the food produced, human health, rural communities or the environment. Commodity crop production for export and ethanol production feeds only the bottom line of corporations and Wall St. investors. It pits farmer against farmer worldwide in a desperate race to the bottom and only exacerbates the economic disparity, which, when it come down to it, is the real driver of poverty, poor health and environmental destruction. For producers and farm workers to earn a fair wage and have the means to support rural communities, everyone, no matter what they do, must also earn a fair wage and have the means to support family farmers, ranchers and fishermen by paying a fair price for food. The time for change is here.

The Pope is Wrong on Argentina

Counterpunch - 5 hours 8 min ago

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the new Pope after the resignation of his German predecessor, a wave of euphoria shook Argentina. He was not only the first Latin American Pope but also a beloved member of the Argentine Catholic Church. Bergoglio was well-known and respected because of his work as cardinal. At present, however, his indirect participation in Argentina’s politics has tarnished his image to some extent.

Bergoglio had a difficult relationship with former Argentine presidents Néstor Kirchner and his wife, Cristina. In one of his homilies, he questioned “the exhibitionism and the strident announcements of the rulers,” in a message that indirectly pointed at Néstor. Later, he was frequently at odds with Cristina Kirchner, who succeeded her husband after his death.

Bergoglio’s and Cristina’s relationship continued to deteriorate when Bergoglio supported the country’s farmers, who opposed a government levy against their exports.

The confrontation between Bergoglio and Cristina Kirchner reached its climax in 2010 with a same-sex marriage bill. Argentina was the first country in Latin America to allow same-sex marriage, a decision which the Catholic Church strongly opposed.

Government criticism was swift after his appointment to the Papacy in March 2013, going so far as disseminating stories about his alleged collaboration with the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Government opponents, on the other hand, joyously celebrated his appointment, not only because an Argentine had been elected Pope but also because he was seen as a powerful government antagonist in a country where Catholicism is the predominant religion.

Expectations notwithstanding, after his appointment, Pope Francis sent conciliatory messages to the Kirchner government. He also received Cristina and many public officials to the Vatican, even those who had made provocative speeches against him or who were accused of corruption. All this, while the Pope didn’t hide his displeasure with the election of Mauricio Macri as President in 2015. Without a doubt, Pontifical support would have been greatly helpful to Argentina’s new government.

Although many Argentines expected the Pope to visit his home country, he let it be known through his representatives that a trip would divide the country rather than promote peace. He has yet to travel to Argentina. Instead, he has been to every country bordering Argentina, Uruguay excepted. Pope John Paul II had visited Poland less than a year after he became pontiff, and Pope Benedict XVI went to his native Germany in his first foreign trip in 2005.

His popularity has plummeted. Many deem his attitude toward Argentina incomprehensible. President Macri had to deal with all the problems left by the Kirchners, among them a ravaged economy and a corrupt judiciary. Despite persistent economic problems, Macri has been able to integrate Argentina into the international context better than his predecessors.

Although the Pope shouldn’t be engaged in national politics, memories of the enthusiasm over John Paul II’s visit to Poland linger on, especially because it helped bring the country back to democracy. Can we expect something similar from Pope Francis? Clearly not. His refusal to visit his homeland, probably fearing it could be interpreted as support to Macri’s government, has produced the contrary effect. In reality, it has contributed to widening the split in Argentine society.

Lessons from D.H. : A Soul-based Anarchist Vision for Peace-making

Counterpunch - 5 hours 10 min ago

“You see, Mexico really is a bit horrible to me. And the black eyes of the people really make my heart contract, and my flesh shrink. There’s a bit of horror in it. And I don’t want horror in my soul.”

“Why not?” he said at last. “Horror is real. Why not a bit of horror, as you say, among all the rest?”

