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Tells the Facts, Names the Names
Updated: 52 min 5 sec ago

Say Goodbye to MAD, But Remember the Fight for Free Expression

7 hours 59 min ago

The Los Angeles Timesand other media outlets recently announced that MAD magazine was going to cease publishing a hard copy or newsstand edition and will only be available through subscription and in comic-book stores.  More troubling, at year’s end it will cease being published.  Say goodbye to the ever-subversive freckled-faced of Alfred E. Neuman.

Comedian “Weird Al” Yankovic was MAD’s first guest editor and moaned the announcement, tweeting: “I am profoundly sad to hear that after 67 years, MAD Magazine is ceasing publication. I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid — it’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird.  Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.”

MAD was introduced in 1952 as a comic book, the first issue written by its editor, Harvey Kurtzman.  In ’55, Bill Gaines, head of Educational Comics (EC), a small New York publisher at 225 Lafayette Street, launched it as a magazine.  It was billed as “Tales calculated to drive you MAD?  Humor in a Jugular Vein.”  It initially adhered to the 32-page comic-book convention, offering four stories that parodied other EC comics and sold for 10¢.

Its readership peaked in 1974 at more than 2 million but in recent years it seems no longer relevant.  MAD joins a growing number of satirical publications that have disappeared.  Spy, founded and edited by Graydon Carter and Kurt Anderson, closed in 1998 and The Onion ceased as a print publication in 2013, though it continues online.

***

The sad state of American journalism is reflected in the fact that none of the innumerable media reports about the impending closing of MAD mentioned the battle Gains fought with the post-WW-II culture-war censors.

Looking back in 1983, Gaines recalled, “In the ’50s I was an extreme liberal.”  He admitted, “I’m not against abortion, I’m not against pornography, I’m not against living together without getting married because I’ve been doing it with my dear young lady here for 10 years, and the last thing in the world I would do is get married because I’m convinced that will wreck it.”  Gaines was a classic Brooklyn liberal who had backed Pres. Roosevelt and fought in the war.

When the war ended, comics were a mass-market phenomenon.  In 1945, the Market Research Company of America estimated that 70 million Americans (about half the nation’s population) read comic books.  The greatest number of these readers was young people between 6 and 11 years; it reported that 95 percent of boys and 91 percent of girls read them.  It also found that adults between 18 to 30 years were avid comic consumers; 41 percent of men and 28 percent of women reported regularly reading comics. One study estimated that in 1946 nearly 540 million comics were published and, by the mid-‘50s, monthly sales had skyrocketed to an estimated 90 million.

No one knew what comic book would find an audience, so innovation was encouraged – and knockoffs were an accepted feature of the business.  People from all ethnic backgrounds and walks of life, including precocious youths, African-Americans and even women, got their start working in comics, including such popular authors as Patricia Highsmith, Stanley Kauffmann and Mickey Spillane.  The media “establishment” — consisting of “serious” writers, artists and critics — looked down on comics, dismissing them as an unsophisticated kids medium.

Comics were part of an insurgent youth-oriented culture, a consumerism complemented by movies, music, fashion and cigarette smoking. It was a subversive culture rooted in rebellion, challenging parental authority and sexual standards.  It was a culture threatening established order; juvenile delinquency represented stepping over the line.  The battle over delinquency would remake the nation’s moral order.

Between 1941 and 1957, the FBI found in its 1959 Uniform Crime Reports, juvenile court cases increased 220 percent.  While predominately an urban phenomenon, it reported that in 1957 youth crime increased7 percent increase in the suburbs and 15 percent increase in rural areas.  FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover joined the chorus of those exhorting Americans to “stop mollycoddling juvenile criminals. It is against the instincts of most Americans to get tough with children.”  He added, “But the time has come when we must impose sterner penalties and restrictions on young lawbreakers for the protection of the law abiding.”

In late-1953, the U.S. Senate established a special subcommittee to investigate juvenile delinquency.  As part of its efforts, it held public and private hearings in Washington, DC, Boston, Denver and Philadelphia that culminating, in April ’54, in New York.  Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN), an ambitious politician, was a member of the subcommittee. He believed “obscene” media came in all forms and contributed to the rise of youth crime.  However, he singled out comic books, especially those labeled crime and horror, for promoting violence.

Kefauver was not alone in assailing comic books.  In 1954, the Book-of-the-Month Club assailed Batman: “It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.”  The media decried Superman, some wondering if he was not a fascist; Wonder Woman was condemned as “a morbid ideal. … Her followers are the gay girls.”  And Cat-woman was attacked because she was “… vicious and uses a whip.”  Popular comics like The Crypt of Terror and The Vault of Horror were denounced as “sex horror serials” and “pulp paper nightmares” that created “ethical confusion.”

The Senate’s hearings on juvenile delinquency and comics was held in New York on April 21, 1954, and continued the next day, the 22nd, and concluded on June 4th.  Kefauver made a short introductory comment, adding the FBI’s authority to his remarks: “I think it is also important to point out that Mr. J. Edgar Hoover’s report of yesterday shows … juveniles … comprise 53.6 percent of those arrested for stealing automobiles.”

Fredric Wertham, a noted psychiatrist and author of Seduction of the Innocent (1954), testified as an expert witness on the effects of comic books.  He insisted that comic-book advertisements promoted unhealthy products, including rifles, knives, daggers and even whips.  He argued that comics perpetuate racial stereotypes; heroes were nearly always white, while the villains were often portrayed as ethnic minorities whether foreign born, Orientals, Italian or of dark-skinned races.  And he claimed, “all comic books have a very bad effect on teaching the youngest children the proper reading technique, to learn to read from left to right.”

Wertham concluded his testimony with these memorable lines: “Well, I hate to say that, Senator, but I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry. They get the children much younger. They teach them race hatred at the age of 4 before they can read.”

After a lunch break, Gains took the witness stand.  He was alone among comic book publishersto voluntarily appear before the committee.  A WW-II veteran, he took the proverbial bull by the horn and challenged the committee’s underlying premise. “I was the first publisher in these United States to publish horror comics.  I am responsible, I started them,” he proclaimed.

Gains then directly challenged Wertham.  “It would be just as difficult to explain the harmless thrill of a horror story to a Dr. Wertham as it would be to explain the sublimity of love to a frigid old maid.”  Going further, he insisted, “Pleasure is what we sell, entertainment, reading enjoyment.   Entertaining reading has never harmed anyone.” He invoked Judge John M. Woolsey’s 1934 decision, U.S. v. One Book Entitled Ulysses by James Joyce, lifting the ban on the legendary novel to legitimize horror as a form of free speech.

Following his opening remarks, committee members took up the battle with Gaines over horror comics.  Kefauver challenged Gains:

Kefauver:  Here is your May issue. This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding a woman’s head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that’s in good taste?

Gaines:   Yes sir, I do – for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding her head a little higher so that blood could be seen dripping from it and moving the body a little further over so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.

Kefauver: You’ve got blood coming out of her mouth.

Gaines:  A little.

The afternoon’s sessions ended with brief appearances three creative industry representatives.

“I’ll tell you the truth,” Gaines later admitted I was so nervous when I was up there that I barely knew what I was doing,”. “First of all, I’d been up all night writing my introductory speech, which I wrote with Lyle Stuart [EC’s business manager].”  He had been up every night during the preceding week, dropping Dexedrine tablets and drinking coffee nonstop to keep going.  “And when I got into the Senate Subcommittee hearings my Dexedrine wore off,” he lamented.  “A wet sponge, that’s how I felt.  And I didn’t know what I was doing.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there.”  The committee faced him like a “prosecuting attorney” and he felt shamed, guilty.  “… It was rough answering all these questions.  Everybody looking at you like you’re a freak and a criminal and so on and so forth.”

It its final report, Kefauver’s subcommittee warned: “This country cannot afford the calculated risk involved in feeding its children, through comic books, a concentrated diet of crime, horror and violence …. Rather, the aim should be to eliminate all materials that potentially exert detrimental effects. To achieve this end, it will require continuing vigilance on the part of parents, publishers and citizens’ groups.”

***

During the postwar period, comic books were subject to repeated waves of censorship campaigns, including comic-book burnings.  During the period of 1947 to ’49, more than one hundred cities across the country, big and small, passed laws or ordinances to ban the display or sale of comic books. These campaigns took place in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles; in Baltimore, Cleveland, Hartford, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New Orleans and Sacramento as well as Ann Arbor (MI), Coral Gables (FL), Falls Church (VA), Hillsdale (MI), Mt. Prospect (IL) and Nashua (NH).

The anti-comics climate heated up in ’54 and ’55 with more than a dozen states either considering or enacting legislature to regulate or suppress comic books.  Among those states were California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

The most contentious efforts to censor comics took place in New York State because a good number of the publishers operated out of Gotham.  In 1948, the U.S.Supreme Court, in Winters vs. New York, struck down as unconstitutional a state law prohibiting the publication and/or distribution of material “principally made up of criminal news, police reports, or accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures, or stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust or crime.” However, in ’49,NYS assemblyman James Fitzpatrick organized the Joint LegislativeCommittee to Study the Publication of Comics to fashion legislature to circumvent the Court’s ruling.  In ‘54, the state legislators passed a number of bills to restrict comic books, but Governor Thomas Dewey vetoed them on constitutional grounds.  However, in ’55, the new governor, Averill Harriman, approved what was dubbed the “Fitzpatrick Act” restricting comics.

Ray Bradbury published his sci-fi classic, Fahrenheit 451, in 1953.  The title signifies the temperature at which book-paper burns.  It’s a dystopian novel about postmodern “firemen” who censor threatening texts by burning them and the small, isolated communities of people committed to keeping the written word — as a memorized, spoken text — alive.  Bradbury wrote his classic tale against a background of book burnings taking place in communities around the country.

In 1945, students of Saints Peter and Paul School, in Wisconsin Rapids, WI, participated in a school-sponsored comic-book collection drive and then burned the comics.  Other book burnings took place in West Virginia, Illinois and New York.  In Cape Girardeau, MO, the Girl Scouts led the charge.  They collected comics and brought them to St. Mary’s, a local Catholic high school, where students held a mock trial as to whether comics were “leading young people astray and building up false conceptions in the minds of youth.” The student jury found the comics guilt and the students burned them.

MAD was radical not in an ideological or conventional leftist sense, but subversive in that nothing was above critical exposure and mockery.  It mocked Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Superman and even Sen. McCarthy.  In a 1954 piece entitled, “What’s My Shine!,” it linked the popular game show, “What’s My Line,” to the Army-McCarthy hearings, punning one of McCarthy’s closest aides, David Schine.  For some, MAD was more radical than contemporary “progressive” publications like DissentCommentaryPartisan Review and The New Leader.

One can well image Bill Gaines roaring in his grave, gleeful over how he ultimately got his sweet revenge.  The moralists who so persecuted him, most notably Kefauver and Wertham, have long been relegated to the dustbin of history.  And the comic business that he spent more than three-decades of nurturing – soon to pass into the magazine graveyard – is today a multi-billion-dollar, international industry.

This Is Heaven!: A Journey to the Pearly Gates with Chuck Mertz

8 hours 14 sec ago

Note: This is merely a humble recount of a vision and it in no way reflects the *real actions of Chuck Mertz, Jesus Christ or anyone else.

Note: This is a translation of a dream-like state and therefore cannot be fully understood within the constraints of narrative and the naturally alienating medium of reconstruction of experiences through words that cannot fully capture the original feeling. Alas, we are left with only memories, shades of what could have been for another person, in another time. Brother Mertz brings us closest to the radical imagination necessary for empathy. Empathy, or even better democracy, leads to an explosion of new states of mind that enriches the remarkable human mind which is perpetually bound by capital and survival, which both frightens away imagination and leaves no energy or utility for it. A free market relies on competition and fear for creation and therefore can only create more intricate modes of destruction and imprisonment. Rather, Brother Chuck, teach us your ways of looking deep into the soul of another and finding that at least for a moment, one can exit the constraints of the ego, and become radically different, not only in the liberal sense of distance—which is categorical but in the biotic sense that finds the lion lies with the lamb not out of kindness—but rather out of mercy. Find whatever truth in these words from Brother Chuck, and leave the rest.

I passed through what felt like a million tight doors made of gelatin to reach a land that was pure, good and above all, honest. Waiting on the other side, and this really was the other side, was a man who I thought I recognized immediately as radio man Chuck Mertz. Chuck had an uncommon glow surrounding him. In fairness, it may be a feature of the man you just miss on the radio, but upon further examination, I had to conclude that there was something different about this man. Something divine, that is.

Chuck looked like a cross between the same three pictures of Chuck online and the millions of pictures of Jesus Christ. Needless to say, the Chuck was clear, the Jesus, murky. Chuck wore a tattered sweatshirt and was accompanied by a floating microphone. He wore sandals, although seeing there were only pictures of Chuck from the chest up on *Google, much of in between was missing.

Chuck and I found ourselves facing each other in a capacious field. The silence wasn’t deafening, it was absolute. The background sounds and smells so common to our ungodly earth were taken out and I felt no bothers at all. The scene begged for addition, seeing subtraction was impossible. It remained unlikely that I would be the one to bring anything more, fearing to upset the balance that could only be described as seraphic.

I didn’t feel it was right to speak in the presence of such unworldly power so I stayed silent for what seemed like days. It was hard to tell because the sun never set here. Alarmingly I wasn’t thirsty or hungry either. I was never tired, but that may have been because I was dreaming. I never had to use the restroom. Nor did I need to wear anything to protect me from the sun, which was full and radiant.

Chuck seemed at peace with this scenario. I knew he was a chill guy but his calmness now made me restless, or it should have. Could Chuck really stand this long without distressing about late-stage capitalism? This was where I felt the need to assert myself. I took a deep breath and cried out, with a crack in my voice: “Where am I?”

