POST-TRUTH AMERICA

GEORGE SANTOS AND AMERICAN POLITICS

Letters to Editor, Monterey Herald, January 31, 2023

It baffles me that there is so much fuss about Rep. George Santos and his total disregard of facts and reality. Political commentators and late-night comics are having a field day exposing his extraordinary record of fabrication and deception. Tellingly, this comes shortly after the reign of Donald Trump, the psychotic ex-president with a remarkable record of telling lies, with thousands documented before, during and after his presidency. Telling the truth is a trait Mr. Trump and his minions have absolutely no respect for. That matters little to the tens of millions of Americans who still believe him to be their political leader and savior. George Santos is not a surprise but rather is an inevitable result of the blurring of falsity and fact in post-truth America today.

–Arlen Grossman, Del Rey Oaks

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Trump Has Completely Lost His Grip on Reality

The former president’s deterioration is on full display in the Truth Social asylum he built for himself.

By Charles C. W. Cooke/ National Review/ January 25, 2023

Let’s check in on the shadow primary for the 2024 Republican nomination. Nikki Haley is putting together a finance committee, and suggested last week that she’s “leaning in” to a run. Mike Pompeo has just published a book called Never Give an Inch, and told CBS yesterday that he’ll decide whether to enter the fray over the “next handful of months.” Governor Ron DeSantis has continued to pick winning fights in Florida since being reelected in a November landslide, and has stayed assiduously quiet about his future.

And then there’s Donald Trump, who, despite being the only candidate who has officially announced his bid, is . . . well, ranting like a deranged hobo in a dilapidated public park. No, don’t look at him — he might come over here with his sign.

There was a point in time at which Trump’s unusual verbal affect and singular nose for underutilized wedge issues gave him a competitive edge. Now? Now, he’s morphing into one of the three witches from Macbeth. To peruse Trump’s account on Truth Social is to meet a cast of characters about whom nobody who lives beyond the Trump Extended Universe could possibly care one whit. Here in the real world, the border is a catastrophe, inflation is as bad as it’s been in four decades, interest rates have risen to their highest level in 15 years, crime is on the up, and the debt continues to mushroom. And yet, safely ensconced within his own macrocosm, Trump is busy mainlining Edward Lear. Day in, day out, he rambles about the adventures of Coco Chow and the Old Broken Crow; the dastardly Unselect Committee; the (presumably tasty) Stollen Presidential Election; the travails of that famous law-enforcement agency, the GestopoJoe Scarborough’s wife “Mike”; and other unusual characters from Coromandel. “Where the early pumpkins blow / In the middle of the woods / Lived the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò / Who STOLLE THE ELECTION / Don’t you know?”

These characters come and go as the world passes indifferently by. But Trump’s heroism remains the one constant. It is the dream of any artist to play both performer and critic, and, on Truth Social, Trump is living the dream. At times, his penchant for self-elevation makes God’s declaration in Genesis “that it was good” look positively bashful. Apropos of nothing, he will declare to himself: “‘TRUMP WAS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING’ One of [sic] most often used current phrases or statements. Wow, such a magnificent compliment. Thank you!” Other evaluations are equally gushing. His appraisal of the social-media company of which he is the sole potentate: “TRUTH SOCIAL IS SOOO GREAT!” His review of his golfing abilities in a competition that, astonishingly enough, he managed to win despite missing its first day: “Competed against many fine golfers, and was hitting the ball long and straight,” which “in a very real way . . . serves as a physical exam, only MUCH tougher.” His assessment of his presidency, and of the 2020 election that he lost by millions of votes: “I did a GREAT job as President, maybe the best.” And then: “I Ran twice, did much better the second time (Rigged Election!)” I tell ya, Charley, I coulda been a contender.

Throughout his public career, Trump has resembled nothing so much as a drunken talk-radio caller from Queens, and, on Truth Social, readers get the treat of watching him at the zenith of his rhetorical powers. Nobody — and I mean nobody — can shift gears as fast as Donald J. Trump. One moment he’s proposing that the solution to the Supreme Court leak is to “arrest the reporter, publisher, editor—you’ll get your answer fast,” or, if that fails, “put whoever in jail.” The next, he’s describing the prosecution of his business associate, Allen Weisselberg, as “the greatest Witch Hunt of all time.” His repertoire is unmatched — and unmatchable. He can do edgy insult comedy for the people listening in at the bar: “The reporter was a shaky & unattractive wack job, known as ‘tough’ but dumb as a rock.” He can make numbers up off the top of his head: “The change in the Election was Complete & Total, with Millions of votes switched, at least 17%.” He can use hyperbolic analogies: “Our Country is SICK inside, very much like a person dying of Cancer.” He can even do angry: “May he Rot In Hell!” He can do anything.

Anything, that is, except focus on the world outside — where the problems that Donald Trump once used to propel himself into the White House remain real and pressing, whether or not he chooses to engage with them.

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A Media Ceiling is about to Fall In On Democrats

Wealthy partisans aligned with the GOP are going for that Hispanic vote in a big, big way. They intend to use the same tools that have turned state after state reliably red since the 1980s: radio & TV

By Thom Hartmann/ HartmannReport.com/ January 25, 2023

If you’re a Democratic candidate for office in New Mexico, Texas, California, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Colorado, New Jersey, New York or Illinois, get ready: the ceiling is about to fall in on you.

The white vote in America is split, leaning 53%-42% toward the GOP. The Black vote is reliably 83 percent Democratic. But the Hispanic vote is up for grabs: they represent the second largest and fastest growing demographic group in the country at 13.3 percent of the 2020 electorate (Blacks were 12.5 percent, whites 66.7 percent) and, as conservative Spanish-language radio proliferates, they’re shifting to the right.

If Republicans can pull just a few percent of the Hispanic vote their way, they can hold the House, retake the Senate, and seize the White House in 2024. Not to mention flipping multiple purple states red.

Now, wealthy partisans aligned with the GOP are going for that Hispanic vote in a big, big way. They intend to use the same tools that have turned state after state reliably red since the 1980s: radio and television.

