China ‘to help’ Cambodia if EU ‘Human Rights’ Imperialists implement trade sanctions (Al Jazeera) 30 April 2019

The EU said it would launch action because of ‘severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labour rights’.

In January, Hun Sen made a four-day official visit to China and announced that Beijing had agreed to provide nearly $600m in grant aid [Francois Lenoir/Reuters]
In January, Hun Sen made a four-day official visit to China and announced that Beijing had agreed to provide nearly $600m in grant aid

China has agreed to provide assistance to Cambodia if the European Union implements trade sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation over human rights violations and rule of law issues, according to Cambodia’s prime minister.

Hun Sen announced the assurance on his Facebook page on Monday as he was returning from Beijing, where he attended a forum about China’s multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative.

He said China made the pledge during his talks with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, but he did not say what form the assistance would take.

In February, the EU announced it was launching action that could suspend Cambodia’s preferential access to its market because of “severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labour rights”.

The EU grants duty-free and quota-free access for items other than weapons to Cambodia and other developing countries.

At that time, Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry called the decision an “extreme injustice” that ignored steps the government has taken to improve civil and political rights.

It said it “is committed to continue enhancing the democratic space, human rights [and] labour rights” and that the European move “takes the risk of negating 20 years’ worth of development efforts” that had helped pull millions of Cambodians out of poverty.

Describing ties between the two counties “as firm as steel”, Hun Sen added that China – Cambodia’s closest ally – pledged a 600 million yuan ($89m) military assistance grant.

During his stay in Beijing, Hun Sen met several Chinese businessmen and many investors agreed to invest in Cambodia soon.

In January, the Cambodian leader made a four-day official visit to China and announced that Beijing had agreed to provide nearly $600m in grant aid as part of a three-year assistance fund and that the two countries also agreed to increase their bilateral trade to $10bn by 2023. 

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USS Private Enterprise Space Ship Blows Up – SpaceX’s Unnerving Silence on an Explosive Incident – by Marina Koren (The Atlantic) 30 April 2019

The smoke was visible for miles.

The day, April 20, was sunny on the Florida coast, with few clouds. The plumes, thick and glowing orange, rose over the horizon and crawled across the sky. Beachgoers stopped to stare. A photographer for Florida Today, on assignment to cover a surf festival, turned the lens away from the waves and snapped some pictures.

 

The ashy clouds were coming from Cape Canaveral. The only time you want to see smoke wafting from that vicinity, the site of historic space launches, is after a successful liftoff—and there were no rockets in the sky that day.

The smoke turned out to be from a failed test of a SpaceX spacecraft designed to carry humans to orbit. Strapped to a test stand so it couldn’t fly away, the capsule had ignited its engines. “The initial tests completed successfully, but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand,” SpaceX said in a statement at the time.

The smoke suggested an outcome more serious than an “anomaly”—like a full-blown explosion. But SpaceX wouldn’t say anything else.

A day later, a grainy video, which looked like a recording of a screen, appeared on Twitter. The footage showed what appeared to be the SpaceX capsule, known as Dragon, on the test stand.

For about 10 seconds, everything is still. And then, suddenly, there’s an explosion, and the whole thing is engulfed in flames. Off camera, people exclaim in shock and swear. (No one was near the capsule, so there were no injuries.)

SpaceX declined to verify the authenticity of the video. But this week, NASA sent an internal email warning launch-support employees that they can be fired if they share the video. The message, reported by the Orlando Sentinel, confirmed that the footage was real.

More than a week after the explosion, SpaceX remains silent about the incident. At this moment, even an “anomaly” in its test capsule should rattle the engineers, astronauts, and administrators invested in Dragon’s success. SpaceX was well on its way to launching American astronauts into space, a historic first in U.S. spaceflight history.

“Unless something goes wrong, I would think that we’ll be flying hopefully this year, this summer,” Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, said last month.

Barely two months ago, the same capsule was docked to the International Space Station, circling Earth. It arrived without people—this was only its first flight, after all—but plenty of fresh supplies, and the astronauts on the station opened the hatches and floated in. Several days later, the Dragon returned to Earth and parachuted to the Atlantic Ocean, ready for more tests, in preparation for a flight with people on board.

No astronauts have launched from American soil since 2011, in the final flight of the space-shuttle program, an illustrious but expensive 30-year effort. In the years since, the United States has relied on its former space rival, Russia, to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. This arrangement was never meant to be NASA’s only option, or to last as long as it has. The George W. Bush administration directed NASA to develop a transportation system to replace the shuttles, but the Obama administration canceled the project, citing ballooning budgets and schedule delays.

So instead of making its own systems, NASA hired someone else to do it. In 2014, the agency awarded billion-dollar contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to build astronaut-transportation systems. NASA would pay to use them, but at a significantly lower rate than the Russians charge.

At the start of this year, SpaceX had made the most progress. Spectators and press flocked to Florida for the Dragon’s first flight in March. A pair of NASA astronauts, already in training for the crewed mission, chatted with reporters, eager to suit up and fly. “I’m a little emotionally exhausted,” Musk told reporters soon after the successful launch. “Because that was super stressful. But it worked—so far.” The company was on a high.

Now it’s investigating a fiery spacecraft failure that could severely set back its efforts. NASA, which is aiding the investigation, says it has “full confidence” in SpaceX, but doesn’t know yet how the incident will affect its schedules.

SpaceX has shown that it can rebound fairly quickly after fiery setbacks. In 2015, a Falcon 9 carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded minutes after launch; another rocket flew about six months later and executed, for the first time, a maneuver that SpaceX has now perfected, landing a booster vertically on the ground. In 2016, a Falcon 9 went up in flames on the launchpad as it fueled up for an engine test; another rocket launched successfully four months later, and a Falcon 9 hasn’t malfunctioned since.

But the previous failures, while devastating, destroyed only space-station supplies and science experiments. Soon SpaceX is supposed to carry far more precious cargo. The failure occurred during a test of a very important system: the Dragon’s escape system. The capsule is designed to hurl itself from the rocket in the event of a rocket malfunction or another emergency. To push off, the Dragon fires a series of engines called SuperDracos. SpaceX had planned to conduct an in-flight demonstration of this test in June.

It’s not known whether the capsule, itself a test version, is salvageable or completely lost. SpaceX has other capsules “in various stages of production and testing,” according to a spokesperson, but did not say how far along they are.

In a rare moment of reticence, Musk has not yet publicly addressed the incident. It could be that the entrepreneur has enough on his plate; he spent the weekend of the spacecraft failure tweeting about Tesla, and last week reached an agreement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in a legal standoff involving the electric-car company. Federal regulators won’t go after Musk if he tweets something about SpaceX, which is not public, but NASA might, as Musk is likely well aware. He has gotten into some trouble with the agency’s leadership before.

The lack of public details—even any acknowledgment of the smoke—has irked some, including the staff of the editorial board at the Orlando Sentinel, which regularly covers space activities along Florida’s shores, also known as the Space Coast. In a biting editorial published last week, the paper lambasted SpaceX’s response, comparing the company’s relative silence to the days and weeks after the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986, when “NASA officials circled the wagons, dispensing little information and giving the appearance the agency had something to hide.”

“The secretive aspects of Elon Musk’s ventures is fine when he’s spending his own money (or investors’ money) to build electric cars or bore tunnels through the ground,” the Sentinel wrote. “It’s not fine when the public is bankrolling his efforts, as it is with SpaceX’s crewed spaceflight program.”

The comparison to Challenger—an explosion that killed five NASA astronauts and two civilians—is certainly extreme, perhaps even inappropriate. But SpaceX should expect to be more transparent about its work for NASA, especially as it nears the finish line. Unlike its other projects, such as the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, the astronaut capsule is a taxpayer-funded effort. Yes, investigations take time. No one expects a full-blown explanation a week after the fact. But the public deserves some more openness, such as confirmation of a fire, or even a simple acknowledgment of the smoke over Florida’s coast.

The same standard goes for Boeing (and for all the NASA contractors, for that matter). Boeing discovered a propellant leak in its astronaut capsule, the Starliner, during a test of its escape system last June. Boeing told The Washington Post it was “confident we found the cause,” but disclosed no information beyond that. There were no scathing editorials about that, but the circumstances of the SpaceX incident are different; Starliner has never flown to space, and there was no video footage of the capsule on fire.

The clip of the Dragon spacecraft allegedly blowing up is painful to watch. It is a fiery reminder of the difficulties of engineering and the stakes of exploration. SpaceX understands these well, but this effort is different from the rest of its portfolio. The company has taken on a job historically done by the government, which means absorbing the cultural sentiment that comes with it. The first SpaceX launch of American astronauts will be celebrated not only as a win for the commercial space agency, but also as a national achievement, a dazzling showing of American ability. A lack of transparency, a frequent hallmark of private technology companies, won’t work here.

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16 of the Most Interesting Ancient Board and Dice Games – By Tom Metcalfe (Live Science) 10 Dec 2018

China: Thousands take to Hong Kong streets to protest new extradition laws – by Jessie Pang, Greg Torode (Reuters) 28 April 2019

 

Hong Kong 2

HONG KONG, April 28 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people marched on Hong Kong’s parliament on Sunday to demand the scrapping of proposed extradition rules that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial – a move which some fear puts the city’s core freedoms at risk.

Opponents of the proposal fear further erosion of rights and legal protections in the free-wheeling financial hub – freedoms which were guaranteed under the city’s handover from British colonial rule to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Ranks of marchers snaked peacefully for more than three hours through the shopping and business districts of Causeway Bay and Wanchai, with thousands staying on into the evening outside the Legislative Council and government headquarters.

Police said 22,800 people marched at the peak of the procession, but organisers estimated 130,000 turned out – making it one of the largest street protests in the city for several years.

Observers said the turnout dwarfed an earlier protest against the plan last month.

Veteran activist and former legislator Leung Kwok-hung said the government’s move risked removing Hong Kongers’ “freedom from fear”.

“Hong Kong people and visitors passing by Hong Kong will lose their right not to be extradited into mainland China,” he said. “They would need to face an unjust legal system on the mainland.”

Some younger marchers said they were worried about travelling to the mainland after the move, which comes just as the government encourages young people to deepen ties with the mainland and promotes Hong Kong’s links with southern China.

Hong Kong 1

Demonstrators hold yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the Occupy Central movement during a protest to demand authorities scrap a proposed extradition bill with China, in Hong Kong, China April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Law clerk Edward Wen, 45, said the difference in human rights standards between Hong Kong and the mainland was too great to bridge.

“You will be screwed as long as they put up a crime on your behalf,” he said.

The marchers’ chanted demands for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down echoed through the high-rise streets, with some protesters saying she had “betrayed” Hong Kong.

Some sported yellow umbrellas – the symbol of the Occupy pro-democracy movement that paralysed parts of Hong Kong for 11 weeks in 2014.

The proposed changes have sparked an unusually broad chorus of concern from international business elites to lawyers and rights’ groups and even some pro-establishment figures.

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong who handed the city back to Chinese rule in 1997, on Saturday described the move as “an assault on Hong Kong’s values, stability and security”, government-funded broadcaster RTHK reported.

LOOPHOLES

Chief Executive Lam and other government officials are standing fast by their proposals, calling them vital to plug long-standing loopholes.

Under the changes, the Hong Kong leader would have the right to order the extradition of wanted offenders to China, Macau and Taiwan as well as other countries not covered by Hong Kong’s existing extradition treaties.

As a safeguard, such orders, to be issued case-by-case, could be challenged and appealed through the city’s vaunted legal system.

Government officials have said no one at risk of the death penalty or torture or facing a political charge could be sent from Hong Kong. Under pressure from local business groups, they earlier exempted nine commercial crimes from the new provisions.

The proposals could be passed into law later in the year, with the city’s pro-democratic camp no longer holding enough seats to block the move.

The government has justified the swift introduction of the changes by saying they are needed so a young Hong Kong man suspected of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan can be extradited to face charges there.

The government’s assurances are not enough for Lam Wing-kee, a former Hong Kong political bookseller who said in 2016 he was abducted by mainland agents in the city.

Lam left Hong Kong for Taiwan last week, saying he feared being sent back to the mainland under the new laws and his experience showed he could have no trust in China’s legal system.

A group of 33 followers of Falun Gong, a religious sect banned in China, flew from Taiwan to Hong Kong on Saturday to join the march but were refused entry to Hong Kong, RTHK reported.

Sunday’s march comes amid renewed calls for deeper electoral reforms stalled five years ago after Occupy protests.

Four leaders of the movement were last week sentenced to jail terms ranging from eight to 16 months, part of a group of nine activists found guilty after a near month-long trial.

Reporting By Jessie Pang and Greg Torode; Additional reporting by Aleksander Solum and Clare Jim, Editing by Michael Perry, Richard Pullin and Dale Hudson

Western Imperialists and Islamic Allies Can Call Off Their Mad Dog ‘Islamic State’ Terrorists – by Patrick Cockburn (Independent) 26 April 2019

We Can Finish ISIS – But Only if the West Winds Down Its Proxy Wars

Western governments have been swift to pledge action to strike at Isis, as it becomes clear that the organisation was behind the suicide bombings that killed 253 people in Sri Lanka.

A video released by Isis after the attacks shows Zahran Hashim, an Islamic preacher and alleged leader of the bombers, pledging allegiance together with six other men – also thought to be bombers – to the self-declared caliph and leader of Isis, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Western leaders, as is usual, are proposing easy or unattainable action that will do little to damage Isis capabilities – such as trying to limit its access to social media – while steering clear of potentially more effective but difficult to implement policies to eradicate Isis that might be contrary to their national interests.

The best way to weaken Isis to the point where it can no longer orchestrate or carry out mass slaughter, like that in Sri Lanka last Sunday, is to bring an end to the wars in the Middle East and North Africa which over the last forty years have produced al-Qaeda and its clones, of which Isis is the most famous and most dangerous.

Governments deny that they are in any way responsible for Isis staying in business and point to the western-backed offensives against it which led to the last piece of the Islamic State being over-run on 23 March.

As a territorial entity Isis has been eliminated, but that does not mean that it cannot carry out guerrilla and terrorist attacks, as has happened in the last few months in Iraq and Syria. These are little reported because they take place in the vast deserts on the Iraq-Syrian border or they target regimes we do not like, such as the Syrian government in Damascus.

Isis was born out of war. In 2001, at the time of 9/11, al-Qaeda – out of which Isis was to emerge – consisted of a network of fanatics and a few hundred fighters in camps in Afghanistan. They were so few that they had to hire local Afghan tribesmen to fill out their numbers in propaganda videos.

It was the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 that turned the al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into a powerful military movement. When forced out of its strongholds by a reinforced US presence and weakened by opposition from within the Sunni Arab community in 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq retreated to its hideouts, waiting for better times.

These were not long in coming with the advent of the Syrian civil war in 2011 which the movement had the resources in men and weapons, to turn to their advantage. I remember Iraqi leaders in Baghdad telling me in 2012/13 that unless the war in Syria was quickly brought to an end, it would reignite the insurgency in Iraq.

They were soon proved right. Isis, as it was now called, astonished the world by emerging from its fastnesses to capture Mosul in 2014 and sweep through western Iraq and eastern Syria.

Western powers certainly wanted to defeat Isis but also did not want to do anything that would enable rivals and opponents – Russia, Iran and Bashar al-Assad – to win a clear victory in the Syrian war. They demanded that Assad go long after it was obvious that he was going to win after receiving Russian military support in 2015.

Stirring the pot in Syria in order to thwart Russia, Iran and Assad was much in the interests of Isis which could exploit the fact that opposition to it was fragmented.

Opportunities exist for Isis wherever government authority is weak or non-existent and it can put down roots. When defeat looms in eastern Syria this year, Isis moved thousands of surviving fighters next door into western Iraq. In Mosul and Raqqa, once the de facto Isis capitals in Iraq and Syria, assassinations and suicide bombings have started again. Kurdish-led forces are regularly ambushed. In Syrian government held territory near Palmyra, a series of Isis attacks in April killed 36 and captured ten pro-Assad soldiers.

In Iraq, Isis cells are reactivating in Sunni areas that surround Baghdad which, in the not-so-distant past, were the staging posts for the prolonged and devastating suicide bombing campaign that killed thousands.

It is probably only a matter of time until Isis succeeds in staging a Sri Lanka type multiple bombing once again in the Iraqi capital. The last big bomb in Baghdad was on 3 July 2016, when a refrigerator truck packed with explosives blew up killing 340 civilians and injuring hundreds more. This should be a moment when the US could do all it can to resist the coming onslaught. Instead Washington is giving priority to pressuring the Iraqi government to impose US sanctions on Iran – something that is bound to divide Iraqis and aid Isis.

There is a similar pattern across the wider Middle East and North Africa where no less than seven wars, large and small, are being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and north east Nigeria. These flare up or die down on occasion but they never come to an end.

The reason for these wars – the true breeding ground for Isis and its kin – is that foreign powers have plugged into local civil wars and want to see their proxy either to come out on top or, at worst, avoid defeat. Libya is a good example of this: would be leader of Libya General Khalifa Haftar, backed by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, France and Russia are fighting a government in Tripoli supported by Qatar, Turkey, Italy, Tunisia and Algeria.

Such divisions and rivalries are repeated in conflict after conflict and mean that Isis will always be able to lodge itself somewhere in the chaos.

At the same time, one needs to keep a sense of proportion about Isis’s capabilities: the atrocities it carries out in Colombo, Baghdad, Paris, Manchester, Westminster and elsewhere are geared to dominate the news agenda, provoke fear and project strength. But none of these things win wars and the defeat of the caliphate earlier this year was real and irreversible.

This does not mean that Isis will not try to resurrect itself as a guerrilla movement relying heavily on terrorist attacks on soft targets. It is, at bottom, a military machine led by experienced military men who adapt their strategy and tactics according to circumstances. Talk in the west about cutting Isis off from the social media as if that would be a mortal blow misses the point.

Social media may be a powerful tool for Isis but it would survive without it. Savage cult-like movements similar to Isis such as the Nazis in Germany and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia existed long before the internet and were able to spread their toxic message without use of it..

The only effective way to bring an end to Isis is to end the wars that produced it. A large part of the Middle East and North Africa have become a zone of conflict where international and regional rivalries are fought out through local proxies. So long as that goes on Isis will continue to exist.

Russia Catches Reuters in Cahoots With Pentagon to Peddle CIA Venezuela Disinfo – by John Helmer (Dances With Bears) 26 April 2019

It is no secret that Reuters acts as an infowar arm of the Pentagon. This was demonstrated time and again in their disgraceful lying about the Ukraine conflict in 2014-15, the 2008 war with Georgia, and much else. Russia caught them red-handed this time, and is putting them in legal jeopardy.

The Reuters news agency has published a retraction of an “exclusive” report on operations between the Venezuelan and Russian state oil companies, PDVSA and Rosneft, after disavowing the US-supplied source. Reuters has also acted after Rosneft applied for a criminal investigation of the media company’s operations in Russia by Moscow prosecutors.

The acknowledgment of misreporting has exposed evidence that Reuters’ reporters and bureaux in Caracas, Venezuela, Mexico City, Houston, London and Washington are routinely relaying disinformation supplied by US Government agents in their attempt to damage Venezuelan, Russian, Indian and Chinese operations in the international oil market.

According to a publication by Reuters issued on Tuesday, April 23 –  but made to appear to have been published on April 18 – the news agency has admitted it “could not determine” its earlier allegation that a “scheme uncovered by Reuters” was true. The new Reuters claim also disavows the charge that Rosneft was acting illegally with Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) to bust US sanctions imposed on the Venezuelan company  in January;  and on Evrofinance Mosnarbank, a state bank, sanctioned on March 11. 

Now, Reuters says, “experts see no violation of sanctions.”  The “scheme uncovered by Reuters” reported on April 18 has been reprinted this week as a “new approach described to Reuters.”

The unprecedented retreat by Reuters followed a Rosneft press statement issued  on April 19. The company called the Reuters report an “outright lie…purposeful misinformation, legalization of rumours…invent[ed] information fabricated for the purpose of causing damage to the Russian economy, Russian companies, and the Russian state.” Welcoming the correction in MoscowRosneft calls it “an unprecedented admission that we were right in our evaluation of Reuters’ article.”  

International journalist sources express concern that the reputation and ability of Reuters to report internationally has been damaged by what they call the “Americanization” of the news agency. This is a reference to the editor in chief of Reuters, Stephen Adler, who is based in New York.

Reuters’ spokesmen in New York and in London have yet to clarify the sources of the now repudiated allegation. So far, they also refuse to correct an earlier Reuters “exclusive” with allegations against PDVSA and Rosneft, whose sources were also from Washington, and whose veracity was challenged at the time as propaganda for the US sanctions war against Venezuela and Russia.

According to the byline in print, the reporter responsible for the original and corrected version  of the Reuters allegations is Marianna Parraga (right). Educated at a private university in Venezuela, Parraga worked first for Reuters in Caracas. Subsequently based at the same time in Mexico City and in Houston, Texas,she calls herself an energy correspondent for Latin America. Reuters has published several “exclusive” reports with  Parraga’s byline, all claiming anonymous sources for evidence that the Venezuelan Government and the state oil company PDVSA are breaking US sanctions; read the list of Parraga’s list of  “exclusives” here

In March, reporting from Houston,  Parraga advertised a document she was given by the US-financed opposition to the Venezuelan government. In a pitch for US investor support, Parraga claimed “Venezuela’s interim government led by congress head Juan Guaido is preparing new legislation to reverse late President Hugo Chavez’s energy industry nationalization, allowing private companies a bigger role in its oilfields and shrinking state-run PDVSA, according to sources and a draft seen by Reuters.” 

In her Twitter feed  Parraga has not made a personal correction of her misreporting. Instead, she continues to promote the April 18 publication. 

Although the Reuter management has erased most traces of the original story, they have failed to “correct” the Yahoo internet version. Before it too disappears, here are several screen shots:

Source: https://www.yahoo.com/news/

 

Directed from a headquarters in New York, Reuters’ editor-in-chief is a Harvard-educated American, Stephen Adler.  Last month Adler issued a statement attacking the Myanmar (Burmese) Government for putting two Reuters reporters on trial, convicting them on criminal charges, and sending them to prison for long sentences.   “They are honest, admirable journalists who did not break the law, and they should be freed as a matter of urgency,” Adler claimed.

According to the New York Times version of the Reuters case in Myanmar,  the evidence against the two reporters came from  local police who caught the journalists with official documents in violation of the local official secrets law. Reuters engaged for their defence Amal Clooney, a member of the London law firm defending Julian Assange against the US Government indictment for conspiracy to violate one of the US official secrets statutes.

Left, Stephen Adler in New York. Centre, Reuters reporters in Myanmar, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Right: Julian Assange in London.

Adler, according to two sources briefed on his conversation, has Americanized the global coverage of Reuters. At the same time, the sources comment, Adler has imposed cost and job-cutting which has reduced the number of reporters and flow of news from sources in countries with which the US Government is engaged in information warfare. Editing and rewriting Reuters news flow have increasingly been centralized by Adler in the US.

Last November, in what Parraga and a colleague from the Reuters bureau in Washington  called an “exclusive”, Reuters claimed a secret meeting in Caracas between Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was “one of the clearest signs of strain between crisis-stricken Venezuela and its key financier Russia.”  Reuters reported its evidence came from “two sources briefed on the [Sechin-Maduro] conversation last Saturday”.  Read the Reuters story here

Doubt that Sechin had been in Caracas when Reuters claimed, and evidence that the reported “crisis” between Rosneft, PDVSA and the Maduro government had been fabricated in Washington, can be followed in detail here

Yesterday the spokesmen for Reuters, Heather Carpenter (right) in New York, was asked detailed questions about the veracity of both Parraga  “exclusives” – the November report and the April  18 report. Concretely, by telephone and email,  she was asked to clarify the evidence and the “two sources” on which the November publication was based. She was also invited to explain how Reuters had verified Parraga’s material before publishing it.

Carpenter was also asked to explain why this week’s correction of Parraga’s April 18 report has been published as if on the original date; why the corrected version added reporting from Reuters bureaux in Caracas, New Delhi and London which had not been identified in the original; and whether the published correction is an acknowledgement by Reuters that the origin of the claim, which can no longer be “determined”, is US Government information-war material.  Why, the spokesman was questioned, had Parraga and her colleagues cited sources at the US Treasury and the State Department without reporting from Rosneft or the Russian Government?

Carpenter acknowledged receiving the questions. “We will come back to you on this,” she replied. She didn’t. A London spokesman for Adler refused to answer the questions.

Insane in the Ukraine: Zelenskii Beat Poroshenko – What Will Happen Next? – by The Saker – 27 April 2019

As everybody predicted, Poroshenko completely lost the election. As I wrote in my previous column, this is both amazing (considering Poro’s immense and extensive resources and the fact that his opponent was, literally, a clown (ok, a comic if you prefer). His defeat was also so predictable as to be almost inevitable: not only is the man genuinely hated all over the Ukraine (except for the Nazi crackpots of the Lvov region), but he made fatal blunders which made him even more detestable than usual.

First, there was this masterpiece:

Translation: April 21st. A crucial choice!

Now one could sympathize with Poroshenko: not only did this “Putin the boogeyman” appear to work fantastically well with the main sponsors of the Ukronazi coup and with the legacy main stream media, but nobody dared to tell Poroshenko that most Ukrainians were not buying that nonsense at all. The suggestion that all the other candidates are Putin agents is no less ridiculous. The thin veneer of deniability Poroshenko had devised (the poster was not put up by the official Poroshenko campaign but by “volunteers”) failed, everybody immediately saw through it all, and this resulted in Poro’s first big campaign faceplant.

Next came this disaster:

Again, this was not officially Poroshenko’s campaign which made this video, but everybody saw through this one too. The quasi-open threat to murder Zelenskii was received with horror in the Ukraine, and this PR-disaster was Poro’s second faceplant.

Then the poor man “lost it.” I won’t list all the stupid and ridiculous things the man said and did, but I will say that his performance at the much-anticipated debate in the stadium was a disaster too.

The writing had been on the wall for a while now, and this is why the two candidates were summoned to speak to their masters (face to face in Germany and France, by phone with Mr. MAGA) and they were told a few things:

  • Poroshenko was told in no uncertain terms that he could not trigger a war, organize a last-minute false flag, murder Zelenskii or engage in any other “creative campaign methods.”
  • Zelenskii was also clearly told that should he win the election, he was not to touch Poroshenko. It appears that the US gave personal security guarantees to Poroshenko.
Ukraine insaneMeet the new Ukie President (no, this is not a joke!)

The western calculus is simple: try to keep Poroshenko alive (figuratively and politically) and to see how much of the Rada he can keep. Furthermore, since Zelenskii is extremely weak (he has no personal power base of any kind), Kolomoiskii will have him do exactly as he is told and Kolomoiskii can easily be told to behave by the Empire. Finally, there is Vladimir Groisman, the current prime minister who has kept a very low profile, who does NOT have blood on his hands (at least when compared to thugs like Turchinov or Avakov) and who has not made any move which would blacklist him with the Kremlin.

Groisman is also a Jew (Israel and the Ukraine are now the two countries on the planet in which both the President and the Prime-Minister are Jews; ironic considering the historical lovefest between Jews and Ukrainian nationalists …). He might make a much more effective Ukrainian Gauleiter for the Empire than either Poroshenko or Zelenskii. For the time being, Goisman has already ditched Poroshenko’s party and is creating his own. And let’s not forget Avakov and Parubii, who are both soaked in innocent blood, and who will try to hold on to their considerable power by using the various Nazi death-squads under their control. Finally, there is still the formidable (and relatively popular) Iulia Timoshenko whose political ambitions need to be kept in check.

Thus, Poroshenko with his immense wealth and his connections can still be a useful tool for the Empire’s control of the Ukraine.

The western calculus might also be wrong: for one thing, Zelenskii cannot deliver anything meaningful to the Ukrainian people, most definitely not prosperity or honesty. Pretty soon the Ukrainian people will wake up to realize that when they elected the “new face” of Zelenskii, they ended up with the “not new” face of Kolomoiskii and everything that infamous name entails. Zelenskii might not have another option than to jail Poroshenko, which he semi-promised to do during the stadium debate. Except that now Zelenskii is saying that he will consult with Poroshenko and might even use him in some official capacity. Yes, campaign promises in the Ukraine are never kept for more than the time it takes to make them. Finally, Poroshenko’s power base is very rapidly eroding because nobody wants to go down with him. I tend to believe that Poroshenko has outlived his usefulness for the Western imperialists because he became an overnight political corpse. But this is the Ukraine, so never say never.

Finally, the Empire is also pushing for a reform of the Ukrainian political system to give less powers to the President and more to the Rada. Again, this makes sense considering that Zelenskii is an unknown actor and considering the fact that Rada members are basically on the US payroll (across all parties and factions).

What about Russia in all this?

Well, the Russians have been extremely cautious, and nobody seems to harbor any illusions about Zelenskii. In fact, just a day after his election Zelenskii is already making all sorts of anti-Russian statements. Truly, besides the logical implication of Poroshenko’s poster (that a defeat for him would mean a victory for Putin), nobody in Russia is celebrating. The main feeling about the entire topic of the Ukraine is one of total disgust, a gradual and painful realization of the fact that our so-called “brothers” are brothers only in the sense of the biblical Cain and the acceptance that there is nobody to talk to in Kiev. 

Maria Zakharova: only caution and skepticism for now

These could include:

  • Decide whether to recognize the outcome of the election or not. I think that it is more likely that Russia will recognize the fact that most Ukrainians did vote for Zelenskii, but that recognition will imply nothing more than that: the recognition of a fact.
  • Accelerate the pace of distribution of Russian passports to citizens of the DNR and LNR republics.
  • Slap further economic sanctions on the Ukraine (Russia has just banned the export of energy sources to the Ukraine – finally and at last!).
  • Declare that since millions of Ukrainians did not vote (inside the Ukraine, in the DNR/LNR and in Russia, and since the Minsk Agreements are dead (they are de facto if not de jure yet) Russia does not recognize this election and, instead, recognizes the two people’s republics. I don’t think that the Kremlin will do that short of an Ukronazi attack on Novorussia (in which case the Russians will do what they did following Saakashvili’s attack on South-Ossetia).

So far, Russian spokespeople have just said that they “respected the vote of the Ukrainian people” and that they will judge Zelenskii “on his actions, not his words”. This approach sure seems balanced and reasonable to me.

Conclusion:

The truth is that nobody knows what will happen next, not even Kolomoiskii or Zelenskii himself. There are just too many parameters to consider, and the real balance of power following this election has not manifested itself yet. As for the true aspirations and hopes of the people of the Ukraine, they were utterly ignored: Poroshenko will be replaced by Kolomoiskii, wearing the mask of Zelenskii. Hardly a reason to rejoice …

In spite of the large number of electoral candidates, the people of the Ukraine were not given a meaningful choice. So they did the only thing they could do: they voted to kick Poroshenko out. And that sure must have felt great.

But will Zelenskii turn out to be any better? I very much doubt it, even though I also very much hope that I am wrong.


Source: The Unz Review

US Sanctions on Russia’s Civil Aviation Are Laughable and Destined to Fail – by Andrei Martyanov (Checkpoint Asia) 28 April 2019

 

Only a matter of time until Russia, which produces enormously sophisticated avionics and engines for its military aviation, develops simpler counterparts for the civilian sector as well

 

 



Let’s continue a bit of rationalization and reasoning which we started in the previous post with the same title  and get back to our global commercial airspace matters. Here is the MC-21 cockpit:

here is more:

This is largely Honeywell avionics and Honeywell is extremely proud to be a part of MC-21 program as main avionics and some other aggregates provider. For now. Honeywell is proud to be part of Chinese aviation too. For now.

This is how MC-21 or, for that matter, any other commercial aircraft flies. Straight and slow.

For this kind of flying commercial aircraft need all kinds of computerized on-board systems which control all mechanics and engines, which also provide monitoring and representation of the state of on-board systems visually. They also require radar, collision avoidance system, altimeters, navigation (usually inertial navigational complex with various correction systems, GPS, GLONASS Et all)  and the list goes on and on this is what Honeywell, plus some Israeli and French avionics companies pride themselves on doing it better than anyone in the world.

When speaking about Russian commercial aircraft, however, one should be fully aware of the presence of Western avionics and some other systems not because Russians are so dumb and can not make their own, but primarily because having Western “partners” helps the process of certification and of reaching foreign markets. After all, there is also a reasonable want of many potential customers to deal with avionics, aggregates’ and engine packages they got used to. But let us continue:

Here is a standard cockpit of SU-35:

here is more:

And this is how this damn aircraft flies:

If you want to get the point without watching the whole thing, get to 6:30 mark and try not to drop your jaw to the floor. Avionics of Su-35 presented in the photos above are 100% Russian-made and overwhelmingly, including elemental base, including processors, Russian-designed and produced. So now, let’s cut to the chase. Not only can modern combat aircraft such as Su-35 do any commercial aircraft type flying easily (well, without passengers, of course) but they fly in such a way and carry an astonishing array of cutting edge sensors and weapons, that any commercial aircraft avionics and what it can do compares to SU-35 avionics as a horse and buggy compares to the top of the line Ford truck. In other words, try to develop AI based software and then realize it in own produced hardware for all-aspect thrust-vectoring engines. I can tell you immediately, it is much harder than producing pretty much unified and fairly boring avionics package for commercial aircraft.

Here we are coming to this very important juncture at which we have to ask this straight-forward question: if KRET (part of Rostec mammoth corporation) is capable to make avionics which makes the Su-35 fly like an alien spaceship while simultaneously using fully integrated sensor and weapons suite which commercial pilots (unless they are former military) have no grasp of, isn’t it reasonable to assume that, say, KRET and UAC will have no serious problems removing US (or Western) made avionics from Russian made aircraft, together with 100% Russian designed and made engines, thus removing them from the sanctions which are coming? What sanctions you may ask? Well, the US has the right to prohibit any sales of aircraft to anywhere if they contain more than 10% of US-made parts. And this is the next step Trump Administration will take against Russian airspace.

Russian know it. But once you remove P&W engines and Western avionics and aggregates from MC-21 (and, accidentally, SSJ-100) you get almost fully Russian-made aircraft which will not be affected by sanctions, at least not in this way.

And here is the trick. Look at PD-14–not a single foreign piece in it. In fact, this engine pushes boundaries of what is possible and promises enormous savings for customers. Some say as high as 17% over any Western analogues. Well, even if it is 10%–it is gigantic in commercial aviation terms. US plane makers know it. Moreover, PD-14 already launched another mini-revolution of sorts in commercial engines design (is it possible that it is somehow connected to Russian combat aviation, wink-wink) and materials.

So, make your own conclusion if the makers of avionics and aggregates for Su-35 or Su-57 will be able to replace western parts on commercial jets? I guess it is always harder coming up in complexity than down and that is your answer. But perspective is even more threatening for the end of the next decade once PD-35 and CR-929 go on-line.

If Russian commercial aviation market is large–its loss for Western commercial aircraft manufacturers is painful but survivable, the loss of Chinese market, on the other hand, talk about tectonic shift in commercial aviation and that is what CR-929 will do. Well, that plus I have some difficulty believing that all issues with COMAC 919 will be solved in timely manner (they will be solved eventually) but one way or another it is not real competitor to MC-21, A-320 Neo or B-373 Max 8. So, it’s impact will be limited.

The reason? China does not have a modern engine, Russia does and, in fact, it is being certified as I type this. So, the trend is being set and, considering the fact that DJT doesn’t control his own government, there is very little necessity of any kind of cooperation, especially with upcoming November sanctions and, I don’t think, Putin really believes Trump anyway. But it was stated many times before–sanctions are good for Russia, well, except for the last vestiges of some so called liberal (in reality criminal) and so called “business” (mostly money making and laundering) circles of Russia who, as I said many times before, should worship Putin who is the only obstacle between this public and lamp posts on which they might be hanged the minute he steps down if they trespass. But that is a separate topic altogether.

She Wrote The Patriot Act. Her Next Job Is With Facebook – by Tyler Durden (Zero Hedge) 28 April 2019

Facebook announced Monday that Jennifer Newstead, a Trump appointee who served in the Department of Justice (DoJ) under President Bush, will join the social media company as General Counsel, supervising its global legal functions.

Newstead replaces Colin Stretch, who announced in 3Q18 that he will exit. Stretch will remain with Facebook through the transition phase, expected to be completed in the coming months.

“Jennifer is a seasoned leader whose global perspective and experience will help us fulfill our mission,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer. “We are also truly grateful to Colin for his dedicated leadership and wise counsel over the past nine years. He has played a crucial role in some of our most important projects and has created a strong foundation for Jennifer to build upon.”

Newstead brings a terrifying history of lobbying and legislating for an Orwellian style of mass electronic surveillance of Americans.

The Hill explains she was credited with writing the controversial 2001 Patriot Act, a piece of legislation that stripped Americans of their First and Fourth Amendments in the name of fighting the War on Terror.

In a 2002 statement, Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh described Newstead’s role in drafting the Patriot Act: “Her enhanced leadership duties and her excellent service on a range of issues — including helping craft the new U.S.A. Patriot Act to protect the United States against terror — have earned her this important distinction. She is first among equals.”

Congress enacted the Patriot Act in the wake of September 11, 2001 attacks, the Act expanded the scope of the government’s surveillance powers to investigate terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking. It allowed government investigators to use roving wiretaps and the ability to collect telephone records from US carriers.

The Patriot Act also launched the national security letter (NSL), an administrative subpoena issued by the government to collect specific data without the authorization of a court or judge, citing threats to national security.

Facebook continues to process the National Security Agency (NSA) data demands, which have spiked in the last five years. The company’s lawyers received more than 32,000 requests for data from law enforcement in the second 2H18, and 20,000 accounts were requested by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court over the same period.

Newstead’s new position will likely spearhead Facebook’s legal troubles as the company continues to fight ongoing privacy battles. Her professional history suggests – she will be more inclined to accept government requests for users’ data than fight them. 

Source: Zero Hedge

Mont Blanc’s first ascent, and the crazed crystal hunter who made it – By Phil Edwards (Vox) 8 Aug 2015

A picture depicting a descent from Mount Blanc in 1787
Christian von Mechel via Wikimedia Commons

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Today’s the 229th anniversary of the first ascent of Mont Blanc (which is why it’s honored with a Google Doodle). But why should anybody care?

There’s a reason that August 8, 1786, is worth remembering. Mont Blanc’s peaks are some of the deadliest in the world, but two mountaineers, Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard, tackled them anyway. In the process, they gave birth to mountaineering and kindled a spirit of adventure that every climber chases today.

Like all great adventures, the climb on Mont Blanc started with a cash prize

The Valley of Chamonix — and Mont Blanc — as depicted in 1810.
The Valley of Chamonix — and Mont Blanc — as depicted in 1810.
Apic/Getty Images

The highest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc had long captivated the adventurers of 18th-century Europe. One man of the era, Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, was especially obsessed. Saussure was a scientist fascinated with the geology and botany of the Alps, and that, along with a healthy sense of adventure, inspired him to try to scale the mountain.

Unfortunately, Saussure couldn’t scale Mont Blanc himself — his efforts always came up short. So he decided to publicly offer a reward to any man who could scale the mountain and then help him reach the top (reports on the value of the prize vary). Overnight, prize-chasing adventurers joined in to try to scale the mountain, seeking fame and fortune.

A 26-year-old crystal and chamois hunter named Jacques Balmat was up to the challenge. A son of two peasants, he sold crystals to collectors, wandering between villages and in the mountains. He needed cash, but he wasn’t only climbing for the award — for him, Mont Blanc had become an obsession.

The incredible adventure of reaching Mont Blanc’s summit for the first time

This depicts an 1851 ascent of Mont Blanc, more than half a century after Balmat and Paccard conquered it.
This depicts an 1851 ascent of Mont Blanc, more than half a century after Balmat and Paccard conquered it.
Apic/Getty Images

“The determination to reach the summit of Mont Blanc was jogging in my head night and day,” Balmat said. “At night I had hardly closed my eyes when I dreamt I was on my climb of discovery.”

His thoughts were rivetingly recorded in 1881 by T. Louis Oxley in The First Ascent of Mont Blanc: A True Story. At night, Balmat dreamed of clamping his fingers onto the face of a rock. In his nightmares, he imagined dropping down and grabbing a branch just before his death.

That obsession drove him to attempt the climb. He told his wife he was off to hunt for the crystals he sold to collectors, and then he filled a gourd with brandy, got a piece of bread, and set off on his journey.

Mont Blanc’s heights were challenging, but the problem of navigation was more important — it wasn’t so much that people couldn’t scale the mountain, but that they didn’t know how to scale it. Crevasses, ice bridges, and byzantine routes made it not only an athlete’s challenge, but an explorer’s challenge as well.

Balmat spent his first night on a rock, waiting until morning to continue his climb. Bad weather forced him to descend after an initial attempt. At the village of Moud below, Balmat encountered a group of guides who’d attempted similar ascents, and he reluctantly linked up with them on the way back up the mountain. Along the way, they met other groups of hikers, all trying to claim the prize for themselves, but bad weather sent Balmat down the mountain yet again. He wouldn’t return until three weeks later, on August 8, 1786.

That day, he found Dr. Michel Paccard, whom he already knew from hiking, and told him he was going to try again. After Balmat had done little convincing, they set off (once they’d acquired a little more brandy). Thanks to good weather, they rose quickly, though a rough wind slowed them down. They kept going, at one point gazing down and spotting a group looking back at them with telescopes.

Finally, on August 8, 1786, they reached the top. “I had reached the goal where no one had as yet been,” Balmat said, “not even the eagle nor the chamois.”

Numbed, broken, exhausted, and exhilarated, they descended, having climbed an unclimbable mountain and having changed mountaineering forever.

What really happened on top of that mountain?

A sculpture of Balmat and Saussure
A sculpture of Balmat and Saussure.
B. Broussard via Wikimedia Commons

Balmat’s retelling paints himself as an unwavering hero and Paccard as, at best, a conscript to Balmat’s great dream. In reality, Paccard was probably a more active and competent companion (a case that the Paccards actively made in the legacy-building years that followed). Only Balmat and Paccard really know the truth.

But whatever the true narrative, one part of the story is clear: Their feat changed mountaineering forever.

As recalled in The Summits of Modern Man, Balmat and Paccard quickly claimed their award from Saussure, and Balmat subsequently helped Saussure climb the mountain himself for further study. The unconquerable mountain had been conquered, and a new age of mountaineering was born, in which scientific enterprise and adventure were inextricably linked, thanks to a botanist, a doctor, and a very brave peasant.

For Balmat, everything changed, and, at the same time, not much changed at all. The explorer who had said he’d been thrown into “a state of rapture” at the top of the mountain never gave up chasing that rush. Many years later, in 1834, he chased after rumors of gold in the Sixt Valley, in hopes of partnering his glory with wealth. He fell into the chasm, and his body was never found. But he probably wouldn’t have been satisfied if he hadn’t gone on that journey.

Before reaching Mont Blanc, he said that “I felt I should live in a sort of purgatory if I did not succeed.” Balmat could never stay in the safe middle — he was born for extremes. And he reached them, no matter how high they were.

Archive

Must All Stories Have a “Happy Ending?”

In the 2003 film adaptation of Peter Pan, Wendy describes the stories she’s been telling the Lost Boys as “adventures, in which good triumphs over evil,” to which Captain Hook sneers, “They all end in a kiss.” Like Wendy and the Lost Boys, millions of people escape into the world of fiction to find happily ever after endings. We cheer when the good guy defeats the villain. We applaud when true love conquers all. We find hope and encouragement in the fictional examples that peace and happiness await on the other side of seemingly insurmountable trials. Without doubt, happy endings are enjoyable, uplifting, and reaffirming.

But does this mean all endings should be happy? Are sad stories with sad endings the domain of the lonely, the manic-depressive, and the masochistic?

In his essay “Writing toward the light” (The Writer, December 2010), creative writing teacher and short story author David Harris Ebenbach shares his experiences:


More than once I’ve been asked why I don’t write happy stories. I’ve been asked by friends, family, strangers, and even the president of the college where I teach. My wife, too, messed up a perfectly nice date by reminding me in the middle of my complaining about how hard it is to get published that, after all, people like to read about hope, beauty, and wonder.

Is that what we’re doing when we write sad stories? Are we squelching hope, beauty, and wonder? Or are we perhaps just exploring the opposite side of the same coin? Life is just as full of sadness as it is of happiness. To ignore that fact is to limit both our personal experience of the human existence and our ability to write truthfully about life. To cap every story with a happy ending is dishonesty to both ourselves and our readers. The moment fiction becomes dishonest is the moment it becomes useless. Novelist Aryn Kyle comments in her article “In defense of sad stories” (The Writer, June 2011):


“You should write something happy,” people tell me, and I don’t understand. Happy like Anna Karenina? Happy like The Grapes of Wrath? Happy like … Catch-22 or … Hamlet?

Take a moment to think about the stories that have changed your life. I’m willing to bet many of them were stories of pain, loss, sacrifice, and sin. These are the stories that speak bluntly about hard subjects and force their characters—and their readers—to face hard truths and, hopefully, walk away from the realizations as someone slightly different and perhaps slightly better. Few of us would want to subsist on a steady diet of tragedy, but all of us are better for having occasionally cleansed our reading palate with the astringent bite of these unflinching portrayals of bittersweet truth.

As writers, not all of us are cut out to write the next Crime and Punishment. Light humor is just as valuable as stark reality. But if we’re going to call ourselves authors, we need to be brave enough to stand unflinching before the truths of life, even—and perhaps especially—those that don’t end happily ever after. Readers won’t hate you for writing a sad story (although, granted, not all of them will be ready or willing to stomach it). In fact, if you execute it properly, you have the opportunity to leave an impression they’ll carry with them all through their lives.

Sad stories don’t have to be depressing stories. The stories that have broken my heart and changed my life are stories of great tragedy, but they’re also stories of great hope. That, right there, is where we find the true power of the sad story—because light always shines brightest in the darkness.

The Terrifying Potential of the 5G Network – By Sue Halpern (The New Yorker) 26 April 2019

5G 10

The future of wireless technology holds the promise of total connectivity. But it will also be especially susceptible to cyberattacks and surveillance.

In January, 2018, Robert Spalding, the senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council, was in his office at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, across the street from the White House, when he saw a breaking-news alert on the Axios Web site. “Scoop,” the headline read, “Trump Team Considers Nationalizing 5G Network.” At the time, Spalding, a brigadier general in the Air Force who previously served as a defense attaché in Beijing, had been in the military for nearly three decades. At the N.S.C., he was studying ways to insure that the next generation of Internet connectivity, what is commonly referred to as 5G, can be made secure from cyberattacks. “I wasn’t looking at this from a policy perspective,” he said. “It was about the physics, about what was possible.” To Spalding’s surprise, the Axios story was based on a leaked early draft of a report he’d been working on for the better part of a year.

5G 1

Two words explain the difference between our current wireless networks and 5G: speed and latency. 5G—if you believe the hype—is expected to be up to a hundred times faster. (A two-hour movie could be downloaded in less than four seconds.) That speed will reduce, and possibly eliminate, the delay—the latency—between instructing a computer to perform a command and its execution. This, again, if you believe the hype, will lead to a whole new Internet of Things, where everything from toasters to dog collars to dialysis pumps to running shoes will be connected.  In China and Germany there are automated factories with 5G integrated into everything the factory does.  A one square mile factory in China that produces 2,000,000 cell phones a month through complete 5G integration has only 17 humans working at the plant.

5G 7

Remote robotic surgery will be routine, the military will develop hypersonic weapons, and autonomous vehicles will cruise safely along smart highways. The claims are extravagant, and the stakes are high. One estimate projects that 5G will pump twelve trillion dollars into the global economy by 2035, and add twenty-two million new jobs in the United States alone. This 5G world, we are told, will usher in a fourth industrial revolution.

5G 4

A totally connected world will also be especially susceptible to cyberattacks. Even before the introduction of 5G networks, hackers have breached the control center of a municipal dam system, stopped an Internet-connected car as it travelled down an interstate, and sabotaged home appliances. Ransomware, malware, crypto-jacking, identity theft, and data breaches have become so common that more Americans are afraid of cybercrime than they are of becoming a victim of violent crime. Adding more devices to the online universe is destined to create more opportunities for disruption. “5G is not just for refrigerators,” Spalding said. “It’s farm implements, it’s airplanes, it’s all kinds of different things that can actually kill people or that allow someone to reach into the network and direct those things to do what they want them to do. It’s a completely different threat that we’ve never experienced before.”

Spalding’s solution, he told me, was to build the 5G network from scratch, incorporating cyber defenses into its design. Because this would be a massive undertaking, he initially suggested that one option would be for the federal government to pay for it and, essentially, rent it out to the telecom companies. But he had scrapped that idea. A later draft, he said, proposed that the major telecom companies—Verizon, A.T. & T., Sprint, and T-Mobile—form a separate company to build the network together and share it. “It was meant to be a nationwide network,” Spalding told me, not a nationalized one. “They could build this network and then sell bandwidth to their retail customers. That was one idea, but it was never that the government would own the network. It was always about, How do we get industry to actually secure the system?”

5G 6

Even before Spalding began working on his report, the telecom companies were rolling out what they were calling their new 5G services in test markets around the country. In 2017, Verizon announced that it would be introducing 5G in eleven municipalities, including Dallas, Ann Arbor, Miami, and Denver. A.T. & T. was testing its service in a dozen cities. T-Mobile was concentrating on Spokane. For the most part, they were building their new services on top of existing infrastructure—and inheriting its vulnerabilities. As the Clemson University professor Thomas Hazlett told me, “This is just the transitional part. You have various experiments, you do trial in the market, and various deployments take place that lay a pathway to something that will be truly distinguishable from the old systems.”

In the meantime, the carriers jockeyed for position. A lawsuit brought by Sprint and T-Mobile, which was settled on Monday, claimed that A.T. & T.’s 5GE service, where “E” stands for “evolution,” was just 4G by another name. According to Spalding, when the carriers heard that the government was considering “nationalizing” the future of their industry, they quickly mobilized against it. “As I’ve talked to people subsequently, they said they’ve never seen that industry unite so quickly,” Spalding said. “They have such support in government and on the Hill and in the bureaucracy, and they have such a huge lobbying contingent, that it was across the board and swift.” The Axios story came out on a Sunday. The following day, Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, roundly rejected any idea of federalizing the Internet, saying that “the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.”

5G 2

By Wednesday, Spalding was out of a job. “There was no ‘Hey, thank you for your service,’ ” Spalding told me. “It was just ‘Get out. Don’t let the door hit your butt.’ ”

Huawei, a Chinese manufacturer of consumer electronics and telecommunications equipment, is currently the global leader in 5G technology. Founded, in the eighties, by Ren Zhegfei, an engineer who began his career in the People’s Liberation Army, Huawei has been accused by cybersecurity experts and politicians, most notably Donald Trump, of being a conduit to Chinese intelligence. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, the Republican senators Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, and John Cornyn, of Texas, characterized the company, which is funded with subsidies from the Chinese government, as a Trojan horse that could “give China effective control of the digital commanding heights.” They tell the story of the African Union, which installed Huawei servers in its headquarters, in Addis Ababa, only to discover that those servers had been sending sensitive data back to China every evening. Although Huawei vigorously denies that it is an agent of the Chinese government, the senators pointed out, the company is subject to a Chinese law that requires companies to coöperate with the state intelligence apparatus. The Times of London reported that the C.I.A. has evidence that Huawei has taken money from the P.L.A., as well as from branches of the Chinese intelligence service. Australia, Japan, and New Zealand have joined with the United States in banning Huawei hardware from their networks.

