August 20, 2017

What’s missing in this saga


Sam Smith

While there is a growing realization that the dysfunctional dictator docent in the White House shouldn’t be in the job, there is a stunning lack of alternative paths-  save his impeachment and replacement by the consistently wrong and frequently evil Michael Pence.

A main reason for this vacuum is the most apathetic, unimaginative, conservative and irresponsible Democratic Party in modern history. There is no way wrong can be effectively combatted without a decent alternative and the Democrats have been acting as though just finding fault with Trump will do the job.

A decade, writing about the threat of fascism, I noted:

Germany's willingness to accept Hitler was the product of many cultural characteristics specific to that country, to the anger and frustrations in the wake of the World War I defeat, to extraordinary inflation and particular dumb reactions to it, and, of course, to the appeal of anti-Semitism. Bearing in mind all the foregoing, there was also:

- A collapse of conventional liberal and conservative politics that bears uncomfortable similarities to what we are now experiencing.

- The gross mismanagement of the economy and of such key worker concerns as wages, inflation, pensions, layoffs, and rising property taxes. Many of the actions were taken in the name of efficiency, an improved economy and the "rationalization of production." There were also bankruptcies, negative trade balance, major decline in national production, large national debt rise compensated for by foreign investment. In other words, a hyped version of what America and its workers are experiencing today.

But the Germans didn’t invent fascism. It was the Italians:

One needs to separate Hitler, Nazism and fascism. Conflating these leads the unwary to assume easily that all three are inevitably characterized by anti-Semitism, when in fact only the first two are. By avoiding this distinction we don't have to face the fact that America is closer to fascism than it has ever been in its history.
To understand why, one needs to look not at Hitler but at the founder of fascism, Mussolini. What Mussolini founded was the estato corporativo - the corporative state or corporatism. Writing in Economic Affairs in the mid 1970s, R.E. Pahl and J. T. Winkler described corporatism as a system under which government guides privately owned businesses towards order, unity, nationalism and success. They were quite clear as to what this system amounted to: "Let us not mince words. Corporatism is fascism with a human face.”

Adrian Lyttelton, describing the rise of Italian fascism in The Seizure of Power, writes: "A good example of Mussolini's new views is provided by his inaugural speech to the National Exports Institute on 8 July 1926. . . Industry was ordered to form 'a common front' in dealing with foreigners, to avoid 'ruinous competition,' and to eliminate inefficient enterprises. . . The values of competition were to be replaced by those of organization: Italian industry would be reshaped and modernized by the cartel and trust. . .There was a new philosophy here of state intervention for the technical modernization of the economy serving the ultimate political objectives of military strength and self-sufficiency; it was a return to the authoritarian and interventionist war economy."

Lyttelton writes that "fascism can be viewed as a product of the transition from the market capitalism of the independent producer to the organized capitalism of the oligopoly." It was a point that Orwell had noted when he described fascism as being but an extension of capitalism. Lyttelton quoted Nationalist theorist Affredo Rocco: "The Fascist economy is. . . an organized economy. It is organized by the producers themselves, under the supreme direction and control of the State."

Central to this model of fascism, for its acceptance, is convincing its major victims, workers, to blame others than the corporatist elite. In Germany, it was the Jews, but in America today we have increasingly not only the ethnic prejudices of white nationalists but a liberal disparagement of the white working class, assumed by many to be defined by the former.
This is a potentially mortal mistake. It merely provides recruiting assistance for the white nationalists, not to mention the corporatist elite and the Trump administration. 

A striking exception to this dismal pattern in left of center America is the program espoused by Bernie Sanders. Far from being radical it is reminiscent of policies Democrats used to support but have, for several decades, either forgotten about or dismissed. And the beauty of these policies is that they are ones not only appealing to the white working class but to blacks, latinos, women, labor unions, and the young – in short aimed at a coalition  that we desperately need but is currently missing. 

Let’s run through some examples
:
·      Demanding that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes. Corporations must stop shifting their profits and jobs overseas to avoid paying U.S. income taxes.

·      Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2020.

·      Putting at least 13 million Americans to work by investing $1 trillion over five years towards rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, railways, airports, public transit systems, ports, dams, wastewater plants, and other infrastructure needs.

·      Reversing trade policies like NAFTA, CAFTA, and PNTR with China that have driven down wages and caused the loss of millions of jobs. If corporate America wants us to buy their products they need to manufacture those products in this country, not in China or other low-wage countries.

·      Creating 1 million jobs for disadvantaged young Americans by investing $5.5 billion in a youth jobs program. Today, the youth unemployment rate is off the charts.