Big business was consistently Republican through the 1920s, supported in large part by Father Coughlin, the nation’s first talk radio host, listened to daily by as many as a third of all Americans. But when Wall Street crashed the economy in 1929, Coughlin started supporting Democrats; FDR came into office with the election of 1932 and began hammering what he called the big business “economic royalists” with a relentless vigor. 

Between that and World War II pulling America together politically, most businesses dropped out of politics and spent the period from 1941 through the mid-1970s simply making money.

Virginia tobacco lawyer Lewis Powell watched this dynamic unfold during his lifetime and thought it a big mistake. In 1971 he wrote his infamous “memo” to his friend Eugene Syndor, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce. 

In it, he recommended that wealthy businessmen and big corporations create a conservative messaging infrastructure to combat what he saw as creeping “socialism,” an antiwar and anti-business bias in both American pop culture and media.

The morbidly rich answered Powell’s call, producing conservative think tanks, publications, and buying up media outlets. Today around 1500 radio stations and at least 300 television stations in America are owned by right-leaning corporations that program exclusively Republican content.

By contrast, on the progressive side there are a few dozen independently owned radio stations and not one single television station that programs Democratic content. The only progressive television network in America is Free Speech TV, which has never even launched an advertising or PR campaign to tell the nation it exists.

Red states are red in large part because their media infrastructure is exclusively Republican-friendly. There’s not a single progressive radio or TV station of consequence in any red state in America.

If the only message you hear all day long is that Democrats want gay people to seduce your kids, encourage minorities to move into your neighborhood to assault your wife and take your job, intend to raise your taxes, and are pushing teachers to indoctrinate your children about the wonders of cross-dressing, you begin to believe it.

This is the key to understanding the paradox that Thomas Frank identified with his book What’s the Matter With Kansas? In rural areas it’s not uncommon to drive an hour just to get groceries: people listen to the radio while driving. It’s the one constant across every red state, all of which are largely rural.

And there are no high-profile radio voices saying anything good about Democrats in any red state in the country. Even the music stations owned by the media giants in red states feature DJs who make disparaging quips about Democrats between songs.

Down in Florida, Hispanic districts surprised Democratic candidates as they swung heavily toward DeSantis and Rubio in the last election. This was because, according to Jen Psaki, of rightwing “disinformation” on Spanish-language media. The state features multiple conservative Spanish talk radio stations and shows, many of which just came online in the last few years: this is a glimpse into what’s coming to a swing state near you. 

This didn’t have to be: Democrats surrendered the radio airwaves in 2010. The backstory is chilling.

Back on December 3, 2002, I wrote an op-ed for Common Dreams titled Talking Back to Talk Radio arguing that there’s a market in America for progressive talk radio.

I knew the business because my first “real job” in 1967 was as a weekend Country/Western DJ at WITL-AM/FM in Lansing, Michigan (I’d learned the trade at MSU’s Brody Hall campus radio station over the previous year). After bouncing around a few other stations (including a few months up in Newbury, Michigan as program director of WNBY) I ended up back at WITL doing morning-drive-time news until the mid-1970s while co-running an advertising agency and herbal tea company during the rest of the day.

Two venture capitalists from Chicago, Sheldon and Anita Drobny, read the Common Dreams article and called me up, asking me to meet them and Jon Sinton in Chicago. The article got them fired up and they raised the initial money to launch Air America Radio in March of 2004. (I’d already started my program in the spring of 2003 as a proof of concept.)

When Sheldon’s book The Road to Air America came out, he published my original article in an appendix as the “original business plan” for the network.

At its height Air America was heard across most of the country. The network was on 54 major stations across the nation — most throwing signals into multiple states — but all were leased from Clear Channel, then the largest network of radio stations in America. We had listeners in the millions, got a lot of press, and helped elect Barack Obama as the nation’s first Black president in 2008.

Mitt Romney’s company, however, acquired Clear Channel and, presumably looking toward the 2012 Romney/Obama contest, began replacing Air America programming with sports and rightwing talk. Without “big sticks” carrying their programming, both advertising and investor revenue dried up and Air America was bankrupt by January 2010.

A few years before the end of Air America, a group of the hosts and I visited Washington, DC to ask Democratic members of Congress to encourage investment in the network. Bernie Sanders, a regular on my program every Friday for 11 years, introduced us and gave a good pitch.

But a Senator who would later run for president argued that Democrats shouldn’t “interfere in the free market” and must just “let the radio industry itself sort it all out.” We walked out empty-handed.

While Rupert Murdoch lost over $100 million a year for several years to launch Fox News, Air America went down in flames after raising and spending a mere $17 million. That’s a rounding error when you consider the money Democrats raise and spend every two years during election cycles.

In 2018 the entire Clear Channel network of over 800 radio stations was for sale for just over a billion dollars. I wrote an article for Salon suggesting Tom Steyer or another liberal billionaire should buy it both as a money-making investment and an opportunity to put progressive talk on the air nationwide. The response: Crickets. 

In 2020 I wrote an article for The Nation again arguing that Democrats should jump into the radio business with two feet, bringing their wealthy donors along as investors to buy radio stations. It would cost a hell of a lot less than what was being spent buying advertising every two years. The silence was deafening.

Which brings us to the ceiling that’s about to fall in on Democratic candidates.

Natalie Allison is reporting for Politico that a new Spanish-language radio network is both going nationwide and expanding into television, expecting to be the Spanish version of Fox News in time for the 2024 election.

“The network has hired more than 80 Latino journalists and producers,” Allison wrote, “are expanding their radio presence to television, and by the end of the year will have studios in Miami, Las Vegas and D.C. with reporters covering the White House, Congress and embedding in 2024 presidential campaigns. This month, Americano is launching a $20 million marketing campaign to draw in new viewers.

Consider the impact this could have based on these numbers from Neeva AI:

“New Mexico has the highest Hispanic population as a percentage of the total population at 49.26%, followed by Texas with 39.75% and California with 39.42%. Arizona has a Hispanic population of 31.5%, Nevada 28.5%, Florida 25.8%, Colorado 21.7%, New Jersey 20.4%, and New York 19.1%. Illinois has a Hispanic population of 17.2%.”