-DH Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent

Mere personal contact, mere human contact, filled him with disgust…He had to meet [people] on another plane, where the contact was different; intangible, remote, and without intimacy. His soul was concerned elsewhere. So that the quick of him need not be bound to anybody. The quick of a man must turn to God alone: in some way or other….Men and women should know that they cannot, absolutely, meet on earth. In the closest kiss, the dearest touch, there is the small gulf which is none the less complete because it is so narrow, so nearly non-existent. They must bow and submit in reverence to the gulf…Though a woman be dearer to a man than his own life, yet he is he and she is she, and the gulf can never close up. Any attempt to do it is a violation, and the crime against the Holy Ghost. Ibid

Lately I have been preoccupied with the idea of reconciliation, which is, to me, another way of talking about peace-making. I’m interested in reconciliation as an ideal at the level of unmediated relationships in local communities An old idea that’s newly relevant in the neoliberal context in which liberals can talk about being pro-peace (or anti-war) and yet be comfortable with the ongoing relativization of the meaning of relationships in families, communities, and places, a consequence of liberalism’s valorization of self-liberation and unshakeable faith in progress. At the heart of this huge problem of peace is the problem of “otherness,” which liberalism pretends to own but which for them conveniently remains an abstraction, especially convenient when bombing others can be done via a computer screen from a separate continent and even more so, when it is convenient to deny otherness in our most intimate relationships rather than rock the top-down arrangements of neoliberalism.

The denial of otherness in those unmediated relationships where it could actually be met, confronted, and healed is a huge obstacle to peace-making at other levels and more distant relationships. This accepted denial is possible due to the discrediting, in liberal society, of the domain of metaphysical/mythic imagination where dwells the unitive vision, access to which, post-religion, can be had in the individual soul (i.e., “the other within.”) This means, on one hand, because the soul is universal, peace-making is incredibly attainable in a grass-roots, bottom-up way. On the other, sane, educated, enlightened people tend to avoid such an encounter and are supported in doing so by the many powerful distractions and utter busyness that are non-optional in consumer capitalist society. It is no simple matter to bring the dream of peace into the imaginations of people who’ve learned over centuries to oppose their human interests and instead serve interests that are anti-human.

In The Plumed Serpent, which I just read, D.H. Lawrence addresses head on the “gulf” (i.e., otherness) between men and women, or between all individuals where there is that “disgust.” Psychological “projection,” in my understanding of it, is the means the mind finds to bridge that gulf; i.e., positive projection allows one to to connect, to mingle, to fall in love, to adore a saint or worship a movie star. “Disgust,” such as that felt by poet/cult leader Ramon (see epigraph), names the feeling toward all those people who fall outside our positive projections, who are not beloved celebrities, charmers, seducers (or “Obama’s!”), but simply “others.” I have not read Sartre but am familiar with his quotable line, “hell is other people.” To consciously admit the problem of other people (i.e., “otherness”), and to at the same time hold to the truth of underlying (cosmic) unity and interdependence, without relying on old static forms of religion as if people should just return to those confinements, is a very great achievement of love. In these pages Lawrence says much about the reality – the impossibility – of love and of peace.

Beginning with the first scene in The Plumed Serpent, at the bullfight, the savagery of which frightens and disgusts her, the Irish woman Kate returns over and over in her thoughts to her horror of Mexico. But, month after month, attracted to Ramon and the Indian general Cipriano who are attempting to revive pre-Columbian religion, she lingers on. Cipriano asks Kate to marry him, to in this way, “get over” her loathing. As I read it, he is telling her to get over her refusal of the “otherness” of Mexico, of himself, of all that the white woman of good breeding and sensitivity holds between herself and this other reality. She asks, “Ah, how could she marry Cipriano, and give her body to this death? Take the weight of this darkness on her breast, the heaviness of this strange gloom. Die before dying, and pass away whilst beneath the sun? Ah no! Better to escape to the white man’s lands.”

Mexico, standing for the relentless otherness of the other, reveals that gulf existing between all individuals who are others. Lawrence writes well of this true and terribly oppositional condition of our existence, forcing the reader to feel it. The reader must take unsettling, disturbing, implacable otherness into awareness (or else declare fatuously over one’s cocktails, Lawrence is racist, thank goodness I’m liberal and tolerant). Once, I jotted down in the margin of a passage that disturbed me, “Here is Lawrence’s racism!” Reading on, I corrected myself.

