Vice News: Charlottesville

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North Korea and Nuclear Sanity

Letter published in Monterey Herald, August 2

Your editorial about North Korea–along with the many statements of hawkish politicians beating the war drums–is both absurd and dangerous. North Korea has no desire to attack us.  They may be evil and cruel but I doubt they are suicidal. Were they to launch a nuclear missile in our direction, their entire country would be obliterated. And they know it.
 
The only reason North Korea has nuclear weapons is to protect themselves from American invasion. Without nuclear arms they know they would quickly suffer the same fate as countries like Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq.
 
Let’s dial down the fear and paranoia before we get into another unnecessary war. I long for the days when President John F. Kennedy could say, “The world knows that America will never start a war.”
Arlen Grossman
Korea
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WHO NEEDS DEMOCRACY ANYWAY?

US State Department considers dropping ‘democracy’ from its mission statement

By Josh Rogin/ Washington Post/ August 1, 2017

The US State Department is considering dropping “democracy” from its key mission statement as Secretary of State Rex Tillersonorders his department to redefine its purpose to the world.

The draft statements under review right now are similar to the old mission statement, except for one thing – any mention of promoting democracy is being eliminated.

According to an internal email that went out on Friday, the State Department’s Executive Steering Committee convened a meeting of leaders to draft new statements on the department’s purpose, mission and ambition, as part of the overall reorganisation of the State Department and USAID. (The draft statements were being circulated for comment on Friday and could change before being finalised.)

 

–The State Department’s draft statement on its mission is: “Lead America’s foreign policythrough global advocacy, action and assistance to shape a safer, more prosperous world.”

–The State Department’s draft statement on its ambition is: “The American people thrive in a peaceful and interconnected world that is free, resilient and prosperous.”

Compare that to the State Department Mission Statement that is currently on the books, as laid out in the department’s fiscal year 2016 financial report:

“‘The Department’s mission is to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere. This mission is shared with the USAID, ensuring we have a common path forward in partnership as we invest in the shared security and prosperity that will ultimately better prepare us for the challenges of tomorrow.'”

Former senior State Department officials from both parties said eliminating “just” and “democratic” from the State Department’s list of desired outcomes is neither accidental nor inconsequential.

“The only significant difference is the deletion of justice and democracy,” said Elliott Abrams, who served as deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy during the George W Bush administration. “We used to want a just and democratic word, and now apparently we don’t.”

 
 democracy
 

The mission statement is important because it sends a signal about American priorities and intentions to foreign governments and people around the world, said Mr Abrams, who was considered by Mr Tillerson for the job of deputy secretary of state but rejected by President Trump.

“That change is a serious mistake that ought to be corrected,” he said. “If not, the message being sent will be a great comfort to every dictator in the world.”

Tom Malinowski, who served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour for the Obama administration, said the new proposed mission statement brings US foreign policy into closer alignment with that of some of America’s chief adversaries, including Russia.

“It’s a worldview similar to that of Putin, who also thinks that great powers should focus exclusively on self protection and enrichment, rather than promoting democracy,” he said. “By removing all reference to universal values and the common good it removes any reason for people outside the United States to support our foreign-policy. That said, I appreciate the honesty with which Tillerson projects his cynicism.”

Mr Malinowski also predicted that the change, if it becomes permanent, would sow confusion throughout the ranks of the State Department’s civil and foreign service because hundreds of State Department officials work on congressionally funded programmes every day that are meant to promote democracy and justice abroad.

Adding to the confusion, Mr Trump occasionally trumpets democracy promotion, for example when it comes to Cuba or Venezuela. But in his inauguration speech, Mr Trump made clear that democracy promotion would not be a feature of his foreign policy.

“We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow,” Mr Trump said.

The changes in the State Department mission statement may not seem very significant viewed in isolation. But Mr Tillerson has made several statements and decisions that indicate he plans to lower the priority of democracy and human rights in US foreign policy.

In his first speech to his State Department employees, he said promoting American values “creates obstacles” to pursuing America’s national security interests. In March, he broke tradition by declining to appear personally to unveil the State Department’s annual human rights report.

In another example, the State Department will soon eliminate the http://www.humanrights.gov website and move its content to an alternative web address, http://www.state.gov/j/drl, a State Department official said.

“It’s just so gratuitous. What efficiency is achieved or money is saved by taking something that is prominent on the Internet and hiding it?” said Mr Malinowski. “The consequence is that it’s the 9,456th signal sent by the administration that they don’t care about promoting American values.”

The State Department declined to comment.

© The Washington Post

 

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STOLEN ELECTIONS

The Past 5 GOP Presidents Have Used Fraud and Treason to Steer Themselves to Electoral Victory

By Thom Hartmann/ AlterNet/ July 28, 2017

People are wondering out loud about the parallels between today’s Republican Party and organized crime [3], and whether “Teflon Don” Trump will remain unscathed through his many scandals, ranging from interactions with foreign oligarchs to killing tens of thousands of Americans by denying them healthcare to stepping up the destruction of our environment [4] and public lands.  

History suggests – even if treason can be demonstrated – that, as long as he holds onto the Republican Party (and Fox News), he’ll survive it intact. And he won’t be the first Republican president to commit high crimes to get and stay in office.  

In fact, Eisenhower was the last legitimately elected Republican president we’ve had in this country.