Without conservative talk radio on 1500 stations across the nation, Donald Trump would not have become President in 2016. He probably wouldn’t have even won the Republican nomination: rightwing talk radio was nearly 100% behind him in the primary. And Congress definitely wouldn’t be in Republican hands. 

Messaging matters, but having the messaging platform is step one. Media is critical to communication.

The failure of wealthy people aligned with the Democratic Party to invest in radio infrastructure is coming home to roost again…

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In the New “McCarthy Era,” This Column Could Get Me Thrown In Jail

We’ve entered the new McCarthy era, and Kevin is doing everything he can to empower Jordan as the new Joe.

By Thom Hartmann/ TheHartmannReport.com/ January 11, 2023

This column could get me thrown in jail.

And the fact that I’m even thinking that way is the entire point of Jim Jordan’s newSelect Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee which Jordan chairs.

This is the same Congressman Jordan who voted to overthrow democracy and make Trump America’s first dictator on January 7th, 2001, who finally admitted he talked with Trump several times during the insurrection, and then defied the January 6th Committee’s request to tell them and America what Trump was doing on that fateful day. 

He and his fellow fascist seditionists want Americans to be afraid of them, particularly Americans who may be in a position to identify their crimes and hold them to account.

Frankly, I’d be pretty low on their list. Just like the notorious Republican Senator Joe McCarthy back in the 1950s, Jordan and his buddies appear focused on using their power to intimidate those who have actual legal power. Like the FBI, IRS, regulators, and elected officials.

But it would be foolhardy to think they won’t go after members of the press. Or whatever they’re calling people like me these days: “fake news,” “lamestream media,” or the Lügenpresse in the original German.

The Committee will have the power to pry-bar their way into ongoing investigations, terrorizing agencies and government employees looking into Republican participation in the attempted coup of January 6th and the weeks around it.

They’ve even acquired, in yesterday’s vote, the power to access and use top-secret information normally reserved to the highly-vetted members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Sources and methods. How the FBI knows which seditionist Members of Congress were involved in giving tours or conspiring with Proud Boys. Secrets Putin or the Saudi’s would pay billions for, as they apparently already have with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump.

As congressman Ruben Gallego said yesterday, it’s “as if we gave the mafia the right to investigate the Southern District of New York attorney’s office.”

Congressman Adam Schiff calls it The Coverup Committee. He’s right, but it’s worse than just that.

They’ve proclaimed their desire to intimidate the FBI, the Capitol Police, America’s spy agencies, and any politician who might show the temerity to suggest traitors should be held accountable for their treason.

We’ve seen this movie before, complete with the bombast, threats, lies, and bullying. And it tells us a lot about what we can expect over the next two years.

On February 9, 1950, an obscure first-term Senator who’d lied about his military service to get elected, Joe McCarthy, gave the first speech of a 5-city tour before a Republican women’s group in Wheeling, West Virginia. Apparently wanting to stir up some buzz, he pulled a random piece of paper from his pocket, waved it theatrically, and claimed it was a list of “205 known communists” who worked at the State Department.

Americans were worried about communists then, with some justification. The “communist miracle” was widely acknowledged under Stalin as just another form of brutal anti-democratic tyranny. Stalin had starved four million Ukrainians to death in what was known as the Holdomor, while he was imprisoning his own citizens in brutal gulags. The Soviet Union had exploded their first nuclear weapon just six months earlier, and that June North Korea, with help from the USSR, would invade South Korea. 

By the end of McCarthy’s tour that month, reaching Salt Lake City, he’d reduced his claim to 57 communists in the State Department; in other cities he’d claimed the number was 81. It’s entirely possible he simply couldn’t keep track of his own lies.

In any case, no such list existed. Right up to the day he drank himself to death, May 9, 1957, McCarthy never was able to name a single communist in the State Department. But his demagogic claim got him on the front pages of newspapers across America.

McCarthy and his right-hand man Roy Cohn (later Donald Trump’s mentor) terrorized people working in the US government. 

Being dragged before his Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was a career-ender: over 2000 government employees lost their jobs because of his baseless accusations and innuendo.

In 1950, The Progressive magazine called McCarthy:

“[A]n ambitious faker living by his wits and guts, a ruthless egotist bent on personal power regardless of the consequence to his country, a shrewd and slippery operator with the gambler’s gift for knowing when and how to bluff.” 

Even average Americans trembled before McCarthy, who was stepping into the anti-communist game late.

Three years earlier the “Hollywood Ten” (Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo)— none of them particularly rich or famous — had all been sent to prison for a year for refusing to acknowledge subpoenas and submit to public interrogation by McCarthy’s peers on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

Their crime? Most were writers and one, Ring Lardner Jr., had written an op-ed very much like this one in which he noted:

“One of the first acts of the Republicans who took control of Congress in 1946 (for the first time in 20 years) was to convert a temporary committee [HUAC], which had been investigating fascist sympathizers during the war, into a permanent [committee] concentrating on the … left…”

Off he went to prison.

And now, today, Jim Jordan and his colleagues have that same power of subpoena that was so bluntly wielded by McCarthy and his Republican collaborators when I was a kid.

We’ve been hearing about changes that the Republicans are making here and there in Congress since they’ve seized power, but now the full picture is coming into focus. I worried and warned about this two years ago in my book The Hidden History of American Oligarchy.

For example, back in April of 2009 the FBI/DHS issued a report titled: “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” It had been prepared during the presidency of George W. Bush, but Obama was now president when it was released and the reaction from the right was immediate.

John Boehner said the report was “offensive and unacceptable” and was particularly outraged that it used the word “terrorist” to, in Boehner’s words, “describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.”

That mild response caused Obama to essentially pull the report.

But imagine if such a report were issued today by the FBI. Jordan’s new committee could call before it — as McCarthy did in the 1950s — the actual government employees who’d done the research and written it.

Their careers would be destroyed, their homes and families under constant death threat, their lives turned upside down.

It would be a long time before any other federal employee would dare expose terrorism on the American right.