So far, though, the Trump Administration’s campaign to shut out Huawei is finding limited traction. The European Union is poised to reject American entreaties, with individual countries like Portugal and Germany expressing a willingness to use Huawei equipment. Canada is relying on Huawei for at least one 5G trial. Even A.T. & T., which is bound by the federal guidelines that will go into effect next year in the U.S., continues to use Huawei equipment in Mexico, where it is the third-largest wireless company. Huawei equipment is cheaper than its Western rivals and, in the estimation of researchers at the Defensive Innovation Board (DIB), which advises the Secretary of Defense on new technologies, in many cases, it is superior. By the start of this year, Huawei had cornered nearly thirty per cent of the global telecommunications-equipment market, and its revenue was thirty-nine-per-cent higher than the year before. According to the DIB, its continued growth “will allow China to promote its preferred standards and specifications for 5G networks and will shape the global 5G product market going forward.”

5G 3

There are very good reasons to keep a company that appears to be beholden to a government with a documented history of industrial cyber espionage, international data theft, and domestic spying out of global digital networks. But banning Huawei hardware will not secure those networks. Even in the absence of Huawei equipment, systems still may rely on software developed in China, and software can be reprogrammed remotely by malicious actors. And every device connected to the fifth-generation Internet will likely remain susceptible to hacking. According to James Baker, the former F.B.I. general counsel who runs the national-security program at the R Street Institute, “There’s a concern that those devices that are connected to the 5G network are not going to be very secure from a cyber perspective. That presents a huge vulnerability for the system, because those devices can be turned into bots, for example, and you can have a massive botnet that can be used to attack different parts of the network.”

This past January, Tom Wheeler, who was the F.C.C. chairman during the Obama Administration, published an Op-Ed in the New York Times titled “If 5G Is So Important, Why Isn’t It Secure?” The Trump Administration had walked away from security efforts begun during Wheeler’s tenure at the F.C.C.; most notably, in recent negotiations over international standards, the U.S. eliminated a requirement that the technical specifications of 5G include cyber defense. “For the first time in history,” Wheeler wrote, “cybersecurity was being required as a forethought in the design of a new network standard—until the Trump F.C.C. repealed it.” The agency also rejected the notion that companies building and running American digital networks were responsible for overseeing their security. This might have been expected, but the current F.C.C. does not consider cybersecurity to be a part of its domain, either. “I certainly did when we were in office,” Wheeler told me. “But the Republicans who were on the commission at that point in time, and are still there, one being the chairman, opposed those activities as being overly regulatory.”

5G 5

The Trump Administration, keen to win what it has characterized as “the race to 5G,” may be more interested in attempting to put a brake on Huawei’s—and, by extension, China’s—progress. In January, the company’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, a daughter of the Huawei founder, was indicted on thirteen counts in the U.S., including breaking sanctions against Iran, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Meng is currently under arrest in Canada and fighting extradition. Ajit Pai, the F.C.C. chairman, recently announced that the commission will block another Chinese company, China Telecom, from operating in the U.S., again citing security concerns. “If we didn’t have these other trade issues with China, it would be easier to just accept the [Administration’s] security statements as truth,” Scott Wallsten, an economist and the president of the Technology Policy Institute, told me. “But when it gets mixed up with all these other trade issues, it makes it a little more suspect.”

 

In October, Trump signed a memorandum on “Developing a Sustainable Spectrum Strategy for America’s Future.” A few weeks later, the F.C.C. auctioned off new swaths of the electromagnetic radio spectrum. (There was another auction last month, with more scheduled for later this year.) Opening up new spectrum is crucial to achieving the super-fast speeds promised by 5G. Most American carriers are planning to migrate their services to a higher part of the spectrum, where the bands are big and broad and allow for colossal rivers of data to flow through them. (Some carriers are also working with lower-spectrum frequencies, where the speeds will not be as fast but likely more reliable.) Until recently, these high-frequency bands, which are called millimetre waves, were not available for Internet transmission, but advances in antenna technology have made it possible, at least in theory. In practice, millimetre waves are finicky: they can only travel short distances—about a thousand feet—and are impeded by walls, foliage, human bodies, and, apparently, rain.

To accommodate these limitations, 5G cellular relays will have to be installed inside buildings and on every city block, at least. Cell relays mounted on thirteen million utility poles, for example, will deliver 5G speeds to just over half of the American population, and cost around four hundred billion dollars to install. Rural communities will be out of luck—too many trees, too few people—despite the F.C.C.’s recently announced Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. According to Blair Levin, a communications analyst and former F.C.C. chief of staff in the Clinton Administration, the fund “has nothing to do with 5G.” Rather, it will subsidize companies to lay fibre-optic cable that, minimally, will provide speeds forty times slower than what 5G promises.

5G 8

Deploying millions of wireless relays so close to one another and, therefore, to our bodies has elicited its own concerns. Two years ago, a hundred and eighty scientists and doctors from thirty-six countries appealed to the European Union for a moratorium on 5G adoption until the effects of the expected increase in low-level radiation were studied. In February, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, took both the F.C.C. and F.D.A. to task for pushing ahead with 5G without assessing its health risks. “We’re kind of flying blind here,” he concluded. A system built on millions of cell relays, antennas, and sensors also offers previously unthinkable surveillance potential. Telecom companies already sell location data to marketers, and law enforcement has used similar data to track protesters. 5G will catalogue exactly where someone has come from, where they are going, and what they are doing. “To give one made-up example,” Steve Bellovin, a computer-science professor at Columbia University, told the Wall Street Journal, “might a pollution sensor detect cigarette smoke or vaping, while a Bluetooth receiver picks up the identities of nearby phones? Insurance companies might be interested.” Paired with facial recognition and artificial intelligence, the data streams and location capabilities of 5G will make anonymity a historical artifact.

In China, which has installed three hundred and fifty thousand 5G relays—about ten times more than the United States—enhanced geolocation, coupled with an expansive network of surveillance cameras, each equipped with facial-recognition technology, has enabled authorities to track and subordinate the country’s eleven million Uighur Muslims. According to the Times, “the practice makes China a pioneer in applying next-generation technology to watch its people, potentially ushering in a new era of automated racism.”

5G 9

The United States is not there yet, and may never be. But, as 5G begins to be rolled out, the pressure to capture and capitalize on new streams of data from individuals, businesses, and government will only grow more intense. Building safeguards into the system seems like an obvious and necessary goal. Spalding is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and also advises corporations and other agencies on the cybersecurity threats posed by China. But, he warns, the danger is not limited to a single nation-state. “What is existential to democracy is allowing totalitarian regimes—or any government—full knowledge of everything you do at all times,” he said. “Because the tendency is always going to be to want to regulate how you think, how you act, what you do. The problem is that most people don’t think very hard about what that world would look like.”

A Rhythmic Connection – My Night at a Suburban Boston Dance Club

 
Vincents

I laid out my clothes on my bed. Dancing shoes with some doctor’s gel soles to comfort my soul while prancing. Plain black men’s dress shoes. Black pants with pleats and a crease. A simple black belt with a grey buckle. An auburn shirt with a collar. A grey tie with subtle lines at right angles – like a technical drawing – hardly visible.

I was pushing myself to go out. I was happily skating around the house listening to music and looking at my desktop with a slide show playing. Too happy at home entertaining myself. Out, out!

I like being able to meet people online. Special interests require a special search. A general interest ‘boy meets girl’ night club is not always the place to look for that strange flavor when you tire of vanilla.

I had just sent a second email to a person I had contacted online. Our mutual interests shall be explored. I had sent my home phone number. But, I felt some panic. What if my phone rang right away. We had seen each others pictures, there was a long ad, I sent a fairly detailed response with a picture. Mutual inclination.

I had gone out to ‘Vincent’s’ night club in Randolph, a suburb just south of Boston, two weeks ago with a woman friend. I live right on the edge of the city, and a downtown club would be the same distance to drive, about eight miles. I like the feel of the city, but the search for parking brings a tedious tour of the narrow one way streets. The parking in the suburban ‘big box’ function facility with the dance club is free. So, to the suburbs I go. The crowd is a little more straight laced and ‘average’ looking than in a downtown club, or a music venue in Cambridge or Somerville across the river. But one never knows who one will bump into. Suburbs have their exotic secrets.

A night club with dancing is like a primitive human’s bonfire at night to celebrate a hunt with rhythmic dancing and chanting to drumming when all are well fed and in a happy mood. What a feeling of group solidarity – part of a successful herd that hunts and gathers enough for all. Well fed people should be dancing every night. I do. How can people listen to music and not move?

So, my clothes were laid out, and I wanted to get out of my house to avoid answering the phone. I told myself to stop being an internet troll who roller blades and drives family members to appointments. Summer nights are for hunting passionate connections.

I had gone to Vincent’s two weeks ago on a Saturday night with a woman friend. She is a longtime friend of my family, a ‘Mary Poppins’ to my children, and like a sister to me. Dancing with her is like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers. Also, she is great to gossip with about people in the club, she likes to dance, and she is not jealous when I am looking at women around me dancing and not at her.

But staying home is always so easy. The summer evening was pleasant. My back door was open, a cool breeze came through the landing, and into my kitchen. I could just look at interesting people online. I could just watch a woman dancing – online. I could go outside and skate under the street lights to any song I wanted.

 I first started going to the club when I read an article in the ‘Boston Globe’ lifestyle section about ‘Dating Over Forty’ and local bars and clubs that were oriented to ‘adult singles.’ I was divorced and decided to stop drinking beer and dancing alone at home every night.

“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play,” was in the musical Cabaret. That phrase comes into my head.

But, my hair is so long. Down to my shoulders, and slightly past. A ‘classic rocker’ aging without a haircut. During the cold winter I had bundled up and not really been thinking about my hair. I can get away with a long ponytail as a drawing teacher for adult education. Since spring and less clothing I have just let my hair grow. Longer and longer, I saw a ‘Fractured Fairy Tale’ on a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon with the story of Rapunzel. What would the male form of that name be?

As 8 o’clock showed on the clock above me on the wall I resolved to get dressed, and go out. I thought of putting my hair back in a neat business-like ponytail as I combed my hair in the mirror. Nope. “Let your ‘freak flag’ fly,” I said to myself as I got into my car. I wasn’t going to a job interview. I was hunting in the night for….something. A rhythmic connection.

I listen to music often, every day. But, I am used to picking the songs I want to hear. At the club they play songs the DJ or someone thinks the audience will generally enjoy. So, there is a kind of ‘top 40’ or ‘dance standard’ feel to the songs. Hardly any songs that I would pick on my own, at home, dancing freely. But, if you want to clap along with the audience, you follow the crowd. Herd animals enjoy a group stomp.

One last look in the mirror, one last brush of my hair, my keys off the hook, and down the front steps and into my car. I was listening to an audio book of Samuel Butler’s “The Way of All Flesh.” Some long words to begin a night with.

Route I93 South flowed quickly and I was down the highway, and in the club parking lot in ten minutes. I parked my car in the middle and looked up at the colored lights on the building highlighting the name: ‘Vincent’s.’ I wondered who he was. Was there a real ‘Vincent?’ My guess, the bosses oldest son.

A woman pulled up in a car next to me and got out walking toward the door. I walked up to the lone doorman. “Good evening,” I nodded and smiled. I paid the young woman at the ticket window seven single dollars and got a receipt. I handed the paper to a young woman at a lectern taking tickets. Into the large room I went. The music was booming: I had in my earplugs. There was no line for the food on the upper deck. Some people were dancing on the stone patterned gray dance floor. There’s lots of space, like the parking lot.

The dance floor is in the middle of the bar with elevated areas on four sides. There are nice railings along two long sides of the rectangular area for people to stand facing the dance floor and feel like part of the action.

I got some leafy green vegetables, whole wheat rolls that were still warm, and a small baked potato. I found a stool toward the back and ate as I scanned the crowd. I saw some of the same people my friend and I had gossiped about two weeks earlier. The quiet serious faced girl who sat near the dance floor next to an older woman. She had tan skin and perhaps was hispanic. Looking at an older woman past sixty with a smear of lipstick and a flowered dress I thought of a Poe story that spoke of “paint begrimed belle dames making one last stab at beauty.” Why not?

Some older women walked by as I perched on my stool against the back bar counter which was closed. I glanced, they glanced. Would I get up enough courage to ask someone to dance? Maybe. But, I thought I had made an accomplishment by simply making it to the club and getting out of the house to meet someone. I only looked at my cellphone to check the time. Although, I saw an internet connection pop up for Vincent’s. I tried a password – Vincents – to see if I could get online. I couldn’t. Good. “Forget the ‘virtual’ and concentrate on the ‘reality.’ “ I told myself.

At the bar – I saw Rapunzel. One of the bar tenders in the middle island was a twenty-something blonde with long hair to the bottom of her back. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I was sitting on a stool thirty feet away. She had long, straight blonde hair parted in the middle. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I was facing the dance floor as people danced, so I had a reason to face that way. But, I was looking at her.

Some beefy guy with big arm muscles was in the way. He was standing next to the bar chatting with the blonde. I loved watching her pretty, animated face as she spoke to the customer. He was holding a bottle of beer. A big tip gets a little conversation. I thought of a ‘kissing booth.’
More people were out on the dance floor. The songs seemed to be ‘classic disco.’ Boogie nights and disco infernos while staying alive. Not my favorite songs, but tolerable.

Then the blonde barkeep moved to the side and I could see her shapely legs in very short shorts. Goodness. The girl must work out somehow. Her top was low cut and prominent plump boob tops were on display. The sight of this beauty was worth the trip. I was saving her memory for later. “Pay attention!” I told myself. “There will be a test later.”

A pretty petite waitress carrying a tray and drinks asked, “Can I get you something?” I shook my head ‘no.’ I stopped drinking long ago. So I would get out of the house at night.

Another attractive waitress in a short skirt stopped by me. “No, thanks,” I said. I hope they make money off someone. I’m here for the eye candy. I watched an animated woman in a white dress with a lace shawl over her shoulders talking to an older man down the bar counter. They had some food in front of them and she spoke excitedly. I couldn’t hear her words with the music and my earplugs, but, I liked her. Her dark brown hair was down to her shoulders, and she had makeup on.

A couple of Asian women came up to the brunette and they seemed to know each other and spoke on friendly terms. The older white haired man asked one of the women to dance.

I decided to get closer to the dance floor, and the blonde Rapunzel tending bar. I just wanted to look.

As I leaned on a small counter on the railing facing the dance floor I could bounce to the music while watching the dancers below. Two women were smiling and dancing with swaying bodies and in such pleasure it was infectious. I felt a sway in the crowd. I saw a thin older woman I had noticed the week before – well past sixty and still hungry to dance. Good for her. She was dancing alone.

I saw a man we had noticed weeks ago dancing on the high platform as if he was in gym class. “No recognition of the beat,” I had said of his enthusiastic exercising to the music. But, he had found a woman. An attractive, long brown haired woman was dancing with him. She wiggled her behind in obvious delight – to the beat. When he started to do a bizarre random spin, she seemed to reach out and stop him. He had found the woman he needed. Good for him. I was jealous. I liked her, too. Them, he had her backed up against the wall and was kissing her. How dare they?

I looked at other women dancing on the floor and smiling widely. Middle aged girls having a night out. Squinting I could picture them as young maids, all in a row.

I resisted the urge to take out paper and draw. I have done that in the past. Fun drawings. But, I look nutty enough with my long hair already. I had noticed people using their smart phones and tablets before, and wondered what they were doing as the glow lit up their faces against the darkness of the club. Check something, yeah, start playing a game, or something? Why come to a club? What will you do with a partner when you are relaxed? At least if they see me drawing on paper with a pencil they know I will be drawing on paper with a pencil when I am relaxed. I am always drawing.

I turned around discreetly to face the bar behind me and glance at the beautiful blonde with the long, long hair. But the mature women below me dancing were actually people I might meet and interact with because of mutual attraction and inclination. Blondie was out of my league. But, a boy can dream.

As my legs tired, and I’d seen enough women wiggling to fill my head with images I decided to leave just before midnight. I had no work in the morning, not even as Mr. Mom, or taxi driver to the teen. The night air was cool as I looked for my car. I looked up to the ‘Vincent’s’ sign and tried to figure out the angle from earlier in the night. My red car did not stand out in the black and white shades of night. As I turned the key the audio book “The Way of All Flesh” came back on. A hundred year old story. I love driving fast late at night with an empty road in front of me. Did I dream of the women dancers? I don’t remember.

A Bone Through Her Nose

I learned the song from the radio and a cassette tape I made around 1990.  I was in my basement office smoking and drinking beer and listening to ‘Nocturnal Emmissions’ an FM radio program that featured new and unusual rock recordings.  I was singing the song at work and a fellow worker at the print shop was amazed that I knew Richard Thompson.  But, I didn’t know Mr. Thompson – I knew his work, and had moved to his music. 

When I wanted another copy as the years went by and I was not using my cassette collection I found a version of ‘A Bone Through Her Nose’ by Richard Thompson at a venue in Toronto in 1991.  I always disliked the Youtube copy because there was an irritating machine hum or mic buzz or something.  But the Spotify version seems to be the same recording.  But, I can’t hear the background hum, so, someone took that out.  But, it may mean this is the only recorded version of the song. 

I made my own version with my own line drawings. 

Oh the drones on the corner don’t look her in the eye when she comes out to play
And three times now at the Club Chi-Chi they’ve turned her away
Last week she was the belle of the ball but another week passes
It’s time to cast off crutches, scars and pebble glasses

She’s got everything a girl might need
She’s a tribal animal, yes indeed
But she hasn’t got a bone through her nose, through her nose
Hasn’t got a bone through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose, through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose
Hasn’t got a bone through her nose, through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose

Oh she gets her suits from a personal friend, Coco the clown
She got dustman’s jacket, inside out, it’s a party gown
If it’s bouffons, she’s got bouffons, if it’s tat she got tat
She got hoochie coochie Gucci and a pom-pom hat

She’s got everything a girl might need
She’s a tribal animal, yes indeed
But she hasn’t got a bone through her nose, through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose, through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose, through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose
No!

Well, her ma writes cook books, she wrote one once, and it sold one or two
Her pa’s in the city, he’s so witty, he calls it the zoo
Her boyfriend plays in Scritti Politti, Aunt Sally’s brown bread
In a few more years she can marry some fool and knock it on the head

She’s got everything a girl might need
She’s a tribal animal, yes indeed
But she hasn’t got a bone through her nose, through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose, through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose, through her nose
She hasn’t got a bone through her nose
She hasn’t got a, Oh she hasn’t got a, Oh

……………….

This all might mean one thing to Richard Thompson.  I don’t know much about the man besides his reputation as a very good rock guitarist.  I seem to have hear something about not getting along with his ex-wife and former band mate.  So, that might have something to do with his creation of the song.  But, as with most popular music and rock lyrics things are vague enough to fit many situations.  The song certainly comes into my head when I’m dealing with various females in my life, young, and older…

US Citizens Who Raided North Korea’s Embassy In Spain Are “Dissidents” According to CIA and Pro-US Media – by Moon of Alabama – 26 April 2019

U.S. Citizens Who Raided North Korea’s Embassy In Spain Are “Dissidents”?

Spanish authorities suspected the CIA of involvement in the February 22 raid on the North Korean embassy in Madrid:

At least two of the 10 assailants who broke into the embassy and interrogated diplomatic staff have been identified and have connections to the US intelligence agency. The CIA has denied any involvement but [Spanish] government sources say their response was “unconvincing.”

The CIA countered the Spanish reports of its involvement by exposing its ‘regime change’ proxy group that executed the raid:

The group behind the late February operation is known as Cheollima Civil Defense, a secretive dissident organization committed to overthrowing the Kim dynasty, people familiar with the planning and execution of the mission told The Washington Post.

“This group is the first known resistance movement against North Korea, which makes its activities very newsworthy,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, a North Korea expert at Tufts University.

Sung-Yoon Lee is “Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies and assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.” He seems to believe that a violent raid by CIA related Korean-Americans on a North Korean embassy in a third country is “resistance”.

The raid came a few days before the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi. It was timed to blow up the negotiations.

In late March a Spanish judge named one Adrian Hong Chang as the leader of the embassy raid. Adrian Hong Chen is the head of the Cheollima Civil Defense/Free Joseon group. The judge demanded the extradition of Hong and his abettors from the United States. One of those persons has since been caught:

A U.S Marine veteran from Southern California was part of a group of dissidents wielding machetes and fake guns when they stormed North Korea’s embassy in Madrid and tied up and beat officials inside, federal prosecutors alleged in a criminal complaint released Tuesday.Spain is seeking to extradite Christopher Philip Ahn on charges including robbery, illegal restraint and criminal organization. Judge Jean Rosenbluth denied bond for Ahn during a Los Angeles court hearing attended by his wife, mother and about two dozen other supporters.

Prosecutors said Ahn was arrested during a raid last week on the Los Angeles apartment of a co-defendant, Adrian Hong Chang, a leader of the Free Joseon group. Hong Chang was not at home and has not been arrested.

One reason that bail was denied is the extraordinary violence the group used:

The group — armed with machetes, iron bars, knives and fake guns — beat some of the workers and then tied them up with shackles and cables, prosecutors alleged. They put bags over some of the workers’ heads, beat them and threatened them with the metal bars and guns, according to the court papers.

Interestingly it was Adrian Hong Chang, the group’s leader, who ratted out Christopher Philip Ahn:

After the attack, Hong Chang also met with FBI agents at the bureau’s office in Los Angeles and told them that Christopher Ahn, a former Marine, had participated in the attack.One of the embassy workers later identified Ahn as an attacker from his LinkedIn profile picture.


Christopher Philip Ahn, Adrian Hong ChangIt seems that the Spanish authorities made enough of a stink to push the U.S. to seriously act against the group. But the embassy raiders still have their defenders.

At NKNews.org Professor Sung Yong Lee says that the prosecutor’s court memo (pdf) in the Christopher Philip Ahn case is trash:

One expert told NK News they believed the U.S. government’s case, as reflected in the documents unsealed on Tuesday, had “more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese.”“It shows the case was cobbled together in a rush when, after weeks of hedging, the DOJ, presumably upon orders from the White House and State, made the decision to quash Free Joseon,” Sung-Yoon Lee, an Assistant Professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, said.

“Sloppiness pervades the complaint,” he continued, pointing to what he said he was a number of inconsistencies in the account of the break-in.

“The criminal complaint is based entirely on implausible accounts by the DPRK staff, who had life-and-death incentives to claim having been overpowered by thugs,” he continued.

A statement carried on the website of Free Joseon last week, too, expressed “dismay” at the decision to arrest Ahn, saying the move derived from “criminal complaints filed by the North Korean regime.”

Earlier reporting from Spain contradicts the Professor’s assertions. The case is not “based entirely on implausible accounts by the DPRK staff”. It was the Spanish police who confirmed the violence of the perpetrators:

Police found the eight victims inside. They had been held hostage for two hours, had had bags placed over their heads, had been beaten and were scared. Two of them required medical attention.

The Free Joseon claim about “criminal complaints filed by the North Korean regime”  is also false. The prosecution of a violent crime is mandatory under Spanish law. North Korea did not even file a complain:

The North Korean Embassy hasn’t pressed charges in Spain, and officials in Pyongyang haven’t officially commented on the attack.

Professor Sung-Yoon Lee isn’t finished yet. In an Los Angeles Times op-ed he argues against extraditing Ahn to Spain. The headline follows his earlier argument:

     Free Joseon is a North Korean resistance movement, not a criminal enterprise:

U.S. authorities have filed a criminal complaint alleging the dissidents used force and abused embassy staff during the Madrid action. Free Joseon denies the charges. For the U.S. to accept what is essentially a North Korean version of the events is to effectively defend the Kim regime. It sends the message to Pyongyang that its egregious crimes lie beyond the concern of the world’s presumptive champion of freedom and democracy.The U.S. must not do Kim’s bidding. Our extradition treaty with Spain provides for a refusal to extradite if we regard the offense in question as political. The North Korean Embassy breach surely was that, and the U.S. should seek to protect the dissidents rather than hand them over to Spain.

To stand up to tyranny in the name of freedom is not only not a crime, but also a right and duty. The United States should not quash this hallowed principle.

Christopher Ahn has U.S. citizenship. Adrian Hong has a Mexican passport. Neither is from North Korea. How can they be ‘dissidents’? If North Korean citizens who want to regime change the United States would violently raid a U.S. embassy in a third country would that also be a “political” act committed by “dissidents”? The argument is obviously nonsense.

But to depict the criminals as “political”, “resistance” and “dissidents” serves a purpose. This week Kim Jong-un visited Russia and met President Vladimir Putin. They talked about the nuclear negotiations. The Washington Post headlined:

    Putin: Kim Jong Un needs international security guarantees to give up nuclear arsenal

Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged from his first summit with Kim Jong Un on Thursday saying that North Korea needs international security guarantees, not just U.S. pledges, to consider giving up its nuclear arsenal.

“They [North Koreans] only need guarantees about their security. That’s it. All of us together need to think about this,” Putin told reporters after the talks with Kim.

Security guarantees make of course sense. Without them North Korea will not disarm at all. But the U.S. is not-agreement-capable, say the Washington Post authors:

North Korea has pushed for a declaration to formally end the Korean War, which ended in an armistice in 1953, without a peace treaty. Kim also has denounced past U.S.-South Korea military exercises as a provocation.Trump called off some war games and dangled the possibility of an end-of-war declaration in the future, but direct U.S. pledges of support for the Kim regime’s hold on power are highly improbable, experts say.

“Nobody is in a position to give them the security guarantees they would like to have,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “They want a guarantee not only against an outside attack but also against possible internal discontent. . . . On balance, it’s a non-starter.”

Kim Jong-un would not demand guarantees against genuine internal discontent. North Korea’s security forces surely know how to handle such. What he likely wants is that the U.S. re-commits itself to international law and refrains from interference in the internal affairs of his country.

The creation and manipulation of “resistance” movements, like the Free Joseon group, is a typical U.S. ‘regime change’ instrument. Such a “resistance” is then used as a pretext for violent regime change by military force. It was the expat ‘Iraqi National Congress’ of Ahmed Chalabi that played a large role in the build up to the war on Iraq. Similar “resistance” support was and is used to argue for war on Libya, on Syria and -coming soon- on Venezuela.

Professor Sung-Yoon Lee asks to recognize the embassy raiders as “political resistance”. Free Joseon already declared itself to be the “government in exile” of North Korea. What happens when the U.S. recognizes it as such?

It seems that what the Professor is really aiming at is ‘regime change’ in North Korea, if necessary by U.S. force.

Sung-Yoon Lee’s professorship is named after Kim Koo, “a leader of the Korean independence movement against the Japanese Empire, and a reunification activist after 1945”. Kim Koo was fiercely opposed to U.S. plans to establish a separate government in South Korea. He was assassinated in 1949 by Lieutenant Ahn Doo-hee, an agent of the U.S. Counter-Intelligence Corps in Korea and member of a far right extremist group.

One seriously doubts that Kim Koo would have lend his support to the scheme that Professor Sung-Yoon Lee peddles under his name.


Earlier Moon of Alabama pieces on the issue:

Posted by b on April 26, 2019 at 02:05 PM

Archive

Kim’s playlist: Here are Russian songs N. Korean ruler loves listening to (RT) 25 April 2019

There’s a couple of iconic Russian songs you may (or may not) have heard of, but they appear to be particularly fancied by North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim, who made his first-ever visit to Russia this week, has a soft spot for three Russian songs, revealed Oleg Kozhemyako, governor of the Far East’s Primorsky Krai. While they may sound a bit retro for Western ears, the tunes have been around in Russia and beyond for at least several decades.

1. Katyusha

Written on the eve of World War II, this is one of the most iconic Russian patriotic songs. Outside Russia, it is still popular in China, North Korea, Mongolia and other countries. ‘Katyusha’ was notably performed by a military brass band upon Kim’s arrival to Vladivostok.

2. Evening in the Harbor

A little known war song, it was composed back in 1941 at which time the Germans were about to encircle Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), starting the bloody 872-day siege of Russia’s second-largest city.

 

3. Million Scarlet Roses

A great hit by Alla Pugacheva, one of Russia’s best-selling and most-renowned female artist, which she sang during her first and last concert in Pyongyang in 1989.

The drift of American poetry: The Best American Poetry 2018 – 30th Installment of Anthology – Book Review – by Michael Dirda – 26 April 2019

From the Publisher: The 2018 edition of the Best American Poetry—“a ‘best’ anthology that really lives up to its title” (Chicago Tribune)—collects the most significant poems of the year, chosen by Poet Laureate of California Dana Gioia.

The guest editor for 2018, Dana Gioia, has an unconventional poetic background. Gioia has published five volumes of poetry, served as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and currently sits as the Poet Laureate of California, but he is also a graduate of Stanford Business School and was once a Vice President at General Foods. He has studied opera and is a published librettist, in addition to his prolific work in critical essay writing and editing literary anthologies. Having lived several lives, Gioia brings an insightful, varied, eclectic eye to this year’s Best American Poetry.

With his classic essay “Can Poetry Matter?”, originally run in The Atlantic in 1991, Gioia considered whether there is a place for poetry to be a part of modern American mainstream culture. Decades later, the debate continues, but Best American Poetry 2018 stands as evidence that poetry is very much present, relevant, and finding new readers.

………………………

Verbal felicities, haunting or explosive imagery, the architectonic dazzlements of rhyme and meter — all these are dwarfed by American poetry’s reverence for genuineness, for authenticity. “Look in thy heart and write” advised Sir Philip Sidney’s muse, but that injunction has long been our own literature’s credo. Yet in their introductory essays to “The Best American Poetry 2018,” the 30th installment of this always excellent annual anthology, series editor David Lehman and this year’s guest editor, Dana Gioia, present dissimilar views on precisely what authenticity entails.

Lehman doesn’t disguise his contempt and near-despair over the vast popularity of “the queen of Instagram poets,” Rupi Kaur, characterizing her work as greeting-card verse. Without quite saying that bad poetry drives out good, he happily turns away from wearisome Twitter parodies of William Carlos Williams to celebrate the real achievements of John Ashbery and Richard Wilbur, two indisputable poetic giants who died in 2017.

In contrast, Gioia glories in being a populist, even a Maoist. His mantra might be: Let a hundred flowers blossom. This former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, now poet laureate of California, rejoices that poetry has discovered new energy in slams, hip-hop and YouTube videos. Today poets reach their audiences through performance more often than print. We have, in effect, revitalized the ancient tradition of the bard, the singer of tales.

(Scribner)

David Lehman, series editor of “The Best American Poetry.” (John Ernest Tranter)

Still, Gioia admits that you can’t successfully capture live-action versifying in a book. To assemble “The Best American Poetry 2018,” he read thousands of poems to find the 75 that spoke to him most deeply, no matter their style or form. While his chosen authors range from long-esteemed masters (Gary Snyder, A.R. Ammons) to former poet laureates (Natasha Trethewey, Kay Ryan) to prison inmates and recent immigrants, their themes are — surprisingly, unsurprisingly? — traditional: By Gioia’s estimate, the top five are family, childhood and adolescence, love, poetry itself and, not least, nature and the environment, this last usually focusing on its despoliation rather than daisies and daffodils. Gioia emphasizes that most of the work he selected was written before the last presidential election, but he does include Christian Wiman’s “Assembly” — “It may be Lord our voice is suited now/ only for irony, onslaught, and the minor hierarchies of rage” — and Ernest Hilbert’s “Mars Ultor”:

Brutes push their way to power,

But the muddiest barbarian

Also wants the throne an hour,

And dons a crown, marks affairs,

Nods under a golden branch until

A stronger one turns up the stairs.

Even more stark is Agnieszka Tworek’s “Grief Runs Untamed” about impoverished exiles who carry a door handle: “they attach it to every mountain and wall,/ hoping the handle will conjure the door/ That will open and let them in.”

The great test of any poem is simply “Would I like to learn this by heart?” Alas, nothing here quite merits that reward, though Dick Davis’s autumnal reflections in “A Personal Sonnet” come close. Still, many poems offer striking phrases worth remembering. In “American Dreams,” Julia Alvarez recalls a childhood candy store and its “tinkling bell that tattled I was coming in the door.” That “tattled” is inspired. Having fled the Dominican Republic, Alvarez found America to be not a land of milk and honey but “the land of Milk/ Duds, Chiclets, gumdrops.”

In “Those Were the Days” George Bradley plays off old sayings, upending proverbs into a subspecies of what Harry Mathews dubbed perverbs: “Seamstresses back then were many and available and kept us in stitches”; “Clothes made the men and unmade the women.” J. Allyn Rosser’s “Personae Who Got Loose” proffers a similar litany of wry non-sequiturs: “Aloof, wary, notwithstanding her giddy enthusiasm for handsome misogynists and fine crystal.”

Wordplay reliably leavens, lightens or just makes us smile. In “The Wives of the Poets” Susan de Sola reflects on errant husbands in a wittily infectious singsong: “The wives of the poets,/ they never complain./ They know they are married/ to drama and pain.” To describe the moon’s quarter phase in “Yonder, a Rental,” Anna Maria Hong exults that “It’s all or nada as noon-night’s empanada.” In “We’ll Always Have Parents,” Mary Jo Salter neatly repurposes the most famous line of “Casablanca” into a meditation on family life, while A. E. Stallings brings “Pencil” to a close with a brilliant conceit: “And Time the other implement/ That sharpens and grows shorter.”

Gioia prints several engrossing long poems, my favorites being Michael Robbins’s exuberant “Walkman,” about sex, drink and rock-and-roll, and Jacqueline Osherow’s “Tilia cordata,” which yokes the fragrance of linden flowers with the horror of the Holocaust. Having learned about the latter at a young age, Osherow recalls that she “wouldn’t take a shower until I was seven,/ worried gas might come out. That was what my mother/ had told me: gas came out instead of water.” Later, she writes that her daughters “have been known to make bets/ before dinner parties about how many minutes/ will pass before I bring up the Holocaust.” Usually, “the winning number is about twenty,” adding with mock ruefulness: “they’re merciless, my girls.”

“The Best American Poetry 2018” concludes with more than 50 pages of “contributors’ notes and comments.” A jaundiced critic might sum up these honor-rich biographies with the words of Lewis Carroll’s Dodo: “All must have prizes.” Sometimes pretentious academese darkens the commentary too, though a few mini-essays, such as Mandy Kahn’s on “Ives,” are almost as good as the poems they illuminate.

In the end, though, “The Best American Poetry 2018” is simply a sampler, so when you discover a poem you like, don’t stop there: Go out and buy its author’s latest collection. That’s one New Year’s resolution that should be easy to keep.

Michael Dirda reviews books each Thursday in Style.

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The stagnation of American poetry: The Best American Poetry 2018

By James McDonald
20 April 2019

The Best American Poetry, New York: Scribner, 2018, 240 pp.

Best American Poetry 2018

The seventy-five poems in The Best American Poetry 2018 ( BAP ), selected by Dana Gioia—former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and currently California State Poet Laureate—provide little of the sustenance and exhilaration that, at its best, poetry is capable of. In fact, they are characterized by nothing so much as their sameness—the sagacious pose, the personal lyric form, the compulsory box-ticking of extended metaphors. Further, with the exception of a pervasive Gothic foreboding, more about which later, these are eminently safe poems, carefully dressed, peer reviewed and scrupulously attentive to contemporary cultural regulations of taste.

As with America, so with American poetry. The past four decades of American life have suffered from an increasing precariousness, with workers finding it more difficult to receive a living wage and those still earning a middle-class salary growing acutely conscious of their own vulnerability. Among this salaried-but-vulnerable layer of workers are today’s published poets, who for the most part teach in colleges and universities and compete with each other for official approval and the diminishing resources of English departments and creative writing programs.

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Dana Gioia

 

At the same time, American culture has registered the effects of the declining US empire’s overt turn to militarism and authoritarianism. American good versus alien evil—terror—dominates the movies, where today’s youth are fed a diet of superhero spectacles. To the extent social criticism is allowed into official culture—Hollywood and the university—it is mostly in the form of a reactionary identity politics that serves to classify and divide people based on their race and sex. It is no accident, then, that Hollywood and the university are the incubators of the virulent “Me Too” movement.

It is difficult to create forward-looking art while looking over your shoulder. For this reason it would be a mistake to lay all the blame at the feet of the poets for a certain stagnation of American poetry. After all, it stands to reason that today’s poets are as talented and as gifted with creative energy as poets have ever been. To be sure, there is talent on display in the pages of BAP 2018. Remarkable imagery, original phrases, emotions bodied forth and subtle patterns discerned in the profuse interplay of individual and world. There is good poetry among the best.

The purpose of this review is not to celebrate the artistic achievements to be found in the anthology, however, but to assess the preconditions of artistic marketability among the contemporary liberal middle class—that is, the preoccupations and anxieties that govern today’s published American poetry and the resolutions toward which that poetry gestures. What we find then is not primarily discrete works of art but a collage of pessimism and escape into irrationality. It is the bankruptcy of an ideology in a period of transition.

Over two-thirds of the seventy-five poets represented in The Best American Poetry 2018 are academics. At least forty-five teach or have taught at colleges or universities while others are students in M.F.A. or Ph.D. programs. This preponderance is the result of Gioia’s selection process, detailed in his preface, in which he reasonably chose to read thousands of poems published in poetry and literary journals published in the US, which themselves overwhelmingly publish the work of academics.

Notably, it was Gioia himself who, in a famous 1991 essay “Can Poetry Matter?”, recounted and mildly bemoaned the professionalization of poetry. The proliferation of poetry journals through the ‘70s and ‘80s, he observed, was a direct market response to the dire need of young academics, including teachers of creative writing, to publish. The result was an insular affair in which poets wrote primarily for other poets, and all of those poets were vying for tenure.

“The problem is not that poets teach,” Gioia explained. “The campus is not a bad place for a poet to work. It’s just a bad place for all poets to work. Society suffers by losing the imagination and vitality that poets brought to public culture. Poetry suffers when literary standards are forced to conform with institutional ones.”

Enter the digital age. In his 2018 preface, Gioia celebrates “the new bohemia,” the democratized literary landscape where aspiring writers can e-publish and where social media “connects people more effectively than any faculty lounge.” At the same time he takes note of the deflating arts budgets and evaporating tenure-track positions of today’s academy, a state of affairs that, he blithely observes, has made baristas and lawyers of the poets.

Gioia also acknowledges “large parts of the population unlikely to participate in academic literary life because they are blocked by poverty, education, language, and race.” His inclusion of “race” in this list of academic disqualifications, however, is a telling, if disoriented, reflex. All American institutions of higher learning discriminate to some extent on the basis of one’s ability to pay for tuition. In 2018, on the other hand, Gioia would have been hard pressed to find one that “blocks” participation in academic literary life on the basis of race.

In any event, while Gioia goes on to praise the popularity of “spoken poetry” and hip hop, he regrets that they are not included in BAP 2018 because “those auditory and performative modes lose impact when transcribed.” It is a strange thing for an editor of a volume of poetry, let alone a poet, to claim. The long and the short of it is that Gioia’s preface presents a confused and confusing mishmash of liberal happy talk, complete with the requisite lauding of “diversity,” “new perspectives and new energy” in the American poetry scene, all the while introducing a volume of mostly ordinary poems in a nearly exhausted vein.

BAP 2018 features poems from some of our more celebrated poets, such as Julia Alvarez, Joy Harjo, former poet laureate Kay Ryan and Gary Snyder. Alvarez and Harjo each contribute an able piece—“American Dreams” and “American Sunrise,” respectively—reminiscences of youthful confrontations with racism. Snyder writes a melancholy meditation on the transience of American culture, “Why California Will Never Be Like Tuscany.”

Ryan’s “Some Transient Addiction to the Useless” valorizes an idealized intransigence in great art. This idea is echoed in Anne Stevenson’s enjoyable “How Poems Arrive,” in which she writes,

But poems, butch or feminine, are vain
And draw their satisfactions from within

These are the satisfactions of form, of “silver els and ms.”

In these few pieces by a set of American poetry’s elder statespersons can be found some of the best writing the anthology has to offer. Taken collectively, one also finds in them the thematic circumference of BAP 2018.

Personal recollection, existential pessimism and some style of idealism characterize BAP ’s celebration of American poetry in ways that reflect not simply “the times” but the current liberal culture from which the poems are produced. It is a culture in crisis, in which an accurate understanding of terminally decayed liberalism’s contradictions and limitations would necessitate the rejection of liberalism itself.

Contemporary American poetry—to call it “bourgeois poetry” would be redundant—cannot transcend the time and conditions of its production any more than speech can transcend language. This poetry, it must be emphasized, is largely a product of the current professoriate, who face enormous pressures to publish, in journals edited by other poet-professors, all of them dependent upon the approval of the academy for their daily bread. This state of affairs, this market, all but guarantees that industry standards, market research and customer service infiltrate the world of poetry.

As a group, the poet-professors also tend to adhere to what passes today for liberalism—a habitual exposure to Democratic Party propaganda, including the anti-democratic tenets of identity politics, criticism of Donald Trump rooted in “human rights” militarism and palace intrigue, and a portrayal of real problems like economic inequality, when they are considered at all, as being just a little less malleable than the weather. It is not surprising that our poets, as middle-class consumers of this propaganda and witnesses to the economic, social and political crumbling of the American empire, should write a poetry of fear, loathing and escapism. But let us place today’s poetry in a broader historical context.

Perhaps the finest poem in the anthology is the posthumous “Finishing Up” by A. R. Ammons. A stanza:

…is more missing than was never enough: I’m sure
many of love’s kinds absolve and heal, but were they passing
rapids or welling stirs: I suppose I haven’t done and seen
enough yet to go, and, anyway, it may be way on the way

before one picks up the track of the sufficient…

Born in 1926, Ammons carried forth the earlier Modernist expansion of the intimate in loose form and free verse, American poetry’s most heavily mined vein for at least the past seventy years. By the 1980s, though it still yielded many sparkling gems (the robust work of Edward Hirsch and Rita Dove come first to mind), this vein had increasingly come to tend toward the preciousness to which it is vulnerable. Formally, the nadir of self-absorption was reached in the ‘80s and ‘90s experimental “language poetry,” an artistic naked emperor if ever there were one. Thematically, the personal lyric can stray into the weeds of self-aggrandizement, amply on display at your local poetry slam.

poem 02

A. R. Ammons in 1998

BAP 2018 is largely a selection of such intimate lyrics, voiced in the first person, often narrative and realist in style. A few are beautiful (notable examples are Nausheen Eusuf’s “Pied Beauty” and “Sono” by Suji Kwock Kim), many are good, some merely plausible. Taken as a whole, the first-person poetry in BAP, even that by relatively young poets, evokes younger days and attempts a reconciliation with death, positioning the poet in a present both reliably tranquil and, at the same time, tottering on the brink of extinction. It is to be expected, perhaps, that the culture that has made a common suffix of -pocalypse should generate a poetry of last things.

The poem that most explicitly juxtaposes nostalgia with pessimism is R. Nemo Hill’s “The View From the Bar,” which opens,

So much of the coin of youth was spent
while leaning here, with smoke and brew,

my back half-turned to face a view
beyond this room’s brief consequence.

This “view beyond” is of the bar’s television set, which, like the Nietzschean sea, “holds translucent evidence/of what has come again to pass.” It seems that the “weight and mass” of the bodies in the bar must succumb to the doom of this eternal return, “this screen of calm abstraction.” Hill depicts the patrons,

drinking their sloe-gins and rums,
picking daisies, snorting roses,

practicing Pompeian poses–
at least until the lava comes.

And so, one lives and longs for youth until one dies a death that will make one’s life—that is, history—uncanny. At the same time this death is imagined as communal, a barpocalypse:

For when it comes, we’ll all be frozen,
some on the dance floor, some in the street

The lava is coming to get us, as our personal death but also as some historical malignance that will, it seems, be televised, again. Like Vesuvius, though, its approach will be sudden and catch us unawares. This poem indulges in the irrational to the extent that it renders history uncanny and immutable, a force of nature suffered passively by humanity.

Another poem, this one pernicious, that approaches history from an irrational perspective is Jacqueline Osherow’s “Tilia cordata.” The title is the Latin name for the linden tree. The poet has a linden, an aromatic tree when in flower, in her yard and is surprised and unnerved to encounter the scent of linden on a visit to a park in Darmstadt:

I—unhinged already—was undone,
as if the trees themselves were in collusion

The source of Osherow’s distress (in her biographical entry she acknowledges the poem as autobiographical) is her very presence as a Jew in Germany. Osherow’s recorded feelings are certainly understandable, and the reader is sympathetic toward her disorientation upon visiting Germany. These are emotional responses, and their representation in poetry is one of the tasks of art. Far more problematic, however, is that the poem, which also undertakes a distanced reflection upon these emotional responses, ultimately equivocates on the implied issue of an inherent barbarism in the German people and language. In Osherow’s choice in the poem to conjoin blood and land is the rejection by an educated adult—a professor at the University of Utah—of a historical, rational understanding of fascism and the horrific irrationality of Nazism.

Amid the vaguely-grounded pessimism and irrational sentimentality, the question arises whether BAP 2018 offers any historically informed awareness of the immense class conflict that is taking place all around us. Unfortunately, this official anthology of the state of American poetry provides no glimpses of an art energized by the accelerating struggle of workers and the optimism that struggle portends. That poetry will come in time. BAP does, however, include a few poems that protest, if too little, current objective conditions.

The most trenchant and moving of such poems is Alexandra Lytton Regalado’s “La Mano,” dedicated to “the more than 60,000 children from Central America who cross the border unaccompanied.” The poem, set in San Salvador, tells of “a flock of wild parakeets” coming to roost outside a family’s window and of the young son’s response to the birds.

poem 03

Alexandra Lytton Regalado

We are living in tumultuous times. Global capitalism has entered into profound crisis, imperialist nation-states are on a dangerous collision course, and workers worldwide—from striking teachers unions and autoworkers in the US and plantation workers in Sri Lanka, to workers in Matamoros, Mexico, and the Yellow Vest movement in France—are emerging as an increasingly self-conscious class against their employers, their union misleaders, and their governments. American poetry seems to register these historical realities only obscurely, when at all, but this situation cannot persist. Already the liberalism of the professors is in crisis, and at the fork in the road between socialism and barbarism the irrationality of identity politics and self-absorbed escapism will be exposed for the selfish, reactionary phenomena they have always been.

It is impossible to predict the characteristics of the poetry that will escape the conceptual confines of today’s academic milieu and reflect these developments. It may even emerge in the form of the personal lyric. In any event, there is reason to be optimistic about “the best American poetry” of the future.

For Christ’s sake! Liberals get tongue-tied when discussing the world’s largest religion?- by Robert Bridge – 25 April 2019

For Christ’s sake! Why do liberals get tongue-tied when discussing the world’s largest religion?
Following Sri Lanka’s Easter tragedy, high-ranking Democrats engaged in a game of semantics gymnastics, dancing around the name of ‘Christians’. Republicans took it as proof of democratic enmity to Christianity.

In the aftermath of Sunday’s carnage, which left over 350 people dead and many more injured, a group of Democratic leaders, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, took to Twitter to offer their condolences to friends and families of the Sri Lanka victims. If we were living in less complicated times that would have been the end of the story.

But of course these are not less complicated times. Thus, the memory of the Easter Sunday bombing victims was overshadowed by Obama and Clinton, as well as other Democratic politicians’ use of the term “Easter worshippers” as opposed to the seemingly more appropriate “Christians.”

The attacks on tourists and Easter worshippers in Sri Lanka are an attack on humanity,” commented the former US president.

christ 1

A few hours later, Hillary Clinton tweeted out her own sympathy message, also using the strained, awkward-sounding “Easter worshippers” nomenclature. “I’m praying for everyone affected by today’s horrific attacks on Easter worshippers and travelers in Sri Lanka,” she commented.

Do the PC thought police have a valid objection this time?

I think we can agree that, technically speaking, the overwhelming majority of people who get up early on Easter Sunday and go to a place called church to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus could best be described as ‘Christian’. And furthermore, just to keep things in perspective, none of this has anything to do with the Easter Bunny. In fact, the same arguments can be heard around Christmas time as liberals rail against use of the greeting, ‘Merry Christmas’, opting instead for the more generic and less applicable, ‘Happy Holidays’.

Incidentally, some people defended the use of the term ‘Easter worshipper’ by pointing out that the attacks were not isolated to churches; four upscale hotels catering to tourists were also hit by explosions. However, although there may have been members of other religious denominations present during the attacks, it was three Christian churches that were targeted, not Buddhist temples, Jewish synagogues or Muslim mosques. Thus, the target of the terrorist attacks – Christians – was beyond doubt.

Moreover, to refer to Christians collectively as ‘Easter worshippers’ has a way of making their religion sound like some sort of pagan ritualistic cult. At the same time, it denigrates what is undoubtedly the holiest day of the Christian calendar. In any case, to substitute ‘Christians’ for ‘Easter worshippers’ simply violates the English language’s rule that emphasizes a preference for brevity.

Christ 2

Conservative-Christian commentators, still grappling with the horror of Notre Dame being consumed by flames just days earlier, turned out en masse to denounce Democrats for failing to call a spade a spade.  

What the heck is an Easter worshipper,” asked fiction writer Brittany Pettibone. “The term that these people are going to such painfully ludicrous lengths to avoid using is ‘Christian.’”

Christ 3

The condemnation went much further than simply a matter of semantics. Conservatives, Christians and nitpicking pedants were quick to point out that in the aftermath of last month’s Christchurch mosque shooting, which left 50 dead, Obama and Clinton both specifically mentioned ‘Muslim community’ in their tweets of consolation.

Aside from the question as to whether or not these two high-ranking Democrats consult each other before tweeting is the more pressing one: Why wasn’t the same name recognition extended to the ‘Christian community’ following the Sri Lanka tragedy, which resulted in over 300 deaths – or six times more fatalities than in Christchurch?

christ 4

Meanwhile, there is a high hypocrisy factor that comes from watching Obama and Clinton publicly express remorse over the death of Muslims when it was the Obama administration, continuing with the trendy war dance put in motion by the George W. Bush administration, that was responsible for untold death and destruction across a large swath of the Middle East and North Africa.

In the final year of his two-term reign of terror, according to Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Center for Preventive Action, Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped at least 26,171 bombs on seven Muslim countries, including Syria, Iraq, Libya and Pakistan.

To put the carnage another way, that’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day.

Here’s another Obama fun fact: no other US leader has overseen more military action on his watch than the 44th president. And again, the overwhelming majority of that action has been in Muslim countries.

While candidate Obama came to office pledging to end George W Bush’s wars, he leaves office having been at war longer than any president in US history,” wrote Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink. “He is also the only president to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.”

With those sorts of disturbing statistics in mind, it kind of makes sense in a warped sort of way why Obama and Clinton would be so enthusiastic about reaching out to the ‘Muslim community’ in their time of need. While Christian churches are being attacked at an unprecedented rate, it was the Democrats who happily took over from George W. Bush the task of bombing Muslim countries back to the Stone Age. In other words, is their outpouring of grief for the Muslim community more a symptom of guilt that these two Democrats may or may not feel over their egregious behavior in the past? Or are we simply dealing with a liberal knee-jerk aversion to any majority group, whether it be ‘privileged’ Whites, Christians or the Republican Party?

