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Updated: 4 hours 16 min ago

Ottawa, Yemen and Guardian

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:46

One has to admire the Canadian government’s manipulation of the media regarding its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Despite being partners with the Kingdom’s international crimes, the Liberals have managed to convince some gullible folks they are challenging Riyadh’s rights abuses.

By downplaying Ottawa’s support for violence in Yemen while amplifying Saudi reaction to an innocuous tweet the dominant media has wildly distorted the Trudeau government’s relationship to the monarchy.

In a story headlined “Trudeau says Canada has heard Turkish tape of Khashoggi murder”, Guardian diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour affirmed that “Canada has taken a tough line on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record for months.” Hogwash. Justin Trudeau’s government has okayed massive arms sales to the monarchy and largely ignored the Saudi’s devastating war in Yemen, which has left up to 80,000 dead, millions hungry and sparked a terrible cholera epidemic.

While Ottawa recently called for a ceasefire, the Liberals only direct condemnation of the Saudi bombing in Yemen was an October 2016 statement. It noted, “the Saudi-led coalition must move forward now on its commitment to investigate this incident” after two airstrikes killed over 150  and wounded 500 during a funeral in Sana’a.

By contrast when the first person was killed from a rocket launched into the Saudi capital seven months ago, Chrystia Freeland stated, “Canada strongly condemns the ballistic missile attacks launched by Houthi rebels on Sunday, against four towns and cities in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh’s international airport. The deliberate targeting of civilians is unacceptable.” In her release, Canada’s foreign minister also accepted the monarchy’s justification for waging war. “There is a real risk of escalation if these kinds of attacks by Houthi rebels continue and if Iran keeps supplying weapons to the Houthis”, Freeland added.

Ottawa has also aligned itself with Riyadh’s war aims on other occasions. With the $15 billion LAV sale to the monarchy under a court challenge in late 2016, federal government lawyers described Saudi Arabia as “a key military ally who backs efforts of the international community to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the instability in Yemen. The acquisition of these next-generation vehicles will help in those efforts, which are compatible with Canadian defence interests.” The Canadian Embassy’s website currently claims “the Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”

In recent years the Saudis have been the second biggest recipients of Canadian weaponry, which are frequently used in Yemen. As Anthony Fenton has documented in painstaking detail, hundreds of armoured vehicles made by Canadian company Streit Group in the UAE have been videoed in Yemen. Equipment from three other Canadian armoured vehicle makers – Terradyne, IAG Guardian and General Dynamics Land Systems Canada– was found with Saudi-backed forcesin Yemen. Between May and July Canada exported $758.6 million worth of “tanks and other armored fighting vehicles” to the Saudis.

The Saudi coalition used Canadian-made rifles as well.“Canada helped fuel the war in Yemen by exporting more rifles to Saudi Arabia than it did to the U.S. ($7.15 million vs. $4.98 million)”, tweeted Fenton regarding export figures from July and August.

Some Saudi pilots that bombed Yemen were likely trained in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In recent years Saudi pilots have trained with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada, which is run by the Canadian Forces and CAE. The Montreal-based flight simulator company also trained Royal Saudi Air Force pilots in the Middle East.

Training and arming the monarchy’s military while refusing to condemn its brutal war in Yemen shouldn’t be called a “tough line on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.” Rather, Canada’s role should be understood for what it is: War profiteer and enabler of massive human rights abuses.

Categories: News for progressives

This Was No Vote Accident

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:45

Here in the West Village, in beautiful downtown Manhattan, Election Day morning was overcast, with an autumn chill and some mist in the air. It was early and I was surprised by the number of people waiting to vote – a line about as long as in 2016 – which was great but seemed a little odd because in this very, very blue neighborhood there were plenty of names on the midterm ballot but no contests of any great contention.

That had all been taken care of during the last primary in September, when Cynthia Nixon ran against Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and lost, although she did manage to shift Cuomo a bit left on a number of issues. Now that he’s been reelected we’ll be watching closely—very closely—to see if he follows through.

No, the people I saw standing in line clearly were doing so as an act of defiance and political conscience, casting their ballots as a symbol of their desire for decency and democracy. It was a protest fueled by the need to send a message that was loud and clear: that as voters they would try at every level, local, state and federal, to keep America from under the thumb of authoritarianism. They wanted to make sure strong opposing voices remain shouting in government.

As you know well by now, nationwide, there was great success. Although Republicans held onto the US Senate, Democrats won control of the House of Representatives, perhaps by as many as 40 seats, more than any midterms since the post-Watergate election in 1974. And that new freshman class is filled with women, blacks, Latinos, the first two Muslim-American women, the first two Native American women. (In fact, when the House and Senate convene in January at least 128 womenwill be members.) And the newcomers are young, lowering the median age of Congress by at least a decade.

Progressive ballot measures passed, Democrats flipped the governorships of seven states with no losses, and as Emma Green at The Atlantic reports, “pulled out big victories across state legislatures, flipping six chambers, turning others purple, and shoring up its supermajorities in still more.”

Those chambers include the New York State Senate, which went blue for the first time in a decade, bolstered in large part by the September primary defeats of six Democrats who cynically had aligned themselves with the GOP. Their elimination was the result of hard work by a committed group of activists, many of whom had never engaged in politics before but who saw the need for big, dramatic change.

Turnout in the United States for a midterm election was the highest in more than a century, with 49% of those eligible voting – including a 56% increase from four years ago among young voters, 18-29.

But.

At my polling place the only snag was confusion as to which line was for filling in ballots and which was for scanning them. Yet across the city there were enormous problems—without enough machines in many places, the high turnout meant hours spent in lengthy lines, plus an unusual ballot on two separate pages jammed the scanners; dozens if not hundreds of scanners malfunctioned across the city, contributing to the long waits.

Add to that vast overall disorganization. A friend who planned to be a poll worker reports that the instructions were crammed into a four-hour training session that was “woefully inadequate to explain how volunteers are supposed to deal with a guaranteed 17-hour day, during which they not only do all the visible stuff but also unseal the machines and set them up (a truly scary procedure), handle all the stupidities during the day, and then break down and empty the voting machines and lock them up and certify the results… Even having people around who have done it before does not guarantee a smooth operation.”

At one point, things were so bad, someone with tongue firmly in cheek had the not-so-bad idea that there’d be greater efficiency if the checkout staff at Trader Joe’s took over the polling places.

The city’s Board of Elections has been an antiquated bureaucratic nightmare for years. On Election Day, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the board needs to be modernized and that it’s “making it harder for people to vote, not easier. It is part of the problem. It must change.” City Council speaker Corey Johnson called for the resignation of the board’s executive director, Michael J. Ryan. “Today is not a good day for democracy here in New York City,” Johnson declared, “and we need to do better.”

Rightly, we’ve heard a lot over the last weeks about voter suppression in Florida, Georgia and other states, about punishing and discriminatory ID requirements, ballots lost or thrown out for ridiculous technicalities, polling places eliminated, and right now, elections in which officials Brian Kemp, Georgia Secretary of State, and Florida Governor Rick Scott have abused their power and actively interfered in balloting and recounts, although they’re candidates themselves. These bullying and fraudulent accusations threaten an honest and complete reckoning.

Then, add to this already toxic brew the know-nothing lies and vote-stealing accusations of reality show host Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, he honest-to-God told the right-wingDaily Caller, “…People get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again… It’s really a disgrace what’s going on.”

Seriously, I am not making this up. The President of the United States.

But I digress. As you’ve seen, even in putatively progressive New York, despite our gains (and the fact that two years ago Trump was beaten here in his home state by more than twenty points), we have, as the Brennan Center’s Sean Morales-Doyle and Chisun Lee recently wrote, “some of the most retrograde voting laws and practices in the nation.”

We don’t have early voting or same-day registration. Restrictions on who can cast an absentee ballot and why are punitive, as are deadlines for switching party affiliation.

Yet there is hope. With the new state senate coming to Albany, and a bunch of hidebound, status quo-driven legislators given the boot, a progressive agenda that may include automatic registration, vote-by-mail (solves so many problems) and other reforms, as well as a shakeup of the elections board, is in the works.

What’s more, national trends are positive for New York and everywhere else. On Election Day, there was, as Danny Hakim at The New York Times described it, “a wave of actions aimed at making voting easier and fairer…

“Floridians extended voting rights to 1.4 million convicted felons [the Brennan Center described it as “the largest expansion of voting rights” since the voting age was lowered to 18 almost fifty years ago]. Maryland, Nevada and Michigan were among states that made it easier to register and vote. Michigan, along with Colorado and Missouri, limited politicians’ ability to directly draw, and gerrymander, district lines.” By the time you read this, Utah may have done the same; ballots are still being counted and it’s close.

What’s more, the Democrats have announced that when the new Congress convenes in January, the first vote in the House will be for HR1, an omnibus bill that, as Peter Overby at NPR reports, “would establish automatic voter registration and reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act, crippled by a Supreme Court decision in 2013. It would take away redistricting power from state legislatures and give it to independent commissions.”

The bill also includes campaign finance reform—overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—and anti-bribery measures as well as a ban on White House conflicts of interest and a rule that presidential candidates must reveal their tax returns to the public.

Of course, right now it will never get past the Senate or Trump’s veto but it’s a start. Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, reform leader of the House Democratic Caucus, says, “Give us the gavel in the Senate in 2020 and we’ll pass it in the Senate. Give us a pen in the Oval Office and we’ll sign these kinds of reforms into law.”

This is just the kind of impetus we need to keep the Resistance pressing ahead and for the momentum to keep rolling forward beyond the Election Night successes. Especially because the results last week have only further embittered Trump and his obsequious sidekicks in Congress and the courts. They will keep fighting dirty, spend their cash freely and are led by an autocratic egomaniac with no scruples whatsoever. Their rage and ruthlessness could be the death of us all.

Unless.

We can’t let our guard down for even an instant. Organized people are the answer to organized money, as groups like Indivisible, Swing Left, Postcards to Voters and others have proven in this election. This was no voting accident. Over the next two years to 2020, build on the gains we’ve made so far, fight the gerrymander and other forms of voter suppression, make sure more and more Americans have the franchise and are committed to using it no matter what.

That’s the winning ticket.

Categories: News for progressives

The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:45

The disgruntled former prime minister is a rather large, and growing club, on the Australian scene. The country has become known for its killing seasons, those occasions when spear wielding apparatchiks within respective political parties feel the need to execute (politically speaking) their leaders in hurried fashion. Those leaders, in turn, seek revenge and catharsis. None, it seems, seek obscurity, forever aggrieved by the instigator of their fall.

The latest addition to the club is lawyer, merchant banker, and failed pro-republic campaigner Malcolm Turnbull, who is now without the leadership of his party or a seat in the Australian parliament, one he resigned as the daggers were being sheathed. If he could not have the prime ministership, his party could not have the seat of Wentworth.

Attempting to maximise the effect of his deposition, Turnbull began a campaign of ennobling self-effacement and cleansing. This involved, firstly, evacuating to New York and then extolling his views about a “live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword approach.” To a young leadership group in New York, Turnbull explained how “when you stop being prime minister, that’s it.”

His approach to politics would, he argued, be different from his disgruntled predecessors who had similarly been pushed onto their party’s respective swords. “There is no way I’m going to be hanging around like an embittered Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott – well, seriously, I mean, these people are just sort of like miserable, miserable ghosts.”

Rudd was quick on the counter, directing a “quick reality check” to Turnbull in a tweet. “[H]aving told the world you’ve left politics behind, you seem to be in the media every day talking about it.” Turnbull would also do to notice that Rudd left parliament some five years ago. “Why not come over for a cuppa?”

Turnbull, having himself accused his predecessors of irate, narcissistic reflections lengthily bitter, took a very public, generously provided platform from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Q&A program Thursday last week to counter that gang of nine behind palace coup.

It was also a display replete with its liberal approaches to what might be loosely called the factual record. The disgruntled former prime minister, by definition, must extol and inflate virtues, making predecessor and successor look poor. A million jobs, he claimed without demur, were created whilst he was prime minister. The figure, more accurately, was 793,783. Business, supposedly, was responsible for that creation; in actual fact, the figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed an increase in public sector jobs during the Turnbull period.

Most blatantly of all, Turnbull, in an act of brazenly adopted innocence, ignored the policy failings that characterised a period of misrule and mismanagement. Despite claiming to be a prime minister of infrastructure, the figures over the 2015-2018 period, as gauged by the Construction Activity: Chain Volume Measures document of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, show mixed results: $95.48 billion in 2015-6; $86.99 billion in 2016-7 and $105.47 billion in 2017-8. Contrast that with engineering construction work totalling $113.63 billion in 2014-5 and $136.07 billion in 2013-4.

Most damnably, Turnbull was left pure and untouched on the issue of his messy and bungling role behind the national broadband network (NBN), a fiasco that will forever dog his period in office. The global credit ratings agency S&P Global Ratings rubbished the entire NBN operation with stinging lashings, claiming that Australia’s governments had “underestimated the complexity of the NBN roll out” warning of the need for writedowns and additional government funding, “potentially in the form of debt relief or direct subsidies.”

In October last year, Turnbull reiterated an approach he had developed when communications minister: heap blame upon the Labor government for putting him in the mess. “Well, it was a mistake to go about the way they [Labor] did; setting up a new government company to do it was a big mistake.” Money invested was money lost.

Simon Jarman, a resident of Northcote in Victoria, was far from impressed with such characteristic Turnbull deflections and ducking. On a task for the World Bank in impoverished Moldova for a time, he reflected on having speeds of up to 100mbps reliably for up to $20 a month. “Back here, for $80 a month,” went his letter in The Age, “I’m forced to work with the technological equivalent of a horse and cart.” That’s innovation for you.

At virtually every significant turn, Turnbull was found wanting, capitulating to the right wing heavies under the pretext of preserving an open church, yet looking weak and unconvincing for not maintaining the upper hand. On energy and power prices, he faltered; on the issue of environment, he stumbled. In terms of immigration and national security, one could be forgiven for thinking that he had surrendered total control to the behemoth of the Home Affairs department run by his nemesis, Peter Dutton. This, from a legally trained mind not indifferent to the importance of civil rights.

Neither audience nor interlocutor, Tony Jones, seemed too keen on ruffling or disturbing any self-inflicted illusion on the Q&A program. This was Turnbull’s chance to shine in aggrieved wonder and hurt. He accused the right of the Liberal party of intimidation and bullying. He warned his fellow party members that losing the political centre would result in political defeat. There was even a risk, at one point, of feeling pity.

It is ultimately hard to pity a being who profited from the very acts that he accused his counterparts of committing against him. Turnbull’s justification? – his own assassination of Abbott in 2015 had been executed for soundly articulated reasons (the “economy, stupid” line comes to mind); his opponents were mere political suicides without vision and full of malice. “Revenge,” as Sir Francis Bacon famously observed, “is a wild kind of justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed out.” Such lessons are lost on disgruntled ex-prime ministers.

Categories: News for progressives

Dear White Women, There May be Hope for You After All

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:43

The Democratic “blue wave” may not have made as big of a splash as some would have hoped. But momentum was felt, nonetheless, as a record number of women were elected to seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As the #MeToo movement continues to expand its base of women and men working to extinguish a culture of gender and sexual violence in the United States, women in particular are bringing the movement to the legislative branch of government. And there is no one more thrilled about this than me, a black woman, who had just about lost faith in many white women voters.

I mean, seriously.