Chuck spoke back with a pace that was as graceful as the finest dancer and it seemed like his words could neither tip the balance one way or the other.

“My brother” he began, and I felt perturbed by this use of direct language, “why does it matter?” I began to think, and having not come up with a reason, for I was perfectly content, said nothing. This time, Chuck did not let the quiet linger and he continued:

“You are in heaven. I know no other word to describe this place. Although even that word does not do it justice.”

“So, I am dead?” I wasn’t ready for his answer, because I hoped I was.

“As you would understand it, yes. Are you uncomfortable?”

I didn’t know what to make of this question. I was perfectly comfortable, in the comforting sense of the word. Why would I care though, about comfort having just found out I was dead? Upon contemplation the question had some wisdom precisely because the comfort was so pristine I truly did not care that I was dead, and I had no desire to be alive again.

“I am comfortable. In fact, I have no desires of any kind.”

“That is because they are all fulfilled. You must be wondering where everyone else is, yes? What the rest of heaven is like? It’s not just me in a field.”

I was wondering that, now that he brought it up. I hadn’t thought of it before. I was overwhelmed by contentment. This alarmed me, but why should it? Sensing me, Chuck went on.

“We can go to see them. Now, or whenever you want.” Before I saw them, I needed a question answered that I had always had about heaven, and it kept, even as all other questions had deserted me in the face of a state that defied improvement.

“Is heaven different for every person?”

“Everything is different, for everyone.” This was true, and my mind rested. Chuck went on, answering my question after his point was proven.

“Heaven is not a place, exactly. You shouldn’t worry. Never worry.” This helped me even less in answering the question, and only helped me in forgetting it.

“Come, my brother” and I followed Chuck. As we began to move my mind became preoccupied with earthly questions. How did everyone in heaven have time to meet with Chuck, if there were billions of people who needed him? How was it possible that everyone had their desires fulfilled when on earth there was always conflict between what each of us wanted? I thought the first question could be answered, and the second question wouldn’t be. So I asked about Chuck’s schedule and he said:

“I am having office hours at Cary’s Lounge. You’re welcome to join, my brother.” Giving up on any answers, I let my mind evaporate into a stupor that was both pleasant and hallow. We came to a single window, that stood on its own, at about the perfect place for breaking it.

“You want to break the window, yes?” Chuck asked. I did. And a rock formed in my hand. I threw the rock and the window shattered. To my amazement, there was not a mess on the ground. I was, as Chuck had taught me, suspicious, but he urged me on:

“Don’t worry. Please, come.” And so I came through the window and we were met by a familiar face. The great Ralph Nader! Ralph looked well, although he was hard to read.

“Mr. Nader here is our driver. He is taking us to heaven.” So we got in the car and it was the smoothest ride imaginable. The car didn’t have seatbelts, and I was almost sure we didn’t need them. Still, I had to wonder what Mr. Nader, who is the reason we have seatbelts in cars now, thought about that.

Chuck told me that this was merely a tour. I could live here soon, but only if I wanted to. I couldn’t imagine not wanting to. I was so stupefied by the entire situation that I didn’t ask what he meant. Chuck told me that we would be passing by all my fulfilled desires. All I needed to do was tell Mr. Nader what they were and he would drive by where they were currently being fulfilled.

So we passed by everything I thought I needed. Lavish homes, beautiful women, pressed clothes and no labor to speak of. Money, I thought to myself, need not spin its evil web here, and money was gone. Children who looked up to me as a hero. A muscular body. A bountiful feast. Even magic powers. Captive friends. Land to protect and cultivate. Creepy paintings. Fast cars. A camera on the savages for entertainment. And, almost as an afterthought, no homeless people (too messy).

On that thought, the car dragged to a halt.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. I was angry. I had forgot about Ralph.

“My brother” Chuck said, “we have reached what Marx called a contradiction. It is here where Ralph stops the car because he does not know which way to go.”

“What do you mean, Chuck?”

“For example, say that you wished that your heaven had no Chuck Mertz.”

“I would never wish that!” I tried to defend myself at what felt like an attack.

“No, I must say this position of Jesus is a rather new one for me. I think your love for me is pure.”

“Pure! Yes, it is all pure!”

“Yes, but you see purity is where we find our contradiction. “

“Go on!” I urged Chuck, for he was pausing again. Seeing the relationship to time was detached, I couldn’t say how long he paused for. Weeks, months, years.

“If you really wanted me to go on, I would already be going on. This is heaven. You make all of the rules. You are only having me pause because you do not want to hear the rest, or are not ready to.”

“Does that mean I am also making up everything you say, Brother Chuck?”

“Remember the Albus Dumbledore quote: “Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

“So am I merely constructing a recreation of my generation’s Bible? With myself cast as the protagonist?”

“At least this one has a happy ending” Chuck said with a glitter in his bluest eye.

I must have been ready for my original question, as the answer flowed from Chuck’s inner depths, without a prompting.

“Remember back to when you learned about Santa Claus. The first question the child asks is: how does Santa make it to every house? From a young age we are aware of the material limitations of the world. It is at that age that we are more aware than ever of these constraints. At that age, a cookie on top of the countertop is out of reach. Even if we were a baby that was 100 feet tall with arms the size of tree trunks this cookie would be out of reach. It is not the physical and mental restrictions that limit the child, but the place the child is given in society. The child is aware that there are rules because she is always breaking them. Once we gain power in the world this changes. Once we trade in the natural inclinations of our soul and opt instead for society’s acceptance, approval, reward, and most importantly mercy, it is only then that we begin to forget how materially restricted our world is for both the underprivileged and rebellious. As a child we know that Santa could not come to every house in one night because we know that the world has its ecological and physical limits, as we run up against them everyday. It is only when we become old enough to conquer the world that we begin to forget the process of our own fragile and vain existence.”

We were interrupted by the snores of Brother Ralph from the front seat. I began to laugh, but Chuck scolded me.

“You must have thought it was funny to have a man of such importance fall asleep during my speech. A cheap and ageist joke.”

Stunned at this shift in tone from the comic Chuck, I was let off the hook when he continued:

“Although you did want to be scolded for it. Good for you.” Was this heaven after all? I was being complemented for seeking punishment, but it was only years later that I discovered that Chuck was joking here, and may have been joking the whole time, for all I know.

“We’ll keep Ralph snoring. You see the Santa Claus paradox?”

“Yes, I do. Santa Claus cannot exist because it would be materially impossible for him to reach every house.”

“We are living in a world that believes that it can and should fill every material gap. This is a world that stops at nothing to achieve its most ludicrous desires. Even when these desires are fulfilled there remains a longing and we come across a class of elites that will never be satisfied. Every corner of the earth must be drilled and extracted from, every person worked to the bone, for every last drop of fantastical valor. And yet, we judge the poor the most harshly. I am a man of judgment, my brother. Make no mistake.”

“How does Santa then exist in the modern world?”

“He very well may come true, in his own way. Not just through bums hired in malls to play him. Could we not imagine that the world needs a certain fantasy so much that we would be willing to sacrifice all our loved ones and liberties to achieve it? And most horrifying, we wouldn’t even notice what we have lost, except in passing, as just another thought on the bullet train of overstimulation on the road to alienation from the fundamental human condition.”

“Brother Chuck, wasn’t it you who just said that if it happens inside your head, then it must be real?”

“Let me answer that. There is truth that no experience, by any person, in any time, is any more real than another. Each of us is truly as valuable and beautiful as the next. Each of us belongs to the same kingdom of God and each of us at our base have the same soul and essence. So in that sense, the scare about the loss of religion is quite overblown. I would argue that religion never existed as the pure truth we think of. In all its forms it has always been a way to explain the human condition when used sincerely. In this way we could say there has never been a time when we have been closer to God than we are now. This is because we are discovering ourselves in ways that are not bound by historical institutions that attempt, but always fail, to explain God. This is what we remember. If all things earthly are imperfect, then all attempts to find the true religion have failed. The only blasphemy that one can have is to pretend to have found the answer and call your sister lost just because her path is different than yours.”

“But Brother Chuck, weren’t you just saying we have been in a state of moral decay?”

“What we have is the actualization of conquest over the earth in its most severe form to date. And our conquest over each other within the human race is at a notable, although certainly not singular high in many respects, such as wealth inequality. So in that sense, we are destroying ourselves willfully, although not completely knowingly because there remains the distance between the different segments of God’s soul. These different segments occupy different bodies, or even different groups of bodies, but we all are all one. In that sense, I do find the modern subject, so entranced by their own ascetic to be one that is not immoral per se, but simply unknowingly self-destructive precisely because the self is miscalculated within a body that will never reach perfection and a mind that will never find resolve. It is in this way that the singular unit of God’s world must become chaotic as its innards compete for God’s reward of salvation. Which is silly, really. We are all God, we are all saved. The only risk of falling from God’s grace is to become something you are not, for we are all God until we destroy ourselves.”

“What does any of this have to do with heaven?”

“Brother, I am coming. Heaven is much the same way. We have our own desires but they have material limits. To live in heaven, where all one’s desires are achieved, is possible. Anything is possible. However it comes within a context of other actors within the world. The most painful thing for anyone to hear is that their own desires may stomp on someone else’s. This is why we find that heaven remains a mathematical impossibility, although there will always be someone who tries. It is through this process that God wields his justice—and it is only here where he has no mercy. On the poor man, God has mercy. He brings him truth, or at least death. The rich man is abandoned by God—left to live within his own misery and regret.”

“It is worse than that, Chuck. It is anguish. I am living in this heaven, where I have all I want. And yet all I feel is desperation. I want to hurl myself off a bridge and never look back.”

“How would that help you? You are already dead.”

“It will be like this, forever, then?”

“Forever and always. Your only job now is to make sense of it. Your only job is to enjoy it as much as possible.”

“Why? Why can’t it change?”

“Because this is what you want. You asked for all of this, and now you have it. You know that the world slaves for your benefit, you know that the world burns for your energy, and you know that in every crying child, you see yourself. You are yourself. You cannot escape that part of you is crying. Yet to know truly how this child is, you would have to become her. You would have to know that you, like the child, suffers, toils and is never rewarded for it. You would have to know the world has no fair rules and that the sole merit in this life is finding yourself in all its unexpected places. You will never find yourself here. You will never escape your box of glory and excess because you can’t.”

“I want to see. I want to see how this is made. How this world runs and who it runs on.”

“And then what will you do? You will never be happy and the whole world will always be sad.”

“Chuck! Stop this Chuck! Stop it now! I am dying inside. Never has there been a pain this great. Never known to man.”

“I think you should ask your slaves about that.” Chuck knew that would get me but it also made me feel better. Finally an acknowledgement of the real.

“The left leg cannot walk forward the same time as the right leg. We are one body but we are not the same. We are of one spirit but we can never know exactly what the rest of the body is thinking.”

“What is it thinking?”

“The same as you. How can I end this?”

“Why did I choose this? Why couldn’t I have saved them? Wouldn’t we all feel better?”

“Perhaps. And yet you question me now. How can you doubt fate? This is exactly who you are meant to be. You want to help these people? Stop looking back. You left them here. You left them here to die. And you chose to do that. Maybe you felt scared. Maybe you just had the wrong instincts. But look at you now. Look at you learning, growing, thinking.”

“You haven’t told me how I can help them.”

“Become the world again. Return to it and soon this instinct of helping yourself will spread.”

“It is kindness, that you seek, Brother Chuck?”

“Kindness dies in darkness. What I am looking for is wisdom. Wisdom to know that there has never been a happy man who acts against himself. If you know this. If you trust this. Then when the time comes, you will do what you must, and you will feel better.”

“It won’t get better, will it?”

“No. They will suffer. You can’t save them. But it is here where I say you save yourself. You are no good to this heaven a dead man. You may not be worth it. But none of us are. All of us are nothing in God’s kingdom. All you can do is become something.”

“What can I become in a world like this? All the people, enslaved in my name. All the earth, owned in my name. I am all of it already.”

“Are you? Or do you just own it? Let it go. Let it grow. What was once your purity is now your power. Today you let that go. Let the world flourish and you will find to your comfort that it is just as capable of neglect as you are. It remains just as afraid. Just as alone. Life is all a misunderstanding. We all want to do something. We all want to be adjusted. We all want what is right. But none of it makes sense. There are so many contradictions that you will never be satisfied. Therefore you must do what you must.”

“How is this heaven? Why am I such a coward? And why did you put me here? Do you want to punish me?”

“Yes, of course I do. Look what you did to my people. You are being punished. What is a greater curse than perfection? Therefore I suggest you be just a little grateful for your regret and your despair about the conditions you have created. It is the one ounce of humanity I have left for you. If not for this, what would you feel? What would you remember?”

“Will I ever be happy, Chuck? Will I ever recover?”

“Unlikely. How would I know? If this remains your question, you have a long way to go.”

A Racist President and Racial Trauma

8 hours 31 sec ago

When an American person of color hears—“go back to where you came from”—those very words epitomize racism. They are white code for “you do not belong here”. And “you are not white” and therefore “you are not us”; and as such, you are not part of this country, the United States, which should be white.

Yet, when the President of the United States remarks with racist rhetoric, more specifically, when President Donald J. Trump uses the bully pulpit through racist tweets—how as a country are we moving toward “making America great again”? And by the way, “make America great again” (MAGA) is racist code for “make America white again” (MAWA), which was reiterated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

This is the era we live in. How is this an example for our children and their future? What America is this? Why is this tolerable today? Why are Republicans mostly silent about the president’s discriminatory comments?