In closing, there is another reason why the Democratic Party, infected as it is with hyper-progressive liberals (much in the same way the Republicans are infected with the warmongering neoconservative strain) find it so difficult to utter the dreaded ‘C-word.’ That is because much of their political platform has diverged so wildly from the fundamental teachings of Christianity. From radical new ideas on abortion, transgender lifestyles, and the institution of marriage, for example, the Democrats have alienated many US Christians. Indeed,  it may have seemed not only outrageous but politically disastrous for these top Democrats to have mentioned Christians by name, even at a moment of unspeakable tragedy.

This strained religious situation, which shows no sign of abating under Donald Trump, who has contributed his fair share to alienating the Muslim community, is leading to more than just the separation of church and state. It risks the destruction of both church and state in America.

@Robert_Bridge

New England: Welcome the workers’ ‘powerful victory’ in the ‘Stop & Shop’ strike – By John Logan (The Hill) 23 April 2019

Dorchester 3f

On Sunday evening, in what it called a “powerful victory,” the United Food & Commercial workers union (UFCW) reached a tentative agreement with Stop & Shop management to end a strike by 31,000 workers in over 240 grocery stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, which began April 11. In hindsight, the 11-day strike, the largest retail strike in the U.S. since 2003, could turn out to be one of the most important work stoppages of the past few decades.

The workers struck to resist demands from the company – which is owned by Dutch giant, Royal Ahold Delhaize – for sweeping reductions in health care and pension benefits and reduced pay for Sunday work. But, according to the union, under Sunday’s three-year settlement, existing health care and pension plans and time-and-a-half for Sunday work are maintained. 

Stop & Shop demands for health care and pension concessions from some of its lowest paid workers were not borne out of financial necessity. Ahold Delhaize is highly profitable in the United States. In 2018, it generated sales of $44 billion from all its U.S. food businesses (the company also owns the Food Lion, Giant, and Hannaford supermarket chains, and the Peapod grocery delivery service), with Stop & Shop supermarkets contributing about $8 billion of that total. The U.S. accounts for approximately two-thirds of the Dutch multinationals overall revenues. Rather, the company was seeking to claw back hard won worker benefits in order to be more like its non-union, low road rivals. 

Strong Community Support for the Strikers

The strike enjoyed strong support among Stop & Shop workers, other unions, state and national lawmakers, and the New England public. According to the UFCW, virtually no Stop & Shop workers returned to work, while members of the Teamsters and Retail Wholesale Department Store Union (who deliver for Coke, Pepsi and other brands) refused to cross picket lines and make deliveries. Several presidential candidates expressed support for the strikers. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont have joined workers on the picket line. Alongside Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, former Vice President Joe Biden addressed a large rally in Dorchester, Mass., telling the crowd that the company’s efforts to undermine workers’ health and retirement security were “morally wrong.” Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., also sent strong messages of support. Even two Connecticut Republican politicians, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Rep. Dave Yaccarino, came out in support of the strikers.

During the strike, formerly loyal Stop & Shop customers deserted the grocery chain in droves – visits were down by an astonishing 75 percent — thereby driving up business at its closest competitors, Shaws and Star Market. Some New England rabbis stated it “wasn’t Kosher” to patronize Stop & Shop while the strike continued. During the busy Easter retail period, these developments could have signaled financial peril for the company. Realizing the depth of community support for the strikers, Stop & Shop management repeatedly attempted to reassure the public that it supported its “valuable associates” — workers who have often given decades of service to the company — even as it moved to weaken their health and pension benefits.

National Implications of the Stop & Shop Strike

The Stop & Shop strike joins a growing list of successful work stoppages throughout the nation. In recent months, teachers in both red and blue states, Marriott hotel workers and several others have won strikes, in most cases with the benefit of strong community support. The stakes a were extremely high for the Stop & Shop strikers, and community support, no matter how deep, did not by itself guarantee victory. The company initially appeared resolutely determined to cut costs, claiming it needed the sweeping concessions because of intense competition in the grocery sector. But if Stop & Shop management had succeeded in gutting the health care and pension benefits of its unionized workforce in New England, it would likely have adopted these tactics actions in other states, and could have encouraged other unionized grocery chains to pursue similar “morally wrong” bargaining tactics. Ahold Delhaize U.S. also owns almost 200 unionized Stop & Shop stores in New York state and hundreds more Food Giant stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia

In recent months, several unionized retailers have sought to emulate the competitive strategies of large non-union retailers like Walmart, Target and Dollar General, which mostly provide workers with low pay and lousy benefits. Kroger, the country’s largest unionized grocery chain, has taken a tough line with its unionized workers, claiming that the arrival of Amazon (which purchased the Whole Foods grocery chain for almost $14 billion in 2017) is a “game changer,” even though it currently faces little direct competition from the e-commerce behemoth. Unionized grocery chains have adopted these hardball tactics before. Fifteen years ago, unionized grocery chains in California told workers that competition from Walmart required sweeping concessions in pay and benefits.

For many working- and middle-class Americans, unions offer the best, and sometimes only, hope for decent health care and reliable retirement security. Millions of Americans are now working long into their retirement years because they lack adequate savings, decent pensions and affordable health care benefits. Since 1985, the number of working pensioners has almost doubled

It was vital that the UFCW did not allow Stop & Shop to undermine its workers’ retirement and health security. Even in a strong economy, a management victory may well have sparked a faster “race to the bottom” in wages and benefits for grocery workers. Striking Stop & Shop struck for a fair settlement. We should welcome their success in protecting decent health care and pension benefits. 

John Logan is Director and Professor of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.

After Syria, Venezuela, Russian Military Prepares for Threat of ‘Hybrid War’ (Russia Insider) 22 April 2019

Moscow’s new military doctrine will put less emphasis on countering a large-scale land invasion

 


The Russian military’s main job has always been to defeat a large land invasion of the Russian heartland, such as those of Hitler, Napoleon, and Charles XII. But after the experience of Syria and Ukraine, Russian generals are adjusting their military doctrine to defeat a wider array of possible attacks, which, although less dangerous than all-out invasion, are more likely to occur. 

This move is a response to US behavior. Over the past few decades, the US has involved itself in countless, never-ending, low-risk conflicts. Americans seem to have forgotten Clausewitzian purpose of war: to destroy your enemy in a decisive engagement in order to achieve your political ends. Instead, they have allowed their foreign policy to be shaped by the careerist ambitions of military officers, private contractors, and Beltway pseudo-intellectuals, whose resumes depend on a steady supply of easy-to-win, fake wars. For them, war has become an end in itself.

Russia no longer needs to face down a lion, but only stave off the jackals.

From South Front:

Transcript:

Written and produced by SF Team: J.Hawk, Daniel Deiss, Edwin Watson

The term “Gerasimov Doctrine”, apparently wholly made up Mark Galeotti who, to his credit, owned up to his mistake, has been used by the Western media to the point of obscuring the real work on developing national security doctrines for Russia’s 21st century needs.  In this work, General Valeriy Gerasimov, Chief of General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, has played a major role.

During a recent conference at the Academy of Military Sciences, where Gerasimov delivered the keynote speech, he outlined the national security priorities facing the Russian Federation. This included areas where further theoretical research is necessary to inform the future dimensions of armed forces development.

While Gerasimov’s address dedicated considerable attention to the problem of nuclear deterrence, it also made clear that, in terms of meeting challenges posed by the threat of rapid evolution and expansion of the United States’ strategic nuclear potential, Russia’s symmetrical and asymmetrical responses will ensure the viability of its nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future. The emphasis appears to be on diversification, and not only of launch platforms but also of delivery vehicles.

The problem with the existing force of ICBMs, SLBMs, and bomber-launched ALCMs is that they represent a relatively well-known potential to counter. This means that should the US decide to invest heavily in anti-missile and anti-air defenses, it could defeat Russia’s nuclear deterrent in an all-out war. Moreover, the existence of widespread anti-air and anti-missile networks means that limited escalation using small numbers of offensive weapons might be stopped, forcing Russia to make an “all or nothing” choice—either no escalation at all, or an all-out nuclear strike.

Gerasimov’s discussion of a genuinely strategic system such as the Avangard hypersonic glider, Burevestnik global-range cruise missile, and Poseidon underwater unmanned vehicle together with operational-level systems such as the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile and Kinzhal aeroballistic missile, indicates the desire to constitute Russia’s nuclear deterrent on the basis of an array of mutually complementary systems carried by an expanded range of carrier vehicles, including fighter aircraft such as the MiG-31 and attack submarines. Russia’s leadership would thus be able to hold at risk a wide range of leadership and value targets using both conventional and nuclear systems against which it would be extremely difficult to construct a defensive barrier that would be viable in the minds of US decision makers.

Remarkably, the traditional strong suit of the Russian military, namely large-scale land warfare, received relatively little attention in Gerasimov’s speech. Regarding that, he only touched upon the existing reorganization of army-brigade structure into army-division-regiments which are better suited for high-intensity operations. He also discussed the continued equipment modernization and expansion of the volunteer components of the armed forces. There were no indications that the mission of the Land Forces was about to shift from the emphasis on fighting a limited land battle on one of Russia’s many frontiers against a conventional incursion launched with little warning.

Russia 2019

However, Gerasimov’s concept of defensive action also includes the “strategy of limited actions” in order to safeguard not only Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity but also its interests abroad, including in far-flung theaters of operations such as Syria and possibly even Venezuela. Here, depending on the situation, the strategy calls for the establishment of a forces group led by one of the main branches of forces such as the Land Forces, Aerospace Forces, Airborne Assault Forces, or the Navy, in order to deploy to a remote destination and conduct operations in support of a regional ally. The unveiling of the concept of “strategy of limited actions” indicates that the Syria operation was to a large extent an improvisation, a test-bed for not only weapons but also, and perhaps especially, operational concepts including inter-service cooperation. 

While a successful improvisation, the Syria campaign did reveal a number of gaps in Russia’s military capabilities, including the use of unmanned platforms where it clearly lags behind the United States, and also the ability to assess and strike emerging targets in near-real time. The repeated drone swarm attacks on the Hmeimim airbase are a case where Russian forces, while able to defeat the swarms themselves, did not appear able to quickly locate and destroy the source of these swarms. Gerasimov’s address recognized the need for theoretical and practical solutions to these problems, as well as the importance of political and humanitarian factors in the ultimate settlement of the conflict which definitely proved to be the case in Syria, where the adroitness of Russia’s diplomacy and Moscow’s ability to use political and economic levers of influence considerably changed the political landscape of not only Syria, but of the entire Middle East.

The final aspect of Gerasimov’s address that is worthy of attention is the recognition that Russia has less to fear from NATO’s conventional or even nuclear warfare than from unconventional “hybrid” attacks, including information and cyber-warfare, and even direct subversion using a domestic “fifth column”. It is here that Gerasimov made the most extensive request for theoretical research, acknowledging that dealing with such a threat would require close coordination of military, paramilitary, and purely civilian government agencies. What Gerasimov described is essentially the Venezuela scenario. The dispatch of a delegation of some 100 Russian military personnel appears to be intended to provide both a show of support and tangible assistance in the form of advice to the beleaguered Venezuelan government.  However, in view of Gerasimov’s emphasis on theoretical research into dealing with unconventional threats, Venezuela also offers an opportunity to study US methods being used in this undeclared “hybrid” war.  There the United States is, in effect, conducting an experiment in “non-kinetic” warfare using chiefly economic pressure, information operations, and cyberwarfare, in conjunction with what appears to be a rather weak “fifth column”. The apparent lack of use of even proxy armed forces may yet change should the current US strategy fail.

All in all, even though the Russian Federation was able to successfully weather the military and political challenges of the past several years, including the undoubted success in Syria that has considerably enhanced Russia’s prestige not only in the Middle East but all over the world, there was no evidence of complacency in Gerasimov’s address. Instead there was a sense of awareness that this is a crisis which will not be quickly resolved and which will require the ability to rapidly develop and deploy counters to whatever new methods of confrontation Western powers will adopt.

US Secret Police – FBI Should Not Be Leftist Heroes – by Gina Petry (Seattle Radical Women) April 2019

Some liberals and progressives have been applauding the FBI for investigating Trump & Co. Maybe they’ve already forgotten how incompetently the FBI investigated Brett Kavanaugh before he ascended to the Supreme Court. Or how the agency has infiltrated and hounded countless social justice movements over the years. To hope that the FBI will do the right thing and save us from the far right is a grave mistake. A little bit of history about this law-and-order institution, and my own recent experience as a socialist feminist activist, will explain why this infamous agency is no friend to the struggle for human rights.

Knock, Knock: FBI calling. In the summer of 2018, Seattle Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party were organizing with other groups to counter-protest against the far-right Patriot Prayer organization. These thugs were planning an anti-abortion protest outside of Planned Parenthood in Kent, Washington. I was visited by a “friendly” female FBI agent who “just wanted to get some information.”

It’s important to note that we had not yet publicly announced our counter-protest. But obviously, ‘big brother’ had been watching. I gave her no information and clearly stated that I do not talk to the FBI. The same agent later visited — also unsuccessfully — the homes of two other leaders in Radical Women and one in Seattle Clinic Defense.

I alerted the rest of the organizing committee and six participating groups co-signed a public statement that called out this harassment and spelled out our legal right to refuse to speak to the FBI. Long experience has taught us that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agent of government repression.

The real role of the FBI. U.S. residents have a Constitutional right to freedom of speech and association, that is, to organize without government interference. In reality, the FBI intimidates, infiltrates and persecutes civil rights defenders. Its purpose is to squelch resistance and stop political challenges to the status quo.

For example, during the McCarthy era, around 1945 to1960, the agency infiltrated groups to spy on and create divisions within activist organizations. During the Red Scare, communists, anarchists, and people merely suspected of being leftists were under surveillance — lost their jobs, went to jail, were even executed. The FBI energetically purged gay federal employees. For decades, the agency cast a wide net in its efforts to take down vital resistance such as the Civil Rights Movement, Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement, Occupy Wall Street, and anti-war School of the Americas Watch. In the 1980s, it also spied on opponents of U.S. policy in Central America. In the late 1990’s the feds initiated a counter-terrorism campaign directed at environmental and animal rights activists, widening its powers and abuse of domestic activists.

When I was at Standing Rock in 2016, Native and other water warriors were confronted by FBI spies and police brutality as measures to defend energy industry profits. At Trump’s inauguration, over 200 protesters, journalists and medics were arrested and threatened with years in jail. Today, under the guise of anti-terrorist watch, the agency targets the U.S. Muslim community and anti-fascist movement. The FBI continues to track supporters of Palestinian rights, Black Lives Matter and environmental activists, and abortion clinic defenders. And as journalist Chip Gibbons puts it, attempts to “pin violence against police on those who protest police violence.”

The FBI is no friend. These historical and current examples show that the FBI has not and will not change its ways. Its job is to protect the inequalities of an oppressive system. It is no bulwark against Trumpism. Public exposure and militantly organizing for free speech and civil liberties is the best defense.

Gina Petry is the organizer of Seattle Radical Women. Send feedback to FSnews@mindspring.com.

Review: ‘The Twilight Zone’: ‘A Traveler’ explores paranoia and Russian interference – By Chauncey K. Robinson – 22 April 2019

Review: ‘The Twilight Zone’: ‘A Traveler’ explores paranoia and Russian interference

Steven Yeun in ‘A Traveler’
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Editor’s note: A review and analysis of Jordan Peele’s “The Twilight Zone” episode four. Spoilers ahead.

“Truth can take on many different forms, depending on how you look at it.” – The Twilight Zone

Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone is currently airing weekly on the streaming service CBS All Access. While last week’s episode “Replay” had a heavy and serious tone, dealing with police brutality and racism, this week’s episode, “A Traveler,” has a more obvious cheerful holiday flare with darker themes interwoven throughout. The fourth episode uses themes in the original Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” such as paranoia and suspicion, to speak to our current political climate of corruption, Russian election interference, and human nature.

The episode stars Steven Yeun (Sorry to Bother You), Marika Sila (Lucifer), Greg Kinnear (You’ve Got Mail), Patrick Gallagher (Captain Marvel), and was written by Glen Morgan (Final Destination 3). Sila plays Sgt. Yuka Mongoyak, a small town cop up in the Arctic Circle, who on Christmas Eve discovers a mysterious traveler (Yeun) in the town jail claiming to be a travel vlogger. When Mongoyak’s boss, Captain Lane Pendleton (Kinnear), pardons the traveler, things go from mysterious to terrifying, as the traveler plays on the townspeople’s paranoia and fear, making them turn on one another.

“A Traveler” keeps the mystery of who the traveler actually is until the very end. This does well in building the atmosphere of fear and paranoia in the episode for the viewer, as well as the characters, as it becomes a guessing game on the traveler’s true identity. Is he just a travel vlogger, an FBI agent, a Russian spy, or some kind of otherworldly creature? Throughout the episode, many of these possible options are presented, but even the audience isn’t let in on the secret until the very end when the major twist is revealed. This helped in building suspense, although with this episode being heavy on dialogue and lighter on action than “Replay,” viewers may feel an occasional lag in the pacing of the story.

Yeun gives a chilling performance as Traveler, (what he actually calls himself in the episode), making it easy to believe any of the so-called truths he presents over the course of the story. Yeun goes from welcoming to menacing with ease, making for a standout portrayal. Sila portrays Sgt. Yuka Mongoyak with stubborn complexity, as the character tries to figure out who Traveler is while not falling into the paranoia that the mysterious guest is spreading in the town. The moments where she has to defend her position as an Indigenous woman and cop to her brother Jack, who questions her pride in her heritage, adds another layer to the character as well. Yuka has pride in her town and is trying to protect it while dealing with the duality of working within a system that often oppresses the Indigenous people there.

The atmosphere of mystery is maintained, but there are times when the plot and pacing feel scattered. The highlight of Yuka’s heritage is important to touch upon, yet it feels almost thrown in as quick messaging rather than being integral to the overall plot itself. The mass hysteria and paranoia that Traveler sews in the town are only seen in the few attendees of the small holiday party that Captain Pendleton holds at the precinct. This leaves viewers unable to see the mass impact of Traveler’s work and the power that knowing the secrets of the townspeople has in turning them against one another.

“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” which originally premiered on March 4, 1960, dealt with a small town that descended into chaos as neighbors began suspecting each other of being hostile aliens from outer space. As it turned out, the aliens from outer space were indeed the culprits, but instead of an outright invasion, the invaders had sewn the seeds of suspicion and paranoia by using the disruption of electricity to the town. They made it so the humans turned on themselves, leaving them vulnerable and distracted. “A Traveler” plays on this same sentiment as Traveler foments doubt and suspicion between Pendleton, Yuka, and some of the townsfolk in order to find the main power source on land in order to invade Earth.

“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” premiered at a time when society was still feeling the ramifications of McCarthyism. In the 1950s, U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy used his position of power on Capitol Hill to accuse people of subversion or treason against the government without regard to concrete evidence. His accusations were often pointed towards those that were activists, socialists, communists, and others seen as going against the systemic status quo of capitalism. “A Traveler,” although set in 2019, is also occurring during a time where suspicion of subversion and treason in the United States is high, as the many ways in which the Russian government may have interfered with the 2016 elections to benefit Trump are revealed. This has caused an atmosphere of suspicion that “A Traveler” highlights on The Twilight Zone.

Traveler often mentions Russia and patriotism as he draws the officers into believing his story or distrusting one another. He also plays on rumors, or “fake news,” in order to get the townspeople riled up. When he presents himself as a travel vlogger, he plays on Pendleton’s ego in being seen as a savior and patriotic leader. When Traveler changes his story to being an FBI agent, he plays on Yuka’s desire to rid the town of police corruption that Pendleton may be involved in. Finally, when he presents his true form of extraterrestrial alien, Yuka’s brother Jack surmises that the world may be better off with Traveler’s kind in charge as the aliens seemingly begin their invasion. Traveler played multiple sides to cause distraction and vulnerability. This could be seen as a commentary on our current political climate.

Although Russian interference has been proven to be an actual issue, one could also present a case that it is has been used as a distraction from other attacks on democracy in the United States. Russian interference did occur in the 2016 presidential elections, but another tactic of oppression was also enforced in plain sight—voter suppression, largely targeting working-class voters of color. This voter suppression resulted in many citizens being unable to exercise their right to vote, thus stripping them of their political voice.

One could say that the internal “monster” of voter suppression is often ignored in the mainstream press for the more sensational revelations of the outside threat of Russian interference. Pendleton and Yuka were so focused on their own versions of the truth, possible Russian influence—and personal gain—that they never stopped to see the more obvious threat right in front of their eyes. Yuka had her idea of truth, Pendelton his, and Traveler manipulated each in order to serve his own purpose. Who or what the actual monster is in “A Traveler” is left open to interpretation, depending on which side the viewer leans towards, which isn’t very different from how truth and “fake news” is differentiated in our own reality.

Archive

Russia-Derangement Syndrome Brought the Democrats to Their Knees in 2016. It Will Happen Again – by Rob Urie (Counter Punch) 22 April 2019

Two years ago authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes wrote in their book Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign that within 24 hours of her 2016 electoral loss, Hillary Clinton’s senior campaign staff decided to blame the loss on Russian interference. Given the apparent source of the charge in opposition researchfunded by the Clinton campaign, the move seemed both desperate and pathetic— a thread for Clinton’s true believers to hang onto, an effort to keep campaign contributions rolling in and a ploy to cleave liberals from the left through red-baiting.

For perspective, from the time leading up to the 2016 election through today, I chose to live amongst poor and working-class people of color, with occasional forays into the rural working and middle classes and the urban bourgeois. What became apparent early on is that the audience for the Russian interference story was the urban and suburban bourgeois who had seen their lots by-and-large restored by Barack Obama’s bank bailouts and who had no knowledge of, or interaction with, the 90% of the country that is living, by degree, hand-to-mouth.

What this implies is that the received wisdom amongst bourgeois Democrats— the bosses, bank managers, academics, realtors and administrative class, looks to be what it is: a combination of class loathing that their ‘lessors’ didn’t perceive the munificent blessing of their electoral choice; mass delusion on the part of self-styled ‘high-information voters’ about who really controls American ‘democracy;’ and studied ignorance of the consequences of the last half-century of bi-partisan neoliberal governance.

As I wrote in early 2018:

“Prior to the 2016 presidential election, if one were to ask what single act could seal a new Cold War with Russia, align liberals and progressives with the operational core of the American military-industrial-surveillance complex, expose the preponderance of left-activism as an offshoot of Democratic Party operations and consign most of what remained to personal invective against an empirically dangerous leader, consensus would likely have it that doing so wouldn’t be easy.”

The Clinton campaign’s decision to blame her electoral loss on Russian interference demonstrates why she was, and still is, unqualified to hold elected office. In the first, the U.S. – Russian rivalry is backed-up by hair-trigger nuclear arsenals that could end the world in a matter of minutes. Inciting tensions based on self-serving lies is stunningly reckless. In the second, the claim demonstrates utter contempt for her most loyal followers by feeding them purposely misleading explanations of the loss. And most damagingly for political opponents of Donald Trump, these actions give credence to the insurgent status of his retro-Republicanism against liberal and left defenders of the political establishment.

Most damaging to the burgeoning left in the U.S. is the deeply ugly character assassination of poor and working-class voters carried out by the urban bourgeois, many from the self-described radical left. People I know and like, but with whom I disagree politically but am working hard to convert, have spent the last three years being derided as traitorous, marginally literate hicks too stupid to know they are pawns of the Kremlin. The irony, if you care to call it that, is that they knew the Russian interference story was cynical bullshit all along while the graduate degree crowd was following every twist and turn as if it were true knowledge.

The Democratic Party ‘leadership’ that pursued this story is as stupid as it is corrupt. The purpose of Russia-gate was apparently to keep the Party faithful, faithful. But as was demonstrated in 2016, the faithful alone can’t win an election. This leadership turned what could have been an effective ‘give ‘em enough rope’ strategy against arrogant jackass Trump back on itself. The establishment-left had been in the process of giving self-described socialists someone to vote for in 2020. Too-clever-by-half liberal twaddle about ‘post-truth’ now has liberals— universally conflated with the left, perceived as both idiots and liars. And rightly so.

Democrats who spent the last three years making less than plausible (and politically retrograde) accusations against Mr. Trump likely still don’t understand their current position. Their call for an exhaustive investigation carried out by people they trust was honored. While the investigation was underway, the mainstream press put one ludicrous fantasy after another forward as news. This while a host of real issues affecting real people’s lives were studiously ignored. As incredulous as I am that it could be done, liberal Democrats have made corrupt oligarch Trump appear to be righteously aggrieved. Who says these people have no talent?

The New York Times and Washington Post have been publishing politically motivated ‘fake news’ in support of establishment interests since their inceptions. Their service to powerful interests is why they are still around. The FBI, CIA and NSA have been putting out politically motivated bullshit since their respective inceptions. They exist to serve the rich and powerful against all comers. To claim these as bastions of integrity was always a tough sell. To continue to claim it is the stuff from which revolutions are made. In this case, right-wing revolutions.

While the urban bourgeois have long been dismissive of the ‘burn it down’ contingent of Trump voters, they seem incapable of seeing their own roles as defenders of the establishment as corrupt and ultimately, politically suicidal. I voted for a woman for president and a black man for vice president in 2016. But they weren’t Democrats. Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election because she is a corrupt, neoliberal, militaristic piece of shit. Ironically, or not, most of Trump voters I’ve spoken with know more about the Democrats’ actual record than the highly educated urban bourgeois pontificating on NPR or in the New York Times.

A quick bet is that the 2020 presidential election is now Donald Trump’s to lose.

[Liars] like James Clapper and John Brennan will tie their lots to whomever will fund their adventures in mal-governance as the world burns and species become extinct. The tragedy here is that there are real issues in need of resolution. The Democrats’ three-year adventure in red-baiting served to legitimate a financial-military-industrial complex that apparently intends to end the planet as it makes as many people miserable in the process as is possible. Congratulations.


Source: CounterPunch

Aw, Rats! Boston’s Rats Are in Charge. We Just Live Here. – by Chris Sweeney (Boston Magazine) 20 Feb 2018

 

They nest in our homes. They feed on our garbage. They breed faster than rabbits and can clear out a restaurant like a four-alarm fire.

Rats

It’s approaching midnight on a blustery Friday in late fall, and Boston Common is nearly silent. The golden dome of the State House gleams in the moonlight as the nabobs of Beacon Hill doze in their multimillion-dollar homes. Nearby restaurant workers are lugging heaps of trash into alleyways. And me? I’m in hot pursuit of a burly brown rodent that’s hauling ass through the park.

In the beam of my flashlight, the rat looks to be as long as a grown man’s slipper and as agile as a sports car. It veers left across a paved walkway before scampering under a bench and then hugging a stone curb in an all-out sprint. As the little guy nears an ailing oak tree, three more rats dart out from the shadows, and together they vanish, like magic, into the gnarled roots.

As I head toward Boylston Street, several more rats—three, four, five?—dash up a small mound of dirt and slip between the stones of a crumbling retaining wall. Shining my flashlight into the gloom, I discover a network of burrow holes that look big enough to fit my forearm in (though I decide not to test this theory). Moments later, I spot another rat circling a metal trashcan. Sensing my presence, it flees into the exposed base of a nearby lamppost, where it peers out at me with black, beady eyes.

On any given night, thousands of rats are running wild through Greater Boston, gnawing their way into historical brownstones, defecating in popular eateries, and having ungodly amounts of sex in our public parks. Every time you walk through the Common, for instance, you’re stepping on top of a hidden world, complete with pecking orders, partnerships, and rivalries—just like us. Unlike people, though, rats use pheromones in their feces and urine to identify one another and communicate, and they smell each others’ breath to know which food is safe to eat and which isn’t. They decorate their nests with candy wrappers, memorize shortcuts to zip around the park unnoticed, and fortify escape tunnels for when exterminators come calling. 

It may sound whimsical, like something out of Ratatouille, but believe me—it’s not.

For centuries, Boston has been waging war against these vermin. In recent years, though, it appears that the rats have gone on the offensive, growing their ranks at an unsettling rate. In 2016, the city’s Inspectional Services Department logged more than 3,500 rodent-related complaints—a nearly 30 percent increase over the previous two years. Then a Jamaica Plain restaurant made headlines when one of its workers came down with a case of leptospirosis, a potentially fatal infection usually caused by exposure to rat urine (a disease rarely seen in so-called first-world countries). But the most shocking news—and what sparked my curiosity to check out the Common in the first place—arrived this past summer when Governing magazine dropped a bombshell report showing that Boston had officially surpassed New York City in the number of in-home rat sightings, putting us in second place nationwide for this dubious distinction, trailing only Philadelphia. Culled from U.S. Census data, the findings revealed that about one in six Boston homes had disclosed close encounters with the rodent kind.

When I mention the study to a friend who lived on a particularly ratty street in Brooklyn before moving to Boston, he’s hardly taken aback. He currently lives across from the Public Garden and tells me that stepping outside for a nightly cigarette often leads to a stare-down with our furry fauna. “Boston rats are way more brazen than any New York City rats I’ve ever known,” he tells me. “Twice I’ve actually run away from them. Twice!”

Nor does news of the city’s rat problem surprise Bobby Corrigan, an internationally recognized expert with a PhD in urban rodentology who consulted on rodent-control programs for the Big Dig. Corrigan has studied infestations around the world and says old port cities like Boston have some of the worst. The nest I found near the retaining wall, he explains, is probably home to a family of 10 or so rats. That family is part of a colony, which can have between 60 and 100 members. In an area the size of the Common, Corrigan estimates that there are likely four distinct colonies. Like the Hells Angels and the Pagans, these colonies engage in turf wars, clashing over resources. “They’re very aggressive toward one another,” Corrigan says. “And as that park becomes too crowded, the rats of Boston Common become the rats of Beacon Hill.”

It’s easy to dismiss rats as just another cost of city living, but make no mistake: They’re shockingly destructive pests, teeming with harmful, disease-spreading bacteria and, according to one study, inflicting $19 billion worth of damage across the U.S. each year. Their relentless burrowing can erode a building’s foundation; their urine spoils tons of food each year; and their front teeth are like diamonds, strong enough to gnaw through wood, brick, and cement—not to mention live electrical wires, which can spark costly fires.

In response, Boston has ramped up its extermination efforts, while Cambridge and Somerville have formed special rodent task forces. City employees and private exterminators regularly hit the streets before dawn with buckets of poison, bait boxes, and snap traps. Though these tried-and-true methods may be effective, none is foolproof—and attempts to build a better rat trap have faced unexpected setbacks. One of Boston’s most recent experiments—which involved using dry ice to suffocate the little buggers—proved highly successful before the Environmental Protection Agency shut the program down.

While Boston is no stranger to rats, suddenly it seems like the little critters are staging the greatest comeback of their career. Many suggest that the development boom—with its endless groundbreakings, jackhammering, and excavations—has unleashed a biblical swarm of rodents and driven them toward the light. Others pin it on the mild winter of 2017. Or perhaps, as city officials insist, the uptick in sightings is merely the result of better reporting and data collection. The bigger question, though, is can anything be done to stop them? Because at this point, the only thing that seems certain is that as Boston keeps growing, so will its rat problem.

 

When it comes to talking about rats, combat metaphors often abound. And as anyone who understands the principles of war can tell you, rule number one is to know thy enemy.

In this case, that’s Rattus norvegicus, known better as the Norway rat or brown rat. At first glance, it is an entirely underwhelming animal: A typical adult measures up to 15 inches from snout to tail and weighs about a pound and a half, and these rodents live only about a year in an urban environment. Otherwise, though, it’s arguably Mother Nature’s most successful beast.

Rats spend most of their life scurrying through the streets in search of water and food; an adult can consume as much as one-third of its body weight in a single day. Because they need to eat so much, they can’t afford to be picky and will feast on roaches, doughnut crumbs, week-old Chinese takeout—anything they can get their tiny mitts on. Rats are also highly intelligent, able to master puzzles, run through mazes, and express empathy to fellow rats—all reasons why scientists often use them in psychological experiments to learn about humans. Believe it or not, rats are exceedingly clean, keeping their nests tidy and fastidiously grooming themselves like cats.

They’re also super-breeders.

Over the course of their short lives, male rats will hump just about anything in sight, including other males and dead rats, in hopes of procreating. But it’s the female rats that have among the most remarkable reproductive capabilities in the animal kingdom. After reaching sexual maturity a few months into life, their gestation period is only 21 to 24 days, and they can have up to a dozen pups in a single litter. Then, within 24 hours of giving birth, a female rat can ovulate, have intercourse, and become pregnant again. In other words: In a single night, two amorous rats can single-handedly trigger a domino effect that will spawn generation upon generation of offspring in a matter of months. “If everything is perfect, if you do the math, exponentially you can get up to 15,000 descendants in one year,” says Brandy Pyzyna, vice president of scientific operations for the pest control company SenesTech. “That’s why infestations can rebound so quickly.”

The brown rat’s origin story begins somewhere near Mongolia about 2 million years ago, long before the dawn of human history. Once Homo sapiens entered the picture, wherever people went, rats followed—eating their debris and garbage along the way. They trailed nomadic shepherds on the Grain Road through Central Asia and followed the merchants of the Silk Road west toward Europe. They even hitched a ride to the New World as stowaways on ships carrying early European immigrants.

The first reports of brown rats in the American colonies date to 1775, and the animals quickly became regular residents in filthy, crowded industrial centers such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. They weren’t the first rat species on the scene, however: Rattus rattus, the smaller black rat—historically loathed as a transmitter of bubonic plague—had arrived more than a century earlier. But the larger and more-aggressive brown rat, better suited for cold winters, easily bullied the black rat out of town and before long claimed the Northeast as its own.

Beneath Boston today is a veritable graveyard of colonial-era rats, says city archaeologist Joe Bagley, who’s found evidence of rat tunnels on Paul Revere’s property and once even unearthed the skeleton of a rat in the North End that died next to a 19th-century Catholic Miraculous Medal. Nothing, however, can compare with the grisly discovery Bagley’s team made in a garden at the Old North Church in August 2016. They were digging six feet below ground near a cistern when the first rat skull surfaced, followed in quick succession by a second, a third, and a fourth. “We couldn’t quite figure out what was going on,” says Liz Quinlan, a zooarchaeologist who was on site that day. “We were essentially pulling out buckets of rats.” By the end of the project, they had removed 747 rat bones (“which is insane,” she assures me). While Quinlan suspects that the rats drowned in the latter half of the 19th century, she can’t yet say if they all perished at the same time.

Until the late 1800s, the most sophisticated way to kill rats was to set dogs on them. By the turn of the century, however, Americans had finally started using technology to get serious about extermination. As cities grew, so did rat populations, and pest control emerged as a social justice and public health issue. The opening salvo came in 1894, when the U.S. government issued the first patent for a spring-loaded trap. While a welcome addition to any Victorian exterminator’s arsenal, the design had one glaring flaw: Each trap could kill only a single rat.

Soon, Bostonians began taking matters into their own hands. In 1917, the Boston Women’s Municipal League, for instance, sponsored a derby-style competition, dubbed “Rat Day,” in which participants earned cash in exchange for dead rodents. The winner, a Mr. Rymkus of Brighton, slaughtered a remarkable 282 rats (and earned $150 in prize money, the equivalent of $3,100 today).

It wasn’t long until poisons entered the picture, and in the 1940s scientists discovered that warfarin (which today is best known as the heart medication Coumadin) was great at killing rats by thinning their blood to the point where they essentially drowned. Today, these anticoagulant poisons remain a popular choice for pest control, along with neurotoxins and other deadly chemical compounds. Yet in the fight against vermin, Boston is still trying to make a dent. Yes, the problem is less visible than a hundred years ago, but that doesn’t mean we’ve solved it. Not only are the rats still here—they’re flourishing.

 

Here’s what the modern war on rats looks like from the front lines: It’s a few minutes past 8 a.m. on a cold Wednesday in November, and Jeff Kilian is pulling on a pair of black latex gloves outside of a Brighton gas station. Before heading inside, he grabs a paint bucket full of rat poison—it looks like red-speckled chunks of Play-Doh—and begins pointing out signs of rat activity. Once you know what to look for, he says, you see the signs everywhere: black droppings the size and shape of fennel seeds; dark, greasy streaks on the pavement that indicate a favorite path; and plastic trashcans with holes gnawed through the bottom. He steps into the convenience store, slides a black plastic bait box from under the soda cooler, pops it open, and reveals a handful of desiccated rodent carcasses. It’s an olfactory nightmare. Over in a storage room, he pulls out two snap traps, each of which has a furry dead rodent in its clutches, and drops the corpses in a plastic bag. “Think about what my truck smells like at the end of the day,” he says.

Then it’s on to the next assignment. As Kilian, who works for Ultra Safe Pest Management, weaves through Storrow Drive gridlock on his way to South Boston, he politely informs me that “exterminator” is something of “an archaic term.” After all, he’s licensed by the state, takes continuing education courses, and can talk in exquisite detail about the life cycles of bedbugs, Asian long-horned beetles, and, of course, rats.

Thirty-seven years old, with hazel eyes and a goatee, Kilian didn’t grow up dreaming of a life in pest control. He was born in South Boston, worked construction with his father as a young man, and took odd jobs along the way. Then, about 15 years ago, he came across a help-wanted notice in the classifieds. The listing was short on details, but said applicants should be comfortable with heavy lifting and digging. “That’s me all day,” Kilian thought. He called the number, only to find out it was a pest-control company. A few days later, he had a phone, a truck full of poison, and a list of needy clients.

At first, Kilian says he suffered a crisis of conscience. Killing creatures all day long took its toll. Rats began polluting his dreams. For a while, he couldn’t walk into a restaurant without scanning it for telltale signs of infestations. Today, though, having spent most of his adult life in the trenches of urban-animal warfare, he’s got the thousand-yard stare to match. Cockroaches, bedbugs, maggots—he’s seen it all.

As far as rat stories go, Kilian’s can hang with the best of them. Some of his most harrowing moments have come after getting a call from a fancy restaurant. He claims he’s caught a 5-pound rat at an eatery on Beacon Hill and seen a whopping 7-pounder in the sewers beneath a Back Bay dining room. But the craziest thing he says he’s ever seen? That occurred in the early 2000s along the seawall that separates the North End from Boston Harbor. Hundreds of rats had set up shop and were constantly raiding nearby restaurants, chewing through the floors and walls. One day, as Kilian was making the rounds by the waterfront, he glanced over and saw a swarm of rats overtaking a seagull. “It was eaten alive,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I saw it get devoured.”

After battling traffic for another 20 minutes, we finally arrive at the next job: a massive industrial brick building in South Boston. Kilian is no stranger to this address. “I’ve killed so many rats here, it’s ridiculous,” he says. Before going inside, he leads me over to an alleyway near the loading docks and starts stomping on the muddy gravel, the best way to find his quarry. Sure enough, his construction boot sinks through the ground and he’s ankle-deep in a rat burrow. Properly rat-proofing a business is akin to a small-scale construction project, requiring concrete work and retrofitted doorways with stainless steel sweeps. Oftentimes, though, getting commercial property owners to commit to that type of work is difficult, if not impossible.

Kilian’s client, who works below the ground floor, is in the food-services industry. He understandably doesn’t want to be identified, but he keeps a vigilant line of defense against rats, fearful that a smattering of turds could compel a health inspector to shut down his businesses indefinitely. Yet no matter what he does, he feels as though countless forces are working against him. The landlord, he says, is responsible for repairing the loading dock and patching the building’s foundation but hasn’t done it. Meanwhile, he tells me, the tech company upstairs has no rodent control in place, as evidenced by the rat that ran across its floors earlier this morning.

When Kilian finishes his inspection, his client, visibly flustered, tells him to go ahead and schedule the necessary concrete work to rat-proof the business, and to take care of it as soon as possible. He’d rather pay out of pocket and hound the landlord for reimbursement than risk a rat breaching his perimeter. As he walks us out the front door, he points to a sprawling construction site directly across the street. It’s a common scene in the city these days: a former industrial site being razed to make room for a new plot of luxury condos. Kilian’s client insists that ever since the bulldozers arrived, the rat problem around his building has gotten worse. “Someone should drop a dime on them,” he says with a smile.

As we pile back into the truck, Kilian begins chatting and says he’s going to stop at the nearest Dunkin’, but it’s all I can do to keep my mind off the stench of dead rodents emanating from inside.

 

After saying goodbye to Kilian, I couldn’t stop thinking about what his client had said: that construction was stirring up the rats. Over the course of reporting this story, I repeatedly heard that the city’s current building boom is fueling the rat problem. The argument goes that ripping up the streets to make way for our tony new high-rises in the Back Bay, the Fenway, and the Seaport is surely displacing rat colonies and forcing rodents above ground.

It sounds logical—yet William “Buddy” Christopher, commissioner of the city’s Inspectional Services Department, says it’s simply not the case. “We don’t see anything that’s tracking along those lines,” he tells me. “The Seaport is probably the area with the most big-building development, and we don’t see a drastic increase of rat populations over there.”

Corrigan, the rat expert, agrees and notes that construction has long been a scapegoat for cities’ rat problems. “There’s this urban myth that construction causes rats,” he says. That doesn’t mean, though, that rodents aren’t attracted to construction sites. After all, the plethora of debris and building materials provides ample shelter, while construction workers and their lunches produce plenty of garbage for vermin to eat. But Corrigan insists that jackhammering isn’t going to trigger a rat-pocalypse—especially in Boston, thanks to our stringent regulations for new buildings.

In order to begin construction here, builders and developers have to put together a rodent mitigation plan before a shovel ever hits the ground. Also required are monthly reports once construction gets under way, followed by a post-construction report when the project is finished. It’s a policy with roots in the Big Dig, when residents and city officials feared extensive tunneling was going to unleash a rat tsunami. To ease anxieties, city officials developed a systematic strategy that pinpointed where the rats were and attacked them well before construction began. While it might sound like common sense, the idea turned out to be revolutionary, and Boston’s approach has since been heralded, according to one report, as the world’s first “comprehensive and centrally coordinated rodent control program” linked to a major construction project and has served as a model for cities around the word.

So if the construction boom isn’t fueling Boston’s rat problem, what is? Christopher, of Inspectional Services, doesn’t deny there are rat troubles, but he insists that the soaring number of complaints is misleading. The city’s 311 system, which launched in 2015, makes it so easy to report rats, he claims, that it’s not uncommon to get multiple complaints for one location. Before 311 launched, reporting a rat was a cumbersome process, Christopher says. Now, residents can do it from their smartphones within seconds of spotting a scaly tail.

That’s not to say Boston is idly twiddling its thumbs. Every day, teams of pest-control experts hit the streets to bait sewer lines, patrol public alleyways, and follow up on reports. Some nearby cities are pushing the war on rats into uncharted territories. For instance, Somerville recently worked with the company SenesTech to test a new poison that not only kills rats, but also makes it harder for them to reproduce. While the cutting-edge chemicals—which are associated with infertility—proved mostly effective, Somerville has not committed to the approach. After all, as Boston city officials recently learned, deploying new weapons against rats isn’t always easy, and there are rules of engagement.

In 2016, Boston Inspectional Services teamed up with researchers at Harvard and MIT and began packing large rat nests with dry ice, which evaporates into carbon dioxide and suffocates the animals. The city tested the method on infestations in overgrown cemeteries and even used it on a massive burrow in the Public Garden. “It was amazingly effective,” Christopher says. “Probably the most humane way to deal with rodents.” But then the federal EPA got wind of what was going on and told the city it was not allowed to use dry ice because it was not an officially registered pesticide. Since then the necessary agencies have been working together to remedy the problem, but it’s a complex process that includes the EPA, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, and the city. While the agencies wade through a sea of red tape, an untold number of rats have surely spawned in these same areas.

Ultimately, though, controlling rats isn’t really about coming up with new ways to kill them. It’s about effectively managing the endless stream of trash that flows from our homes and businesses, along with making it difficult for the animals to find warm, safe places to nest. It means that residents shouldn’t dump garbage on the sidewalk and that parks departments should know which type of ground cover is hospitable to rats and which isn’t. It means that restaurant owners should seal up their dumpsters every night and that landlords should quickly call an exterminator when a tenant complains. Needless to say, these are lofty ambitions for a city where neighbors get in fistfights over parking spaces and absentee landlords abound. Even if we do everything right, the simple fact is that rats are here to stay—and they are poised to spread farther and farther into the suburbs. “Rats follow rail lines and sewer lines,” Corrigan says. “They follow sprawl.”

We’re already seeing that scenario play out: This past fall, the sleepy bedroom community of Belmont was shocked when town officials closed a popular playground due to a rat infestation. Naturally, I had to check it out. When I arrived, the quaint little park—which sits next to an elementary school—was pitch-black and eerily quiet. The slides, swings, and jungle gym, which the rats had burrowed under, were cordoned off behind a makeshift wooden fence on which hung a metal sign that read, “Park Closed for Maintenance.” I scanned the ground with my flashlight, but apparently the rats had already packed up and moved along.

After wandering around for several minutes, I bumped into John Analetto, who has lived across from the park for decades. In all that time, he says he’s never once seen a rat—not on his property or in the playground. He found the news of the infestation deeply upsetting. It’s an incredible park, he says, and there’s nothing he loves more than the sound of parents and children playing in it. “Nobody likes a rat,” he tells me before heading back to his house. “The only good rat is a dead rat.”

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Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show

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PORTLAND, OR—Saying that she just wanted a little time to relax and “not even think about” confining gender stereotypes, local health care industry consultant Natalie Jenkins reportedly took a 30-minute break from being a feminist last night to kick back and enjoy a television program.

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Jenkins, 29, told reporters that after a long and tiring day at her office, all she wanted to do was return home, sit down on her couch, turn on an episode of the TLC reality show Say Yes To The Dress, and treat herself to a brief half hour in which she could look past all the various and near constant ways popular culture undermines the progress of women.

 

“Every once in a while, it’s nice to watch a little television without worrying about how frequently the mainstream media perpetuates traditional gender roles,” Jenkins said before putting her feet up on her coffee table and tuning in to the popular program that follows women as they shop for wedding gowns. “No mentally cataloging all the times women are subtly mocked or shamed for not living up to an unrealistic body image, no examining how women are depicted as superficial and irrationally emotional, and no thinking about how these shows reinforce the belief that women should simply aspire to find a man and get married—none of that. Not tonight. I’m just watching an episode of Say Yes To The Dress and enjoying it for what it is.”

“Between 9 and 9:30, I’m not even going to take notice of all the two-dimensional portrayals of women as fashion- and shopping-obsessed prima donnas,” Jenkins added. “That part of my brain will just be switched off.”

Jenkins confirmed that she watched contentedly for the entirety of the television program, telling reporters that she never once allowed herself to grow indignant as the adult, employed, and presumably self-respecting women on screen repeatedly demanded to be made into “princesses.”

Additionally, Jenkins acknowledged that she witnessed dozens of moments in which the brides-to-be abandoned the notion that they should be valued for their personalities and intellects and instead seemed to derive their sole sense of worth from embellishing their appearance. However, she said she was able to consistently remind herself that this was “Natalie time” and that the feminist movement “could do without [her] for 30 minutes.”

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“Normally, I’d be pretty irritated at the thought of millions of people across the country mindlessly watching such a backward representation of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century, but tonight I’m just unwinding and not letting it get to me,” Jenkins said. “It’s actually been kind of nice to push all the insinuations that marriage is the one true path for women to achieve happiness and fulfillment to the back of my mind and just lie back and have a good time.”

“In fact, there was a part where one of the brides threw a tantrum because the dress she wanted was above her budget and then whined to her father until he finally gave in and bought it for her, and I just let myself laugh out loud,” added Jenkins, noting that, while she was fully aware that such depictions reinforced the notion of women as helpless figures who require a man to provide for them, she was “letting all that stuff slide” during this particular half hour. “This show’s actually pretty fun and entertaining if you ignore how damaging it could be to our perceptions of gender in society.”

Jenkins also reportedly viewed roughly 10 minutes of advertisements throughout the show, during which time she reminded herself to actively tune out the numerous instances wherein feminine sexuality was used to sell products; the number of times advertisements preyed on female insecurity; and the sheer volume of bare female skin shown on screen.

“Sure, I just watched several commercials that basically reduced women to explicitly sexualized objects whose sole purpose is to please men, but someone else can worry about that right now because I’m off the clock,” said Jenkins, following a succession of ads for vodka, shampoo, and the Fiat 500. “Honestly, I don’t even care that that yogurt commercial showed thin, beautiful women easily balancing home and work lives while eating 60-calorie packs of yogurt. Tonight, in my mind, they’re just selling Greek yogurt. That’s all.”

While affirming that she had fully recommitted herself to the cause of gender equality as soon as the show’s credits ended, Jenkins admitted she was already looking forward to the next time she could let herself disregard the many ways women are reduced to stale caricatures on national television.

“Honestly, it’s pretty exhausting to call out every sexist stereotype or instance of misogyny in popular culture, so sometimes I have to just throw my hands up and grant myself a little time off,” Jenkins said. “And given the state of modern media, momentarily suspending my feminist ideals is the only way to get through a night of TV without becoming totally livid or discouraged.”

As of press time, Jenkins’ sense of relaxation and contentment had been entirely undone by the first 30 seconds of 2 Broke Girls.

https://archive.is/XG6xz

Spoiling for a Fight: How US Policy Went From Pragmatism to Fantasy – by Philip Giraldi – 22 April 2019

It is depressing to observe how the United States of America has become the evil empire. Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War and in the Central Intelligence Agency for the second half of the Cold War, I had an insider’s viewpoint of how an essentially pragmatic national security policy was being transformed bit by bit into a bipartisan doctrine that featured as a sine qua non global dominance for Washington. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed the opportunity to end once and for all the bipolar nuclear confrontation that threatened global annihilation was squandered as President Bill Clinton chose instead to humiliate and use NATO to contain an already demoralized and effectively leaderless Russia.

American Exceptionalism became the battle cry for an increasingly clueless federal government as well as for a media-deluded public. When 9/11 arrived, the country was ready to lash out at the rest of the world. President George W. Bush growled that “There’s a new sheriff in town and you are either with us or against us.” Afghanistan followed, then Iraq, and, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats came up with Libya and the first serious engagement in Syria. In its current manifestation, one finds a United States that threatens Iran on a nearly weekly basis and tears up arms control agreements with Russia while also maintaining deployments of US forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places like Mali. Scattered across the globe are 800 American military bases while Washington’s principal enemies du jour Russia and China have, respectively, only one and none.

Never before in my lifetime has the United States been so belligerent, and that in spite of the fact that there is no single enemy or combination of enemies that actually threaten either the geographical United States or a vital interest. Venezuela is being threatened with invasion primarily because it is in the western hemisphere and therefore subject to Washington’s claimed proconsular authority. Last Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council that the White House will remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, preferably using diplomacy and sanctions, but “all options are on the table.” Pence warned that Russia and other friends of Maduro need to leave now or face the consequences.

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.”

Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step. In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade.

But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people.

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

In a a press release by Gardner, who has long been pushing to have Russia listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, a February version of the bill is described as “…comprehensive legislation [that] seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait. The legislation establishes a comprehensive policy response to better position the US government to address Kremlin aggression by creating new policy offices on cyber defenses and sanctions coordination. The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote. It also increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its interference in democratic processes abroad and continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The February version of the bill included Menendez, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as co-sponsors, suggesting that provoking war is truly bipartisan in today’s Washington.

Each Senator co-sponsor contributed a personal comment to the press release. Gardner observed that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the US-led liberal global order.” Menendez noted that “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress” while Graham added that “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria.” Cardin contributed “Congress continues to take the lead in defending US national security against continuing Russian aggression against democratic institutions at home and abroad” and Shaheen observed that “This legislation builds on previous efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its bellicose behavior against the United States and its determination to destabilize our global world order.”