In 2016, 53 percent of white women voted for the presidential candidate who bragged about grabbing women by their genitalia. In 2017, 63 percent of white women in Alabama voted for alleged pedophile Roy Moore in the state’s senate race. And this year, 59 percent of white women in Texas voted for Senator Ted Cruz, helping him defeat Beto O’Rourke, a proponent of women’s health.

Let’s not forget about the white women who voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, after allegations that he sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — ahem, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME).

Not only has there been divisiveness between political parties, and between men and women, there’s been a growing divide between women of color and women who identify as white.

Historically speaking, white women have always remained closer to the men in power — i.e., white men. Whether consciously or not, white women are often the foot soldiers for white (patriarchal) supremacy, and this has proven evident throughout history.

Susan B. Anthony, for example, once said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” Many mostly white women put their “I voted” stickers on her tombstone this year.

Furthermore, in many viral news stories this year, it’s been white women who’ve called the police on the African American community for simply living while black.

For centuries, many white women have stood by their white men, deceived into believing that they would be provided for. But it’s all a sham: Patriarchy cares as little about white women as it does for women of color.

While white women still benefit more from the privileges afforded white America — privileges that were never intended for Native or black people during the days of our founding fathers — the fact is that white men have always made up the majority of folks in positions of power.

This is why women of color activists are adamant about playing a leading role in the women’s movement. Our experiences are much more challenging because of the extra melanin in our skin, which is why you often hear us protest that all lives will never matter until black lives matter.

During the midterms, however, many white women gave me some hope. The percentage of white women voting for the “grabber’s” supporters fell to 49 percent — under half, and we must continue to decrease this percentage. The rest voted for our daughters, and their daughters. You elected women who will fight for us all.

In a roaring decry of “Time’s Up!” you elected a diverse mix of us, with first time Native, Latina, Black, and Muslim American women winning districts in New Mexico, Texas, Massachusetts, and Michigan, respectively.

You did all right, white women. It’s possible that there’s hope for you after all.

Categories: News for progressives

Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:43

Attracted by the sun, sea, glamour and glitz many British people visit or choose to live and work in Dubai. With over 700 luxury hotels, some neck-creakingly tall buildings, tax-free salaries, futuristic design, high-end malls the appeal is obvious. At any given time, approximately a 100,000 British people live and work in Dubai and the UAE, and on average anywhere between half a million and one million British tourists visit annually.

However, the glamour and seductive appeal of Dubai (and the Emirates generally) disguises a dark side: it’s legal system and laws. An increasing number of British people are often unsuspectingly falling foul of these laws with at times devastating consequences. The UAE’s legal system is founded upon civil law principles (mostly influenced by Egyptian law) and Islamic Sharia law, the latter constituting the guiding principle and source of legislation. The laws are, however, often vague, confusing and arbitrarily applied.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Offices (FCO) British behaviour abroad report (2014) found a 30 per cent rise in the number of Britons arrested in the UAE between 2012 and 2014 and this despite a drop of more than a third in the number of British tourists to the UAE in the same period. The report found that the UAE was the fourth most likely country in which UK citizens would require consular assistance. The mere accusation of wrongdoing can have serious consequences; as Scottish electrician Jamie Harron discovered. He was sentenced to 3 months in jail for public indecency after he accidentally touched a man in a bar.

Afsana Lachaux, a former British civil servant, had her son taken from her while living in the UAE. Having moved there for a new life, events soon took a nasty turn. Her husband became abusive, and she felt that she had no choice but to flee with her son. However, instead of supporting her she found that the authorities and the legal system favoured her husband. The women’s shelter that she fled to told her husband where she was, and the courts dismissed her protestations and witnesses.

I connected with Afsana via twitter she tells me she ‘left the UAE in 2014 and is in the midst of legal proceedings here and in France to try and get the Dubai sharia divorce overturned and have some rights to see and speak to Louis. So far the U.K. has refused me jurisdiction.’ For her ‘the most despicable thing is that UK courts endorse the UAE legal system.’ I can’t imagine anything much worse for a mother to experience than to have her child taken from her.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) have highlighted issue’s facing women if they are embroiled in a legal dispute with their husband. HRW note that UAE Law is applied in a way which discriminates against women. It’s permissible, for example, for a husband to physically chastise his wife and a woman can’t work without the husbands permission. The NGO Detained in Dubai which helps Western expats with legal problems in the UAE warns that it is risky for women to report crimes such as rape to the police ‘The victim can be jailed themselves or subject to retaliatory accusations that can lead to lengthy detentions or legal proceedings.  One thing that rings true is that the system and its applications are volatile.’

Shezanne Cassim, found himself in a maximum-security prison in the middle of the desert for nine months after the authorities accused him of threatening national security because he created a sketch comedy parodying teenagers in Dubai and posted it on YouTube. Marc Owen Jones, Gulf expert formerly at Exeter University tells me:

‘In cases of national security, there is far more scope for a lack of transparency and accountability, which can increase the likelihood of politicised charges based on International relations, personal vendettas, paranoia and other motivations.’

Alas, in recent months Durham University PhD student Matthew Hedges who was carrying out research on UAE security policies was arrested on spying charges after one of his interviewees apparently reported him to the authorities. He had been held in solitary confinement since he was detained in May.

Recently released he remains in the UAE (his passport likely confiscated) pending legal proceedings. Some say that often in cases where expats are arbitrarily detained there is little support from the British consulate where the standard response is ‘we cannot interfere in the legal processes or prison systems of other countries’. In the case of Matt Hedges, however, Jeremy Hunt is now involved.

Commenting on the Matthew Hedges case, Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch opines:

“The UAE invests considerable time and money painting itself as a progressive and tolerant country, but Hedges case shows the face of an autocratic government with a fundamental lack of respect for the rule of law…UAE rulers cannot claim to preside over a global knowledge and education hub while locking up academics for months in solitary confinement.”

For most of us visiting Dubai and the UAE we may have a wonderful and trouble-free time. However, it’s worth remembering that behind some fairy-tales lurks a nightmare.

Categories: News for progressives

The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:42

[Note from the author: Néstor García Iturbe, born in Havana, earned his BA in Political Science from the University of Havana and then his PhD in Science of History. In his long career, among other responsibilities, Iturbe was a member of the Scientific Council of the Higher Institute of International Relations Raúl Roa García (ISRI), Director of International Relations at the University of Havana and Advisor to the Cuban Mission at the United Nations in New York. He received numerous awards and wrote up to 10 books, mainly on Cuba–US relations. This obituary note was first published in La Jiribilla magazine (Cuba) on November 14, 2018.]

It is quite customary to say that when writers and intellectuals pass away, such as Néstor García Iturbe, their work remains with us. This is particularly true for Iturbe, whose career underlines this even further, even though it may not be acknowledged by everyone.

I have been reading his work for many years in the form of articles. His writing has always fascinated me, especially with regards to his specialties of Cuba–US relations and the political system in the US. We communicated through email and I appreciated him as being among revolutionary Cubans who do not carry illusions about US imperialism and its long-term objectives, whether in the form of Bush, Obama (with his “smooth tactics”) and Trump.

Thus, when my book Cuba and Its Neighbors: Democracy in Motion was being presented at the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) on November 18, 2015, I took a chance and invited Iturbe, even though I was sure he had more important things to do. To my surprise and delight, he showed up. What an honour for me! After the formal part, we exchanged signed books, his, entitled Estados Unidos, de Raíz (“United States, from the Roots”), and mine.

Not long after my next book on Cuba–US relations was published, in 2017, an important article titled “Money from Uncle Obama” was published, thanks to Iroel Sánchez and his unorthodox blog La pupila insomne (translated from the original Spanish by W.T. Whitney Jr.). It consisted of an excerpt from ISRI university thesis work by Aileén Carmenaty Sánchez, whose mentors were Iturbe and Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Hero of the Republic Cuba and Vice-rector of ISRI. I was so pleased to read this and to contribute to its publication in English and Spanish. The article hit me for a couple of reasons. The first was admittedly “selfish,” because it confirmed one of the main theses of my latest book. And second, most importantly, it was crucial that this reality of Cuba–US relations under Obama get out to the public in Cuba and the rest of the world. It was published at a time when it was not (and indeed it is still not) that “politically correct” to say anything negative about Obama. But, then again, Iturbe preferred principles to being “politically correct.”

Now, at the very time of his passing, this work – as well as his others – is more relevant than ever. Why? It is quite clear to me that the next president of the United States will be Barack Obama, though, of course, not formally. The favourite Democratic candidates looking for nomination and to almost surely defeat Trump in 2020 are Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and many others. Whichever it may be, my investigation has shown that Barack Obama will be the de facto president, with its relatively good side to Cuba–US relations, but also the dangerous aspect of subverting Cuba from within: seduction to replace aggression once again.

Let us use the work of Iturbe now to make sure naiveté does not further take root. I am quite sure he, his family, his colleagues in Cuba and his many admirers outside the Island would appreciate this.

Original in Spanish:

http://www.lajiribilla.cu/noticias/fallece-el-intelectual-cubano-nestor-garcia-iturbe

Categories: News for progressives

An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:42

Henry Wallace said the 20th should be the ‘century of the common man’. It wasn’t. Nor is this one.
This one opened with a ‘war on terror’ whose only legacy (and perhaps, only goal) was to curb whatever rights and protections the common man had secured before September 11, 2001. Including privacy, free-speech, trial, and status as civilians.

Wallace was a sincere and able politician. So the alleged party of the common man -then, the Democrats- made sure it wasn’t his century, either. Trump, in contrast, is as fake and incompetent as it gets. He rules by tantrum, and thinks the world should pout with him. And he’s willing to gas us all for a few coal-dollars more. Despite what they say, the Democrats want to let him cry it out. After all, he’s only there because he appealed to the common man. It’s easier just to clear the room (particularly the chat room), than upstage him.

Of course, Democrats prefer their stalled occupation, to the Right’s total war. Paradoxically, the last few weeks they spent all they could, convincing us these midterms would decide, in absolute terms, the future of democracy, perhaps even -with our climate-chances narrowing- humankind, itself. So, show faith in the stalled party?

This remarkably-indecisive war to end all wars just happened to coincide with the anniversary of peace in WWI. With the midterms now over, the trenches seem as much advanced now as in 1918. The ‘Blue Wave’, which I doubt anyone really expected, gently rocked the House -the ‘lower’ branch. Meanwhile, the Senate got worse, the court and cabinet had already, hence, so can Trump.

Mind, a Pyhrric loss is still a win for the DNC, as it highlights their only excuses for running -Trump and the Republicans- without raising hopes that a Democratic majority also wouldn’t fulfill. But what sucks is all the liberal hype about him marching us up to 1939 does 1) squat to contain the horror he actually brings. 2) invites the few horrors he doesn’t. Namely, the ones the Democrats had mastered, already.

Better colonialists know, when it fails, best to tuck your tail between your legs with dignity. The British, for example. The next day the Guardian aired the opinion of thawed-leftover, Simon Tisdall. Tisdall thinks we should stop insulting Trump, since he’s either immune or benefits. Moreover, we should stop calling his voters stupid, racist, or deplorable. But before you mistake politeness for supplication -or worse, common sense- the headline was a front. His content blamed the common folk for troves of on-line misinformation (which, somehow, only push us to the Right), and appealed to the state and to social-media companies to find ways to assure, next round, the rabble have less say.

What clearer proof is there that liberals have no intention of making waves, than hearing them tell us not to make them? The answer: the very next article. Right below Tisdall’s bad advice, Michael Fuchs’ essay, Democracies Everywhere are Backsliding, We Must Unite To Survive listlessly argues for making America, once again, a beacon. Not really an essay, more a plug for (John Podesta’s think-tank) The Center for Creative Democracy’s recent report, Securing a Democratic World: The Case for a Democratic Values Based US Foreign Policy, which Fuchs co-authored.

The report is the left-neoliberal’s cry MAGA (Make America Global Again). Fuchs is explicit, it’s not Bush and Cheney ‘making the world safe for democracy’ by sewing discord and revolution. It’s about making it safe by preventing…? we’ll, he’s explicit what it’s not. Mostly what it is, is slop about values-based foreign policy and leading by example, down the road. Only solid point it makes is for sizable increases to the National Endowment of Democracy, and similar -notoriously, anti-democratic- institutions. And it calls for a ‘multi-billion dollar Democratic Strategic Advantage Initiative …to coordinate current security cooperation -from arms sales to military training to technology transfer- to give democracies strategic edge over authoritarian regimes’.

OK, it sounds exactly like Bush and Cheney. Except this time the biggest threat isn’t Jihad. Nor is it greenhouse gas, unemployment, or the drug trade. It’s common people being suckered by demagogues like, and including, Trump. OK, really its just more imperialism.

Democracy must, must be defended (abroad). Of course, ‘this can’t happen in earnest’, he says, ‘until Trump is out of office’. So much for leading by example. Trump is the crisis, the problem to be …waited out?

What? It won’t take two or six years for the caravan to meet Trump’s combat-ready border patrol. It won’t take menaces like Ryan Zinke and Betsy Devos that long to destroy their agencies, even if they stop trying. It won’t take another 12 years for the Earth to warm a couple degrees if Trump’s in office for much part of it. And I doubt a half-decade could pass without him tweeting the launch codes.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t take China and Russia that long to beat us, if things are as Fuchs claims. So, if he’s willing to wait it out, it means things are not. But, unlike Tisdall, Fuchs never gets around to saying why. But the fact that he and his cohorts can’t tell basic categories like democracy from empire is probably enough indication. While there are myriad reasons to resist Trump, the prestige of America’s global meddling is the one thing we shouldn’t be protecting. Fact is, the report shows little interest, in fact scarcely mentions, common people at all. And unlike Trump, they haven’t the slightest idea how to sell used cars.

It’s not news that the Democrats aren’t the solution to our Trump problems, but I guess it hasn’t really sunk in. In sum, listening to the Democrats tell you to be patient is unwise. But in fairness, listening to them tell you to act also runs risks. Rumor has it, people were in the streets protesting Jeff Sessions getting fired. What!!! The rigorously-unintelligent theocratic/ run of the mill bigot that bought his way in, and whose main/ only achievement was to nix police reform is now -like the CIA- a Liberal icon! Don’t blame the common man for that. I didn’t hear about it on facebook. I read it in the Guardian. And no common man on his own would mind Sessions being fired. Not if it was from a cannon, point blank at a wall. Common folk know to pick they’re battles and fear zealous judges.

There are myriad reasons to resist Trump. The fact that we’re threatened with extinction, the most obvious. But the Democrats, even if they put forth some measures, haven’t met any of the necessary goals they, themselves set to avoid it. They can’t prevent family separations here and cause them in Honduras. They can’t prevent election fraud -real frauds, like gerrymandering, judicial decree, voting-machine pattens, and the electoral college- yet waste time suing Russia, blaming hicks, and begging shit-tons of corporate money. And if they don’t like having a president that grabs women by the pussy, they need to stop engineering a system where the rich can grab anything they want.

But losing isn’t enough to convince them. When will it be enough to convince us?

Categories: News for progressives

Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:40

Why is gender violence such a consistent feature of the insurgency and counterinsurgency that have wrenched apart the Indian subcontinent for decades? The equation of the native woman to the motherland in nationalist rhetoric has, in recent times, become more forceful. In effect, the native woman is constructed as a trough within which male aspirations are nurtured, and the most barbaric acts are justified as means to restore the lost dignity of women.

The story of the partition of India in 1947 into two separate nation-states, India and Pakistan, is replete with instances of women resorting to mass suicide to preserve the “honor” of the community. If a woman’s body belongs not to herself but to her community, then the violation of that body purportedly signifies an attack upon the honour (izzat) of the whole community.