On July 16th, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution, 240-187, censuring the President’s racist tweets and stated it: “…Strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color…”

Remember Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017? On July 15, 2019, a Virginia judge sentenced, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, James Fields, to life plus 419 years for killing Heather Heyer and injuring more than two-dozen others by ramming his car through a crowd in Charlottesville on August 12th, 2017. The night before there was an organized neo-Nazi and white-supremacist rally, where young men carrying torches, held a vigil of hate, and chanted: “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us!” The following day, President Donald J. Trump, declared: “I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee…and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides…”

Excuse me Mr. President, if you are chanting, “Jews will not replace us!’—you are not among the fine people in this country protesting for legitimate issues and for the betterment of humanity. You are shouting racist rants. Also, isn’t it ironic Mr. President that General Robert E. Lee himself never wanted any statues built in his image or to commemorate the Civil War in any way?

Here is what President Donald J. Trump tweeted on Sunday, July 14th: “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly…and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime…These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”

It is remarkable these words come from the President of the United States. Certainly, we have had racist presidents in our history, perhaps, Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, and Richard Nixon, prominently come to mind. Moreover, we have had slave owning presidents, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.

Yet, we live in the 21stcentury, and before Trump, we elected our first African-American president in Barack Obama. Even so, President Donald J. Trump began his presidential bid by declaring Obama was not born in the United States, the so-called, “Birther Movement”. Where are Republicans reproaching this overt racism? What about Republicans such as Senator John McCainin the 2008 Presidential election correcting audience members about whether or nor not then Senator Barack Obama was a U.S. citizen: “…No ma’am, no ma’am, he is a decent family man, who I just happen to have disagreements with…”

Trump’s tweets on Sunday, July 14thwere not just about anyone but directed at four freshman U.S. Congresswomen—all women of color. Additionally, all of them are citizens of the United States. So, Trump’s history of racist rhetoric, first denying U.S. citizenship to former President Barack Obama, is presently extended to four U.S. Congresswomen along the same veins of racist ranting. These targeted U.S. Congresswomen in question are: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Representative Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (D-Minnesota), Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), and Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan). Only Omar was foreign-born in Somalia but she lived most of her life as a refugee in the United States and is a full U.S. citizen.

So, where all of these U.S. Congresswomen come from is the United States of America, not some foreign country. But in the mind of President Trump, their ethnic origins define them, whether these are: African-American, Palestinian-American, Puerto Rican-American, or Somali-American—somehow, they are “not” American because they are “not” white? These women are alleged to come from sh**hole countries, just because they are women of color. When in fact, they all come from the United States. Mr. President your racist ranting and racist tweeting is making the United States a sh**hole country by elevating racism as acceptable discourse. Why should white supremacist and neo-Nazi hateful communications become normalized ways we talk about difference?

The four U.S. Congresswomen held a press conference on July 15th, refuting the president’s racist remarks. These four women directly explained why President Trump’s tweets were and are harmful, not only to them, but for the country as a whole. Then, the House of Representatives led by Nancy Pelosi (D-California), passed a resolution rebuking President Trump.

Let me be clear and go further.

I have been writing about racism for a decade now as a social and cultural anthropologist. I teach students how and why racism is a destructive social construct. And, let me repeat, “racism discourse”, in all of its multiple forms, is very, very damaging, hurtful, and dangerous.

In 2009, I wrote an article, titled: “Mayan Cognition, Memory, and Trauma”, which was partially about the mental health damages caused by memories of racism, specifically against Mayan-American immigrants.

I believe one of the central arguments of that essay is still pertinent today. It is the idea that racism, and memories of racism, have traumatic effects upon an individual over time. In the article, I theorized such memories may be characterized as “synchronic trauma” and “diachronic trauma”. In other words, memories of racism occur at specific times but also may be carried forward over time and maybe constant over time. An individual may remember when someone said, for example, “go back to where you came from” and remember who said it, when they said it, and where they said it. That racist remark may always be remembered throughout an individual’s lifetime.

Likewise, an individual may experience racism as an everyday occurrence. Racism may be part of one’s experience at school, or at work, or during leisure. When individuals are harmed by racism, then racism itself may be part of what is called “structural violence”. This is to say, for example, when racism prevents individuals from getting good jobs, from attending good schools, or from having fair pay—all become structures of violence which are engrained in society. Racism, in this sense, maybe a barrier, and therefore, transforming into those structures of violence for prevention.

Racism is violent in the real sense too because its discourse may be violent in nature. It may threaten real violence. It is also violent through the real actions which supports it systemically, such as the slavery of African-Americans in the South prior to the Civil War, or the lynching of African-Americans during the Jim Crow South, or the genocide of Native Americans, or more recently, the mass shootings at synagogues, or attacks of mosques.

This president is reckless. Regardless, of the political gains he may wish to have for the upcoming presidential elections in 2020 against his rival democratic opponents, his racist rhetoric may have far lasting consequences for the children of this country. It is the normalization of racism and racist discourse which may cause the most harm. I truly worry about my nieces and nephew and what world they may inherit because of such racism as acceptable and customary.

On July 17th, President Trump held another MAGA political rally and incited the attending crowd by falsely declaring Congresswoman Ilhan Omarsupported Al-Quaeda and deceitfully charged her with being an anti-Semite, as the crowd yelled: “Send her back! Send her back!”

As Americans, we should all remember the immortal words of our founders in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

And finally, we need to remember the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Peace: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Spying on Julian Assange

8 hours 34 sec ago

History’s scope for the absurd and tragic is infinite. Like Sisyphus engaged in permanent labours pushing a boulder up a slope, the effort of making sense of such scope is likewise, absurdly infinite. To see images of an exhausted and world-weary Julian Assange attempting to dodge the all-eye surveillance operation that he would complain about is to wade in the insensibility of it all. But it could hardly have surprised those who have watched WikiLeaks’ battles with the Security Establishment over the years.

Assange is not merely an exceptional figure but a figure of the exception. Despite being granted asylum status by an Ecuadorean regime that would subsequently change heart with a change of brooms, he was never permitted to exercise all his freedoms associated with such a grant. There was always a sense of contingency and qualification, the impending cul-de-sac in London’s Ecuadorean embassy.

Between December 2017 and March 2018, dozens of meetings between Assange, his legal representatives, and visitors, were recorded in daily confidential reports written by an assigned security team and submitted to David Morales, formerly of special ops of the marine corps of the Spanish Navy. The very idea of legal professional privilege, a fetish in the Anglo-American legal system, was not so much deemed non-existent as ignored altogether.

The security firm tasked with this smeared-in-the-gutter mission was Spanish outfit UC Global SL, whose task became all the more urgent once Ecuador’s Lenín Moreno came to power in May 2017. The mood had changed from the days when Rafael Correa had been accommodating, one at the crest of what was termed the Latin American Pink Tide. Under Moreno, Assange was no longer the wunderkind poking the eye of the US imperium with cheery backing. He had become, instead, a tenant of immense irritation and inconvenience, a threat to the shift in politics taking place in Ecuador. According to El País, “The security employees at the embassy had a daily job to do: to monitor Assange’s every move, record his conversations, and take note of his moods.”

The revelations of the surveillance operation on Assange had had their natural effect on the establishment journalists who continue taking the mother’s milk of conspiracy and intrigue in libelling the publisher. CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Kay Guerrero and Arturo Torres seemed delighted in finding their éminence grise with his fingers in the pie, making the claim, with more than a whiff of patriotic self-importance, how “surveillance reports also describe how Assange turned the embassy into a command centre and orchestrated a series of damaging disclosures that rocked the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States.” Rather than seeing obsessive surveillance in breach of political asylum as a problem, they see the quarry obtained by UC Global in quite a different light. The WikiLeaks publisher had supposedly been outed.

The trio claimed to have obtained documents “exclusive” to CNN (the labours of El País, who did the lion’s share on this, are confined to the periphery) – though they have not been kind enough to share the original content with the curious. Nor do they make much of the private security materials as such, preferring to pick from the disordered larder that is the Mueller Report.

The CNN agenda is, however, clear enough. “The documents build on the possibility, raised by special counsel Robert Mueller in his report on Russian meddling, that couriers brought hacked files to Assange at the embassy.” Suggestions, without the empirical follow-up, are made to beef up the insinuated message. “While the Republican National Convention kicked off in Cleveland, an embassy security guard broke protocol by abandoning his post to receive a package outside the embassy from a man in disguise.” The individual in question “covered his face with a mask and sunglasses and was wearing a backpack, according to surveillance images obtained by CNN.” So planned; so cheeky.

Another line in the same report also serves to highlight the less than remarkable stuff in the pudding. “After the election, the private security company prepared an assessment of Assange’s allegiances. That report, which included open-source information, concluded there was ‘no doubt that there is evidence’ that Assange had ties to Russian intelligence agencies.” Not exactly one to stop the presses.

CNN, in fact, suggests a figure demanding, unaccountable, dangerous and entirely in charge of the situation. It is the psychological profile of a brattish historical agent keen to avoid detection. (Here the journalists are keen to suggest that meeting guests “inside the women’s bathroom” in the Ecuadorean embassy was a shabby enterprise initiated by Assange; the obvious point that he was being subject to surveillance by UC Global’s “feverish, obsessive vigilance”, to use the words of El País, is turned on its head.)

He is reported to have “demanded” a high-speed internet connection. He sought a working phone service, because obviously that would be unreasonable for any grantee of political asylum. He requested regular access to his professional circle and followers. Never has such a confined person been deemed a commander, an orchestrator and master of space. “Though confined to a few rooms inside the embassy, Assange was able to wield enormous authority over his situation.”

The account offered by Txema Guijarro García, a former advisor to Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño and an important figure dealing with the logistics of granting Assange asylum in 2012, is decidedly different. In general, “relations between him and the embassy staff were better than anyone could have expected. The staff had amazing patience and, under difficult conditions, they managed to combine their diplomatic work with the task of caring for our famous guest.”

The language from the CNN report suggests the mechanics of concerted exclusion, laying the framework for an apologia that would justify Assange’s extradition to the United States to face espionage charges rather than practising journalism. It is a salient reminder about the readiness of such outlets to accommodate, rather than buck, the state narrative on publishing national security information.

It is also distinctly out of step with the defences being made in favour of publishing leaked diplomatic cables being expressed in the Tory leadership debate in Britain. While it should be construed with care, the words of Boris Johnson in the aftermath of the publication of British cables authored by the now ex-UK ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, are pertinent. “It cannot conceivably be right that newspapers or any other media organisation publishing such material face prosecution”. Even Johnson can take the pulse of history accurately once in a while.

A Trump Plan to Throw 50,000 Kids Out of Their Schools

8 hours 1 min ago

In 1968 — just a week after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination — Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, or FHA.

The law secured everyone’s right to housing regardless of race, national origin, disability, familial status, sex, or religion. The FHA protects people from discrimination when they’re renting, getting a mortgage, or seeking housing assistance — including applying for public housing or housing vouchers.

Now the Trump administration is going against that legacy, proposing a regulation that will target immigrant families living in government-subsidized housing.

They want to require every single family member in federally assisted housing to have their immigration status screened by the Department of Homeland Security. If just one resident is undocumented, the new policy will effectively block the entire household from receiving any housing benefits — even for legally documented residents and citizens.

Undocumented people are already ineligible to apply for government benefits. Instead, the rule directly targets “mixed-status” families. In mixed-status families — who all contain members who are legally eligible for public benefits — subsidies are only provided to those eligible members. The family pays the prorated market rent for all non-eligible family members in the household.

So the proposed rule will obliterate affordable housing options for low-income Americans simply for having an immigrant family member who is currently ineligible (which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re undocumented either — immigrants can have legal status and still not be eligible for public assistance programs).

In short, this rule will have an unprecedented discriminatory impact on families from other countries, regardless of their legal status — a clear violation of the FHA’s prohibition of discrimination based on national origin.

It’s yet another attack from this administration again immigrants — and a way to continue its separation of immigrant families. It would force a mother, who might be ineligible for benefits on her own, to face the impossible choice of separating from her child so they could keep their home, or forcing the entire family into homelessness.

The government’s own analysis shows that more than 55,000 children — who are U.S. citizens or otherwise eligible to receive housing benefits — could face eviction under the proposed rule.

“This cruel and needless targeting of struggling immigrant families,” members of the House Financial Services Committee wrote to Secretary Ben Carson, “only contributes to historic patterns of inequality, which ultimately hinder the U.S. housing market and American economy.”

The families impacted the administration’s cruelty will suffer a grave injustice even after doing everything right under U.S. law. They face being ripped apart simply because some of their family members were born somewhere else.

This is a sad reality for many immigrant Americans, and particularly for the Latino community, which appears to be a primary target of the Trump administration. The Trump administration cannot target these communities — there is strength in numbers, and we will not allow them to prevail.

Precinct or Neighborhood? How Barcelona Keeps Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Global Capital

8 hours 1 min ago

Barcelona’s Montjuïc fairground occupies twenty-seven hectares of municipal land, an area equivalent to twenty-one blocks of the city’s Eixample district. Its centrality is enviable, its installations obsolete, and its use is discussible, to say the least. Is today’s Barcelona using this public land in a way that best fits its needs? There’s plenty of time before December 2025 to talk about this calmly, rigorously, and democratically. This is the expiry date for the extension that former Mayor Xavier Trias granted to Fira de Barcelona, a fortunate tenant that pays a peppercorn rent of just 25 euro cents per year for each of the built-up 140,000 square meters of the precinct. But it doesn’t look as if this debate is going to happen. On February 19, 2019, the present mayor Ada Colau, and Quim Torra, President of the Government of Catalonia, announced the signing of an agreement which, with the slogan “One Fair, Two Fairgrounds”, envisages an investment of 380 million euros for renovating the Montjuïc fairground and extending that of the adjoining municipality of Hospitalet. Given the enormity of this announcement, it is surprising, not to say shocking, that journalists and activists haven’t asked to see the text of the agreement or plans of the “Univers Montjuïc” renovation project, which is to be inaugurated at the centenary celebrations of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. Without any debate being thrown open to the city, the City Hall has simply taken it for granted that this huge closed precinct will remain at the foot of Montjuïc.