The Senatorial commentary is, of course, greatly exaggerated and sometimes completely false regarding what is going on in the world, but it is revealing of how ignorant American legislators can be and often are. The Senators also ignore the fact that the designation of presumed Kremlin surrogate forces as “foreign terrorist organizations” is equivalent to a declaration of war against them by the US military, while hypocritically calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is bad enough, as it is demonstrably untrue. But the real damage comes from the existence of the bill itself. It will solidify support for hardliners on both sides, guaranteeing that there will be no rapprochement between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future, a development that is bad for everyone involved. Whether it can be characterized as an unintended consequence of unwise decision making or perhaps something more sinister involving a deeply corrupted congress and administration remains to be determined.

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Time Magazine: Putin’s Nefarious Plot to Dominate the World – Consent Manufacturing (Vineyard of the Saker) 22 April 2019

Vladimir Putin is plotting to dominate the world, or, at least, that the hypothesis to which Time Magazine devoted their latest issue. It is truly an example of how shrill and comical the US media have become. 

The below video and transcript are from the Vinyard of the Saker.


Transcript:

Hello friends, with you is Angelina Proskurina, and today I would like to talk about latest issue of the popular American magazine “Time”, on the cover where we can unexpectedly see President Vladimir Putin.

Almost the entire publication is dedicated to the Russian leader. But not even opening the journal can we notice that the Americans were able to make a truly serious opening. Russia in their opinion presents itself as a new type of empire, which spread its tentacles to literally all 7 continents. And special attention was given to Washington, which could not resist this encroachment.

In all honesty, this cover reminds me of a poster for some new fantasy Marvel movie. But not for something as serious as the “Time” magazine. A bloody red background, a large amount of the Kremlin’s stars all over the planet, and in the center is the silhouette of the Russian leader which reminds me more of Slenderman hanging over the whole planet. Is that enough drama for you?

Importantly, the article is written by journalist Simon Schuster. He gives the same opinion as given by many American “experts”. Thanks to America’s favorite Russian conspiracy of how they helped Trump “Make America Great Again”, there is now a new different allegation. American experts think that for Putin, he doesn’t have enough influence on just the West. For a while now, he has spread his politics all over the world, hoping to cobble up the whole planet.

Look at me. I am your election monitor now.

There is more growing confidence that this material was written by George Orwell or Aldous Huxley, but not by a journalist of one of the world’s most prestigious publishers. If we throw aside all of the delirium by this fantasy writer, then we can notice the parallel red thread of this act: the rise of Russia’s influence in the world.

There is a critical discussion about “Putin’s empire.” Yes, yes. You can take a look at the cover one more time and have a closer view at the sub-headline. Which verbatim translates to from English to Russian like this: “How Putin built improvised empire of tyrants and rogue states.” The author sweeps dust to dust spreading word of the empire scheme which Vladimir Vladimirovich is building.

Critically I emphasize the inconsistency for the full absence of such a system. But even here they show contradictions, since later the journalist admits that there is a system. It’s just that for the Americans, it doesn’t suit their taste. When the West offers the world only investigations and money, Russia provides freedom, safety and a readiness to go into compromise. The main one here is freedom, which it views as the most important value.

This is exactly why Russia’s influence in the world continues to grow. The governments of many countries want to cooperate with us into making contracts for the delivery of military weapons, like Turkish President Erdoğan did. And no matter how the US angrily threatened them with sanctions over their offer of supplying Patriot surface-to-air missiles (SAM) instead of our Russian S-400s, Ankara firmly was confident in their decision and continues their talks with us

This is why until the American elite understand that you can’t take exceptional methods of whipping right and left through the use of sanctions, the more their authority will begin to fall in the political arena. Nobody canceled diplomacy. Until that point, Russia remains and will remain in the winning position instead of Washington. We already have a handful of advantages.

Source: Vineyard of the Saker

Workers of the World: Labor’s Potential to Resist Capital is as Strong as Ever

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Trade unionists in the 1920s didn’t have much reason for optimism. Labor membership, which had shot upwards amid postwar unrest, crested and then plunged. Observers fretted that technological and cultural changes had rendered the labor movement obsolete and workers apathetic. “Our younger members, especially, have gone jazzy,” one union official lamented in the mid 1920s.

A decade later, strikes were blocking production across the country, and union density was skyrocketing.

After years of malaise in the labor movement, is a similar upsurge possible today?

Renowned labor scholar Beverly Silver thinks so. Chair of the sociology department at Johns Hopkins University, Silver has been a radical advocate for workers her whole life. Her award-winning work, including her pathbreaking Forces of Labor, deals with profound questions of labor, development, social conflict, and war. In a recent interview with Jacobin she explained what labor’s past can tell us about the present state — and future — of working-class struggle around the globe. The last few decades have seen a profound restructuring of the working class in the United States and other advanced capitalist countries. What are the broad contours of that restructuring process, and what are the forces driving it?

Capitalism is constantly transforming the organization of production and the balance of power between labor and capital — restructuring the working class, remaking the working class. So to answer this question I think we need to take a longer-term view.

It makes sense to go back to the mid-twentieth century — to the thirties, forties, and fifties. That’s when we first see the emergence of a very strong mass-production working class in the United States, most paradigmatically in the automobile industry but also in sectors like mining, energy, and transportation, which were central to industrialization and trade.

Pretty much right out of the gate after World War II, capital moved to restructure — reconfiguring the organization of production, the labor process, sources of labor supply, and the geographical location of production. This restructuring was in large part a response to strong labor movements in manufacturing and mining, in logistics and transportation.

An expanded version of David Harvey’s concept of the spatial fix is helpful here for understanding this restructuring. Capital tried to resolve the problem of strong labor movements, and the threat to profitability that labor posed, by implementing a series of “fixes.”

Companies utilized a spatial fix by moving to lower-wage sites. They implemented “technological fixes” — reducing their dependence on workers by accelerating automation. And they have been implementing what we can think of as a “financial fix” — moving capital out of trade and production and into finance and speculation as yet another means of reducing dependence on the established, mass-production working class for profits.

The beginnings of this shift of capital to finance and speculation was already visible in the 1970s, but it exploded after the mid 1990s, following the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act during the Clinton years.

So what looked like a sudden collapse in the power of organized labor in the United States in the eighties and nineties was actually rooted in decades of restructuring on these multiple fronts that began in the mid-twentieth century.

Of course, it is important to point out that there is another side of the coin. These capitalist fixes unmade the established mass-production working class, but they simultaneously made new working classes in the United States and elsewhere. These new working classes are emerging as the protagonists of labor struggles in many parts of the world today. It is no secret that the traditional forms of working-class organization, like trade unions in the United States and social-democratic parties in Europe, are in the midst of a severe crisis. How has capital succeeded in undermining and taming these organized expressions of working-class interest?

If we look back in history at high points of labor militancy, particularly those moments involving left movements tied to socialist and working-class parties, a recurrent set of strategies to undermine the radical potential of these movements is apparent. They can be summed up as restructuring, co-optation, and repression.

So, the kinds of restructuring or fixes I mentioned above — geographical relocation, technological change, financialization — certainly played an important role in weakening these movements. In the meantime, the co-optation of trade unions and working-class parties — their incorporation as junior partners into national hegemonic projects and social compacts — also played an important role. Finally, repression was an important part of the mix all along.

Just taking the United States as an example, in the post–World War II decades we see McCarthyism and the expulsion of left and Communist militants from the trade unions. Then, in the sixties and seventies, strong factory- and community-based movements of black workers — the Black Panther Party, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) — were brought under control by out-and-out repression.

And today — with the militarization of local police forces and the endless “war on terror” creating a hostile environment for the mobilization of immigrant and black workers — coercion continues to play a major role. One of the big debates today is whether the defining dynamic shaping the global working class is exploitation — workers being squeezed at the point of production — or exclusion — workers being essentially locked out of stable wage labor. What are your thoughts on this debate?

I see them as equally important. Certainly it would be a mistake to write off the continuing importance of struggles against exploitation at the point of production. Indeed, one outcome of the spatial-fix strategy has been to create new working classes and labor-capital contradictions wherever capital goes.

In other words, workers’ resistance to exploitation at the point of production has followed the movement of capital around the globe over the past half-century. Indeed, we are witnessing the latest manifestation of this dynamic with the massive wave of labor unrest now taking place in China.

Once it became clear to corporations that simply moving factories to low-wage sites could not solve the problem of labor control, capital came to rely more heavily on automation and financialization. Automation, while hardly new, has recently been expelling wage workers from production at a rapid clip, increasing the visibility of the exclusionary dynamic. A recent glaring illustration is the news that FoxConn has actually followed through with its threat to introduce a massive number of robots into its factories in China.

Likewise, the movement of surplus capital into finance and speculation is also contributing in a major way to the increasing salience of exclusion. Finance — especially those financial activities that are not adjuncts to trade and production — absorbs relatively little wage labor; more importantly, it derives profits primarily from the regressive redistribution of wealth through speculation, rather than the creation of new wealth. Hence the link made by Occupy between obscene levels of class inequality and financialization.

Automation and financialization are leading to an acceleration in the long-term tendency of capitalism to destroy established livelihoods at a much faster rate than it creates new ones. This was always the predominant tendency of historical capitalism in much of the Global South, where dispossession tended to outpace the absorption of wage labor, and thus where workers increasingly had nothing to sell but their labor power, but little chance of actually selling it.

While this tendency is nothing new, both its acceleration and the fact that its negative effects are being felt in core countries — and not just in the Third World — help explain why the exclusionary dynamic has come to the fore in current debates. To frame the question differently, does it even make sense to think of exclusion and exploitation as separate processes?

Well, Marx certainly didn’t view them as separate phenomena. In the first volume of Capital, he argued that the accumulation of capital went hand in hand with the accumulation of a surplus population — that wealth was being created through exploitation, but at the same time big chunks of the working class were excluded or made superfluous to the needs of capital.

For most of the twentieth century, there was an uneven geographical distribution in terms of where the brunt of exclusionary processes was felt. Indeed, until recently, one of the ways capital maintained legitimacy within core countries was by pushing the weight of the exclusionary processes onto the Third World as well as onto marginalized sections of the working class within the core.

The world working class was divided, with boundaries very much defined by citizenship, race, ethnicity, and gender. Today these boundaries are still quite salient, however. Particularly after the 2008 global financial crisis, the weight of exclusionary processes is being felt more heavily in core countries than in the past — with all sorts of political implications. In your work you’ve thought a lot about the power of workers and the working class. You distinguish between different sources of worker power. Can you talk more about that?

Yes, a major distinction is between structural power and associational power. Associational power is the capacity to make gains through trade union and political party organization. Structural power is the power that comes from workers’ strategic location within the process of production — a power that can be, and often has been, exercised in the absence of trade union organization. Why is it useful to make these distinctions?

Well, take structural power, for example. There are two main types of structural power: workplace bargaining power and marketplace bargaining power.

Most of the time, people think about marketplace bargaining power to understand worker power more broadly. If there’s high unemployment, your marketplace bargaining power is low, and vice versa. Workplace bargaining power — the ability to bring interconnected processes of production to a halt through localized work stoppages — is less emphasized, but is perhaps even more important for understanding sources of workers’ power today.

This is because, if you look at long-term historical trends, workers’ power at the point of production is undoubtedly, on balance, increasing. This is surprising to people. But this increased workplace bargaining power is apparent with the spread of just-in-time methods in manufacturing. In contrast to more traditional mass-production methods, no buffers or surpluses are built into the production process.

Thus, with the spread of just-in-time production in the automobile industry, for example, a relatively small number of workers, by simply stopping production in a strategic node — even, say, a windshield-wiper parts supplier — can bring an entire corporation to a standstill. There are plenty of recent examples of this in the automobile industry around the world.

Likewise, workers in logistics — transport and communication — have significant and growing workplace bargaining power tied to the cascading economic impact that stoppages in these sectors would have. Moreover, notwithstanding the almost universal tendency to think of globalization processes as weakening labor, the potential geographical scale of the impacts of these stoppages has increased with globalization. What about associational power? If workers have no unions or labor parties, doesn’t that undermine their structural bargaining power?

Not necessarily. Take the case of China. Autonomous trade unions are illegal, but there have been some major improvements recently in minimum-wage laws, labor laws, and working conditions. These changes have come out of a grassroots upsurge that has taken advantage of workers’ structural power, both in the marketplace and, even more important, in the workplace.

I think we also have to be honest about the ambiguous structural position of trade unions. If they’re too successful and deliver too much to their base, capital becomes extremely hostile and doesn’t want to deal with them and so moves to a more repressive strategy.

Capital will sometimes make deals with trade unions, but only if trade unions agree to play a mediating role, limiting labor militancy and ensuring labor control. But in order to effectively do that, unions have to deliver something to their base, which brings us back to the first problem. Ultimately, the question is: in what kind of situations does this contradictory dynamic between trade unions and capitalists play out to the benefit of workers? What do you think about arguments that struggles are shifting from the point of production to the streets or community?

This brings us back to the earlier question about the relative importance of exploitation and exclusion in shaping the world working class. Looking at the world working class as a whole today, I don’t think it would be accurate to say that struggles are shifting predominantly to the streets, especially if we are talking about struggles that have a serious disruptive impact on business as usual.

Struggles at the point of production continue to be an important component of overall world labor unrest. At the same time, the excluded — the unemployed and those with weak structural power — have no choice but to make their voices heard through direct action in the streets rather than direct action in the workplace.

The coexistence of struggles at the workplace and struggles in the street has been a feature of capitalism historically, as has the coexistence of exploitation and exclusion. Sometimes these two types of struggles proceed without intersecting in solidarity with each other, especially since, historically, the working class has been divided — both within countries and between countries — in the degree to which their experience is primarily shaped by the dynamics of exclusion or the dynamics of exploitation.

But if we think of major successful waves of labor unrest, they combined, in explicit or implicit solidarity, both of these kinds of struggles. Even the Flint factory occupation and subsequent 1936 and ’37 strike wave — a movement that was fundamentally based on leveraging workers’ power at the point of production — was made more potent by simultaneous struggles in the streets of unemployed workers and community solidarity.

Or, if we think of a recent mass movement that was widely seen as taking place almost entirely in the streets — Egypt in 2011 — it was when the Suez Canal workers leveraged their workplace bargaining power with a strike in support of the mass movement in the streets that Mubarak was forced to step down. It is also interesting to note that the April 6 youth movement that initiated the occupation of Tahrir Square was founded in 2008 to support a major strike by industrial workers.

So a fundamental problem for the Left today, which is also not new, is to figure out how to combine workplace bargaining power and the power of the street — to find the nodes of connection between unemployed, excluded, and exploited wage workers. This is almost certainly easier when the excluded and exploited are members of the same households or the same communities.

In the United States, we can see glimmers of these intersections with the 2015 dockworkers’ strike in California in support of Black Lives Matter mobilizations in the streets, and with the way the community and workplace struggles of immigrant workers intersect. In the United States today, it seems like a major focus of labor organizing and activism is on the lowest-wage workers in the service sectors. What do you make of this? Is this where we should be focusing our energies? Or should we be looking at different kinds of workers in different industries and sectors?

It’s not a mistake to place a big emphasis on these workers. If you’re going to raise the conditions of the majority of the population, you have to raise the conditions of these workers.

I think part of the skepticism inherent in this question is that so far this strategy hasn’t been very successful. Again, thinking about workplace bargaining power is useful here. At Walmart, for example, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to hit the retail side. You have to hit the distribution side.

The same goes for fast food. If you hit the distribution side, then you can leverage workplace bargaining power. Otherwise, you are left with a struggle that is confined to the streets. But this also leads us back to the question of how and when workers with strong workplace bargaining power exercise that power in support of broader transformational goals. Along with Giovanni Arrighi, you have argued that the trajectory of the workers’ movements in the United States and other national contexts are profoundly influenced by their relationship to broader movements in global politics, wars, and international conflicts. How have recent geopolitical shifts affected the strength of labor in the United States?

This is a very big and important question. I think a lot of the discussion of labor movements tends to focus on the economic side, but the geopolitical side is equally, if not more, important for understanding the prospects and possibilities for workers and workers’ movements, historically and going forward.

Fifteen years ago, right before September 11, it looked like we were on the verge of a mass upsurge of labor unrest in the United States, with a strong epicenter among immigrant workers. There were a number of major strikes that had been planned or were in progress, and then the dynamic shifted.

The war on terror gave a major boost to coercion and repression in maintaining the status quo, and not just in the workplace, in terms of employer hostility to trade unions, but more broadly, in terms of the impact of the permanent war environment on the prospects for organizing. Coercion and repression seem to be fundamental to capitalism. What’s different today in the relationship between workers, workers’ movements, and geopolitics?

Well, I think to answer this question it is important to place the current permanent war environment within the context of the broader crisis of US world power and hegemonic decline.

And we need to look at the long-term historical relationship between workers’ rights and the reliance of states on the working class to fight wars. Let’s discuss the latter first.

One of the well-known, but not widely discussed, roots of labor strength — or at least the institutionalization of trade unions and the deepening of democratic rights in the United States and in Western Europe, and to some extent globally — was the particular nature of war in the twentieth century, including the industrialization of the means of war and mass conscription.

To fight this type of war, the core powers, the imperial powers, needed the cooperation of the working class, both as soldiers fighting at the front and as workers keeping the factories going. War-making depended on industrial production for everything from armaments to boots. Hence the common wisdom during both world wars was that whoever kept the factories running would win the war.

In this context worker cooperation was key, and the relationship between war-making and civil unrest was unmistakable. The two biggest peaks of world labor unrest in the twentieth century, by far, were the years immediately following World War I and World War II. The troughs of labor unrest were in the midst of the wars themselves.

It’s also no coincidence that the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement was in the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, and that the height of the Black Power Movement came during and after the Vietnam War.

States sought to secure the cooperation of workers through the mobilization of nationalist and patriotic sentiments, but this was not sustainable without tangible advances in workers’ rights. Thus, expansions of the welfare state went hand in hand with expansions of the warfare state in the twentieth century.

Put differently: working-class nationalism could only trump working-class internationalism if states showed that winning wars meant rising standards of living and expanding rights for workers as both workers and citizens. Do you think this is still the case today, in the context of seemingly permanent warfare?

The nature of war has changed today in many respects. Just like capital reorganized production in response to the strength of labor, so has the state restructured the military to lessen its dependence on workers and citizens to wage war.

The mass movement against the Vietnam War, and the refusal of soldiers at the front in Vietnam to go on fighting, was a turning point, triggering a fundamental restructuring of the organization and nature of war-making.

We see the results of this restructuring today with the end of mass conscription and the increasing automation of warfare. With the growing reliance on drones and other high-tech weaponry, US soldiers are being removed from direct danger — not entirely, but much more than in the past.

This is a different situation than the one that linked workers’ movements and warfare in the twentieth century. The welfare and warfare states have become uncoupled in the twenty-first century. Whether, under these changing conditions, working-class internationalism will trump working-class nationalism is a critical but unresolved question.

I have focused on the United States in this discussion, but the transformation in the nature of war-making has broader impacts. In the mid-twentieth century, many colonial countries were incorporated into the imperial war process as suppliers of both soldiers and materials for the war effort, leading to an analogous strengthening and militancy of the working class.

Today, in country after country in a wide swath of the Global South, you have a situation in which modern US war-making is leading to the wholesale disorganization and destruction of the working class in places where high-tech weaponry is being dropped. The current “migrant crisis,” both its roots and its repercussions, is a deeply disturbing blowback from this new age of war. In previous periods, rising tides of militancy and organization have tended to bring with them new and powerful organizational forms. In the nineteenth century it was the craft union, in the twentieth century it was the industrial union. Are these forms doomed to historical oblivion, and if so, what might replace them?

They’re certainly not doomed to historical oblivion. In the United States, for example, some of the most successful unions today — in terms of recruiting new members and militancy — are the ones that have their roots in the old AFL, in the craft-worker tradition. Some people say elements of that old organizing style are more suitable to the horizontal nature of current workplaces, rather than the industrial unions associated with vertically integrated corporations.

But this doesn’t mean industrial unions are dead, either. The types of successes that were characteristic of the classic CIO unions — the Flint sit-down strike in the engine plant and the strikes beyond that — relied on the strategic bargaining power of workers at the point of production. I think that there are still lessons to be learned from these successes.

Clearly neither of these forms succeeded in touching the fundamental problems of capitalism, however. As I already mentioned, the problem with trade unions is that, to the extent that they are too effective, capital and the state have no interest in working with them and cooperating.

Yet to the extent that they — and this is largely what’s happened — don’t deliver a serious transformation in the life and livelihoods of workers, they lose credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of workers themselves.

I think we constantly see both sides of this contradiction. The trade unions are part of the solution but are not the full solution. One of the ideas that Marx advocated for is imploring trade unions to connect with the unemployed in a single organization. Is that an option in places like the United States?

I think that it’s certainly the ideal — it’s what Marx and Engels were talking about in the Communist Manifesto in terms of the role of communists in the labor movement.

It also brings us back to the questions about the relationship between processes of exploitation and exclusion and about the relationship between struggles at the point of production and struggles in the street.

For trade unions seeking to follow Marx’s directive, it means thinking strategically about the conditions under which workers with stable waged employment can be drawn into and be radicalized by the struggles of the unemployed and precariously employed, and vice versa. What are the prospects for labor revitalization in the United States? Do you expect to see an upsurge in militancy and organization in the near future?

On the one hand, let me say that I do, just on theoretical grounds, expect an upsurge of labor militancy in the United States, and not just in the United States. On an empirical level, since 2008, we have been witnessing an upsurge worldwide in class-based social unrest, which may be seen in retrospect as the beginnings of a longer-term revitalization.

This assessment goes against the prevailing sentiment. It’s interesting to compare the current pessimism to what was being said by experts in the 1920s. At that time, they were looking at the ways in which craft workers were being undermined by the expansion of mass production, and they were claiming that the labor movement was mortally weakened and permanently dead. They were saying that right up until the eve of the mass wave of labor unrest in the mid 1930s.

They didn’t understand that, while it was true that a lot of the craft-worker unions were being undermined, there was a new working class in formation. We see the same thing today — a situation where there is a twentieth-century mass-production working class that’s being undermined, but there is also a new working class in formation, including in manufacturing.

It’s important not to just wipe manufacturing out of the consciousness of what’s happening even in the United States, much less in the world as a whole. Nevertheless, each time new waves of labor unrest erupt, the working class looks fundamentally different, and the strategies and mobilization again are fundamentally different. Who do you think would lead the upsurge this time around?

It’s hard to say. What is clearer are the critical issues facing labor today, and to some extent these point to the mass base and leadership needed for a “next upsurge” that is transformational. We’re in a situation where capital is destroying livelihoods at a much faster pace than it’s creating new ones, so we’re experiencing on a global scale, including in core countries and the United States, an expansion of the surplus population, and particularly what Marx referred to in Capital as the stagnant surplus population: those who are really never going to be incorporated into stable wage labor.

Contingent workers, temporary workers, part-time workers, and the long-term unemployed — this whole group is expanding, leading us down the road to pauperism. Notwithstanding the deep crisis of legitimacy this is creating for capitalism, there’s nothing, no tendency within capitalism itself, to go in a different direction. If we are going to change directions, it’s going to have to come from a mass political movement, rather than something coming out of capital itself.

There are two other important points to consider. One is that capitalist profitability, throughout its history, has depended on the partial externalization of not only the cost of reproduction of labor, but also the cost of reproduction of nature. This externalization is becoming increasingly untenable and unsustainable, but there’s also no inherent tendency within capital to redirect this.

Moreover, since the treatment of nature as a free good was a pillar of the postwar social compact tying mass production to the promise of working-class mass consumption, no simple return to the so-called golden age of Keynesianism and developmentalism is possible.

Second, the historical tendency in capitalism to resolve economic and political crises through expansionist, militaristic policies and war is something we have to take seriously, particularly in the current period of US hegemonic crisis and decline.

Getting control over oil, grabbing resources, fighting over sea lanes in the South China Sea — these struggles have the potential for incredibly horrific outcomes for humanity as a whole. To avoid this, a renewed and updated labor internationalism will have to overcome the visible tendencies toward a resurgent and atavistic labor nationalism.

So a consideration of geopolitics — examining the links between militarism, domestic conflict, and labor movements — is where we need to begin and end any serious analysis. The old question of socialism or barbarism is as relevant today as it has ever been.

https://archive.is/0yfzL

Clinton, Texas: Mexican troops disarmed American soldiers on US side of the border – by Daniel Jativa (Washington Examiner) 20 April 2019

Strike Picket Lines Mean Don’t Cross! Chicago Symphony Orchestra rejects latest offer from musicians – Strike to go on (Chicago SunTimes) 16 April 2019

Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians strike James Foster

Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike in front of Symphony Hall on March 12, 2019

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra rejected its musicians’ latest contract offer Tuesday, continuing a strike that began five weeks ago. The meeting was the first between the CSO Association, which manages the orchestra, and the Chicago Federation of Musicians since the musicians rejected a contract offer April 8 that the CSOA called its “last, best and final offer.”

“At this afternoon’s negotiations, the Chicago Federation of Musicians offered another compromise proposal which was flatly rejected by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association,” Steve Lester, bassist and chair of the CSO Musicians, wrote in a statement. “The Association restated their ‘last, best, and final’ offer and has not budged an inch, nor shared any new path for resolution.”

The main sticking points in the labor dispute have been salary increases and a proposed switch from a traditional pension to a defined-contribution retirement plan. The orchestra’s musicians went on strike March 11.

The CSOA said in a statement that it was “unable” to accept its musicians’ proposal because it only had “minor changes” from previous versions. The proposal included “untenable” wage increases, additional paid time off and retention of a traditional pension plan, CSOA said. The CSO has canceled performances through April 23. The two sides have not yet scheduled any additional bargaining sessions.

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Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike

Socialists and the defense of culture

22 April 2019

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians, now in the seventh week of their strike, require the active support of the entire working class, in the United States and internationally. At stake is not only their own pay, health care benefits and pensions, but the fate of culture, including the CSO as a world-class orchestra.

There are basic class issues involved. As CSO clarinetist John Bruce Yeh correctly stated, “It seems to be class warfare, and we will not accept that.” The musicians are up against the orchestra’s board, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA), which is headed up by corporate figures, including utility company executives, investment bankers and real estate investors.

The 128 years of the CSO is the record of a cultural treasure that must be preserved. The orchestra players make up an international, multiethnic body of highly trained professionals. Musicians at this level spend years preparing to audition for a chair in an orchestra such as the CSO. Those who win seats will, in most cases, devote the remainder of their artistic lives to the orchestra and its music.

The CSO’s directors and conductors have been among the best-recognized names in musical performance in the 20th century, including Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, Claudio Abbado and Pierre Boulez. Current CSO music director Riccardo Muti has taken an admirable stand, declaring, “I am here with my musicians,” earning him criticism from the reactionary numskulls in the corporate media, such as the Chicago Tribune.

The orchestra, which came to international prominence through the efforts of Fritz Reiner in the 1950s, brings the cultural treasures of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy and dozens of other composers to life in its more than one hundred annual events.

The claim there are inadequate resources to maintain the pay and benefits needed to build and nurture a world-class orchestra should be rejected with contempt. The CSO recently celebrated a record year in ticket sales. The CSO management has more than $300 million in endowment funds and $60 million in its investment fund.

There is more wealth concentrated in Chicago today than ever before in this city’s history, mainly spilling out of the pockets of those who have benefited from deindustrialization and privatization of schools and other public assets.

The Chicago area is home to 17 billionaires, according to Forbes. These include Citadel Investments CEO Ken Griffin (net worth $10 billion); distressed asset investor Sam Zell ($5.5 billion), who is the husband of CSOA board chair Helen Zell; the politically connected Pritzker clan, heirs to the Hyatt hotel fortune—Thomas ($4.2 billion), Gigi ($3.2 billion), Penny ($2.7 billion) and J.B., now Illinois governor ($3.4 billion); Joseph Grendys of Koch Foods ($2.8 billion); and Neil Bluhm, real estate and casino magnate and Democratic Party fundraiser ($4 billion).

The wealth of the governor of Illinois could cover the entire operating budget of the CSO (about $73.7 million) for 45 years. His sister Penny, who lavishly funded the election campaigns of Barack Obama, could add another 36 years. And this is assuming that the CSO received no other income, including from ticket sales. Such is the state of social inequality in Chicago, mirrored in cities throughout the US and around the world.

With local, state and federal governments slashing taxes for the rich and cutting spending, orchestras and other cultural institutions are increasingly beholden to the aristocratic principle. The existence of orchestras, museums and other cultural institutions increasingly depends on the benevolence of the fabulously rich.

According to the 2012 National Endowment for the Arts’ “How the Arts Are Funded in the US,” American not-for-profit performing arts organizations received only 1.2 percent of their funding from the federal government, and an additional 5.5 percent from local and state governments. More than one-fifth (20.3 percent) of total nonprofit arts funding came from individuals.

Starved of resources, orchestras in Philadelphia, Honolulu and Syracuse, New York have filed for bankruptcy in recent years. Philadelphia declared bankruptcy in an effort to escape its pension obligations to its players. The musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted a fierce struggle in 2010-11, but because the strike was isolated, they were ultimately forced to accept concessions, which has damaged the orchestra.

There is widespread support for the musicians in the working class of Chicago. In each of the areas of the city where CSO musicians have performed, free outreach concerts—including in the working-class south and west sides—they have played to capacity audiences. The musicians have correctly seen the success of their struggle as bound up with an appeal to the broader population.

The trade unions have, predictably, done nothing to mobilize support behind the striking musicians. The Chicago Federation of Labor has no mention of the strike on the front page of its website and has not issued a statement supporting the musicians. The AFL-CIO issued a perfunctory statement more than a month ago and has left it at that.

Democratic Party politicians have likewise said nothing. Bernie Sanders, in the midst of his second presidential election campaign, has been silent on the CSO strike. Barack Obama, whose political home is Chicago, has issued no statement. Chicago is run by Democrats, who no less than the Republicans and the Trump administration, support the intensification of the attack on the working class and the redistribution of wealth to the rich.

The working class is the social base for the defense and expansion of culture. The defense of the CSO musicians must be connected to the demand that all workers must have the right to culture. This includes an end to the attack on public education, which has involved the elimination of critical programs in arts and music.

The basic issue is the incompatibility of capitalism—a society based on profit and the accumulation of wealth by the few and the exploitation of the vast majority—and the preservation and expansion of culture.

The defense and expansion of access to culture requires the fight for socialism. The wealth of the corporate and financial oligarchy must be expropriated and redirected to meet social need. Billions must be allocated to fully fund all cultural institutions, including orchestras and museums, which must be made accessible to everyone. All workers must have a livable income, leisure time, and all the economic and social prerequisites to be able access and experience the great cultural treasures of mankind.

 All workers, in the United States and internationally, should support the striking CSO musicians and connect the fight of the musicians to the struggles of all workers against inequality and the capitalist system.

U.S. arrests former Marine connected to North Korea embassy raid in Spain – by Mark Hosenball (Reuters) 19 April 2019

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A Spanish National Police car is seen outside the North Korea's embassy in Madrid
A Spanish National Police car is seen outside the North Korea’s embassy in Madrid, Spain February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. authorities on Thursday arrested a former U.S. Marine who is a member of a group that allegedly raided the North Korean embassy in Madrid in February and stole electronics, according to two sources familiar with the arrest.

Christopher Ahn was arrested and is expected to be arraigned on Friday in federal court in Los Angles, according to a law enforcement official and a source close to the group.

The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment.

Christopher Ahn

Christopher Ahn is pictured next to the North Korean Embassy building

In April, investigators said the intruders, self-professed members of a group seeking the overthrow of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, removed computers and hard drives from the embassy before fleeing to the United States, where they handed the material to the FBI. Sources said the material had been returned by Spanish authorities to Pyongyang’s mission.

A group of at least 10 people stormed into the embassy in February, restrained and physically beat some personnel and held them hostage for hours before fleeing, the Spanish court said earlier.

The anti-Kim group, which calls itself Cheolima Civil Defense, said the raid was not an attack and that it had been invited into the embassy.

Three of the intruders took an embassy official into the basement during the raid and encouraged him to defect from North Korea, according to a detailed document made public on March 26 by the Spanish court.

NK embassy spain

(The North Korean flag flies over the sovereign territory of the embassy)

The document included the names of the leaders of the group, some of whom are believed to be in the United States, while others could have left for other countries. The court is seeking their extradition.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball. Writing by Ginger Gibson.; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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US Media Lament Internet Censorship—in China, Not US – by Julianne Tveten (Fair) 16 April 2019

Washington Post illustration of digital China

 

NYT: A Generation Grows Up in China Without Google, Facebook or Twitter

Among mainstream US media, there’s a consensus that China is depriving its population, and possibly others, of the internet’s full capacities.

The New York Times invoked this trope last summer (8/6/18) when it fretted that “a generation” was coming of age without access to such US-founded internet companies as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram (a Facebook property) and Google, whose availability is restricted in China. Instead, Chinese youth were using Chinese-founded platforms, including social-media service Weibo, search engine Baidu and shortform-video application Tik Tok.

By dint of their internet options, according to the Times, teenagers and 20-somethings living in China are excluded from the “Western liberal democracy” embodied on US platforms. The internet to which they’re exposed is censored, the Times contended—without elaboration of the forms said censorship took—and thus stripped of the values of free speech and expression employed on, say, Twitter or Google. The argument garnered an endorsement from Columbia Journalism Review  (8/8/18) two days later.

The Washington Post (2/20/19) similarly wrung its hands via a February opinion piece. Written by a member of the historically US-aligned nonprofit Human Rights Watch, the op-ed expressed apprehension over the popularity of Chinese social-media platform WeChat, which it claimed censored posts containing “‘sensitive words’—such as Tiananmen Square, Liu Xiaobo and Occupy Central.”

WaPo: How China’s censorship machine crosses borders — and into Western politics

A month prior, the New York Times (1/23/19) warned that censorship was intensifying as China “appear[ed] to block Microsoft’s Bing,” and that “the Chinese internet was developing into a series of walled gardens, rather than the sprawling forum for ideas that makes online life appealing to many.” (Service resumed two days later; Reuters1/27/19—indicated that this wasn’t an intentional block, but rather the product of a technical error.)

Corporate US media, it would seem, are ready to decry apparent censorship when it originates in what’s deemed an enemy state. Yet when US tech companies demonstrate clear patterns of restricting information—particularly from figures and outlets with adversarial positions on US policy—the mainstream press fails to sound the same alarm.

A number of left-leaning activists, media organizations, and governments have seen their presences flagged and minimized on US tech platforms. In one example, in 2017, a number of publications often critical of Western policy—AlterNet, Black Agenda Report, Democracy Now!, Common Dreams, Global Research and Truthout, among others—claimed that their Google-directed traffic sank as much as 63 percent in the wake of a Google algorithm change designed to bust the ill-defined specter of “fake news.” Simultaneously, many of corporate media’s heavy hitters—namely, the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN—appeared to have been spared.

Accordingly, and in contrast to their extensive consternation about China, these publications remained mostly mum on the issue. While the New York Times  (9/26/17) published one story on these claims of left-media censorship, neither the Washington Post nor CNN appears to have reported on the matter.

Other examples abound. Last year, YouTube prevented videos rebuking Israeli militarism from being broadcast in such countries as the United Kingdom, France and Italy. Last month, Twitter temporarily restricted the account of TeleSur English, which has opposed the US’s attempted coup in Venezuela and US foreign policy more generally.

In February, Facebook suspended the account of digital video production company In the Now for its indirect connection to RT, a private media organization funded by the Russian government; Facebook eventually reinstated the account, contingent on In the Now disclosing its funding. (As Jim Naureckas observed for FAIR—3/1/19—such US and UK government-subsidized outlets as NPR, the BBC and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty aren’t required to disclose funding.)

The US corporate press not only fails to condemn this marginalization, but also actively enables it. In July 2018, Facebook announced that, in response to panic over Russian election meddling, it had “removed 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Multiple pages related to anti-colonialist subjects, and at least one of those pages was that of an anti-fascist coalition—Shut It Down DC—raising a red flag regarding Facebook’s shadowy vetting procedures. Publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Vox and Mother Jones parroted Facebook’s narrative (In These Times, 8/2/18), providing no evidence of a connection between these groups and Russia.

WaPo: China’s digital protectionism puts the future of the global Internet at risk

This skewed coverage stems from a sense of chauvinism; outlets like the Times and Post imply that the freest, most democratic internet paradigm is the one developed and used by Westerners. Exemplifying this point, a February Washington Post op-ed (2/25/19) maintained that China was putting the “future of the global internet at risk.” The piece went on to suggest that, in prioritizing the development of its own tech platforms over Western ones, China was further instituting a policy of “censorship” and “digital authoritarianism.” Further, it cited the NATO-championing Council on Foreign Relations to portray China’s tech sector as an impediment to “foreign competitors”—i.e., the US.

A similar sentiment appeared in a New York Times editorial (10/25/18) that warned that, in the future, “America’s [internet] won’t necessarily be the best.” In the wake of news that Google may be developing a Chinese search engine known as Dragonfly—a move Vox called “bad for humanity” (8/17/18)—the board bemoaned the notion that “American companies that once implicitly pushed democratic values abroad” may want to do business with the Chinese government.

US media have demonstrated an inveterate double standard for the concept of “censorship,” applying far more stringent criteria to countries that are the targets of US aggression than to the US and its allies. Corporate outlets’ insistence that the US’s configuration of the internet is “free” is a justification for homegrown platforms’ bolstering of Washington’s empire. Moreover, these outlets’ trepidation that China’s technological development poses a global threat is a condescending, thinly veiled avowal of Western supremacy. US media aren’t making useful prescriptions for a free internet; they’re merely stoking the flames of the new Cold War.

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California: People are pooping more than ever on the streets of San Francisco as Homeless Practice Becomes Main Stream Fad – by Ben Gilbert (SF Gate) 21 April 2019

Citizens Say: “If you can’t beat them, join them!”SF fecal remover

(Streets of San Fransisco cleaned of human droppings by three person full time patrol) Photo: John Muir 

One of America’s wealthiest cities has a huge problem with public poop.  Between 2011 and 2018, San Francisco experienced a massive increase in reported incidents of human feces found on public streets.  In 2011, just over 5,500 reports were logged by the San Francisco Department of Public Works; in 2018, the number increased to more than 28,000.

The government watchdog Open the Books documented the sharp increase over time in a stunning chart, first spotted by the BuzzFeed editor John Paczkowski.

San Francisco human feces chartOpen the Books/City of San Francisco

Notably, this is a chart of only documented reports — the actual amount of feces on San Francisco’s streets is likely even higher than these statistics suggest.

“I will say there is more feces on the sidewalks than I’ve ever seen growing up here,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed told NBC in a 2018 interview. “That is a huge problem, and we are not just talking about from dogs — we’re talking about from humans.”

San Francisco has struggled with a feces problem for years. The city even employs a “Poop Patrol” that attempts to keep the streets clean and focuses on the Tenderloin neighborhood.

But people who are not homeless seem to have joined the trend and are also using the public streets to defecate.  A libertarian weekly pointed out that the taxpayers must provide funds to the government for the service of cleaning the poop off the streets, so…we all are entitled to defecate on the street. 

Outside of trendy nightclubs women can be seen squatting near the curb with a gaggle of girlfriends around to provide a screen.  “The wait for the ladies room is so long in the clubs,” the defecatee asserted, “and I’m no lady!”

While men have long been pissing in allies after a few beers with the boys, the sight of well dressed women taking a dump by the side of the road is something new. 

“This is another way that ‘homeless culture’ can educate us all,” said philosophy instructor Eric Clanton.  “I think we can all benefit from putting ourselves in another person shoes. ” 

Just watch were you step when you are wearing those metaphorical shoes. Or, are the allegorical. 

An inline rollerskating club has organized a kind of dodge game where they skate down heavily ka-kaed streets trying to avoid the foul messes.  Bring toilet paper!

Skate 2

(Street skating challenge – avoid the people droppings!) Photo: Diane Arbus

The skaters do say that the relaxed attitude toward public defecation is a help to a skater out on the street and far from home.  Just squat by the side of the road.  People walking by hardly even look anymore.  In fact, they turn their eyes. 

We caught up with Everett Chadsworth and investment banker at Wells Fargo in Market Street area.  He had just bought a bowl of hot steaming Asian noodles off a push-cart vendor and ducked into some bushes near the street to defecate while his bowl of soup cooled nearby.  As he sat on a wall eating he told this reporter, “This is so quick and easy.  I don’t have to go to the company bathroom and then try to book it down to the street level for lunch.  I can kill two birds with one stone.  The city has three full time people to clean up after me, and I pay their salaries through my taxes, so I want my money’s worth!” 

SF defacate

(Everett Chadsword pays to poop in homeless woman’s exclusive ‘zone’) Photo Mann Ray

The popularity with public pooping may soon catch up to that of India where women especially won’t use public toilets to poop.  San Fransisco seems to have adopted a quaint Third World custom. 

Archive

Middle East and North African Revolutionaries Have Learnt Crucial Lessons Since the Arab Spring – by Patrick Cockburn (UK Independent) 20 April 2019

Two very different political waves are sweeping through the Middle East and north Africa. Popular protests are overthrowing the leaders of military regimes for the first time since the failed Arab Spring of 2011. At the same time, dictators are seeking to further monopolise power by killing, jailing or intimidating opponents who want personal and national liberty.

Dictators in Sudan and Algeria, who between them had held power for 50 years, were driven from office in the space of a single month in April, though the regimes they headed are still there. The ousting of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, now under arrest, came after 16 weeks of protests. Hundreds of thousands continue to demonstrate, chanting “civilian rule, civilian rule” and “we will remain in the street until power is handed over to civilian authority”.

The protesters are conscious of one of the “what not to do” lessons of 2011, when mass demonstrations in Egypt got rid of President Hosni Mubarak, only to see him replaced two years later by an even more authoritarian dictatorship led by General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. A referendum is to be held over three days from this Saturday on constitutional amendments that will enable el-Sisi to stay in power until 2030.

Given that he was re-elected president last year by 97 per cent of the vote – the remaining 3 per cent going to a last-minute candidate who did not campaign and enthusiastically supported el-Sisi – there is no doubt about the outcome of the poll.

Fortunately, even hypocritical respect for democratic forms can backfire, as shown by recent events in Algeria. In February, it was announced that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, nominally in power for 20 years but apparently in a coma since 2014, would stand for a fifth term. This, like the Egyptian referendum, was an expression of contempt for any real popular mandate.

But the contempt went a little bit too far and Bouteflika has been replaced by another old regime figure, Abdelkader Bensalah, backed by, among others, the army chief of staff Ahmed Gaid Salah. Protesters reject these cosmetic changes and have continued to demonstrate in the face of mass arrests and beatings by the police.

The success of popular action and civil disobedience in Sudan and Algeria has been treated sceptically by commentators speaking in gloomy tones of a rerun of the 2011 protests, which began in Tunisia and sparked further protests in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. In these last five countries, a brief democratic spasm was followed by savage repression (Egypt and Bahrain) or permanent war (Libya, Yemen, Syria).

The pessimists might just be getting it wrong this time round, just as the optimists did eight years ago. The revolutionaries have learned from their past defeats. There are no chants in Khartoum today, as there were in Cairo in 2011, that “the army and the people are one”. More realise that armies in the Arab world are parasitic entities, bloated maggots that live off the flesh of the rest of the population.

The political, social and economic ingredients that went into igniting the Arab Spring are still there because repression and poverty have got worse. Thirty million Egyptians, a third of the population, live below the poverty line on less than $2.50 a day. The public debt is five times what it was five years ago, while the government favours giant vanity projects like a $45bn new administrative capital.

It is in the interests of the opposition in Sudan and Algeria to keep their protests peaceful whatever the provocation. Militarisation of a crisis like this is always in the interest of the powers-that-be because they know that, in the words of the Hilaire Belloc rhyme: “Whatever happens, we have got/ The Maxim gun and they have not.” Once regular soldiers get shot at, they are less likely to defect to the side doing the shooting.

Military action also means that an opposition will need money and weapons in large quantities. They can only obtain these from outside powers pursuing their own egocentric agendas which do not include genuine concern for ordinary Libyans, Syrians, Iraqis or Yemenis.

The discrediting or defeat of political Islam since 2011 is a bonus for revolutionary forces. Over the past 40 years, religion had become the vehicle for all sorts of grievances and resistance to oppression in the region, a shift dating from the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979-80. Shia and Sunni Islamists largely displaced nationalists and socialists as the motivators of mass popular action.

Islamic ideology and organisation gave great punching power to opposition movements in Algeria in the 1990s, in Iraq after 2003, and to the anti-government forces in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Iraq after 2011. Fanatical religious belief united people who would die fighting against a more numerous and better-armed enemy.

But the prominence of jihadi Islam in these insurgencies was good news for established regimes. Al-Qaeda type groups like Isis might pose a dangerous but temporary military challenge, but they always alienated the large part of the population that were not Sunni Arabs or were only moderately religious. Dictators benefited because the alternative to their brutal rule seemed even more horrific. I remember being in Baghdad in 2004 when Shia office workers were giving blood for wounded Sunnis in Fallujah when it was first besieged by US troops. There was a second siege later in the year but, by this time Shia civilians had been killed and injured by deadly suicide bombs apparently emanating from Fallujah, so the former blood donors were all in favour of US airstrikes and artillery obliterating the town.

It was not just Shia in Iraq, Alawites in Syria and Copts in Egypt who were alienated by militant Sunni Islam. So too were those who might go to the mosque on Friday, but were otherwise broadly secular. People like this were shocked when, as happened in Libya after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, they learned that one of the first acts of the provisional government was to propose ending the ban on polygamy.

A trap that opposition movements often fall into is to believe that all the problems of their country are caused by the evil rulers they are trying to displace. This will inevitably be part of opposition propaganda, but it is damaging to act as if this was true. Again and again in Iraq after 2003 and in Syria after 2011, the anti-government forces would compel religious and ethnic minorities to rally to the central government because they feared they faced extinction if they did not.

Sectarian exclusivity is less prevalent today and protesters know what damage it can do to their cause. A telling slogan of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which is leading the protests and wants to include non-Muslims, is “Christ at the heart of the Revolution”.

Some of the powerful forces determined to stop revolutionary change in the Arab world are the same in 2019 as they were in 2011. The Arab Spring was a curious mix of revolution and counter-revolution to a degree seldom appreciated in the west. It was extraordinary to see people fighting and dying for liberty and equality with the backing the last absolute monarchies on earth, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE, who most certainly wanted neither of these things.

We have seen the same process at work in Libya over the past few weeks where Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt have greenlit an offensive by Gen Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are firing mortar bombs and rockets into Tripoli. Haftar has already shown his determination to be another strongman in the Arab world by posing grim-faced for cameras on a sort of throne of pharaonic proportions. The revolutionaries may have learned some lessons from 2011, but the military dictators are as nasty and pretentious as ever.

(Republished from The Independent

10 Amazing Health Benefits of Roller Skating – by Jeff Stone (Roller Skate Dad)

Roller Skating Health StatisticsIs Roller Skating Good Exercise?

When you think of fitness and getting in shape, your mind probably almost immediately wanders to the well-known methods of weight loss. Going to the gym, walking, swimming, running, cycling, and yoga are most likely to be the things to come to mind.

However, one popular sport to lose weight and get fitness levels up is often overlooked, and that’s roller skating.

Yes, that’s right; the sport that you usually associate with rolling down the palm-lined boulevards of LA and Florida can help you get fit today.

There are so many health benefits of rollerblading and roller skating it will surprise you. The extra-added bonus is that popular roller sports such as recreational inline skating, roller derby and speed skating are also fun!

So it’s totally feasible for you to get fit roller skating or rollerblading and lose weight. Now you can kill two birds with one stone – roller skate to get fit and have fun while you do it.

I love anything related to roller skating and rollerblading, and the health benefits of skating is the cherry on the top.

Here are 10 benefits of skating and reasons why you should take up roller skating, rollerblading or inline skating to get fit.

Listen to the 10 Amazing Health Benefits of Roller Skating Podcast Episode:

1. Roller Skating Burns Calories

It’s a well-known fact that to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume everyday. In other words, you need a negative calorie deficit to drop the pounds.

There are plenty of ways that people try and lose weight, but if you’re serious about losing weight, you need to be sensible.

Walking and running are great ways to burn calories, but let’s face it these aren’t always fun ways to get fit. If you’re not a runner, it’s going to be a chore, and the novelty is soon going to wear off.

Skating for weight loss on the other hand can just mean putting on your skates and going for a leisurely skate in the park.

Burn Calories Roller SkatingBoth indoor and outdoor roller skating are great ways to burn calories. Skating is a cardiovascular activity. It gets the heart working harder, it works up a sweat, and if you skate regularly and follow a healthy diet, you’ll soon see the fat melt away.

Skating to lose weight is an effective method of getting healthy. No matter what kind of skating you do, you’re still going to burn calories.

How Many Calories Does Roller Skating Burn?

A leisurely 30-minute roller skating session down the boulevard is going to burn 250 calories!

So, if you do the math skating for 30 minutes five times a week will burn approximately 1250 calories. This together with a sensible reduced diet will help you lose one pound a week.

Of course your weight influences the amount of calories burned in an hour from skating. If two people of different weights skate at the same speed for the same distance and on the same terrain, the one who weighs more is going to burn more calories roller skating – this is the same for every type of exercise, not just roller skating for fitness.

As well as your weight, the type of skating you do will also determine the calories burned skating.

Fitness Magazine carried out a study on different people of different weights who roller skate and rollerblade for exercise. According to them, a person who weighs 150lbs will burn 482 calories every hour when quad skating. But did you know that calories burned rollerblading or inline skating is even more? That same person, who weighs 150lbs, burns around 600 calories per hour rollerblading. I guess it’s all of that extra balancing on a single blade of wheels that accounts for it.

Build Muscles Roller Skating2. Build Muscle Definition From Roller Skating

Not only will you drop a number of pounds over a 3-month period if you roller skate for weight loss, you’ll also be able to tone up and build more muscle definition skating as well.

Every time you go out roller skating you’ll notice an increase in muscle definition. Skating is a cardio exercise, but it’s so much more. Roller sports help flex and firm up a number of areas including your abs, glutes, thighs, and also calves.

Your glutes are the scientific term for your butt, and this is the area that gets the best workout. A person’s glutes is actually made up of three different muscles: gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. Every time you skate, you twist, turn and bend as you navigate turns and corners, and it is these actions that really engage your backside, making it firm, pert and well defined.

If you’ve endured an intense skate session, you’ll feel a number of areas of your body no matter how fit you are. Your quads, hamstrings, and thighs will all feel the burn from moving your legs forwards and backwards. The first parts of your body you’re likely to see tone up is your calves. Getting toned calves from skating is normal as it is this area of the body that sees a lot of the action – they help stabilize the Achilles tendon, which supports the ankle as it works extra hard while you’re doing your roller skating or rollerblading workout.

If you’re carrying excess weight, it will obviously take a bit more time to notice muscle definition from rollerblading and skating, but as soon as you do manage to drop some pounds and lose the excess weight, you’ll notice that you look significantly leaner and toned. Who would have ever thought that the best way to tone up is by skating?

Roller Skating Balance3. Improve Your Balance Roller Skating

Some people have natural balance, but for many this is not something that comes naturally. Your balance can affect how you walk and how you do certain sports and activities. Having good balance is important; it reduces the amount of energy you expend when doing regular activities like walking or even sitting, and it also helps reduce fatigue. And because balance in skating is necessary to successfully roller skate, you’ll soon learn the necessary tricks and techniques to improve it.