In one instance, the crime of a boy from a lower social caste against a woman from a higher upper caste in Meerawala village in the central province of Punjab, Pakistan, in 2002, was punished in a revealing way by the “sagacious” tribal jury. After days of thoughtful consideration, the jury gave the verdict that the culprit’s teenage sister, Mai, should be gang-raped by goons from the wronged social group. The tribal jury ruled that to save the honor of the upper-caste Mastoi clan, Mai’s brother, Shakoor, should marry the woman with whom he was accused of having an illicit relationship, while Mai was to be given away in marriage to a Mastoi man. The prosecution said that when she rejected the decision she was gang-raped by four Mastoi men and made to walk home semi-naked in front of hundreds of people. The lawyer for one of the accused argued the rape charge was invalid because Mai was technically married to the defendant at the time of the incident (“Pakistan Court Expected to Rule on Gang-Rape Case,” Khaleej Times, 27 August 2002).

Such acts of violence that occur on the Indian subcontinent bear testimony to the intersecting notions of nation, family and community. The horrific stories of women, in most instances attributed to folklore, underscore the complicity of official and nationalist historiography in perpetuating these notions. I might add that the feminization of the “homeland” as the “motherland,” for which Indian soldiers, Kashmiri nationalists in Indian-administered Kashmir and in Pakistan-administered Kashmir are willing to lay down their lives, serves in effect to preserve the native woman in pristine retardation.

In order to highlight the groundbreaking work accomplished by local agencies, cadres and social networks in Kashmir, the distinction between traditional customs and practices that limit the role of women and progressive roles prescribed for women within Islamic norms needs to be underscored by responsible scholarship and social work. The western preoccupation with empirical observation has led to an inaccurate conflation of Islamic norms with practices.

Despite the political mobilization of Kashmiri women during the upheaval in 1931 and the politically volcanic Quit Kashmir movement of 1946, they have now reverted from the public sphere to the private realm. The onslaught of despotism in 1931 unleashed by Maharaja Hari Singh awakened Kashmiri women from their slumber and induced them to rattle the confining bars of the monarchical cage. Remarkably, the illiterate women of Srinagar, Kashmir, were initiated into political activism and it was they who heralded the political participation of educated women. The Quit Kashmir movement of 1946–47 saw the evolution of women into well-informed and articulate protestors, assuming leadership roles in the quest for a Kashmiri identity: “When male leadership was put behind bars or driven underground, women leaders took charge and gave a new direction to the struggle” (Misri 2002: 19). But this consciousness of the women, which could have produced women cadres, was diluted by the reversion to normative gender roles. Attempts to drown the voices of progressive women into oblivion became more frequent with the onset of militancy in 1989–90. Can women step out of their ascribed gender roles, once again, to significantly impact socio-political developments in J & K?

It is important to imagine confidence-building measures that emphasize the decisive role that women can play in raising consciousness, not just at the individual but at the collective level as well.

Categories: News for progressives

Scott Gottlieb’s Nicotine Nazism Will Kill Kids, Not Save Them

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:39

On November 15, US Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced new measures regulating the sale of products that seem to reduce the negative health impacts of nicotine addiction — in the name of protecting children from those health impacts. Oddly, Gottlieb also announced a plan to dramatically increase the availability and variety of flavored cigarettes — in the name of banning them.

First, let’s talk about “vaping.” The jury is still out on long-term health effects of “e-cigarettes” — electronic devices that deliver a hit of nicotine in water vapor, without all the carcinogens found in burning tobacco — but pretty much everyone seems to agree that e-cigarettes are less unhealthy than tobacco cigarettes.

The FDA is demanding that these devices and the “juice” for them be sold only in age-restricted stores where kids aren’t allowed, rather than in convenience stores where getting them is more, um, convenient. Why? Because apparently millions of minors acquire and use them, even though current law already forbids them to do so.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Gottlieb that those same millions of kids will find various ways to get into those stores, or hector adults to make their purchases for them, just like they’ve always done to get tobacco and alcohol.

But assume for a moment that his plan does make it harder for kids to get “Juul” devices and so forth. What are they going to do? They’re going to settle for the stuff that’s still easily available at those convenience stores: Tobacco. As a practical matter, Gottlieb is pushing for American kids to smoke tobacco cigarettes instead of “vaping” something safer.

The other part of Gottlieb’s plan is to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Again, his excuse is that kids like flavored tobacco more than the plain stuff. Maybe he has a point.

The problem with this part of his scheme is that markets work and entrepreneurs seize opportunities.

If the FDA bans menthol cigarettes, every convenience store in the country will quickly sport attractive displays of little plastic capsules, right next to the newly de-flavored cigarettes, and in packs of 20 just like those cigarettes.

Shove a capsule in the cigarette’s filter, squeeze the filter, voila — menthol cigarette! This isn’t new technology. At least one major brand already packs those little capsules inside its cigarettes right at the factory.

And if a company is going to manufacture menthol capsules for that purpose, why not manufacture vanilla, and grape, mango, and root beer too? In his passion to ban flavored tobacco, Gottlieb will just make it easier than ever to get tobacco in a larger variety of flavors.

Of course, the Food and Drug Administration might decide to regulate those capsules as food or drugs. In which case they’ll just be sold as air fresheners instead. Wink. Nudge.

Does tobacco kill people? Yes, it does. The more relevant question at the moment is why Scott Gottlieb is working overtime to guarantee that it kills more people at younger ages.

Categories: News for progressives

Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:38

In a victory for the ocean, a federal judge on Friday, November 9, ordered the Trump administration to cease issuing permits for offshore fracking and acidizing in federal waters — waters over 3 miles from shore — off the coast of Southern California.

U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez ruled that the federal government violated the Endangered Species Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act when it allowed fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and acidizing in offshore oil and gas wells in all leased federal waters off Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

Gutierrez issued an injunction prohibiting the two responsible federal agencies, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), from approving any plans or permits for the use of well stimulation treatments (WSTs) off California.

The court concluded that the Federal Defendants “satisfied their obligations” under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) in preparing the environmental assessment that is the subject of the suit.

“But theCourt also concludes that the Federal Defendants violated the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) by failing to consult with the relevant federal services and violated the Coastal Zone Management Act (“CZMA”) by failing to prepare a consistency determination and submit it to California for review as required by that statute,” Gutierrez wrote.

Hydraulic fracturing is a well stimulation technique that uses a pressurized liquid to fracture rock. Acidizing is another well stimulation technique that entails pumping acids into a well in order to dissolve the rock, increasing the production by creating channels in the rock to allow oil and natural gas to reach the well.

“Stopping offshore fracking is a big victory for California’s coast and marine life,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re glad the Trump administration lost this round in its push to expand dangerous oil operations off California. This decision protects marine life and coastal communities from fracking’s toxic chemicals.”

This order is an important step in addressing the expansion of fracking off California, although it doesn’t impact state waters within 3 miles from shore, where most of California’s offshore oil wells are located. Fortunately, litigation has prevented fracking from taking place in state waters for several years.     

The court order results from three lawsuits filed by the state of California, Center for Biological Diversity and Wishtoyo Foundation, and the Environmental Defense Center and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper challenging the federal government’s approval and environmental review of offshore fracking in the Pacific Ocean.

“Protecting the health of our coastal waters is essential to our commitment to conserving the ecosystem and marine life necessary for our maritime culture,” said Mati Waiya, executive director of Wishtoyo Foundation. “The decision by honorable Judge Gutierrez upholds the law that ensures the health of our ocean waters. We all celebrate this decision that honors the rights of our maritime resources.”

The court ruled that federal officials violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to complete its consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the impacts of offshore fracking and acidizing on endangered species, according to Monsell.

“The court also said the Trump administration violated the Coastal Zone Management Act when it failed to let the California Coastal Commission determine whether offshore fracking is consistent with California’s coastal management program,” said Monsell. “The judge ordered the feds to complete the process with the State of California before approving any permits for offshore fracking.”

“Endangered sea otters and other critters just won a reprieve from the Trump administration’s assault on our oceans for dirty oil,” Monsell stated. “We plan to celebrate this great victory in the fight against climate change and dirty fossil fuels. This court decision sends a strong message that we need to get dangerous drilling out of ocean, out of coastal areas and out of our state.”

Exxon Mobil Corporation and the American Petroleum Institute joined the Trump administration in opposing the lawsuits. The oil industry claims fracking is safe and poses no harm to the environment, noting that the Barack Obama administration permitted fracking and acidizing in federal lands and waters when the lawsuits were filed.

However, Center scientists contest oil industry claims that fracking is harmless, since they have found that at least 10 fracking chemicals routinely used in offshore fracking could kill or harm a broad variety of marine species, including marine mammals and fish. “The California Council on Science and Technology has identified some common fracking chemicals to be among the most toxic in the world to marine animals,” said Monsell.

In a tweet, Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded to the ruling: “California didn’t back down when the federal government moved forward with plans for #fracking off our pristine shores. Today’s ruling stops @BOEM_DOI in their tracks and sends them back to the drawing board to follow the law. #ProtectOurCoast

The Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and the Santa Barbara Channel Keeper (SBCK) also lauded the judge’s ruling.

“We are pleased that the court has put a halt to the risky practice of fracking and acidizing off our coast,” said Maggie Hall, Staff Attorney at EDC, which represents EDC and SBCK in this matter. “This ruling ensures that no further permits will be issued until potential impacts to threatened and endangered species, including the Southern sea otter and Western snowy plover, are considered.”

Hall said EDC previously filed a lawsuit to stop fracking and acidizing in the region after discovering, through a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, that more than fifty permits had been issued by the federal government without any public or environmental review. When the government failed to conduct full environmental review or consult with Fish and Wildlife Service, she said EDC and SBCK “had no choice but to file this lawsuit.”

I have requested a comment on the ruling from BOEM, but I haven’t heard any response yet.

Offshore drilling continues off California coast

While fracking in state and federal waters has been halted for the time being, traditional methods of offshore oil drilling continue in state and federal waters off the California coast. On September 8, Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills, SB 834 and AB 1775, to block new federal offshore oil drilling along California’s coast, but consumer and environmental justice advocates pointed out that he needs to also to stop his expansion of new offshore drilling in state waters, where Brown controls four times the number of wells that the Donald Trump does.

In a separate action, Brown announced the state’s opposition to the federal government’s plan to expand oil drilling on public lands in California as 30,000 people from California and throughout the world marched in San Francisco to demand that Brown halt his pro-Big Oil policies, including the approval of 21,000 new oil and gas permits, an oil industry-written cap-and-trade program, the pollution of California aquifers with toxic oil waste, and the irrigation of crops with oil wastewater.

This action came days before mayors, governors, heads of industry and international leaders convened in San Francisco for the purpose of “mobilizing climate action” at the Global Climate Action Summit. Meanwhile, a coalition of indigenous, environmental justice and conservation groups engaged in direct action outside of the summit.

Consumer Watchdog thanked Governor Brown for signing SB 834 and AB 1775, but the group noted that Brown has jurisdiction over four times more state oil wells in state waters off California’s coast than oil wells Trump has control of in federal waters off the coast — and said Brown needs to shut those wells down.

“During his administration Brown, has issued more than 20,000 permits to drill new oil and gas wells in California, and that includes more than 200 permits for off shore wells in state waters — wells within 3 miles of the California coast,” said Jamie Court, President of Consumer Watchdog.

“Governor Brown cannot preach one mantra of ‘Drill baby drill’ in California and another when it comes to Trump drilling in federal waters off California,” said Court. “That’s hypocrisy not leadership. Governor Brown needs to revoke the permits for the hundreds of oil wells he has approved off California’s coast if he is willing to prevent Trump from drilling in federal waters off California. Today’s signing is an important step for coastal protection, but Brown needs to walk the walk and revoke the permits of the offshore wells he controls in state waters too.”

Between 2012 and 2017, Brown Administration regulators issued about 238 permits for new state wells in existing offshore leases, within three miles of the coast, and 171 of those offshore wells are currently active, according to analysis by the nonprofit FracTracker Alliance. Oil production continues from 1,366 offshore wells in existing leases, according to the California Department of Conservation in 2017.

“Overall the state under Brown controls four times as many offshore oil wells in state waters as Trump’s federal government controls in California water,” said Court.

An online map at www.BrownvTrumpoilmap.org shows all the state offshore wells under Brown’s control vs the federal wells under Trump’s control, with geolocation data for each.

Over 800 groups urge Governor Brown to freeze new oil and gas permits

Over 800 public interest groups have called upon Brown to limit neighborhood drilling and freeze new oil permits before he leaves the Governor’s Office in January and Gavin Newsom takes the helm. Brown has refused to do so to date. Read more at www.brownslastchance.org.

The vulnerability of the California coast to an oil spill was demonstrated during the Refugio Oil Spill of May 2015, when over 9 miles of the Southern California Coast, including four “marine protected areas,” were fouled with crude oil from badly corroded pipeline operation owned by the Plains All American Pipeline Company out of Houston Texas. A jury  found oil pipeline company Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. (Plains) guilty of one felony and eight misdemeanor counts in the Refugio Oil Spill of 2015 that fouled over 9 miles of coast.

Ironically, in an apparent conflict of interest, Catherine Reheis Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, the lobbying organization for the Plains All American Pipeline Company, served from 2009 to 2012 as the chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create marine “protected areas” (MPAs) in Southern California, including four MPAs being fouled by the spill.

Four “marine protected areas” created under Reheis-Boyd — the Goleta Slough, Campus Point, Naples and Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Areas — were imperiled by the oil spill that started at Refugio State Beach.

While state officials and the mainstream media continually portray California as the nation’s “green leader,” the reality is much different. In fact, Big Oil is the most powerful corporate lobby in California and the West – and the Western States Petroleum Association is the most powerful corporate lobbying organization.

”You may not realize it when thinking about politics in environmentally conscious and ‘green’ California, but an 18-month-long NBC Bay Area and Maplight investigation found the oil and gas industry paid $182 million to California politicians, PACs and political causes between 2001 and June 30, 2018,” reported NBC Bay Area on October 25.  “For the past year and a half, the Investigative Unit worked with Maplight, a nonpartisan group based in Berkeley that tracks campaign contributions to uncover just how much money and influence the oil and gas industry wields in Sacramento.”

Categories: News for progressives

When Depravity Wins

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:34

It is a fact of political life that in the United States, what Michelle Goldberg in a recent New York Times article referred to as the “bottomless depravity” of Donald Trump, can also  be applied to at least  three members of Congress who emerged triumphant from the recent election.  One of them, to his credit, was not an indicted criminal.

The re-elected, but unindicted congressman, was Steve King of Iowa.  He was re-elected for the 9th time on November 6, 2018. Mr. King almost certainly takes great pride in the fact that he has not been charged with any criminal activity-only racism and fascism.  He is credited over the years with countless racist rants.  In one of his many tweets he said: “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Commenting on the activities of illegal immigrants, he said that for every illegal immigrant who becomes a valedictorian of his or her class, there are 100s of others who “weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

In a recent back and forth with a supporter in an Iowa restaurant, he repeatedly referred to people he needed to hire as farm workers as:  “dirt from Mexico” and, referring to the caravan that has bedeviled Trump, Mr. King said:  “It’s the most dirt we’ve ever seen.”  In other events he has compared immigrants to dogs, endorsed a white nationalist mayoral candidate who questioned whether immigration is causing “white genocide,” and attacked the National Republican Congressional Committee for backing a gay candidate. Voters in Iowa were not deterred. He has been reelected.  And, as observed above, he has not been indicted for any criminal activity. The same cannot be said for his New York and California reelected colleagues.