Since Dwight Eisenhower left the presidency in 1961, six different Republicans have occupied the Oval Office.

And every single one of them – from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump – have been illegitimate – ascending to the highest office in the land not through small-D democratic elections – but instead through fraud and treason.

(And today’s GOP-controlled Congress is arguably just as corrupt and illegitimate, acting almost entirely within the boundaries set by an organized group of billionaires.)  

Let’s start at the beginning with Richard Nixon.

In 1968 – President Lyndon Johnson was desperately trying to end the Vietnam war.

But Richard Nixon knew that if the war continued – it would tarnish Democrat (and Vice President) Hubert Humphrey’s chances of winning the 1968 election.

So Nixon sent envoys from his campaign to talk to South Vietnamese leaders to encourage them not to attend an upcoming peace talk in Paris.

Nixon promised South Vietnam’s corrupt politicians that he would give them a richer deal when he was President than LBJ could give them then.

LBJ found out about this political maneuver to prolong the Vietnam war just 3 days before the 1968 election. He phoned the Republican Senate leader Everett Dirksen – here’s an excerpt (you can listen to the entire conversation here[5]):

President Johnson: 
Some of our folks, including some of the old China lobby, are going to the Vietnamese embassy and saying please notify the [South Vietnamese] president that if he’ll hold out ’til November the second they could get a better deal. Now, I’m reading their hand, Everett. I don’t want to get this in the campaign.

And they oughtn’t to be doin’ this. This is treason.

Sen. Dirksen: I know.

Those tapes were only released by the LBJ library in the past decade, and that’s Richard Nixon that Lyndon Johnson was accusing of treason.

But by then – Nixon’s plan had worked.

South Vietnam boycotted the peace talks – the war continued – and Nixon won the White House thanks to it. As a result, additional tens of thousands of American soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians, died as a result of Nixon’s treason.  

And Nixon was never held to account for it.

Gerald Ford was the next Republican.

After Nixon left office the same way he entered it – by virtue of breaking the law – Gerald Ford took over.

Ford was never elected to the White House (he was appointed to replace VP Spiro Agnew, after Agnew was indicted for decades of taking bribes), and thus would never have been President had it not been for Richard Nixon’s treason.

voting

The third was Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980.

He won thanks to a little something called the October Surprise – when his people sabotaged then-President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to release American hostages in Iran.

According to Iran’s then-president, Reagan’s people promised the Iranians that if they held off on releasing the American hostages until just after the election – then Reagan would give them a sweet weapons deal.

In 1980 Carter thought he had reached a deal with newly-elected Iranian President Abdolhassan Bani-Sadr over the release of the fifty-two hostages held by radical students at the American Embassy in Tehran.

Bani-Sadr was a moderate and, as he explained in an editorial for The Christian Science Monitor [6] earlier this year, had successfully run for President on the popular position of releasing the hostages:

“I openly opposed the hostage-taking throughout the election campaign…. I won the election with over 76 percent of the vote…. Other candidates also were openly against hostage-taking, and overall, 96 percent of votes in that election were given to candidates who were against it [hostage-taking].”

Carter was confident that with Bani-Sadr’s help, he could end the embarrassing hostage crisis that had been a thorn in his political side ever since it began in November of 1979. But Carter underestimated the lengths his opponent in the 1980 Presidential election, California Governor Ronald Reagan, would go to win an election.

Behind Carter’s back, the Reagan campaign worked out a deal [6] with the leader of Iran’s radical faction – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini – to keep the hostages in captivity until after the 1980 Presidential election.

This was nothing short of treason. The Reagan campaign’s secret negotiations with Khomeini – the so-called “October Surprise” – sabotaged Carter and Bani-Sadr’s attempts to free the hostages. And as Bani-Sadr told The Christian Science Monitor in March [7] of 2013:

After arriving in France [in 1981], I told a BBC reporter that I had left Iran to expose the symbiotic relationship between Khomeinism and Reaganism.

Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the “October Surprise,” which prevented the attempts by myself and then-US President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 US presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.

And Reagan’s treason – just like Nixon’s treason – worked perfectly.

The Iran hostage crisis continued and torpedoed Jimmy Carter’s re-election hopes.

And the same day Reagan took the oath of office – almost to the minute, by way of Iran’s acknowledging the deal – the American hostages in Iran were released.

And for that, Reagan began selling the Iranians weapons and spare parts in 1981, and continued until he was busted for it in 1986, producing the so-called “Iran Contra” scandal.

But, like Nixon, Reagan was never held to account for the criminal and treasonous actions that brought him to office.

After Reagan – Bush senior was elected – but like Gerry Ford – Bush was really only President because he served as Vice President under Reagan.

If the October Surprise hadn’t hoodwinked voters in 1980 – you can bet Bush senior would never have been elected in 1988. That’s four illegitimate Republican presidents.

And that brings us to George W. Bush, the man who was given the White House by five right-wing justices on the Supreme Court.

In the Bush v. Gore [8] Supreme Court decision in 2000 that stopped the Florida recount and thus handed George W. Bush the presidency – Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his opinion:

“The counting of votes … does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner [George W. Bush], and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he [Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election.”

Apparently, denying the presidency to Al Gore, the guy who actually won the most votes in Florida, did not constitute “irreparable harm” to Scalia or the media.