The word “precinct”—from medieval Latin precinctum (enclosure or boundary line)—is relevant. Barcelona has kept this space closed for exclusive and excluding uses that are not exactly in tune with the general interest. Although facing such serious threats as air pollution, the climate catastrophe, gentrification, and the disruptions caused by digital corporations, the city is uncritically hosting, in municipal installations, mega-events that will swell the coffers of the motorbike, automobile, real estate, tourist, and mobile phone sectors. A good example of the contradictions involved was the last Mobile World Congress. A few days before the big feminist demonstration on March 8, it was revealed that the Congress was paying hostesses in accordance with their body measurements while, at the same time, right at the peak of what one newspaper called a “perfect storm” of air pollution, it filled the streets with chauffeur-driven cars taking many of the 109,000 participants all around the city. A hundred and nine thousand tourists, in the name of innovation and entrepreneurship, come to Barcelona for four days and the city’s precariat serves them tapas and drinks, makes their beds, and washes their towels. A hundred and nine thousand tourists, all coming by plane, inspired the fairground president Pau Relat to call for extensions to the airport with a fourth runway so that Barcelona can become a “top-ranking” city (whatever that means). Relat doesn’t seem satisfied with the City Hall’s efforts to endow the city with congress infrastructure, even though in 2007, it funded the construction of the city’s second fairground in Hospitalet—of more than 240,000m² and one of the ten biggest in Europe—and, just one year ago, it ceded the Barcelona International Convention Centre (75,000m²) to Fira de Barcelona until 2050.

No one can say, then, that Barcelona lacks infrastructure that can serve as venues for big events. Although some people are still dreaming of organizing new Olympic Games or another World Fair, the fact is that the city has plenty of tourist, real estate, and economic attractions for “competing” on the European scale. What Barcelona does suffer from, by comparison with other European cities, is a deplorable lack of affordable housing. More and more people in this professedly hospitable city are having difficulties paying their rent. All of a sudden, around the time of the recent municipal elections, the various political groups seemed to acknowledge the (already well-known) fact that Barcelona’s public housing stock is ten times less than the European average and started saying that it must be expanded. This has opened up a debate about the lack of available land in a very compact city limited by its geography so, on the one hand, there was a whole array of fanciful proposals like allowing taller buildings in the city, adding attics on roof terraces, and even constructing an artificial island near the coast. On the other hand, they all opined that the housing problem “must have a metropolitan dimension”, the unstated underlying idea being that public housing should be constructed on the city outskirts, leaving the central neighborhoods for the tourist industry and real estate market.

In fact, what metropolitan Barcelona needs to do if it is to be more just and sustainable is to uphold the social and functional mixture of its urban fabrics. Reluctance to accept this idea became evident with two recent clashes. The first was about Via Laietana 10, a huge 18,000 m² building of municipal property where the PSC (social-democrat) party councilor Jaume Collboni wanted to house a center for “digital entrepreneurs”. Local grassroots movements very sensibly opposed the project, arguing that what such highly gentrified neighborhoods like the Gothic Quarter and El Born need are not more metropolitan-scale facilities but the 160 public housing units that the building could accommodate. In the end, the conflict was resolved when the City Hall promised to use the property for housing. The digital entrepreneurs will serve Barcelona better if they go to animate some hyper-passive part of the city. The second, still ongoing conflict is that between the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) and the Raval-Nord Primary Health Care Centre (CAP) over the abandoned Misericòrdia Chapel. The MACBA wants to expand into the chapel while the CAP wants to move there and thus remedy the precarious state of its facilities in the neighborhood. Once again, local movements have argued that the Raval district has too much metropolitan-scale infrastructure and too few local facilities. Any extension to the MACBA would be better for the city if it were located in another less central and less pressured area. This was the choice made by the MoMA in New York when it opened its new center in Queens instead of Manhattan.

Perhaps new economic attractions would benefit peripheral dormitory towns, which only have housing. In the center-city neighborhoods, damaged by gentrification and hyper-activity of the tertiary sector, there is a need for public housing and local facilities to strengthen the neighborhood fabric. Big events shouldn’t be held in the city center. The 1929 Barcelona International Exposition venue was in what were then the outskirts and now the site of the Fira de Montjuïc. It wasn’t held in the site of the 1888 World Fair, which had, by then, been integrated into the city after being turned into what is now the Ciutadella Park. Now that Fira de Barcelona includes the Hospitalet fairground, the Montjuïc precinct should be opened up to the city. It could hold a typical Mediterranean neighborhood the size of Barceloneta. A compact neighborhood of smallish apartment buildings with party walls, squares on a human scale, and transversal corridor streets connecting the surrounding mixed neighborhoods. A neighborhood opening into a linear park, rather than the current densely-trafficked Avinguda Maria Cristina which (on paper) is designated a green zone. A neighborhood of mixed uses, small local businesses, and productive spaces for an economy rooted in the territory and coexisting with the Font Màgica (Magic Fountain) and the National Palace as background heritage. Above all, it should be an affordable neighborhood that can embrace between five and ten thousand public housing units that would help to combat the city’s spreading gentrification. An open, diverse neighborhood and not a uni-functional closed precinct.

Translation by Julie Wark.

Will Any Disgusted Republicans Challenge Trump in the Primaries?

8 hours 1 min ago

In 1956, then Senator John F. Kennedy authored a best-selling book titled Profiles in Courage, in which he told the stories of Senators in American history who, on principle, bucked the tides of power. Today, some Republican writer or conservative syndicated columnist – George Will or Max Boot – should write a book called Profiles in Cowardliness. It should cover Republican leadership’s near total cowardliness in the face of Donald Trump, whom they despise on many fronts. Many in Republican leadership believe he has hijacked their Grand Old Party (GOP).

Clearly the Republicans – except for Rep. Justin Amash, who recently quit the Party after accusing Trump of impeachable crimes – are intimidated by this foul-mouthed president. Republican politicians are cowed by Trump’s bellicose personal rhetoric. We have seen this cycle repeat itself countless times, with the media boosting their ratings by recklessly repeating Trump’s insults.

Republicans remember what Trump did to Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio during the 2016 Republican primary. They observe how loud-mouthed Donald spews toxic falsehoods at Democrats and gets away with it. Why, Republicans ask themselves, should they take any chances provoking this unstable Twitter Emperor and his ditto-heads on social media whom he deliberately incites? The answer: because patriotism demands action.

Donald Trump acts as if he is above the law – coming off his career as a corporate criminal, he has become a government outlaw. He has always cheated justice. Trump flouts the Constitution, refuses to faithfully execute the laws preventing corporate crimes, and obstructs justice. Just as bad are Trump’s ethical and personal failings; he has brought disgraceful personal behavior, serious daily lies, expensive nepotism, denials of grave realities facing the country, bigotry, violent incitement, and disrepute to the White House. All of these failings are why the Founding Fathers gave impeachment authority to the House of Representatives and the authority of open trial to the Senate.

There are many more indictable and impeachable offenses, but the focus here is on why the entire GOP has completely fallen in line. Only former Republican Governor of Massachusetts William Weld has dared to officially challenge Trump in the upcoming Republican primary. This week, former Republican Congressman and Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford announced he is testing the waters for a run against President Trump, emphasizing Trump’s huge expanding deficits. It is shocking that so few opponents have emerged considering Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and remains more consistently unfavorable in the polls than any president in modern times.

Republicans must think “crooked Donald” is invincible. So why try? Plenty of Republican politicians consider Trump to be a clear and present danger to Party and country. They include Former Senators Flake and Corker; current Senator Mitt Romney; former Governor of Ohio John Kasich; former New Jersey Governor and EPA head, under Reagan, Christine Todd Whitman; and former House Speaker Paul Ryan. All have spoken out about Trump’s dangerous ignorance and loutishness. All believe him to be unqualified and fear his reckless actions. On trade, immigration, climate crisis, and his open admiration of brutal dictators, they find him appalling.

Yet there are few signs of a serious challenge. In the 1990s, John Kasich was the Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. At the time he was critical of the wasteful, unauditable Pentagon budget then (imagine now). Asked about 2020, Kasich told The Washington Post that he’s “never gotten involved in a race that [he] didn’t think [he] could win,” adding, “things are very volatile in this business and you just cannot predict what might change.” Such words hardly signal anything beyond extreme caution.

One would think, these persons and others who could take on Trump (for example, the very popular former Governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean) would want to stand up for traditional Republican principles and positions (think about Senator Robert Taft, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and of course, Abraham Lincoln). In sharp contrast, current Republican leaders almost never criticize Trump publically apart from a mild op-ed (Romney) or the occasional public comments (Whitman).

It gets worse. Apart from William Kristol, Trump’s arch-critic, there doesn’t seem to be any activity among Republican kingmakers to find a challenger or even consider mounting a third party accountability challenge from the political right.

There is someone, were he younger, who would take on Trump. He is former Republican Senator from Connecticut, Lowell Weicker. He was known in the Senate as a ferocious defender of the Constitution and was prominent during the Watergate hearings that exposed Richard Nixon.

Apart from elected officials, what about those cabinet secretaries and White House chief of staff, whom Trump praised to the skies, before he drove them out with a frenzy of ruthless epithets (“dumb as a rock,” etc.)? They know the insides of mad Trump’s White House, which would receive media attention.

At the least, Republicans who challenged Trump in the primaries would put Trump on the defensive and hold him more accountable.

Time is passing on the road to November 2020. There are countless Republicans who deeply believe that Trump is a disgrace to his office and a threat to the Republic, as well as to the future of the Republican Party. Who amongst them will stand up and be counted?

Is their moral courage totally AWOL?

The BS about Medicare-for-All Has to Stop!

8 hours 1 min ago

It is increasingly clear that the wagons have circled both in the Democratic National Committee and in the news media to shut down any possibility of a national health plan as proposed by Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP)or Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The media for their part, keep touting — almost a year and a half before Election day, and just under a year after next year’s Democratic primary voting and caucusing, that two “centrists” (who should be called the Establishment candidates, both neo-Liberals in the Clinton mold) — Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the “leading candidates” for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Biden is quoted favorably for perpetuating the lie that establishing a new “single-payer” program of government insurance covering everyone would mean “starting from scratch” and taking away everyone’s current employer-funded, or Obamacare subsidized health insurance.

Meanwhile, Harris, who was against Medicare for All before she was for it, and who now talks about “funding” it with taxes on Wall Street, is treated like the voice of reason, when in fact she’s just blowing smoke and confusing the issue deliberately.

So let’s get this straight.  Funding a program of what Bernie Sanders and health care activists call Medicare for All, would cost an estimated $30 trillion over the next 10 years (that last bit about over ten years tends to get left out of articles criticizing the plan), as in this report in the National Review.  But it’s not just right-wing media that obfuscate.  In a CNN interview of Harris, reporter Kyung Lah just says Sen. Sanders says the plan will  “require a middle-class tax cut” to fund.

But Lah doesn’t say, and Harris, who is smart enough to know, but doesn’t want to admit publicly, that the US healthcare system today already costs more than $3 trillion per year and will cost much more than $30 trillion over the next 10 years.

Here’s the real story.  As things stand presently, health care costs in the US account for 18% of total US Gross Domestic Product. That is to say, 18 % of all economic transactions in the US, government and private sector, go for medical care. That’s 18% of $21.1trillion in 1019, or about $3.7 trillion. In constant dollars over the course of the next decade that would be $3.7 trillion.

That figure includes the cost of Medicare for the elderly and disabled — a program that is already funded by taxes paid by individuals and their employers (the federal budget for Medicaid, financed by those taxes, is about $600 billion this year).  Add to that the amount for Medicaid, which provides health benefits for one-in-five Americans unable to obtain private insurance and which is funded by the federal government and the states (also about $600 billion this year), and taxpayers are already funding some $1.2 trillion of the US health care bill through taxation. Then add in the cost of private insurance, paid by both employers and employees, or for those working at stingier employers, or for themselves, through insurance offered under the ironically named Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which is about $2.2 trillion, and the cost of medical care paid out-of-pocket because it’s not covered by increasingly loophole-plagued insurance plans (another $400 billion, and Americans and their employers are already paying a total of $3.6 trillion per year for health care. But this haphazard free-marked/government-funded tacked-together chaos that we call American-style healthcare still leaves  30 million citizens uninsured!

Now note that all of those expenditures — all $3.6 trillion of it — would be eliminated to be replaced by dedicated taxes paid by citizens and private companies to fund a real Canadian-style system of what is being called Medicare for All.   On top of that, there would be no more worrying about paying medical bills, worrying about whether pre-existing conditions would be covered, worrying about losing a house because of medical expenses, or losing benefits if one lost a job, or needed to go out on strike to fight for better pay or working conditions.  Your publicly funded health care would be a right, just like the right of free speech or the right to vote.

So saying, as CNN reporter Lah does so disingenuously, that the Sanders Medicare for All plan will “require a middle-class tax hike” is a grotesque fraud on the public.  Medicare for All, which even a right-wing Koch-Brothers study claimed disparagingly would cost $30 trillion in tax funding over a ten-year period, while true, would actually cost some $6-7 trillion less in constant dollars than the current joke of a “system” we have in the US.

I would point out, for those who don’t know it, that Canada, our neighbor to the north, has had a kind of “Medicare for All” system in place since 1976 — in fact it’s called Medicare.  And that system, which covers the medical care of all Canadians, no exception, and is financed entirely by taxes paid by individuals and businesses,  is so popular that even though Canada and its provinces (which actually administer the system) all have been governed more often by conservatives than liberals or socialists over the intervening years, not one government, even the arch-conservative federal government of Stephen Harper that preceded the current one led by Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, dared to cut it or to try to undo it.  To do so would be to face immediate ouster, so popular is Canada’s Medicare program.