August 2018 had proved to be a bad month for each of those men. Although Chris Collins was re-elected to represent New York’s 27th Congressional District, the path to his actively seeking to retain his seat was tortured. In early August 2018, after he had announced his intention to run for re-election, a strange thing happened.  He was charged with insider trading. Following the indictment, he announced that he was suspending his campaign, saying: “After extensive discussions with my family. . . over the last few days, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the constituents of NY-27, the Republican party, and President Trump’s agenda, for me to suspend my campaign for re-election to Congress.”  That all happened because he apparently had pangs of conscience and concluded that it was unseemly for someone under criminal indictment to seek to be elected to Congress.  He went on to say that he would, however, serve the remainder of his term.

Suspending his candidacy showed he had a sense of decency. It had a short shelf life.  Only a few days more than a month after announcing that he would not seek reelection, he announced that he had had a change of heart and would indeed seek re-election, his earlier statement to the contrary notwithstanding. True to his word,  he ran, and as a result, won.

Mr. Collins was not the only criminally indicted congressman who was a victor in that election.  California’s Duncan Hunter of the 50th Congressional District in California, was another.  Mr. Hunter did not permit something as trivial as a criminal indictment to adversely affect his reelection campaign.

Mr. Hunter made Mr. Collins look like a wimp.  Whereas Mr. Collins was indicted for securities fraud, his offense was the relatively unimaginative one of insider trading.  Mr. Hunter was far more creative.  His criminal activities made him eligible for a 48-page indictment.  The indictment suggested that Mr. Hunter and his wife had not realized that money that had been raised for his campaigns was intended to be used in connection with his effort to be reelected, and was not a piggy bank that could be used for whimsical purchases.

According to Adam Braverman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, the indictment alleges “that Congressman Hunter and his wife repeatedly dipped into campaign coffers as if they were personal bank accounts.”  They “falsified F.E.C. campaign finance reports to cover their tracks.”  The indictment recited that they used campaign funds for dental bills, private family trips to Hawaii and Italy, and their children’s private school tuitions.  Probably most egregious, and yet, displaying a soft side of the Congressman and his wife, $600 of the campaign funds were spent on an airplane ticket for the family’s pet rabbit so that it could accompany the family on one of their trips, and would not be left alone in the house while the family was gone.

Mr. King was re-elected with 50.4 % of the vote. Mr. Collins was re-elected with 49.5% of the vote. Mr. Hunter was reelected with 63.5% of the vote. Getting reelected was not the greatest of their respective achievements.  Becoming prime examples of the sorts of swamp-like creatures who occupy the Trump created swamp filled that role.

Categories: News for progressives

The New Abnormal

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:33

Thousand Oaks, California: a city torn apart by wildfire and gunfire. Both are unnatural disasters.

“This is the new abnormal,” Gov. Jerry Brown said this week at a press conference, talking about global warming and the three voracious fires that are tearing up his state, one of them — the Camp Fire, in Northern California — the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history.

“Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify,” Brown said.

In Thousand Oaks, northwest of Los Angeles, the new abnormal met the new abnormal. On Nov. 7, a gunman entered the Borderline Bar and Grill in that city and started shooting, killing 11 patrons and a police officer. He then shot himself. Several of the patrons, including one of the victims, had survived the mass shooting a year earlier at a Las Vegas concert.

There was no time to grieve. A day later, as the Washington Post reported, “catastrophic twin blazes had formed a ring of fire around this Southern California community. The second tragedy of the week had somehow dwarfed the first.” Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes.

Gunfire and wildfire. This is a country at war with itself in multiple ways.

The shooter, Ian David Long — described, of course, as a troubled loner — was a former Marine who had been deployed in Afghanistan. Is there a relationship between the shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill and the fact that Long had been trained as a machine-gunner?

The American mainstream media are far more willing, it seems, to acknowledge a relationship between human activity and climate change, including the increasing intensity of natural disasters, such as hurricanes and wildfires, than they are willing to acknowledge a relationship between killing abroad, which is called war, and killing at home, which is called murder.

A New York Times story in the wake of the shootings, however, wades into the complexity of this relationship.

Reporters interviewed a number of his fellow Marines. One of them, utterly shocked by what happened, said: “He was a really good guy. He gave me the Bible I still carry today.” But he added: “We were trained as machine-gunners, so you know you are capable of doing something like this. But that he did it makes no sense. It is against all our values.”

Presumably the violated values concern the killing of Americans, which, I fear, is a precarious distinction.

The Times story also informed us that Long’s battalion “saw little action” during his deployment in Afghanistan, pointing out, without comment or further context: “The only casualty in the battalion died by suicide after being hazed by other Marines.”

Wait, what?

This bit of data may have absolutely nothing to do with the mass shooting spree in Thousand Oaks, but it seems to say something about values as defined by the military and reported by the media.

When life itself isn’t sacrosanct — when the taking of it is allowed to serve tactical and strategic purposes — values can quickly crumble. Killing people, at the very least, becomes no big deal. Sometimes it’s even, you know, necessary.

A Marine is “hazed” by fellow Marines and commits suicide. The awfulness of this resonated for me partly because it was reported with such a shrug, worth half a sentence. (The Times did, however, link to a longer story about the incident.)

Here’s another quote from the story, from someone who served with Long: “I’m not surprised someone I knew ended up doing a mass shooting. We had another guy recently committed suicide by cops in Texas. Guys struggle. We’ve lost more Marines in our peer group to suicide than we ever lost in Afghanistan.”

I fear the influence of militarism expands well beyond the strategy and tactics that are under its control. The essential value it maintains, with a budget almost beyond comprehension, is that safety, freedom and morality itself require belief in — and willingness to kill — a designated enemy. It’s the simplest possible solution to life’s paradoxical complexity: Kill the bad guy.

Sociologist Peter Turchin has called it the “principle of social substitutability.” After the Sandy Hook killings six years ago, he described this principle in an essay: “On the battlefield, you are supposed to try to kill a person whom you’ve never met before. You are not trying to kill this particular person, you are shooting because he is wearing the enemy uniform. . . . Enemy soldiers are socially substitutable.”

I fear this principle has spread through our gun-saturated society like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Angry and troubled souls can wage their own wars, and more and more of them are doing so. Perhaps the problem isn’t that many people are troubled — there are lots of reasons to be troubled, both crazy and legitimate — but that so many of them have embraced a simplistic, life-devaluing solution to the trouble.

It’s the same solution the country itself has embraced.

“Mass shootings and mass burnings,” said Stephen Pyne, a wildfire expert at Arizona State University, quoted by Wired magazine. “Welcome to the new America.”

Categories: News for progressives

Here’s an Idea

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:33

Today something odd, rare, insane in many ways, and absolutely the right thing to do, happened.  A dozen or more major news outlets wrote an amicus curiae, a friend of the court brief, in support of CNN’s lawsuit over the abrupt, staged, and illegal revocation of Jim Acosta’s White House Press credentials.  Among those outlets included in the brief was, amazingly (or not) Fox News!

What magnetic pole shifted that I did not know about? What could their reasoning be?  Perhaps they, too, are worried about the increasingly unhinged, un-checked, and unbalanced administration?  Maybe they feel that should they dare to anger the president that they may well be the next to feel his peripatetic wrath?  Who is “safe” and who is not is like living on landfill during a major quake; the very earth you depend upon can turn to liquid in an instant and your world, the real world, can be swallowed whole and spit out in some Orwellian nightmare or an Idiots’ making.

Senator Jeff Flake got a conscious (or his balls) way too late in the game this afternoon but did stand for the correct ideology on the Senate floor when he refused to vote on any judicial nominees until the Senate votes to protect the Mueller investigation.  Bravo. By the way……you’re fired, or at least out of there in less than 60 days; drummed out by the beat of the masses for your (occasional) stands of righteousness.  I might add, replaced in a fair and well-fought election by a woman of a Democratic persuasion.  Brava!

And so my idea, crazy thinker that I am, is this.

If Fox News really, REALLY, wants to be taken seriously; I mean this here, really, then they should take a bold and unheard-of stance and really venture forth into the new millennium with a new mission.  This is, or could be, their moment in history.  This could cement them as the Channel of Record for the Republicans and at the same time garner some modicum of acceptance (and support?) from the left!

If they are serious about media access to the government, and transparency and honesty, and “fair and balanced” news casting, then do it.

Show your support FOR a real conservative.

Takes stances, have debates, issue opinions, invite discussion on real issues. Decry the false narrative that has somehow become your default mechanism (and your monetary momentum) and show that you really are what you say you are; true conservatives.

There are dozens upon dozens of conservatives who would leap tall buildings to appear on Fox (and other networks, btw) if you, Fox, had even a modicum of respectability.  Think of how heady the rush would be if you should really become the thing that you have projected yourself to be; a real news outlet that speaks to a conservative audience.  One that speaks truth to power, calls out bullshit (real bullshit) when it sees it and endears itself to an audience that is panting for some relief from the endless, petty, school-yard bullying that has become all too much the norm.

Honestly, I’d watch Fox (occasionally) if they would even deem to have Eric Swalwell on once in a while.  But first, they have to denounce the hate.

Fox has a moment here, a split-second in history, to grasp the brass ring that they so desperately think they already have a hand on.

Just Do It.

Nike won’t mind in this instance if I use them for a legitimate point. Just as Nike promotes people to be their best selves, I challenge Fox News to be their best selves.  Seize the moment.  Transend the ugly reality that we are all wallowing in.  Be YOUR best self.

Here’s An Idea; the rest is up to you.

Categories: News for progressives

Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:20

Talk about a bunch of sad sacks that really stink in the sack. The Trumpocalypse is ruining sex for the rest of us.

Starting at the top with the bottom-feeding Pussygrabber-in-Chief, the “Charles Manson of American Politics” whose scary hair, odious toadstooland garbage-spewing shithole under his snout are such a turn-off there’s a type of PTSD (Post-Trump Sex Disorder) named for him, and moving on through our newest, lying, crying Supreme (who at least no longer coaches girls’ basketball), gangs of racist wife-beaters, creepy ass-grabbers, Proud Boy sucker-punchers, muscle-bound MAGA-bombers and U.S. military-trained, unabashedly misogynisticmass murderers, it’s a veritable frat house of walking, squawking, gawking, stalking, toxic and yes, killeranti-aphrodisiacs. As on most points, the Dems are not quite so Repugnican, but not exactly encouraging; how about that Keith Ellison?

It’s enough to make even a woman who really likes sex sign up for the convent, except… oh no—priests!

And it’s not just a turn-off for the ladies. All this faux news-pumped bad sex—mixed with the usual all-American war worship, racism, crazily widening economic disparities and a corporatized system that makes it easier to buy a gun than vote— is twisting many otherwise quasi-normal American menfolk into erotically impotent, chronically frustrated, lethally unhinged incels and ammosexuals who substitute semiautomatic weapons for working penises.

Granted, much more is at stake here than some dead dicks, such as billions of lives and livelihoods, not to mention the very future of life on our beloved, human-industry-raped Earth. But “America’s War on Sex: Trumpocalypse Edition” is really messing up our love lives too… which, in turn, wreaks havoc on everything else.

Bonobo Way Hugs & Horseface Fantasies

Maybe I’m biased, being a “love doctor” by profession, aka a sex therapist. I believe that a good consensual love life improves your all-around health and happiness and helps you to be a decent, caring person. Moreover, sex is your human right, like food, water and clean air; at least, it should be, for your sake as well as society’s.

Humanity’s closest genetic cousins, the “Make Love Not Warfemale-empoweredbonobo apes, have a lot of sex and never kill each other, demonstrating that good sex for all is key to keeping the peace among primates. That doesn’t necessarily mean “regular” partnered sexual intercourse, such as when consenting partners are unavailable. There’s also the good, calming yoga of self-pleasure, as well as erotic “outercourse” like massage, kink play, sharing food, kisses and hugs. #GoBonobos for hugs!

Still, you have to be in the mood.

The “Lesser of Two Evils” taking the House, including unprecedented numbers of women, people of color and LGBTQ winners, despite rampant gerrymandering and voter suppression favoring the Uber Evil Ones, has given some of our libidos a little pick-me-up, hope being an aphrodisiac. But the proverbial saltpeter just keeps coming, and as the “Four Horsefaces of the Trumpocalypse” (whatever her lawyer may have done, Stormy Daniels deftly analyzed President Spanky’s nickname for her, “Horseface,” as saying more about his bestial desires than about her face) continue to ride roughshod over our rights and sensibilities, drowning our erotic appetites in revulsion, it’s no wonder so many of us human apes are rapidly devolving into despair, loathing, rage and humiliation, as well as more and more lethal violence.

Cuckold Paul Manafort

Sometimes it’s a very particular type of sex or fetish that gets pummeled like Proud Boy prey. Consider the saga of Dirty Donny’s felonious former campaign manager, dictator whisperer, oligarch cuddler and money launderer, Paul Manafort, who is currently ruining sex for decent, consensual cuckolds, hotwives and the bulls who love them.

The once dapper-to-the-tune-of-a-$15,000-ostrich-jacket, now prison-suited, wheelchair-bound Paul John Manafort, Jr. (Paul John, Sr., was a Trump-style mayor of a small Connecticut town, so Junior was to the manner born) popped up in the news since he’s been spending large amounts of quality time trying his silver-tonguing “beta-male” best to satisfy the probing needs of special counsel Robert Mueller’s eager beaver investigators.

Does that include True Cuck Confessions? Inquiring sex therapists want to know…

Over the summer, about 285,000 detailed Manafort Family texts, mostly between the loquacious Manafort daughters, Andrea and Jessica, were leaked, or you might say, gushed forth like Holy Water to thirsty tabloids everywhere. Among other juicy political, emotional and sexual revelations, the Manafort Daughter Texts reveal that Père Manafort is/was an avid interracial cuckold who coerced his wife into participating in group sex with multiple men. Indeed, filmmaker/daughter Jessica was so revolted by Dad’s behavior that she changed her surname to her Mom’s maiden name of Bond, (now getting to say “The name’s Bond. Jess Bond”) shortly after divorcing her real estate fraudster hubby Jeffrey Yohai. According to Andrea, Mama Kathleen was not “into” the cuckolding, and she only participated at Paul’s insistence. Though the Manaforts attended couples therapy, according to the texts, they never brought up this critical aspect of their love life. They really should have. Actually, not to brag (well, maybe a little), but they should have called me.

I would have told them that there’s nothing wrong with consensual cuckolding, hotwife gangbangs, “interracial” sex, kinky sex, swinging, polyamory, BDSM or almost any form of ethical hedonism. Many couples enjoy these pansexual games, and it may even save a few marriages. Cuckolding in particular stirs up the “sperm wars” or “sperm competition” phenomenon, making many an old husband harder for his “hotwife” than he’s been since they first fell in love. Yes, kinky as it is, consensualcuckolding can be very romantic.

The Cuckold Mystique

What’s all this cuckold-doodle-doo’ing all about?According to the (that is, my) definition in the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality, “cuckold” is an Old English term for a man whose wife has sex with other men. The original spelling, “cukewold,” was borrowed from the Old French cuccault, which derived from the cuccu,or female cuckoo bird’s practice of laying eggs in other birds’ nests for these other birds (the cuckolds of the cuckoo) to raise. The pejorative suffix “ault” indicates that the cuccaultis being taken advantage of by his adulterous wife, as by a lady cuckoo bird.