And apparently it wasn’t important that Scalia’s son worked for the law firm that was defending George W. Bush before the high court (thus no Scalia recusal).

Just like it wasn’t important to mention that Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife worked on the Bush transition team and was busy accepting resumes from people who would serve in the Bush White House if her husband stopped the recount in Florida…which he did.  (No Thomas recusal, either.)

And more than a year after the election – a consortium of newspapers including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and USA Today did their own recount in Florida – manually counting every vote in a process that took almost a year – and concluded that Al Gore did indeed win the presidency in 2000.

As the November 12th, 2001 article [9] in The New York Times read:

“If all the ballots had been reviewed under any of seven single standards and combined with the results of an examination of overvotes, Mr. Gore would have won.”

That little bit of info was slipped into the seventeenth paragraph of the Times story on purpose so that it would attract as little attention as possible around the nation.

Why? because the 9/11 attacks had just happened – and journalists feared that burdening Americans with the plain truth that George W. Bush actually lost the election would further hurt a nation that was already in crisis.

And none of that even considered that Bush could only have gotten as close to Gore as he did because his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, had ordered his Secretary of State, Kathrine Harris, to purge [10] at least 57,000 mostly-Black voters from the state’s rolls just before the election.

So for the third time in 4 decades – Republicans took the White House under illegitimate electoral circumstances.  Even President Carter was shocked [11] by the brazenness of that one.

And Jeb Bush and the GOP were never held to account for that crime against democracy.

Most recently, in 2016, Kris Kobach and Republican Secretaries of State across the nation used Interstate Crosscheck [12] to purge millions of legitimate voters – most people of color – from the voting rolls just in time for the Clinton/Trump election.  

Millions of otherwise valid American voters were denied their right to vote because they didn’t own the requisite ID – a modern-day poll-tax that’s spread across every Republican state with any consequential black, elderly, urban, or college-student population (all groups less likely to have a passport or drivers’ license).

Donald Trump still lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, but came to power through an electoral college designed to keep slavery safe [13] in colonial America.

You can only wonder how much better off America would be if 6 Republican Presidents hadn’t stolen or inherited a stolen White House.

In fact – the last legitimate Republican President – Dwight Eisenhower – was unlike any other Republican president since.

He ran for the White House on a platform of peace – that he would end the Korean War.

This from one of his TV campaign ads:

“The nation, haunted by the stalemate in Korea, looks to Eisenhower. Eisenhower knows how to deal with the Russians. He has met Europe leaders, has got them working with us. Elect the number one man for the number one job of our time. November 4th vote for peace. Vote for Eisenhower.”

Two of his campaign slogans were “I like Ike” and “Vote For Peace, Vote For Eisenhower [14]“.

Ike was a moderate Republican who stood up for working people – who kept tax rates on the rich at 91 percent – and made sure that the middle class in America was protected by FDR’s New Deal policies.

As he told his brother Edgar in 1954 in a letter:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”

And Eisenhower was right – the only way Republicans have been able to win the presidency since he left office in 1961 has been by outright treason, a criminal fraud involving conflicted members of the Supreme Court, or by being vice-president under an already-illegitimate president.

And that’s where we are today, dealing with the aftermath of all these Republican crimes and six illegitimate Republican presidents stacking the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary.

And this doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how the Republican majority in the senate represents 36 million fewer [15] Americans than do the Democrats. Or how in most elections in past decades, Democrats have gotten more votes for the House of Representatives, but Republicans have controlled it because of gerrymandering [16].  

This raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the modern Republican Party itself.  

They work hand-in-glove with a group of right-wing billionaires and billionaire-owned or dominated media outlets like Fox and “conservative” TV and radio outlets across the nation, along with a very well-funded network of rightwing websites.  

The Koch Network’s various groups, for example, have more money, more offices, and more staff than the Republican Party itself. Three times more employees and twice the budget, in fact [17]. Which raises the question: which is the dog, and which is the tail?

And, as we’ve seen so vividly in the “debate” about healthcare this year, the Republicans, like Richard Nixon, are not encumbered by the need to tell the truth [18].

Whether it’s ending trade deals, bringing home jobs, protecting Social Security and Medicaid, or saving our public lands and environment – virtually every promise that Trump ran and won on is being broken [19]. Meanwhile, the oligarchs continue to pressure Republican senators [20] to vote their way.

Meanwhile, a public trust that has taken 240 years to build is being destroyed [21], as public lands, regulatory agencies, and our courts are handed off to oligarchs and transnational corporations to exploit or destroy.

The Trump and Republican campaign of 2016, Americans are now discovering, was nearly all lies, well-supported by a vast right-wing media machine [22] and a timid, profit-obsessed “mainstream” corporate media.  Meanwhile, it seemed that all the Democrats could say was, “The children are watching!”  

Fraud, treason, and lies have worked well for the GOP for half a century.

Thus, the Democrats are right to now fine-tune their message to the people.  But in addition to “A Better Deal,” they may want to consider adding to their agenda a solid RICO investigation into the GOP and the oligarchs who fund it.

It’s way past time to stop the now-routine Republican practice of using treason, lies, and crime to gain and hold political power.

 

 

 

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Violence Ahead?

ALEX JONES AND OTHER CONSERVATIVES CALL FOR CIVIL WAR AGAINST LIBERALS

 By Nina Burleigh/ Newsweek/ July 21, 2017

Would you go to war against your fellow Americans to show your support for President Donald Trump? For the last several months, that’s exactly what broadcaster Alex Jones—a favorite of the president—has been calling for.