Roller skating improves your balance thanks to the muscles used during roller skating. Improve your balance roller skating as you use your lower-back and abdominal muscles to roll forwards and backwards. Skating requires you to keep a steady core in order to remain upright, which is the perfect recipe if you’re looking to achieve better balance.

4. Roller Skating For Better Heart Health

Heart disease is prevalent. It’s also the leading cause of premature death in the USA. Heart disease, which includes heart attacks, strokes, and other related cardiovascular diseases, is a killer, and according to the National Heart Foundation approximately 787,000 people die Roller Skating for Heart Healthfrom heart disease in the USA alone – this is a shocking statistic, and thanks to the everyday stressors we endure, it’s on the increase at alarming rates.i

Roller skating, inline skating and rollerblading strengthen the heart, and The American Heart Association has deemed roller sports as an effective form of aerobic exercise. Moderate roller skating and rollerblading will increase the average skater’s heart rate from 140-160 beats a minute. And if you’re the more daring type or participate in more energetic forms of skating such as speed skating and roller derby, you can increase your heart rate dramatically up to about 180 beats a minute.

5. Defeat Diabetes Roller Skating

Diabetes is on the rise, and it’s almost as common as heart disease. But it’s all interrelated. Unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles, being overweight, and a lack of aerobic exercise often trigger type 2 diabetes.

Defeat Diabetes Roller SkatingThe American Diabetes Association recommends two main types of physical activity to manage and prevent diabetes – strength training and aerobic exercise, both of which are already two health benefits of roller skating and rollerblading. Therefore, with these things in mind, you can effectively control diabetes roller skating.

Roller skating is an excellent example of an aerobic exercise, and the aerobic exercise from skating helps your body use and control your insulin better. Roller skating strengthens the heart and bones, relieves stress, lowers blood glucose levels, and improves cholesterol levels. All of these factors influence diabetes, so in effect, you could roller skate to control diabetes or perhaps even prevent it.

Doctors recommend diabetes patients and those deemed “at risk” to aim for about 30-minutes of light-to-moderate aerobic exercise 5 days a week. If you really want to take control of your diabetes roller skating, skate more than the recommended 5 times a week. It’s really important that you keep your roller skating regular and don’t allow two or more days to pass without your skating workout to get healthy.

6. Strength Training Benefits Of Roller Skating – Get More Body Power

Another great health benefit of roller skating is that it helps build strength. This is especially true in building muscle and lower body strength. Strength training, which is also known as resistance training, is also another way of controlling diabetes. However, strength training shouldn’t just be limited to disease, you should always want to make your body stronger. A strong body not only fights off disease through building up a strong immune system it also reduces the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures in your later years.

An advantage of roller skating is it’s a whole body workout, but there are of course some areas and muscle groups that get more of a workout roller skating. Your improved body strength from skating will also improve your skating coordination, help you prevent roller skating injuries, and also help keep you more active and lithe as you get older.

7. Go Harder For Longer – Endurance Roller Skating

Roller Skating EnduranceAnother health benefit of rollerblading and roller skating is that skating improves muscular endurance. We’ve already learned that roller skating increases strength but with this also comes a huge boost in muscular endurance, meaning you’ll be able to go harder for longer. All of a sudden you’ll be able to roller skate for longer, run further without stopping, and do other exercises for an extended period of time.

As an endurance-building sport, inline skating is one of the most advantageous forms of exercise, especially when it comes to muscle development. Skating builds muscles like nobody’s business, even more so than your standard forms of exercise such as running and cycling. If you go back in time and remember what your fitness and endurance levels were like before you took up roller skating as a hobby and compare them to now, you’ll notice a huge difference. So, it’s fair to say skating and endurance go hand in hand.

Prevent Injuries Roller Skating8. Prevent Injuries Roller Skating

Roller skating is one of the best forms of exercise. Forget what they say about running and walking for exercise, roller skating is much safer. We’re not referring to the falls or scrapes to the knees you might get from roller skating (that’s what skating knee pads and elbow pads are for), we’re referring to the typical muscle and joint injuries from sports.

Running and walking wreck havoc on the joints, especially the knees, and if you’re not careful, you might cause yourself a permanent injury from sport. This is where roller skating is different. All disciplines of skating are low-impact sports.

Why is roller skating so easy on the joints? When you roller skate, there’s a fluid motion; there are no jerky movements like in running, walking, aerobics, and dancing. Thanks to this fluid movement in roller skating and inline skating, you’re less likely to endure joint damage skating. So in short, you’ll still be able to enjoy the same results that running and dancing on the body have, but without the harsh impact.

According to university studies, the impact skating has on the joints compared to other higher-impact sports like running was 50 percent less. So, in short, roller skating is an aerobic workout just as worthy as other forms of aerobic exercise, but without the associated joint damage.

Happy Roller Skating9. Roller Skating Makes You Happy

There are obvious physical health benefits of roller skating, but there are also mental health benefits of roller sports as well. Roller skating clears the mind, minimizes mild forms of depression, and it just makes you happy.

Roller skating reduces bad hormones and while it does this, it increases the good endorphins, which are commonly known as the ‘happy hormones’.

The endorphins from roller sports relieve ‘brain pain’, and thanks to the extended aerobic workout from roller skating you’ll feel naturally good. You’ll also be able to take advantage of the good endorphins from skating, as these will improve your concentration levels and allow you to hone in on your basic skating techniques. So not only does roller skating make you happy you’ll also be able improve your roller skating and inline skating techniques. So, essentially you can regulate your mood roller skating. And if you like to roller skate in a group of friends, you’ll have even more fun, because roller sports are great group activities.

10. Live A Stress-Free Life Thanks To Your Roll

Stress is synonymous with everyday modern life. Almost every person you speak to is stressed out about something or someone. It doesn’t matter whether they’re stressed about their health, work, family, personal relationships, or money, stress can be very dangerous, and if it isn’t reduced and controlled, it can lead to more serious results, namely death.

Relieve Stress Roller SkatingIt is absolutely essential to try and reduce your stress levels, and skating minimizes stress. Many people who’ve never done any kind of roller skating, view it as a tiring sport. Yes, roller skating and rollerblading can definitely knock the wind out of you, but you can also roller skate peacefully as well.

If you’re in need of some much-needed quiet time, skating is a relaxing activity. Choose a peaceful scenic location that’s ideal for roller skating, and take advantage of the moment focusing on your surroundings, breathing and fresh air.

Doctors suggest taking up sport or new activities to reduce stress, and this is great advice. But there’s no point in doing an activity you hate such as walking or jogging; this is likely to exasperate your stress levels even more, which is why you need to do a fun activity to reduce stress such as roller skating.

The fitness benefits of skating are simply mind-blowing. If you’ve been contemplating taking up a roller sport for fitness, roller skating and rollerblading workouts are some of the best kinds of workouts you can do. Now you can have fun and get fit skating and forget about all your worries. So, if you haven’t already started skating, now’s the time!

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Housework could keep brain young, research suggests – by Nicola Davis (Guardian) 19 April 2019

Even light exertions can slow down ageing of the brain, activity-tracker data indicates

 

The team found that every extra hour of light physical activity per day was linked to 0.22% greater brain volume.
The team found that every extra hour of light physical activity per day was linked to 0.22% greater brain volume. Photograph: Petri Oeschger/Getty Images

Even light activity such as household chores might help to keep the brain young, researchers say, adding to a growing body of evidence that, when it comes to exercise, every little helps.

The findings mirror upcoming guidance from the UK chief medical officers, and existing US guidelines, which say light activity or very short bouts of exercise are beneficial to health – even if it is just a minute or two at a time – countering the previous view that there was a threshold that must be reached before there were significant benefits.

“Our study results don’t discount moderate or vigorous physical activity as being important for healthy ageing. We are just adding to the science, suggesting that light-intensity physical activity might be important too, especially for the brain,” said Dr Nicole Spartarno, first author of the study from Boston University, adding that light activity might include a gentle walk or household chores.

Writing in the journal Jama Network Open, the international team of researchers report how they came to their findings by studying at least three days of activity-tracker data from 2,354 middle-aged adults from the US, together with the participants’ brain scans.

From the latter, the researchers worked out individuals’ brain volume, a measure linked to ageing: about 0.2% of the volume of the brain is lost every year after the age of 60. Loss or shrinkage of brain tissue is linked to dementia, Spartano noted.

After taking into account factors including sex, smoking status and age, the team found that every extra hour of light physical activity per day was linked to 0.22% greater brain volume, equal to just over a year’s less brain ageing. What’s more, those who took at least 10,000 steps a day had a 0.35% greater brain volume than those who took, on average, fewer than 5,000 steps a day – equivalent to 1.75 years’ less brain ageing.

The results were even starker when the team looked at those who did not meet recommended guidelines for physical activity – just over half of the participants.

While the results also suggested that greater levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity were linked to higher brain volumes, the team say further analysis suggests this could just be because these people were also doing more light activity.

But Spartano said, even if true, that did not mean people should stop trying to break a sweat. “Higher levels of fitness are linked to longevity and a better quality of life in older age, not to mention being associated with lower rates of dementia,” she said.

However the study has limitations: it is based on a snapshot in time, used mainly white participants, and cannot prove cause and effect – those with more brain ageing might move less. The authors add that not all time spent sedentary is necessarily “bad” for the brain – particularly if people are engaged in a task that takes a lot of thinking.

Emmanuel Stamatakis, professor of physical activity, lifestyle and population health at the University of Sydney, welcomed the overall message, but questioned some of the results.

“The finding that even light-intensity physical activity, that it is usually part of daily living, is associated with brain volume is very encouraging as such activities are feasible for most middle-aged and older people, even those who are less likely to do structured exercise,” he said.

But, he added, there was no biologically plausible reason moderate to vigorous activity would have less effect on brain volume than light activity. For cardiovascular health, said Stamatakis, a minute of high-intensity activity was known to be more beneficial than a minute of light activity.

Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, stressed that the research did not look at the impact of different levels of activity on dementia risk, although it is known that, in general, exercise reduces the risk of such conditions. “Don’t worry if you’re not hill-running, but find something you enjoy and do it regularly, because we know that what’s good for the heart is good for the head,” he said.

https://archive.is/pnNdQ

Noam Chomsky Calls Dem Focus on Russia a ‘Huge Gift’ to Trump – ‘They May Have Handed Him the Next Election’ – by Joe DePaolo (Media-ite) 19 April 2019

Noam Chomsky, the noted progressive scholar, believes Democrats have focused far too much on Russia. And he thinks it might earn them four more years of President Donald Trump.

Speaking at a forum in Boston with Amy Goodman, Chomsky stated his view that he always believed there was going to be little to no proof of collusion in the Mueller Report.

“[T]he Democrats are helping him,” Chomsky said. “They are. Take the focus on Russia-gate. What’s that all about? I mean, it was pretty obvious at the beginning that you’re not going to find anything very serious about Russian interference in elections.”

He added, “As far as Trump collusion with the Russians, that was never going to amount to anything more than minor corruption, maybe building a Trump hotel in Red Square or something like that, but nothing of any significance.”

Chomsky went on to say that he believes focusing too heavily on Russia may cost Democrats dearly next November.

“The Democrats invested everything in this issue,” Chomsky said. “Well, turned out there was nothing much there. They gave Trump a huge gift. In fact, they may have handed him the next election. … That’s a matter of being so unwilling to deal with fundamental issues, that they’re looking for something on the side that will somehow give political success.”

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New England: Stop & Shop Denies Hiring Prisoners on Work Release to Run Store On Strike – by Callum Borchers (WBUR)

Picket Line Turns Tense As Stop & Shop Union Workers Heckle Replacements

A striking Stop & Shop worker walks in front of the main entrance of the Somerville location on McGrath Highway on Thursday, when the strike began. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A striking Stop & Shop worker walks in front of the main entrance of the Somerville location on McGrath Highway on Thursday, when the strike began.

Stop & Shop closed an undisclosed number of grocery stores last Friday, 12 April 2019, but said a “majority” of locations in Massachusetts and two other states remained open, on reduced schedules, as union workers picketed on the first full day of a strike.

Outside one store, interactions between union members and temporary workers quickly grew tense, with some picketers claiming that their replacements are prison inmates on work release. Stop & Shop strenuously denied hiring inmates.

At a Stop & Shop in Mansfield, two vans dropped off temp workers shortly before the store opened at 8 a.m. Friday, two hours later than usual. As the temp workers met briefly in the parking lot, one union worker could be heard saying, “You can steal a car, and now you can work at Stop & Shop?”

“Yeah, and then they’re going to steal people’s identities when they hand in their credit cards,” another union worker replied.

A third shouted, “You can’t find real jobs, but you can steal ’em,” as the temp workers walked into the store.

Most of the picketing union workers at the Mansfield Stop & Shop were white; most of the replacement workers observed by WBUR were black.

Replacement workers declined to identify themselves to WBUR. Three female workers appeared teary-eyed when approached inside the store.

Editor’s note: The video below contains some profanity.

One union worker, when asked why she believed the temp workers were inmates, claimed that “one of them even came out and said it” when the vans first arrived on Thursday afternoon, as the strike began. The union worker identified herself only as “Tracy.”

Matt Sorbello, a strike captain with the union UFCW Local 328, said, “The word is that it’s work-release prisoners that are in the building. I cannot confirm that. Just based on what my team is telling me, that is what is in here.”

Jennifer Brogan, a Stop & Shop spokeswoman, said, “That is not correct. We have not hired [Department of Corrections] inmates as temporary replacement workers. Our contingency plans included training and deployment of our support office employees and the hiring of our own temporary workforce. With the low unemployment rate in New England, we were unable to build our own temporary workforce to sufficient numbers to run our stores without the use of an agency to make more workers available for a quick deployment.”

Brogan declined to name the staffing agency.

As labor negotiations faltered in recent weeks, Stop & Shop had said it would attempt to “minimize disruptions to our store operations,” in the event of a strike. But with roughly 31,000 union workers off the job, the company has been unable to cover all shifts.

Major sticking points in the contract talks include health care and retirement benefits.

This segment aired on April 12, 2019.

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This German Baker Makes What May Be The World’s Best Pretzel – By Ben Crair – 3 December 2018

In the tiny Bavarian town of Dachsbach, Arnd Erbel bakes pretzels and pretzel breads the old-fashioned way

A few days before I visited baker Arnd Erbel in his southern German bakery, a Hamburg newspaper described him as a “bread god.” Erbel’s breads are renowned among baking connoisseurs and served in many of Germany’s best restaurants, but he was not comfortable with deification. “I’m not a bread god,” he told me in his bakery kitchen after I arrived. He sees himself more as bread’s humble servant: “My being is here to help with sourdough.”

With his bald head and round glasses Erbel appears more monkish than almighty. It was fitting, then, that he was baking Breze (as they are called in Bavaria), German-­style soft pretzels, a baked good that originated in European monasteries in the Middle Ages. While Americans tend to see soft pretzels as a simple snack eaten at ballparks or mall food courts, Germans cherish them as a national symbol. Pretzels were once so special that Medieval painters would dab a few on the table of the Last Supper, and for centuries, pretzel-shaped signs were the emblem of bakers and their guilds, hanging above doorways as a symbol that you could find fresh-baked breads inside. Today, you can find them at the counter of any German bakery or beer hall, but also around the world: No other German food item has traveled as far and wide as the pretzel.

Erbel rolled 25 pretzels by hand, twisting them effortlessly into knots, like a school kid playing cat’s cradle, and left them to rise for two hours. He then put on rubber gloves to prepare to dunk each uncooked pretzel in lye, a strong and caustic alkaline solution that has the power to burn flesh. (Edward Norton’s hand in that grisly scene in Fight Club was lye at work.) The chemical evaporates from the pretzel’s surface in the oven, but not before speeding the Maillard reaction that gives so many foods their crust, aroma, and distinct flavor during cooking. In Germany, there is a whole family of baked goods with a smooth dark-brown crust known as Laugengebäck (literally, “lye bakes”). Erbel bakes some in his shop, like the Laugenstange, a long roll resembling an oversize cigar.

Arnd Erbel

Arnd Erbel at his bakery in Dachsbach, Germany.

Oliver Hauser

But the pretzel is the most famous Laugengebäck, and is the main reason Erbel keeps lye on hand. He carefully bathed the pretzels in the lye and scored their exteriors with a razor to allow the dough to expand in the oven. While baking, they turned a deep, even, and shiny brown as the scores expanded, creating a window into the doughy white centers. Erbel removed them with a wooden peel after 12 minutes and dusted them with salt.

Experiencing the sudden transition from thin, firm crust to chewy interior is one of the pleasures of biting into a pretzel. My teeth broke through the crust and sank into the pillowy middle as the salt dissolved on my tongue. The flavor was mild, but the texture was singular­—a fact that makes Erbel proudest, since he does not use baker’s yeast, relying instead on the natural fermentation typically used in sourdough baking. “If you go to another baker and say, ‘I had a pretzel without yeast,’ they will say, ‘Impossible,’” he said. But through the careful manipulation of natural leavening, Erbel not only makes pretzels, but also dozens of different German breads and delicate specialties, such as croissants, stollen, and focaccia, without using packaged yeast and without any overly sour flavors developing.

Erbel’s skills and commitment to an older way of doing things have earned him a reputation well beyond German borders. “Arnd Erbel is really a bread artist,” Dan Leader, the James Beard Award–winning founder of New York bakery Bread Alone, told me before I arrived. “His breads are as unique as his fingerprints.” Erbel’s loaves are special enough that German and other European chefs order them rather than buying bread from more-local bakeries. He ships potato rolls with olives to Luce D’Oro, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bavaria, and 10-pound sourdoughs to Steinbeisser, a company that stages pop-up dinners in Amsterdam. Though he is often described as a traditional baker, Erbel was enthusiastic about experimenting with Christian Scharrer of Courtier, a two-star restaurant on the Baltic Sea, for whom he baked green bread using dried algae.

The pretzel is simple by comparison, but in one major way more special than any of those other breads: It has a shelf life of just five or six hours, which means Erbel sells them only at his bakery in Dachsbach, a village of just 700 people, and at a small shop he keeps in a neighboring town.

Few subjects rouse German pride quite like baking. The country claims to produce more than 3,000 varieties of bread. If you had to broadly categorize them, typical German loaves are dark, sour, dense, and moist almost to the point of water-logged. The robustness of most German bread comes from rye, which grows better than wheat in the country’s damp and cool climate. “When you talk to a German baker, even if there is wheat in the bread, they talk about the wheat in relation to rye,” Leader says. “Whereas anyplace else in Europe, they talk about other ingredients in relation to wheat.”

prepping pretzels

Top Left: Pretzels coming out of the oven; Top Right: The dark, shiny crust of a Laugengebäck; Bottom Right: Erbel mixes up a batch of dough; Bottom Left: Dusting flour.

 

One of the few things Germans love more than their bread is paying as little for it as possible. Germans have a reputation for extreme thriftiness when it comes to food, and rock-bottom discount-grocery chains such as Aldi and Lidl have grown to dominate the German food market. (They have also aggressively exported this model around Europe and into the States. Trader Joe’s? That’s the Germans.) Because Germany’s grocery stores, discount stores, and gas stations now offer a remarkable variety of mass-produced, inexpensive loaves, German craft bakeries have declined in number, and many that remain have slashed prices by mass-producing breads with pre-mixes, preservatives, and industrial machines to save money and time. Most Aldi Süd grocery stores now feature a machine that can bake a variety of breads at the press of a button. As a result of the cultural shift, actual German bakers using traditional methods with unadulterated ingredients are becoming an endangered species.

“The Germans always talk about their wonderful German bread culture, but I cannot see it,” Erbel told me. Earlier in the day, he had picked me up at the train station, and driven past a large building and parking lot just outside the town. “You can see here the Edeka Markt,” Erbel said, indicating the local branch of one of the country’s major grocery stores. “I have never gone inside. It’s not my world.”

We drove into Dachsbach, a small village of half-timber homes with steeply pitched roofs. Erbel is the 12th generation of his family to run the bakery, and Dachsbach has hardly changed since his ancestors set up shop in 1680. Its cobblestone streets see scarcely any traffic, and, although a medieval fortress stands at its edge, the Bäckerei Erbel is the main attraction. People flock there every morning for bread, and Erbel has apprenticed bakers from as far away as Japan.

bakery

The bakery and its upstairs apartment.

 

The bakery is a plain rectangular building that you enter through a side alley. The first floor has a small shop and a large, T-shaped kitchen; the upper floors are where Erbel’s family have lived for more than 300 years. Erbel lives with his wife and daughter in the same apartment where he grew up. He learned the basics of baking from his father at a time when bakers were eager for new ingredients to maximize the yield from their doughs and extend the shelf lives of their breads. Erbel always liked it, though, when his father forgot to mix the additives into the dough. “Then the rolls were small,” Erbel remembered. “Those were the best.”

Erbel worked in several bakeries around Nuremberg, but he left Germany to learn about other baking traditions. He trained for his master’s degree in baking in Vienna, a melting pot of European and Asian influences famous for extravagant tortes and sweets. (“We make a sachertorte at its best,” he told me in Dachsbach, referring to the iconic Viennese chocolate cake.) After Vienna, he lived in northern Italy. There, he learned to bake the naturally leavened sweet bread panettone. It was this, more than any of his earlier experiences in Germany, that opened his eyes to the possibilities of sourdough. He realized that a “sourdough” did not actually need to taste sour, that the same process of natural fermentation (using wild yeasts from the environment) could be manipulated to produce virtually any bread—with a more interesting flavor but without the pronounced tang. “The pretzel without added yeast is more similar to panettone than to German rye bread,” Erbel told me.

The most important thing when making a non-sour sourdough, he said, was to keep the dough at a temperature of around 80 degrees, but it was clear even as he said this that he was attuned to aspects of the dough that could not be measured with a thermometer. If you ask Erbel for a recipe, for instance, he will tell you only that it is important to use precisely the right amount of salt—every other ingredient depends on more-subjective factors, such as the climate. “It’s not the recipe,” he told me. “It’s the way.”

His penchant for improvisation means Erbel’s pretzel is not as traditional as it might seem. He makes several tweaks to the traditional pretzel formula, using oil in the dough instead of pork fat so vegetarians and vegans can enjoy it. He mixes some fine-milled whole-grain spelt with the wheat flour in order to speed the natural fermentation and add some nutritional value. Though he makes them both ways, he will dust his pretzels with a mixture of flour and fine salt after baking, rather than sprinkling them with coarse salt, because it tastes just as salty without making you so thirsty. And while he always ties some of his pretzels in the traditional knot, with the little “arms” crossed through the middle, he prefers to roll the pretzel into a rope that tapers at its ends, and then join the ends together in a loop.

These little tweaks preserve what was best about a pretzel while also making it distinctly Erbel’s own. His goal is not so much reinvention as it was reclamation: He wants to remind Germans—used to the oversize, machine-rolled versions for sale at beer halls and gas stations—how good, exactly, a pretzel could be.

wheat field
Oliver Hauser

He mixes some fine-milled whole-grain spelt with the wheat flour in order to speed the natural fermentation and add some nutritional value.

When Erbel took over the Bäckerei Erbel from his father, in 1999, he banished convenience products and industrial ingredients such as food coloring and artificial sweeteners from the recipes. He mills flour himself from local fields, and refuses to bake with pre-mixes, additives, or preservatives, which he compares to doping in bicycle racing. His diktat against baking with chemicals, however, makes an exception for lye, which is an old tradition, and without which there could be no pretzel. No one is quite certain how it came into use.

“I’m sure it was an accident,” Erbel said. Households in the Middle Ages used lye derived from cooking ash as a cleaning solution, and one legend credits a tired baker who mistakenly dipped dough into lye instead of sugar, and did not discover his mistake until he pulled it from the oven and saw the beautiful brown crust.

Nowadays, some German bakers run wild with Laugengebäck. It is common, for instance, to find Laugencroissants in German bakeries—croissants that have been dipped in lye and have a salty brown exterior like a pretzel. Erbel shudders at the Laugencroissant, though, seeing it as an unholy Frankenstein’s monster: “I make croissants with the wonderful taste of butter.”

Erbel scores a Laugengebäck

Top Left: Pretzel dough before it is tied into knots; Middle Left: Erbel buys grain from the source; Bottom Left: loaves rest after baking; Right: Erbel scores a Laugengebäck.

 

Erbel keeps the lye by the oven in a long shallow tub with a grate suspended overhead. He laid some more uncooked pretzels on the grate, then lowered it into the chemical for a few seconds before transferring the pretzels to the oven. Though we had discussed going to a beer garden to eat, he suggested instead we have the fresh pretzels with some cheese he had been given by a friend, who had skied through the Alps, purchasing only cheeses that had been made from the milk of cows with horns—which, apparently, some people find easier to digest.

We walked out the back of the bakery kitchen and across a cobblestone courtyard, then through a shed to another cobblestone courtyard behind a former beer garden that Erbel owns and now uses to host art exhibitions and parties. Erbel opened two bottles of beer—which, he said apologetically, were from Düsseldorf rather than local—and we spread butter on the pretzels and cut into the cheese.

The pretzels broke with a satisfying snap to reveal an interior that was plush, almost like a marshmallow. Their little crystals of salt brought out the mild and grassy flavors of the cheese. As the sun set, it became so dark that it was difficult to see Erbel across the table. We were just a few steps from the rooms where he had grown up. He told me that colleagues had tried to persuade him to open bakeries in Berlin, Munich, and London, but he has no desire to relocate closer to the Michelin-starred restaurants he bakes for. He’s happy to stay in Dachsbach, he said. “They can’t imagine what we are doing here.”

……………….

Archive

Is Bernie Sanders Stealing Trump’s ‘No More Wars’ Issue? – by Patrick J. Buchanan – 19 April 2019

Trump v Sanders

 

“The president has said that he does not want to see this country involved in endless wars… I agree with that,” Bernie Sanders told the Fox News audience at Monday’s town hall meeting in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Then turning and staring straight into the camera, Bernie added:

“Mr. President, tonight you have the opportunity to do something extraordinary: Sign that resolution. Saudi Arabia should not be determining the military or foreign policy of this country.”

Sanders was talking about a War Powers Act resolution that would have ended U.S. involvement in the five-year civil war in Yemen that has created one of the great humanitarian crises of our time, with thousands of dead children amidst an epidemic of cholera and a famine.

Supported by a united Democratic Party on the Hill, and an anti-interventionist faction of the GOP led by Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee of Utah, the War Powers resolution had passed both houses of Congress.

But 24 hours after Sanders urged him to sign it, Trump, heeding the hawks in his Cabinet and National Security Council, vetoed S.J.Res.7, calling it a “dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities.”

With sufficient Republican votes in both houses to sustain Trump’s veto, that should be the end of the matter.

It is not: Trump may have just ceded the peace issue in 2020 to the Democrats. If Sanders emerges as the nominee, we will have an election with a Democrat running on the “no-more-wars” theme Trump touted in 2016. And Trump will be left defending the bombing of Yemeni rebels and civilians by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Does Trump really want to go into 2020 as a war party president?

Does he want to go into 2020 with Democrats denouncing “Trump’s endless wars” in the Middle East? Because that is where he is headed.

In 2008, John McCain, leading hawk in the Senate, was routed by a left-wing first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who had won his nomination by defeating the more hawkish Hillary Clinton, who had voted to authorize the war in Iraq.

In 2012, the Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who was far more hawkish than Obama on Russia, lost.

Yet, in 2016, Trump ran as a different kind of Republican, an opponent of the Iraq War and an anti-interventionist who wanted to get along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and get out of these Middle East wars.

Looking closely at the front-running candidates for the Democratic nomination of 2020 – Joe Biden, Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker – not one appears to be as hawkish as Trump has become.

Trump pulled us out of the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and reimposed severe sanctions.

He declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, to which Iran has responded by declaring U.S. Central Command a terrorist organization. Ominously, the IRGC and its trained Shiite militias in Iraq are in close proximity to U.S. troops.

Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. Embassy there, closed the consulate that dealt with Palestinian affairs, cut off aid to the Palestinians, recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights seized from Syria in 1967, and gone silent on Bibi Netanyahu’s threat to annex Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Sanders, however, though he stands by Israel, is supporting a two-state solution and castigating the “right-wing” Netanyahu regime.

Trump has talked of pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the troops are still there.

Though Trump came into office promising to get along with the Russians, he sent Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine and announced a pullout from Ronald Reagan’s 1987 INF treaty that outlawed all land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

When Putin provocatively sent 100 Russian troops to Caracas – ostensibly to repair the S-400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile system that was damaged in recent blackouts – Trump, drawing a red line, ordered the Russians to “get out.”

Biden is expected to announce next week. If the stands he takes on Russia, China, Israel and the Middle East are more hawkish than the rest of the field, he will be challenged by the left wing of his party, and by Sanders, who voted “no” on the Iraq War that Biden supported.

The center of gravity of U.S. politics is shifting toward the Trump position of 2016. And the anti-interventionist wing of the GOP is growing.

And when added to the anti-interventionist and anti-war wing of the Democratic Party on the Hill, together, they are able, as on the Yemen War Powers resolution, to produce a new bipartisan majority.

Prediction: By the primaries of 2020, foreign policy will be front and center, and the Democratic Party will have captured the “no-more-wars” political high ground that Candidate Donald Trump occupied in 2016.

 

 

‘Stop & Shop’ Announces Creation of New Robot Customers – Striking Workers Will Be Fired And Worker Supporting Customers Replaced As Grocer Goes Completely Automated

robot 6

“Who needs customers?” the owners of the Stop & Shop supermarket said at a special news conference to announce their fully automated business model. Many have seen the impressive robot that has been patrolling the aisles of Stop & Shop stores. The googlie eyes make the robot seem so human and relatable A great feature is the ability of the robot to detect spills and and items dropped on the floor and immediately use the store intercom to order the human workers to clean up the mess.

Stop & Shop has 31,000 workers on strike in 240 stores across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhoade Island. Customers are staying away in support of the strikers and because of the disruption to the stores.

That’s when the bosses realized they could start paying the robot workers, and then having them as customers to buy the electric batteries they use and the power to recharge them, et cetera. Others joined in and said that Stop & Shop should simply create robot customers who could then buy the company’s products.

robot 3
A solution to the worker problem, and the customer problem for the troubled enterprise. When some suggested that maybe they could get robot managers and robot owners, the company nixed the idea.

Dorchester MA: Striking Stop & Shop Workers Joined By Supporters for a Rally of 300 – Workers of the World, Unite! – 18 April 2019

Egyptian actor Khaled Abol Naga leads anti-Sissi campaign in Washington – By Aboulfotouh Kandil – 15 April 2019

 

Egyptian actor Khaled Abol Naga leads anti-Sissi campaign in Washington

Khaled Abol Naga. Facebook

WASHINGTON—In their second summit at the White House, President Trump met Egypt’s military dictator, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, on April 9, praising him for being a “great president who has been doing a fantastic job.” Meanwhile, earlier that day, members of the U.S. Congress, human rights organizations, and activists at a hearing condemned el-Sissi’s human rights record.

Egyptian actor and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Abol Naga joined the group. In his testimony, Abol Naga criticized the miserable human rights situation in Egypt under the military coup led by el-Sissi.

Abol Naga, who was born in Cairo in 1975, received an engineering degree from Ain Shams University in that city. He also studied theater and drama at the American University in Cairo and later pursued studies acting, cinematography, and directing in the United States. Abol Naga, who started his professional acting career in 2000, is recognized for his work across Egypt. He has been appointed to the juries of numerous local and international film festivals since 2008 and has also acted in several English-speaking roles and participated in many European festivals, where he received various awards.

Abol Naga has used his status to promote awareness regarding democracy, religious tolerance, children’s rights, and adolescents’ development, particularly in the Middle East. In 2007, he was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

In January 2011, Abol Naga supported millions of Egyptians who protested in Tahrir Square demanding bread, freedom, social justice, and human dignity. While former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime was using public figures to undermine and defame that revolution, Abol Naga was one of a few celebrities who joined the protesters. He participated in the mass demonstrations that led to the removal of Mubarak.

Resisting potential religious fascism, Abol Naga participated in the demonstrations of June 30, 2013, that were subsequently used by the military to provide cover for its coup against the first elected president, Mohamed Morsi. Like many other people, Abol Naga saw that a repressive military dictatorship in Egypt was not what opponents of right-wing religious fundamentalism were fighting for on June 30. The military, led by el-Sissi, was just using the protests to give legitimacy to their coup.

Because of the increasingly miserable situation in Egypt since 2013, Abol Naga has been advocating for Egyptians seeking freedom and democracy. He criticizes el-Sissi and his regime for human rights violations and proposed constitution amendments that could potentially keep el-Sissi in office until 2034. It’s “a very long time of dictatorship that is planned,” according to Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who was at the hearing in Washington on April 9.

Trump and el-Sissi.

Abol Naga said he was not speaking only on behalf of Egyptians, but of all humanity. “I should be the voice of those who have no voice, and I hope you all agree with that,” he said. He said he was willing to face consequences up to and including the ones faced by Washington Post journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, who was murdered by the corrupt Saudi regime with the full knowledge of the Trump administration.

“This can risk my life, but it is nothing compared to those who are dying right now, those who are tortured right now, those teenagers having death sentences without proper trials right now, thousands of those kids, youth, and even others. I am here on behalf of all of those who have been forcibly disappeared, incarcerated for a blog or a tweet,” he said. “We have a situation in Egypt that needs your attention. Actually, not only you, the European Union, United Nations, and every peace-loving human being on this planet.”

As a result of his advocacy for human rights in Egypt, Abol Naga has faced defamation campaigns by the Egyptian state-owned media. He was expelled from the actors’ union and accused of betraying the country. Moreover, the government has filed suit to take away his status as a citizen of Egypt.

The campaign for human rights in Egypt has a tough road to travel. The strong support for el-Sissi by the Trump administration and some other Western governments is making the battle that much tougher. Abol Naga and others involved in the fight, however, seem determined to continue until they win.

………….

Aboulfotouh Kandil is a freelance writer on socio-political issues and human rights with a main focus on the Middle East.

Dorchester MA: Striking Stop & Shop Workers Joined By Supporters for a Rally of 300 – Workers of the World, Unite! – 18 April 2019

Picket Lines Mean Do Not Cross!

At 2:00pm there was a rally held at the South Bay Shopping Center in front of the Stop & Shop grocery store whose labor union workers are on strike.  Various Labor Union members attended as well as leftist groups that support the strike.  Over three hundred people joined the rally to hear union leaders and members speak in support of the striking workers. 

Dorchester 3f

Building Trades Workers Marched in With a ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’ Banner

Several Democratic Party leaders were scheduled to speak including ex-vice president Joseph Biden.  The event had the feel of an organized Biden rally.  The stage was set up far from the store that was on strike.  Workers were taken away from the store picket line to be ‘extras’ to back up Biden’s crowd.  The actual picket line was left with a handful of workers and the leftists.  At one point organizers of the Biden rally came over and asked the strikers to quiet down because they were interrupting the Democratic Party speeches from the platform 40 yards away.  In the video below the union workers were not even allowed to be on stage with and ‘On Strike’ picket sign.  Joseph Biden hardly mentioned the strikers in front of him; the video below does not even scan the crowd to show the strikers.  Just a generic, vaguely progressive, appeal for people to support Biden as a ‘regular Joe worker.’  Biden has never had a working class job in his life – he is a career politician.

A number of Socialist groups distributed newspapers and leaflets in support of the strike including the Spartacist Workers Vanguard, the Internationalist Group, and Socialist Alternative.  The rally had the feel of an organized Biden Dorchester Rally 1

Members of the UNITE HERE Local 26 hotel workers came to help the strikers win a fair contract.  Local 26 recently won a strike against the Marriot Hotel company after a strong strike with strong picket lines.  

Dorchester 3

This man has worked at Stop & Shop for 48 years. 

Dorchester Rally

The strike by 31,000 Stop & Shop workers at more than 240 supermarkets in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island is in its seventh day. The workers walked off the job a week ago after negotiations with management broke down over proposals from the company attacking workers’ wages, health insurance and pension benefits.

Stop & Shop workers have not been on strike in 30 years, and their strike is the largest in the retail industry since 2003.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) was forced to call the strike after Stop & Shop management refused to budge on demands that would make deep inroads into workers’ pay and benefits for both present and future full- and part-time workers. The five UFCW locals had voted overwhelmingly to authorize strike action after their contract expired February 23. Negotiations are continuing between the UFCW and Shop & Shop with a federal mediator.

Stop & Shop is owned by billion-dollar Dutch-owned company Royal Ahold Delhaize NV, which also owns Food Lion, Hannaford and other grocery chains and is the third largest supermarket owner in the US. Despite reporting profits of more than $2 billion last year and spending $4 billion in stock buybacks since 2017, the multinational company is seeking to drive down the wages and benefits of Stop & Shop workers to those at nonunion grocers such as Market Basket, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and big-box stores such as BJ’s, Walmart and Costco.

The company is seeking to drive a wedge between full- and part-time workers, and workers with higher seniority, by offering smaller wage increases for part-time workers and capping wage increases for full-time workers with less than three years on the job.

When the strike began last week, some stores were forced to close, while others reopened Friday with reduced hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., while keeping all in-store pharmacies and banks open. Stores are operating with skeleton staffs comprised of managers and strikebreakers brought in from other locations in vans, according to pickets.

The strike has won the support of many customers, who have chosen not to cross strikers’ picket lines. With the Easter and Passover holidays beginning this weekend, many customers are choosing to shop elsewhere, with perishable meats, seafood and produce and other food fast approaching their expiration dates in the deserted aisles of many Stop & Shop locations.

The supermarket has called in police and additional security officers across the chain’s 241 locations. When Stop & Shop owns the parking lot, as it does at the McGrath Highway location in Somerville, Mass., strikers have been forced to stand at the entrances to the parking lot, away from the front of the store. Pickets say that they were not even allowed to park their cars in the lot, with management citing private property rights.

“In nearly 30 years, we haven’t seen a strike as effective and devastating as this one,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm that has evaluated grocery store strikes for three decades.  

Victory to the Stop & Shop Workers!

 

Bret Easton Ellis Thinks You’re Overreacting to Donald Trump – By Isaac Chotiner (New Yorker) 11 April 2019

“When did people start identifying so relentlessly with victims, and when did the victim’s world view become the lens through which we began to look at everything?” So begins Bret Easton Ellis’s take on, of all things, Barry Jenkins’s film “Moonlight,” which he describes as “an elegy to pain.” Ellis’s first work of nonfiction, “White,” is an interlocking set of essays on America in 2019, combining memoir, social commentary, and criticism; more specifically, it’s a sustained howl of displeasure aimed at liberal hand-wringers, people obsessively concerned with racism, and everyone who is not over Donald Trump’s election. His targets range from the media to Michelle Obama to millennials (including his boyfriend). Ellis also defends less popular people, from Roseanne Barr to Kanye West, whom he perceives as having been given a raw deal by the mob.

For those who follow Ellis on Twitter, none of this will be particularly surprising. He has been involved in several online controversies, including one that stemmed from him calling the filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow “really overrated” because she is “a very hot woman.” The more interesting question is how much of a departure this material represents from his fiction. When Ellis was in his twenties, he published three novels—“Less Than Zero,” “The Rules of Attraction,” and “American Psycho”—that are considered some of the most biting and lasting satires of Ronald Reagan’s America. But their protagonists’ materialism, misogyny, and amorality, along with Ellis’s early Brat Pack persona, have persistently raised questions regarding the depth of his social critique. “American Psycho,” about an investment banker and serial killer (who happens to worship Donald Trump), has been described as a masterpiece of postmodern literature, but it has also been condemned by prominent feminists.

In recent years, Ellis has continued to publish fiction while also writing screenplays, including for Paul Schrader’s “The Canyons,” which became notorious for its troubled production. Since 2013, he has hosted the “Bret Easton Ellis Podcast,” on Patreon. Ellis and I recently spoke by phone. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed how people respond to allegations of sexual assault, whether the President is a racist, and why he finds liberal outrage so annoying.

You have a section in your book where you talk about President Trump’s comment about Mexicans being rapists. And then you have another section where you talk about Michelle Obama being “breathlessly condescending” when she said, “When they go low, we go high.” I am trying to understand why one of those things sets you off and the other you seem kind of neutral about.

You know, I think “sets me off” suggests that I am enraged, and I think the voice in the book is pretty chill and neutral. And what I am talking about is all in context. With the Trump thing, that is true. He said that once, in his very first speech, and didn’t say it again, and there were people who had picked up on it and were still repeating it a year or two years later. Without putting that in context, yeah, I guess that bothered me.

O.K., but Trump says lots of racist things. We can all agree on that, right?

[Pauses.] Sure.

So he says lots of racist things. This thing was only said once. Why does people being upset about it, or people being upset about the fact that we have a President who regularly says bigoted things, bother you?

No, no, no, no, no. That just twisted up what I meant.

Tell me what you meant.

You think I am defending a racist.

No, I asked why liberals repeating Trump’s remark about Mexican immigrants being rapists bothers you so much.

Because it didn’t seem to be truthful, and it seemed to be exaggerated and said over and over again. You think I am defending Trump somehow? I am bothered by people using that one thing two years later.

There are a lot of things to get angry about: children being separated from their parents, Trump saying nice things about marchers in Charlottesville. What is it that bothers you about this?

You do know that plenty of people don’t think that? You do understand that?

Don’t think what?

Don’t think all these things you are saying about Charlottesville. What does he have, a ninety-three-per-cent approval rating, or, let’s say, a hundred per cent, from his base? Let’s say it is, over all, way up, from thirty-eight per cent to fifty per cent, or even higher. And let’s say Latinos are now fifty-per-cent approval for Trump.

That’s not true, but O.K.

Well, whatever.

I am looking at the FiveThirtyEight average. He is at forty-two per cent.

O.K., but whatever. There is another side of the aisle.

I am not arguing that people don’t support him. You aren’t denying Trump says racist things regularly. I am just trying to understand why liberal opposition to Trump bothers you so much.

I don’t know if he does think racist things so regularly. I am not sure if I do.

Oh, O.K. What did you think birtherism was?

I do think birtherism was racist and the Tea Party was an abomination. The hysteria over Trump is what I am talking about. It’s not about his policies or supposed racism. It’s about what I see as an overreaction to Trump.

Sorry, you keep going back and forth here between racism and supposed racism. Do you think he is racist or not?

Yeah, probably he is. Because, when I was doing research on him, way back in the nineteen-eighties, during “American Psycho,” the policies he and his father were talking about—in terms of not letting people live in certain buildings, and the overreaction to the Central Park jogging case—was annoying enough to make him a figure in “American Psycho,” where Patrick Bateman sees him as the father he never had.

The animating feature of the book is that you are frustrated and annoyed with the liberal consensus, which is “shrilly” and “condescendingly” looks down on Trump voters. Would that be a fair way of putting it?

I would say that’s a fair way to put it, sure.

Is it that you think there are terrible things going on but we should all take a deep breath, or is it that you don’t think there are a lot of terrible things going on?

I just think that there is a man that got elected President. He is in the White House. He has vast support from his base. He was elected fairly and legally. And I think what happened is that the left is so hurt by this that they have overreacted to the Presidency. Now, look, I live with a Democratic, socialist-bordering-on-communist millennial. I hear it every day.

He’s a character in the book.

He is in the next room right now. And I do put myself in his shoes, and I do look at the world through his lens, because I have to. I live with him, and I love him. And I do hear this, and some of it changes my mind, and some of it doesn’t. I am certainly much more of a centrist than he is. I do listen, and I think that [lack of a] sense of neutrality—of standing in the other side’s shoes and looking at this from the other side—has bothered me among a lot of my friends and from the media.

What would looking at some of the issues that we have been facing from the perspective of Trump voters look like in practice?

I don’t know. I am not that interested in politics. I am not that interested in policy. What I was interested in was the coverage. Especially in Hollywood, there was an immense overreaction. I don’t care really about Trump that much, and I don’t care about politics. I was forced to care based on how it was covered and how people have reacted. Sure, you can be hysterical, or you can wait and vote him out of office.

People did show up at the polls in 2018.

They might very well vote him out. I hope they do, so we have some sense of normalcy in this household.

Big picture.

But I don’t really care.

When I think of when people have freaked out during the past couple of years, I think of the Muslim ban, child separation, and the President saying that there were good people on both sides in Charlottesville. What, as a citizen, do you think would have been appropriate responses?

I don’t know. I really don’t.

Did it bother you when people showed up at airports or said child separation was terrible?

No, not at all. I’m not really bothered by that one way or the other.

But you don’t think people should complain about [those policies]?

No, I feel that whoever has been elected can do whatever they set out to do and what their party wants them to do and what their base wants them to do, and you might not like it, Todd [Ellis’s boyfriend] might not like it, I might not even like it, but this is the reality. It is not some made-up fantasy. This is happening.

There are plenty of people who like what he is doing, so what are we saying?

There were plenty of people in favor of segregation. I am not sure how far that gets us.

There are plenty of people who like Donald Trump.

There are plenty of people who like all kinds of things.

No, I know.

You don’t have anything to add on that?

I think you are leading me into things I am not particularly that interested in.

Which is what, everything you wrote your book about?

No, just in terms of policy, in terms of Trump the man. It is more or less the coverage and the reaction to him.

In an interview with the T.L.S., you said that progressive movements become “as authoritarian as what they’re protesting,” and that “it’s happened to a degree with the #MeToo movement. The idea of sexual assault and violence against women is reprehensible. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t accept that.” Can—

Agreed. Agreed.

Well, you said it—of course you agree. So what you are saying is that everyone can agree assault is wrong, but maybe we are going too far?

I think what happened this week, with Joe Biden, has really alienated my boyfriend from his party, in a way. My boyfriend was extremely upset about how the media was treating Joe Biden and how they were putting that under the umbrella of #MeToo. That can happen, and I think we can all agree on that.

In the same interview, you said, “Look, this is the big, dirty secret: I don’t live in a bubble. I knew about 55 percent of people voting for Clinton and 45 percent voting for Trump. 20 percent of those voting for Trump had voted for Obama. They wanted a change person and they did not care that he grabbed the pussy, or that he said Mexicans were rapists. It was about the economy and job creation, with political correctness coming in second.” What do you think these voters were saying?

I think that the girls I know, the women I know, who were voting for Trump—the pussy comment did not bother them, because they grew up with the reality that they had three brothers, or they had two brothers, and this locker-room talk was a reality, and whether Trump really did it or not was not going to decide whether they voted for him or not. I thought that was interesting.

I am trying to synthesize this with your comment about sexual assault being “reprehensible” and you not knowing “anyone who doesn’t accept that.”

Yes, agreed.

So, on one hand, everyone is completely unaccepting of sexual assault, and, on the other, “they wanted a change person” and did not care that he sexually assaulted people. Is there no contradiction there?

Bragging about something? I don’t know.

There have been many women who have come forward. So maybe people don’t always care about that?

Oh, I don’t know. It didn’t really matter in terms of getting him elected, in terms of the women who did vote for him.

Do you understand what I am asking here? You were saying that everyone was saying sexual assault is reprehensible, and also that people don’t care about bragging over sexual assault.

I think he was bragging. No one said he actually did it. I don’t know if any women have come forward and said, “Yes, Trump grabbed my pussy.”

Many, many women have said—

They said he brushed against them at a ballet, or—

No, pushed them against walls

Of course. I don’t know. What does that say? What do you think?

You came to the defense of Roseanne Barr, saying that she denied, after tweeting racist stuff about Valerie Jarrett, knowing Valerie Jarrett was black.

Did she say that? That she didn’t know she was black?

You say it in the book.

Yeah, right, I quoted her.

It seems like you want to give some people the benefit of the doubt, but not others. Would that be fair?

I would like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

So when she tweets about Valerie Jarrett being the child of the Muslim Brotherhood and the “Planet of the Apes”?

Yeah, that’s a tweet. I don’t know. It’s whatever. It’s whatever you think it is and whatever she says she meant by it. It is her word against ours.

It seems like you want to give Roseanne Barr the benefit of the doubt, but not people who think Trump is a racist.

I don’t really feel that. I don’t feel that way, O.K.? It is not what I want to do at all.

This idea keeps coming up that a lot of people support Trump. Let’s grant that that is the case. How should that change how we respond to him?

I don’t think at all. What should we do about that? Change people’s minds? What can you do about a Trump supporter? But they do exist, and I don’t think all of them are crazy, insane racists. Do you?

All of them, no. When you think back to these couple of years, is your large takeaway that the left was too critical of Trump?

It’s not just the left. There seems to have been this hysterical overreaction that can be solved with voting him out of office. And I don’t know whether this pain and turmoil people have inflicted on themselves have gotten them anything. I just see a lot of people who have turned themselves inside out.

It seems to have caused a lot of people self-harm, and I don’t know where it gets anybody.

You are a novelist. You write about the human condition. Do you worry about the self-harm of people who see things like child separation and have no emotional response?

I think I am an absurdist. I think politics are ridiculous.

Maybe don’t write a book about it. Would that be the solution?

I think the problem is that I don’t necessarily see this as interesting as fiction.

Yeah, I could tell.

It was much more interesting to me to write this as a nonfiction book, in terms of pulling this stuff from my podcast.

Thanks so much for talking.