Lawrence dared to present in all of its extreme difficulty the (spiritual) reality of the great “invisibles” of relatedness, of which liberal society has become ever more careless and even intolerant. Meanwhile, the top-down produced charisma and virtual connectedness of electronic images, the massaging of mass media and adoration of celebrityhood, provide a fake and glamorous “otherness,” (without the problems presented by flesh-and-blood others) that threatens to replace the immediate, local and conflicted ground of relationships Lawrence wrote about so well. The provision of such an escape hatch for progress-addicted liberals by which they may sidestep the trials and challenges of maintaining the bonds of relatedness, is a real triumph for neoliberal banal reality. By making human community relative, optional, replaceable, the same conversation – based upon the “prompts” from MSNBC, NPR, etc. – replicated everywhere, the dynamic basis for bottom-up grassroots change is eliminated.

Against the collective bourgeois will to banal sameness, Lawrence insists the repulsion against real others is real! Not just, or mainly, against foreign, darker-skinned others: this repulsion exists in every relationship where the positive, cosmetic projection has not allowed disgust to be (illegitimately, in Lawrence’s view) bridged through “fusing,” which relieves the unbearable aloneness without going through painful reconciliation and self-awareness. As the descriptions of the foreboding, brooding, closed off and “inscrutable” Mexico, and the insistent perception of Mexicans as death, darkness, hostility and malice, are repeated, I can put in place of “Mexico,” “Utica,” a place of obdurate dispiritedness, unrelieved (for me) by positive projections of a “saved downtown” and a “brighter future,” where I live.

In place of “Mexico,” due precisely to the “until death” vows of marriage, which in short-to-long order, strip away the positive projection and leave one face-to-face with “the other,” I can, and many times have, put my husband. Forty-two years ago I married someone who would not, could not turn himself into the kind of “fuser” the “fuser” in me sought. Perhaps this was due, we could say, to aspects of his personality it would be easy to pathologize, including a “strange gloom” like Cipriano’s! During episodes when his otherness is revealed, I, like Kate, do not want “the horror in my soul.”

But in liberal America, officially speaking, we have no “Mexico,” no place or people that elicit our disgust (except for those Trump-followers, who draw our most negative projections!) What that means is we can have no real consciousness of the reality of Mexico, or of any other place on the globe that we form ideas about, or even visit tepidly as tourists, or of other people. It means we can get along with the people closest to us only if they present no disagreeable, unacceptable otherness, if they “agree” (non-verbally of course) to be “fused” with ourselves, rather than be difficult and non-conforming. Inasmuch as we perform this mutual service for each other, refusing to leave our areas of agreement for fear of disturbing each other, the art of peace-making is unnecessary. Our mental lives are conveniently contained within media-fed neoliberal consensus reality, which is, though we never acknowledge it, top-down, and infantilizing. Consequently, even in our local communities and immediate relationships, we are actually relating – via the medium of neoliberal capitalist reality – not with “the other” but with neoliberalism in each other! This situation will not change until we can stand a little horror in our soul, allow some disturbance from the other(s) with whom we are stuck in this life and, when a break occurs, seek reconciliation.

Borrowing once again Wendell Berry’s term, “stickers” – to “stick” in a place such as Utica that lacks “positive branding” (branding being a top-down projection), or in a marriage and a family, is not to “fuse” but to, by sticking, recover in a bottom-up way the basic relationships of human community that are now so relativized and damaged. To “stick” is to bring oneself into the crisis of otherness that, in turn, gives the imaginative soul access to consciousness. The inconvenient fact is that otherness can be met only in unmediated relationships. The soul, apparently apparently needs this severe limitation, possibly because it was tutored for millennia by human beings “stuck” in smallish tribes and in nature’s birth-to-death allotted span (unliberated by the false promises of progress and unlimited growth).

If the crisis of otherness cannot be taken on and faced (despite its being too late! – with Arctic ice melting, the government bombing, and fascism menacing -) then purported liberal goals of saving the planet from destruction, or the soul of America from its racism, militarism and greed, will remain a sham. Liberal “disgust” now laundered and made sparkly clean by identity politics, denial near-total, liberals can only hold out for top-down coercion of the smiley-faced, Yale-educated, articulate, “fusey” kind.