This is how fascists behave. It’s how they’ve behaved throughout history. It’s how they get what they want. 

Unless you confront them with overwhelming resistance, you can’t negotiate with them; they keep taking more and more right up to the point of using violence.

I hope I’m wrong, but everything I’m seeing tells me this is exactly the direction Republicans in the House are moving.

We’ve entered the new McCarthy era, and Kevin is doing everything he can to empower Jordan as the new Joe. 

Only this time the goal isn’t just feeding the ego of an alcoholic narcissist: it’s to end democracy in the United States.

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Is Greed the Biggest Threat to America & Democracy?

By Thom Hartmann/ The Hartmann Report/ December 27, 2022

Greed, one of the seven deadly sins, is both toxic to society and intrinsic to human nature. It can’t be ended or “stopped” — but it can be regulated, which is the goal of good tax policy

In the late 1970s, the US Supreme Court, under the guidance of Justice Lewis Powell, decriminalized political bribery: specifically, in 1976 they legalized bribery of politicians by the morbidly rich and in 1978 they legalized bribery of politicians by corporations.

With this newfound power to buy politicians and to shape American policy, CEOs and the very rich could have done anything. They could have ended childhood poverty.  They could have made sure every American had a quality education at no cost. They could have given every American free, quality healthcare like in other developed nations.

Instead, they went after tax breaks to undo FDR’s raising the top income tax bracket to 91% in the late 1930s and early 1940s. And we’re still suffering for it.

The fruit of those two SCOTUS decisions was Ronald Reagan floating into the White House on a tsunami of fossil fuel money; he and bought-off Republicans in Congress then obediently dropped the top 74% personal tax bracket and the top 55% corporate income tax bracket down to 25% each. While they’ve risen slightly since then, they’re still filled with loopholes when it comes to the very, very rich and giant companies.

As a result, most morbidly rich individuals and large American corporations now pay virtually nothing in income taxes and have become fabulously richer. You and I shoulder the bill to run our government, paying as much as 50% of our earnings in income taxes every year (depending on your income and the state in which you live).

Name your favorite billionaire: Donald Trump (0%), Elon Musk (2.1%), Jeff Bezos (1.1%) or those more obscure. Every rich person you can name almost certainly pays a tiny fraction of what you do in taxes on your income or increases in your wealth, a situation that’s held since Reagan introduced America to neoliberalism in the 1980s as I detail in my new book The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America.

We’re at the tail end of a 40-year political, social, and economic experiment in this country. Reagan and his neoliberal buddies Hayek and Friedman told us that if we’d just let the greediest among us fully exercise their greed in ways that were previously illegal it would bring an explosion of prosperity to our country.

And, sure enough, there was an explosion of prosperity, but only for the top 10% of us. Meanwhile, the economic lifeblood was drained out of the rest of America. Fully $50 trillion has vanished from the wealth of the middle class and magically ended up in the money bins of the morbidly rich.

This “invisible hand” of the economy was so perfect, the neoliberals told us, that we wouldn’t even need to monitor CEOs and the morbidly rich to make sure they weren’t cheating, so we defunded the IRS, under four Republican administrations, so severely that they could no longer audit the returns of the very wealthy.

When the law required the IRS to audit President Trump’s taxes in 2018, for example, that agency was able to come up with one lonely guy to do the job, something that would have taken him two or three decades to just cover one year. 

It’s estimated tax fraud by the morbidly rich costs America around $1 trillion a year, according to the IRS Commissioner.

Enough to end all student debt in 18 months. To wipe out child poverty in a year. To fully fund Medicare For All. To end homelessness in America. To cure most cancer and heart disease in less than a decade.

But the morbidly rich aren’t even bothering to hide their greed and corruption any more. Two billionaire families, for example, gave Republican Senator Ron Johnson’s campaign and its backers around $20 million. 

In return, Johnson demanded a specific sentence be slipped into Trump’s tax-cut bill that, once it made it through, returned over “$215 million in deductions in 2018 alone” just to those two familiesaccording to ProPublica.

As ProPublica noted, just that one tax “cut [inserted by Senator Johnson] could deliver more than half a billion in tax savings for Hendricks and the Uihleins over its eight-year life.” 

This system, fine-tuned by 40 years of annual Republican tweaks, has become one of America’s most obviously corrupt scams: “invest” $20 million in a corrupt politician and make a $500 million return on that investment. And the entire party is proudly in on the act!

It wasn’t always this way.

Progressive Republican President Theodore Roosevelt started the campaign to stop corporations and the wealthy from bribing politicians, resulting in the 1907 Tillman Act, which made it a federal felony — complete with real prison time — for any agent of any corporation to give any money or any thing of value to anycandidate for any federal office.

Five corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court overturned it, leading to today’s orgy of greed by the elites of our society. Citizens United and its predecessors have turned the American economy into an aristocratic candy store for the morbidly rich, while the rest of us can hardly even see into the windows.

As a result, the rich have become richer than any time in human history — richer, even, than the pharaohs or the ancient kings of Europe — wages have stagnated, deaths of despair exploded, and student and medical debt or their threat now overwhelm more than half of all American households.

Senator Ted Kennedy, frustrated by Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage, famously demanded to know of his colleagues, “When does the greed stop?” 

The answer is, “Never.”

Greed, one of the seven deadly sins, is both toxic to society and intrinsic to human nature. It can’t be ended or “stopped.”

But it can be regulated, which is the goal of good tax policy.

With a fully-bribed GOP set to assume control of the House of Representatives, where all tax legislation must originate according to our Constitution, the next two years will be challenging for Americans who would rather see children educated than more billionaires shooting themselves into space on giant penis-shaped rockets.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop talking about how corrosive these twin poisons of bribery and greed are to our nation; we must never stop working to solve this crisis Reagan, the morbidly rich, and a corrupted Supreme Court inflicted on us.

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Trump Struggles, but America Is Still Feverish

By Nicholas Kristoff/ NY Times/ Dec. 10, 2022

Has America’s fever broken?