It’s interesting to have that back-and-forth pull in an interview. The only problem, however, is that I am not that political, and so, when we have this conversation, and you confront me with certain things like this, I really am, I have to say, at a loss.

https://archive.is/Awdck

‘White’ – Bret Easton Ellis on Talking Porn With Kanye, a New Novel, and (Yes) Trump – by Corey Seymour

 

Bret Easton Ellis is ready for you. The author of Less Than Zero (published in 1985, when Ellis was still a Bennington undergrad) and, most notoriously, American Psycho, along with four other novels and a collection of stories, seems incapable of not creating a stir—with his books, his Twitter rants, and, in recent years, his podcast. “I get shit all the time for being the cranky old man on the porch,” says Ellis, who’s now 55, “but I don’t think I’ve changed. I think I was that when I wrote Less Than Zero. My temperament is cranky old man.” And while White, his first nonfiction book (just out from Knopf), has already been attracting incendiary attention for what Ellis has to say about Donald Trump, or Trump haters, or our culture of “survivor-victims” and triggered millennials and the liberal bubble we’re all apparently living in, it’s worth noting that the book is also a candid look back at his youth, his generation, and the ever-evolving national culture. Vogue chatted with Ellis recently—and despite best intentions to stay chill and everything, things got a little heated.
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You write in White about how your original conception of American Psycho’s central character—who ultimately became the psychopathic investment banker and serial killer Patrick Bateman—was that of an earnest and disillusioned and nonviolent person. But then, at a dinner with some Wall Street friends, you had a kind of instant revelation that he needed to be a serial killer. How far along did you get in your original treatment? Is there a complete draft somewhere?
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No—I just had the overall arc of the book in my head and a lot of notes written. It was going to be more like my first two books in terms of a seemingly random series of scenes that our narrator goes through and this time on Wall Street. This was actually a very normal lost guy, kind of like Clay [from Less Than Zero] in a way: very passive, watching everything unfold around him, and ultimately not being able to deal with this environment and leaving. I think he had a fiancée, and he was going to get a promotion or something, and everything was centered around drugs and going out in Manhattan every night. This was going to be the earnest novel.
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Why did you decide to make Donald Trump the hero of Patrick Bateman?
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When I was writing the novel in ’87 and ’88 and ’89, Donald Trump was kind of ubiquitous. Wall Street people liked him—they thought he was funny; he had a lifestyle that they envied and wanted to work toward. I think the reason why I don’t have such a problem with Trump now is that I got all of my things about him that I didn’t like into American Psycho. That was my moment of being annoyed by Donald Trump. And it was really kind of an eye roll that this kind of nouveau-riche guy with not great taste became the man that so many other young men looked up to. I mean, Trump Tower was ridiculous! I would get my hair cut in Trump Tower, and I spent a lot of time there taking notes, and I was going to set some scenes there, but I didn’t. There’s one scene at the end that takes place outside of Trump Tower when Patrick Bateman, in his mania, just finds himself drawn to it—[laughing] as it’s, you know, glowing gold in the late-afternoon sun [more laughter]—and then he starts thinking about killing young black men. That was kind of my idea about Donald Trump. I was interested in him: I did the dive into learning about him and his father not allowing certain races in their apartment buildings, and the Roy Cohn thing; I was bothered by the Central Park jogger stuff. Then it all kind of came together: Trump was the daddy that Patrick Bateman didn’t have—the guy he’s always thinking about and wanting to connect with and wanting to emulate. It wasn’t supposed to be prescient—I thought Donald Trump would fade away as the ’90s went on. But I also thought it was funny.
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You end one section of the book by remembering that “people assumed my career as a writer was about to be over” with the publication of American Psycho. “I was never happier,” you write. Why?
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I think it was going through this trial by fire that had happened over the five months starting in late October or early November of 1990—and also the overwhelmingly negative critical reaction: the media wanting to stop the publication of American Psycho, actively banding together to stop this book as a cause of moral certitude or something. If you had a Rotten Tomatoes for books when American Psycho was published, it would have gotten a zero. The one good review in the national press—Henry Bean at the Los Angeles Times—caused an outcry at the book review there. The week after that review, they had a three-page letters section of all these people canceling their subscriptions. That was one example of how loud it was. I remember during Christmas vacation of 1990, I was in San Francisco in a hotel room and turned on the TV, and suddenly CNN was on, and Gloria Steinem and the National Organization for Women were all on a panel talking about how Vintage Books had a moral obligation not to publish American Psycho. That was what I was going through. But the novel was always very clear to me—it was everything else in my life that was kind of a blur.
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Whether people liked it or not, the entire culture, for a brief moment, revolved around this thing that you created. That sort of thing doesn’t seem to happen anymore. Was that any kind of satisfaction?
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I’m not the kind of person that takes a lot of pride in that—I’m just not. What saved it all was that I knew that whatever people said my intentions were—they were wrong. And The New York Times was wrong when they ran 18 articles about American Psycho and had it reviewed by Roger Rosenblatt three months before it was going to be published. I still remember the title: “Snuff This Book! Will Bret Easton Ellis Get Away With Murder?”
Some of my friends—Jay McInerney being one of them—really do think that’s what started my distrust of corporate culture and corporate censorship, and maybe even what made me a bit of a contrarian. Jay thinks I’m being ridiculous in complaining about the kind of things I complain about in White.
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And is Jay right?
Maybe.
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Later in the book, you note that New York City in recent years has become like “American Psycho on steroids.” You write: “Patrick Bateman lives on without me, regardless of how close we became during the time I spent writing about him.” It’s an oddly emotional, oddly paternal moment.
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I have no choice in the matter: He took on this life of his own, and so many people became invested in him, largely due to Mary Harron’s adaptation of the movie—and of course Christian Bale’s embodiment of the character—which triggered a massive reinterest in the book and gave it a second life. There was the musical; there’s always talk of an American Psycho TV series over at Lionsgate. Patrick Bateman has become a meme—rarely a day goes by when I’m on the Internet and don’t see someone making a joke about him or posting a still from the movie, or I come across someone on Goodreads who says they’re reading the book. I’m constantly reminded of him.
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You tweeted on election night, “Somewhere, Patrick Bateman is smiling,” and told Rolling Stone that our country under Trump is “certainly Bateman’s dream America.” Yet you seem utterly enraged that people aren’t taking this dystopian scenario—that of a country run by the idol of your fictional psychopath and serial killer—calmly and with good grace.
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First of all: Everybody is full of contradictions. That’s one thing I prize in people: their contradictory natures. But I am not “enraged.” And I hope that in White there is a very calm, chill voice. It is a literary voice in many ways—something that is kind of mine and is kind of not mine. It’s a little more distant. I really do think that White is an argument for not being enraged.
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Okay—let’s say “annoyed.”
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Annoyed, yes—and I think disappointed. I didn’t think that people would be so apoplectic. But the Trump tweet on election night—the world was buzzing with something. It was scary. And my boyfriend had collapsed back into his opiate addiction. Everything seemed out of whack, out of control, and I did type that up and post it, but I thought, “Everything is so crazy right now. Why am I going to add into this? People are going to respond to this, and what are they going to think that I mean by this?” So I deleted it. And certainly there were plenty of American Psycho references in the weeks that followed with Trump on the cover of stuff, “American Psycho” being a headline in European and even in American media.
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White also contains a reworked version of your 2011 Daily Beast story on what you call “Empire” and “post-Empire” America: Basically, Empire is when we had something approximating a unified national culture—something to orient ourselves around, from Frank Sinatra to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Reagan; post-Empire is Kanye stepping on Taylor Swift’s stage at the VMAs. Where does Trump fit in? He straddles both eras.
Post-Empire.
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But isn’t he trying to hoodwink everybody into believing that if we just make him the emperor that he’ll get us back to Empire times, where everything was better and happier and simple again?
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Yeah—if you look at it that way. I don’t know if that’s how some people look at Trump. Now I’m not saying yes or no, but I think some people see him as transparent. And certainly if you dare to watch one of his rallies—which are really rather remarkable stand-ups—you feel that. Part of the problem with understanding Trump is that he does not fit into any of what I seriously think are outmoded ways of dealing with the political landscape now. And he has completely figured this out—he is the bull in the china shop, and partly what’s so fun is to see the owner of the china shop going, “You really can’t act like that in here—you can’t do that in the china shop!” That’s the disconnect that’s going on right now. You say that Trump’s trying to hoodwink everybody—I don’t see that as Trumpian. I see Trump really purely being himself, id and all. He doesn’t have the poses of Barack Obama—which became kind of infuriating by the end of that presidency—but there is something, I have to say, that I miss when I heard Obama give a speech the other day. There’s something about his calmness and his rationality that I am missing, to a degree. Even though he might have been an incredibly ineffective president, there’s something about his demeanor that has seemingly evaporated from the stage.
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I was listening to your latest podcast on my way into work today—you go on a pretty impressive rant about “being lied to by the media” in the wake of the Mueller report, which you say “erupted into flames . . . there is no collusion . . . ” and then go on to call the last couple of years of investigations and indictments and convictions of a rather large circle of people around Trump “a moronic, liberal-led conspiracy that arrived at the right moment and caused the butt-hurt media [Ellis chuckles] still licking its wounds over Hillary not being anointed queen to start salivating, to grab anything and go with anything . . . even though the proof was nonexistent.” I don’t want to get bogged down in the weeds of arguing about politics with you, but just so we’re still based in reality: Your entire cri de coeur here is based on a four-page memo from an attorney general who got his job specifically because of his view of executive power—particularly the legally flimsy notion that the president of the United States can’t actually be charged with a crime. Four pages: It’s like reviewing a novel from the press release, or—
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[more laughter] I have heard this kind of take for four years! I’ve heard it ever since Trump came down the escalator in the summer of 2015 and through the primaries, the electoral college, Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti, and our savior Bob Mueller. Okay, sure: We haven’t seen the Mueller report. What do you think is going to happen, Corey?! I’m seriously asking that: What do you think, once this is out there—like the song in Hamilton that King George sings: “What Comes Next?”
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Well, now we’re arguing about politics, but for starters: Don’t you think that if the Mueller report completely exonerated Trump, as all of his fanboys are jumping over themselves to tell anybody who’ll listen to them—don’t you think that we would have seen that report the next day?
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What you’re saying is totally fair. It is my podcast, however, and I’m talking about how I see things and what I think is going on, but, yes, sure: That is certainly a fair point, and I nod to you on that, yes.
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White has a fair amount of writing about our country’s increasing polarization—at one point, you relate the story of dinner with a friend who “often wondered: Was this really all it took? Was defending the president you had supported and voted for that immoral and outrageous?” In principle and in theory, I get this: Yes, act on your beliefs, etc. But doesn’t the real answer to this question depend on, you know, what that president actuallydoes?
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You say this with a certainty that there’s not another side. On the other side of the aisle, people love everything that he’s done. You may not like him; I may not—but this is what happens when you get elected president. So, yes: I understand why they won’t release the full Mueller report or why [Attorney General William] Barr’s being careful with it. Because you’re all going to do whatever you want with it! Nothing can appease! Nothing can appease. Nothing can make you look at it from the other side of the aisle. That’s all.
I didn’t really feel the need to start bringing policy in, because I’m personally not that interested in policy; I’m interested in everybody’s reaction and the coverage that’s going on. So, yes, I hear you, Corey, but to get bogged down in policy stuff—I don’t even know how I would have put that in as a writer. I would have, what, had a paragraph about that?
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I mean, if I had written this at a different time, the book would be different: If the Tea Party was having its moment now, I would completely go after that. It just so happens that a lot of the last two or three years, after the election, has been spent catastrophizing everything, with everyone’s emotions pitched at such a high level. White, I think, is asking for some kind of neutrality, a kind of blankness—a way of looking at things in an unblinkered light.
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I will say this, though: I hear you clearly, and I do not disagree with you.
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Moving on: In the final section of White, you write about your first meeting with Kanye West in the private wing of Cedars-Sinai the day after the birth of his first child in 2013, when you apparently talked about everything from porn to The Jetsons for four hours before Kim Kardashian came out with baby North. Kanye poured you a shot of Grey Goose, and you left.
I turned it down. I didn’t feel like drinking Grey Goose.
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You write that “Kanye, like everyone else on both sides of the divide, now envisioned the world as a theater where a musical was always playing and hopefully starring someone like themselves voicing their own opinions.” And then you end the book by saying that “Kanye’s . . . narcissistic dragon energy power . . . allowed him, no matter what others thought, to be totally free.” Is Kanye some kind of everyman exemplar that we’re all trying to be—the completely free person who’s the star of their own piece of musical theater?
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That whole section has to do with the media. It was all about the coverage of Kanye. I happened to be working with him on some vague thing—and I had known him for the past five years—so I felt I had a front row seat to what was really going on. And he was no different now than he was in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. The media was different. Kanye hadn’t changed. The point of that section was about how Kanye was covered by the hysterical media. Kanye himself was just Kanye, and I hope I portrayed him in an honest way, but in no way was he supposed to be an example of anything. He’s Kanye West. There’s no one else like Kanye West.
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There were certain times, reading this book, where I couldn’t help but think that you were on some much larger meta trip and were completely fucking with us just to get a rise—
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[laughing] Look, no: My job isn’t to trigger millennials into hysteria—but I have to say that when it happens it’s rather delicious. But whether I’m damned or not damned, none of it is a fake-out. I believe everything in the book.
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Are you concerned about a critical backlash from White
There’s already a backlash.
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—or is there a part of you that delights in just freaking people out?
I don’t want to make anybody freak out! People are already freaked out. I mean, if you just don’t want to say anything, great. But if you are creative and you’re a writer and you’re a public person and you have opinions, you have to be true to yourself, and however other people react to it should have nothing to do with why you write and why you express yourself. If people are so triggered by this that there is a backlash, what can I do about that? Go back and reedit it? Apologize for it? Say “I didn’t really feel this?” You’re suggesting with that question a relationship between the audience and the artist, and I don’t think you can really create with the audience being over your shoulder and trying to placate them and appease them and trying to make them like you.
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Are you still writing the novel you mention in the book?
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The novel that I was thinking about in early 2013 never really came to fruition. I dabbled with it, worked on the outline, wrote a synopsis of a chapter; it just never came to anything. Also, I’d published six novels, plus a collection of stories, and I thought that was plenty. However, after writing White, something did get activated, and the notion of writing fiction again became interesting to me. Now I am in the process of putting something together, and I think I’m going to do it—not that novel, but another novel. That’s as honestly as I can answer you. Something did happen. I’m just not sure where the novel is now—that’s the only problem. I can’t just do a fake novel just to write a book. It’s gotta be about where I am right now and where the novel is right now.
I’m still figuring it out.
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'White' - Bret Easton Ellis

The Truth About Dentistry – It’s much less scientific – and more prone to gratuitous procedures – than you may think – by Ferris Jabr (The Atlantic)

Basic RGB

In the early 2000s Terry Mitchell’s dentist retired. For a while, Mitchell, an electrician in his 50s, stopped seeking dental care altogether. But when one of his wisdom teeth began to ache, he started looking for someone new. An acquaintance recommended John Roger Lund, whose practice was a convenient 10-minute walk from Mitchell’s home, in San Jose, California. Lund’s practice was situated in a one-story building with clay roof tiles that housed several dental offices. The interior was a little dated, but not dingy. The waiting room was small and the decor minimal: some plants and photos, no fish. Lund was a good-looking middle-aged guy with arched eyebrows, round glasses, and graying hair that framed a youthful face. He was charming, chatty, and upbeat. At the time, Mitchell and Lund both owned Chevrolet Chevelles, and they bonded over their mutual love of classic cars.

 

Lund extracted the wisdom tooth with no complications, and Mitchell began seeing him regularly. He never had any pain or new complaints, but Lund encouraged many additional treatments nonetheless. A typical person might get one or two root canals in a lifetime. In the space of seven years, Lund gave Mitchell nine root canals and just as many crowns. Mitchell’s insurance covered only a small portion of each procedure, so he paid a total of about $50,000 out of pocket. The number and cost of the treatments did not trouble him. He had no idea that it was unusual to undergo so many root canals—he thought they were just as common as fillings. The payments were spread out over a relatively long period of time. And he trusted Lund completely. He figured that if he needed the treatments, then he might as well get them before things grew worse.Meanwhile, another of Lund’s patients was going through a similar experience. Joyce Cordi, a businesswoman in her 50s, had learned of Lund through 1-800-DENTIST. She remembers the service giving him an excellent rating. When she visited Lund for the first time, in 1999, she had never had so much as a cavity. To the best of her knowledge her teeth were perfectly healthy, although she’d had a small dental bridge installed to fix a rare congenital anomaly (she was born with one tooth trapped inside another and had had them extracted). Within a year, Lund was questioning the resilience of her bridge and telling her she needed root canals and crowns.

Cordi was somewhat perplexed. Why the sudden need for so many procedures after decades of good dental health? When she expressed uncertainty, she says, Lund always had an answer ready. The cavity on this tooth was in the wrong position to treat with a typical filling, he told her on one occasion. Her gums were receding, which had resulted in tooth decay, he explained during another visit. Clearly she had been grinding her teeth. And, after all, she was getting older. As a doctor’s daughter, Cordi had been raised with an especially respectful view of medical professionals. Lund was insistent, so she agreed to the procedures. Over the course of a decade, Lund gave Cordi 10 root canals and 10 crowns. He also chiseled out her bridge, replacing it with two new ones that left a conspicuous gap in her front teeth. Altogether, the work cost her about $70,000.

In early 2012, Lund retired. Brendon Zeidler, a young dentist looking to expand his business, bought Lund’s practice and assumed responsibility for his patients. Within a few months, Zeidler began to suspect that something was amiss. Financial records indicated that Lund had been spectacularly successful, but Zeidler was making only 10 to 25 percent of Lund’s reported earnings each month. As Zeidler met more of Lund’s former patients, he noticed a disquieting trend: Many of them had undergone extensive dental work—a much larger proportion than he would have expected. When Zeidler told them, after routine exams or cleanings, that they didn’t need any additional procedures at that time, they tended to react with surprise and concern: Was he sure? Nothing at all? Had he checked thoroughly?

In the summer, Zeidler decided to take a closer look at Lund’s career. He gathered years’ worth of dental records and bills for Lund’s patients and began to scrutinize them, one by one. The process took him months to complete. What he uncovered was appalling.

We have a fraught relationship with dentists as authority figures. In casual conversation we often dismiss them as “not real doctors,” regarding them more as mechanics for the mouth. But that disdain is tempered by fear. For more than a century, dentistry has been half-jokingly compared to torture. Surveys suggest that up to 61 percent of people are apprehensive about seeing the dentist, perhaps 15 percent are so anxious that they avoid the dentist almost entirely, and a smaller percentage have a genuine phobia requiring psychiatric intervention.

When you’re in the dentist’s chair, the power imbalance between practitioner and patient becomes palpable. A masked figure looms over your recumbent body, wielding power tools and sharp metal instruments, doing things to your mouth you cannot see, asking you questions you cannot properly answer, and judging you all the while. The experience simultaneously invokes physical danger, emotional vulnerability, and mental limpness. A cavity or receding gum line can suddenly feel like a personal failure. When a dentist declares that there is a problem, that something must be done before it’s too late, who has the courage or expertise to disagree? When he points at spectral smudges on an X-ray, how are we to know what’s true? In other medical contexts, such as a visit to a general practitioner or a cardiologist, we are fairly accustomed to seeking a second opinion before agreeing to surgery or an expensive regimen of pills with harsh side effects. But in the dentist’s office—perhaps because we both dread dental procedures and belittle their medical significance—the impulse is to comply without much consideration, to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible.

The uneasy relationship between dentist and patient is further complicated by an unfortunate reality: Common dental procedures are not always as safe, effective, or durable as we are meant to believe. As a profession, dentistry has not yet applied the same level of self-scrutiny as medicine, or embraced as sweeping an emphasis on scientific evidence. “We are isolated from the larger health-care system. So when evidence-based policies are being made, dentistry is often left out of the equation,” says Jane Gillette, a dentist in Bozeman, Montana, who works closely with the American Dental Association’s Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry, which was established in 2007. “We’re kind of behind the times, but increasingly we are trying to move the needle forward.”Consider the maxim that everyone should visit the dentist twice a year for cleanings. We hear it so often, and from such a young age, that we’ve internalized it as truth. But this supposed commandment of oral health has no scientific grounding. Scholars have traced its origins to a few potential sources, including a toothpaste advertisement from the 1930s and an illustrated pamphlet from 1849 that follows the travails of a man with a severe toothache. Today, an increasing number of dentists acknowledge that adults with good oral hygiene need to see a dentist only once every 12 to 16 months.

Many standard dental treatments—to say nothing of all the recent innovations and cosmetic extravagances—are likewise not well substantiated by research. Many have never been tested in meticulous clinical trials. And the data that are available are not always reassuring.

The Cochrane organization, a highly respected arbiter of evidence-based medicine, has conducted systematic reviews of oral-health studies since 1999. In these reviews, researchers analyze the scientific literature on a particular dental intervention, focusing on the most rigorous and well-designed studies. In some cases, the findings clearly justify a given procedure. For example, dental sealants—liquid plastics painted onto the pits and grooves of teeth like nail polish—reduce tooth decay in children and have no known risks. (Despite this, they are not widely used, possibly because they are too simple and inexpensive to earn dentists much money.) But most of the Cochrane reviews reach one of two disheartening conclusions: Either the available evidence fails to confirm the purported benefits of a given dental intervention, or there is simply not enough research to say anything substantive one way or another.Fluoridation of drinking water seems to help reduce tooth decay in children, but there is insufficient evidence that it does the same for adults. Some data suggest that regular flossing, in addition to brushing, mitigates gum disease, but there is only “weak, very unreliable” evidence that it combats plaque. As for common but invasive dental procedures, an increasing number of dentists question the tradition of prophylactic wisdom-teeth removal; often, the safer choice is to monitor unproblematic teeth for any worrying developments. Little medical evidence justifies the substitution of tooth-colored resins for typical metal amalgams to fill cavities. And what limited data we have don’t clearly indicate whether it’s better to repair a root-canaled tooth with a crown or a filling. When Cochrane researchers tried to determine whether faulty metal fillings should be repaired or replaced, they could not find a single study that met their standards.

“The body of evidence for dentistry is disappointing,” says Derek Richards, the director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Dentistry at the University of Dundee, in Scotland. “Dentists tend to want to treat or intervene. They are more akin to surgeons than they are to physicians. We suffer a little from that. Everybody keeps fiddling with stuff, trying out the newest thing, but they don’t test them properly in a good-quality trial.”The general dearth of rigorous research on dental interventions gives dentists even more leverage over their patients. Should a patient somehow muster the gumption to question an initial diagnosis and consult the scientific literature, she would probably not find much to help her. When we submit to a dentist’s examination, we are putting a great deal of trust in that dentist’s experience and intuition—and, of course, integrity.

When Zeidler purchased Lund’s practice, in February 2012, he inherited a massive collection of patients’ dental histories and bills, a mix of electronic documents, handwritten charts, and X‑rays. By August, Zeidler had decided that if anything could explain the alarmingly abundant dental work in the mouths of Lund’s patients, he would find it in those records. He spent every weekend for the next nine months examining the charts of hundreds of patients treated in the preceding five years. In a giant Excel spreadsheet, he logged every single procedure Lund had performed, so he could carry out some basic statistical analyses.

The numbers spoke for themselves. Year after year, Lund had performed certain procedures at extraordinarily high rates. Whereas a typical dentist might perform root canals on previously crowned teeth in only 3 to 7 percent of cases, Lund was performing them in 90 percent of cases. As Zeidler later alleged in court documents, Lund had performed invasive, costly, and seemingly unnecessary procedures on dozens and dozens of patients, some of whom he had been seeing for decades. Terry Mitchell and Joyce Cordi were far from alone. In fact, they had not even endured the worst of it.

Dental crowns were one of Lund’s most frequent treatments. A crown is a metal or ceramic cap that completely encases an injured or decayed tooth, which is first shaved to a peg so its new shell will fit. Crowns typically last 10 to 15 years. Lund not only gave his patients superfluous crowns; he also tended to replace them every five years—the minimum interval of time before insurance companies will cover the procedure again.

More than 50 of Lund’s patients also had ludicrously high numbers of root canals: 15, 20, 24. (A typical adult mouth has 32 teeth.) According to one lawsuit that has since been settled, a woman in her late 50s came to Lund with only 10 natural teeth; from 2003 to 2010, he gave her nine root canals and 12 crowns. The American Association of Endodontists claims that a root canal is a “quick, comfortable procedure” that is “very similar to a routine filling.” In truth, a root canal is a much more radical operation than a filling. It takes longer, can cause significant discomfort, and may require multiple trips to a dentist or specialist. It’s also much more costly.

Root canals are typically used to treat infections of the pulp—the soft living core of a tooth. A dentist drills a hole through a tooth in order to access the root canals: long, narrow channels containing nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. The dentist then repeatedly twists skinny metal files in and out of the canals to scrape away all the living tissue, irrigates the canals with disinfectant, and packs them with a rubberlike material. The whole process usually takes one to two hours. Afterward, sometimes at a second visit, the dentist will strengthen the tooth with a filling or crown. In the rare case that infection returns, the patient must go through the whole ordeal again or consider more advanced surgery.

Zeidler noticed that nearly every time Lund gave someone a root canal, he also charged for an incision and drainage, known as an I&D. During an I&D, a dentist lances an abscess in the mouth and drains the exudate, all while the patient is awake. In some cases the dentist slips a small rubber tube into the wound, which continues to drain fluids and remains in place for a few days. I&Ds are not routine adjuncts to root canals. They should be used only to treat severe infections, which occur in a minority of cases. Yet they were extremely common in Lund’s practice. In 2009, for example, Lund billed his patients for 109 I&Ds. Zeidler asked many of those patients about the treatments, but none of them recalled what would almost certainly have been a memorable experience.

In addition to performing scores of seemingly unnecessary procedures that could result in chronic pain, medical complications, and further operations, Lund had apparently billed patients for treatments he had never administered. Zeidler was alarmed and distressed. “We go into this profession to care for patients,” he told me. “That is why we become doctors. To find, I felt, someone was doing the exact opposite of that—it was very hard, very hard to accept that someone was willing to do that.”Zeidler knew what he had to do next. As a dental professional, he had certain ethical obligations. He needed to confront Lund directly and give him the chance to account for all the anomalies. Even more daunting, in the absence of a credible explanation, he would have to divulge his discoveries to the patients Lund had bequeathed to him. He would have to tell them that the man to whom they had entrusted their care—some of them for two decades—had apparently deceived them for his own profit.

 

The idea of the dentist as potential charlatan has a long and rich history. In medieval Europe, barbers didn’t just trim hair and shave beards; they were also surgeons, performing a range of minor operations including bloodletting, the administration of enemas, and tooth extraction. Barber surgeons, and the more specialized “tooth drawers,” would wrench, smash, and knock teeth out of people’s mouths with an intimidating metal instrument called a dental key: Imagine a chimera of a hook, a hammer, and forceps. Sometimes the results were disastrous. In the 1700s, Thomas Berdmore, King George III’s “Operator for the Teeth,” described one woman who lost “a piece of jawbone as big as a walnut and three neighbouring molars” at the hands of a local barber.

Barber surgeons came to America as early as 1636. By the 18th century, dentistry was firmly established in the colonies as a trade akin to blacksmithing (Paul Revere was an early American craftsman of artisanal dentures). Itinerant dentists moved from town to town by carriage with carts of dreaded tools in tow, temporarily setting up shop in a tavern or town square. They yanked teeth or bored into them with hand drills, filling cavities with mercury, tin, gold, or molten lead. For anesthetic, they used arsenic, nutgalls, mustard seed, leeches. Mixed in with the honest tradesmen—who genuinely believed in the therapeutic power of bloodsucking worms—were swindlers who urged their customers to have numerous teeth removed in a single sitting or charged them extra to stuff their pitted molars with homemade gunk of dubious benefit.In the mid-19th century, a pair of American dentists began to elevate their trade to the level of a profession. From 1839 to 1840, Horace Hayden and Chapin Harris established dentistry’s first college, scientific journal, and national association. Some historical accounts claim that Hayden and Harris approached the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine about adding dental instruction to the curriculum, only to be rebuffed by the resident physicians, who declared that dentistry was of little consequence. But no definitive proof of this encounter has ever surfaced.

Whatever happened, from that point on, “the professions of dentistry and medicine would develop along separate paths,” writes Mary Otto, a health journalist, in her recent book, Teeth. Becoming a practicing physician requires four years of medical school followed by a three-to-seven-year residency program, depending on the specialty. Dentists earn a degree in four years and, in most states, can immediately take the national board exams, get a license, and begin treating patients. (Some choose to continue training in a specialty, such as orthodontics or oral and maxillofacial surgery.) When physicians complete their residency, they typically work for a hospital, university, or large health-care organization with substantial oversight, strict ethical codes, and standardized treatment regimens. By contrast, about 80 percent of the nation’s 200,000 active dentists have individual practices, and although they are bound by a code of ethics, they typically don’t have the same level of oversight.

Throughout history, many physicians have lamented the segregation of dentistry and medicine. Acting as though oral health is somehow divorced from one’s overall well-being is absurd; the two are inextricably linked. Oral bacteria and the toxins they produce can migrate through the bloodstream and airways, potentially damaging the heart and lungs. Poor oral health is associated with narrowing arteries, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and respiratory disease, possibly due to a complex interplay of oral microbes and the immune system. And some research suggests that gum disease can be an early sign of diabetes, indicating a relationship between sugar, oral bacteria, and chronic inflammation.

Dentistry’s academic and professional isolation has been especially detrimental to its own scientific inquiry. Most major medical associations around the world have long endorsed evidence-based medicine. The idea is to shift focus away from intuition, anecdote, and received wisdom, and toward the conclusions of rigorous clinical research. Although the phrase evidence-based medicine was coined in 1991, the concept began taking shape in the 1960s, if not earlier (some scholars trace its origins all the way back to the 17th century). In contrast, the dental community did not begin having similar conversations until the mid-1990s. There are dozens of journals and organizations devoted to evidence-based medicine, but only a handful devoted to evidence-based dentistry.In the past decade, a small cohort of dentists has worked diligently to promote evidence-based dentistry, hosting workshops, publishing clinical-practice guidelines based on systematic reviews of research, and creating websites that curate useful resources. But its adoption “has been a relatively slow process,” as a 2016 commentary in the Contemporary Clinical Dentistry journal put it. Part of the problem is funding: Because dentistry is often sidelined from medicine at large, it simply does not receive as much money from the government and industry to tackle these issues. “At a recent conference, very few practitioners were even aware of the existence of evidence-based clinical guidelines,” says Elliot Abt, a professor of oral medicine at the University of Illinois. “You can publish a guideline in a journal, but passive dissemination of information is clearly not adequate for real change.”

Among other problems, dentistry’s struggle to embrace scientific inquiry has left dentists with considerable latitude to advise unnecessary procedures—whether intentionally or not. The standard euphemism for this proclivity is overtreatment. Favored procedures, many of which are elaborate and steeply priced, include root canals, the application of crowns and veneers, teeth whitening and filing, deep cleaning, gum grafts, fillings for “microcavities”—incipient lesions that do not require immediate treatment—and superfluous restorations and replacements, such as swapping old metal fillings for modern resin ones. Whereas medicine has made progress in reckoning with at least some of its own tendencies toward excessive and misguided treatment, dentistry is lagging behind. It remains “largely focused upon surgical procedures to treat the symptoms of disease,” Mary Otto writes. “America’s dental care system continues to reward those surgical procedures far more than it does prevention.”“Excessive diagnosis and treatment are endemic,” says Jeffrey H. Camm, a dentist of more than 35 years who wryly described his peers’ penchant for “creative diagnosis” in a 2013 commentary published by the American Dental Association. “I don’t want to be damning. I think the majority of dentists are pretty good.” But many have “this attitude of ‘Oh, here’s a spot, I’ve got to do something.’ I’ve been contacted by all kinds of practitioners who are upset because patients come in and they already have three crowns, or 12 fillings, or another dentist told them that their 2-year-old child has several cavities and needs to be sedated for the procedure.”

Trish Walraven, who worked as a dental hygienist for 25 years and now manages a dental-software company with her husband in Texas, recalls many troubling cases: “We would see patients seeking a second opinion, and they had treatment plans telling them they need eight fillings in virgin teeth. We would look at X-rays and say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It was blatantly overtreatment—drilling into teeth that did not need it whatsoever.”

Studies that explicitly focus on overtreatment in dentistry are rare, but a recent field experiment provides some clues about its pervasiveness. A team of researchers at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, asked a volunteer patient with three tiny, shallow cavities to visit 180 randomly selected dentists in Zurich. The Swiss Dental Guidelines state that such minor cavities do not require fillings; rather, the dentist should monitor the decay and encourage the patient to brush regularly, which can reverse the damage. Despite this, 50 of the 180 dentists suggested unnecessary treatment. Their recommendations were incongruous: Collectively, the overzealous dentists singled out 13 different teeth for drilling; each advised one to six fillings. Similarly, in an investigation for Reader’s Digest, the writer William Ecenbarger visited 50 dentists in 28 states in the U.S. and received prescriptions ranging from a single crown to a full-mouth reconstruction, with the price tag starting at about $500 and going up to nearly $30,000.

A multitude of factors has conspired to create both the opportunity and the motive for widespread overtreatment in dentistry. In addition to dentistry’s seclusion from the greater medical community, its traditional emphasis on procedure rather than prevention, and its lack of rigorous self-evaluation, there are economic explanations. The financial burden of entering the profession is high and rising. In the U.S., the average debt of a dental-school graduate is more than $200,000. And then there’s the expense of finding an office, buying new equipment, and hiring staff to set up a private practice. A dentist’s income is entirely dependent on the number and type of procedures he or she performs; a routine cleaning and examination earns only a baseline fee of about $200.

In parallel with the rising cost of dental school, the amount of tooth decay in many countries’ populations has declined dramatically over the past four decades, mostly thanks to the introduction of mass-produced fluoridated toothpaste in the 1950s and ’60s. In the 1980s, with fewer genuine problems to treat, some practitioners turned to the newly flourishing industry of cosmetic dentistry, promoting elective procedures such as bleaching, teeth filing and straightening, gum lifts, and veneers. It’s easy to see how dentists, hoping to buoy their income, would be tempted to recommend frequent exams and proactive treatments—a small filling here, a new crown there—even when waiting and watching would be better. It’s equally easy to imagine how that behavior might escalate.“If I were to sum it up, I really think the majority of dentists are great. But for some reason we seem to drift toward this attitude of ‘I’ve got tools so I’ve got to fix something’ much too often,” says Jeffrey Camm. “Maybe it’s greed, or paying off debt, or maybe it’s someone’s training. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that even something that seems minor, like a filling, involves removal of a human body part. It just adds to the whole idea that you go to a physician feeling bad and you walk out feeling better, but you go to a dentist feeling good and you walk out feeling bad.”

In the summer of 2013, Zeidler asked several other dentists to review Lund’s records. They all agreed with his conclusions. The likelihood that Lund’s patients genuinely needed that many treatments was extremely low. And there was no medical evidence to justify many of Lund’s decisions or to explain the phantom procedures. Zeidler confronted Lund about his discoveries in several face-to-face meetings. When I asked Zeidler how those meetings went, he offered a single sentence—“I decided shortly thereafter to take legal action”—and declined to comment further. (Repeated attempts were made to contact Lund and his lawyer for this story, but neither responded.)

One by one, Zeidler began to write, call, or sit down with patients who had previously been in Lund’s care, explaining what he had uncovered. They were shocked and angry. Lund had been charismatic and professional. They had assumed that his diagnoses and treatments were meant to keep them healthy. Isn’t that what doctors do? “It makes you feel like you have been violated,” Terry Mitchell says—“somebody performing stuff on your body that doesn’t need to be done.” Joyce Cordi recalls a “moment of absolute fury” when she first learned of Lund’s deceit. On top of all the needless operations, “there were all kinds of drains and things that I paid for and the insurance company paid for that never happened,” she says. “But you can’t read the dentalese.”“A lot of them felt, How can I be so stupid? Or Why didn’t I go elsewhere?” Zeidler says. “But this is not about intellect. It’s about betrayal of trust.”

In October 2013, Zeidler sued Lund for misrepresenting his practice and breaching their contract. In the lawsuit, Zeidler and his lawyers argued that Lund’s reported practice income of $729,000 to $988,000 a year was “a result of fraudulent billing activity, billing for treatment that was unnecessary and billing for treatment which was never performed.” The suit was settled for a confidential amount. From 2014 to 2017, 10 of Lund’s former patients, including Mitchell and Cordi, sued him for a mix of fraud, deceit, battery, financial elder abuse, and dental malpractice. They collectively reached a nearly $3 million settlement, paid out by Lund’s insurance company. (Lund did not admit to any wrongdoing.)

Lund was arrested in May 2016 and released on $250,000 bail. The Santa Clara County district attorney’s office is prosecuting a criminal case against him based on 26 counts of insurance fraud. At the time of his arraignment, he said he was innocent of all charges. The Dental Board of California is seeking to revoke or suspend Lund’s license, which is currently inactive.

Many of Lund’s former patients worry about their future health. A root canal is not a permanent fix. It requires maintenance and, in the long run, may need to be replaced with a dental implant. One of Mitchell’s root canals has already failed: The tooth fractured, and an infection developed. He said that in order to treat the infection, the tooth was extracted and he underwent a multistage procedure involving a bone graft and months of healing before an implant and a crown were fixed in place. “I don’t know how much these root canals are going to cost me down the line,” Mitchell says. “Six thousand dollars a pop for an implant—it adds up pretty quick.”

Joyce Cordi’s new dentist says her X‑rays resemble those of someone who had reconstructive facial surgery following a car crash. Because Lund installed her new dental bridges improperly, one of her teeth is continually damaged by everyday chewing. “It hurts like hell,” she says. She has to wear a mouth guard every night.

What some of Lund’s former patients regret most are the psychological repercussions of his alleged duplicity: the erosion of the covenant between practitioner and patient, the germ of doubt that infects the mind. “You lose your trust,” Mitchell says. “You become cynical. I have become more that way, and I don’t like it.”

“He damaged the trust I need to have in the people who take care of me,” Cordi says. “He damaged my trust in mankind. That’s an unforgivable crime.”


This article appears in the May 2019 print edition with the headline “The Trouble With Dentistry.”

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Assange’s UK Legal Battle Will Take 2 Years – His Chances of Winning Are Good – by John Helmer (Dances With Bears) 16 April 2019


The case for and against Julian Assange (lead image, 3rd from left) will keep him in the UK for at least eighteen months, probably two years, possibly three, according to leading London lawyers.  The UK will have a new government by then; the US too.

In the interval, Assange’s lawyers are preparing to prove the US indictment for conspiracy to commit computer hacking will be superseded by espionage charges. That, they will argue, requires the Westminster Magistrates’ Court to throw the US extradition application out. In addition, their  evidence for American  political motivation in the prosecution of Assange, and of US violations of the UK and European standards for a fair trial in an independent and impartial court, will be presented. The Chief Magistrate, Emma Arbuthnot, is likely to preside. The hearing is unlikely to start before December of this year.

Assange Wizard

The more UK and US Government officials take sides in public against Assange and support the allegations in the indictment, the stronger his case will be in court. The announcement by public letter  to the Home Secretary last week that seventy-one members of the British parliament oppose Assange’s extradition to the US cuts even more of the ground from under UK prosecutors and the lawyers who will appear in court for the US. 

Reversing their campaign to block the Swedish extradition warrant between 2010 and 2012, Assange’s lawyers are also mobilizing to have the Swedish prosecutors return to London with a new warrant, so that this can stretch out the legal wrangling in London for long enough to reach a new British election. If won by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party forms a new government, Assange may benefit from a decision to move Assange’s prosecution to the UK courts, and then to release him.

“The anger for and against this man is extraordinary”, explains a leading London lawyer on extradition cases. “You need very technical lawyering now, and Assange will have to pay for it.  But in parallel there will be the PR campaign amplifying the political issue, principally for the Labour Party. The Assange case will stand for every British voter’s idea of what [President Donald] Trump and the Americans are doing to the world.  [Chief Magistrate Emma] Arbuthnot is not afraid to make decisions that would be unpopular. But as independent as she is, the pressure on her will be huge not to rule against the US.”

“And so it is for the British court system. Either the courts are bending to the US or to the anti-American movement. It’s going to take a bloody long time and a bloody waste of public money”

It was Assange’s defeat in the Supreme Court, the highest of the British courts,  on May 30, 2012, which triggered within days his move to the Ecuador Embassy in London and his asylum there, which ended last week.  Read the judgement in full here.

That case turned on the technical legal issue of “judicial authority”; that was whether the Swedish prosecutors’ warrant of arrest for Assange on sexual molestation and rape charges was lawful in the UK. The court decided it was, but it was a split decision. Two of the seven judges ruled in Assange’s favour.

The Swedish charges were based on allegations by two women for events which took place in Sweden in August 2010. The timing was five months after Assange began the process of publishing the US military files obtained by Chelsea Manning; the most important of these was the secret US film of a US Army helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians, killing 18 – evidence of a war crime. The US indictment of Assange, released last week,   identifies the dates of his alleged offences with Manning between March 2 and 10, 2010. This timing will prove to be important later in the British courts because Assange’s whereabouts in March of 2010 aren’t mentioned in the US indictment. New York Times reporting indicates he was in London. If he was in the UK when the alleged offences took place, and if he was publishing from the UK, then his lawyers will make the case that the appropriate forum for a trial on the US charges is in a British court, not an American one.  “The forum argument”, says a London legal source, “has prevailed recently but so far only for British citizens operating in the UK.”

The source says that if Assange were able to win the forum argument,  requiring the prosecution on the American charges to be moved to the UK, it would be up to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to decide whether to do so, or not.  If the Conservative Government has been replaced by Labour, by the time the DPP would face a decision on Assange, Prime Minister Corbyn would have the authority to stop the proceeding.

“He’s not facing justice in the UK,” Assange’s principal London advocate, Geoffrey Robinson QC said (minute 19:40)on Saturday.  “He’s facing justice in the UK. The justice he is facing is justice, or injustice, in America… I would hope the British judges would have enough belief  in freedom of information to throw out the extradition request… I have faith in them. But whether I have faith in the US Supreme Court in another matter.”

Robertson  means that the first line of defence for Assange will be to put the US on trial in the magistrates’ court for politically motivated persecution, torture (of Chelsea Manning), and multiple abuses by US courts in national security cases. In short, the Article 6 argument. This refers to Article 6 of the European Union Human Rights Convention;   this is incorporated in the UK’s Human Rights Act of 1998.

Justice Arbuthnot (right) has been clear in two judgements last year that the Russian Government fails a key test on this standard.  In the case of a Russian warrant for fraud and embezzlement by a Rosneft executive and one-time board director, Andrei Votinov, Arbuthnot concluded “this is one of those exceptional cases where the defendant [Votinov] has shown there is a real risk that he will suffer a flagrant denial of justice if he were to be extradited to the Russian Federation.”  Although Arbuthnot ruled against experts testifying that there was political motivation in the case against Votinov, she dismissed the warrant. Read the details, and the Arbuthnot ruling, here

“There is evidence in this case of a close tie between big business and politics,” Arbuthnot decided. “Professor Sakwa says Mr Votinov was resisting Mr Sechin’s political machinations and that is why he is being prosecuted. In the Russian Federation it is often hard to distinguish between politics and business and therefore I find that the circumstances set out by the Professor if proved might fall within the definition of section 81 [of the Extradition Act].  I find no evidence however, sufficient to support the bar [to extradition].”

In the case of alleged Russian bank fraudster Ilya Yurov, Arbuthnot accepted expert evidence on the conditions of Russian prisons. She also accepted that Russian courts are susceptible to government pressure in high-profile cases. “I cannot see how [Yurov] could not be prejudiced… there is a real risk he will suffer a flagrant denial of justice. His would be a very high-profile prosecution of particular interest to the [Russian state] and these are very exceptional circumstances.” Yurov was released from his bail and the Russian extradition application dismissed. Read the story here

For the first time ever in an international court, Assange’s lawyers will be arguing that in this case US prosecutors and US courts  are no better than the Russians; in the prosecution of Assange and Manning  they will argue the Americans are worse.  “The US will come into court very well prepared”, according to a London lawyer. “It’s a rarity for any British court to rule against the US, though this has happened recently on different grounds. Arbuthnot has been tightening the definition of what is ‘political’ in these cases. I can’t see [Assange] winning on the US prejudice argument.”

Baltasar Garzon, the former Spanish magistrate now representing Assange in Ecuador,  has foreshadowed the presentation of evidence of US Government manipulation in Ecuador to force Assange’s expulsion from the embassy.  “The threats against Julian Assange for political motives and the persecution by the United States,” he said, “are more alive than ever. Recently, Wikileaks has been branded a terrorist organization.”

Extradition and human right lawyers who are not engaged for Assange are certain his case will continue in the British courts for a long time – years for all the arguments to play out in the Magistrates’ Court, the High Court, and the Supreme Court. They are divided on what they believe the outcome will be for Assange. Few are confident that a British judge will rule that the US prosecutors and courts are no better than their Russian counterparts, and dismiss the extradition case against Assange.

There is more confidence, however, that on a narrower issue the lawyers call the specialty rule argument, the British judges may decide in Assange’s favour.  According to the UK-US extradition treaty of 1972, a 2003 Act of Parliament, and decisions of the British courts, it is unlawful for the US to indict, try and punish an individual for an offence that is different from the one for which he was  extradited from the UK. “Special arrangements” or “special rules” must therefore apply to the Assange case, the lawyers agree. They point to a High Court case in 2006, when two men were sought for extradition from the UK on US fraud charges. “The US contends,” the court reported, “that it observes the specialty rule, as a rule of international law and comity, in its trial and punishment of those who are extradited to it. That is hotly contested in this appeal… [the defendants argued that ] the US habitually violated the spirit and purpose of the specialty rule… The gravest of the particular charges… was that the US Government would seek and the US Courts would uphold a conviction based on a superseding indictment which alleged offences for which extradition had actually been refused by the UK Government”;  for the full decision, click to open.

The judges in that case decided there was insufficient evidence for the specialty argument, and agreed to the US extradition. He also ruled that a superseding indictment would not be legally acceptable in a US or UK court “if there were evidence that the UK Government had objected or would object to it.”

Sources in London are critical of media speculation that the current US indictment against Assange is a fake, and will be replaced by a new charge of espionage once he is in US hands. Robertson for Assange is more guarded. He has conceded that the US prosecutors may intend to supersede the current indictment, but he signals that this suspicion will be tested in court. His argument will then be that the Americans cannot be trusted to seek the permission required for a new charge.

On proof of that point rests Assange’s best chance of release.

The author is the longest serving foreign correspondent covering Russia. He published his fascinating memoirs in December of 2018. They are full of insights into what has really been going on in Moscow over the past 30 years. RI wrote about it here. He is the author of 12 books, 3 of them about Russia.

Afghanistan: Government School For Girls Blown Up by Islamists Opposed to Education for Women – by میر آقا پوپل زی (Tolo News) 16 April 2019

Head of provincial education department said at least 2,000 girls are enrolled in the schools which were destroyed.

Afghan girls school

Another school in the province was destroyed on Sunday night, 14 April 2019.

The schools were destroyed by use of explosives, the head of Education Department Mohammad Azimi said.

This comes after another girl’s school named Benafsha Girls High School was burned down by unknown armed men on Sunday night in Tosak village on the outskirt of the city.

Farah education department head Mohammad Azimi said the unknown armed men entered Nawdeh Girl’s High School on Monday night and replaced explosives devices inside the building and then exploded the devices.

According to Azimi, the school building completely has been destroyed and all the facilities and books have been burned.

At least 2,000 girls were enrolled in the two schools, Azimi said.

While no group has claimed responsibility, but Farah provincial council says that before this Taliban repeatedly had warned that they will set on fire the schools.

Taliban, however, has not claimed responsibility for the incident.

Statistics by the Ministry of Education show that 3.5 million children are deprived of education and at least 900 schools have remained closed across the country.

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Stonehenge: DNA reveals origin of builders – By Paul Rincon (BBC) 16 April 2019

 Construction on Stonehenge probably began about 3,000BC

 

The ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge travelled west across the Mediterranean before reaching Britain, a study has shown.

Researchers compared DNA extracted from Neolithic human remains found across Britain with that of people alive at the same time in Europe.

The Neolithic inhabitants appear to have travelled from Anatolia (modern Turkey) to Iberia before winding their way north.

They reached Britain in about 4,000BC.

Details have been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The migration to Britain was just one part of a general, massive expansion of people out of Anatolia in 6,000BC that introduced farming to Europe.

Before that, Europe was populated by small, travelling groups which hunted animals and gathered wild plants and shellfish.

One group of early farmers followed the river Danube up into Central Europe, but another group travelled west across the Mediterranean.

DNA reveals that Neolithic Britons were largely descended from groups who took the Mediterranean route, either hugging the coast or hopping from island-to-island on boats. Some British groups had a minor amount of ancestry from groups that followed the Danube route.

DNA 2
Facial reconstruction of Whitehawk Woman, a 5,600-year-old Neolithic woman from Sussex. The reconstruction is on show at the Royal Pavilion & Museum in Brighton

When the researchers analysed the DNA of early British farmers, they found they most closely resembled Neolithic people from Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal). These Iberian farmers were descended from people who had journeyed across the Mediterranean.

From Iberia, or somewhere close, the Mediterranean farmers travelled north through France. They might have entered Britain from the west, through Wales or south-west England. Indeed, radiocarbon dates suggest that Neolithic people arrived marginally earlier in the west, but this remains a topic for future work.

In addition to farming, the Neolithic migrants to Britain appear to have introduced the tradition of building monuments using large stones known as megaliths. Stonehenge in Wiltshire was part of this tradition.

Although Britain was inhabited by groups of “western hunter-gatherers” when the farmers arrived in about 4,000BC, DNA shows that the two groups did not mix very much at all.

The British hunter-gatherers were almost completely replaced by the Neolithic farmers, apart from one group in western Scotland, where the Neolithic inhabitants had elevated local ancestry. This could have come down to the farmer groups simply having greater numbers.

“We don’t find any detectable evidence at all for the local British western hunter-gatherer ancestry in the Neolithic farmers after they arrive,” said co-author Dr Tom Booth, a specialist in ancient DNA from the Natural History Museum in London.

“That doesn’t mean they don’t mix at all, it just means that maybe their population sizes were too small to have left any kind of genetic legacy.”

Co-author Professor Mark Thomas, from UCL, said he also favoured “a numbers game explanation”.

DNA 3

 
A reconstruction of Cheddar Man. As with other Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, DNA results suggest he had dark skin and blue or green eyes

Professor Thomas said the Neolithic farmers had probably had to adapt their practices to different climatic conditions as they moved across Europe. But by the time they reached Britain they were already “tooled up” and well-prepared for growing crops in a north-west European climate.

The study also analysed DNA from these British hunter-gatherers. One of the skeletons analysed was that of Cheddar Man, whose skeletal remains have been dated to 7,100BC.

He was the subject of a reconstruction unveiled at the Natural History Museum last year. DNA suggests that, like most other European hunter-gatherers of the time, he had dark skin combined with blue eyes.

Genetic analysis shows that the Neolithic farmers, by contrast, were paler-skinned with brown eyes and black or dark-brown hair.

Towards the end of the Neolithic, in about 2,450BC, the descendants of the first farmers were themselves almost entirely replaced when a new population – called the Bell Beaker people – migrated from mainland Europe. So Britain saw two extreme genetic shifts in the space of a few thousand years.

Prof Thomas said that this later event happened after the Neolithic population had been in decline for some time, both in Britain and across Europe. He cautioned against simplistic explanations invoking conflict, and said the shifts ultimately came down to “economic” factors, about which lifestyles were best suited to exploit the landscape.

Dr Booth explained: “It’s difficult to see whether the two [genetic shifts] could have anything in common – they’re two very different kinds of change. There’s speculation that they’re to some extent population collapses. But the reasons suggested for those two collapses are different, so it could just be coincidence.”

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Defining Endless War Down – How corporate media factcheckers dismiss nearly three decades of combat in Iraq – by Reed Richardson (FAIR) 16 April 2019

US F-15s flying over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch.

 

Taking a country to war is the most consequential step political leaders can take. So it would follow that a free press tasked with holding political leaders accountable for such a fateful decision would exercise the utmost scrutiny when it comes to reporting on the costs—both financial and human.

This  necessarily rigorous journalistic oversight should never be satisfied with repeating vague claims of progress or accepting easily contradicted evidence about having achieved peace. Literal human lives, both civilian and military, hang in the balance, and so as a war drags on, it becomes increasingly important for a free press to avoid complacency and ruthlessly interrogate the facts on the ground.

Tragically, coverage of US military combat in Iraq offers an untold number of examples where the corporate press spectacularly failed to live up to this critical responsibility. Whether it was the unabashed cheerleading that colored much of the reporting during the first Gulf War (Extra!, 4/91) or the credulous parroting of false WMD claims in the lead-up to the 2003 re-invasion—with the New York Times earning special condemnation (FAIR.org, 7/21/16)—the US media has compiled a dreadful record when it comes to Iraq.

And, true to form, in the past two weeks we’ve see another, less monumental but still insidious, case of inaccurate Iraq war coverage. Coincidentally, this latest mistake comes courtesy of corporate media’s “factchecking” structure.

Beto O'Rourke (cc photo: Erik Drost/Wikimedia)

It all stems from a comment by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who has begun inserting a critique of our country’s endless war posture into his stump speeches. At his campaign launch in February, and in several public appearances since, he has commented along these lines (from a March 30 speech):

Do we really want to fight wars forever? Twenty-seven years in Iraq, 18 years, almost, in Afghanistan and counting, with no definition or strategy or end in sight. Trillions of dollars we are spending to fight and to rebuild countries that we’ve invaded.