Speaking of fine-feathered savants, the The Owl and the Nightingale, a 12thor 13th century Middle English poem, is the oldest known text using the term, though it reappears more famously in Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale.” Shakespeare loved cuckolds; many of his characters—both tragic (Othello) and comic (Ford in “Merry Wives of Windsor”)—wonder if they have become one. Later comes Molière’s “The Imaginary Cuckold.” Birds don’t have horns, but somehow the “horns” of cuckoldry emerged along with the word, often represented by two fingers on the sides or back of the head; thus, the cuckoo morphed into the horned and rather horny goat, mimed by scornful adults and laughing children. The word fell out of common usage in the twentieth century, but popular interest in cuckold erotica and cuckoldry as a fetish has been surging since the 1990s and shows no sign of abating, Manafort’s unsavory example notwithstanding.

While the old-time “cuckold” was always deceived by his cheating wife, the contemporary cuckold fetishist is very much aware and aroused by the fantasy and/or reality of his wife, girlfriend or, actually, any woman he finds attractive having sex with another man, or men (there are LGBT cuckolds, but we’ll stick with the traditional, heteronormative pronouns for now). In Old English, such a husband who supported his wife’s philandering was more accurately termed a “wittol” (one who “knows”), but modern fetishists commonly use “cuckold,” maybe because they find spelling one Middle English word (cockhold? cookold? cokehell?) challenging enough.

Typically, the cuckold’s “hotwife” has sex with the other man, sometimes called a “bull” (ironically, an actual bull does have horns), usually while the horny hubby watches or participates. Ideally, everybody respects each other’s desires and boundaries. Of course, the ideal is the enemy of the real, and complications can arise in a wide variety of ways, but sometimes it all flows like a river in paradise, and everyone has a good time.

How Can a Cuckold Like This?

Why would a man want to see his wife having sex with someone else? Wouldn’t he feel jealous? Humiliated? How could he likeit?Why would he go out of his way to pursue it, sometimes obsessively, despite thejealousy, shame and stigma it often entails?

There are various reasons—both organic and cultural—for the seemingly absurd, yet universal appeal of cuckolding. Biologically speaking, the “sperm wars” theory—stemming from evolutionary biologist Robin Baker’s (2006) research—suggests that one man’s “team” of spermatozoa compete for the egg with another‘s. Thus, the cuckold’s seminal volume tends to increase, creating greater arousal and a stronger erection, when he perceives “competition” for his wife than when he feels she is “true” to him, giving him no known rivals on the field.

See why so many men like football… and war? It’s sperm competition with shoulder-pads …or bombs.

Then there’s the “upsuck” effect. A study by Gordon Gallup concluded that one evolutionary purpose of the thrusting motion characteristic of passionate intercourse is for the male member to suck up, clear out and displace another man’s semen before depositing its own. The cuckold’s urge to thrust, through intercourse or masturbation, is often greatly enhanced by the presence of the bull, whether real or imagined. Between a stronger erection and greater thrusting impulse, the cuckold’s arousal level can be far more powerful than contending feelings of fear, jealousy, ownership, betrayal, humiliation or reputation… at least until climax.

From the happy hotwife’s point of view, variety is the spice of sex, helping to resolve the “orgasm gap,” though our society tells us that women who enjoy variety are treacherous “sluts.” But consider this: Most women take longer than men to climax, and many of us can have multiple orgasms, while guys tend to have only one or two per night. Maybe it’s just an evolutionary fluke, or maybe it’s because Mother Nature wants the ladies to enjoy several different partners… and may the best sperm win.

Notice there’s no actual fighting or killing among the actual men in a healthy cuckold scenario; just the sperm.

Make Sperm Wars, Not Real Wars!

Cuckold Culture

There are female “cuckqueens” who get aroused by their husbands having sex with other women, but the most common cuckold fetishists are male. Beyond biology, there are also cultural reasons cuckolding excites many men, even those making horns behind the heads of their friends and rivals.

For some, it’s the invigorating pleasure of “transgression” that Georges Bataille saw as the source of most human erotic ecstasy, turning the pain of shame into pleasure, the subversive joy of overturning the traditional concept of marital “ownership”—even just for one night—and/or the sublime submissive pleasure of surrendering to a dominant woman’s sexual power. Even as they work hard every day to empower the patriarchy, brash powerbrokers like Manafort and Stone often find turning it upside down—as long as what happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom—extremely exciting.

Too bad the transgression of cuckolding hasn’t seemed to enlighten these guys (as it does enlighten many practitioners), allowing them to see that sexual ownership of women, anyone and even anythingis a fallacy, and the joy is in the sharing of lovers… and everything good in life (except your sex toys; don’t share STDs!). That’s another great “Joy of Cuckolding”—the pure bonoboesque pleasure of sharing your beloved lover’s passion with others, a stimulating sense of shared intimate pleasure that shatters selfish, narcissistic, unethical hedonism, a feeling so special, there’s a special word for it: “compersion.”

At their core, compersion and “conscious” cuckolding demolish a critical aspect of the capitalist romantic myth. Since you can’t take it with you—not even under the Prosperity Gospel—one main “reason” for the greedy accumulation of excess wealth is for the rich to invest in and pass it onto their precious progeny so that, even though they die, their genetic “legacy” will live on (climate change notwithstanding). But what if their precious progeny aren’t “theirs”? What if they’ve been cuckolded?

Like the Orange One’s Superson Kanye sings about his favorite Gold Digger, “18 years, 18 years and on the 18thbirthday, he find out it wasn’t his.” Conscious cuckolding can motivate a man to question the very meaning of “his” (or hers) and the entire, soul-destroying, earth-raping concept of personal ownership.

On the other hand, maybe one reason for the rising popularity of consensual cuckolding is the reliability of birth control… subject to change any minute with lying, crying, “abortion-inducing drugs” Kavanaugh sitting among the Supremes.

There are other erotic motivators. For some men, cuckolding provides special opportunities to explore their bisexual desires, or at least a very erotic form of male-bonding fueled by sperm wars—which is generally a lot safer than the lethally anti-erotic male bonding involved in real wars. Of course, it can become toxic if and when, for example, a young drunk Brett tries to force a “Devil’s Triangle” on a totally unwilling Christine as his buddy Mark cheers him on, then clumsily tries to join in before the whole mess (fortunately) collapses. But with consensuality, honesty, integrity, mutual respect and a good sense of humor, a good time *can* be had by all.

Though conscious real-life cuckolding is gaining in popularity, it’s still relatively rare in our generally sex-phobic world. More common is cuckold erotica or porn, coupled with unfulfilled personal fantasies that wrestle in men’s minds with the patriarchal dogma that “your” woman belongs to you, like your house or your car, and if you “allow” someone else to be physically intimate with her, then you just let yourself get robbed, Jack.

Consider that the modern cuckold syndrome goes far beyond those who specifically choose cuckold erotica or even identify with the cuckold fetish. In a sense, most porn viewers are cuckolds, since basic “boy–girl” porn appeals to cuckold sensibilities. After all, when a man views typical male−female erotica, he is watching a woman he finds attractive—someone who could be his wife or girlfriend—having sex with another man. Regular porn viewing pretty much cuckolds you.

And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s natural to be aroused by a little friendly male competition; back to that sperm wars effect that makes so many men hard for hot women. The problems arise because our patriarchal, ownership-oriented society devalues “sluts,” and then, very often, so do these men. Plus, feeling ashamed that their desires don’t follow the requisite “manly” script, these men often devalue themselves… unless they are “woke,” well-adjusted cuckolds in good, sharing, bonoboesque relationships with their hotwives and bulls, friends and lovers.

There are many different kinds of healthy, relatively happy cuckolds, and not all cuckolds are “created equal” or even interested in doing the same things. In fact, one type of cuckold’s major turn-on is another’s total turn-off. To name a few, there are submissive cuckolds, dominant cuckolds, polyamorous cuckolds, swinging cuckolds, sissy cuckolds, fantasy cuckolds, interracial cuckolds, small-penis cuckolds, director cuckolds, lesbian-loving cuckolds, cuckolds-in-chastity, cuckold voyeurs, creampie cuckolds, cuckold wimps, cuckold pimps and bonobo cuckolds who like to share in a Bonobo Way. Each has a somewhat different set of needs and desires, though there’s considerable overlap. Regardless, in all cases, the key to good cuckolding is enthusiastic consent on the part of all partners. This is often challenging to arrange, but essential.

Manafort & Stone: Cuckolds, Inc.

If Andrea and Jessica’s texts are true, it sounds like Papa Manafort was being the worst kind of cuckold, the kind that’s so bad I didn’t even include it in the long list above: the Coercive Cuckold. If Manafort forced, blackmailed, threatened and pushed his long-suffering wife into cuckolding him, as his daughters’ texts indicate, he should be in prison for domestic abuse as well as those eight counts of financial fraud.

However, before I personally condemn Monsieur Ostrich Suit, I’d like to hear from the hotwife herself.  A real estate agent and lawyer who passed the bar in 1988, Kathleen Bond Manafort has been married to Paul since 1978, way back during the Jimmy Carter years, a time ripe for brash young conservatives like Paul Manafort who had joined forces with a fellow twenty-something, unscrupulous “new” Republican named Roger Stone.

Interestingly, this same Roger Stone, now a rather old Republican, longtime Trump Bro, Tricky-Dick-tatt’eddirty trickster” and “dark arts” dandy, currently on Mueller’s short list, is a self-confessed “swinger cuckold.” Stone has placed various personal ads, including one in the October 1999 issue of Local Swing Feverseeking “an exceptional hung in shape man [sic]” for himself, pictured shirtless with a black bar over his eyes, and his “hot insatiable babe,” pictured barless and braless. One would hope (and it would seem) that the “babe,” Nydia Bertran Stone, Roger’s wife of over 25 years, was participating consensually. In a December 2006 post on Dark Cavern (motto: We unite black and white), the Stones advertised for a male lover with “huge, hung Black cock” who “must be 22-40, lean, muscular and hung like a horse… Obidient husband shares her cunt [sic].”

Obviously, Manafort and Stone share a fondness not just for servicing dickheaded dictators, but also actual dicks. The “personal is political”… and sexual. So it is described in the Manafort daughters’ texts, which also reveal thatPapa Manafort was caught in an affair with a much younger woman (Rick Gates wasn’t the only one) with expensive taste and bearing a strong resemblance to daughter Andrea. This extravagant affair appears to have greatly pissed off everyone else in the Manafort clan, catalyzing a distraught Kathleen into confessing details of her spicy sex life to their outraged daughters.

Was Paul Manaforte as much of a narcissistic tyrant in the bedroom as the autocrats, kleptocrats and goons he groomed and fleeced were to the countries they ruled? From Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo (native habitat of the bonobos) tothe pro-Russia former Ukrainian president and mass murderer of protestors, Viktor Yanukovych (“You know he has killed people in Ukraine? Knowingly,” Andrea texted Jessica about Dad), as well legendary shoe fetishist and Philippines despot Ferdinand Marcos, and many more, Manafort serviced dozens of despot and oligarchs before devoting his tyrant-packaging skills to the American Trumpenstein.

Though the porn-driven stereotype of the cuckold is the “wimp,” real-life cuckolds tend to function more like pimps. This could still be consensual for all, with the cuckold being more of a director of the action than a submissive participant and the hotwife roleplaying the “happy hooker.” The daughters’ texts say it was not consensual, that poor miserable, brain-injured Kathleen was cuckolding her selfish husband not because she enjoyed it, but to save her marriage. Sounds awful, not to mention traumatizing. Cuckold Paul’s easygoing attitude to murder and tyranny might have made him a tough beta male to refuse.

However, considering that Kathleen’s cuckoldry confession came out during mother-daughter talk about Dad’s family-wrenching love affair, and how she took the cheating tyrant back and then rooted for him every day in court, I have to wonder if she really always “hated” it as much as the daughters’ texts say she did.

Or perhaps the multi-million-dollar homes, clothes and vacays made tolerating various distasteful activities, from gangbangs to court proceedings, more or less worthwhile in a prostitute-y sort of way. Now I ain’t saying she a golddigger… But that’s why I’d like to hear Kathleen’s side of the story, though she has yet to speak a word about life as a hotwife in Chez Manafort.

Cucks & Cuckservatives

Coercive or just caddish (and I should add, at least somewhat caring, as Paul reportedly nursed Kathleen back to health after a fall from a horse that nearly killed her), it seems that Manafort’s ardent cuckolding fetish includes a strong preference for African-American male partners.

Maybe he (like Stone) feels that “ebony” studs are the oligarchs of sex.

Wow, you might say. What a perverse twist for a dude who ran a political campaign exploiting the seething emotions of sexually repressed, racist, misogynistic, Breitbart-swallowing men who attempt to insult other men whom they feel aren’t sexist or racist enough by calling them “cuck” or combining the terms “conservative” and “cuck” to create the catchy portmanteau “cuckservative.”

Of course, perverse twists and racist, sexist irony is what the “manosphere”of trolls, incels, otaku and other digitally engaged, relationship-challenged young males that hatched the term thrive on. “Cuck” bubbled up to the surface of 4chan around 2012, kicking into gear in 2014 when users began calling petulant software developer Eron Gjoni a “beta cuck” after he posted a series of “Cuck Tales” detailing the alleged (and highly contested) infidelities of his ex-girlfriend ZoëQuinn, stirring up vicious harassment of Quinn, and the right-wing backlash against feminism and women in gaming known as “Gamergate.”

Then some of these misogynist gamers and Trump Bros started calling conservative politicians whom they saw as “weak,” soft or a sell-out to liberals “cuckservatives.” Jeb Bush, whom their idol Trump nicknamed “low energy,” was a prime example, as was middle-of-the-road Republican Mitt Romney, scorned for simply keeping a “Binder Full of Women” as opposed to bragging about nonconsensually grabbing their genitalia. In other words, a cuckservative“cuckolds” his country. More precisely, he allows himself to be cuckolded by liberals, people of color or “nasty women.” The hotwife in this analogy is the cuck’s country, race or (uber ironically), the male gender.

Not so surprisingly, these tough-talking, right-leaning, irony-intoxicated males—old, alt or ault—are more likely to harbor secret (or not-so-secret) “interracial cuckold” fantasies themselves, according to Dr. David Ley (whom I interviewed about “The Myth of Sex Addiction”) and the “politics of cuckolding.”

We return to Stone Cold Roger, who loves to lob the term “cuck” as a political insult, gaily tweeting:

Bannon is a cuck.
Kushner is a cuck.
Anyone who voted for Clinton is a cuck.

Several Twitter replies remind him that he himself is a literal cuck. But no matter. “Attack, attack, attack,” is the motto Stone learned from Nixon and another one of his sexually two-faced mentors, Roy Cohn. “Never defend.”

Meanwhile, the first cuck, Steve “Hobo” Bannon (dubbed “cuck of the system” by none other than the Mooch) famously called the second cuck (Jared Kushner) a “cuck.”  Presumably this pointed slur was referring to the Presidential son-in-law’s “cuckservative” and “globalist” politics… not to Ivanka’s purported interest (according to Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti) in “mulatto cock.” Though who knows?

So here we have a bunch of powerful paranoid men calling each other “cucks,” cheered and jeered by trolling incels growing like mold in parental basements everywhere, and as they all struggle with their desires versus the “masculinity” society seems to demand of them, all participating in a kind of thanatoxic male bonding that has proven deadly to not just human society, but all of life on earth.

Among bonobos, it’s female bonding that lubricates life and love in Bonoboville. The males sometimes hang out together, but they prefer to spend time alone or with the females.  In contrast, common chimp males (who are equally close to human) form strong coalitions that rape females, as well as attack and sometimes kill other males. Maybe a little less male and more female bonding at every level of human culture would do the planet good; the record number of almost 100 women elected to the House this year is a good sign. #GoBonobos!