The fact that unity can only be bottom up means it must begin in “mysticism,” in the relationship of each to his/her own soul’s dark otherness. As we know, liberal, secular rationalist reality marginalizes and demeans spiritual reality. Less noticed is that, by making the quest for “self-liberation” and the promise of progress supreme, by insisting we must/need never be “stuck,” liberal reality shields us from the horror of the other. In so doing, the conditions (i.e., crisis) by which ordinary people can experience “mystical” unitive reality via imagination, are removed. Thus lacking imaginative, mystical amplification, the ordinary roles and relationships in human family and community are deprived of their whole, rooted meaning. Rootless people, cut off from the nourishment of culture, have no strength to resist the top-down meanings consumer capitalism gladly propagates. Our best hope for resistance now is that people might once again recognize their human need to “stick” within the real affinitive bonds, and to relearn the arts of community, i.e., forgiveness, reconciliation, mutuality, loyalty, fidelity, patience, etc.

Unlike Lawrence, who wanted to build a “commune” that likely, based in his principles and personal charisma, would have been a cult, I harbor no such utopian illusion. My particular soul’s demand that I persist at my crazy creative work, allows me to be at peace with my actual helplessness to affect anyone else. My trust is rewarded by contact with a wisdom exceeding what I could otherwise attain. In the soul’s wisdom, covenants and promises are great human ends; nourished and enlivened by the creative imagination, “stickers”in relationships over time may become “vales of peace-making.”

Mobilizing the Poor People’s Campaign

Counterpunch - 5 hours 11 min ago

This week in Washington, the powers that be are hearing from a vital new democratic force in this country.

For three days, the Poor People’s Campaign will bring poor and low-wage Americans to the nation’s capital to call for a moral renewal in this nation. They will question many of those who are seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Congressional hearings will showcase their Poor People’s Moral Budget.

Their actions should be above the fold of every newspaper in America; they should lead the news shows and fill the talk shows. A movement for common sense and social justice is building, putting every politician on notice: lead or get out of the way, a new moral majority is building and demanding change.

As the co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, write in their forward, this movement is not partisan. It calls not for liberal or conservative reforms, but for a moral renewal. It is not a deep-pocket lobby. It is mobilizing the 144 million Americans who are poor or one crisis away from poverty into a “new and unsettling force” to “revive the heart of democracy in America.”

This movement launched on Mother’s Day in May 2018. In 40 days, it triggered 200 actions across many states with 5,000 nonviolent demonstrators committing civil disobedience, and millions following the protests online. Forty states now have coordinating committees build a coalition of poor people and people of faith and conscience across lines of race, religion, region and other lines of division.

They are morally outraged that the richest nation in the world would in a “willful act of policy violence” condemn 140 million — more than 40 percent of the population — to live in poverty or near poverty. This includes 39 million children, 60 percent — 26 million — of African Americans, 64 percent — 38 million — of Latinos, more than one-third — 66 million — of white Americans.

These realities — and the extreme inequality that scars this society — pre-date the Trump administration, but now Trump is fanning increasing policy violence against the poor. In response, the Poor People’s Campaign is doing deep organizing and power building among the poor, turning them from victims to subject actors in history.

This week, the campaign releases their Poor People’s Moral Budget. It details authoritatively that the cost of our current inequality, the cost of mass poverty is far greater than what it would cost to invest in people, put them to work at a living wage and guarantee basic economic and political rights. It costs society big time to not provide health care or quality education or clean water and air, to suppress voting rights and to keep wages low.

The moral budget is detailed and authoritatively sourced. The numbers are clear, as is the conclusion.

As the document concludes, “We have been investing in killing people; we most now invest in life. We have been investing in systemic racism and voter suppression; we must now invest in expanding democracy. We have been investing in punishing the poor; we must now invest in the welfare of all. We have been investing in the wealthy and corporations; we must now invest in the people who build this country.”

This is not a time for incremental change, but for fundamental transformation of our priorities and our direction. The budget details large reforms — from automatic voter registration, a living wage, health care for all, quality education from pre-k through college, investment in clean energy and modern infrastructure. It details how these and other reforms can be easily afforded by fair taxes on the wealthy and corporations and by ending our effort to police the world.

The Poor People’s Campaign picks up the unfinished work of Dr. Martin Luther King. It realizes that ending the policy of violence on the poor at home cannot be achieved without challenging the costly endless wars and constant arms buildup that only make us less secure. It understands that change will come not from the top down, not from our corrupted big money politics, but from the poor, the worker, people of conscience coming together to revive our democracy and to change our course.

In these troubled times, the promise of this new force is powerful. Across the country, working and poor people are beginning to move. If this movement can continue to grow, it will transform our politics. And it is the only force that can.