I would add that even in the UK, which has a truly socialist health care system, where much like our huge and, from a point of quality, if not access, excellent Veterans Health Care System, features public hospitals owned by the government and physicians and support staff who are government employees paid salaries, not fees for service, no conservative government has dared to try and undo the system put in place by a Labour government just after the end of World War II nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

Harris deserves to be pummeled in upcoming debates, at her campaign appearances and in the media for her failure to admit that Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would not increase the costs of healthcare by raising taxes, but would reduce those costs by freeing those 160 million Americans who are currently in costly bondage to their employers, depending on them for offering mostly crappy private health insurance coverage that they would lose if they lost those jobs, would end taxes for increasingly privatized Medicare and for hard to get and always threatened Medicaid, and would slash the costs of prescription drugs (now running at close to $500 billion a year).

Meanwhile, while in place of those taxes, and while eliminating private payment and employer payment of insurance premiums, there would surely have to be taxes paid by individuals and businesses to fund a new public insurance system like Medicare for All, Harris and other half-hearted “backers” of the Sanders program — and Sanders himself — should be calling for massive cuts in military spending, now at a record $1.3 trillion per year, with some of the savings going to fund public healthcare. That would be real “national defense”!

I don’t object to Harris’s proposal in her pathetic CNN interview, that taxes be increased on Wall Street and the Financial sector to fund health care,  but that’s small beer compared to the funds available from cutting the US military down to size and ending the current imperial policy of endless wars and of military action instead of diplomacy in foreign affairs.

First though, we need an honest debate about Medicare-for-All — not one that hides the issue behind false warnings about “increased middle-class taxes” to fund it.

Everyone will save money under Medicare-for-All, and we will have a far, far healthier population to show for it.  Even Sanders himself has done a poor job of making this point in his campaigning. Why doesn’t he just say it: Americans will be financially, and medically, better off if they paid a bit more in taxes to obtain full coverage under Medicare for All and eliminated the premiums they and their employer now pay increasingly costly and less adequate private insurance coverage.

The clear advantage of government-provided over privately funded health care is why every other developed nation in the world, and many less-developed ones, has some form of nationally-funded health care system that treats health care as a right, why every one of those countries has spends less total money as both a share of GDP and national budget, and on a per-capita basis than we do in the US, and yet, in all developed country cases and in many less developed countries, also have better health statistics (life expectancy, infant mortality rates, incidence of diabetes and untreated high blood pressure, etc.).

Time for some god-damned honesty about this issue from both our politicians and the media!

Why the Canadian Government is Bullying Venezuela

8 hours 1 min ago

Since the attempted U.S. coup against Venezuela on January 23, backed by the Lima Group of which the Justin Trudeau government is an active member, Canada’s corporate media have joined in a chorus of hate and disinformation against the Bolivarian Revolution, with the criticism focusing on Nicolás Maduro, the country’s constitutionally elected president.

In response to the nationalization of certain companies by the previous Chávez government, a number of Canadian companies have undertaken legal battles.

At the same time, a debate has arisen among workers, trade unionists, and social and political activists. A few months ago, the Cuban daily Trabajadores reported the response of Canadian affiliates (over 5 million workers speaking through their unions) in support of Venezuela’s right to self-determination and to be free from interference by the United States and the Lima Group in its internal affairs. New actions and statements are still emerging from the grassroots.

Examples include a series of articles that have appeared in the alternative press and on Canadian social networks, especially those representing left-wing and progressive forces; indeed, anyone who opposes foreign interference. These pieces lead us to wonder: what is Canada up to and why?

These authors bravely question the traditional media, which only have space for writers who make sure to use key words like “contested elections” and to call Maduro an “authoritarian” in their pieces. Such phrases afford credibility to the narrative put forward by the United States and the Lima Group to the effect that interference in Venezuela’s affairs is a putative matter of “humanitarian” necessity.

The corporate media suppress any attempt to give a serious answer to the question: why Canada? In this way, despite Canada’s pretense of being a paragon of freedom of expression and the press, the truth is being hidden from the public.

WHAT PROGRESSIVE CANADIAN JOURNALISTS AND WRITERS ARE SAYING

Canadian academic Nino Pagliccia, in a piece recently published, writes:

“The search for gold in the mythical place of El Dorado in Latin America drew armies of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and caused many deaths of indigenous people. The gold remained elusive, but Spain colonized most of the region and exploited other riches until the Latin American independence movements of the 19th century.

But the search for gold never really ended, be it black gold – crude oil – or real gold of which Venezuela has plenty. The United States has publicly declared that is interested in the black gold. In the meantime, Canada has remained more secretive about its aspirations in its ventures in Venezuela. The truth is that Canada has corporate interests in the mining sector, and gold in particular.

We ask, is Venezuela Canada’s modern day El Dorado?”

Canadian political analyst Yves Engler’s recent blog post also deserves to be quoted at length:

“In a bid for a greater share of oil revenue, Venezuela forced private oil companies to become minority partners with the state oil company in 2007. This prompted Calgary-based Petro-Canada to sell its portion of an oil project and Canadian officials to privately complain about feeling ‘burned’ by the Venezuelan government…

A number of Canadian companies clashed with Hugo Chavez’ government over its bid to gain greater control over gold extraction. Crystallex, Vanessa Ventures, Gold Reserve Inc. and Rusoro Mining all had prolonged legal battles with the Venezuelan government. In 2016 Rusoro Mining won a $1 billion claim under the Canada-Venezuela investment treaty. That same year Crystallex was awarded $1.2 billion under the Canada-Venezuela investment treaty. Both companies continue to pursue payments and have pursued [sic] the money from Citgo, the Venezuelan government owned gasoline retailer in the US.

In 2011, the Financial Post reported that ‘years after pushing foreign investment away from his gold mining sector, Venezuelan President Chavez is moving on to the next stage: outright nationalization.’ Highlighting its importance to Canadian capital, the Globe and Mail editorial board criticized the move in a piece titled “Chavez nationalizes all gold mines in Venezuela…

Barrick Gold founder Peter Munk wrote a 2007 letter to the Financial Times headlined ‘Stop Chavez’ Demagoguery Before it is Too Late.’” [Munk wrote] … “aren’t we ignoring the lessons of history and forgetting that the dictators Hitler, Mugabe, Pol Pot and so on became heads of state by a democratic process? … autocratic demagogues in the Chavez mode get away with [it] until their countries become totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia… Let us not give President Chavez a chance to do the same step- by-step transformation of Venezuela…

Canadian mining investment in Latin America has exploded since the 1990s… No Canadian mining firm operated in Peru or Mexico at the start of the 1990s yet by 2010 there were nearly 600 Canadian mining firms in those two countries. Canadian mining companies have tens of billions of dollars invested in the Americas. Any government in the region that reverses the neoliberal reforms that enabled this growth is a threat to Canadian mining profits.”

The banks too, says Engler, have worked to bring about this liberalization:

“A few days after Chavez’s 2013 death the Globe and Mail’s ‘Report on Business’ published a front-page story about Scotiabank’s interests in Venezuela, which were acquired just before his rise to power. It noted: ‘Bank of Nova Scotia [Scotiabank] is often lauded for its bold expansion into Latin America, having completed major acquisitions in Colombia and Peru. But when it comes to Venezuela, the bank has done little for the past 15 years – primarily because the government of President Hugo Chavez has been hostile to large-scale foreign investment.’”

These considerations no doubt explain why the Trudeau government has been involved in Donald Trump’s attempted coups against Venezuela. Canada is also spearheading the economic sanctions imposed on the country, which recent studies have termed genocidal. Indeed, US-Lima Group policy represents a declaration of war, even though there has yet to be any military intervention as such.

Is this the only way Canada can defend the interests of its companies in Venezuela? Surely not. There must be much more “Canadian” approaches that it can draw upon.

Source

Trabajadores (Cuba)

http://www.trabajadores.cu/20190716/why-the-canadian-government-is-confronting-venezuela/

 

China and the Swine Flu Outbreak

8 hours 2 min ago

Beijing.

This is anniversary year in China. Thirty years have passed since Tiananmen Square and 70 have gone since the People’s Republic was founded. A century has elapsed since the Treaty of Versailles and the anger that it sparked resulting in the May Fourth protest movement for cleaner government and 125 since the outbreak of a calamitous war with Japan. A sensitive time. But one anniversary looms that will be barely commented on even as its ramifications impact every household. August will mark one year since the outbreak of African swine fever, or swine flu, that has decimated the country’s pig herd.

The pork industry is worth about $128 billion in China and the country’s 375 million pigs make up just under half the planet’s total.

The number of pigs China will fatten to prepare for slaughter and sale this year is predicted to fall by 20 percent, from 2018. This is the worst annual slump since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began counting China’s pigs in the mid-1970s.

China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs disclosed in a report that China had 375 million sows and piglets at the end of March, down from 428 million in December.

The pig virus has not skipped species and doesn’t harm humans, at least not yet, even if they eat tainted pork. The virus for pigs, though  is fatal and spreads easily. No vaccine can prevent infection, or treat it. If a single pig is found to test positive for the virus, the entire herd has to be slaughtered. Farmers usually suffer substantial financial losses in the process.

It can be carried in clothing, infected blood, or fluids from urine, saliva or faeces, and on tires and shoes. There are concerns that Chinese provincial governments are suppressing data and asking pork companies not to report new outbreaks.

It was first detected outside Africa in 1957, in Portugal but never before has it spread so rapidly and damagingly. All of the 33 provinces and regions in China have been affected. Other countries are battling the outbreak. The disease has been found in Mongolia, Cambodia and North Korea.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization believes cases reported by local governments are underestimates. Farmers in China are suspected of selling infected meat rather than report outbreaks due to a lag in often inadequate compensation and being burdened by inspections. Local government officials may also be reluctant to report outbreaks fearing it would reflect badly on them.

This outbreak was first detected in China in August in Liaoning province in the northeast. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs immediately responded with emergency measures.All pigs in a three-kilometer zone around an infected herd had to be killed, according to guidelines more observed in the breach. Roadblocks were meant to be set up and inspection and disinfection stations established within a 10-kilometer buffer zone. Again, not strictly implemented.

Pork is the meat of choice in China and no meal is complete without it. Braised in sauce as Mao Zedong demanded, in dumplings or just planly fried or boiled, pork accounts for nearly three-quarters of Chinese meat consumption.

Pig rearing in China, despite large industrialized farms, remains a predominately a small-scale affair. Pigs also provide cheap garbage disposal services. They are fed left over scraps and provide manure and meat for the farm. Their centrality to life is reflected in the Mandarin character for home which depicts a pig under a roof.The economic impact is being felt. China’s National Bureau of Statistics last week said that  that the Consumer Price Index hit 2.7 percent in May, the highest level in more than a year.

Overall food prices jumped by 7.7 percent last month compared to the same period in 2018.As the party celebrates seven decades in power in October, in banquet halls where pork will be served on tables illuminated by cut-glass chandeliers, their appetite may be diminished by the realization that surging food prices carry the risk of instability.

Highest Anxiety

8 hours 2 min ago

Thanks for emailing, asking why I’m writing articles less frequently or for inquiring about my health.

I could respond with, “I’m insane.” Or, “I’m losing my sanity.”

Instead, I tell you I reached a point, a tipping. What I haven’t added is that this tipping has tipped even further to full-blown, over-the-edge politician derangement syndrome.

In order to compose a submission to CounterPunch, I need to scrutinize “the news” and read opinions of those I trust. Really, I’d prefer to be an ostrich, burying my senses in the sand, but truth is I’m addicted. Addicted to that which I’d prefer to avoid—”the news.” Like anyone with an addiction who reaches that state of being “tired of waking up sick and tired,” I often vow to escape the trap. Yet back I am within 24 hours, consuming, reading every available detail. You know, he said/she said, Pelosi vs The Squad, Trump vs The Squad. Trump’s tweets, the Biden/Trump push-up challenge, the 24-hour cycle of inanities along with what is authentically devastating—war, war carnage, pesticides detected in mother’s milk and in the urine of infants, the threat of ICE raids and arrests, detained immigrants and caged children, climate catastrophe, the small amount of time we have to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, heatwaves, unprecedented temperatures, thawing permafrost, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, the likelihood of mass migrations, extinctions, omnicide.

This week I was shocked to read that the House of Representatives ordered the Pentagon to investigate the possibility that ticks may have been used as biological weapons. Then I was shocked that I was shocked. Because nothing should shock us about the lengths to which US Empire will go to prey upon not only the Other but on our planet. I don’t just see dead people, I also see weaponized bedbugs, weaponized roaches, weaponized mosquitoes. Anything that can be weaponized will be weaponized. Or has been weaponized. Or will be weaponized.

Onward Christian soldiers.

It’s trite to accuse Trump of yelling fire in a crowded theater but that’s the reality. Appearing at a North Carolina rally, he demonized Ilhan Omar, placing a bullseye on her body. The crowd roared, tearing into his raw-meat incitement with, “Traitor,” “Treason,” “Send her home.” Earlier in the day, he’d said Omar is married to her brother.

I’ve told you I take the pulse by scanning reader comments. Sorry I can’t provide a link to The New York Times piece germinating this one:

…Trump supporters were interviewed about why they support him. One woman said, ‘Because I love the way he hates!’ I’m having a lot of trouble getting past that because I don’t think she is the only Trump voter who feels that way. What is happening to our country?!

“Because I love the way he hates!” This is a Rorschach of Trump supporters’ pathology.

Donald Trump is framing the narrative. With each tweet and speech, he throws lighter fluid on already-smoldering coals. Establishment “news” bigmouths salivate, either to defend or condemn, dropping the previous focus. Jeffrey Epstein who?