Meanwhile, the Trumpus himself might be the biggest cuck of all. Yes, he has had many well-publicized affairs, and has been caught lying and trying to cover them up, and then there are the many alleged assaults. Melania appears unphased by any of it, and rumors swirl around the way she looks so coldly at him, batting his short-fingered paws away from her. Some say that the sexy First Lady is having an affair herself with Hank Simer, head of security at Tiffany’s in Trump Tower, and that Trumpty Dumpty goes along with it—maybe it even turns on the old Toadstool—as long as nobody humiliates him, at least not while he’s Prez. It also helps to explain why Mel hasn’t flinched when confronted with Stormy stories. Maybe that’s what she means by “I really don’t care. Do U?

Interracial Issues

Here’s the biggest turn-off: The flagrant and flamboyant sexual hypocrisy of Stone, Manafort, Bannon, Kushner, etc. may not be as bad as the murderous tyrants they politically fellate and pimp out to the public, but it’s related.

This brings us back to the “interracial” aspect of this kind of cuckolding, which is particularly provocative when known racists are the cucks. There’s nothing wrong with so-called interracial sex (though it’s a misnomer), as long as all parties are respectful and consensual. But there’s no doubt that when rabid right-wing, white supremacy-supporting bros like Stone and Manafort practice interracial cuckolding, the natural “sperm wars” effect is peppered with racism, releasing a strong dose of poison to all involved.

Then again, sometimes interracial cuckolding, like any kind of intimacy, has the power to open all parties’ formerly closed minds to our inherent humanity and equality. Sex is funny—and powerful—that way. Yeezy announced his porn preference for “black on white” because it’s his “own reality,” one of his saner recent statements.

In a way, “interracial sex” is the future—which in and of itself is a turn-on—but it has an especially ignominious history in American slavery when “stockmen” and “child-bearing women” were “bred” like livestock or chattel in the most brutal and inhumane ways. After the Civil War and consequent outlawing of slavery, the nascent white supremacist movement radicalized its supporters by fanning the fear of free black men raping white women—in much the same way Trump “rallies the base” against “bad hombres” and the Caravan, appealing first and foremost to their fears, but with an underlying drumbeat of erotic excitement. Yes Virginia, we’re often excited by things that we fear.

Over the centuries, countless innocent African American men and boys have been lynched when white women and men have falsely accused them of sexual assault. Devastating, untruthful charges still abound, as recently shown in stark relief by “Corner Store Caroline” calling the police on a nine-year-old African American boy she said grabbed her ass, when a surveillance video shows nothing more than the boy’s backpack grazing the woman’s back as he walked past her through a tight passageway. Back in his early years as a blowhard real estate crook, Trump took out an ad in theNew York Timescalling to execute the Central Park Five for a rape of which they were all proven innocent. He still hasn’t apologized, insisting they’re guilty even though they were exonerated by DNA evidence.

Such are the stereotypes, fears and jealousies that wrestle with sperm-wars-stoked fantasies in the fevered minds of the racist cuckolds who run the world and rape the Earth.

Can Cuckolding Survive

Modern cuckolding is complicated. As long as it’s consensual, there’s nothing wrong or particularly weird about it. Even the Manafort daughters agree that it would be okay “if” their mom liked it. Of course, no one should force anyone to do anything, but neither should a disinterested wife try to shame or blame her wannabe cuckold husband for honestly bringing up the subject because it turns him on. Rather than coercion or rejection, as a sex therapist, I usually suggest some sort of compromise, like meeting each other halfway (the Bonobo Way) in the Erotic Theater of the Mind by talking about the fantasy rather than diving into the deep end of reality. This often works well for loving couples who want to spice things up to stay “in love” and in lust for many years past Nature’s expiration date.

I don’t know if it would have helped the Manaforts whose cuckolding was just one thread in a tapestry of murderous despot-packaging, oligarch-servicing, laundering money and tyrants, high maintenance girlfriends who resemble your daughter and crooked campaign management to help Make America Hate Again.

Thus I am afraid, as noted at the start, that these sad sacks who stink in the sack—from the trolling young incels to the war-trained mass murderers to the Orange Blob and his court of cuck-calling racist cuckolds—are spoiling various forms of erotic intimacy for the rest of us. The joy of cuckolding is just one of them.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Whatever you’re into, as long as it’s consensual, stand your ground—not with guns, ammo and hate, but with vibrators, lube and love. Don’t let those cuck-calling rotten scoundrels ruin your sex life!

Categories: News for progressives

The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)

Fri, 2018-11-16 14:53

Still from “Mafioso.”

Eleven years ago I went to a press screening at the Film Forum for the revival of “Mafioso”, a 1962 dark comedy directed by Alberto Lattuada. It was unlike any mafia film I had ever seen, either in the Scorsese/Coppola vein or comic fare like “Analyze This” and “Married to the Mob”.

It moved seamlessly from a satire on Sicilian customs in the village Calamo, which is dominated by a Godfather figure named Don Vincenzo, to the film’s climax when the main character, who had been visiting relatives in the village, was forced to carry out a hit on an American gangster–a total stranger to him. It was made clear to him by the gangster that if he did not follow orders, he and his family would be killed instead. As has been the case with the mafia going back to its origins in the 1860s, violence, extortion and comity are often mixed together. As Don Vito Corleone put it in “The Godfather”, “I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse”.

The “mafioso” who is extorted into carrying out the hit is a foreman in an auto plant in Milan named Antonio Badalamenti who used vacation time to visit his home town for the first time since leaving it in his late teens. Back then, he was a mere picciotto (youth) who was part of Don Vincenzo’s gang but only involved with petty crimes. As a powerful mobster, Don Vincenzo has connections everywhere, including the human resources manager at the auto plant who is also from Calamo. If not for him, as Don Vincenzo reminds Badalamenti, he never would have had the job there in the first place. That favor requires one in return. As one of the best marksmen in Calamo when he lived there and someone totally unknown to the gangster he will be assassinating in New York, Badalamenti is the ideal hitman even if the thought of killing someone horrifies him—not to speak of the risk of being killed himself in the act or being arrested afterward.

The first hour or so of the film might remind you of the Ben Stiller’s “Meet the Parents” in which his urban and Jewish character Greg Focker, a male nurse, clashes comically with father-in-law Jack Byrnes, a CIA agent played by Robert De Niro. In the follow-up film, “Meet the Fockers”, Byrnes is just as appalled by his son-in-law’s parents, a couple of Jews bordering on stereotype played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.

When Badalamenti shows up at his parent’s home in Calamo, they stare at his wife and two young daughters in disbelief. Hailing from Milan, the wife has blonde hair, unlike the swarthy Sicilians who look at her as if she was from another planet. It doesn’t help that the daughters inherited blonde hair from their mom. From the minute they settle in at the parents’ house, it is one culture clash after another, from his wife smoking a cigarette at the dining table to her general discomfort with the patriarchy that suffuses Calamo.

You only get a foretaste of the much darker conclusion of the film when Badalamenti and his father, a gaunt and toothless man, visit an elderly landowner who had offered a plot of farmland to the father for what seemed like a reasonable price. But once they arrive, the landowner has quadrupled the price on the basis that it benefits from an underground well. When he is pressed to prove that the water exists, the landowner asks them to follow him and the water expert who will back his claim. That expert turns out to be a monk with a dowsing stick. Infuriated by this con job, Badalamenti’s father lunges at the landowner and the two septuagenarians roll around the ground punching each other silly until his father draws a knife with the obvious intention of using it. It was this departure from the “Meet the Parents” farce that serves as a segue to the film’s brooding finale.

“Mafioso” is both grand entertainment as well as social commentary on the typical Mafia-ruled Sicilian village. Don Vincenzo is a fat man with bad teeth who starts off as a paternalistic figure but soon turns into what he has been lurking beneath the genteel manner all along, a monstrous thug who would be willing to kill Badalamenti, his wife, and their two young daughters if the hit was not carried out.

In doing a bit of research on the film at the time, I learned that the director Alberto Lattuada was an editor at an anti-fascist magazine launched in 1938 titled Corrente that somehow continued to publish during fascist rule. Apparently, Italy was somewhat less totalitarian than Germany. Wikipedia states that as an independent paper, Corrente was free from the directives of the GUF (University Fascist Group). However, it was closed on June 10, 1940, when Italy entered the war. It had become one of the major voices of antifascist culture in the late 1930s, “offering itself as a democratic alternative to the official guidelines of the Ministry of Popular Culture, and strongly criticizing the Novecento Italiano movement, the art of the regime and late Futurism.”

Even if Lattuada did not have the same worries as an anti-fascist in Germany, he did have to go into hiding in Milan in 1944.

After learning about the director’s leftist past, I concluded that one of the main reasons “Mafioso” differed from American films about the mafia was the inability of the Italian state to carry out a witch-hunt that blacklisted people like Lattuada and better-known directors who wore their Communist colors openly and proudly. That included Vittorio Da Sica, Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Gillo Pontecorvo. Perhaps if Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola had come out of a tradition in which Marxist ideas were commonplace, they would have been less susceptible to romanticizing the mafia.

I made a mental note to myself in 2007 to write a survey of Italian films made about the mafia but I never acted on it until recently when I had a chance to review a TV series titled “The Octopus” that aired from 1984 to 2001 at a time when grass-roots activism and police crackdowns on the mafia were at their height in Italy. I reviewed “The Octopus” for CounterPunch a few weeks ago as the first in a series in this survey. Consider this article as the second with at least another two in the works.

1962 was a bounty year for Italian films made about the Sicilian mafia by leftist directors. In addition to “Mafioso” that could easily be mistaken as a comic confection, there was Franceso Rosi’s “Salvatore Giuliano”, a film that Derek Malcolm described as “certainly the best film about the social and political forces that have shaped that benighted island.”

Salvatore Giuliano was a bandit born in 1922 who died from a bullet fired from the pistol of his second in command in 1950. He operated in the mountains near Montelepre, a town not far from Palermo, the largest city in Sicily and a stronghold of the mafia.

Although he only gets a brief mention in Eric Hobsbawm’s “Bandits”, it is consistent with the theme of the book, namely that banditry and peasant revolts can and do overlap going back to the days of Robin Hood. Indeed, Hobsbawm refers to Giuliano as the last true Robin Hood.

In 1943, the Allies had gained control of most of Italy but were not averse to continue using fascist bureaucrats and cops to keep the machinery of the state going, including crackdowns on the ubiquitous black market, especially in Sicily that had always challenged central rule. At one point, Giuliano, a black marketeer, was confronted by these authorities but stood his ground, shooting a cop to death after he was apprehended with bags of black market grain.

The cops then organized a dragnet in Montelepre but Giuliano retreated to the hills where he began recruiting a band of locals to fend off the cops. While his band never exceeded more than 20 fighters, they proved to be too elusive for the cops to capture. It was a combination of their knowledge of the mountainsides and the local fealty to omerta that helped them remain at liberty.

Despite the small numbers of combatants at his side, Giuliano’s reputation was so large that he was invited to become part of the resistance to the Italian state as part of a separatist movement toward the end of WWII. Given the class dominance of the mostly wealthy landowners who led the separatist movement, Giuliano managed to triangulate between the police, who followed the lead of the Sicilian bourgeoisie, and the poor peasants who saw him as a folk hero.

That reputation crashed and burned in 1947 when Giuliano’s men opened fire on a May Day rally organized by the Communist Party in Portella della Ginestra attended by hundreds of peasants. Although Rosi’s film does not try to come up with its own interpretation of why this happened, it offers up the possibility that he was acting under orders from the Carabinieri, a hybrid police-military force that is unique to Italy. Although he eluded arrest, they rounded up most of his lieutenants and put them on trial. There was contradictory testimony, based in part on the word of his men who swore that they were innocent. Rosi’s obvious intention was to demonstrate that the state and the bandits often served each other’s needs.

For the most convincing account of what happened at Portella della Ginestra, it is best to read John Dickie’s “Costra Nostra: a History of the Sicilian Mafia” that I have relied on in my previous article and that can be downloaded here.

Dickie argues that the separatist movement was launched by a coalition of Allied officers, their political overseers in Washington, the Sicilian landed gentry, and the mafia. The whole goal of separatism was to create a counterforce to the central government that reflected the interests of an urban and manufacturing based capitalist class in league with a Communist Party eager to join forces with the “progressive bourgeoisie”. Despite Giuliano’s reputation as a Robin Hood, he was more than willing to join the semi-feudal elite in Sicily even if it meant killing the poor. Rosi was so committed to showing this side of the bandit’s cruelty that the extras he used in the Portella della Ginestra massacre scene were drawn from people in nearby towns who escaped with their lives in 1947.

Furthermore, even though there is not a single mafia figure in Rosi’s film, Dickie leaves little doubt that Giuliani was a mafioso himself:

Giuliano’s relationship with the mafia also fits a classic pattern; he would not have been able to survive these early years and build his band into the most successful in Sicily without protection from men of honour. When he kidnapped someone, the captive’s relatives knew that they had to turn to the local boss who would ensure a safe return in exchange for a portion of the ransom. In other words, the mafia ‘taxed’ both the bandit leader and the people he persecuted.

It was later revealed by one of Giuliano’s closest collaborators that he had been through a mafia initiation ritual. Mafia supergrass Tommaso Buscetta said that he was presented to Giuliano as ‘the same thing’. If true, this does not necessarily mean that the bandit was an integral part of the association; initiating him was more likely to have been a way of reinforcing his loyalty and keeping watch on his activities.

In an interview with Cineaste, Rosi disavowed offering pat answers to what remains as something of a mystery in Salvatore Giuliano’s criminal career. He stated that “Salvatore Giuliano” was structured as an investigation into the relationship between causes and effects. He saw the search for the truth as constituting the narrative line of the film. He summarized his goal: “I wanted to pose questions to the audience, questions I either didn’t know the answers to or did not wish to give answers to. My films are not policiers, or thrillers, but instead aim to provoke, to insinuate doubts, to challenge the official statements and certainties from the powers that be which hide real interests and the truth.”

Although Rosi was part of the Communist-influenced neo-realist generation, none of his films are as propagandistic as “The Bicycle Thief” or “Battle of Algiers” for that matter. They challenge the viewer to “search for the truth” as stated above. That being said, the closest relative to “Salvatore Giuliano” stylistically is “Battle of Algiers” with which it shared a documentary-like quality. The film is a somewhat neglected masterpiece that is a slice of Italian history that no book can come close to in terms of conveying the human drama of life in Sicily, an island that has never evolved fully into a modern democracy. Ironically, it will probably take a socialist revolution to allow the norms of bourgeois democracy such as found in the Bill of Rights to fully prevail. Indeed, the same is true of Italy as a whole, as should be obvious by the drift toward fascism embodied in the Northern League government.

The third film considered in this article is the one most engaged with the need for a revolutionary transformation of Sicily, as well as the entire country. Titled “I Cento Passi” (100 Steps), it is like Rosi’s film–a portrait of an important figure in Italian history, namely Giuseppi “Peppino” Impastato, who was the son of a low-level mafia member born in 1948 and who would become part of Italy’s New Left.

Made in 2000, the film was directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, about whom not much can be gleaned from the usual sources such as Wikipedia, JSTOR, Nexis and the like. Suffice it to say that his sympathies are clearly with Impastato who was murdered by the mafia in 1978 for being a thorn in the side to the gangsters in his hometown of Cinisi, not far from Palermo just like the towns depicted in the two films above.