In his radio show, on YouTube and on his Infowars website, Jones—who never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like and who has pushed the notion that Sandy Hook was faked—has been announcing that the United States is on the verge of a bloody second civil war. Like the radio DJs in Rwanda, Jones has been egging on his conservative listeners and viewers—an estimated 2.7 million people monthly—to kill more liberal fellow citizens over their political differences.  

Jones is hardly alone in promoting this scary, emerging narrative on the right. The theme gained momentum after the shooting at the congressional baseball game last month. The day before the attack, on June 13, right wing broadcaster Michael Savage, host of syndicated show The Savage Nation, warned that “there’s going to be a civil war” because of “what this left-wing is becoming in this country.” After the baseball field shooting the next day, he said that he “know[s] what’s coming, and it’s going to get worse.” Savage also said of the shooting that “this blood is on [Democrats’] hands.

After the shooting, Newt Gingrich opined on Fox that “we are in a clear-cut cultural civil war.” Former GOP speechwriter Pat Buchanan wrote that the appointment of a special prosecutor and political street clashes presage a “deep state media coup” and that the nation is “approaching something of a civil war,” and it’s time for Trump to “burn down the Bastille.”

la-na-tt-gun-violence-20140612But few commentators can match the relentless hysteria and reach of Jones. His recent YouTube video titles telegraph the tone: “Get Ready For CIVIL WAR!”  and “First Shots Fired in Second US Civil War! What Will You Do?” and “Will Trump Stop Democrats’ Plan for Violent Civil War?”

Jones’s followers have already turned broadcaster words into violent action. Last year, Edgar Maddison Welch drove from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to fire on a pizza restaurant Jones had been saying was a front for Democratic pedophiles and Satanists. Court records indicate he had been talking to his friends about Jones’s theories before he went on his mission. In 2014, a right-wing couple, self-described Infowars fans Jerad and Amanda Miller from Indiana, killed two police officers after posting screeds on Infowars. Jones later theorized that the shooting was a false flag intended to discredit the right.

Media Matters for America (MMA), a progressive research organization, has staff assigned to track Jones Infowars shows daily. According to spokesman Nate Evans, right-wing media has been advocating violence more since Trump was elected, but Jones “has been particularly crazy about it.”

Among the statements MMA has culled from his broadcasts in recent months are the following:

On June 23, he accused “the left” of starting civil war and offered to personally execute convicted traitors because, he said, “I’m not going to sit here and just call for stuff without actually being part of it.” In the same broadcast he said, “I don’t need some coming-of-age deal to kill a bunch of liberals,” but “we have to start getting ready for insurrection and civil war because they’re really pushing it.”

On June 15, he warned “you kick off Civil War 2, baby, you’ll think Lexington and Concord was a cakewalk.” The day before, he implicated himself and his listeners: “You’re trying to start a civil war with people. You’re taking our kindness for weakness. Do you understand the American people will kill all of you? You understand? We are killing machines, you fools.… But I can shoot bull’s-eye at 400 yards, dumbass. I mean, they have no idea who they’re messing with.”

In a May 13 broadcast, he warned that “leftists want a war,” so “cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war.”

Jones has also called for extrajudicially arresting former FBI DIrector James Comey and Hillary Clinton and has encouraged Trump to use the military against dissenters. “I’d support the president right now moving against these people physically,” he said in a June 13 broadcast. “I mean, let’s be honest. We’re in a war. I would support the president making a military move on them right now.”

This is not the first time Jones has attracted attention by advocating violence against federal officials. In April, he let loose with a rant on California Democrat Adam Schiff, the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee looking into Trump’s Russian connections. The profanity laced transcript was also homophobic and included an explicit threat of bodily harm.

“I’m not against gay people. OK. I love them, they’re great folks. But Schiff looks like the archetypal cocksucker with those little deer-in-the-headlight eyes and all his stuff,” Jones said. “And there’s something about this fairy, hopping around, bossing everybody around, trying to intimidate people like me and you, I want to tell Congressman Schiff and all the rest of them, ‘Hey, listen, asshole, quit saying Roger and I’—and I’ve never used cussing in 22 years, but the gloves are off—‘listen, you son of a bitch, what the fuck’s your problem? You want to sit here and say that I’m a goddamn, fucking Russian. You get in my face with that, I’ll beat your goddamn ass, you son of a bitch. You piece of shit. You fucking goddamn fucker. Listen, fuckhead, you have fucking crossed a line. Get that through your goddamn fucking head. Stop pushing your shit. You’re the people that have fucked this country over and gangraped the shit out of it and lost an election. So stop shooting your mouth off claiming I’m the enemy. You got that you goddamn son of a bitch? Fill your hand.’ I’m sorry, but I’m done. You start calling me a foreign agent, those are fucking fighting words. Excuse me.”

Tim Johnson, a Media Matters for America Research Fellow, who tracks Jones says that the civil war theme is a new one, and probably related to the fact that Barack Obama is no longer president, offering a clear, single enemy. “He needs something new, and so it’s that criticism of Trump equals civil war,” Johnson said.