·      Fighting for pay equity by signing the Paycheck Fairness Act into law. It is an outrage that women earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.

·      Making tuition free at public colleges and universities throughout America. Everyone in this country who studies hard should be able to go to college regardless of income.

·      Expanding Social Security by lifting the cap on taxable income above $250,000. At a time when the senior poverty rate is going up, we have got to make sure that every American can retire with dignity and respect.

·      Guaranteeing healthcare as a right of citizenship by enacting a Medicare for all single-payer healthcare system. It’s time for the U.S. to join every major industrialized country on earth and provide universal healthcare to all.

·      Requiring employers to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave; two weeks of paid vacation; and 7 days of paid sick days. Real family values are about making sure that parents have the time they need to bond with their babies and take care of their children and relatives when they get ill.

·      Enacting a universal childcare and prekindergarten program. Every psychologist understands that the most formative years for a human being is from the ages 0-3. We have got to make sure every family in America has the opportunity to send their kids to a high quality childcare and pre-K program.

·      Making it easier for workers to join unions by fighting for the Employee Free Choice Act. One of the most significant reasons for the 40-year decline in the middle class is that the rights of workers to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits have been severely undermined.

·      Breaking up huge financial institutions so that they are no longer too big to fail. Seven years ago, the taxpayers of this country bailed out Wall Street because they were too big to fail. Yet, 3 out of the 4 largest financial institutions are 80 percent bigger today than before we bailed them out.

Compared with legislation passed in the New Deal and Great Society, there is nothing radical about this. These are issues that can bring the white working class into progressive politics creating fairness by common goals.

Of course, listening to the media and conventional Democratic leaders  these days one has little notion that such ideas even exist. The mass media has given us two choices: support Donald Trump or oppose him. The thought that the ideas of America are vastly broader that this is kept concealed from the public. This must change. 
While little hope can be expected from the Democratic elite, there is nothing stopping the young, the wise, the varied genders, the imaginative and those of all ethnicities from coming together in a coalition for an America that works better for everyone. 

This is an opportunity especially for the young. 

Remember that during much of the primaries last year, Bernie Sanders was getting more votes from young people than Trump and Clinton put together. 
 
The young did it in the 1960s and they can do it again. Whites and blacks, men and women, and other groups the media likes to keep divided can come together as well. 

The story is there. It’s just waiting for some to make it real.

Polls

Politico - President Donald Trump’s job approval is sagging in three crucial states that helped secure him the presidency last year, according to new NBC News/Marist polls released Sunday. Trump’s approval is below 40 percent in Michigan (36 percent), Pennsylvania (35) and Wisconsin (34), according to the surveys, conducted in the four days after a violent white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The story the media has mostly ignored for decades

 Intercept - An investigation, published Saturday by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in collaboration with The Intercept, punctures the wall of secrecy surrounding Pine Gap, revealing for the first time a wide range of details about its function. The base is an important ground station from which U.S. spy satellites are controlled and communications are monitored across several continents, according to classified documents obtained by The Intercept from the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Together with the NSA’s Menwith Hill base in England, Pine Gap has in recent years been used as a command post for two missions. The first, named M7600, involved at least two spy satellites and was said in a secret 2005 document to provide “continuous coverage of the majority of the Eurasian landmass and Africa.” This initiative was later upgraded as part of a second mission, named M8300, which involved “a four satellite constellation” and covered the former Soviet Union, China, South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and territories in the Atlantic Ocea

Progressive Review, 1998 - A story in the London Daily Telegraph confirms what TPR and a few other alternative news sources have been reporting for some time: that the National Security Agency routinely eavesdrops on telephone, e-mail and fax communications around the world. A recent report of the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament notes that "within Europe all email telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency transferring all target information from the European mainland by satellite to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill in the North York moors in the UK." The report continues:

"Unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed during the Cold War, ECHELON is designed primarily for non-military targets: governments, organizations and businesses in virtually every country. The ECHELON system works by indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications and then siphoning out what is valuable using artificial intelligence aids like MEMEX to find key words."

The Daily Telegraph notes that:

"The NSA, the world's biggest and most powerful signals intelligence organization, received approval to set up a network of spy stations throughout Britain. Their role was to provide military, diplomatic and economic intelligence by intercepting communications from throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The NSA is one of the shadowiest of the US intelligence agencies."

Progressive Review, 1998 - The Washington Post has finally told its readers about NSA's massive electronic spying, but only after the agency itself admitting having 1,056 pages of classified information on the late Princess Diana. Until now, NSA's practice of spying on global communications has been reported largely by alternative media such as the Progressive Review.