As a young boy, Impastato found himself drawn to the local Communist leader who supported himself as an artist. One possible explanation for his hatred for the mafia was the murder of his uncle Cesare Manzella, who was a mafia member like his father but much more powerful. It was a bomb that cost his life just like the one that would blow apart the already strangled body of Impastato himself.

In 1965, he became an activist in Cinisi just like I would become in New York City two years later (he was born three years after me). But putting out a radical newspaper in such a town was a lot different than it was in New York. Like an SDS’er at Columbia, Impastato was filled with fire and fury. He would hawk his newspaper on the streets beneath Cinisi’s most powerful don who happened to be the mayor, screaming so loud that he could be heard for blocks: “The mafia is shit”.

As happened in the USA, the left took a cultural turn as the sixties wore on. Operating a radio station in Cinisi devoted to radical issues, especially one calling for the destruction of the mafia, Impastato eventually came into contact with activists from other European nations who convinced him that sexual liberation and political liberation went hand in hand. In the film, we see the newcomers to Cinisi dancing naked on the beach as the village locals gape on in disbelief.

This was not the sort of thing, however, that would get you killed. It was running for city council in 1978 that sealed his doom when Giuseppi “Peppino” Impastato became a martyr in the anti-mafia cause that is still ongoing in Italy.

Matteo Salvini, the Northern League party member now serving as Deputy Prime Minister and who is a close ally of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, was described by the Guardian as being linked to the mafia through the former mayor of Reggio Calabria, one Giuseppe Scopelliti. Scopelliti, whose support for Salvini was critical in his electoral climb to the top, is linked in turn to ‘Ndrangheta, a drug-dealing syndicate based in Calabria.

The ‘Ndrangheta is part of the Camorra, the mainland counterpart to the Sicilian mafia. Salvini has been feuding with Roberto Saviano, a journalist with a long record of investigating Italian organized crime. This year Salvini threatened to remove Saviano’s police protection, even though Saviano has been under threat from the Camorra since he published Gomorrah, his breakthrough book about the mafia in Naples, in 2006.

While there are no direct links between Salvini and the Camorra, one can understand why gangsters would be happy to see the Northern League running Italy just as the landed gentry in Sicily was ready to make deals with Salvatore Giuliani, the mafia gangsters he worked with, and the biggest criminal enterprise in the world today: the American military.

A final word on the availability of these films. I was able to borrow subtitled DVD’s from Columbia University so it is likely that if you are in college you will be able to get your hands on them through Borrow Direct or Interlibrary Loan. There are also used copies for sale on Amazon for around $10 and up. In an ideal world, such treasures would be available on Youtube or other VOD outlets. But, as should be obvious, there is nothing ideal about the world we are living in. Hopefully, future articles in this series will be based on films more easily accessible. But I wanted to bring your attention in this one about the crème de la crème.

Categories: News for progressives

Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco

Fri, 2018-11-16 14:30

San Francisco.

It used to be that you’d duck out of a smoke-filled jazz show for a much-needed gulp of fresh air.  Bebop was breathless in more than one sense: not only fast, but also dangerous to the lungs of the listeners. Not that they cared much, since most of them were smoking, too.

Legion are the famous portraits of musicians smoking and playing, often at nearly the same time.  Herman Leonard’s 1948 photo of a seated Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone resting on his knee and the huge cloud of smoke he’s just inhaled hanging over his head is just one such classic. Or recall Don Hunstein’s shots of Miles enshrouded by tobacco haze in the Columbia studios in midtown Manhattan during the sessions that produced his Porgy & Bess. The cover of the two-volume 1952 Blue Note recording he named after himself—“Miles Davis”—shows the trumpeter with lips to his instrument, the fingers of his right hand working the valves, his left holding a fuming cigarette. By contrast, pianists and drummers can smoke while making music, as Count Basie often did. Perhaps not coincidentally, his minimal style allowed time and space for a momentarily free hand to deal with his cigar. That wind players, especially, could and would sacrifice their lungs in this way never ceases to amaze me.

Last week and into this one the whole of the Bay Area became an old-school jazz club of sorts: choked with smoke and filled with wailing. Instead of an oxygen rich outside, you had to be indoors to escape—or try to.

Late on Saturday afternoon before the early-onset twilight I walked up to the Lyon Steps that descend steeply from the summit of Pacific Heights through gardened terraces and past billionaires’ villas to the flats of Cow Hollow and the Marina District. From this vantage point one expects the perfect Californian vista above the Golden Gate, the day decrescendoing through more than fifty shades of blue, each one impossible to paint. So welcoming are these conditions to vision that individual trees on the Marin Headlands are crisply visible even to failing middle-aged eyes like mine. But that night you could barely make out the water of the Bay not to mention the Golden Gate Bridge that usually appears so close that you think you could leap right onto it. The air should be fragrant with the scent of eucalyptus from the adjacent Presidio and rosemary from the flower beds of the super-rich. Instead, I smelled the fire.

Always clotted with sunset seekers, the Lyon Steps were empty. The tourists had fled, the locals bunkered in their mansions. Was it the end of the day or the end of the world?

The authorities recommended staying indoors, but I decided to brave what was left of the biosphere and head down from Pacific Heights to the Hayes Valley to hear jazz piano legend, Kenny Barron, long one of my keyboard heroes. I hadn’t seen him play in more than three decades. That had been in the mid-1980s at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts with the quartet Sphere, a group dedicated to interpreting the music of Thelonius Monk, whose middle name the ensemble shared. Back then Barron had been joined by Buster Williams on bass and two of Monk’s legendary sidemen: tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and drummer Ben Riley, who died just last year. In the Charles Hotel that night it had been smoky but swinging.

Down in the Hayes Valley last Saturday night many of the well-heeled ticketholders were arriving in face masks—not exactly the fashion accessory of choice for would-be hipsters dreaming of Charlie Parker’s 52ndStreet days. I’ve heard that jazz is now big in Beijing where the face-mask look is ubiquitous. Smug Americans thought that look would never take off here. Well it’s here now, and getting more popular every minute.

Inside SFJazz all was clean and new. The grey steel interior and vented panels stylishly advertised what all ardently desired: air-handling.  “How fine are the filters?” one will want to know in the years to come.  But for now the architecture and its maintenance assured the Saturday-nighters that they had entered a “controlled environment”—never mind that the environment is doing the controlling now.  But the big plate glass windows were not yet smudged with ash from the fires up north, and the masks came off, stowed in purse or cashmere pocket. No one was out on the second-story balcony tonight watching the street life below.

People took their seats in the main hall—the Robert Miner Auditorium—protected still further, they believed, by another set of walls. You can bring a drink in and put it in the holder attached to your cool chair, but no smoking allowed. Everyone had done enough of that just getting to the venue.

Kenny Barron had been in residence for a long weekend starting Thursday and concluding on Sunday, November 12th: he opened with a concert of duets with diverse musicians; brought in his own Concentric Circle Quintet for another; held masterclasses; and on Saturday night led a program billed as “Rising Women in Jazz” with guitarist/singer Camila Meza, saxophonist Hailey Niswanger; and vibraphonist, Nikara Warren. They were anchored by Barron at the mighty Steinway grand, blacker than coals. Barron brought with him the other members of his current trio—Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Jonathan Blake on drums.

One understands, even appreciates, the impulse to advertise the fact that the young musicians backed by Barron are women, though in a better world their gender wouldn’t need to be on the marquee. Perhaps even in this one it would be wiser just to present the ensemble as one well-worth hearing: “Rising Stars”—rather than “Women” before “Jazz.”  As much as the female-ness of the group was worth remarking on in the male-dominated jazz scene, the audience would be free to do so without curation from above. Jazz-playing youngwomen in attendance would be free to hold up the musicians on the bandstand as role models, drawing their own inferences and inspirations from what they heard and saw. These audience members could, if they cared to, also reflect on the image and sound of a male trio arranged in semi-circle around the three women at the front of the stage, and also ponder any culturally-inflected attributes of the sometimes-squawking-sometimes-mellifluous soprano sax, the shimmering-yet-insistent vibraphone, or a suave guitar in tandem with the crystalline soprano voice.

Imagine instead a concert featuring “young African-American classical musicians on the rise” in which racially-profiled players were granted the chance to play with famous white ones.

To his credit, the elegant and gracious Barron never mentioned that his colleagues were women, referring to them simply and sincerely as “outstanding musicians.” I doubt he had to be prompted to avoid any reference to their gender by Nikara Warren, who happens to be his granddaughter.  Endlessly inventive and ceaselessly tasteful like her grandad, Warren is a hard-driving improviser, who more than holds her own, whatever the man-to-woman balance or imbalance.

The only sonic gender giveaway was the singing of Meza, who did a picturesque duet with Barron on his composition “Until Then,” one of several originals heard from the night’s leader. Hailing from Chile—and hailed by commentators for her folkloric enrichments of jazz—, Meza was well-chosen to explore the graceful harmonic contours of the tune and its Latin beat, singing the melody along with her guitar and likewise doubling her improvised solo with her clear, sometimes distant voice. The Barron composition “Cook’s Bay”—a place he visited on a sailing cruise with his wife in the South Pacific—also had a bossa nova feel, as if azure water and palm trees automatically bring to mind the tropical beaches and music of this hemisphere. This bit of harmless exoticism didn’t count as “infamous”—the adjective that Barron used, appositely enough, to describe Cook. But still, this reflexive turn to a Latin jazz feel even when imagining the other side of the world did leave one wondering whether Barron had taken in any Polynesian music on his vacation, or whether he hears the world through Western ears only.

However evocative of carefree waters, even these strains couldn’t completely dampen thoughts of the climate catastrophe unfolding in the world beyond the glass doors of SFJazz. The ruminative solo piano introductions and Barron’s expansive elaborations on his own mellow tunes often gave way to Hailey Niswanger’s soprano saxophone torrents, rising like ocean waters above the sand even to the cabañas beyond.  Likewise, the radiant cycles of Barron’s “Sun Shower” cut against the calming grain of its own Latin groove—yet another one from him— with Warren’s vibes enfolding the framing sonorities in its warming rays. Meza’s guitar rained down too, spiking up high on her fingerboard before being absorbed low in her range: the artfully conceived shape of her improvisation encouraged by Blake’s brilliantly busy but never too-intrusive drumming and Barron’s assured, but never too-insistent encouragement. Kitagawa’s bass solo with its thrumming double stops that slid and shouted through microtonal space, took on almost apocalyptic implications, as if a Sun Shower were the last thing we needed in the dark confines of the Miner Auditorium.

These Barron originals were interspersed with blues-inspired numbers by other jazz greats. The gentle ostinato of late saxophonist and former Barron collaborator John Stubblefield’s “Dialogues in Blue” did not hold the audience’s feet or ears to the fire, though it lit one under Niswanger. Given his Sphere credentials, one expects Barron’s Monk to be magisterial. The pianist duly led a swashbuckling foray through the cantankerous riffs and snarky asides of Monk’s “I Mean You.” Barron’s playing is by nature smooth, so when he hits a Monkish dissonance it is all the more jarring.

The closer came with Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”—as in our carbon ones are huge, including, but not limited to the much-travelled musicians on stage. The tune’s frenetic stops and starts, spiraling trajectories, spurred the musicians to outpourings so ecstatic that they flirted with the apocalyptic.

The energized audience was calmed again by Barron’s solo encore—a tune I recognized but could not name, the haze of night seeping back into me.  The farewell started with searching chords interleaved with flashing Tatumesque runs and moved into a hesitant stride, before receding into reverie again. It wasn’t “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes—or Lungs” but it might as well have been.

It was now time to the face the music outside, buoyed somewhat by the night’s confirmation that if there were a pianist one would want in one’s Steinway-equipped bomb shelter it would be none other than Kenny Barron.

Categories: News for progressives

All of Those Bezos

Fri, 2018-11-16 14:03

Some of these women
and men will contend
that, since the beginning,
the outcome was fated:
the bedbugs and cockroaches
recently mated – from
Cork to New York,
they’ve been getting it on
from Taiwan to Saskatchewan
from Hebron to the Amazon
their hybrid spawn have gone and spread
and fed from the blood in your head
in your bed – infesting the seams
of your pillows and clothes
and the cushions of airplanes
and all the train coaches
The bugs – the bed-roaches – the hybrid
the  offspring
have multiple names
In both Brooklyn and Queens
you know what they call those?
Those bugs are called bezos.
And all of the building’s are colonized,
and everybody’s terrorized –
since some of these bezos
are pineapple-sized and,
unlike bedbugs, they don’t hide
but roam outside, both day and night
And hypnotize us – in plain sight
each second minute every hour –
watching us washing ourselves
in the shower or walking along
past a luxury tower or
riding downtown in a subway car
a few may climb into your shoe and chew
right through, down to your bone
as you sit there like stone
benumbed by all their toxic fumes
curling and swirling around in the rooms
So, what can you do?
Well, you may need a crow –
the only way I know to fix the infestation
situation – crows outsmart them
and catch them, and eat them –
finding them delightful – so, go
get yourselves
a dozen crows – or a –
what is the word
for a whole bunch of those? For
that’s, they say, the only way
to rid the earth of these bezos –
ok?

 

Categories: News for progressives

Ukania: the Land Where the Queen’s Son Has His Shoelaces Ironed by His Valet

Thu, 2018-11-15 16:07

Photo Source ale | CC BY 2.0

I’ve just left Ukania, where I attended the Historical Materialism conference in London. After some much needed psychological decompression, I’m now back in the Land of Caged Toddlers.

In the UK at the same time was the UN Special Rapporteur on poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, travelling to some of the UK’s poorest areas to investigate the impact Tory austerity has had on the UK’s indigents.

Ukania has been misruled for decades, indeed for centuries (if the truth be told). The sole possible exception to this was the immediate postwar Labour government, which created the welfare state.

The all-party consensus around the NHS lasted for three decades, but every government after that, Tory and Labour alike, acquiesced in the slow whittling-down or outright gutting of the welfare state. Only Corbyn’s “old” Labour seems to be an exception to this trend.

So what will Professor Alston find?

The UK’s highest paid executive got the boot while I was there, but will keep his £75million/US$99 million bonus. Such is the state of corruption in Ukania that he might well have received a knighthood if he lasted another year or two, and would probably have been able to keep that as well.

Indeed, Ukania’s super-rich are doing immensely well. The Sunday Times Rich List for 2017 found that the total wealth of Britain’s richest 1,000 individuals and families surged 14% in that year alone, to £658 billion/$854 billion.

As for the rest, it’s a different story.

To mark Alston’s visit The Times (of London) conducted a surprising investigation into poverty in the UK–  surprising because The Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has thrown his support behind the Conservatives, whose austerity agenda is overwhelmingly responsible for the UK’s poverty crisis.`

This is what The Times (2018-11-08) found:

“There are about 14 million people in relative poverty (defined as 60% of median income after housing costs) in Britain, representing 22% of the population. More than 4 million children are growing up poor, a rise of 500,000 in the past five years. An estimated 1.5 million people lived in destitution, meaning that they could not afford two or more essentials such as food, housing, heating or clothes, at some point in 2017, including 365,000 children.

Nearly half of the children in lone-parent families live in poverty. Last year the number of rough sleepers increase by 15% to 4,751, double the figure in 2012. According to the Trussell Trust, food bank use has risen by 13% in a year. Between April and September, the charity’s food banks gave out 658,048 three-day emergency food supplies, 232,761 of them to children”.