An optimist could make a case. Donald Trump, the central figure in America’s febrile ailment, was further tarnished this past week, including by the conviction of his company for fraud. Trump wasn’t personally in the dock, but his reputation was — and the fraud involved checks he personally signed.

Meanwhile, the Senate Republican candidate whom Trump anointed in Georgia was defeated on Tuesday. That came after a midterm election in which some prominent Trump-backed candidates were trounced.

Trump’s willingness to socialize with Nazi sympathizers and his calls for a suspension of the Constitution also suggest that he is marching into extremist territory in a way that may leave him marginalized and less of a threat to the country. My own bet is that in the next presidential term from 2025 to 2029, there’s more chance that Trump’s federal housing will involve a prison than the White House.

But I may be wrong — and I worry that it’s premature to argue that the national fever has broken. We as a nation still face arguably the greatest peril since the end of Reconstruction, for three reasons.

First, remember that this extremism goes beyond Trump and even beyond the United States. Italy has just installed a far-right prime minister whose party has its roots in neo-fascism, a reminder that the fever persists globally.

Second, even when Trump broke bread with Holocaust deniers and then urged a suspension of the Constitution, congressional Republicans mostly looked the other way. When leaders of one of our major political parties struggle to defend the Constitution or condemn neo-Nazis, America still feels feverish.

Third and most fundamentally, our political dysfunction is driven in complex ways by a broader economic and social dysfunction and despair, one that we fail to grapple with effectively.

A few metrics of our national crisis:

  • We are now losing roughly 300,000 Americans a year to drugs, alcohol and suicide in “deaths of despair.” The social fabric of innumerable families and countless communities (including my own) has been unraveling.
  • About one-seventh of prime-age men (ages 25 to 54), historically the pillar of the American labor force, are not working today. We don’t fully understand why, but it’s not because jobs don’t exist — there are 1.7 job openings for each unemployed worker.
  • Life expectancy for a newborn boy in Mississippi appears to be shorter than for a newborn boy in Bangladesh.
  • When so many adults are struggling, the problems are transmitted to the next generation. Every 19 minutes, a child is born with a dependence on opioids, and one in eight American children is growing up with a parent with a substance use disorder.

The coronavirus pandemic also seems to have aggravated loneliness and mental health problems, even as it has led to shortages of frontline workers to help them. Children suffering from mental health crises are sometimes housed for days or weeks in hospital emergency rooms because there are no other beds available.

One doctor told me of a troubled 15-year-old boy in Oregon who was kept for two months in emergency rooms and then finally shipped to New Jersey when a bed opened up there

The problems are far from hidden, even if we don’t fully understand the connections or pathologies. Walk by a homeless encampment in Portland or San Francisco, or visit a neonatal ward in West Virginia where newborn babies are crying because of a dependency on opioids, or chat with Idahoans who believe that leading Democrats are part of a Satanic cult trafficking in babies.

We may not fully understand how socioeconomic crises build support for conspiracy theories and for authoritarian leaders, but the linkage isn’t new. That’s part of the story of the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain between the world wars. The great social philosopher Erich Fromm described in his masterwork, “Escape from Freedom,” how a people buffeted by insecurity and social isolation may turn to authoritarianism, with the promise of greatness and a path of certainty.

We in journalism pay close attention to politics. But I don’t think we pay sufficient attention to the larger social problems that shape ideology or, as today, drive authoritarianism and extremism. While support for authoritarian candidates is particularly pronounced in the white working class, it has also gained ground among working-class people of color.

People have agency, of course, and none of this is to excuse either the extremism or the bigotry that often escorts it. But if we want to solve problems in the political world, it may help to recognize that in the United States, in Italy, in Britain, the problems begin upstream from politics. They begin upstream even from Donald Trump. And unless we tackle them more seriously — I would suggest investments in early childhood, in education, in mental health, in fighting addiction — I fear we won’t resolve either our social mess or our political one.

So I’d like to say that the fever is broken, but that seems premature. We can’t confidently heal America’s body politic unless we do a better job treating our nation’s broader social and economic dysfunction.

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SCOTT RITTER: DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE. UKRAINE CAN’T WIN THIS WAR

Former US Marine Corps intelligence officer Scott Ritter explains why a Russian victory is inevitable, and what it costs the West to refuse to accept this

**A very different point of view…….

BY DIMITRI LASCARIS/ TheReal News.com/ NOVEMBER 15, 2022

Reports of Ukrainian triumph and imminent Russian defeat have flooded the West since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February. Yet how much merit is there to this narrative? Former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and UN weapons inspector William Scott Ritter Jr. speaks with Dimitri Lascaris in a special interview for The Real News. Despite taking some ground in September’s counteroffensive, the Ukrainian military has taken heavy losses and is totally dependent on external support. Moreover, Ritter argues that Ukraine’s objectives in this war are unachievable, whereas Russia’s can be met through a negotiated settlement. While the war rages on and attempts to sanction Russia continue to backfire, more damage is being done to the people of Europe and Ukraine than to Russia. Ultimately, what must come out of this conflict is an admission from Europe that NATO is an anachronism and a new security paradigm is needed to promote international peace and cooperation. This interview was recorded Nov. 4, 2022.

William Scott Ritter Jr. is an author and pundit and a former United States Marine Corps intelligence officer and United Nations weapons inspector.

Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer, journalist and activist from Montreal, Quebec. In 2020, Dimitri ran for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada.

TRANSCRIPT

Dimitri Lascaris: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting from Montreal, Canada, for The Real News Network. Today I’m joined by Scott Ritter. Scott is a former US Marine and Core Intelligence Officer whose service over a 20-plus year career includes tours of duty in the former Soviet Union, implementing arms control agreement, serving on the staff of US General Norman Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War, and later as a Chief Weapons Inspector with the UN in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He’s also the author of several books, including his latest work Disarmament in the Time of Perestroika. Welcome to The Real News, Scott.

Scott Ritter: Thanks for having me.