Using the sort of sophistry honed by the CIA in its denial of involvement in the drug trade, NSA denied that Diana was ever a "target." Wrote the Post, "The NSA system sucks up millions of electronic signals from around the world every hour, but only 'targeted' communications are actually analyzed and deciphered after a vast array of supercomputers sort them out on the basis of programmed search terms, such as 'Saddam Hussein.'

Last January, the European Parliament reported that all "e-mail, telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency" by a system called Echelon. The operation is carried out in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, because American law doesn't permit it on US soil. NSA claims it does not monitor American conversations. 

Said the report: "Each of the five [countries] supply 'dictionaries' to the other four of keywords, phrases, people and places to 'tag,' and the tagged intercept is forwarded straight to the requesting country," according to the report."

News of the Diana file came out after a Freedom of Information request was made of the agency. While admitting it had the files, NSA denied the request because "because their disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security."


Word: Dick Gregory, 1932-2017

 Political promises are much like marriage vows. They are made at the beginning of the relationship between candidate and voter, but are quickly forgotten.

Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant, and this white waitress came up to me and said: 'We don't serve colored people here.' I said: "that's all right, I don't eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken."

In most places in the country, voting is looked upon as a right and a duty, but in Chicago it's a sport.

I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark.

Political promises are much like marriage vows. They are made at the beginning of the relationship between candidate and voter, but are quickly forgotten.

Love is very dangerous if you just have love and don't have the ability to be lovable.

I am really enjoying the new Martin Luther King Jr stamp - just think about all those white bigots, licking the backside of a black man.

If democracy is so good why do we have to go to other countries and try and jam it down their throats with a gun? Stay here and make democracy work. If it's good you don't have to force it on others; they'll steal it.

Jefferson Bauregard Sessions shutting down true marijuana research

Daily Beast - Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to continue to hinder what limited scientific research can be conducted in America into marijuana’s effects. According to The Washington Post, quoting one senior Drug Enforcement Agency official, Sessions’ Department of Justice “has effectively shut down” an Obama administration initiative to expand the number of suppliers of marijuana for scientific research.

“The standoff is the latest example of the nation’s premier narcotics enforcement agency finding itself in disagreement with the new administration,” the Post reports, noting that “The DEA is no shrinking violet when it comes to marijuana enforcement.”

It might surprise you to learn that, as far as the federal government is concerned, cocaine is less dangerous than marijuana. Cocaine is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning the government recognizes both a high potential for abuse and legitimate medical uses, while marijuana is Schedule I, meaning it has no recognized legitimate medical uses—just a potential for abuse.

DC bar offers specials each time a staffer leaves the White House

Washington Examiner - A Washington, D.C., bar is offering drink specials every time a staffer departs President Trump's White House.

The Bird, located in the Shaw neighborhood, said it would offer $4 drinks during happy hour after news broke that White House chief strategist Steve Bannon had been fired.

The promotion was started after former communications director Anthony Scaramucci was fired on July 31, USA Today reported.

August 19, 2017

The issue the Democrats ignored: the collapse of the white working class

To understand the rise of white nationalism, it helps, although Democrats show little interest in it, to understand what has been happening to the white working class. Beginning in the 70s, the Democrats lost interest in America's working class and have paid a considerable price for it. It's not an error too hard to correct. For example, Bernie Sanders' campaign revived economic issues and, according to a report last year, by June 2016 Sanders had gained more young people's votes than Trump and Clinton combined.  And in the end economic fairness supports ethnic and gender equality. The fairer the economic system the less anger and prejudice drive politics. 

Atlantic, March 2017 - A new study by the Brookings Institution finds that mortality rates are rising for those without a college degree.

Nearly 20 years ago, the mortality rate for high-school-educated white Americans ages 50 to 54 was 30 percent lower than the rate for all black Americans in the same age group. As of 2015, the rate was 30 percent higher. “This is a story of the collapse of the white working class,” Angus Deaton, the study’s co-author, told The New York Times. “The labor market has very much turned against them.” (Conversely, mortality rates are falling among middle-age white Americans with college degrees.)

It’s not just that lack of education has led to declining incomes, although that is certainly the case. The authors find that white men of all ages without a four-year college degree are less likely to participate in the labor force. But there seems to be a broader effect among white Americans in middle age: Not having a college degree often results in fewer economic opportunities, which in turn may trigger things like divorce, poor health, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, or raising children in unstable conditions.