The Times goes on:

“Health service data reveals that malnutrition has tripled in a decade and Victorian diseases associated with hunger have risen. Last year 474 people had rickets diagnosed, including 335 under ten, and 167 had scurvy, according to the analysis by NHS data services”.

The Prime Minister, Theresa “the Maybot” May, has pledged to fight “burning injustices”, but since her track record when it comes lying and issuing misleading statements is a close second to that of the unhinged Orange Creepoid, this pledge needs to be taken with several wheelbarrow-loads of salt.

Her voting record in parliament shows that the Maybot is in truth fully signed-up to the Tory austerity agenda.

One person Professor Alston won’t be interviewing will be the heir to the throne (though he really should), the egregious Prince Charles. According to Amazon Prime’s new documentary “Serving the Royals: Inside the Firm”:

“His [Charles’s] pajamas are pressed every morning, his shoelaces are pressed flat with an iron, the bath plug has to be in a certain position and the water temperature has to be just tepid,” Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, revealed in the documentary.

The Page Six article which reported thus on the multi-millionaire Pampered Prince went on to say that “Apparently Princess Diana’s ex brings his own toilet seat with him when he travels, changes outfits five times a day, only recently discovered what Saran wrap is and never shows up to a dinner party without his own food”.

Mediaeval monarchs travelled with their own cooks and food to safeguard themselves from being poisoned by a rival—so, is this what our bonnie Prince Charlie fears?

That, say, Diana’s son William may have it in for his adulterer-father by employing a potential food poisoner to avenge his late mother so he in turn can become king as soon as the aged Queen kicks the bucket?

Stranger things have happened where royalty is concerned, and not just in fiction.

I’ve not seen the Amazon Prime documentary, but I hope it also features Charlie’s requiring a flunkey, when His Highness was in hospital after a polo injury, to hold a specimen bottle up to his schlong while he produced the requisite urine sample.

My fantasy is that the flunkey, understandably not thrilled with having to hold a pee-bottle up to the princely pecker, found a way to add a stiff shot of gin to the royal urine sample before handing it over to the hospital staff for analysis.

“Jeeves, for this visit to Lord Ponsonby-Struthers’ country estate and my dinner that evening, make certain the kitchen has packed what I ordered– the Scottish salmon ceviche, that smoked venison, that partridge rillette, the organic aubergine terrine, that farm-made Blue Stilton cheese, and the artisanal gin. Oh, and don’t forget my toilet seat. And, pray, what the fuck is Saran wrap?”.

Given the way Ukania is, the paupers visited by Philip Alston would have little or no inkling of their future king’s uber-deluxe tastes and somewhat peculiar habits.

Categories: News for progressives

Spraying Poisons, Chasing Ghosts

Thu, 2018-11-15 16:03

Photo Source jetsandzeppelins | CC BY 2.0

Agribusiness power

The twentieth first century continues the toxic business as usual of the twentieth century. Agribusiness, part of the military-industrial-complex, is king. The new weapon is spraying the world with mostly badly tested chemical poisons. And the strategy is the control of the natural world and societies.

Few people know exactly what these chemical poisons do. Occasionally, they do kill insects and weeds. But they do much more, mostly harm. Scientists have revealed certain facts about those invisible effects. But agribusiness nullifies the significance of that knowledge. It does that by buying agricultural universities, the media and influencing politicians. Agribusiness guards its secrets, including how it has been controlling the politics of the world.

The power of knowledge

Despite the passive acceptance of poisons by mostly urban populations, resistance continues. An example of that resistance is a documentary about the effects of massive sprayings in the past several decades. This courageous film, Sprayed  by Craig Leon (Future History Films, 2018), shows the power of telling a story well — and telling the truth.

The documentary moves from Miami Beach, Florida, to Brazil to Vietnam. The idea is to have people speak about being sprayed and scientists giving their opinions about the effects of the sprays.

After all, the Zika scare of 2016 during the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, muddied the waters. This was another agribusiness and media broadcast to the world: that malformed babies in Brazil were a result of the nasty Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus. Second, blame the women of the slums for giving birth to those kids with tiny brains. Blame the nasty Zika mosquitoes. Pesticides had nothing to do with that tragedy.

Craig Leon’s documentary demolishes this agribusiness mythology.

What sprayed people think

We see and hear a person in Miami Beach saying: “Well… they’re spraying again so I am just trying to shut it down and we’re going to the federal courts to try to do that. In August 2016, neurotoxic chemicals banned in Europe were first sprayed over Miami residents to kill Zika mosquitoes… many people were upset, including myself and have addressed the city of Miami Beach previously regarding the spaying of Naled onto our community.”

Another Miami resident says: “I’m growing herbs that I’m thinking are organic, and they just sprayed Naled all over them.”

Naled is a nerve poison related to chemical warfare agents.

Spray planes “bombed” Miami Beach residents with the neurotoxic insecticide naled 2 to 3 times a day: “We only walked at night… I could see a thick layer of dust, smoke everywhere.” The helicopters flew about 100 feet over homes. The spraying lasted for five hours in the morning. The chemical coming down felt “like a little light rain.” The immediate effect was a “pounding headache you could not get rid of.”

Poisoning Brazil

In Brazil, the emphasis is in the decades-long impoverished Northeast, especially the state of Pernambuco. This is where the Zika virus hit hard, with tiny brain-babies blamed on mosquitoes stinging pregnant women. Pernambuco is also the first state in the only country in the world where the government added pyriproxyfen in the drinking water. This was done at a time Pernambuco had been experiencing drought for six years.

Gilsomar Santos, distraught father of a baby girl born with microcephaly in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, said: “The Department of Health… give us some product to dump into our water tanks.”

Microcephaly describes infants born with tiny brains.

The “product” was pyriproxyfen. This is an “insect growth regulator” and teratogen causing monstrous wounds to the developing insect. It makes it impossible for the young mosquito to become an adult. It may affect humans in similar monstrous fashion.

Yet, in all of Brazil, no more than 12 to 15 percent of babies affected by microcephaly were linked to mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus.

A frustrated Brazilian says: “If you’re in the position that you’re desperate to do, you just grab the pesticides and you just spray [them].” Another asked why Colombia has had no deformed babies from the Zika virus.

Paolo Paes de Andrade, professor of genetics at the Federal University of Pernambuco, says Brazilian scientists are fiddling with the DNA of mosquitoes, creating genetically engineered mosquitoes. Brazil released them in 2014.

Immediately thereafter, microcephaly appeared in Brazil.

According to Germana Soares A. Nascimento, president and founder of the Association of Mothers of Angels, Brazil has been experimenting with the malformed babies. Brazilian scientists extract from the “medulla through the spine of the babies” a “liquid transparent like water.” But parents are complaining they have been kept in the dark: “They never gave us the results whether it was Zika or not,” said Germana Soares.

The legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam

Spraying poisons has had deleterious effects in Vietnam. In the Vietnam War, 1962-1973, America drenched Vietnam with “cocktails of neurotoxic chemicals (codename: Agent Orange).” The strategy was to kill forests and the growing of rice.

A Vietnamese physician named Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong says he delivered the first deformed babies in 1965, an experience that broke his heart. He says: “I was very shocked… I could not sleep, could not eat, I could not work. I thought about the reasons why we have so many suffering [people] and I realized that oh, maybe, the increase of birth defects may be linked to the spraying mission.”

That spraying mission made Vietnam a museum of spraying monsters. Birth defects have been appearing in Vietnam for three generations.

Is this what we want to see in the rest of the world?

However, in 2018, Vietnam is reluctant to advertise its war fate with chemicals. Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong says Vietnamese scientists working for the chemical industry, the courts, and the government of Vietnam deny that the chemicals America sprayed in Vietnam caused deformities in human beings.

Chasing ghosts

Anthony Samsel, an independent toxicologist from New Hampshire, summed up the dramatic crisis of the Zika virus enmeshed with the spraying of pesticides all over the environment for decades:

“We know that [pesticide] chemicals cause mutagenesis. It’s what we should be looking at. But we’re not. We’re not looking to the chemical industry or to any of these materials. Instead, we’re looking at viruses. I think we’re chasing ghosts.”

All this uncertainty about the risks of pesticides, risks of viruses, and harm resulting from misguided and immoral environmental regulatory and agricultural policies are scaring people. Some people, in fact, are frightened so much they question the continuation of civilization. They ask: Is it a good idea to have children?

During the spraying campaign over Miami Beach a resident asks:

“How safe is it to bring kids, to bring life into this world, when there’s this kind of straight out poisoning happening, and we’re not even told to take any precautions.”

Watch the documentary Sprayed by Craig Leon. It is enlightening, timely, and extremely important. It asks the scientific and ethical questions that bring out the danger of spraying pesticides all over the world for so long.

Categories: News for progressives

In the Wake of the Blue Wave: the Midterms, Recounts, and the Future of Progressive Politics

Thu, 2018-11-15 16:00

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In the wake of the 2018 midterms, President Trump and his foot soldiers on the right have continued to repeat paranoid and fact-free claims about “electoral fraud” via the recounts in Florida and Arizona. Trump is seeking to save face by weighing in on the Florida gubernatorial race (Nelson v. Scott) and the Florida (Gillum v. DeSantis) and Arizona (Sinema v. McSally) Senate races. These are political battles, plain and simple, and Trump is trying to preserve as many Senate seats as possible for Republicans moving toward 2020.

For progressively-minded Americans, the discussion now should focus on what the 2018 election tells us about the state of American politics and prospects for democratic change. For those who want an analysis of my thoughts on the election and how it relates to protest movements, take a look at my recent talk at the Open University of the Left (Chicago), which explores this issue in detail. For a shorter analysis of the election, I provide a brief review here of the exit polling data and what it tells us about the “pulse” of American voters following the large gains for Democrats in the House.

First off, it’s perfectly clear from the exit polling that this election was not a mandate on the state of the economy. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering incessant celebrations in the corporate media about low unemployment and sustained economic growth. These developments are privileged in a corporate press that is mainly interested in market performance and profits for the wealthy few, while critical discussions of worker insecurity and record inequality receive short shift. In line with the hegemonic focus on market performance, most voters – 68 percent– said that the economy was in either “good” or “excellent” shape, compared to just 30 percent who said it was “not so good” or “poor.”

But economic anxiety was linked to voting outcomes in a very different way – as related to the Republican health care agenda. The health care issue was far and away the most important issue to Americans, with 41 percent of voters saying it was “the most important issue facing the country,” compared to just 23 percent citing immigration, 22 percent citing the economy, and 10 percent citing “gun policy.” These findings suggest that the Republican Party, which lost nearly three dozen House seats, was the subject of electoral retribution in response to their repeal campaign. That repeal effort would have had significant consequences for those relying on the law’s Medicaid expansion, and for those dependent on taxpayer subsidies to purchase their insurance on state health care exchanges. Most voters appeared to recognize this, with 58 percent agreeing Democrats “would better protect health care for those with pre-existing conditions, compared to 34 percent who said Republicans would.”

Beyond the politics of Obamacare, the 2018 elections were a mandate on Trump’s presidency. About two-thirds of American voters admitted that Trump was a major motivating factor in their turning out to cast a ballot. And the numbers cut against the president, rather than in his favor, contrary to Trump’s delusional claim that Republicans faltered because they didn’t affiliate with himin contested races. Outside of Trump fantasyland, the exit polling data provided a very different picture, with four in ten voters saying they cast their ballot as a protest of Trump, compared to just a quarter who saw their vote as an endorsement of the president.

Outside of specific exit polling results, what does all this tell us about the state of American politics? On the most basic level, the results suggest that Americans are waking up from their political and electoral apathy, which was apparent among many working class voters who chose to stay home in 2016, out of disgust for their (admittedly) limited choices between a Democratic Party that has betrayed their economic interests via embracing neoliberal corporatist politics, and a Republican Party that has little to offer working Americans besides reactionary attacks on immigrants, religious minorities, and people of color.

But how will the visible disgust of 2018 be mobilized, if at all, in the future? One point that should be obvious is that rising anger with and protest of Trump is not going to manifest itself in the rise of a third party. As much as those on the progressive-left would like to see a serious labor or progressive party replace the Democrats, the rules of the game are rigged in favor of the establishment parties. The system is locked up in favor of Democratic and Republican victories, when we look at their tremendous monopoly power over campaign contributions/revenues and the overwhelming public exposure that buys, the blackballing of third party candidates from presidential debates, restrictive state ballot access laws that often grant easy or automatic access to major parties and put up large hurdles for third parties, and considering the “winner take all” electoral system in the U.S. (contrary to proportional representation systems), which makes it virtually impossible for third parties to gain representation in legislatures. As the historian Paul Street recently argued, short of a Constitutional convention to totally reshape the rules of American elections, there is little prospect for the rise of a progressive third party.

Outside of the third party/electoral reform issue, there is the question of what possibilities exist within the Democratic Party for building a progressive coalition moving forward. The rise of the “Democratic socialist” (read New Deal, Scandinavian-style welfare state reformist) wing of the Democratic Party has received increased attention in the last few years. Nowhere is this clearer than in the rise of Democratic Socialists for America (DSA). The group’s membership reached 52,000 in the immediate run-up to the 2018 elections, a growth of 63 percent from late 2017. The lion’s share of this growth is among younger Americans, with the median age of DSA members being 33 in 2018, compared to 68 in 2013.

The left-populistic campaign of Bernie Sanders in 2016 suggested that there is a large contingent of younger Democratic Americans who are hungry for serious institutional reforms within the party, and who want to move away from the dominant corporatist, neoliberal core of the Hillary Clinton-Nancy Pelosi-Chuck Schumer wing. Younger Americans, lower income whites, and younger Americans expressing concerns with the rising and unsustainable costs of health care and education all flocked to Sanders, following his promises to prioritize socialized education and health care, and considering his push to make poverty and inequality reduction central elements of his campaign.

There is little reason to get too excited thus far about DSA’s growth in membership, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the size of the traditional Democratic Party’s constituency. There are nearly 45 million registered Democrats in America, while DSA’s base is just .1 percent of the size of the Democratic Party base. Still, the rise of individual “Democratic socialists” and progressive electoral candidates across the U.S. suggests that the Sanderist wing of the party is no longer a marginal force in American politics.

I’ve never felt comfortable granting endorsements to any political party, and I generally spend what limited extra time I have for activism on community-based action and organizing, rather than on canvassing for political parties and their candidates. Electoral politics in America, while important, are a quite limited means of transforming political culture. At best, electoral and political reforms become more feasible after progressive-left social movements make change possible, and following movement successes in shifting popular political culture in favor of leftist causes. Still, it seems premature to write off prospects for progressive reform within the Democratic Party, considering the emerging schism between the establishment and reformist wings.

Regardless of what one thinks of the Democrats, the party is going to have to be a central part of any formal political effort to deal with the major crisis of our time: climate change. Congressional action is vital if we are to act in response to the warning from the IPCC that the world has a decade to radically reduce CO2 emissions to stave off the most catastrophic effects that accompany a rapidly warming planet. It seems clear at this point that no serious leftist third party is going to be built, institutionalized, and win an electoral majority within the decade window we have to act. For better or worse, this leaves one institutional venue for action – mass pressure on the Democratic Party.

As the radical historian Howard Zinn knew all too well, progressive change originates from the people, from the streets, and from social protest, rather than from the ballot box or major political parties. Still, it is long past due for left-leaning Americans to begin the much-needed discussion about what all the protests of the last decade are really working toward. We badly need a dialogue on what institutional venues should be utilized to achieve progressive transformation and political-institutional change. Progressive social movements are the lifeblood of democracy, but their agendas must break through into the mainstream for democratic change to be possible.

Categories: News for progressives

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