Our planet isn’t receiving even palliative care.

Meanwhile, migrant children are dying in US detention centers.

I’m stressed. Anxiety disorder is the most common form of mental illness. If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I’d need to be committed.

Weapons of the Weak

8 hours 2 min ago

As I navigate life as a queer disabled woman, I frequently think of Yale political scientist James C. Scott’s concept of the “weapons of the weak.”

Scott poses that while we usually think of resistance as overt, organized protests or rebellions, marginalized people often resist in more hidden ways: “foot-dragging, evasion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, and sabotage.”

Americans are plenty used to hearing arguments about identity. But one of the most common coping mechanisms of impacted people is simply to remain silent.

These methods of non-cooperation with the dominant group in society are effective when more obvious and organized forms of fighting back won’t work, particularly when they would be met with violence.

The first time I thought of the weapons of the weak in relation to my own life was about a year ago. I was reading a sociology book to prepare for a major exam for my PhD program.

A man at my table saw the book and decided to chat me up about it. He confessed he never studied sociology, and then proceeded to attempt to teach me something about it, saying something inaccurate and racist about Asians in the process.

I’m not a race scholar, but between me and this guy, I was the expert. I have a bachelor’s in East Asian Studies and I spent a few years teaching sociology courses on race. I tried to push back, gently telling him he was incorrect, without calling him racist.

I tried twice. He doubled down. I could see I wasn’t going to be heard. He kept going on and on, since he thought I clearly needed some instruction on the matter (the technical term for this is “mansplaining”). I thought of James C. Scott, and I put my nose in my book, and I pretended to read until the man ran out of steam.

Since then I’ve used this tactic a few times. I think it’s time to use it again, in another way.

I just met a man who seems nice and well-meaning, but he talks about women and LGBTQ people in a way that makes my skin crawl. He’s not overtly hateful, but he’s far too comfortable making jokes queer women might find unsettling.

I don’t know how to set him straight. Instead, I think when I see him at social gatherings, I’ll politely say hi and then avoid him.

In addition to being queer, disabled, and a woman, I also belong to several dominant groups in America: I am white, middle class, and educated.

I am certain that in my life, at various times, I have made people of color, working class people, and others feel uncomfortable the same way those straight men did to me. I absolutely did not mean to, and yet I can name incidents when I did.

I am sure that, at times, the people I offended felt it was safer and more effective to avoid me than to correct me. Speaking up is risky, since I could have hurt them worse instead of listening.

When you belong to a dominant group, it’s hard to know what a marginalized group is thinking or feeling, or how you can become an effective ally to them. A major roadblock to change is thinking that your experience as a straight, white, middle class, etc. person informs you about the experiences of marginalized peoples. It doesn’t.

Understanding that and opening yourself up to being educated by people with less privilege than you is a first step to change. Even better, instead of waiting for them to educate you, seek out resources to educate yourself as best you can.

Washington vs. The Squad

8 hours 3 min ago

You’ve heard the cliche: If you’re taking heat from “both sides,” you must be doing something right. It’s dubious advice, but it fits pretty well for “the Squad” — the progressive first-year Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.

Donald Trump recently tweeted that these four women of color “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.” He accused them of “hating America” and urged them to “go back.”

Of course, all four are U.S. citizens, three were born here, and the only immigrant in the group — Omar — has lived here longer than the first lady. And, of course, that’s not the point. Trump “was not making a factual claim,” argues The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer. “He was stating his ideological belief… that only white people can truly be citizens.”

Democrats agreed — all the way up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who rightly called the comments “racist” and “disgusting,” and passed a resolution condemning Trump’s remarks.

Here’s the awkward part: Only days before, Pelosi was waging her own war against the Squad.

When the Squad opposed a Pelosi-backed measure funding Trump’s immigrant internment camps in exchange for paltry concessions, Pelosi ridiculed them as just “four people” living in a “Twitter world” — even though nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose the administration’s border policies.

Earlier, Pelosi had ridiculed the Green New Deal — the most sweeping climate and industrial policy ever proposed, and a key priority for Ocasio-Cortez — as a “green dream or whatever,” and staffed a weak committee to study it with compliant, fossil fuel-funded allies.

Not long after, she led an abortive charge to slander Omar as anti-Semitic for criticizing the Israeli government. (After significant pushback, Pelosi changed her tune.)

“This isn’t about America’s welfare or Omar’s qualifications,” wrote Dina Nayeri, herself a refugee, after Trump’s attack on Omar. Instead, Trump and his allies “see Omar’s potential and are desperate to clip her wings.”

Might the same be said of the Democratic leadership?

Through their passionate advocacy of popular causes, these women have gained massive social media followings — the freshman Ocasio-Cortez has over 2 million more Twitter followers than the veteran legislator Pelosi. They’re running to Pelosi’s left, and making an impact doing it.

Medicare for All, student debt cancellation, tuition-free college, and a Green New Deal — all policies members of the Squad have championed — are enormously popular with the public, though Trump and Pelosi, for different reasons, have resisted them.

The women used Trump’s attack to pivot back to those issues. Don’t “take the bait,” said Pressley. “This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern, and consequence to the American people.”

“We love all people in this country,” said Ocasio-Cortez, explaining their support for universal health care and education. Trump, Omar added by contrast, is “keeping children in cages and having human beings drinking out of toilets.”

They concluded by calling for impeachment — another move both Trump and Pelosi, again for different reasons, have resisted.

“I represent the third-poorest congressional district in this country, one that is made up of working people, who have been targeted by this administration,” said Tlaib, who comes from Detroit. “I urge House leadership… to take action to impeach this lawless president today.”

Pelosi and Trump are, of course, not the same, and Trump’s attack was far more vile. But both appear to feel threatened by the Squad’s progressive, movement-driven politics.

Unlike Trump, Pelosi could still embrace the energy these women have brought to her party. Whatever she does, I’d urge everyone else to turn off the cable news and listen to the Squad themselves. If you don’t like the way business normally gets done in Washington, you might like what you hear.

Trump’s Own Background Reveals the True Motivation Behind Racist Tweets: Pure White Supremacy

8 hours 4 min ago

On 14 July, US President Donald Trump sent out a series of menacing tweets directed at the freshman cohort of progressive House Democrats: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilham Omar and Ayanna Pressley. Utilizing his characteristic right-wing bully tactics, he accused them of hating the US and Israel and implored them to “go home,” in spite of the fact that all four of them are US citizens. The tweets have been met with strong backlash in the media and even from erstwhile allies on the international stage including UK prime minister Theresa May. The fact that Trump is a bigot hardly constitutes news, but when shone through the prism of things we already know about him the tweets provide the most decisive proof yet that Trump is at heart a dyed-in-the-wool white supremacist.

Take, for instance, Trump’s own personal background. After all, he can hardly trace his entire lineage back to the landing of the Mayflower. His mother was neither born nor grew up in the States – unlike three of the four progressive congress members he attacked. She immigrated to the US from Scotland as a young adult in the 1930s and gained US citizenship in 1942 – presumably in large part because she married a US citizen, Fred Trump. But Trump’s father hardly could have traced his ancestry back to the Mayflower either. Both of Fred Trump’s parents were immigrants from the Kingdom of Bavaria, which is in modern-day Germany. So, Donald Trump himself is only first-generation US-born on his mother’s side and second-generation on his father’s.

His love life paints a similar picture. His current wife, Melania Knavs, is originally from Slovenia – one of the countries that emerged from the former Yugoslavia. She immigrated to the US in the mid-1990s and became a naturalized US citizen in 2006. Trump’s first wife, Ivana Zelníčková, comes from the Czech Republic and became a naturalized US citizen in 1988. There is a trend emerging here: like Trump’s parents and grandparents, both came to the US from Europe. So, Trump seems to have no problem with immigration – just so long as it is European immigration.

Another interesting contrast is between Trump himself and one of the four progressive congress members he was directing his abuse toward. Unlike the other three, Ayanna Pressley is not of immigrant background but rather African-American. Keeping in mind that the first African slaves were brought to North American shores in 1619 and that the US congress ended the country’s involvement in the slave trade in 1808, it is certain that Pressley’s ancestors were in North America decades if not centuries before Trump’s were. According to a strictly nativist anti-immigration viewpoint, in which people’s right to be somewhere is based on ancestral longevity, she would have more of a right to live in the US than Trump. So clearly, what is important for Trump is not protecting the people who have been here longer, but rather purely skin color. The openly neo-Nazi publisher of The Daily Stormer website, Andrew Anglin, picked up on this fact and commented on it approvingly. “This is not some half-assed anti-immigrant white nationalism. Trump is literally telling American blacks to go back to Africa,” he wrote with glee.

An event that took place in January of this year similarly reveals how Trump subscribes to the view that the US should be for white people and white people only. In a meeting with members of congress, Trump asked why the US should want people to immigrate here from “shithole” countries such as Haiti and those located in Africa. He then asked why more people from countries like Norway don’t immigrant to the US. Here again, he is demonstrating that he is not against immigration in general, but rather against non-white immigration specifically.

Trump’s stance on Latin Americans is also highly revealing. He frequently condemns immigration from Central America such as the migrant caravan – even stating that he can see circumstances in which he would authorize US troops to fire live ammunition at people trying to cross the border. Likewise, he has staunchly opposed immigration from Mexico. In addition to his promise to build a wall along the US’s southern border, he has described Mexicans as “criminals” who “bring drugs and crime” to the US. During his campaign in 2016, he said that a federal judge who was presiding over a case against Trump University could not be impartial because he is “Mexican” – though the judge in question does have Mexican heritage, he was, in fact, born in the US. But both before being elected and since, Trump has courted the Cuban-American exile community in Florida and cozied up to its representatives such as Senator Marco Rubio.

There’s a simple explanation for this seeming contradiction: the Cubans that have come to the US are overwhelmingly of purely European ancestry whereas Central American and Mexican migrants tend to be mixed race. This is due in large part to the fact that in Central America and Mexico there was extensive inter-marriage between European settlers and Mesoamerican indigenous peoples during the colonial period whereas in Cuba the island’s indigenous population was largely wiped out by Columbus and subsequent waves of European conquest (there are many African-descent Cubans, albeit, but they tend to stay put in Cuba). It also has to do with the socio-economic profile of migrants from the respective regions. Because Mexico and most Central American nations have highly unequal capitalist societies, most of the people fleeing are from the poorer social sectors, members of which (like the rest of Latin America) are disproportionately indigenous or mixed race. Cuba, on the other hand, has a more equal socialist society, so the people who leave for the US – and especially those who left decades ago – tend to be from the previously existing bourgeoisie, which (again, like the rest of Latin America) is generally of European ancestry. In short, Cubans are considered white but Central American and Mexicans are not, which explains their hugely divergent treatment by Trump.

But make no mistake, as tempting as it might be to think so, this is not a case of Trump simply being too stupid to see his own inherent hypocrisy. Rather, Trump’s position makes perfect sense in the context of his view of what the US is and ought to be. The country was undoubtedly white supremacist in its foundation and continued to be for well over a century – and arguably even to this very day in some respects. The US constitution originally gave the vote and other civil rights only to white male property owners and considered Native Americans and other non-whites to be subhuman – three-fifths of a person in the case of African slaves. But whereas in a 21st Century context most mainstream politicians – and, indeed, all morally normal people – consider this to have been a bad thing and something that ought to be corrected for, Trump clearly thinks the opposite and instead sees attempts at correction as wrong and worthy of resistance and reversal. There is no better example to illustrate this than Trump’s own statements about US history. In May of last year, he spoke jubilantly about how “our ancestors tamed a continent” and that therefore “we are not going to apologize for America.” This glorying in the European conquest of North America, along with the implicit dismissal of even the slightest suggestion that this process might have contained some element of injustice, is an archetypal white supremacist narrative that stretches back to the nation’s founding. He might as well have said “we white people conquered a continent” and that therefore “we white people are not going to apologize it, even though doing so inherently entailed ethnic-cleansing and enslavement of non-whites on a massive scale.”

In light of this, the term progressive perfectly characterizes what Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar and Pressley stand for. They represent progress toward a better country that moves further away from the white supremacist ideas on which it was founded. Trump, on the other hand, represents regress back to a time when these ideas held greater sway.

From Mad Cow Disease to Agrochemicals: Time to Put Public Need Ahead of Private Greed

8 hours 6 min ago

The first part of this article documenting the development of BSE in Britain was written by Rosemary Mason and is taken from her new report ‘Why didn’t the UK media report the documentary on Mad Cow Disease?’ It is fully referenced and cites sources and evidence in support of her claims. Additional reporting for the second part of the article was provided by Colin Todhunter.

Mad cow disease is a fatal epidemic neurological syndrome created by the agricultural industry, farmers and food processors.

In 1987, an epidemic of a fatal neurological disease in cows suddenly appeared in Britain. Cows became uncoordinated, staggered around, collapsed and finally died. The disease was called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) because there were holes in the brain where prion protein cells became folded, had linked up and then split to cover the surface of the brain. There were more than 1,300 cases of BSE spread over 6,000 farms.

For at least 40 years, infected slaughterhouse carcasses had been rendered down and recycled into animal feed. Not wanting to waste anything, pressure cooking of the spinal cord and brain produced a sludge known as ‘mechanically-recovered meat’. The regulators allowed it to go into meat products. This processed meat and bone meal was turned into a coarse powder and was fed back to cows. Cows are herbivores and this way they were turned into cannibals.

By 1990, BSE had spread into 14 other species, including cats. Politicians, the food industry, media, the government, farmers and vets said BSE couldn’t jump species to affect humans and it was safe to eat beef. Advertisements were taken out in newspapers and politicians were shown eating steak tartare in the Houses of Parliament to boost the sales of beef. At an agricultural show, the Agriculture Minister John Gummer was seen offering a beef burger to his daughter.