The study’s authors say that working-class whites have faced “a long-term process of decline, or of cumulative deprivation.” This process, they argue, started with “those leaving high school and entering the labor force after the early 1970s—the peak of working-class wages, and the beginning of the end of the ‘blue-collar aristocracy.’”

As economic opportunities have dwindled for those without higher education, marriage rates have declined and divorce rates have risen, causing more men to lose regular contact with their children. These social trends promote distress—and in many cases, the effects are fatal. Since 1999, middle-age white Americans with only a high-school degree have seen a steep increase in “deaths of despair”—suicide, drug overdose, or alcohol abuse. Although opioids are not the primary cause of rising mortality rates, the authors say they are certainly adding “fuel to the flames.” Additional research finds that half of all working-age, unemployed men in America are taking pain medication—and two-thirds of them are taking prescription painkillers. Meanwhile, for middle-age white Americans of all educational backgrounds the average mortality rates from heart disease and cancer have slowed to just 1 percent per year.

Overall, rising mortality rates were most pronounced in states with large rural populations like Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, though the authors find this to be both a rural and urban phenomenon. It is also, for reasons uncertain, a racial phenomenon. The study finds a decline in mortality rates among black and Hispanic Americans, despite seeing little difference in their income profiles.

Word: "Christian" right extremists


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No good idea is too small for Trump to kill

Eco Watch - The National Park Service (NPS) announced Wednesday that it has rescinded the 2011 "Water Bottle Ban" that allowed parks to prohibit the sale of disposable plastic water bottles. That same day, news emerged that the Trump administration removed a nine-slot Capital Bikeshare station at the White House that was requested and installed during the Obama years and used by staffers.

The NPS said that the bottled water ban "removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks."

According to the Wilderness Society, 23 national parks had adopted the policy, including Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Zion National Park. The group said the Water Bottle Ban—an effort under President Obama's Green Parks Plan to promote the use of tap water and refillable bottles on federal lands—helped parks "simultaneously reduce park waste and carbon emissions."

August 18, 2017

Furthermore. . .

Ex-Trump business partner reportedly talking about prison for POTUS

Alternet - Felix Sater, one of Donald Trump’s shadiest former business partners, is reportedly preparing for prison time — and he says the president will be joining him behind bars.

Sources told The Spectator‘s Paul Wood that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s deep dive into Trump’s business practices may be yielding results.

Trump recently made remarks that could point to a money laundering scheme, Wood reported.

“I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?” the president said.

Sater, who has a long history of legal troubles and cooperating with law enforcement, was one of the major players responsible to for selling Trump’s condos to the Russians.

And according to Wood’s sources, Sater may have already flipped and given prosecutors the evidence they need to make a case against Trump.

MORE

The huge ignored bias in the Senate

Nine states, with over half the population of the United States, have only 18% of Senate seats. The other half have 82%.

Why we need multi-seat House districts

Fair Vote - Most voters are locked in congressional districts that are increasingly skewed toward one party. With no power to affect outcomes, too many votes simply do not matter. The problem goes beyond gerrymandering, redistricting, and money. The problem is districting itself. The zero-sum, winner-take-all system in which only one person is elected to represent each district no longer works in this era of hardened partisanship.

The Fair Representation Act  gives voters of all backgrounds and all political stripes the power to elect House Members who reflect their views and will work constructively with others in Congress. Under the Fair Representation Act, there will be more choices and several winners elected in each district. Congress will remain the same size, but districts will be larger, each electing 3, 4, or 5 winners. Voters will be free to rank their choices without fear of "spoilers." No district will be “red” or “blue.” Every district will fairly reflect the spectrum of voters.

The U.S. Constitution does not say how states should elect their Members of the House of Representatives, and states used a variety of methods for most of the nation's history. However, since 1970, every state has elected only one per district in a winner-take-all election, due to a federal law passed in 1967. After nearly half a century of exclusive use of single-winner districts, we need a new standard.

More than 85% of U.S. House districts are completely safe for the party that holds them. and only 4% were true toss-ups in 2016. As a result, millions of Americans are perpetually represented by politicians they oppose, with little hope of changing things at the polls. Outcomes are distorted. Massachusetts Republicans haven't elected a House Member in more than 2 decades. Oklahoma Democrats are similarly shut out. Minor parties are nearly always shamed as "spoilers." One party can run the House even when the other earns more votes. In fair elections, those with the most votes should win the most seats, but every American deserves a fair share.

By electing candidates from multi-winner districts with at least three seats each, fair representation voting would allow every voter to elect someone from the major party they support. And, more of each party's "big tent" would have the opportunity to support - and even elect - a candidate in the general election.