An attorney with expertise in federal law told Newsweek at the time that Jones’s threats at Schiff appeared to break a federal law, U.S. Code Title 18, Section 115, which makes it illegal to threaten to assault a U.S. official and provides a penalty of up to six years in prison.

After Newsweek published that legal analysis, Jones publicly pulled back, and posted a video attempting to clarify his remarks as “clearly tongue-in-cheek and basically art performance.”

Federal officials are not known to have contacted him or looked into the matter.

 
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Arrogant Ignorance and Blind Optimism

By Eric Pianka/ University of Texas

 

Ignorance can be overcome by education, but arrogance is more difficult to combat. When combined, arrogant ignorance is virtually impossible to defeat. Because of this, it is spreading rapidly. People in denial refuse to examine evidence, often adamantly. Among many examples, a case in point is climate change deniers, whose proponents have gone to great lengths to assert that climate change is a hoax. Such people have even set up web sites using biased statistics.

Another example is the widespread refusal to confront the human overpopulation crisis. Similarly, proponents of so-called “intelligent design” aggressively deny the overwhelming body of evidence in support of evolution by natural selection. By refusing to think rationally, these arrogantly ignorant creationists have blinded themselves to the ability to understand the living world around them. When faced with unpleasant dilemmas or challenging situations, humans are extremely prone to enter into denial. While refusing to face reality may make you feel safer, it is actually much more dangerous than being realistic.

climate2

When people accuse me of being a pessimist, I say “Nope, I’m a realist and you’re a blind optimist.” Pessimists see the glass as half empty, whereas optimists like to think of it as half full. Realists see neither emptiness or fullness, but simply see half a glass. Optimists feel better by refusing to face up to reality. However, like arrogant ignorance, blind optimism can be a dangerous form of denial. For example, blind optimists like to think that technology will solve all our current problems. Technology has lured us out on to thin ice and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. Technological advances, especially the Haber-Bosch process, by facilitating food production allowed the human population to double and then redouble.

One of the many symptoms of the human overpopulation crisis is that we now face serious energy limitations. Most people seem to think that we just need more energy. In fact, people need to understand more about energy — humans are not exempt from the laws of thermodynamics. Earth can no longer dissipate the heat it receives from normal incident solar radiation fast enough to stay in balance (Hansen et al. 2005). Waste heat generated from burning fossil fuels and nuclear reactors only adds insult to injury. Our voracious and insatiable appetite for energy is doing us in. We must learn to live more frugally using much less energy.

Humans are extremely versatile, and although we seem to think that we exist outside the laws of nature, we do not. We are Earthlings first and foremost, and space and other planets will always remain hostile environments for us. Until recently, spaceship Earth has provided us with a rather nice place to live. But now, Earth’s life support systems are failing . . . we have overpopulated the planet and fouled its atmosphere — the resultant pollution is contributing to global weather change. Earth is warming rapidly — ice caps are melting and ocean currents are changing. Polar bears and penguins are facing extinction and though many humans refuse to face the facts, we might not be far behind.

 

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WHY THEY LOVE TRUMP

Trump is doing exactly what his supporters expect him to do

By Neil Steinberg/ Chicago Sun-Times/ July 18, 2017

Ah. Now I see. Finally, finally I get Donald Trump. It all makes sense to me now.

Took long enough.

He has been president for nearly six months — the grim half-year anniversary is Thursday — all the while I, along with the rest of the mainstream media, have been baffled, thickly pointing our trembling index fingers at all the promises he repeatedly made and then glibly broke. There would be no border wall, never mind one paid for by Mexico. No overturning Obamacare. No infrastructure renewal. Coal’s still dead, manufacturing still sputtering.

But when we document this to his supporters, they don’t care. They just shake their head and smile, or rather, sneer, pityingly at us, the lamestream media. “Sad!” they mocked, echoing their hero. They still love him.

How can this be? It’s easy to dismiss them as dupes, as ripped off, gulled, credulous marks who, pockets turned inside out, would rather hold tight to a fantasy than confront a difficult truth. And I did that for a while. But as the months clock on, castigation seems too simple. Too easy. Dismissing the other guys as mere idiots is what Republicans do. It makes a person feel good, perhaps, but leads nowhere. An empty high.

So I looked again. And realized that in one realm, Trump constantly and consistently delivers: invective, a steady stream of insult, against the media, against politicians like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, against elites and whatever unlucky individual falls under his basilisk gaze. Machine-gun chatter of “Disaster!”  Funny nicknames and repeated fabrications. This isn’t the sideshow. It’s the main act. Not a flaw but a feature.

That’s why he was elected. Donald the Destroyer, the scourge of liberals. And that dynamic makes perfect sense. The game was up, the world trotting toward its future. Part of the liberal miracle over the past 60 years is to take marginalized people — minorities, gays, women — and invite them into the tent. Good for them, bad for people who used to own the tent and now feel threatened by these interlopers. What about their hopes and dreams, of a white America that manufactures stuff out of iron? They were not going to be ignored.

So they elected Trump, to flay the infidels. They’ll hate me for saying it, but there’s a clear parallel between right-wing America and radical Islam. Both see themselves mooted by a world they can only lash out at as it flies by. Both spend their lives bitterly resenting who they aren’t rather than joyously being who they are. If you think America should be frozen in 1953, with Hispanic serfs hidden back in the kitchen, what do you do? The same as if you think any woman who isn’t veiled is a whore: extract vengeance.