Dimitri Lascaris: So Scott, the focus of our discussion today, which I’m sure won’t be any surprise to you because it’s been such a hot topic for all of us recently, is the Ukraine war. And as many of our viewers will know, you’ve commented and written extensively on the Ukraine war, expressing views which I think it’s fair to say have departed considerably from those which dominate Western mainstream discourse about this war. And one of the dominant themes, as you well know, in Western mainstream discourse about this war, is that Ukraine is winning and that the performance of Russia’s military has ranged from disappointing to disastrous. And that claim reached a fever pitch during the Ukrainian Army’s recent offensive in the Kharkiv region, which resulted in the Ukrainian military seizing control of a large chunk of territory that Russia had controlled for months.

But even after the loss of that territory by Russia, Russia still had control of numerous cities that it did not control before the invasion, including Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Mariupol, and Kherson. After the counter-offensive, Russia also retained something very important: a land bridge to Crimea. And finally, two things have happened since the Kharkiv counter-offensive. One, the frontline appears to have stabilized, and secondly, the Russian military has begun to systematically degrade the power grid in Ukraine. So with that as background, background with which I’m sure you’re completely familiar, what do you make, given current circumstances on the battlefield, about the claim that Ukraine is winning this war and Russia is losing it?

Scott Ritter: Well, let’s just start with basic strategic objectives. Let’s look at the Russian strategic objectives first. First and foremost, Russia is seeking to get Europe and the United States to buy into the notion of a negotiated new European security framework. It’s something that Russia put on the table prior to invading Ukraine. If people remember back to Dec. 17, I believe, of last year, Russia submitted two draft treaties, one to NATO, one to the United States, which articulated Russia’s stance on what its vision of a new European security framework could look like. They invited the West to read it and have a serious discussion about it, and they were ignored.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine, and Russia has two objectives. One is the demilitarization of Ukraine, the other is the deNazification of Ukraine. Demilitarization means the elimination of all NATO influence on the Ukrainian military, and deNazification means just that, getting rid of everything that Russia considers to be related to the ultra nationalistic ideology of Stepan Bandera and the white supremacist manifestations of that.

Now, these are words that I’m not using. I mean, people are going, well, Ritter, yeah, you’re very good at Kremlin talking points. I’d advise people to go back and actually read the amendments put by the United States House of Representatives on Department of Defense Appropriations legislation from 2015 up until just this year. They continuously forbid funds, US taxpayer funds, being used to train the Azov battalion, which is listed by the US Congress as a white supremacist neo-Nazi organization. So anybody who wants to pretend that there isn’t a Nazi problem in Ukraine, simply I refer you to Congress and its own legislation.

The Russians believe that this is a big problem and they want it eradicated. Now, why did I bring this up? Because Russia hasn’t shifted gears at all. Russia’s still saying, we want a European security framework out of this and we are adhering to our original objectives. Russia hasn’t altered course at all. Ukraine, on the other hand, is saying that victory can only be achieved when Russia is evicted from all territory, including Crimea.

I would say that Russia’s closer to achieving its objectives than Ukraine is to achieving its objectives, which tells me Russia has the momentum, Russia has the initiative, and Russia has realistic objectives that can be attained. Ukraine doesn’t. I mean, there’s just literally no one on this planet besides maybe… I don’t even think the Ukrainians believe it, that they’re going to recapture the Donbas, that they’re going to recapture Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, that they’re going to recapture Crimea. This is fantasy. So you have one side that their objectives are fantasy based, you have another side whose objectives are, while difficult to achieve, are very realistic. So I’ll go with the realistic side over the fantasy side as to who I think is going to prevail.

Then we take a look at capabilities. For certain, Ukraine had a good September. There’s no one that’s going to debate that issue whatsoever. But at what cost? And what I mean by that is in order to achieve this good September, Ukraine had to absorb billions, tens of billions of dollars worth of NATO equipment. It took months to do this. It took months to get people trained on this, to bring the equipment in, to match the equipment with the people, organize it, and bring it to the battlefield. And then in one month, Ukraine pretty much burned through everything. The casualties they’ve suffered have been horrific. They’ve lost the equipment, they’ve lost most of the manpower, and they’re down to a position now where they’re begging the West to help them reconstitute this capability.

Russia started September with pretty much the same force structure that it brought in when it invaded in February, and what had happened is Russia pretty much had insufficient resources to the task they had set forth for themself. They had many parts of the defensive line that were stretched thin, and the Ukrainians were able to exploit this. And the Russians wisely, I believe, traded territory for lives. Now the Russians aren’t in the business of just throwing away Russian lives, and so they weren’t going to hold on to a strong point and defend it to the last man. They were more than happy to withdraw, trade territory, save lives, consolidate their defensive positions, all the while inflicting what should have been prohibitive casualties on the Ukrainians, tens of thousands of losses.

Meanwhile, while Russia is consolidating their lines, they’re reinforcing. Vladimir Putin ordered the partial mobilization, 300,000 reservists have been called up, 87,000 of them are currently deployed into the special military operations zone, the rest are finalizing their organization into fresh combat units, which will give the Russians tremendous flexibility and operational capacity. So as Ukraine is shrinking its combat capability, Russia is increasing its combat capability.

And then we take a look at the strategic aspects of this conflict. I think the West made a mistake in misinterpreting Russia’s soft approach to the special military operation, going in with fewer numbers than many people thought was necessary, and going in softer, not doctrinally, not using overwhelming firepower, not rolling through, in effect, trying to reduce civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. While the reduction of civilian casualties continues to be an objective of Russia, the day and age of saying, we don’t want to harm civilian infrastructure, is over. Russia has taken the gloves off and has shown that it can close down Ukraine as a modern nation state anytime it wants to.

It’s degraded their electrical grid, their power grid. Ukraine has rolling blackouts, and the Russians are taking it easy. Russia could easily shut everything down, but they’re not, they’re making a point right now that they can do this damage. Meanwhile, Russia is dysfunctioning as it is, and then we take it out a step further because it’s not just Ukraine that’s suffering.

You see, the West thought they were going to A, deter Russian aggression and B, compel Russia to stop its aggression by imposing massive economic sanctions, I think that’s the word that was used, unprecedented economic sanctions. I mean, we were told there were masterful economists, experts in energy security that had solved the issue of how to shut down this gas station disguised as a nation. All we have to do is cut off their gas, their energy, and they’re going to shrivel up and go away.