 

We Need Evidence-Based Decision Making

Counterpunch - 5 hours 14 min ago

Imagine for a moment that political discussions can assume the same evidence-based knowledge as active components in decision making as treatment pathways do when responding to illness and disease. The impact of care is studied out of a need for protecting and preserving quality of life. Politics should also serve these same ends, but, indeed, politics carries a burden healthcare does not: different values. Forgetting that there are legitimate differences in values—like I prioritize equality over security or others prioritize fiscal responsibility over freedom–let’s briefly return to the idea of truth as a foundation for politics and policy.

Ignorance presents a challenge to truth. After all, there is no way to accommodate good decision making when there are serious gaps in information. Medical professionals make diagnostic tests in order to figure out what’s wrong, the same as mechanics do when the check engine light comes on in your car. Drinking water, for example, will help alleviate a headache caused by dehydration but is unlikely to help much for a headache caused by meningitis.

The (then) War Department, published Training Manual No. 2000-25, inWashington, D.C., November 30, 1928. It provides instruction on being a citizen, and describes and defines key terms. “These precise and scholarly definitions of a Democracy and a Republic were carefully considered as a proper guide for U.S. soldiers and U.S. citizens by the Chief of Staff of the United States Army.” What people should, or should not do, has always been a source of conflict, but “a well informed public” is enumerated in most democratic proscriptions. After all, the power is in the hands of the people and information is prerequisite to good decision making. The current political crisis in the United States could actually be resolved with evidence-based decision making.

Do not take my word for it, read the “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election” (in short: “Mueller Report”) yourself. Once you have read it you will likely have the same conclusion that everyone (except William Barr, but virtually literally everyone else) has. An abbreviated list of the evidence:

1) The Russians, on order from Russian President Vladimir Putin, attempted to help Trump and hurt Clinton, (vol. 1, pp. 4-5, 35).

2) The Trump campaign was quite willing to accept their help (vol. 1, pp. 5-7).

3) Numerous suspicious connections between Russians and the Trump campaign (vol. 1, pp. 8-10).

4) Russia hacked the accounts of multiple people involved in the Clinton campaign and illegally dumped that material, to the Trump campaign’s benefit (vol. 1, pp. 36-50).

5) Russia also made cyber attacks on U.S. state and local entities, state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and county governments including their employees (vol. 1, pp. 50-51).

6) Mueller decided not to charge the president for obstruction, because of a Justice Department policy (vol. 2, pp. 1-2, 8).

7) Obstruction of justice can be charged when there is no underlying crime. (vol. 2, pp. 9-12, 157).

8) The president, as head of the Executive Branch, is not above obstruction laws (vol. 2, pp. 168-169, 180).

9) The evidence for several instances of potential obstruction (there were 11 total) were strong enough to bring charges, but refer to point 4 (vol. 2, pp. 87-90, 97-98, 111-113, 118-120).

10) President Trump was not exonerated regarding obstruction of justice (vol. 2, pp. 8, 182).

Or, read the executive summaries provided with the report, volume 1 (pp. 4-10) and volume 2 (pp. 1-8) provide the reader with the important conclusions from an assessment of the evidence.

If, as a country, we do not seriously push back against dishonest politicians and the politics of corruption, then we are responsible for the ugly outcomes. Walter Cronkite said, “Freedom is a package deal… with it comes responsibilities and consequences.” I believe we have moved past the point of debate; the facts are crystal clear as is the next step. But we have not moved at all; we are living in the gross injustice of dishonesty—we are failed by citizens ignoring their patriotic responsibilities to inform themselves and respond to the undeniable corruption and we are more supremely punished by the death of democracy. Political thieves are getting away with their immoral and illegitimate inaction by claiming all the power, even though the numb and fatigued public could seize it legitimately. Reclaim the urgency and higher ground by addressing the ignorance and dishonesty of our times—read and react to the Mueller Report—or you will be sorry.

Health Consequences of Overwork

Counterpunch - 5 hours 45 min ago

Working for long periods under extreme stressful work conditions can lead to sudden death. “Burn out” is now described as an occupational phenomenon, resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

This is a phenomenon that in its most extreme manifestation is described by the Japanese as karõshi, literally translated as “death from overwork,” or occupational sudden death, mainly from a heart attack and stroke due to stress. Karõshi has been more widely studied in Japan, where the first case of this phenomenon was reported in 1969.