 Trump-Locker-Room-Cartoon-58b8fdb25f9b58af5cc8205d
 

Trump never has to create a job or lay a brick. All he has to do is say he will, any moment now, and keep a constant bead on those already long demonized by Fox and Friends. The soil was prepared for him, turned and broken and fertilized. Ready for Trump to bloom.

The media has been slow to catch on. We are used to it playing news certain way — we keep reporting each new development in the Russian scandal, not realizing that Trump’s shape-shifting supporters simply morph. Big thumbs up to Putin and the Russian Federation, our new best friend in the world.

Then again, the media always tends to lag; newspapers still create a product out of mashed wood pulp that is thrown at customers houses every morning. We still print comic strips. If a giant meteor were discovered that would end the world tomorrow afternoon, we’d report it on the front page but the baseball schedule for the rest of the week would still be in the sports pages. Slow on the uptake.

And what would that headline be? “Earth to end today.” Too weak. “Rock shock!” Better, but a bit New York Post-y. “WE’RE DOOMED!” feels about right, though we might want to save that one for Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.

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The Sorry Plight of the Worker

A 21st-Century Form of Indentured Servitude Has Already Penetrated Deep into the American Heartland

Corporations want to make sure that laborers never again have the power to tell big business how to treat them.

By Thom Hartmann/ AlterNet/ July 17,2017

Indentured servitude is back in a big way in the United States, and conservative corporatists want to make sure that labor never, ever again has the power to tell big business how to treat them.

Idaho [3], for example, recently passed a law that recognizes and rigorously enforces non-compete agreements in employment contracts, which means that if you want to move to a different, more highly paid, or better job, you can instead get wiped out financially by lawsuits and legal costs.

In a way, conservative/corporatists are just completing the circle back to the founding of this country.

Indentured servitude began in a big way in the early 1600s, when the British East India Company was establishing a beachhead [4] in the (newly stolen from the Indians) state of Virginia (named after the “virgin queen” Elizabeth I, who signed the charter of the BEIC creating the first modern corporation in 1601). Jamestown (named after King James, who followed Elizabeth I to the crown) wanted free labor, and the African slave trade wouldn’t start to crank up for another decade.

So the company made a deal with impoverished Europeans: Come to work for typically 4-7 years (some were lifetime indentures, although those were less common), legally as the property of the person or company holding your indenture, and we’ll pay for your transport across the Atlantic.

It was, at least philosophically, the logical extension of the feudal economic and political system that had ruled Europe for over 1,000 years. The rich have all the rights and own all the property; the serfs are purely exploitable free labor who could be disposed of (indentured servants [5], like slaves, were commonly whipped, hanged, imprisoned, or killed when they rebelled or were not sufficiently obedient).

This type of labor system has been the dream of conservative/corporatists, particularly since the “Reagan Revolution” kicked off a major federal war on the right of workers to organize for their own protection from corporate abuse.

Unions represented almost a third of American workers [6] when Reagan came into office (and, since union jobs set local labor standards, for every union job there was typically an identically-compensated non-union job, meaning about two-thirds of America had the benefits and pay associated with union jobs pre-Reagan).

Thanks to Reagan’s war on labor, today unions represent about 6 percent of the non-government workforce.

But that wasn’t enough for the acolytes of Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman. They didn’t just want workers to lose their right to collectively bargain; they wanted employers to functionally own their employees.

Prior to the current Reaganomics era, non-compete agreements were pretty much limited to senior executives and scientists/engineers.

If you were a CEO or an engineer for a giant company, knowing all their processes, secrets and future plans, that knowledge had significant and consequential value—company value worth protecting with a contract that said you couldn’t just take that stuff to a competitor without either a massive payment to the left-behind company or a flat-out lawsuit.

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But should a guy who digs holes with a shovel or works on a drilling rig [7] be forced to sign a non-compete? What about a person who flips burgers or waits tables in a restaurant? Or the few factory workers we have left, since neoliberal trade policies have moved the jobs of tens of thousands of companies [8] overseas?

Turns out corporations are using non-competes to prevent even these types of employees from moving to newer or better jobs.

America today has the lowest minimum wage in nearly 50 years [9], adjusted for inflation. As a result, people are often looking for better jobs. But according to the New York Times [7], about 1 in 5 American workers is now locked in with a non-compete clause in an employment contract.

Before Reaganomics, employers didn’t keep their employees by threatening them with lawsuits; instead, they offered them benefits like insurance, paid vacations and decent wages. Large swaths of American workers could raise a family and have a decent retirement with a basic job ranging from manufacturing to construction to service industry work.

My dad [10] was one of them; he worked 40 years in a tool-and-die shop, and the machinist’s union made sure he could raise and put through school four boys, could take 2-3 weeks of paid vacation every year, and had full health insurance and a solid retirement until the day he died, which continued with my mom until she died years later. Most boomers (particularly white boomers) can tell you the same story.

That America has been largely destroyed by Reaganomics, and Americans know it. It’s why when Donald Trump told voters that the big corporations and banksters were screwing them, they voted for him and his party (not realizing that neither Trump nor the GOP had any intention of doing anything to help working people).

And now the conservatives/corporatists are going in for the kill, for their top goal: the final destruction of any remnant of labor rights in America.