Russia proves that the gas station actually knows more about global energy security than the West does. They flipped the script. Russia’s not the nation suffering, Europe is suffering, the entire continent is suffering. America’s suffering. What people are talking about, we have a couple weeks left of diesel fuel. I don’t think people comprehend what that means, when we run out of diesel fuel or we get such a shortage that the prices go through the roof. Because diesel powers the trucks that make the supply line work, that bring food to our stores at a reasonable price. And you start jacking up the price of the cost of transportation, it will be transferred to the consumer. And if you eliminate diesel potential to where transportation is frozen, nothing makes it to market.

Russia doesn’t have this problem. So they’ve won that battle, too. So across the board, from the big picture strategic aspect of the West supporting Ukraine to Ukraine’s ability to sustain the conflict, but what’s happening on the battlefield, it’s advantage Russia, advantage Russia, advantage Russia, advantage Russia. Russia’s winning this war. Call it controversial, but that’s my take.

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SUICIDE IS EASY

It says a lot about the maturity and evolution of the human race that it is possible that one (questionably stable) person can use a nuclear weapon that could easily spark a horrific war that would result in the death of all or most people and other living creatures on our planet.

By Arlen Grossman

Nuclear

Posted in military, nuclear weapons, politics, war | Leave a comment

The Democrats Will Probably Lose the Midterms, Because Our Society Is Falling Apart

BYLIZA FEATHERSTONE/ Jacobin/ November 2, 2022

The Democrats are too beholden to the rich, and they face structural obstacles that are too daunting, to address the profound sense of social collapse that afflicts the US today. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally on November 1, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Florida, for US Senate candidate Val Demings and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

It’s time to get real about how bad the upcoming US election could be. We are facing a political disaster with implications possibly even worse than the 2016 election. The Democrats have a good chance of losing the midterm elections, badly. The Senate and House races look dire, and even in Democratic-leaning New York State, where I live, we could get a far-right governor.

There are a few reasons we could cite for this looming horror. US politics is so polarized that power flip-flops back and forth between parties in an almost-predictable cycle of anger and rejection. As well, many Americans, including myself, haven’t done enough to help defeat the Right. There hasn’t been enough organizing in some places. (I haven’t received a single call or text urging me to phone bank — or even vote! — for the Democratic incumbent governor, nor have I seen any canvassers.)

The Democrats have also lacked a strong economic message, either about their accomplishments or about their plans. Democrats and progressives have been spectacularly dismissive on issues that matter to people and the messaging has been awful, not to mention the optics of drinking champagne with fancy donors while Americans line up for food banks. I’ve written about those problems here and in Jacobin.

And in a stunning piece of idiocy, the Democratic Party funded extremist Republicans thinking they would be losers in the general, and now, not surprisingly, it looks like some of those loons will win.

Unfortunately, though, the problem is worse, and harder to fix, than any of that. The Republicans are poised for victory because our whole society is falling apart in ways that mainstream Democrats are structurally ill equipped to address.

Crime is a real problem in some cities, and to dismiss it by claiming it’s exaggerated by right-wing media is not an adequate response. In New York City, all crime has increased dramatically since 2019, the last prepandemic year (in the case of murder, the most consistently reported and frightening crime, by 35 percent). Over the past year, murder hasn’t increased – small mercies – but all other major felonies are up 24 percent. The Democratic governor, Kathy Hochul, is leading Trumper Lee Zeldin by an astonishingly thin margin mainly for this reason, and she could lose.

All that mainstream Democrats seem able to do, in response to Republicans’ blaming humane reforms (in the case of New York State, ending the cash bail system), is to backslide and agree that the reforms are the problem. It’s a stupid reaction, because if Democratic policies were to blame, why shouldn’t voters concerned about public safety try the Republican law-and-order approach?

The Democrats’ problem is that the way to make our society less vulnerable to this sort of crisis would be to provide more public care on many levels. Communities need more sports and other after-school programs for young people. Our schools need more resources for mental health care.

More important, everyone needs less of the terrifying precarity that is driving us mad. Families need more security: good jobs, income supports, higher wages. Everyone needs a home, whether that means comfortable and safe public housing or secure, rent-stabilized private housing. But we don’t provide any of that, and as a result one in ten New York City public schoolchildren — one in ten — are homeless. The Democrats’ response? Cut the school budget.

Mental illness and economic precarity are two of the leading correlates of crime, and neither can be addressed cheaply. That means problems like this can’t be solved by leadership still wedded to the 1 percent. With their big donors in the real estate industry and the boss class, the Democrats can’t address human needs at a scale that might make inroads in problems like crime.

What’s more, the general societal breakdown of which crime is the most widely reported symptom is playing out in many other ways. Antisocial behavior of all kinds has increased — including kinds that Republicans don’t really care about one way or the other, like domestic violence and dangerously reckless driving. The difficulty that service sector employers are having finding labor is partly due to customers being so rude to workers. (Exploitation by bosses is a bigger problem, but widespread assholery is a sign of breakdown of the social contract.)

And people are not only being cruel to others: self-destructiveness, too, is heartbreakingly widespread. Last year suicide rates increased after two years on the decline. Death by drug overdoses spiked dramatically in 2020 and then again in 2021.

Our society is unwell, and mainstream Democrats, committed to business as usual, can’t provide the care that it badly requires. Americans were already alienated, anxious, and distressed. But the pandemic, combining horrific mass death with social isolation, as well as rendering many public institutions, most egregiously schools, unusable for way too long, destroyed some terribly precious remnants of a social fabric.

None of this is Democrats’ fault more than Republicans’. And it’s true that at the national level, the Democrats at least made serious gestures at funding public goods through the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as lowering some prescription drug prices — more than they get credit for. But it hasn’t been enough, and many voters don’t want to reelect the party presiding over what feels like a comprehensive social meltdown.