In 1987, as people’s concerns about karõshi increased, the Japanese Ministry of Labor began to publish statistics on the problem. According to government estimates, 200 people die from overwork annually because of the long hours spent at the workplace.

Death by overwork lawsuits have been on the rise in Japan, prompted by the deceased’s relatives demanding compensation payments. In Japan, if karõshi is considered a cause of death, surviving family members may receive compensation from the government and up to $1 million from the responsible company in damages.

Extension of the phenomenon

This phenomenon is not limited to Japan. Other Asian nations such as China, South Korea and Bangladesh have reported similar incidents. In China, where the phenomenon is called guolaosi, it was estimated in 2010 that 600,000 people had died this way.

Increasingly, workers in more than 126,000 Chinese factories are organizing and demanding better work conditions. In South Korea, where the work ethic is Confucian-inspired, and work usually involves six-day workweeks with long hours, the phenomenon is called gwarosa.

In the United States, workers in some areas such as banking and finance work extremely long hours, despite its obvious negative consequence. A 2018 survey by The Physicians

Foundation states that 80 percent of physicians across all specialties report being at full capacity or overextended and 78 percent report experiencing feelings of burnout.

Causes and consequences

The causes and consequences of karoshi have been studied in particular by Japan’s National Defense Council for Victims of Karoshi, established in 1988. Japan has much longer working hours that any other developed country. The country’s grueling work schedule has been suggested as one of the main causes of karoshi. It is not, however, the only cause.

A growing body of evidence indicates that workers in high-demand situations who have little control of their work and low social support are at increased risk of developing and dying of cardiovascular disease, including myocardial infarction and stroke. Stressful work conditions are a critical component of this phenomenon. In this regard, it has been found that workers exposed to long overtime periods show markedly elevated levels of stress hormones.

The consequences of long working hours and stressful situations at work are not limited to men. Several studies have shown strong links between women with stressful jobs and cardiovascular disease. In the Women’s Health Study (WHS) — a landmark study involving 17,000 female health professionals — a group of Harvard researchers found that women whose work is highly stressful have a 40 percent increased risk of heart disease compared with their less stressed colleagues.

The results of the WHS were confirmed both in Denmark and in China. A large 15-year study conducted in Denmark found that the greater the work pressure, the higher the risk for heart disease among women under the age of 52. In Beijing, a study among white-collar workers found that job strain was associated in women with increased thickness of the carotid artery wall.

Moving forward

Death by overwork affects not only the families themselves who may lose the main breadwinner in the family but also the industries as a result of lawsuits and lost productivity. That, in turn, affects the national economy. It is therefore urgent to devise ways to curb this problem.

It is important for workers to get regular exercise, which will reduce anxiety and depression and improve sleep. Whenever possible, they should practice relaxation techniques and, if they feel overwhelmed by their personal situation, seek help from a mental health professional.

At the industrial level, organizations should provide the workers with the best conditions for their work, a policy that may look expensive but that will be of better economic value in the long run. Business executives should realize that it is counterproductive for them to place excessive demands on their workers.

At the government level, legislation should be passed to increase job security and skill training as well as employee’s participation in issues that directly affect them such as transfers and promotions. Workers who have better control of their jobs will increase productivity and suffer less from the stressful component of their jobs. In the long run, prevention is the more humane and cheapest alternative to a very serious social and public health problem.

These Statistics Show Why the Status Quo Is Failing Most Americans

Naked Capitalism - 6 hours 29 min ago
Ugly but important statistics on America's fraying social fabric.

Whether It’s the New NAFTA or the Old NAFTA, It Serves the 1 Percent

Naked Capitalism - 8 hours 34 min ago
By Leo W. Gerard, the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW). Produced by the Independent Media Institute Mick Mulvaney, a millionaire who is President Trump’s acting chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, awarded himself another job last week: spokesman for labor. Referring to the proposed new NAFTA, […]

US Effort in Venezuela Not Limited to ‘One Round’ – Report

Sputnik News - 9 hours 52 min ago
The United States continues to pursue an agenda of ousting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, despite the opposition finding less support among the Venezuelan people, an anonymous White House official said in a comment.
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