Why would they do this? Two reasons: An impoverished citizenry is a politically impotent citizenry, and in the process of destroying the former middle class, the 1 percent make themselves trillions of dollars richer. 

The New York Times has done some great reporting on this problem, with an article last May [7] and a more recent piece [11] about how the state of Idaho has made it nearly impossible for many workers to escape their servitude.

Historically, indentured servants had their food, health care, housing, and clothing provided to them by their “employers.” Today’s new serfs can hardly afford these basics of life, and when you add in modern necessities like transportation, education and child-care, the American labor landscape is looking more and more like old-fashioned servitude.

Nonetheless, conservatives/corporatists in Congress and state-houses across the nation are working hard to hold down minimum wages. Missouri’s Republican legislature just made it illegal for St. Louis to raise their minimum wage to $10/hour, throwing workers back down to $7.70. More preemption laws [12] like this are on the books or on their way.

At the same time, these conservatives/corporatists are working to roll back health care protections for Americans, roll back environmental protections that keep us and our children from being poisoned, and even roll back simple workplace, food and toy safety standards.

The only way these predators will be stopped is by massive political action leading to the rollback of Reaganism/neoliberalism.

And the conservatives/corporatists who largely own the Republican Party know it, which is why they’re purging voting lists [13], fighting to keep in place easily hacked voting machines [14], and throwing billions of dollars into think tanks, right-wing radio, TV, and online media.

If they succeed, America will revert to a very old form of economy and politics: the one described so well in Charles Dickens’ books when Britain had “maximum wage laws [15]” and “Poor Laws” to prevent a strong and politically active middle class from emerging.

Conservatives/corporatists know well that this type of neo-feudalism [16] is actually a very stable political and economic system, and one that’s hard to challenge. China has put it into place in large part, and other countries from Turkey to the Philippines to Brazil and Venezuela are falling under the thrall of the merger of corporate and state power.

So many of our individual rights have been stripped [17] from us, so much of America’s middle-class progress in the last century has been torn from us [18], while conservatives wage a brutal and oppressive war on dissenters and people of color under the rubrics of “security,” “tough on crime,” and the “war on drugs.”

As a result, America has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners [19], more than any other nation on earth, all while opiate epidemics are ravaging our nation. And what to do about it?

Scientists have proven that the likelihood the desires of the bottom 90 percent of Americans get enacted into law are now equal to statistical “random noise [20].” Functionally, most of us no longer have any real representation in state or federal legislative bodies: they now exist almost exclusively to serve the very wealthy.

The neo-feudal corporate/conservative elite are both politically and financially committed to replacing the last traces of worker power in America with a modern system of indentured servitude.

Only serious and committed political action can reverse this; we’re long past the point where complaining or sitting on the sidelines is an option.

As both Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama regularly said (and I’ve closed my radio show for 14 years with), “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

Tag, you’re it.  

 

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and author of over 25 books in print [21]. 

 

Posted in corporations, economy, government, inequality, labor, politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Will Never Get Your Country Back

By Michael Starr Hopkins/ HuffPost/ July 6, 2017

I have spent much of my time writing for this publication talking about how complicated our politics are. Talking about the dangers of failing to acknowledge our complicated history and the need to be honest and open about how to move our country forward.

My need to bridge the divide is a product of having spent my entire life trying to see both sides of the argument. Trying to not fall into the trap of absolutes. Refusing to accept that the world we live in exists only in black and white. Doing my best to show my country that we could be more than the very things that separate us. At some point, enough is enough though. At some point, I can’t be a consensus builder. At some point, even I run out of excuses and explanations for people who can’t even be honest with themselves.

I’m a black man in America with graduate degrees on top of graduate degrees. I feel just as comfortable at a country concert as I do at a rap concert. My friends look like the big box of crayons and my family looks like the United Nations. I am the walking embodiment of this country’s progress, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit by silently and watch us go backwards. The costs are too high.

To the supporters and enablers of President Trump: please read carefully, because I don’t want you to miss a single word. You will never get your country back because it was never yours to have in the first place. America doesn’t belong to any one person. It belongs to Muslims in Detroit, Christians in Lubbock, Jews in New York City, and atheists in Los Angeles.

America belongs to Republicans just as much as America belongs to Democrats. That’s how these UNITED States work. To the uninformed and incompetent former mayor from Alaska, the knuckle-dragging bigot masquerading as a special advisor, and the race-baiting failure of a president that currently have the loudest voices in the Republican Party, you do not have a monopoly on this great country. You never will.

What’s ironic is that my family has been here a lot longer than many of the same people who claim to serve the “real America.” When did your family arrive here, Mr. President? I can trace my family lineage back to our nation’s original sin, but I still love this country more and more each day. In spite of its flaws, I love this country. In spite of the inequality and pockmarks, I love this country. In spite of all those that question my place in this country, I still love this country. This is just as much my country as anyone else’s. I still get goosebumps when the national anthem plays before football games and I still tear up when I hear stories of bravery and valor from our troops.

(And in case there was any confusion, our military isn’t some monolithic group of made up individuals that disappear as soon as we take our hand off of our hearts, it’s made up of real Americans of all races, religions, and beliefs. It’s made up of us.)

It’s easy to wave a flag in the air and call yourself a patriot. It’s easy to put a bumper sticker on your truck. It’s easy to put your hand over your heart and pledge allegiance, but that no more makes you an American than putting on a football helmet makes me Tom Brady. You have to earn it. You have to put in the work.