Then there’s the issue people mention most to pollsters, by a wide margin, even more than crime: inflation. With critical basics like food, gas, and rent increasing alarmingly and often unpredictably, people worry about how to provide for their families. When I walk around my neighborhood, I see lines around the corner for church food pantries.

Far from being Joe Biden’s fault, inflation is a global phenomenon. In fact, a recent Ipsos survey found that it had been the number one concern all over the world for six months. Biden is not president of Turkey, where inflation reached 79.6 percent in July. But all the other signs of social breakdown here amplify the distress and anger people feel about rising prices.

Crime, social breakdown, and economic anxiety can be solved in only one way: through sustained, long-term investment in public goods and human flourishing, and the sense of connectedness and social responsibility that comes from living in a society that cares about you. Our public goods and sense of social connection were frayed before the pandemic, but over the past few years, they’ve been worn away even more, and it is a crisis.

Parents with children in public school — an institution that all but ceased to function throughout 2020 and 2021 — have been especially likely to turn on the incumbent Democrats. The Republicans have punitive and semifascist appeals to fall back on, but the Democrats are in a bind: they’re supposed to be the party of regular people, but they’re also wholly beholden to the rich.

So, when they can’t get everyone to care enough about the Republicans’ unpopular positions on issues like abortion, they’re screwed. And they may not be able do that this year.

There’s no quick fix here. I’d love to credibly argue that the Democrats could address this problem by running more Berniecrats and democratic socialists against Republicans in red and purple districts, and perhaps, again, for president. We have every reason to believe that more democratic socialist policies would produce a healthier, safer society, with a less-anxious public, thus making far-right politics less appealing.

But unfortunately, we don’t have the deep electoral experience and massive local presence that might allow us to say that in the United States as it is currently constituted, the democratic socialist message would win over conservative or swing voters any better than the centrist one. The wistful slogan, “Bernie Would Have Won!” will take some years of effort to turn into a consistent and reliable truth.

That means that, whatever the outcome on Election Day, there is no magic bullet: the solution is to fight the Right, build working-class institutions, and continue to strive for a mass base for socialism. These are dark times, but we do know what to do.

Liza Featherstone is a columnist for Jacobin, a freelance journalist, and the author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart.

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BRACE YOURSELF–FASCISM IS COMING TO AMERICA

BY ARLEN GROSSMAN

Published as a “trending story” in dailykoz.com, October 25, 2022

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2131047/editwith over 135 comments.

Published at opednews.com, October 27, 2022 (headline)

Americans know very little about fascism. Most of us aren’t familiar with this dystopian form of government that peaked in Europe during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Only a handful of Americans remember the era of Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, and Adolf Hitler.

Most Americans do not fully realize that one of our two political parties has strong fascist tendencies, and what that means for this country. With just days before the midterm election, Republicans are expected to make gains in Congress (by blaming President Biden for inflation, crime, and possibly the weather). If that comes to pass, we will move a step closer to learning what American fascism looks like.

Merriam-Webster defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime…that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”

That pretty much sums up what the Republican Party is all about. They worship the flag, favor the white race over people of color, prefer an autocracy headed by Donald Trump, advocate a conservative Christian lifestyle, and pass laws to restrict voting.   Yes, the current version of this party checks off all the boxes.  And trends worldwide show that autocracy (a nicer word than fascism) is gaining popularity.

We’re not there yet, but this country has never been closer to finding out how an American form of fascism would work. To understand how we have come to this place, we will have to come to terms with the unfortunate reality that the American electorate doesn’t understand what the stakes are in the coming midterm election. In general, American are low-information voters, easily manipulated, and seriously lacking in political understanding. You want proof? In the 2016 presidential election, 74 million votes were cast for a clearly incompetent, psychologically disturbed, compulsively lying, morally bankrupt con man. Even now, about a third of the country still believes Donald Trump’s notorious and innumerable lies.

The Democratic Party deserves some blame. They struggle to convince voters that they would be a good alternative to the Republican candidates. But the truth is that most Democratic lawmakers rely on donations from big corporations and a reliance on pandering to minorities for their votes, instead of advocating and working for the entire working class (as they once did). That limits their appeal.

And while Republicans continually go on attack and hold back on nothing in their quest to regain power, Democrats are conciliatory, polite, and eager to compromise. With a party leadership of mostly septuagenarians and octogenarians, the Democratic Party appears to lack the fire in the belly that motivates Republicans, who would give up their first born (almost) to regain power and defeat their “socialist” enemy. In contrast, Democrats are unwilling to go on the offensive, instead waiting for the GOP to come to its senses. Good luck with that.

The prospect is frightening, but if Republicans gain one or both houses of Congress, fascism will begin to take root. It won’t all happen at once. President Biden has the veto pen until at least  January 20, 2025, and can keep a lid on some of the worst right-wing atrocities. But with their skills at voter suppression and election denial, Republicans, in a short time, likely will control the Oval Office, both houses of Congress, and of course, the courts. The prospects of a Democratic Party comeback are near impossible.

This groundswell of hate and crazy QAnon conspiracy would never would have gotten this far without the help of a cluster of popular truth-free TV stations (like Fox News, Newsmax and OAN), right-wing hate radio (Rush Limbaugh wannabes) and an endless stream of hateful social media propaganda. These media sources confirm the lies from Trump, Alex Jones, and the multitude of deranged GOP voices. Consumers of this right-wing propaganda are increasingly living in a bubble of distorted reality, in which objective truth doesn’t exist and facts are what their leader say they are.

Democrats right now should be shouting from the rooftops about how dangerous the Republican Party is. The GOP’s patriarch, the former president, is reckless and volatile. Republicans came close in January 6, 2021 to a frightening coup targeted to overthrow President Biden’s election. They have no realistic policies to solve the country’s problems. They deny climate change (endangering our planet), are eager to take away rights (especially for women), and their first loyalty is always going to be to the wealthiest One Percent.

Democrats urgently need to communicate to voters that the Republicans are extremists and endanger our country and the world. But Democrats, sad to say, appear too nice to frame the election in those terms. Big mistake. The effects of Republican rule will be consequential and dangerous, so we can expect that dark days are ahead. Good luck to all of us.

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