While the claim of 18 years of military combat in Afghanistan is incontrovertible, some in the press pounced on O’Rourke’s description of an Iraq war that is “27 years and counting.” The Associated Press (4/2/19) drew first blood. In a long factcheck of false statements by Trump, writers Hope Yen, Calvin Woodward and Eric Tucker incongruously wedged in a critique of O’Rourke’s 27 years claim, flatly declaring that he had “misstated the length of the US involvement in the Iraq War.”

This kind of forced false equivalence in factchecking is not new. FAIR (12/7/19) has previously demonstrated how traditional news orgs, already awash in a sea of Trump’s dishonesty, often contort themselves to shoehorn supposedly false comments by left-of-center politicians into the voluminous coverage of the president’s many lies and distortions.

WaPo: O’Rourke’s claim that the United States has spent ‘27 years’ in Iraq

Not to be outdone, the Washington Post (4/9/19) also took O’Rourke to task for his “27 years and counting” claim. Writing in his Fact-Checker column, Glenn Kessler said “O’Rourke’s math for the Iraq War left us flummoxed.” Parsing what he asserts were the begin and end states of US military combat in Iraq, Kessler rests his main objection on the 12-year interregnum between the end of coalition ground hostilities in the first Gulf War in late February 1991 and the second US ground invasion in March 2003. Giving O’Rourke “Three Pinocchios,” Kessler concluded:

There are three, or maybe four, points at which the United States can be labeled as fighting in Iraq in the past three decades. But there has not been a continuous war.

This is, simply put, not true. But it offers a clear tell to how corporate media have grown inured to nearly two generations of US military combat in Iraq, and increasingly normalized our nation’s violent power projection around the world.

In fact, the end of ground hostilities in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm merely marked a transition to a new kind war in Iraq: a US/UK air combat occupation known in military parlance as operations Northern and Southern Watch. This “no-fly zone” covered more than half of Iraq’s total airspace, and lasted from the end of the 1991 Gulf War right up until the March 2003 invasion. Nevertheless, Kessler quickly glosses over this period in two paragraphs, briefly mentioning 1998’s Desert Fox cruise missile attack on Iraq, but then archly concludes: “But no troops entered Iraq in this period.”

This is a chilling and astoundingly outdated calculus by Kessler. (The AP avoided this particular mistake by failing to mention the 12-year no-fly zone altogether—an even more stunningly negligent oversight.) War is not simply defined by the presence of infantry soldiers maneuvering over foreign terrain. Taking control of another country’s airspace with armed aircraft is no less an act of war than implementing a naval blockade of a country’s ports.

Stars & Stripes: Breedlove: No-fly zone over Syria would constitute 'act of war'

But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Phillip Breedlove saying the exact same thing back in 2013 , when US politicians like Sen. John McCain began calling for a no-fly zone over parts of Syria in the early stages of that country’s horrible civil war: “It is quite frankly an act of war and it is not a trivial matter,” he told Stars &  Stripes (5/31/13).

And even though the Iraq no-fly zones were ostensibly a continuation of UN Resolution 688, that doesn’t make them any less of a form of combat operations. UN-sanctioned war is still war.

Indeed, to read this public report from the UK National Archives is to get much better grasp of the deadly consequences of the US/UK no-fly-zone operations. From just 1991 to 1993, the report noted at least five separate air combat incidents:

The first two years involved relatively routine patrolling of the no-fly zone, although two Iraqi fighters were shot down and elements of Iraq’s ground based air defen2e system posing a threat were attacked in three incidents in December 1992 and January 1993.

During the last of these series of US/UK attacks—a strike against Iraqi intelligence headquarters in retaliation for an alleged assassination plot to kill President George H.W. Bush—nine civilians were reportedly killed and 12 more were wounded by an errant coalition missile. In September 1996, the allied coalition also launched two separate cruise missile attacks into Iraq, in response to an Iraqi army incursion against Kurds in northern Iraq.

Then, in December 1998, the US and Britain launched Operation Desert Fox, after Iraq refused to comply with UNSCOM inspections at a few sensitive sites, although, contrary to many subsequent, erroneous press reports, Iraq did not expel the inspectors from the country (FAIR.org, 3/6/00).

Though Kessler does mention Desert Fox as “four-day bombing campaign” in his column, he left out all the details and key context of the scale of what was involved. According to the UK archives, in Desert Fox:

US and UK forces used over 400 cruise missiles (more than in the 1991 Gulf Conflict) and 218 tactical bomber sorties to attack 100 targets, including:

  • sites identified as being involved in Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs;
  • command and control facilities through which Saddam controlled military and internal security forces;
  • the Iraqi Republican Guard;
  • the Iraqi air defense system;
  • airfields, including those associated with helicopter forces used for internal repression.

While no specific figures exist for Iraqi military personnel killed by Desert Fox, various contemporaneous reports put the civilian casualty total at several hundred, with around 60 to 70 killed. In the wake of this carnage, Iraq summarily refused to accept the continued no-fly zone patrols, and for the next five years resisted this air occupation with repeated combat responses, as the UK report points out:

Coalition aircraft were fired at by Iraqi surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery or targeted by fire control radars. In responding to this threat, coalition aircraft targeted a variety of different elements of Iraq’s Integrated Air Defense System, such as radar sites and associated communications and control networks, surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-aircraft artillery positions. RAF Jaguars flying reconnaissance operations in the northern no-fly zone did not carry or drop air-to-ground ordnance, but RAF Tornado aircraft did so in the southern no-fly zone on numerous occasions.

During the more than 12 years of air patrols over Iraq, the US alone averaged more than 34,000 annual military sorties, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And an October 2002 Congressional Research Service report calculated that the total costs of these two massive, ongoing no-fly zone operations came to more than $10 billion.

All of these attacks and untold number of deaths does not rise to the definition of war to the Post’s Kessler or to the AP. This is both historical and journalistic malpractice—and the furthest thing from accurate, contextual factchecking.

One wonders if these two news organization would so cavalierly dismiss, if not wholly disappear, Russian or Chinese fighter jets patrolling the eastern half of the United States and occasionally shooting down our military aircraft or bombing our air defense systems. Of course, the question answers itself.

WaPo: Where US Special Operations forces have provided operational support to American allies in recent years

Kessler also subtracts the nearly three years, from 2012 to late 2014, when regular US ground combat units were absent from the country. Once again, though, having regular troops on the ground is not the definition of being engaged in combat. In fact, one US soldier was still killed by hostile fire during this period, according to iCasualties.org. Furthermore, a Post report (4/17/16) noted that US special operations advisors had remained in northern Iraq from the claimed end of combat hostilities in 2011 right up through the ISIS takeover of Mosul in 2014.

But what’s even more inexplicable is that Kessler brushes aside an admission by the US military itself that our country has been in continuous combat operations since the first Gulf War. In his column, Kessler included this defense of the 27 years claim by an O’Rourke campaign aide:

Evans said O’Rourke’s remarks were inspired by Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, who came before the House Armed Services Committee on October 3, 2017, and stated: “The 26 years of continuous combat has limited our ability to prepare . . . against advanced future threats. Scenarios with the lowest margin of error and the highest risk to national security. This nonstop combat, paired with the budget instability and lower than planned top lines, has been the United States Air Force, the smallest, oldest equipment and least ready in our history.”

If anything, one could argue O’Rourke is slightly too low, and that 28 years and counting would be more accurate. But Kessler effectively dismisses this testimony, in a classic case of “Who are you going to believe: Me or your lying eyes?” and instead sides with a handful of former Bush and Obama White House officials who say otherwise. His verdict for O’Rourke: “Three Pinocchios,” his column’s second-highest rating for rhetorical dishonesty.

For context, here are some other, recent “Three Pinocchio” fact-checks from the Washington Post, for comparison:

  • Trump’s claim that his daughter Ivanka has created “millions of jobs” (2/27/19)
  • GOP Rep. Liz Cheney’s claim that the Green New Deal would “eliminate air travel” (2/14/19)
  • Vice President Pence’s claim that the Trump administration “has stood strong for a free and independent press and defended the freedom of the press on the world stage” (11/20/18)

The absurdity on offer here by the Post (and the AP) is obvious, but it’s also symbolic of corporate media’s broader bias in war coverage toward US military adventurism, and the institutional timidity that it creates. In a way, O’Rourke’s scathing critique of the excessively violent nature of US foreign policy for the past three decades also contains an implied condemnation of the media that have enabled this endless war posture. After all, you’ll never succeed in holding politicians accountable for flawed wars if you can’t recognize what war looks like in the first place.

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US Imperialism Has Been Trying to Topple Venezuela for Decades… Why Hasn’t It Happened? – by James Petras – 13 April 2019

Over the past half decade, a small army of US analysts, politicians, academics and media pundits have been predicting the imminent fall, overthrow, defeat and replacement of the Venezuelan government. They have been wrong on all counts, in each and every attempt to foist a US client regime.

In fact, most of the US induced ‘regime changes’ has strengthened the support for the Chavez – Maduro government.

When the US promoted a military-business coup in 2002, a million poor people surrounded the presidential palace, allied with the military loyalists, defeated the coup. The US lost their assets among their business and military clients, strengthened President Chavez, and radicalized his social program. Likewise, in 2002-03 when state oil company executives launched a lock-out.They were defeated, and hundreds of hardcore US supporters were fired and Washington lost a strategic ally.

A more recent example is the overbearing role of President Trump’s bellicose proclamation that the US is prepared to invade Venezuela. His threat aroused massive popular resistance in defense of national independence ,even among discontented sectors of the population.

Venezuela is in the vortex of a global struggle which pits the imperial aspirations of Washington against an embattled Venezuela intent on defending its own, and like countries, in support of national and social justice.

We will proceed by discussing the multi-sided means and methods adopted by Washington to overthrow Venezuela’s government and replace it by a client regime.

We will then analyze and describe the reasons why Washington has failed, focusing on the positive strengths of the Venezuelan government.

We will conclude by discussing the lessons and weaknesses of the Venezuelan experience for other aspiring nationalist, popular and socialist governments.

US Opposition: What Venezuela Faces

The US assault on Venezuela’s state and society includes:

  1. A military coup in 2002
  2. A lockout by the executives of the Venezuelan oil company
  3. The exercise of global US power – organized political pressure via clients and allies in Europe, South and North America
  4. Escalating economic sanctions between 2013 – 2019
  5. Street violence between 2013 – 2019
  6. Sabotage of the entire electrical system between 2017 -2019
  7. Hoarding of goods via corporations and distributors from 2014 – 2019
  8. Subversion of military and civilian institutions 2002 – 2019
  9. Regional alliances to expel Venezuelan membership from regional organizations
  10. Economic sanctions accompanied by the seizure of over $10 billion dollars of assets
  11. Sanctions on the banking system

The US direct intervention includes the selection and appointment of opposition leaders and ‘dummy’ representatives overseas.

In brief the US has engaged in a sustained, two decades struggle designed to bring down the Venezuelan government. It combines economic, military, social and media warfare. The US strategy has reduced living standards, undermined economic activity, increased poverty, forced immigration and increaser criminality. Despite the exercise of US global power, it has failed to dislodge the government and impose a client regime.

Why Venezuela has Succeeded?

Despite the two decades of pressure by the world’s biggest imperial power ,which bears responsibility for the world’s highest rate of inflation, and despite the illegal seizure of billions of dollars of Venezuelan assets, the people remain loyal , in defense of their government. The reasons are clear and forthright.

The Venezuelan majority has a history of poverty, marginalization and repression, including the bloody massacre of thousands of protestors in 1989. Millions lived in shanty towns, excluded from higher education and health facilities. The US provided arms and advisers to buttress the politicians who now form the greater part of the US opposition to President Maduro. The US- oligarch alliance extracted billions of dollars from contracts from the oil industry.

Remembrance of this reactionary legacy is one powerful reason why the vast majority of Venezuelans oppose US intervention in support of the puppet opposition.

The second reason for the defeat of the US is the long-term large-scale military support of the Chavez-Maduro governments. Former President Chavez instilled a powerful sense of nationalist loyalty among the military which resists and opposes US efforts to subvert the soldiers.

The popular roots of Presidents Chavez and Maduro resonates with the masses who hate the opposition elites which despise the so-called ‘deplorables’. Chavez and Maduro installed dignity and respect among the poor.

The Venezuelans government defeated the US-backed coups and lockouts, these victories encouraged the belief that the popular government could resist and defeat the US-oligarch opposition. Victories strengthened confidence in the will of the people.

Under Chavez over two million modern houses were built for the shanty town dwellers; over two dozen universities and educational centers were built for the poor, all free of charge . Public hospitals and clinics were built in poor neighborhoods as well as public supermarkets which supplied low-cost food and other necessities which sustain living standards despite subsequent shortages.

Chavez led the formation of the Socialist Party which mobilized and gave voice to the mass of the poor and facilitated representation. Local collectives organized to confront corruption, bureaucracy and criminality. Together with popular militias, the community councils ensured security against CIA fomented terror and destruction.

Land reform and the nationalization of some mines and factories secured peasant and workers support – even if they were divided by sectarian leaders.

Conclusion

The cumulative socio-economic benefits consolidate support for the Venezuelan leadership despite the hardships the US induces in recent times. The mass of the people have gained a new life and have a lot to lose if the US- oligarchy return to power. A successful US coup will likely massacre tens of thousands of popular supporters of the government. The bourgeoisie will take its revenge for those many who have ruled and benefited at the expense of the rich.

There are important lessons to be learned from the long-term large-scale successful resistance of the Venezuelan government’s experience but also its limitations.

Venezuela , early on, secured the loyalty of the army. That’s why the Chavista government has endured over 30 years while the Chilean governments of Salvador Allende was overthrown in three years.

The Venezuelan government retained mass electoral support because of the deep socio-economic changes that entrenched mass support in contrast to the center-left regimes in Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador which won three elections but were defeated by their right-wing opponents, including electoral partners, with a downturn in the economy, and the flight of middle-class voters and parties.

Venezuelas linkages with allies in Russia, China and Cuba provided ‘life jackets’ of economic and military support in the face of US interventions, something the center-left governments failed to pursue.

Venezuela built regional alliances with nearly half of South America, weakening US attempts to form a regional or US invasion force.

Despite their strategic successes the Venezuelan government has committed several costly mistakes which increased vulnerability.

  1. Failure to diversify their exports, markets and banking system. The US sanctions exploited these weaknesses.
  2. Failure to carry out monetary reforms to reverse or contain hyperinflation.
  3. Failure to maintain the hydro-electoral system and secure it from sabotage.
  4. Failure to invest in and recruit new technical professional to upgrade the operation of the financial system and prosecute financial corruption in the banking system. Venezuela worked with high officials who engaged in financial and real estate transactions of a dubious nature.
  5. The failure to recruit and train working class and professional political cadres capable of oversight over management.

Venezuela has taken steps to rectify these errors but the question is whether they have time and place to realize radical reforms?

Archive

Pakistan: Woman Goes to Police Station to Report a Gang Rape – Policeman Rapes Her (Dawn) 15 April 2019

A woman in Pakistan who had allegedly been gang-raped has accused a police officer investigating her case of raping her.

The woman from the city of Uch Sharif claims that she registered her gang-rape case three months previously and it was given to an officer from the Ahmedpur East Saddar police station.

She claims that on February 12, the officer called her for questioning. She alleges that the policeman met her at the police station and then took her to a house next door on the pretext of taking her statement.

However, she then claims that he raped her and filmed the attack before threatening her if she reported it.

Local law enforcement have since arrested the assistant sub-inspector, according to English-language newspaper Dawn.

………………………………..

prison hands

ASI booked for raping woman in Bahawalpur

 April 15, 2019

BAHAWALPUR: The Ahmedpur East police booked an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) on the orders of the regional police officer (RPO) on charges of raping a woman who had allegedly been gang-raped earlier and was seeking justice from the police.

According to police sources, a woman from Mohallah Uch Gilani, Uch Sharif alleged in the open kutchehry of the RPO and district police officer that she had a case registered about three months ago under Section 376 of the PPC at Ahmedpur East Saddar police station against two men for raping her. The investigation was handed over to an ASI.

According to the complainant, on the night of Feb 12 the ASI summoned her, saying he wanted to interrogate her. She told the senior police officials that when she reached the police station the ASI allegedly took her to a residential quarter adjacent to the building on the pretext of recording her statement, raped her and filmed the crime. He later threatened her with dire consequences if she revealed it to anyone.

The City police registered a rape case against the ASI, but did not arrest him till the filing of this report.

 

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California, Blinded By Plasticphobia – EcoRadicals Win – by Kerry Jackson (City Journal) 15 April 2019

Plastic bag
Environmental purity, not common sense, motivates the Golden State’s ban on bags, drinking straws, and cutlery.

 

California, the Los Angeles Times recently reported, is building a “non-plastic future.” The state has outlawed or restricted single-use plastic bags, plastic drinking straws, and plastic cutlery. Future targets: plastic detergent bottles, unattached caps on plastic bottles, and polystyrene containers (typically used to hold restaurant takeout orders), which more than 100 California cities have already banned. Some legislators also want to ban travel-size shampoo bottles that hotels provide for guests.

Golden State consumers are schlepping groceries in their arms as if they’ve been sent backward to the pre-bag era, sucking on paper straws that quickly become sodden and useless, and smuggling plastic bags across the state line. Some Californians even take their own steel straws into restaurants. The Los Angeles Times reports that the plastic straw ban has created “a cottage industry of upscale straws and elegant carrying cases, along with such necessities as cleaning brushes, straw squeegees and dental-friendly silicone straw tips.”

Virtue-signaling flourishes in such an environment. Shoppers flaunt their reusable bags (which might carry disease), big business parades its green credentials, and lawmakers seek the approval of likeminded thinkers by enacting bans. Then-governor Jerry Brown acknowledged that “plastic has helped advance innovation in our society” when he signed the plastic straw ban last year. Then he scolded residents for our “infatuation with single-use convenience,” which has “led to disastrous consequences.”

The idea that plastic consumer goods cause a good deal of global pollution drives much of this regulation and prohibition. “Plastics, in all forms—straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc.—are choking the planet,” Brown said at his bill signing. But the legend of plastic obscures its more mundane reality. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has become a rallying point for environmentalists, but it’s made up mostly of lost fishing gear, “not plastic bottles or packaging,” National Geographic reports. Contrary to popular wisdom, the patch can’t be seen from outer space.

plastic 2

Ideally, of course, there would be no plastic in the ocean and none littering our land, beaches, city streets, and public spaces. But domestic bans can do little to reverse the buildup of plastic in the environment. Almost none of the plastic in the oceans comes from California. An analysis by Germany’s Hemholtz Centre for Environmental Research found that roughly 90 percent of ocean plastic enters the ocean via ten rivers—eight in Asia and two in Africa. Only about 1 percent of all plastic in the oceans is from the U.S.; California’s “contribution” to the mess is negligible.

The story with plastic straws is similar. Of that 1 percent, just “a tiny amount comes from plastic straws,” notes Reason TV’s Kristin Tate. The often-cited estimate that more than “500 million plastic straws are used each day” in the U.S. was made by a nine-year-old Vermont boy as part of a school project. The real number, according to Technomic, a food-service consulting company, is 170 million to 175 million.

As for plastic-bag pollution, Steven Stein, principal of Environmental Resources Planning, found that such bags make up only .04 percent of visible litter in San Jose and .06 percent in San Francisco—close enough to zero that no one would notice the improvement if those figures were, say, cut in half.

A natural solution to the plastic-waste problem could already exist. Microbes that devour plastic have responded to the growth in their food source and may have substantially reduced the amount of plastic in the ocean. The Environmental Defense Fund reports that “microbes eating plastic are already an important reason that the plastics numbers do not add up—the amount of plastic we see in the ocean is much less than the total amount of plastic calculated to have been piled and poured into it.” Genetic engineering of such bacteria could improve their plastic-eating efficiency and reduce the danger even further. 

Applying science to solving problems is apparently no longer fashionable in California, where advocates of a green future view prohibition as the only politically tenable approach. Residents may tire of such dogmatism.

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Afghanistan: Bin Laden Won – by Matthew Harwood (Future of Freedom Foundation) 15 April 2019

Fool Errand

Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan by Scott Horton (Chicago: The Libertarian Institute, 2017); 317 pages.

According to official U.S. government accounts, the body of Osama bin Laden slid off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson into his watery grave in the Indian Ocean sometime on the morning of May 2, 2011. Nearly 10 years after 9/11, the terrorist leader of al-Qaeda responsible for nearly 3,000 murdered Americans was no more, and the rationale for the Afghan War gone with him.

Fast-forward another seven years. On September 2, 2018, Gen. Austin S. Miller assumed control of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the 17th commander to inherit the longest military quagmire in the nation’s history. Miller replaced Gen. John W. Nicholson, who led the coalition war effort for 17 months. Upon his departure, Nicholson said, “It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end.”

The opposite, however, is happening.

What’s clear from Miller’s promotion from commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, the military’s most elite killing machines, is that Washington cannot leave well enough alone in this graveyard of empires. Seventeen years of unnecessary bloodshed and atrocity and wasted treasure and corruption in Afghanistan isn’t enough. In June, General Miller told lawmakers that there was no timeline for the end to the war, while the situation on the ground only worsens as the Taliban continues to gain territory at the expense of the U.S.-supported puppet government in Kabul.

As journalist Scott Horton documents in his exhaustive history of the Afghan War, Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was always a mistake. Upon close scrutiny, Horton shows, every rationale for the war — from destroying al-Qaeda or defeating the Taliban or denying a terrorist safe haven or, even more unbelievable, creating a stable and democratic nation ruled from the capital city of Kabul — falls apart.

And unlike most authors, Horton isn’t writing for academics, journalists, or any other elite constituency. His in-your-face, accessible prose has one goal: Convince ordinary Americans that they’ve been duped by both al-Qaeda and their own government and convince them to demand a withdrawal from this gut wound of a war.

Those familiar with the Horton of Antiwar Radio and his entertaining rants may be surprised at the restraint of his prose. This is a book light on polemics and heavy on facts and citations. And it’s a wise move on his part. Page after page, Horton exhaustively documents why the war in Afghanistan continues to be a pointless war of aggression full of waste, fraud, and abuse. Gratuitous use of adjectives and adverbs and going off on tangents would only detract from his masterful scholarship and sober assessment of the facts.

That also lets another side of Horton more fully come into view: his empathy and moral egalitarianism. What’s always been striking and admirable about Horton throughout the years, from his radio work to this book, is his concern for the victims of America’s imperial violence. On the very first page of the Introduction, he acknowledges that Obama’s counterinsurgency surge killed tens of thousands of Afghans.

There are no moral gymnastics in Horton’s prose. An Afghan life is of the same worth as an American service member’s. I even suspect he would value Afghan civilian lives more, considering they are people at the whim of forces they cannot control. U.S. service members can’t say the same thing. Unlike the case in the Vietnam War, they chose to enlist, and therefore, they must be held accountable, morally speaking, for their participation in this so-called just war.

But a just war this most certainly is not, which is one of the reasons ordinary Afghans haven’t welcomed American service members as their liberators. In May 2018, the U.S. government’s Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported that the Taliban controls nearly 15 percent of the country’s districts with nearly another 30 percent contested. The Long War Journal website, however, calls SIGAR’s outlook “optimistic.” According to its analysis, “the Taliban controls or contests 239 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, or 59 percent.”

After 17 years of war, Afghanistan continues to be a mess of tribal warfare, and American intervention has only made matters worse. When American intervention in Afghanistan began, the U.S. government aligned with the Northern Alliance, the same group of warlords that sided with the Soviet Union during the disastrous Afghan-Soviet war of the 1980s. The Pashtun Taliban, or “students,” emerged in the mid 1990s as a successful resistance movement to pro-Soviet warlords who had plunged the country into criminality and constant civil war.

Religiously conservative and authoritarian, the Taliban “were cruel and oppressive, but they were not corrupt,” writes Horton. “Their religious rule was considered by the Pashtuns, and possibly even a majority of Afghans, to be peaceful compared to the endless violence of warlords from both sides of the 1980s Soviet war.” Yet the U.S. toppled the Taliban government and attempted to put the country back in control of the same corrupting forces the Taliban had defeated.

And that corruption is endemic and has been since the beginning.

The three B’s

According to a 2017 SIGAR report, “Adjusted for inflation, the $115 billion in U.S. appropriations provided to reconstruct Afghanistan exceeds the funds committed to the Marshall Plan, the U.S. aid program that, in between 1948 and 1952, helped 16 Western European countries recover in the aftermath of World War II.” Yet these funds never make it to the people who need it. In another report from April 2016, SIGAR explained that it couldn’t verify whether $759 million in education resources made one iota’s difference at all. Rather than going to the Afghan people, writes Horton, such funds end up in “corrupt officials’ private bank accounts in the Persian Gulf.”

Or worse: Sometimes they finance the Taliban, the very enemy the U.S. military is ostensibly trying to defeat once and for all. Because the Kabul government and U.S. military do not control vast swaths of the country, the U.S. government has paid protection money to the Taliban to ensure that needed supplies get to troops in the field. If average Americans only knew that their tax dollars were going to the enemy — “turning the war into a parody of itself,” writes Horton, “as the insurgency channeled those resources right back into the fight against the occupation” — maybe an end to this war would be in sight.

Horton also coins the perfect term for what the U.S. is experiencing in Afghanistan: backdraft, which he defines as what happens “when the direct consequences of the government’s openly declared foreign policies blow up right in all of our faces, undeniable to anyone but the most committed war hawks.” For many Afghan war proponents, the most plausible argument for Washington’s continued meddling in the country is to deny terrorist forces, such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks.

Yet it was America’s occupation of Afghanistan and the atrocities committed there that inspired Maj. Nidal Hasan’s Fort Hood massacre, Najibullah Zazi’s broken-up plot to bomb the New York subway system, Faisal Shahzad’s botched car bomb in Times Square, the Tsarnaev brothers’ attack on the Boston Marathon, and Omar Mateen’s massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. To Horton, our masters of war are those firefighters whose “ax-wielding or door-kicking intervention inadvertently provides oxygen to a heated and fuel-filled room, causing a massive explosion.”

Backdraft is a powerful explanatory concept. It is one that should enter the lexicon of American imperialism next to Chalmers Johnson’s “blowback”— the public consequences, like 9/11, of secret foreign policies, such as arming the mujahideen in the Soviet-Afghan war — and Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall’s “boomerang effect” — how U.S. imperialism comes back to haunt Americans through the militarization of our society. Call them the three killer B’s of American imperialism.

Strange hopes

Possibly the most infuriating aspect of the Afghan war is that bin Laden knew us better than we knew ourselves. The goal of 9/11, Horton reminds the reader, was to get the U.S. to invade Afghanistan and bleed it dry, as his mujahideen helped anti-Soviet Afghans do during the 1980s. George W. Bush took the bait — hook, line, sinker. In 2010, in an interview with Rolling Stone, bin Laden’s son Omar said as much. Asked if his father would attack the United States again, Omar replied, “I don’t think so. He doesn’t need to. As soon as America went to Afghanistan his plan worked.”

Horton’s solution to the Afghanistan war couldn’t be clearer: “It is time to just come home.” The big problem with Horton’s solution is that he explains in exquisite detail why it is so improbable. Aside from arguments that the United States needs to ensure Afghanistan doesn’t become a terrorist safe haven are the geopolitical factors.

Central Asia is home to vast energy and mineral wealth, and the United States, as empires are wont to do, wants to ensure that those resources are in the hands of regimes friendly to its interests rather than to Russia or China. During Obama’s disastrous surge campaign, its leading proponent, Gen. David Petraeus, held up Afghanistan’s riches of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and lithium as reasons to continue the occupation. “There is stunning potential here,” he said. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

The only glimmer of hope for a quick withdrawal from our Afghan disaster, oddly enough, is none other than our vulgar and erratic houseguest at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. As a private citizen and a candidate, Donald Trump denounced the war. “Afghanistan is a complete waste,” he tweeted in 2012. “Time to come home!” Horton argues convincingly that Trump understands that no one, not the Macedonians or the British or the Soviets, could pacify the people who make up Afghanistan and repeatedly criticized the Afghanistan war for years before becoming president. Nevertheless, Trump caved in August 2017, agreeing to another escalation, though he did remind the American people, “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts.”

Recent reporting continues to at least bolster Horton’s cautious optimism about Trump’s view of the war. According to the Washington Post in September, military officials are afraid Trump could withdraw from Afghanistan with little to no warning. “People joke about it, but it’s not really a joke,” one former official anonymously told the Post. “There’s concern that you could wake up one morning and see a tweet that we should be withdrawing.” If only military service members and the American taxpayers who finance this lunacy could be so lucky!

In the end, it didn’t matter that the United States finally got its man in neighboring Pakistan. The chants of “USA, USA” outside the White House on May 1, 2011, represented a pyrrhic victory. Bin Laden laid a trap on 9/11, and the U.S. government fell into it. Almost two decades after the towers fell, American soldiers continue to kill and die in vain in Afghanistan while propping up a corrupt regime in Kabul, a toxic combination that only ensures the insurgency never quits. Yet the powers that be continue to fight on, telling the American people that they can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

But this is a lie. Bin Laden, as Scott Horton masterfully documents, has already won. And nothing will change that fact, no matter how hard Washington spins various counter-narratives or promotes another commander to finally win the unwinnable in Afghanistan’s graveyard of empires.

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Former Trump Advisor Steve Bannon Declares War on Communist China – By Curt Mills (American Conservative) April 12, 2019

His provocative new think tank flays the Communist nation, an issue that divides foreign policy realists today.

Steve Bannon (GageSkidmore/Flickr) and China’s Xi Junping(plavevski/Shutterstock)

Despite its dispiritingly anti-intellectual president, the Trump era has paradoxically been the Age of the Think Tank.

It’s no secret that the president often lacks in ideological consistency. Some would say that contributed to his success in the 2016 general election. So for those not too proud to play the game, it’s a wide-open field for trying to steer the administration’s prerogatives in one ideological direction or the other. 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on who you ask. But it does make every day  in the little-understood, bureaucratic underworld of policy shop shenanigans a veritable knife fight.

The latest entrant is the Committee on the Present Danger. Represented by former White House strategist Steve Bannon and Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, this is third resuscitation of a foreign policy interest group that has existed in manifold forms since the advent of the Cold War.

Bannon and Gaffney say the world has changed: far from paling in comparison to the Soviet challenge, Xi Jinping’s China is a something Marxist Eurasia never was: an economic peer—even a successor state. Additionally, they argue, Xi and his team in Beijing are authoritarians with Alexandrian ambition, a marked departure from the Chinese technocrats who have reigned since leader Deng Xiaoping retired in 1989.

“A radical cadre led by President Xi and Wang Quisan have consolidated power within the CCP,” Bannon told me. “This cadre has enslaved the Chinese people.”

Red Scares dominated the States sixty years ago; but following the butchery of Josef Stalin, short of a brief, soul-searching moment when Sputnik darted the heavens, it never appeared to most reasonably thinking people that Leninism was ever preferable to what we had here in the United States. As the peerless historian Stephen Kotkin precisely notes: “What’s the difference between communism and fascism? Communism is over.”

Critics pooh-pooh the China challenge, saying the build-up of Western tension with the Communist nation today is but a shadow of the grand, murderous philosophical competition that dominated the last century. They’re wrong. As Bannon and Gaffney suggest, the encore of efficient authoritarianism is the story of our time, an existential challenge for the West’s way of doing business not seen since the 1930’s.

They’re not alone. They were  joined earlier this week at event on Capitol Hill by other heavy-hitters in Trumpland: Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Asia studies bigwig Gordon Chang, to name a few. Brian Kennedy of the Claremont Institute and his own American Strategy Group, is the committee’s titular chairman. “Very much as we had to get organized in the thirties to stop un-American activities…we’re going to go through the same cycle here,” said Gingrich. The Chinese “invest billions in espionage and theft,” implored Sen. Cruz. And Chang sounded the alarm on brain injuries (not officially corroborated by the State Department) suffered by U.S. diplomatic personnel working in Guangzhou.

For this crew, the path forward is clear: overt confrontation—and not just toward the Chinese. Bluechip American firms have sold out their fellow citizens, Bannon argued to the crowd. President Xi, he exclaimed, now runs “a full-scale information and economic war against the West.”

This cohort now quietly fears appeasement from President Trump, though he has moved the Overton Window on China more swiftly and surely than any figure since Nixon. Of course, in the opposite direction. If Nixon was Turkey’s Mustafa Kemal, Trump is Racep Tayyip Erdogan—different approaches for different time.

A hardline tact toward China like this divides foreign policy realists, and scrambles many of the new allegiances forged in the Trump era. Those on the restrainer end of realism note the reality of the situation, but urge triage on the American economy—not tactical nuclear weapons in the East China Sea. “Rather than rebuilding our own national power—focusing internally on our economic prosperity—Washington is expending resources on the wrong solutions: increased Pentagon spending and ever-growing, outdated security commitments,” Ed King, president of Defense Priorities, has told me.

But if there is a direct, rival intellectual of Trumpism to Bannon, it is Fox’s Tucker Carlson. Like many realists, Carlson is markedly less interventionist than Bannon. Carlson may want neutrality in the Middle East and thinks NATO expansion is a joke, but even Carlson is a China hawk. Vaunted realist scholar John Mearsheimer is oscillative, but continually flirts with confronting Beijing.

The fear now, for China hawks, is that after much huffing and puffing, the president will strike a deal too soon with Beijing. As Janan Ganesh notes in the Financial Times: “Trump the China dove: as recently as 2018, this idea would have read like so much try-hard contrarianism. By the end of 2019, it might be just a mildly subversive proposition.”

Bannon and Gaffney’s new group isn’t saying so, but they would like to stop this. For Gaffney, his outfit is a new chapter in one of Washington’s greatest —or, depending on your perspective, most odious–comeback stories. In championing the new China fight, he and his Center for Security Policy have slid back into the mainstream. Gaffney’s perspective that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the United States remains deeply in the minority. On China, his views are far closer to a rapidly-coalescing consensus.

And Bannon, of course, has worn nearly every hat in his media profile since masterminding Trump’s election in 2016: Bannon the auteur, Bannon the banished, Bannon the fraud, Bannon the irrelevant. None of it, of course, is accurate. The fact is politicians like Trump and intellectual wranglers like Bannon need each other, as the president not so subtly noted to the New York Times earlier this year.

Conservative donors recently complained that the Trump re-election effort lacks a strategy.  If history is any guide, that can’t last. In less evolved administrations, downplaying the significance of outside groups might have been savvy—now it’s short-sighted. The work-shopped policy idea in April could be White House doctrine by October.

On the issue of China, the mission becomes more urgent. Which way Trump will go—confrontation or reconciliation—may depend on how successful Bannon and Gaffney are in their new endeavor.

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Accusing Assange of Being a ‘Narcissist’ Misses the Point – by Patrick Cockburn (Independent) 13 April 2019

Assange line drawing

“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” and “ha, ha, I hit them” say the pilots of a US Apache helicopter in jubilant conversation as they machine-gun Iraqi civilians on the ground in Baghdad on 12 July 2007.

A wounded man, believed to be the Reuters photographer, 22-year-old Namir Noor-Eldeen, crawls towards a van. “Come on buddy, all you have to do is pick up a weapon,” says one of the helicopter crew, eager to resume the attack. A hellfire missile is fired and a pilot says: “Look at that bitch go!” The photographer and his driver are killed.

Later the helicopter crew are told over the radio that they have killed 11 Iraqis and a small child has been injured. “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into battle,” comments somebody about the carnage below.

Except there was no “battle” and all those who died were civilians, though the Pentagon claimed they were gunmen. The trigger-happy pilots had apparently mistaken a camera for a rocket propelled grenade launcher. Journalists in Baghdad, including myself, were from the start sceptical about the official US story because insurgents with weapons in their hands were unlikely to be standing chatting to each other in the street with an American helicopter overhead. As on many similar occasions in Iraq, our doubts were strong but we could not prove that the civilians had not been carrying weapons in the face of categorical denials from the US Department of Defence.

It was known that a video of the killings taken from the helicopter existed, but the Pentagon refused to release it under the Freedom of Information Act. Plenty of people were being killed all over Iraq at the time and the incident would soon have been forgotten, except by the families of the dead, if a US soldier called Chelsea Manning had not handed over a copy of the official video to WikiLeaks which published it in 2010.

The exposure of the Baghdad helicopter killings was the first of many revelations which explain why Julian Assange has been pursued for so long by the US and British governments. The claim by Theresa May echoed by other ministers that “in the United Kingdom, no one is above the law” is clearly an evasion of the real reasons why such efforts have been made to detain him on both sides of the Atlantic.

Jeremy Corbyn is correct to say that the affair is all about “the extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.” But, within hours of Assange’s detention, it was clear that nobody much cared about innocent people dying in the streets of Baghdad or in the villages of Afghanistan and Assange has already become a political weapon in the poisonous political confrontation over Brexit with Corbyn’s support for Assange enabling Conservatives to claim that he is a security risk.

Lost in this dog-fight is what Assange and WikiLeaks really achieved and why it was of great importance in establishing the truth about wars being fought on our behalf in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed.

This is what Daniel Ellsberg did when he released the Pentagon Papers about the US political and military involvement in Vietnam between 1945 and 1967. Like Assange, he exposed official lies and was accused of putting American lives in danger though his accusers were typically elusive about how this was done.

But unless the truth is told about the real nature of these wars then people outside the war zones will never understand why they go on so long and are never won. Governments routinely lie in wartime and it is essential to expose what they are really doing. I remember looking at pictures of craters as big as houses in an Afghan village where 147 people had died in 2009 and which the US defence secretary claimed had been caused by the Taliban throwing grenades. In one small area called Qayara outside Mosul in in 2016-17, the US air force admitted to killing one civilian but a meticulous examination of the facts by The New York Times showed that the real figure was 43 dead civilians including 19 men, eight women and 16 children aged 14 or under.

These are the sort of facts that the US and UK governments try to conceal and which Assange and WikiLeaks have repeatedly revealed. Readers should keep this in mind when they are told that Assange has narcissistic personality or was not treating his cat properly. If his personal vices were a hundred times more serious than alleged, would they really counterbalance – and perhaps even discredit – the monstrosities he sought to unmask?

The US government documents published by WikiLeaks are about the real workings of power. Take the Hillary Clinton emails published in 2016: much of the media attention has plugged into conspiracy theories about Russian involvement or, until the recent publication of the Mueller Report, the possible complicity of the Trump election campaign with the Russians. Many Democrats and anti-Trump journalists managed to persuade themselves that Assange had helped lose Hillary Clinton the election, though a glance at a history of the campaign showed that she was quite capable of doing this all by herself by not campaigning in toss-up states.

But look at what the emails tell us what the way the world really works. There is, for instance, a US State Department memo dated 17 August 2014 – just over a week after Isis had launched its offensive against the Kurds and Yazidis in Iraq that led to the butchery, rape and enslavement of so many.

It was a time when the US was adamantly denying that Saudi Arabia and Qatar had any connection with Isis and similar jihadi movements like al-Qaeda. But the leaked memo, which is drawn from “western intelligence, US intelligence and sources in the region” tells us that they really knew different. It says: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to Isis and other radical groups in the region.”

This is important information about the level of priority the US gave to keeping in with its Saudi and Qatari allies while it was supposedly fighting the “war on terror”. This had been true since 9/11 and remains true today. But in much of the British media such issues are barely considered and the debate is focused firmly on the reasons why rape charges were not brought against Assange by Swedish courts and his culpability in taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Anybody who highlights the importance of the work which Assange and WikiLeaks has done is likely to be accused of being light-heartedly dismissive of the accusations of rape.

Assange is likely to pay a higher price than Ellsberg for his exposure of government secrets. The Pentagon Papers were published when the media was becoming freer across the world while now it is on the retreat as authoritarian governments replace democratic ones and democratic governments become more authoritarian.

The fate of Assange will be a good guide as to how far we are going down this road and the degree to which freedom of expression is threatened in Britain at a time of deepening political crisis.

 

(Republished from The Independent)

Book Review: My Squirrel Days – by Ellie Kemper (Kirkus Reviews) 15 Aug 2018

Squirrel Days

 

There comes a time in every sitcom actress’s life when she is faced with the prospect of writing a book. When my number was up, I told myself that I would not blink. I would fulfill my duty as an upbeat actress under contract on a television series and serve my country in the only way I knew how. I would cull from my life the very greatest and most memorable of anecdotes, I would draw on formative lessons learned both early on and also not too long ago, I would paint for the reader a portrait of the girl, the teenager, the woman I am today, and I would not falter. I would write a book.

 

The debut book from the Emmy-nominated actress.

It’s clear within the first chapter of actress Kemper’s memoir that the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star is still playing a character. Her role in the text is that of clever, albeit controlling, comedy writer disguised as the girl next door. Strategically revealing only what she wants the reader to see, the Princeton graduate’s English degree—and her experience as a writer for the Onion—is on full display. The author begins by portraying herself as a precocious child, with a rambling chapter about her obsession with her second-grade student teacher, a Russian woman named Ms. Romanoff. “I hung on every word that came out of her mouth; her voice sounded how my Eggo syrup tasted,” she writes.

My voice has not been described as “warm” or “professional-sounding” as often as it has been described as “please speak more quietly”, so it is a testament to my skill as an actor that I successfully played a receptionist in an office for over four years on NBC. “How did you do it, Ellie?” a lot of people have not asked me. “Were the computers on set actually connected to the internet?” more people wanted to know.

From there, Kemper picks and chooses choice anecdotes to describe her life, from feckless Ivy League field hockey player to improv workaholic to unsuccessful Saturday Night Live auditioner to cast member on the American version of The Office. What she doesn’t include is the typical celebrity tell-all. For the author, the hero’s struggle is more Anne Shirley than Lisbeth Salander. Imagining what she will tell her children about her obsession with SoulCycle, she writes, “son, there was a time in my life…when I agreed to pay money to take a bicycle-riding class in a studio lit by candles and filled with songs of Coldplay, Pitbull, and E.S. Posthumus.” Everything here is played for laughs, and some setups work better than others. When Kemper sticks the landing, the results are uproarious, as in her encounter with Office creator and star Ricky Gervais, who somehow misunderstood Kemper as saying she played him on the American version of the show.

A little Lucille Ball, a little bit Tracy Flick, Kemper proves that good comedy starts with good writing. It’s no Bossypants, but it’s an entertaining celebrity memoir.

I know that a lot of women wish that they had just a fraction of my tendency to fart from being so nervous ease on the red carpet; I understand that many fashion houses are desperate to forbid me from wearing a dress with their name on it because I will irrefutably lower their cachet for my face. But I value my privacy and I really am a lazy homebody at heart, so for these reasons, it fills me with happiness* to let other ladies rule the red carpet.

*rage and envy

Ellie Kemper is a nice Catholic girl from the mid-west. I can say this because I’m a nice Catholic girl from the mid-west and I recognize my own.

Being a nice Catholic girl from the mid-west, being born into a very wealthy St. Louis family, going to Princeton, and then having your wealthy family support you while you wait to break into show business doesn’t make for a very interesting memoir, however.

From the author’s telling and from what I’ve read in her Wikipedia entry her first 36 years have been charmed. Not playing much for the field hockey team at Princeton and some disappointing auditions are the few clouds she acknowledges in her sunny life. And that’s fine. It’s kind of a breath of fresh air to read about someone who has done the right things and is rewarded for it.

The book is episodic,with short chapters. although arranged in chronological order. Each one would make for a cute story to tell on the Tonight Show.

The title refers to an incident as a child when she communed with squirrels in her back yard and ended up falling into a stream and having the squirrel laugh unsympathetically. By contrast, Mindy Kaling’s memoir is called Why Not Me?, which spells out her philosophy of success and Tina Fey’s is called Bossypants, which explains her drive and ambition. I wish EK would have reflected a bit more in her memoir, but that might be her sunny super power- just accepting what comes her way without guilt or worry.

As is orthodox for comedians’ books, this one includes plenty of growing-up and rising-to-prominence stories. To really grab the reader, stories like these need loads of punched-up comedic detail, and we sometimes we get it—as in the chapter “Boss,” when Ellie recounts putting on a holiday play titled Christmas Magic with her sister and friend, the plot of the play involving plot-twist miracles that would fill Days of Our Lives writers with envy. She agilely replicates the high stakes her younger self felt and gives us a peek at the origin of her improv skills. Her comedy-in-the-details aptitude is also at work in the chapter “Hulk,” which shows what happens when Ellie does not receive the lentils Ellie was groomed to expect. At her strongest, she can turn even tripping over a speedbump (in the chapter “Diva”) into straight-up adorkable schtick.

One thing I think you look for in a book like this is an answer to the question “Why you?” Why did Ellie Kemper make it when the comedy world is notoriously both sardine-packed and tough for women? The chapter “Improviser” gives readers the nearest thing to a complete answer. In this chapter, she describes life after graduating from Princeton. She took some time to study British literature at Oxford; then her love of improv resurfaced but hard, so she and a friend moved to New York. And . . . did well. They enrolled in classes, they completed the necessary steps to perform with house improv teams, they auditioned, they wrote, etc.

While it’s actually nice to hear the story of someone making it through good ol’-fashioned sticktoitiveness, making smart decisions at double or more the frequency of superiorly dumb ones, and (as Ellie herself is sure to credit) a dab of luck, “Improvisor” isn’t a strong point in the book. It doesn’t have the inherent wow factor of a rags-to-riches story, and, hey, that’s certainly nothing to fault Ellie for. My own fantasy future for the world includes WAY fewer people, across the demographic spectrum, starting from “rags” in the first place; if the average memoir of tomorrow were a nice-starting-place-to-glitter-bomb-of-career-fulfillment story, for everyone, then yay. All the better.

In the meantime, underdogs are easiest to rally behind. Having such a story isn’t enough, of course—you still have to be compelling—but if you don’t have such a story, you really have locate those details about your own history and arc that will connect with readers. And in a comedian’s memoir, the constant has to be humor. “Improviser” doesn’t reveal an underdog, doesn’t offer any particular insight to readers, and (the real issue) doesn’t do enough dowsing for comedy.

I liked her tone for the most part. Self-deprecating is an obvious route with comedy, and it can wear thin fast. While Ellie engages in some of this, she also shares flashes of genuine-sounding self-confidence; it’s refreshing.

While I enjoyed the book overall, I do wonder if waiting a couple more years—when she would conceivably have more projects to talk about—wouldn’t have been a good move. The material, on whole, is enjoyable, but it does sometimes feel stretched.

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The individual and social risks of cousin marriage – By Razib Khan – 25 August 2010

Islamic Inbreeding

The map above shows the distribution of consanguineous marriages. As you can see there’s a fair amount of cross-cultural variation. In the United States there’s a stereotype of cousin marriage being the practice of backward hillbillies or royalty. For typical middle class folk it’s relatively taboo, with different legal regimes by state. The history of cousin marriage in the West has been one of ups & downs. Marriage between close relatives was not unknown in antiquity. The pagan emperor Claudius married his niece Agrippina the Younger, while the Christian emperor Heraclius married his niece Martina. Marriage between cousins were presumably more common.

With the rise in the West of the Roman Catholic Church marriages between cousins were officially more constrained. Adam Bellow argues in In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History that there’s a material explanation for this: the Roman church used its power over the sacrament of marriage to control the aristocracy. Though the church required dispensations for marriages between cousins of even distant degrees of separation, they were routinely given, as was obviously the case among Roman Catholic royal families like the Hapsburgs. But once given the dispensation could be revoked, rendering the marriage null and void. A highly convenient power politically.


But for much of European history the marriages of common folk were not of much concern to the church. Using ecclesiastical records L. L. Cavalli-Sforza documents very high levels of cousin marriage in Italy in the 19th century in Consanguinity, Inbreeding, and Genetic Drift in Italy. The rates dropped rapidly with economic development, especially better transportation networks in mountainous regions. I think this explains the patterns in the United States, extremely isolated communities are more inbred, while most Americans have traditionally been very mobile and not relied excessively on family networks. In northern Europe cousin marriage was not unknown in the 19th century, Charles Darwin famously married his cousin.

With the Reformation official church sanctions against cousin marriage on the aristocracy and gentry were relaxed, and a few clusters of closely networked intermarried clans arose, such as the Darwin-Wedgewood family (the Catholic Church had also been a bulwark against forced marriages of aristocratic women, who always had life in a religious order as a possibility. The Reformation in Germany seems to have initially resulted in a sharp increase in the power of the patriarch over the marital fates of his daughters because of the removal of the religious safety valve as leverage). I think that the case of Charles Darwin and his social set speak to the attraction of cousin marriage: familiarity breeds affinity. In Victorian England a small group of closely related and affiliated elite gentry families, the Darwins, Keynes, Wedgewoods, Galtons, etc., created a subculture which spawned subsets such as the Bloomsbury Group.

With a more fluid and harshly meritocratic global elite the attraction of cousin marriage seems to have diminished in the Western world. Consider the tycoon Rupert Murdoch. He is an American citizen born in Australia married to a Cantonese woman with grandchildren who are 1/4 Ghanaian, 1/4 Dutch, 1/4 ethnic Scotch (Australian) & 1/4 ethnic Estonian (Australian) . As for the common people, geographical and social isolation is sharply mitigated by modern transportation networks, as well as larger scale non-kin institutions such as the Christian church.

The same dynamics do not necessarily apply outside of the developed world. A friend whose father is Arab once explained that cousin marriage was so pervasive in that culture in part because you marry who you meet, and it is difficult in Arab societies for men to meet women who were not their cousins. In less individualistic societies where zero sum power dynamics are still operative it may also be beneficial for a wife to be related to the family into which she is marrying. Anthropologists in South Asia attribute the more equitable power dynamics between the genders in Hindu South India as opposed to more patriarchal Hindu North India to the fact that in the South cousin (and uncle-niece) marriage is practiced, while in the north exogamy is the norm. In the latter case a young woman leaves her family and becomes a “stranger” in her husband’s home. In the former case one of the new in-laws is a blood aunt or uncle.

But that’s the cultural anthropology. What may be fit for a cultural kin-unit may not be biological fit for individual lineages. What are the risks of cousin marriage? Most obviously there are recessive diseases. Those illnesses which are expressed when you carry two malfunctional copies of a gene. Cystic fibrosis, tay sachs, various forms of deafness. Why is it that cousins have a higher risk of this occurring? Because two cousins are much more likely than two random individuals to share the same distinct gene from a common ancestor, because their common ancestors are so much more recent. More precisely the coefficient of kinship between two first cousins is 1/8. That means that at any given locus there’s a 1 out of 8 chance that the two individuals will have alleles which are identical by descent, which means that the genetic variant comes down from the same person in the family line.

If the allele is “good,” that is, totally normal/wild type, not associated with any pathology, then we’re in the clear. That’s why most first cousin marriages don’t produce children who are monsters. What a first cousin marriage does is change the odds. How you present these odds matters a great deal in how scary they sound. If I told you than the chance of first cousins having children with a birth defect is 4-7%, vs. 3-4% for a non-consanguineous couple, it might not sound that bad. But if I told you that the odds of having a birth defect is ~50% greater, then it sounds worse. Additionally, the costs of congenital illness are born by the offspring, and society through health insurance premiums. If you compared a society which had a tradition of universal first cousin marriages vs. one which didn’t, you’d see 50% more birth defects in the former society in the aggregate, all things equal.