Because election results with ranked choice voting would be proportional within each district, the skewed outcomes of our current system would be a thing of the past. Voters that are now shut-out, like Republicans in Massachusetts or Democrats in Oklahoma, would win their fair share of representation. In every state, the number of seats earned by each party would align far more closely to their share of the vote.

How multi-seat districts would work in your state

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    TUNES FROM A DC MUSICAL: Sam & Kathy Smith, along with Becky Brown, wrote a musical revue of DC history that was performed by the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop in 1978. The Washington Times listed the show as one of the "Sure Things" for the week. Mayor Marion Barry attended one performance Unfortunately, no recording was made, but years later Sam made a rough recording of some of the tunes for a curiuous reporter.
  • THE ATTICA THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN One year after Attica, there was a prisoner revolt at the Washington, DC Jail during which the director of DC Corrections and a number of guards were taken hostage. But, unlike Attica, no one was killed. Perhaps this is why so few remember what happened on a night when judges, politicians, U.S. Marshals, prisoners, and hostages all gathered in Courtroom 16 to see what could be done - brought together by a single judge who wasn't afraid o talk when others wanted to shoot.
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ACLU reaches settlement in CIA torture case

Popular Resistance - In a first for a case involving CIA torture, the American Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement today in the lawsuit against the two psychologists who designed and implemented the agency’s brutal program. A jury trial was scheduled to begin on September 5, after the plaintiffs successfully overcame every attempt by the psychologists to have the case dismissed.

The lawsuit was brought by the ACLU on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and the family of Gul Rahman, who froze to death in a secret CIA prison. The three men were tortured and experimented on using methods developed by the CIA-contracted psychologists, James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen.

The full terms of the settlement agreement are confidential.

... Until now, every lawsuit trying to hold people accountable for the CIA torture program has been dismissed at initial stages because the government successfully argued that letting the cases proceed would reveal state secrets. But unlike previous cases, this time the Justice Department did not try to derail the lawsuit. The defendants attempted to dismiss the case multiple times, but the court consistently ruled that the plaintiffs had valid claims.

Maine's governor actually said this...

NY Post - Maine’s Republican governor likened the removal of Confederate statues across the country to tearing down monuments to those who died in the terror attacks on Sept. 11.

“To me, it’s just like going to New York City right now and taking down the monument of those who perished in 9/11. It will come to that,” Gov. Paul LePage told Maine radio station WGAN-AM in an interview Thursday.

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August 17, 2017

George Washington and Robert E. Lee



Sam Smith

One of the hazards of not studying history is that it can badly distort the present and the future as well as the past. This is a particular problem for younger Americans as, over the past three decades or so, there has been so little evidence of cultural progress in government, the arts, the economy, or America’s reputation in the world. Rare exceptions include cyber technology and, somewhat surprisingly, the declining death rate of war. For an older American like myself, on the other hand, history was an act of progress for nearly my first forty years or so – from the New Deal to the 1960s and up to Reagan. I didn’t have to study this history; I lived it.

And besides, history was a more important item in the curriculum when I was young. One thing I learned from it was that mankind in many ways improved through time, not just technologically thanks to things like the printing press but morally through such things as the abolition of slavery and the empowerment of women. One of the reasons post-1980s America has discouraged me so much is that this improvement seems to be determinedly fading away.

I was reminded of this by the argument, offered by Donald Trump’s lawyer among others, that George Washington was no better than Robert E Lee because the former also owned slaves. This ignores the fact that one of the aforementioned help to create the republic while the other attempted to destroy it.  And if we as a people had not improved in decency and other ways since the 18th century, what purpose was there for us to be on the planet at all?

In other words, the fact that those  in the past were flawed  in ways that we now soundly reject is a sign of human progress and our judgment should be based on the time someone lived not by the standards that have evolved. As Barbara Tuchman put it, “To understand the choices open to people of another time, one must limit oneself to what they knew; see the past in its own clothes, as it were, not in ours.”

And though I far prefer Benjamin Franklin or Frederick Douglass to George Washington, for all the latter’s flaws I greatly favor him over Robert E. Lee who, even by the standards of his own time, tried to destroy something great and good.

Remember further, before judging the past, that some day we will share responsibility for the planet’s climate and, perhaps, even for still believing in war, which may have become the abolition cause of another era.

But there is no way we can handle such issues by listening to the likes of Donald Trump’s lawyer. A Don Dileo put it once, “History is the sum total of the things they're not telling us.”