In 1995, the first human under 40 contracted what became known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (new vCJD, related to BSE and belonging to the same family of diseases). By March 1996, there were five cases and the government was forced to alter its advice. Kevin Maguire, a journalist, was lunching with someone in Westminster who said that scientists had discovered that ‘mad cow disease’ could jump species and had been found in humans.

Maguire said that it was a scandal in an effort to get every penny out of a carcass. His newspaper, ‘The  Mirror’, was the first to break the news to the public, saying that humans could catch mad cow disease from eating infected beef and that the government was about to do a U-turn by finally accepting that the brain wasting disease may have been passed to people. This U-turn by ministers – who for 10 years had insisted it was impossible – was a devastating indictment of the British government and probably one of the worst examples of government since the war.

During 1996, 10 more cases of new vCJD in people under 40 were diagnosed. All died within 13 months and there was no cure. In 2005, the authorities thought the disease was over, but in 2009, a case was discovered in a 30-year-old man. Another case appeared four years later. Today, people are living with uncertainty, not knowing if they are incubating new vCJD.

The parents of children who had died from new vCJD said “We trusted government advice.” Each Christmas one mother had sent an e-mail to those she thought responsible with a photograph of her daughter and said your actions have deprived me of my daughter. Another parent from Scotland who had lost his 30-year-old son to the disease had tattooed on his arm the name of his son followed by: ‘murdered by greed and corruption’.

In the documentary ‘Mad Cow Disease: The Great British Beef Scandal’, first broadcast on BBC 2 on 11 July 2019, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, said:

“New Variant CJD is not a natural disease. It is an epidemic we have created. If the agricultural industry hadn’t decided to feed cattle with meat and bone meal, if the food processors hadn’t decided to scrape every last bit of flesh off the carcass, and if MAFF [govt ministry] hadn’t prioritised farming over food safety, all of the people who died would still be alive. This is the tragedy.”

The following is taken from a publication compiled by the European Environment Agency, ‘Late lessons from early warnings’ (Patrick van Zwanenberg and Erik Millstone):

“Many of the UK policy makers who were directly responsible for taking policy decisions on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prior to March 1996 claim that, at the time, their approach exemplified the application of an ultra-precautionary approach and of rigorous science-based policy-making. We argue that these claims are not convincing because government policies were not genuinely precautionary and did not properly take into account the implications of the available scientific evidence.

“… It is, however, essential to appreciate that UK public policy making was handicapped by a fundamental tension. The department responsible for dealing with BSE has been the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), and it was expected simultaneously to promote the economic interests of farmers and the food industry whilst also protecting public health from food-borne hazards. The evidence cited here suggests that because MAFF was expected simultaneously to meet two contradictory objectives it failed to meet either.”

The UK introduced legislation banning the use of contaminated ruminant protein for use in ruminant feed in 1988. By then, a million cows had entered the food chain. At the height of the scandal, British beef had lost around 60% of sales. Prior to the ban, microbiologist Stephen Dealler challenged the government’s claim over safety and was moved from his research lab.

However, Britain continued to export meat and bone meal to Europe. The European Commission asked the UK to introduce an export ban on feedstuffs, but the UK refused to do so. It was not until 1996 that the EC banned these exports.

From mad cows to GMOs and pesticides

Where glyphosate (and other agrochemicals) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are concerned, we again see commercial interests being prioritised and the public interest sidelined. Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup was originally sprayed on crops in 1980 and on grazing land in 1985 (recommended by Monsanto scientists). GMOs entered the commercial market in the US in the 1990s. As shown in the report mentioned in the introduction to this article, the authorities did not heed the advice of key scientists and went ahead regardless.

Readers are urged to consult the report as it documents the duplicity that underpins the agrochemical/GMO agritech sector and describes how science and regulatory processes have been corrupted. In Britain, the government is saying that GM crops and Roundup are safe and intends to introduce these crops after Brexit.

Of course, heavily compromised industry-funded scientists and other lobbyists say the science is decided on GM and that glyphosate is safe. They say anyone who rejects this is anti-science and doesn’t care about world hunger because we can only feed the world by rolling out more GM crops and more agrochemicals. But this is little more than propaganda and emotional blackmail, part of an industry strategy designed to tug at the heartstrings of public opinion and sway the policy agenda.

We need to turn to author Andre Leu who has outlined major deficiencies in pesticide safety protocols. He offers a more realistic appraisal:

“… it is a gross misrepresentation to say that any of the current published toxicology studies can be used to say that any of the thousands of pesticide products used in the world do not cause cancer or other diseases… there is no evidence that pesticides are safe.”

Washington State University researchers recently found a variety of diseases and other health problems in the second- and third-generation offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate. In the first study of its kind, the researchers saw descendants of exposed rats developing prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, obesity and birth abnormalities. The study’s authors say:

“The ability of glyphosate and other environmental toxicants to impact our future generations needs to be considered and is potentially as important as the direct exposure toxicology done today for risk assessment.”

And where GMOs are concerned, they are little more than a flawed technological panacea that ignores the structural causes of malnutrition and hunger.

An increasing number of prominent reports and voices are now arguing that we do not need toxic chemicals to feed the world and that if we maintain our economic and agricultural course we are headed for disaster. FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva recently called for healthier and more sustainable food systems and said agroecology can contribute to such a transformation.

Moreover, the new report from the UN  High Level Panel of Food Experts on Food Security and Nutrition – Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition – argues that food systems are at a crossroads and profound transformation is needed. Many high-profile reports and figures have been saying similar things for years.

It is therefore disconcerting that the British government seems oblivious to the need of the hour and remains intent on pursuing an obsolete neoliberal, water-polluting, soil degrading, health destroying, unsustainable model of food and agriculture at the behest of corporate interests.

Mad cow disease did not just suddenly appear from nowhere. It was created by humans, particularly the farming industry and food processors. The British government kept on maintaining that eating beef was perfectly safe. A scientist who spoke out was silenced. The interests of the beef industry were paramount.

Evidence suggests there could soon be a second wave of cases affecting humans. It will be among people with a genetic predisposition towards longer incubation periods than the first patients had. This genetic predisposition is shared by half the British population. Some 177 people (as of June 2014) have contracted and died of vCJD.

That number is dwarfed when it comes to the spiralling rates of disease and illness that we now see among the British population. This too hasn’t happened for no reason. We see clear trends between the rising use of agrochemicals (especially glyphosate) and rising rates of morbidity, while much of the media and policy makers remain silent on this connection.

From the ‘great British beef scandal’ of the 1980s to ongoing pesticide issue, the profit motives of rich corporations continue to trump the public interest.

In Crisis of Democracy, We All Must Become Julian Assange

8 hours 7 min ago

The US government’s indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange marked the worst attack on press freedom in history. Assange has been charged on 18 counts, including 17 violations of the Espionage Act. James Goodale, former general counsel of The New York Times, who urged the paper to publish the Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration noted, “If the government succeeds with the trial against Assange, if any, that will mean that it’s criminalized the news gathering process.”

On June 12, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid has signed the extradition papers. Assange’s hearing is now set to begin next February. He is now being held in London’s Belmarsh prison for what amounts to a politically motivated, 50-week sentence given by the judge for him violating bail conditions in 2012 in order to seek and obtain political asylum in Ecuador against the threat of extradition to the US.

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who visited Assange in a notorious UK prison previously referred to as “Britain’s Guantanamo Bay”, assessed that Assange has been subjected to prolong psychological torture by the US government and its allies for nearly a decade. While this multi-award winning journalist, who has revealed the governments’ war crimes, suffers in jail, the British government that has been a key player of this political persecution recently held a Global Conference for Media Freedom.

Despite its stated mission of protecting the safety and rights of journalists, the conference failed to address the degrading and inhumane treatment of Assange and the US government’s prosecution of the publisher that could set a dangerous precedent for press freedom. This hypocrisy of all was best shown by the fact that this gathering was hosted by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt who, last month, told the US TV that he would happily extradite Assange to Trump’s America where former CIA officer John Kiriakou indicated that he would receive no fair trial and face life imprisonment.

True face of Western liberal democracy

What is this Western governments’ coordinated attack on this Australian native who published truthful information, in the public interest, about the US government? Over 10 million documents that WikiLeaks released with a pristine record of accuracy informed people around the world about corruption and wrongdoing of governments and corporations. But most importantly, they exposed the true face of Western liberal democracy.

What is Western liberal democracy? It is a particular style of governance that was developed in the US and exported around the world. Political theorist Sheldon S. Wolin (2008) described it as “modern managed democracy” and attributed its creation to the framers of the Constitution. Wolin described how the Founding Fathers made a system that favored elite rule and that “the American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy” (p. 228).

This managed democracy relies on secrecy and deception to control the will of the populace. In this system, press works as a propaganda machine. Journalists become gatekeepers, whose job is to maintain an illusion of democracy through restricting the flow of information and controlling narratives. Now, WikiLeaks’ disclosures on government secrecy have pierced a façade of democracy and began challenging the hidden power inside the system.

Crisis of legitimacy

WikiLeaks revelation, coupled with the 2008 financial meltdown, triggered the global crisis of legitimacy. People came to recognize the unfairness and injustice inherent in the system, where rules don’t apply to everyone equally. Weakening of public trust in institutions spawned a cycle of protests around the world.

In 2011, Amnesty International recognized the role of WikiLeaks’ documents in instigating global revolutionary uprisings. The US diplomatic cables leak helped generate a powerful force that finally toppled the corrupt Tunisian dictator Ben Ali. The fire of self-immolation and global awakening confirmed by the US embassy cables, spread like wildfire through social media and lit the passions of Egyptians in Tahrir Square.

From Spain, Greece, and the London riots to the Occupy movement, waves of action for self-determination were reaching the West. This crisis of liberal democracy didn’t just emerge in 2011. The roots of the problems that we are now facing are found at the birth of the American republic.

The truth is that the country has been in crisis from the very beginning. Although the Constitution was founded on the revolutionary ideas that rejected the power of the King’s monarchy, it contained contradictions and was far from being perfect. A constitutional republic was built in violation of the ideals infused in the Declaration of Independence, manifested in genocide of natives, the enslavement of blacks, and the suppression of women.

One of influential figures in America’s earlier development, Thomas Jefferson, predicted and warned his fellow citizens about the seed of corruption within, when he feared, there would come a time when the American system of government would degenerate into a form of “elective despotism”.

Invention of new journalism

Julian Assange, through his work with WikiLeaks responded to this crisis that has existed all along inside this nation. How did he do it? To examine this question, we have to look at who Julian Assange is.

When Assange was once asked to describe what exactly he does in life, he answered; “I am an activist, journalist, software programmer expert in cryptography, specialized in systems designed to protect human rights defenders.”

Assange is an excellent journalist. He published material at a scale and speed that has never been seen before, winning numerous journalistic awards. But he is much more than just a journalist. With a variety of skills and talents, he made significant contributions to the larger society. He was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize and was a recipient of the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal, the Sam Adams Award and the Voltaire Award for Free Speech, among others.

Perhaps the best way to describe him would be that he is an innovator at heart. Innovators understand the problems that exist in our society and come up with solutions. What were the problems that Assange identified? He recognized anti-democratic forces inside the history of the United States. He also understood that within the existing political system there is no mechanism for ordinary people to check on this power. Upon this analysis, he found a way to tackle this problem by inventing a new form of journalism. WikiLeaks was the solution.

Problems of unaccounted power

The framers of the constitution wanted to have power over people. As a testimony to this, the original draft of the constitution did not have a Bill of Rights. They were added to the constitution as amendments. This didn’t come about without struggle. The proponents of the Bill of Rights demanded them in order to safeguard individual liberty and challenged those who seek to preserve levers of control.

Even after the constitution was ratified with a Bill of Rights, the problem of this unaccounted power was never truly addressed. The wording of the First Amendment reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Here, the First Amendment was aimed to restrict the governmental power. It was specifically addressing what Congress can’t do. However, the constitution didn’t ensure that corporations would not be able to make laws restricting the freedom of speech. With the infiltration of commercial interests and the consolidation of media, the big business class has found a way to regulate free speech on their terms. The establishment of corporate media turned journalists’ First Amendment protection into a privilege that they can use against the public.

New mechanism of accountability

Journalists, who have now become a new class of professionals, no longer share interests with ordinary people. They are systematically placed to serve the agendas of the powerful state. For instance, The New York Times has publicly acknowledged that it sends some of its stories to the US government for approval from “national security officials” before publication.

With the merger of the state and corporations, the power of private companies to influence governments and erode civil liberty has increased. Transnational corporations can now revoke and restrict basic rights at any time, crossing the judicial boundaries on the borderless cyberspace. Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter censor free speech online and, without warrant, they spy and invade the privacy of people.

Civil right activist Audre Lorde once wrote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In a tyranny of corporate takeover, Assange through his work with WikiLeaks found solutions to this problem of corporate subjugation of journalism. WikiLeaks provides vital tools that make it possible for everyday people to dismantle the master’s house.

At the core of this invention is scientific journalism. By publishing full archives in a searchable format, WikiLeaks gave ordinary people a mechanism to independently check the claim of journalists and to hold those unelected powers accountable. This way, the whistleblowing site enabled a true function of free press and opened a door for democracy.

Call for real democracy

With the Trump administration’s prosecution of Assange, we are now seeing a deepening crisis of enlightenment values. In Chinese, the word for crisis is composed with two meanings. It signifies danger and opportunity. This attack on free press poses great threat to democracy, but at the same time, it presents an opportunity that has never been available before.

With great courage, Assange responded to the crisis of legitimacy. He sacrificed his personal liberty in order to give us a chance to create a society where we have privacy for the weak and transparency for the powerful. Now, this man who defended our rights, is made defenseless. He is not allowed to use a computer and has limited access to his lawyers, making him unable to adequately prepare for his legal defense.