America is more than just a catchphrase or a collection of colors on a piece of cloth. America means liberty. America means freedom. Being American isn’t just a political term, it’s a way of life. It would serve many enablers and supporters of our President to stop going through the motions of calling themselves an American and ask themselves what it means to actually be an American. I think the term for that is personal responsibility. The time for party politics is over. Your nation, my nation, our nation is under attack. Not just from a foreign entity, but a domestic one as well.

Standing by this president makes you an embarrassment to all that is good in this country. It makes you a stain on the fabric of our nation. It makes you the antithesis of everything that your party purports to stand for. Simply put, it makes you un-American.

Posted in America, politics, race | Tagged , | 1 Comment

( Why) The Resistance Is Losing

By Umair Haque/ Bad Words/ June 30, 2017

 

The Muslim ban is in effect. The info shock-troops are attacking journalists daily. There are open calls for violence from major national institutions like the NRA. Hate crimes are spiking.

Sorry. But: the resistance is losing. And it is losing badly.

Forgive me. This is going to be a brutal little essay. And it needs a disclaimer. As a brown person, it’s easy for me to be accused of being the enemy. Somehow, we always are. So let’s be clear. I don’t want authoritarianism to win.

And yet it is. How come? Because resistance isn’t nearly enough to defeat authoritarianism. A resistance is not an opposition. What’s the difference? Everything.

Let me give you a small parable.

Today I read a tweet from Jon Favreau. I think he was Obama’s former speechwriter or adviser, at any rate he’s a powerful Democrat. He said (to paraphrase): “the right wing is buying up the media! This is bad guys!”. Sure, it is. Now how are we to “resist” that? We can’t. We can only oppose it — with real policies. Media is a natural monopoly. Natural monopolies tend to be run by cutthroat capitalists. Have you ever heard of a left-wing media acquisition spree? Neither have I. Because of these simple economics, every other rich country in the world has two things. One, strong media antitrust laws. Two, strong public media, like the BBC or CBC. Without those, media naturally, inevitably, inescapably becomes monopoly, and monopoly soon enough becomes the institutional support authoritarians need to rise.

But Obama never backed any of that, did he? The Dems still don’t, do they? Resistance isn’t enough.

The question is whether a society can genuinely oppose authoritarianism. With a vibrant and inclusive and strong political opposition. That opposition has to stand for what prevents authoritarianism —what limits, circumscribes, and ultimately conquers it — not merely what resists it. Do you see the difference? Let’s make it clearer.

Authoritarianism rises in societies with broken social contracts, that are failing the average person. That’s America, where average incomes have shrunk in real terms since the 1970s. Broken social contracts reflect failed institutions. They mean that democracy isn’t working — political institutions aren’t working. They mean that real economic value isn’t being created and shared — financial institutions aren’t working. They mean that human potential is stuck and withering — social institutions like media and education and healthcare aren’t working. Thus, a social contract in its entirety comes to be broken.

The question authoritarianism raises is about building working institutions. A resistance is a loose network of people aimed at dissent. But that is not nearly enough to build working banks, corporations, schools, hospitals, and so on. Only a genuine political opposition can do that.

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Let’s make it even clearer.

What does opposition do that resistance doesn’t? It offers a positive agenda for a better social contract, embedded in institutional transformations. Like, for example, everything that Dems don’t ever propose: real universal healthcare, public media, public higher education, debt relief, real safety nets, and so on. A social contract — whole and full and true.

That better social contract is what has a chance — just a chance — to fight authoritarianism. People then have an alternative to the authoritarian demagogue’s anger and rage and fury. Without an alternative what is there but the abyss? More of the same, endlessly? That is why in country after country that has actually defeated authoritarianism, we have seen that it takes a genuine opposition, not just a resistance — whether Burma or Ukraine or even post-war Europe itself. The French resistance might have helped topple Hitler. But what really defeated authoritarianism was an opposition wise and brave enough to offer a better social contract — the EU.

No party or body in the US is offering a better social contract. Nobody. Offering people better healthcare, education, transport, incomes, savings, opportunities, chances to make the most of their inherent human potential. Yes, there’s Bernie. But Bernie proves the point — he’s rejected by all the political, social, and cultural institutions — from political parties to media to universities to schools etc.

There is not a single positive agenda for the American future accepted by its bodies social or politic.

Before you ask me what that looks like, it’s very simple, isn’t it? A Marshall Plan. A New New Deal. New institutions — or rebuilt old ones — that basically do one thing in different ways: invest in human beings at the average. That’s what, for example, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation did during the Depression.

And that is why the resistance is losing. Resistance is fine, nice, good. But it’s not enough once real authoritarianism sets in.

Resistances are needed during war time, when a nation is occupied. They lessen losses — and maybe sometimes they even win wars. But they do not win the peace. Not unless they mature into real oppositions. America is not an occupied nation. It is still some semblance of a democracy, in which a real political opposition is badly, desperately, urgently neeeded.

Umair Haque is the Director of the London-based Havas Media Lab and heads Bubblegeneration, a strategy lab that helps discover strategic innovation. He studies the economics of the future: the impact that new technologies, management innovations, and shifting consumer preferences will exert tomorrow on the industries and markets of today.
Posted in Donald Trump, government, politics, protest | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments
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