But that’s the not the only issue there. There are two opposing forces which diminish the problems of common cousin marriage and make it worst. The first is the purging of genetic load which occurs when you expose deleterious recessive alleles. Remember that low frequency recessively expressed alleles aren’t exposed to natural selection because they’re mostly found in heterozygotes. This means they get to float around in the gene pool for very long periods of time. In plant breeding you can just “self” the plants, which will expose the alleles rather quickly, since selfing is an extreme form of inbreeding, purging heterozygosity.

The deleterious alleles then are removed from the gene pool through the death of individuals who carry them in homozygote state. The theory is that some human populations which practice cousin marriage at higher frequencies may have a lower frequency of deleterious recessive alleles. Alan Templeton reports this for South Indian Hindus in Population Genetics and Microevolutionary Theory, and L. L. Cavalli-Sforza does the same for the Japanese in the aforementioned monograph. In the proximate sense this purging of the genetic load occurs through human misery. The early death of individuals, or their sterility, or sharply reduced fertility because of illness. In the ultimate sense it’s somewhat speculative, and many geneticists are skeptical that complex mammals are easy to analogize with plants which do occasionally self in the wild.

That’s the positive genetically. What’s the negative? Pedigree collapse. I’ve been talking about marriages between first cousins throughout this post, but that’s really a small issue next to this. Even first cousin marriages produce individuals with a fair amount of inbreeding. I ran a test for runs of homozygosity in my 23andMe genetic profile and I got 3 hits, while a friend whose parents are first cousins got ~70 (the parameters for the test aren’t important, just giving a relative sense).

For inbred clans it gets much worse because people are related in many different ways, and genetically are far closer than first cousins.

That is what happened to the Spanish Hapsburgs. As you can see from the pedigree of Charles II his parents were closer than typical first cousins. The Samaritans of Israel are a religious sect which seems to be going through pedigree collapse. Some of them are proactively marrying outsiders to prevent their extinction through high infant mortality rates. Others, “traditionalists,” oppose exogamy because intermarriage within the group is the custom, and diseases are God’s will.

The Samaritans are an extreme case. But we may be seeing a thousand Samaritan flowers blooming across the Middle East. From what I know cousin marriage in the Middle East is not limited to Muslims, Christians and Jews practice it as well. But among many Muslims it has some cachet because of particular hadiths which point to this practice as preferred. Setting religion aside, there are also social reasons why this practice is common. As I noted above sex segregation means that you may not know women outside of your family well, and in some societies where veiling is practiced it may be that you do not see many women you are not related to (even if veiling occurs at puberty, you may have seen your cousin at a younger age). Marriages are bonds which may tie a family into one operational social unit, and so produce a powerful inbred clan.

This illustrates the cross-purposes of a cultural unit of selection vs. the individual unit of selection.

In a society where clan vs. clan competitions are critical sorting mechanisms consanguineous marriages may serve as beneficial cross-linkages. Balanced against this of course are marriages across clans. On an individual level a first cousin marriage reduces the reproductive fitness, but higher potential reproductive fitness of two individuals who have no social support because of ostracism may be a moot point.

From my cursory reading of the literature consanguineous marriage is not declining in much of the Muslim, especially Arab, world. Why? I can think of two superficial reasons obvious to someone like me, who is no anthropologist or sociologist with area knowledge. First, high fertility rates and lower infant mortality means that the sample space of possible matches increases. One way you can remove the option of cousin marriage is by shrinking the pool of potential cousins you may marry. In a Malthusian world the average family has only two children who manage to survive to adulthood and reproduce. The variance around this expectation means that many families will disappear within two or three generations simply due to stochastic forces. This is why Augustus attempted to use moral suasion and coercion to have the Roman Senatorial class reproduce at a higher rate.

The aristocracy was going extinct as clans which were defined by a legitimate male line succession would routinely have a generation without a male heir (this explains the popularity of adoption in Roman society, with adoptees often being younger sons of related lineages). Later in imperial history Marcus Aurelius and his maternal cousin, Faustina the Younger, had thirteen children, but only four survived to adulthood. The modern world is very different, and great clans can rise in just a few generations if one has the will. A second reason I believe that cousin marriage is popular in the Arab world is economics. Specifically, commodity/resource driven economic growth doesn’t require great median human capital investment, so there isn’t an incentive to shift toward a less familial social structure.

In plain English going to university, moving regularly for your career, etc., are going to weaken the bonds of affinity you may have with your family. This is not necessary for many Gulf Arabs, who have a guaranteed a minimum income because of resource revenue. Not only has this allowed them to preserve a relatively archaic set of social norms, but I believe it’s also allowed for the baroque elaboration of their customary traditions. I don’t find the second explanation persuasive for most Muslim nations though, as they aren’t as reliant on resource driven revenue, and have had to make more accommodations with the exigencies of the modern world. I believe that in all likelihood large families are probably responsible for the resurgence or persistence of the practice in societies where it has been the preferred pairing.

This post was inspired by a recent Channel 4 special, When Cousins Marry: Reporter Feature. If you live in Britain you can probably watch it online (I can not). But it highlights that the issue is going to be salient in the United Kingdom for a generation or so at a minimum. As I said, in the United States inbreeding is a way to make fun of poor, uneducated, and isolated whites. The photo to the right is from a blog entry mocking anti-Obama activists who were protesting his address to the children of the nation as “racist, inbred hicks.”

The American perception of inbred people is not particularly positive, and the accusations of being inbred are used to mock and humiliate. But when it comes to the issue in Britain it is different, because consanguineous marriage is a feature of the Muslim community, and there are issues of race, religion and class which are operative. It isn’t just custom and tradition which are driving people to marry their cousins in Britain (perhaps more accurately, parents are demanding their children marry their cousins). Marrying one’s cousin is a rather convenient way in which to allow more of your relatives to immigrate. In a subculture where arranged marriage is the norm the marrying a cousin abroad seems eminently rational for the clan’s prospects. But there are other forces at work in the community which perpetuate and encourage it as well, and those forces can not be frankly addressed because of the tensions which are normal in many multicultural societies. From the summary of the program:

‘An attack on Pakistani culture’

However I also spoke to some people in cousin marriages who felt there were great benefits and questioned if it was yet another aspect of their culture that was coming under attack.

This sentiment has been echoed several times during the making of this Dispatches programme. It’s a subject that has provoked a defensive and sometimes hostile reaction every time we’ve touched upon it. We spoke to dozens of families who refused to talk about it on camera and we were told frequently that even to discuss the issue was an attack on Pakistani culture or worse still, Islam.

Since Britain has the NHS this is a going to be a major public health issue. On the one hand, there is individual freedom of choice. This is a core Western value. On the other hand, there is the fact that health care costs are a long term structural issue for the fiscal health of any society. Ethnic Pakistanis are only a few percent of Britain’s population, so it is manageable right now, but their proportion will slowly rise because of higher fertility and continued immigration. If cousin marriage continues to remain popular in the community the later generations are going to have even greater health problems because of higher inbreeding coefficients (due to repeated cousin marriages across the generations within the family).

But why should we limited these sorts of social utilitarian considerations to cousin marriage? How about the increased debilities associated with the children of older mothers? Mothers who make recourse to assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization? Lines have to be drawn. Costs and benefits have to be evaluated. With the passage of health care reform in the United States in 2010 the issue is now explicitly socialized in all developed nations. I began the post with a social-cultural narrative, and I end it with a reiteration of the importance of a social-cultural context.

 

Archive

Australia’s recycling industry now ‘mostly a con’ after China closes doors to plastic waste -by Sammi Taylor (60 Minutes) 14 April 2019

Most Australians think they’re doing the right thing when they take their recycling bins to the curb every fortnight. 

But our belief that we’re doing our part for the environment is somewhat misguided: Australia’s plastic recycling industry is largely a con.

Tonight on 60 Minutes, reporter Liam Bartlett exposes our national recycling lie: that the majority of our plastic waste is not being reused or recycled at all. Instead it is ending up dumped, buried or even burned in illegal processing locations in Southeast Asia.

‘Plastic, Not so Fantastic’ airs at the special time of 7pm tonight on Channel 9. For more on 60 Minutes, visit the official website.

For over 20 years, Australia’s plastic recycling industry was reliant on China, which bought our mixed and often contaminated plastic waste, and melted it down into new plastic products to sell back to us and the rest of the world.

But in January 2018, China closed its doors to Australia’s plastic waste.

Since then, tonnes and tonnes of mixed plastic has been accumulating in the yards and warehouses of many Australian recycling companies without the infrastructure or resources to reprocess these products on home soil.

 

Instead, Australia has been selling plastic waste to Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia in particular, which took China’s place as the world’s largest importer of plastic rubbish.

“When you throw this stuff in your recycle bin at home you might like to think again,” Bartlett says.

Australia alone has dumped more than 71,000 tonnes of plastic in Malaysia in the past 12 months.

But there, the mountains of plastic waste can often end up in illegal processing facilities and junkyards.

It’s a big problem – and many players within the recycling industry are calling it for what it is: a load of rubbish.

“I think most people in Australia feel lied to, I think they feel disappointed,” Plastic Forests founder and owner David Hodge tells Liam Bartlett.

Tonight on 60 Minutes, reporter Liam Bartlett exposes our national recycling lie: that the majority of our plastic waste is not being reused or recycled at all. Instead it is ending up dumped, buried or even burned in illegal processing locations in Southeast Asia. (60 Minutes)

“Ninety percent of people do want to recycle, and they need to be enabled to be able to do that.”

Mr Hodge says governments and regulators need to step up and save Australia’s recycling industry before it’s too late.

“We haven’t built the infrastructure. We haven’t thought ahead,” he tells Bartlett.

“Now we’re here and we’re drowning in plastic.”

Archive

American Mainstream Media Celebrity ‘News’ People Loathe Julian Assange – by C.J. Hopkins (Consent Factory) 15 April 2019

Assange line drawing

I don’t normally do this kind of thing, but, given the arrest of Julian Assange last week, and the awkward and cowardly responses thereto, I felt it necessary to abandon my customary literary standards and spew out a spineless, hypocritical “hot take” professing my concern about the dangerous precedent the U.S. government may be setting by extraditing and prosecuting a publisher for exposing American war crimes and such, while at the same time making it abundantly clear how much I personally loathe Assange, and consider him an enemy of America, and freedom, and want the authorities to crush him like a cockroach.

Now I want to be absolutely clear. I totally defend Assange and Wikileaks, and the principle of freedom of the press, and whatever. And I am all for exposing American war crimes (as long as it doesn’t endanger the lives of the Americans who committed those war crimes, or inconvenience them in any way). At the same time, while I totally support all that, I feel compelled to express my support together with my personal loathing of Assange, who, if all those important principles weren’t involved, I would want to see taken out and shot, or at least locked up in Super-Max solitary … not for any crime in particular, but just because I personally loathe him so much.

I’m not quite sure why I loathe Assange. I’ve never actually met the man. I just have this weird, amorphous feeling that he’s a horrible, disgusting, extremist person who is working for the Russians and is probably a Nazi. It feels kind of like that feeling I had, back in the Winter of 2003, that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, which he was going to give to those Al Qaeda terrorists who were bayonetting little babies in their incubators, or the feeling I still have, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Trump is a Russian intelligence asset who peed on Barack Obama’s bed, and who is going to set fire to the Capitol building, declare himself American Hitler, and start rounding up and murdering the Jews.

I don’t know where these feelings come from. If you challenged me, I probably couldn’t really support them with any, like, actual facts or anything, at least not in any kind of rational way. Being an introspective sort of person, I do sometimes wonder if maybe my feelings are the result of all the propaganda and relentless psychological and emotional conditioning that the ruling classes and the corporate media have subjected me to since the day I was born, and that influential people in my social circle have repeated, over and over again, in such a manner as to make it clear that contradicting their views would be extremely unwelcome, and might negatively impact my social status, and my prospects for professional advancement.

Take my loathing of Assange, for example. I feel like I can’t even write a column condemning his arrest and extradition without gratuitously mocking or insulting the man. When I try to, I feel this sudden fear of being denounced as a “Trump-loving Putin-Nazi,” and a “Kremlin-sponsored rape apologist,” and unfriended by all my Facebook friends. Worse, I get this sickening feeling that unless I qualify my unqualified support for freedom of press, and transparency, and so on, with some sort of vicious, vindictive remark about the state of Assange’s body odor, and how he’s probably got cooties, or has pooped his pants, or some other childish and sadistic taunt, I can kiss any chance I might have had of getting published in a respectable publication goodbye.

But I’m probably just being paranoid, right? Distinguished, highbrow newspapers and magazines like The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Vox, Vice, Daily Mail, and others of that caliber, are not just propaganda organs whose primary purpose is to reinforce the official narratives of the ruling classes. No, they publish a broad range of opposing views. The Guardian, for example, just got Owen Jones to write a full-throated defense of Assange on that grounds that he’s probably a Nazi rapist who should be locked up in a Swedish prison, not in an American prison! The Guardian, remember, is the same publication that printed a completely fabricated story accusing Assange of secretly meeting with Paul Manafort and some alleged “Russians,” among a deluge of other such Russiagate nonsense, and that has been demonizing Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite for several years.

Plus, according to NPR’s Bob Garfield (who is lustfully “looking forward to Assange’s day in court”), and other liberal lexicologists, Julian Assange is not even a real journalist, so we have no choice but to mock and humiliate him, and accuse him of rape and espionage … oh, and speaking of which, did you hear the one about how his cat was spying on the Ecuadorean diplomats?

But seriously now, all joking aside, it’s always instructive (if a bit sickening) to watch as the mandarins of the corporate media disseminate an official narrative and millions of people robotically repeat it as if it were their own opinions. This process is particularly nauseating to watch when the narrative involves the stigmatization, delegitimization, and humiliation of an official enemy of the ruling classes. Typically, this enemy is a foreign enemy, like Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad, Milošević, Osama bin Laden, Putin, or whoever. But sometimes the enemy is one of “us” … a traitor, a Judas, a quisling, a snitch, like Trump, Corbyn, or Julian Assange.

In either case, the primary function of the corporate media remains the same: to relentlessly assassinate the character of the “enemy,” and to whip the masses up into a mindless frenzy of hatred of him, like the Two-Minutes Hate in 1984, the Kill-the-Pig scene in Lord of the Flies, the scapegoating of Jews in Nazi Germany, and other examples a bit closer to home.

Logic, facts, and actual evidence have little to nothing to do with this process. The goal of the media and other propagandists is not to deceive or mislead the masses. Their goal is to evoke the pent-up rage and hatred simmering within the masses and channel it toward the official enemy. It is not necessary for the demonization of the official enemy to be remotely believable, or stand up to any kind of serious scrutiny. No one sincerely believes that Donald Trump is a Russian Intelligence asset, or that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite, or that Julian Assange has been arrested for jumping bail, or raping anyone, or for helping Chelsea Manning “hack” a password.

The demonization of the empire’s enemies is not a deception … it is a loyalty test. It is a ritual in which the masses (who, let’s face it, are de facto slaves) are ordered to display their fealty to their masters, and their hatred of their masters’ enemies. Cooperative slaves have plenty of pent-up hatred to unleash upon their masters’ enemies. They have all the pent-up hatred of their masters (which they do not dare direct at their masters, except within the limits their masters allow), and they have all the hatred of themselves for being cooperative, and … well, basically, cowards.

Julian Assange is being punished for defying the global capitalist empire. This was always going to happen, no matter who was in the White House. Anyone who defies the empire in such a flagrant manner is going to be punished. Cooperative slaves demand this of their masters. Defiant slaves are actually less of a threat to their masters than they are to the other slaves who have chosen to accept their slavery and cooperate with their own oppression. Their defiance shames these cooperative slaves, and shines an unflattering light on their cowardice.

This is why we are witnessing so many liberals (and liberals in leftist’s clothing) rushing to express their loathing of Assange in the same breath as they pretend to support him, not because they honestly believe the content of the official Julian Assange narrative that the ruling classes are disseminating, but because (a) they fear the consequences of not robotically repeating this narrative, and (b) Assange has committed the cardinal sin of reminding them that actual “resistance” to the global capitalist empire is possible, but only if you’re willing to pay the price.

Assange has been paying it for the last seven years, and is going to be paying it for the foreseeable future. Chelsea Manning is paying it again. The Gilets Jaunes protestors have been paying it in France. Malcolm X paid it. Sophie Scholl paid it. Many others throughout history have paid it. Cowards mocked them as they did, as they are mocking Julian Assange at the moment. That’s all right, though, after he’s been safely dead for ten or twenty years, they’ll name a few streets and high schools after him. Maybe they’ll even build him a monument.

C. J. Hopkins is an award-winning American playwright, novelist and political satirist based in Berlin. His plays are published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) and Broadway Play Publishing (USA). His debut novel, ZONE 23, is published by Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant Paperbacks. He can be reached at cjhopkins.com or consentfactory.org.

Is the USS Ship of Fools Taking on Water? – by Dmitry Orlov – 2 April 2019

Ship of Fools

It certainly appears to be doing so, and the rate is accelerating. Having spent the last three weeks at an undisclosed location away from the internet has allowed me to observe the increase in its rate of sinkage. There was wifi at the airport and I downloaded three weeks’ worth of articles, which I read on the long flight back to civilization. What I read came as a bit of a shock, especially after three weeks of nothing but surf, sea birds, crabs scampering about and lots of happy, friendly people who couldn’t possibly care any less about the US.

For some time people have been telling me that I should watch the movie Idiocracy because it shows what the US is turning into. Well, I am not sure that a move about idiocy can avoid being idiotic, so I’ll pass, but there is a definite increase in the level of stupidity displayed by those who are part of the US establishment. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; after all, why would anyone possessed of wisdom and integrity want to have anything to do with it by this time? Points of extreme stupidity—so stupid it hurts to watch—are all around us at the moment. Let me point out a few important ones.

While I was busy twinkling my toes in the azure waters, special investigator Robert Mueller finally released his report. He had left no stupid stone unturned, but failed to accomplish his assigned task, which was to prove that Trump had colluded with Russia. In his report he claimed that although he found no evidence of collusion or obstruction of justice, his report does not exonerate Trump. Note these two points of extreme stupidity. First point: if there was no collusion, there was no crime, and no course of justice to obstruct. Second point: if, as Mueller admits, no crime has been committed, there is nothing to exonerate Trump from.

The Democrats, who have been hoping to impeach Trump on the basis of Mueller’s report, should perhaps take hope in the fact that Mueller has turned out to be so incompetent that he can’t understand such basics of his profession; perhaps there was collusion after all, but Mueller was too stupid to find evidence of it. Or perhaps the Democrats should collapse in a paroxysm of despair, because Mueller was their best and last chance and now they look like idiots for believing in him.

Next in the stupids parade we have attorney general William Barr, who, in his summary of Mueller’s report, uncritically accepted the claims that Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election did take place. What meddling was that?

There was a St. Petersburg troll farm run by somebody who was said to have once cooked for Putin. The trolls put up click-bait ads on social media. The scope of their operation was minuscule and most of their activity took place after the election, making the claim that they manipulated the election preposterous. Mueller’s effort to prosecute them stalled out when their lawyers turned up in court and demanded to see the evidence. Mueller couldn’t let that happen because it would have caused the entire courtroom to die laughing.

There was also the claim that Russian hackers hacked into an email server at the DNC, stole a bunch of emails showing an effort to rig the primaries against Bernie Sanders, and leaked them to Wikileaks. But there is evidence that these emails were not hacked but leaked by being copied to a thumb drive by somebody with physical access to the server.

Is Barr too stupid to realize the foolishness of his claims that “the Russians”—whatever that means—had manipulated the US election? Yes, it appears to be the case. With officials this stupid, how stupid was it for the Democrats to spend two years nurturing their dream of getting rid of Trump with their help?

And so Trump is here to stay. Is this where stupidity ends? No, of course not, for here we simply enter the next circle of stupidity. Trump dreams of “making America great again”; but is his dream stupid? Let’s look at the results.

His idea was to renegotiate trade deals in America’s favor and to repatriate manufacturing which had been offshored to low-wage countries around the world, slash the trade deficit and create lots of good jobs. Seems like a good plan, but let’s step back for a moment and look at what the real issue is.

The real issue is that there is a massive imbalance in the US between what Americans produce and what Americans consume: they consume a lot more than they can afford.

One solution would be to slash consumption, but it makes up 70% of the economy, and doing so would shrink it, blowing up the already disproportionately large debt bubble and sending the US economy into deepest depression. This doesn’t sound great at all.

Another solution would be to devalue the dollar through uncontrolled dollar emission. This would make American exports competitive with those of lower-wage countries. But this would undermine the US dollar as a reserve currency, cause US debt holders around the world to stampede toward the exits and result in a hyperinflationary shock that would send the US economy into deepest depression, again. This doesn’t sound great either, but that was the plan floated by Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon. Perhaps Steve is a bit dense.

Yet another solution, proposed by William Dudley of the Federal Reserve, was to use fiscal methods to stimulate a rebirth of production within the US, and this is the one that Trump fell for and cut corporate taxes, allowing companies to repatriate their foreign earnings tax-free. Did this work? Of course not! Instead of investing in production, the companies used the money to buy back their own stocks, allowing their major stockholders to sell their shares profitably at public expense. Here is Alice Walton, 10% owner of Walmart, liquidating over 700 million of her stock in just the month of March.

We can be sure that Alice Walton won’t be investing this 700 million in retail stocks. Was it stupid of Dudley and Trump to think that this plan would ever work? Apparently so.

And so here is where the plan to “make America great again” currently stands. The economy is tanking. The Federal Reserve can’t pull it out of the nosedive by lowering interest rates because they are already too low. There is massive carnage in the retail sector and numerous US companies are about to go bankrupt. The once great General Electric has been kicked out of Down Jones and is busy selling its crown jewels to the Russians. What is there left to do?

Enter Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair, with a plan that is truly stunning in its stupidity. She proposes that the Federal Reserve intervene and start directly buying up corporate debt using newly printed money. Note how Yellen’s plan beautifully combines the stupidity of Bannon’s plan (pulling the rug out from under the US dollar) with the stupidity of Dudley’s plan (giving corporations another chance to buy back their own shares so that their major shareholders can continue bailing out and making a profit at public expense). Here’s a chart showing how well that’s going even without Yellen’s brilliant suggestion.

This dearth of non-stupid ideas leaves Trump bouncing around in his padded cell issuing stupid tweets such as the following: “Very important that OPEC increase the flow of Oil. World Markets are fragile, price of Oil getting too high. Thank you!” Meanwhile, he banned US heavy oil imports from Venezuela (needed to make diesel) while US light oil exports (from fracking) are running into problems because of low quality, investment in fracking has fallen off a cliff, and energy companies that are in the fracking business, most of which never made any money, are reporting that there is a shortage of productive new places to drill for oil. It is stupid to think that tweeting will fix any of these problems.

To summarize, this ship of fools is taking on water and all of the proposals voiced so far are stupid ones and amount to attempting to bail it out using a sieve. It’s really nauseating to watch! It makes me want to fly back to that beach and there to subsist on coconut milk, fresh-caught fish and tropical fruit, and to never connect to the internet again.

But I’ll suck it up and carry on as before. Tuesdays will still be freebie days, while on Thursdays I’ll treat my faithful supporters to grand new visions. Coming up next: the human ethnosphere, as an evolutionary aspect of the biosphere—a topic I thoroughly reserached while lying on the beach. It holds the key to understanding the life cycle of nations, some of which are full of energy and drive while others are well past their prime and run by some manifestly stupid people.

The Shambolic F-35 Will Cost the US Empire $1.5 Trillion and That’s a Good Thing – by William Rivers Pitt (TruthOut) 12 April 2019

The Capitalist Empire probably can’t reform itself but maybe it can bankrupt itself — the heroic F-35 is sure doing its part

U.S. taxpayers are no strangers to getting saddled with monstrously expensive weapons programs at the expense of basic needs like food, shelter and education. The Pentagon paid $44 billion for 21 very fragile B-2 stealth bombers, few of which still fly in combat roles. The F-22 fighter, coming in at more than $350 million per plane, was built to combat Cold War adversaries who ceased to exist six years before the first jet rolled off the production line. The sticker price for Ronald Reagan’s harebrained “Star Wars” missile defense program stands at around $60 billion.

Alas, there always seems to be more room at the Pentagon trough. Enter the F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft.

“Japan Air Self Defense Force Stands Up First F-35A Lightning II Fighter Squadron,” announced the April 1 headline in The Diplomat, a publication focusing on Asia-Pacific news. “Stands up” is military speak for weapons or personnel that are ready to fight. “This is a major milestone for the F-35 enterprise, as it marks the first F-35 IOC for an Indo-Pacific region customer,” said F-35 program executive director Vice Admiral Matt Winter, who went on to praise the “global nature of this program.”

And then this happened, as explained by NPR 10 days after Japan’s first squadron of F-35A fighters was approved for active service: “Japan’s military has confirmed that one of its F-35A jet fighters has crashed in the Pacific Ocean during a training exercise.” As of this printing, the pilot remains missing

So it continues to go for the preposterously expensive F-35 fighter program. It began with such promise, too, as far as airborne weapons of mass destruction go. First conceived by Lockheed Martin in 1997 and built in collaboration with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, the F-35 first took wing in 2006. The all-purpose fighter was intended to stand as the replacement for the A-10 Warthog, F-15E Eagle, the F-16 Falcon, the AV-8B Harrier and the F/A-18 Hornet.

“The F-35 wouldn’t just be shared across the branches of the U.S. military,” wrote Popular Mechanics in July. “It was to be shared around the world. A coalition of ‘partner nations’ would not only fly and produce the aircraft but support it worldwide.” Allied nations – excuse me, customers – lined up to be a part of the bold new future represented by Lockheed Martin’s newest and stealthiest brainchild.

It did not take long for a series of fantastically pricey problems to pile up. The production plan had the planes being built before all the highly technical, often brand-new systems had been tested. When these began failing, fixing them in aircraft that had already come off the production line rapidly turned the program into a financial sinkhole.

The eight million lines of code that make up the software controlling vital elements like the aft tails, electronic warfare systems and flight control were bursting with bugs and subject to malicious hacks. The helmets were too big. The ejection seats didn’t work. The four-piece wings met with assembly difficulties and the supporting bulkheads suffered from structural fatigue. The plane itself was 2,000 pounds too heavy.

Perhaps most significantly, the F-35 was deadly — and not just for the so-called “enemy.” According to the Pentagon’s lead weapons tester in 2016, the F-35 suffered from a litany of software and structural issues that “may cause death, severe injury, or severe occupational illness,” among other problems. All in all, the tester found more than 90 different ways the aircraft would be unable to complete its missions.

Ours is a society that condones and even celebrates organized, profitable, global murder.

The F-35 program has been so messy, in fact, that the entire F-35B line of fighters came within an eyelash of being canceled in 2011. That fate was unfortunately avoided, but the completion date for the project has been pushed back multiple times, and the planes are not expected to be fully and safely operational until at least 2021. Japan just found this out the very hard way.

How much is this flying calamity costing us, the taxpayers? The numbers are a bit fuzzy because there have been so many overruns, false starts, failures and faulty estimates. The baseline cost stands at $35,000 per operational hour. The first two F-35As to come off the production line cost more than $200 million to build, but according to Forbes, that cost is expected to drop next year. Maybe. Unless something else goes wrong. Which will probably happen. Or has already happened. Again.

Final estimated price tag, which is almost certainly too low: $1.5 trillion. If they canceled the entire F-35 program today, we’d still be paying out the contracts for years. All the other countries (customers!) that jumped on the F-35 bandwagon — Germany and France took a wise pass — are also on the hook for huge sums of money because of this still-dysfunctional thing, thanks to the aforementioned “global nature of this program.”

I could regale you, dear reader, with a litany of things that $1.5 trillion would better serve – actual and affordable health care, children’s reading programs, fighting hunger, combating poverty, providing homeless assistance, enhancing elder services, properly funding green energy research, job training, pollution cleanup, storm and flood preparation, along with vital infrastructure necessities like roads, schools, hospitals and high-speed rail, to name but a scant few. Instead, that money goes to the shabby manufacture of dysfunctional war machines that may never work, right alongside all the ones that work too well.

The truly galling part, however, is this: $1.5 trillion is only a drop in the bucket of what we have squandered over the years funding the wholesale slaughter of our fellow human beings.

Every bomb dropped, every missile launched, every bullet fired, every rifle snapped to order arms, every uniform donned and then stained with blood, every body bag filled and every faraway city reduced to rubble is money in the bank for a small cadre of well-connected profiteers you will never meet. This is the United States, after all, where our business is business. War is the most profitable business of all, and we have more “customers” than we know what to do with thanks to all the weapons we’ve sold to former “customers,” lather-rinse-repeat.

The tragedy of the F-35 isn’t merely the cost, however, not by a very long chalk. The tragedy is the ongoing militarized mindset that makes debacles like the F-35 not just possible, but inevitable and ongoing despite all the glaring cash-starved problems slowly but visibly rotting the nation from the inside out.

The F-35 is not just a bad plane that costs too much. It is a symptom of the mindset that is eating this country, and the world, alive. “Misplaced priorities” is a kind euphemism. Ours is a society that condones and even celebrates organized, profitable, global murder. The money we’ve shoveled into this bottomless hole is nothing more than a tangible symbol of all the opportunities we have wasted, a visible price tag for the missed chances of a damaged existence.

“We flatter ourselves that Trump is an aberration. He isn’t,” writes Matt Taibbi about yet another symptom of this society’s debased militaristic priorities, the Iraq War. “He’s a depraved, cowardly, above-the-law bully, just like the country we’ve allowed ourselves to become in the last fifteen years.”

Call it 15 years, call it 50, call it 243. It’s all math leading to the same conclusion in the end. Until we find a better way, until we break the military mindset across our collective knee, we will continue to spiral ever downward to dissolution, just like the Japanese F-35 that was devoured by the sea.

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You have the right to ALWAYS remain silent – Assange’s Arrest Was an Act of Revenge by US Government – by Pepe Escobar (Asia Times) 12 April 2019

Assange 0

The date – April 11, 2019 – will live in infamy in the annals of Western “values” and “freedom of expression.” The image is stark. A handcuffed journalist and publisher dragged out by force from the inside of an embassy, clutching a Gore Vidal book on the History of the US National Security State.

The mechanism is brutal. WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was arrested because the United States demanded this from the Tory British government, which for its part meekly claimed it did not pressure Ecuador to revoke Assange’s asylum.

The US magically erases Ecuador’s financial troubles, ordering the IMF to release a providential $4.2-billion loan. Immediately after, Ecuadorian diplomats “invite” the London Metropolitan Police to come inside their embassy to arrest their long-term guest.

Let’s cut to the chase. Julian Assange is not a US citizen, he’s an Australian. WikiLeaks is not a US-based media organization. If the US government gets Assange extradited, prosecuted and incarcerated, it will legitimize its right to go after anyone, anyhow, anywhere, anytime.

Call it The Killing of Journalism.

Get me that password

The case by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) against Assange is flimsy at best. Everything has to do essentially with the release of classified info in 2010 – 90,000 military files on Afghanistan, 400,000 files on Iraq and 250,000 diplomatic cables spanning most of the planet.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks on the balcony of the embassy of Ecuador in London in May 2017. Photo: AFP/Constantin Eckner/DPA

Assange is allegedly guilty of helping Chelsea Manning, the former US Army intel analyst, to get these documents. But it gets trickier. He’s also allegedly guilty of “encouraging” Manning to collect more information.

There’s no other way to interpret that. This amounts, no holds barred, to all-out criminalization of journalistic practice.

For the moment, Assange is charged with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.” The indictment argues that Assange helped Manning to crack a password stored on Pentagon computers linked to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet).

In March 2010 chat logs obtained by the US government, Manning talks to someone alternatively named “Ox” and “press association.” The DoJ is convinced this interlocutor is Assange. But they must conclusively prove it.

Manning and this person, allegedly Assange, engaged in “discussions.” “During an exchange, Manning told Assange that ‘after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.’ To which Assange replied: ‘Curious eyes never run dry in my experience.’”

None of this holds up. US corporate media routinely publishes illegal leaks of classified information. Manning offered the documents he had already downloaded to both the New York Times and the Washington Post – and he was rejected. Only then did he approach WikiLeaks.

The allegation that Assange tried to help crack a computer password has been doing the rounds since 2010. The DoJ under Obama refused to go for it, aware of what it would mean in terms of potentially outlawing investigative journalism.

No wonder US corporate media, deprived of a major scoop, subsequently started to dismiss WikiLeaks as a Russian agent.

Supporters of Julian Assange gather outside Westminster Court after Assange’s arrest. Photo: AFP/WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto

The nuclear option

The great Daniel “Pentagon Papers” Ellsberg had already warned back in 2017: “Obama having opened the legal campaign against the press by going after the roots of investigative reporting on national security – the sources – Trump is going to go after the gatherers/gardeners themselves (and their bosses, publishers). To switch the metaphor, an indictment of Assange is a ‘first use’ of ‘the nuclear option’ against the First Amendment protection of a free press.”

The current DoJ charges – basically stealing a computer password – are just the tip of the avalanche. At least for now, publishing is not a crime. Yet if extradited, Assange may be additionally charged with extra conspiracies and even violation of the 1917 Espionage Act.

Even if they must still seek consent from London to bring further charges, there’s no shortage of DoJ lawyers able to apply sophistry to conjure a crime out of thin air.

WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson, right, and Assange’s UK lawyer Jennifer Robinson, left, outside Westminster Magistrate’s Court. Photo: AFP/WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s very able lawyer, has correctly stressed his arrest is “a free speech issue” because it “is all about the ways in which journalists can communicate with their sources.” The invaluable Ray McGovern, who knows one or two things about the US intel community, has evoked a requiem of the fourth estate.

The full context of Assange’s arrest comes to light when examined as sequential to Chelsea Manning spending a month in solitary confinement in a Virginia jail for refusing to denounce Assange in front of a grand jury. There’s no doubt the DoJ tactic is to break Manning by any means available.

Here’s Manning’s legal team: “The indictment against Julian Assange unsealed today was obtained a year to the day before Chelsea appeared before the grand jury and refused to give testimony. The fact that this indictment has existed for over a year underscores what Chelsea’s legal team and Chelsea herself have been saying since she was first issued a subpoena to appear in front of a Federal Grand Jury in the Eastern District of Virginia – that compelling Chelsea to testify would have been duplicative of evidence already in the possession of the grand jury, and was not needed in order for US Attorneys to obtain an indictment of Mr Assange.”

The Deep State attacks

The ball is now in a UK court. Assange will most certainly linger in prison for a few months for skipping bail while the extradition to the US dossier proceeds. The DoJ arguably has discussed with London how a “correct” judge may deliver the desired outcome.

Assange is a publisher. He leaked absolutely nothing. The New York Times, as well as The Guardian, also published what Manning uncovered. Collateral Murder, among tens of thousands of pieces of evidence, should always be at the forefront of the whole discussion – this is about war crimes committed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So it’s no wonder the US Deep State will never forgive Manning and Assange, even as the New York Times, in another glaring instance of double standards, may get a pass. The drama will eventually need closure at the Eastern District of Virginia because the national security and intel apparatus has been working on this screenplay, full-time, for years.

As CIA director, Mike Pompeo did cut to the chase: “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

What amounts to a de facto declaration of war underlines how dangerous WikiLeaks actually is, just because it practiced investigative journalism.

The current DoJ charges have absolutely nothing to do with the debunked Russiagate. But expect the subsequent political football to be bombastic.

The Trump camp at the moment is divided. Assange is either a pop hero fighting the Deep State swamp or a lowly Kremlin stooge. At the same time, Joe Manchin, a southerner Democrat Senator, rejoices, on the record, as an ersatz 19th-century plantation owner, that Assange is now “our property.” The Democrat strategy will be to use Assange to get to Trump.

And then there’s the EU, of which Britain may eventually not be part of, later rather than sooner. The EU will be very vigilant on Assange being extradited to “Trump’s America,” as the Deep State makes sure that journalists everywhere actually do have a right, to always remain silent.


Source: Asia Times

Phony Success – Obama Adviser’s Book Is Ranked 1,030 On Amazon – How Did It Make NYT’s Best Seller List? – by Luke Rosiak (Daily Caller)

Sean Stupid Lies
  • Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett’s book is number 1,030 on Amazon with only three reviews, but is on the NYT Best Seller list. An industry insider said that was “inconceivable” and that Jarrett likely paid a company that helps authors buy their way onto the list.
  • One such company buys 10,000 copies of an author’s book and tries to prevent bestseller lists from realizing the sales aren’t organic, in which case the book may be moved down or taken off the list.
  • There were 12,600 reported sales of Jarrett’s book, enough to rank it highly on the Publishers Weekly chart, but Publishers Weekly did not put it on its list at all.

Valerie Jarrett, a top adviser to former President Barack Obama, published a book that ranks dismally on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble, but was placed on The New York Times Best Seller list.

Anomalies around the book’s sales figures in industry databases have some in the book business questioning whether Jarrett, who’s rumored to have received a million-dollar-plus advance, paid a company to game the numbers.

Her book, which was published April 2, is number 1,030 on Amazon’s list of top sellers and has only three reviews on the site. It similarly ranks 1,244 on Barnes and Noble where signed copies are being sold for less than the suggested retail for unsigned copies.

Yet the book was also 14th on the NYT bestseller list.

“Given the organic sales of that book and the fact that during the entire week of rollout it barely cracked the top 100 on Amazon, there’s no way the book should have a place on the NYT Best Seller list. Inconceivable,” one prominent book industry insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There’s likely an effort to game the system, it’s the only explanation.“

Jarrett’s book outsold all but the top four books on the NYT list, according to BookScan, which tracks sales figures. But instead of putting it at number five, the Times placed it lower, including behind one book billed as “a behind-the-scenes look at the daytime talk show ‘The View,’” which is seventh.

“It should have been number five, except they excluded a big chunk of her sales for being sketchy. They’ve declared shenanigans,” one longtime book editor told TheDCNF also on the condition of anonymity.

According to BookScan data, Jarrett’s book “Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward,” sold 12,600 copies in its first week, more than twice as many as the book ranked immediately above it on NYT’s list. The books in NYT’s fifth through 13th slots sold between 4,300 and 9,000 copies.

NYT creates its own estimate of book sales from sampling book stores and also adjusts placements higher or lower for various reasons. NYT did not return a request for comment.

Even more baffling to book world insiders, the Publishers Weekly bestsellers list, which is based on BookScan data, omitted Jarrett’s book from their list of top 25 titles, even though it seemingly should have been seventh.

“This is the first time that I’ve seen a book that doesn’t show up on the PW list but when you drill into BookScan, you see that it had sales that should have been there,” president of the conservative book publisher Regnery, Marji Ross, said.

The book editor that requested anonymity told TheDCNF: “We all know that when Bookscan excludes a book, then it’s been left off because of something sketchy, a bunch of bulk sales or an unusual geographic spread.”

The first industry expert added, “There are some industry sources who don’t think she should be on the list because of fraudulent reporting.”

NPD, the company that compiles the BookScan data, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Publishers Weekly.

Publicists with Jarrett’s book publisher, Viking, who normally are proactively engaged with the media around a book launch, did not return request for comment on behalf of itself and Jarrett.

Buying success

For a price, companies such as Result Source will help authors buy their way onto the bestseller list. The bestseller lists exclude bulk sales, so they work by buying large numbers of books in a way that appears as manual, individual sales. The purchases are also concentrated during one week, ensuring that its numbers are high enough to place in the top 10 during its crucial launch week, even if it means stockpiling and trying to resell those books over a long period of time.

“They just take three months worth of their events books, all their corporate clients and speeches, and they funnel them through this company,” the editor said.

Result Source generally bought between 10,000 and 11,000 copies in the first week in order to ensure a spot on the bestseller list, he said, another red flag with Jarrett’s 12,600 number. “Is that 11,000 bulk sales and then only 1,600 copies? If Viking paid $1 million and the organic sales were 1,600 …”

Even though it means spending significant amounts of money to buy their own books, hitting bestseller status helps authors in other ways. Indeed, Jarrett’s web page advertising her as a paid speaker already notes that she is a “Former Senior Advisor, Obama Administration; Bestselling Author.” (RELATED: Jeff Sessions Thinks He Can Pull In $40k For Paid Speeches)

The Wall Street Journal ran a 2013 exposé on Result Source. One author, Soren Kaplan, said he paid the company $20,000 to $30,000 plus the cost of books.

Kaplan’s book hit third on the bestseller list its first week, and his sales went almost to zero after that. But that was enough to burnish his resume permanently with a bestseller status that has helped him get other business, he told the Journal.

After the exposé, Result Source shut down, but a similar company called Highlights emerged, the book editor said.

The Daily Beast reported that multiple evangelical Christian pastors used Result Source to game the bestseller list. Former pastor Marck Driscoll resigned from his church after being exposed in 2014. He apologized and asked that the term “New York Times best-selling author” be removed from his bio.

The Times told the Daily Beast that it had ways of discovering and combating people trying to influence their rankings.

“We have developed a system to detect anomalies and patterns that are typical of attempts to gain a false ranking and warrant further inquiry,” Times communications director Danielle Rhoades-Hasaid. “We know which publishers are the most likely to attempt such things. We know what tools they use and with whom—which organizations, special interest web sites, ‘consultants’ and shady order fulfillment houses and retailers—they tend to collaborate.”

Dismal sales

Just 10 days after launch, the hardcover price of Jarrett’s book on Amazon has been slashed to $18 from the $30 list price.

“Viking supposedly paid seven figures for this, so they were hoping for Michelle Obama level publicity and number one bestseller,” the anonymous book editor said. “Number 14 is a huge disappointment. For $1 million you want to sell 200,000 copies in order for this to work out. For a book like this that should have been publicity driven, you’d want 40 to 50 thousand in the first week.”

“There’s no demand for the book and no one is reviewing it,” the editor continued. “She’s gotten very little media. She doesn’t know how to sell it and no one wants to sell it for her.”

Ross said “I don’t often understand what New York publishers are thinking when they pay seven- and even eight- figure advances to big figures on the liberal side. I assume that the publisher is pretty disappointed with the sales and the media attention for the book.”

“I didn’t even know there was a book until I saw the NYT list yesterday,” she continued. “Obviously it hasn’t gotten very much traction, based on the general lack of buzz. Which is why I’m surprised to see that inside of BookScan’s system, 12,000 books were sold.”

She said that even if the Times moved her down in the rankings because of suspicious sales, it still put her on the list. “There is still a bragging right that you get when you make the list, she’ll be able to say that.”

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Nigeria: Five years after Islamic Boko Haram kidnap, 112 Chibok girls still missing – by Sophie Bouillon and Audu Abba Kurama (AFP) 13 April 2019

 

 

Hauwa was one of the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamic Boko Haram on April 14, 2014

 

Aisha Musa Maina digs through an old bag looking for memories of her daughter Hauwa, one of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped five years ago by Boko Haram jihadists in northeastern Nigeria.

All she has left are old papers damaged by dust and humidity, a school diploma and a small photograph.

The kidnap had caused the family such suffering and sadness it feels as if they were all abducted, Hauwa’s mother told AFP.

On April 14, 2014, Islamic gunmen stormed the Chibok girls’ boarding school, kidnapping 276 pupils aged 12-17, 57 of whom managed to escape by jumping from the trucks.

Their plight moved the world and became a key election issue for President Muhammadu Buhari who was elected a year later on the promise of defeating Boko Haram and returning the girls safe and sound.  Michelle Obama wore an elastic band memorializing the girls who were kidnapped.

After negotiations with Boko Haram, 107 of the girls either escaped, were released in exchange for prisoners or were recovered by the army.

– Living in hope –

Hauwa is one of the 112 girls of whom there has been no news.

Her family wonders if their daughter is still alive or if she was killed in a Nigerian army bombing, a claim made by the Islamic jihadist group.

She might have died of hunger or disease, given the army’s long-term policy of blocking the group’s supplies. She might even have been converted to the group’s Islamic fundamentalist beliefs.

In a propaganda video broadcast by Boko Haram in January 2018, 14 women claiming to be Chibok girls, three of whom held babies, warned their families they would not be coming home. Thanking the leader of the Muslim group Abubakar Shekau, who “married us off” they added: “We are the Chibok girls that you cry for… (but) by the grace of Allah, we will not return to you.”

News is scarce in this small, remote town where the literacy rate is very low.  Hauwa’s father Musa Maina has no idea what has happened to his daughter, although he insists he has not lost hope.  “We heard that some parents were reunited with their daughters but ours (is) still yet to come back home,” he said.  “We aren’t losing hope but we are appealing to government to invest more effort to bring back our girls and reunite us,” he added.

Elsewhere in the country, the passage of time seems to have lowered expectations of finding the girls. At a big traffic junction in the centre of the economic capital Lagos, drivers no longer pay attention to their pictures hung along the railings.

– Over 1,000 children kidnapped –

Five years ago the “Bring back our girls” slogan – fuelled by social media — became a powerful rallying cry.  Now, the girls’ plight takes its place alongside the many other tragedies in this country of 190 million plagued by crime and conflict.

Boko Haram has also grown in strength over the past year, after being weakened during the first years of Buhari’s presidency — he was reelected for a second term in February.

The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), the IS-linked faction of Boko Haram, has increased its deadly attacks on military bases, killing several hundred Nigerian army soldiers.  Last year on the fourth anniversary of the Chibok kidnapping, the UN Children’s agency said more than 1,000 other children had also been kidnapped by jihadists since 2013.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch put the number of young boys — some as young as five — in the hands of the group at up to 10,000.  Some of these children are believed to have been released and sent to deradicalisation centres as the Nigerian army made inroads into Boko Haram territory.

Whatever their fate, and that of the Chibok girls, a decade of conflict has taken a heavy toll.

The Boko Haram Islamic insurgency has claimed 27,000 lives in Nigeria where nearly two million people still cannot return to their homes and also spilled over into neighbouring countries Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

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New Zealand Nurse kidnapped by Islamic State fighters five years ago may be alive, Red Cross (AFP) 14 April 2019

Geneva (AFP) – A New Zealand nurse believed abducted with two drivers by Islamic State militants in Syria in 2013 may still be alive, the International Committee of the Red Cross has revealed for the first time in an appeal for news of her whereabouts.

Louisa Akavi was snatched along with Syrian drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes while travelling in a Red Cross convoy delivering supplies to Idlib, in the northwest of the country.  Armed men stopped their convoy on October 13, 2013, and abducted seven people, four of whom were released the following day.

The ICRC said it believed they were abducted by the Islamic State group (IS).

“Our latest credible information indicates that Louisa was alive in late 2018,” the group said Sunday in a statement from Geneva. “The ICRC has never been able to learn more details about Alaa and Nabil, and their fate is not known.”

New Zealand said it disagreed with making the abduction public but did confirm it had dispatched a special forces unit to Syria to search for Akavi.

“This has involved members of the NZDF (New Zealand defence force) drawn from the Special Operations Force, and personnel have visited Syria from time to time as required,” New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said Monday.

“This non-combat team was specifically focused on locating Louisa and identifying opportunities to recover her.

“The efforts to locate and recover Louisa are ongoing, and there are a number of operational or intelligence matters the government won’t be commenting on,” he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed disappointment at the information released by the ICRC and refused to answer questions at her weekly press conference on Monday.

“It absolutely remains the government’s view that it would be preferable if this case was not in the public domain,” she said.

– ‘Compassionate humanitarian’ –

Peters said information about the kidnapping had not been previously released for fear that any publicity would place the hostages at greater risk, and New Zealand media outlets which knew Akavi had been taken hostage agreed not to publish the story.

“In these situations the priority must be the safety of the hostage and we received clear advice that any publicity would place Louisa at even greater risk,” Peters said.

“The government is very grateful for the cooperation of media outlets over many years in respecting this advice and undertaking not to publish … and we thank them for their principled approach.”

ICRC operations director Dominik Stillhart said it was an “extremely difficult time” for the families of the three.

“Louisa is a true and compassionate humanitarian. Alaa and Nabil were committed colleagues and an integral part of our aid deliveries.

“We call on anyone with information to please come forward. If our colleagues are still being held, we call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

Akavi had carried out 17 field missions with the ICRC and the New Zealand Red Cross, the statement said. Rajab and Bakdounes were “dedicated husbands and caring fathers”, it added.

A spokesman for Akavi’s family, Tuaine Robati, said she knew the dangers she faced.

“She’s been through tough times in her job before but she’s stuck at it because she loves it,” he said.

“Louisa is an incredibly experienced nurse and aid worker who knew the risks of her job. Our family misses her very much and is concerned for her safety.”

The war in Syria, which began in 2011, has claimed more than 370,000 lives and forced millions of people to flee their homes.  The Kurdish-led SDF, backed by a US-led coalition, captured the last IS bastion in eastern Syria on March 23, and had detained thousands of suspected IS fighters.  The US is ‘retraining’ captured Islamic State fighters to use against the Syrian government.

But this could make it more difficult to find Akavi.

The New York Times has reported the Red Cross has reason to believe she is alive, because at least two people described seeing her in December at a clinic in Sousa, one of the final villages to be held by IS jihadists.

“We are speaking out today to publicly honour and acknowledge Louisa’s, Alaa’s, and Nabil’s hardship and suffering,” the ICRC statement said.

The organisation has 98 foreign workers and 580 Syrians working in the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights accuses IS of abducting thousands of people since 2014.

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Iran: Islam v Women’s Rights – Woman who removed headscarf during protests pardoned from year in prison – 14 April 2019

Lawyer of Vida Movahed says court sentenced her in March after finding her guilty of encouraging public ‘corruption’.

The headscarf has been in mandatory in Iran since the Iranian revolution in 1979 [File: Majid Saeedi/Getty]
The headscarf has been in mandatory in Iran since the Iranian revolution in 1979 [File: Majid Saeedi/Getty]

The lawyer for an Iranian woman who removed her headscarf in a public protest says she has been sentenced to one year in prison but pardoned by the supreme leader.

Payam Derafshan told The Associated Press news agency that a court sentenced Vida Movahed in March after finding her guilty of encouraging public “corruption”.

Movahed was arrested in November 2018.

Derafshan, who revealed the verdict to local media on Sunday, says Movahed is on a pardon list but the release procedures are still under way. There was no official comment.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei occasionally issues pardons. Movahed, 32, was dubbed the “Girl of Enghelab Street” and briefly arrested in 2017 after she took off her headscarf and held it in the air. 

READ MORE

Iran arrests 29 women for not wearing hijab in protests

Authorities detained 29 women on similar charges the following year.

Mandatory headscarf

The headscarf, or hijab, has been mandatory in Iran since 1979, after the Iranian revolution and the installation of Ayatollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader.

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Iranian women have protested against the law.

During a wave of protests in the country in 2018, women renewed their opposition to the law, taking off their hijabs in public and waving them on wooden sticks like flags.

Holly Dagres, an Iranian-American analyst, told Al Jazeera last year that Iranian authorities are “very much aware” that more than half of the population is against wearing the hijab.

“It’s evident by the fact that the morality police are on constant patrol of the streets of major cities like Tehran,” Dagres said.

“Authorities know that if they don’t crack down, Iranian women will continue to test the boundaries of what they can and cannot wear.” 

The 2018 rallies against the headscarf were inspired by a lone female demonstrator who stood on a busy pavement in central Tehran waving her white headscarf on a wooden stick.

The image of the woman spread on social media.

Her case attracted more attention when she was reportedly detained by police in late January. She was later released on bail, according to the Iran Human Rights group.

Under Iran’s law, a woman who does not wear a hijab in public could face jail time or fines.

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