In a message sent out from a high security prison, where he is being held in solitary confinement, he asked everyone to take his place. Democracy requires ordinary’ people’s participation in power. In order for us to alter this oppressive system, change ought to be made first within ourselves. Each of us needs to start exercising our right to free speech, assemble and associate with one another and organize a society, governed not by elite few, but through networked hearts of common people.

Even after his imprisonment, Assange continues to fight. He endures isolation and character assassination with the latest CNN hit piece twisting embassy surveillance records against him. Assange remains silenced. He is suffering for all of us, for us to seize this opportunity to take back the power that belongs to us. Let us fight for his freedom. Let us complete the great work of justice and democracy he started with WikiLeaks. His plight of curtailed freedom is a call for a real democracy. We all must now take his place and claim our own significance. We must become Julian Assange, for his struggle is ours. We are all Julian Assange.

The Immoral Silence to the Destructive Xenophobia of “Just Leave”

8 hours 7 min ago

Donald Trump tweets “why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” and doubles-down by then accusing four sitting members of Congress of hating America (referring to Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY; Ilhan Omar, MN; Rashida Tlaib, MI; and Ayanna S. Pressley, MA). Only one of the four, Omar, was born outside the US, and was a refugee fleeing war in Somalia.

“Just leave” is a dog-whistle for white nationalism. Research shows that supporters and opponents of Donald Trump respond differently to racial cues. Simply put: Trump intentionally and incessantly works to make white people angry at minorities, his divisiveness is working. Hate crimes in the U.S. are up, especially in pro-Trump areas and places where he held rallies. His divisive rhetoric was a motivating force for mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand and other hate crimes here and abroad, as cited by the attackers themselves in most cases. A bigoted bully his entire career, openly and unapologetically racist for decades, it is dishonest to pretend there is a debate; then there is the dishonesty of silence.

The breadth of silence of silence from the Republican party (and his rise in Republican voter support shown in subsequent polls) showcases the tacit support of the insinuation that people of color are foreigners. Either Trump speaks for American conservatives or their cowardice is too great to mount any opposition. Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy stands by Trump’s side and nods approvingly with Trump’s messages that minorities are a threat to American safety, values, and people of color do not belong. Majority Senate leader Mitch McConnell, a descendant of slave owners (census records show two of his great-great-grandfathers owned more than a dozen slaves) pretends to be the statesman and tells everyone to calm down, as if Trump should be permitted to engage in all the cruelty and bullying that suits him.

Since the 1780’s the great American Melting-Pot has been an important metaphor. It was used to articulate the blending of different cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities into a single American identity. The logical extension of a true support for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness combined with the acknowledgement of “created equal” that is perhaps best expressed E pluribus Unum—out of many, one—our national motto.

These time-honored values are not defended by those who truly need to model them, as history shows. In Rwanda, leading to the 1994 genocide, the Hutus failed to defend Tutsis when bigoted leadership called them “cockroaches.” German non-Jews failed to stand up to Hitler as he ramped up in the early 1930s with actions not dissimilar to Trump right now. This is comparable to McCarthy and McConnell failing to correct Trump’s anti-brown bigotry.

It is not easy to push back against bigotry. In McCarthy’s Bakersfield, CA, where I’m from, I remember the lesson well. In high school in the 90’s “just joking” racism bought me acceptance, and speaking out against pejorative slurs earned me the recognition of “race traitor.” I can tell you every time I spoke out it made a difference, and I slept at night. Even if you didn’t speak out about the “very fine people” neo-Nazis in Charlottesville (Trump’s approving words), you can say something about the concentration camps at the Mexican border; you can defend the Americans being told to leave, we need to be united on this.

McDonald’s: Stop Exploiting Our Schools

8 hours 15 min ago

Corporate America is looming larger and larger in U.S. public schools. That’s not a good thing for educators, students, or workers.

Nowhere could this be more clear than the case of McDonald’s, whose founder once scouted locations for new stores by flying over communities and looking for schools. The fast food giant pioneered methods of attracting school children to its stores — from Happy Meals to marketing schemes like McTeacher’s Nights.

McTeacher’s Nights have become almost commonplace in many parts of the country. Here’s how they work.

Teachers and other public school employees prompt students and parents to eat at their local McDonald’s on an otherwise slow night. Then teachers volunteer their time behind the cash register, serving students and their families junk food, while McDonald’s workers are often told not to go in that night for their shift.

A small amount of the proceeds — about $1 to $2 per student — then goes back to the school.

Many students have grown up with these seemingly innocuous fundraisers. Hundreds, if not thousands, happen across the U.S. each year, according to Corporate Accountability and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Meanwhile, thanks to gross underfunding of public schools, such fundraisers get less scrutiny than they should. Beyond the obvious problem of enlisting teachers — the people children trust most, next to their parents — to serve young people junk food, there’s also the issue of labor rights.

Teachers are already woefully underpaid for the service they provide our communities. McTeacher’s Nights engage these teachers to volunteer additional hours, often displacing low-income McDonald’s workers in the process.

What results is what one former McDonald’s CEO described as philanthropy that’s “99 percent commercial” in nature. What do we call it? Exploitation.

Teachers need to be standing in solidarity with McDonald’s employees, not at cross-purposes. They are our students, family members, and our neighbors. For their long hours working on their feet, they are often paid poverty wages.

And as a recent report from the National Employment Law Project finds, the corporation is failing in its legal duty to provide employees a safe work environment. Dozens of women from California to Florida have filed complaints alleging sexual harassment by supervisors and co-workers in McDonald’s stores and franchises. And thousands of workers in 10 cities walked off the job to protest these abuses.

In the education field, we know the importance of a strong union to prevent abuses like these. Yet McDonald’s has been accused of union-busting, and even firing employees for attending Fight for $15 rallies to raise the minimum wage.

That’s why more than 50 state and local teachers unions have signed an open letter challenging McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook to end McTeacher’s Nights. And this year, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), representing 1.7 million members and 3,000 local affiliates, adopted a resolution rejecting all corporate-sponsored fundraisers for schools.

It’s time for McDonald’s and other corporations to stop exploiting our schools, children, and their own workforce. Until they do, we will continue to stand with McDonald’s workers in their fight for a living wage and a safe workplace — and for teachers fighting for the funding their local schools need.

We encourage others to stand with us.

Cecily Myart-Cruz is a veteran teacher, activist, and the Vice President of the United Teachers Los Angeles/NEA.

This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

Our Veggie Gardens Won’t Feed us in a Real Crisis

8 hours 23 min ago

Massive flooding and heavier than normal precipitation across the US Midwest this year delayed or entirely prevented the planting of many crops. The situation was sufficiently widespread that it was visible from space. The trouble isn’t over yet: Hotter-than-normal temperatures predicted to follow could adversely affect corn pollination. Projections of lower yields have already stimulated higher prices in UN grain indexes and US ethanol. Additionally, the USDA is expecting harvests to be of inferior quality. Furthermore, the effects of this year could bleed into 2020; late planting leads to late harvesting which delays fall tilling, potentially until next spring, when who knows what Mother Nature will deliver.

Accuweather’s characterization of this as a “one-of-a-kind growing season” is literally true only in terms of its exact circumstances (given increasingly chaotic events) but not in its intensity (which will surely be exceeded). Prudence would dictate that we heed this year’s events as a warning and get serious about making preparations for worse years. Literal cycles of “feast or famine” have marked agriculture since its birth and sooner or later we will experience significant shortages here in the US, if not from the weather, than from war or lack of resources.

The Midwest floods and their possible repercussions for the food supply got some attention in the news (though not enough). One of the most common suggestions I saw on social media was: “Plant a garden!”

If only it were that simple.

I used to be a small-scale organic farmer so take it from me: totally feeding yourself from your own efforts is very, very challenging. Though some friends and I tried over multiple seasons, we never succeeded, or even came anywhere close.

First of all, consider what you eat. Yes, you. What do you eat at home? At work? When you go out? Okay, what percentage of that can be raised in the bioregion where you live? If you have trouble answering this question, don’t feel bad. I would guess that the proportion of the US population with practical agricultural knowledge is lower than in any other society in history.

Looking at the subset of your current diet that can be grown in your area, is it enough to live off of? Is it well-balanced and does it provide enough calories? If not, what will you add to fill it out? This is purely an exercise of course, but there’s the rough draft of the menu you’re going to survive on. How will that work? I mean logistically?

Let’s take carrots. They’re popular, they’re nutritious, and they can be grown all over the US without too much trouble. What’s a year’s worth of carrots look like? How many ten-foot rows would it take to produce that many? When are they best seeded? How much space, water and amendments do they require? What tools do you need? Are there diseases or insects to worry about and what’s the best way of dealing with them? When do you pick them? How long will the harvest keep?

Now go through all those questions for everything else on your list.

Then add it up: all the space, hours, and equipment.

Does it look daunting? If it doesn’t, you left something out.

Without going through all of the above, here’s what you’re probably not thinking of right now: The typical US American diet is only 10-20% fruits and veggies―like you might grow in your backyard―and the vast majority is made up of grains and proteins in one form or another.

What vegetable does nearly everyone grow in their home garden? Tomatoes. How do they eat them? Often enough, on a sandwich or in pasta. That’s wheat or rice or some other grains. How many people have ever planted rice or wheat in their back yards?

Meat is also grains because that’s what’s fed to animals. This includes the majority of grass-fed cows, who are “finished” (fattened up) on grains on a feedlot prior to slaughter. So if you want meat in your home-grown diet, you’ll need to plant for those mouths too. You might end up concluding that you don’t need as much as you thought you did. (BTW, historic paleolithic diets were supplemented by hunting meat but were dependent on gathering roots, seeds, berries, etc.)

When my friends and I tried the grow-all-your-own-food challenge, we quickly got educated about the difficulties of grains and other staple crops. I’m not just talking about planting and raising, which are hard enough, but harvesting and processing. Wheat, for example, is easy to grow, but there’s a number of steps from mature spikelets in the field to flour in the kitchen, including threshing and winnowing. In 2008, we attempted to harvest and process a third of an acre of wheat entirely by hand. Over two dozen people participated during a two week period. I kept careful notes and after all was said and done, each hour of labor produced 2.6 lbs of wheat berries, cleaned and ready to grind. To put that into perspective in the context of our current Capitalist mode, if you were paying people $15/hour, the labor cost of each pound would be $5.77.

We also experimented with quinoa, dry beans, flour corn, millet, buckwheat, flax, and other crops. Each one required its own set of techniques. Overall, our yields were much lower than we expected and the work much harder than we wanted. (For an accounting of our efforts, including tables of data, see this report.) Not to say I didn’t enjoy it; I did. But I also wasn’t actually depending on it.

When I think about the possibility of some kind of food supply crisis in the US, all I can do is shake my head. We do not have a safety net to catch us if we fall. If we want one, we needed to start working on it yesterday. Just putting in another raised bed in your backyard ain’t gonna do it. You can’t live off of spinach, cucumbers and green beans. (You can survive just on potatoes if you have to, but guaranteeing year round availability is tricky.)

I’m not saying we shouldn’t plant veggie gardens. We should put in as many as we can and fight to keep them when they’re threatened. But let’s not kid ourselves that a few heads of broccoli (or even a wheel barrow of zucchinis) will get us through an actual breakdown of the agricultural system. It won’t. If we want a shot at doing that, we need to put in some meaningful time and effort, and it will necessarily be outside the system.

I gave it a try for a few years with a bicycle-based urban farming operation in Portland, Oregon. It was a helluva lot of fun (see my book, Adventures in Urban Bike Farming), but had no lasting effect. Of the forty-some gardens we got going, only one remains that I know of.

I suspect that the warning we’ve received from Mother Nature this year about the vulnerability of our agricultural system will go unheeded. If we were smart, we would be reorganizing the whole kit and caboodle around small-scale operations in localized foodsheds. It wouldn’t be rocket science. But it wouldn’t be making Cargill, Tyson and Monsanto rich.

Which goes to show again: if we want to survive, we need a revolution.

A Homeless Rebellion – Mission Statement/Press Release

8 hours 25 min ago

Written by James Douglas, Matthew Vernon Whalan and homeless citizens of Brattleboro

Brattleboro, Vermont — James Douglas, a homeless citizen of Brattleboro, was arrested on July 11, 2019, at 12:30 a.m. for sleeping in Plaza Park downtown. People who sleep there at night do so because they have no other safe place to go. Now that park is no longer safe.

We in the homeless community feel that the police enforce and threaten to enforce the trespassing ordinances randomly – not consistently – and on public property, which, for the homeless, is like being terrorized; you never know when they will show up.

Due to the recent increase in arrests, no trespass citations, and threats of arrest toward homeless people by police, the homeless community of Brattleboro will be taking direct action in order to demand 3 basic concessions from the community at large.

These three demands are: 1) In the long-term, we demand housing. 2) In the short-term, we demand to be treated with dignity and respect – and no longer with prejudice – by the non-homeless community of Brattleboro. 3) Also in the short-term, we want consistent opportunities to publicly platform homeless voices on the subject of homeless life in the local democratic process – such as in selectboard, the local press, and other forums. The community at large will never understand the realities of homeless life unless homeless people are on the frontlines of information gathering and decision-making related to their lives.

The homeless community of Brattleboro and its allies will be participating in a series of demonstrations over the coming months themed around these three demands. The first of these demonstrations will take place on Monday, July 22, at 4:45 p.m., at which time homeless demonstrators and their allies will surround Plaza Park with Douglas, standing side by side and holding signs with messages themed around the three basic demands cited above – housing, dignity and respect, and a primary role in the political process. The goal is to perform the demonstration while the Amtrak Train is stopped at five p.m. so that those stuck in traffic nearby cannot drive past without noticing our protest.

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