I Went to a Trump Rally Expecting Violence, What I Found Was Quiet Desperation

AlterNet.org - October 22, 2016 - 4:45pm
Click here for reuse options! Reality is setting in.

A palpable sadness consumed the Newtown, Pennsylvania recreation center Friday night as Donald Trump took to the stage for his final rally of the day. But what was even more shocking than the somber mood of the room was how much the audience size paled in comparison to the majority of the nominee's prior events.

A mere 25 miles outside of Philadelphia, Trump could barely fill a gymnasium; the audience demographics, however, mirroring that of the town.

The rally was nearly 100% white, with the majority of women in attendance over 40. 

"We're going to be bringing jobs back to Pennsylvania, folks," Trump announced along with a myriad of other classic campaign promises.

And his attack on the media, particularly CNN, seemed to rile up the crowd most.

"CNN sucks," they chanted at the press pen while the overflow crowd outside was scanned by members of the heavily armed Bucks County police department.

But if there's one conspiracy mainstream media can be faulted with perpetuating it's that Trump supporters are "working class" rebels. And with a media household income of $65,000, Newtown residents hardly represents Trump's mythically impoverished base.

In two weeks, Donald Trump will most likely lose the election. But it's unclear if his supporters will accept its result, much less who they will rally behind next.

Watch: Trump rally in under 2 minutes

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Salma Hayek Says Trump Planted Fake Gossip About Her When She Wouldn't Date Him

AlterNet.org - October 22, 2016 - 3:16pm
Click here for reuse options! As if that was going to win her over.

After the election, scientists should dedicate time to studying Donald Trump’s ego, so uniquely fragile and easily destroyed. Case in point #823,798 comes from actress Salma Hayek, who says that after she rebuffed his advances, Trump had a great big hissyfit and took the spiteful step of planting a bad story about her in the National Enquirer.

The actress was being interviewed on the Los Angeles-based, Spanish-language radio program El Show del Mandril. She spent part of the episode boosting Hillary Clinton, before being asked about the allegations of sexual harassment, assault and impropriety against Trump. (As of this writing, at least 10 women have accused Trump of being a sexual predator.)

“When I met that man, I had a boyfriend, and he tried to become his friend to get my home telephone number,” Hayek said, according to Buzzfeed News. “He got my number and he would call me to invite me out.”

“When I told him I wouldn’t go out with him even if I didn’t have a boyfriend, [which he took as disrespectful], he called — well, he wouldn’t say he called, but someone told the National Enquirer. Someone told the National Enquirer— I’m not going to say who, because you know that whatever he wants to come out comes out in the National Enquirer,” Hayek stated, per Buzzfeed. “It said that he wouldn’t go out with me because I was too short.”

By numerous accounts, National Enquirer publisher David Pecker and Donald Trump are BFFs going way back. Trump has even written articles for the tabloid. In any case, after the story ran, Hayek says Trump reached out again, concern-trolling her in a last-ditch effort to use the made-up gossip to his advantage.

“Later, he called and left me a message [saying] ‘Can you believe this? Who would say this? I don’t want people to think this about you,’” Hayek said. “He thought that I would try to go out with him so people wouldn’t think that’s why he wouldn’t go out with me.”

Hayek has made clear she’s no fan of Trump in the past. During an appearance on the Late Late Show earlier this year, she pointed out that Trump says he’s “still exactly the same as that kid in first grade, that he hasn’t changed.”

“I agree with him that we have a first-grade bully running for the president of the United States,” the actress concluded.

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Colbert Interviews the Congresswoman Who Led a Landmark Gender Equality Lawsuit Against Newsweek

AlterNet.org - October 22, 2016 - 12:02pm
Click here for reuse options! Colbert introduces us to the real heroine behind TV series "Good Girls Revolt."

After we've endured a range of misogyny, from subtle to outrageous to unbearable, from the Donald Trump campaign, it's a welcome time for reminders of victories involving female equality. One case in particular that's getting plenty of attention is that of Eleanor Holmes Norton, the civil rights lawyer who in 1970 led a lawsuit against gender discrimination in the offices of Newsweek magazine.

"Women at Newsweek magazine, they were all researchers. Now these were the crème de la crème: Phi Beta Kappas, Fulbright scholars. Comparable men came in as reporters," Norton—now a congresswoman representing the District of Columbia—told Stephen Colbert on "The Late Show" Friday night.

"They got up their gumption to come see me, to say, 'Do you think we got a lawsuit here?' I said, 'Slam dunk, girls,'" she explained with a confidently delivered punchline that got both Colbert and the audience laughing.

Colbert also welcomed guest Joy Bryant, who plays Norton in the upcoming web TV series based on the lawsuit, Good Girls Revolt. Bryant admitted she was "nervous" at the "tremendous responsibility" of portraying a woman she admired and whom she had the opportunity to meet with to prepare for the show. The two were speechless upon meeting, Bryant said, "And then we hugged, and it was love at first sight."

The group meetings Norton held with the female Newsweek employees with the goal of "women's consciousness raising" are not a far cry from the "Feminist Fight Club" described in Jessica Bennett's new book of that title. And that's a fact Bennett herself points to in her book. "I had begun my career at one of the oldest of the old boys' clubs, Newsweek," Bennett says before introducing Norton's landmark gender discrimination lawsuit, going into details of the publication's history of sexism including Nora Ephron's time as a researcher at the magazine.

Since the first (and second) rule of Bennett's Feminist Fight Club is, "You must talk about the Feminist Fight Club," this segment, along with the Good Girls Revolt series and Bennett's book, is a good place to start for women in the modern age looking for feminist inspiration.


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Republicans Abandon Fox News: Roger Ailes Has Turned GOP Voters from Their Favorite Channel

AlterNet.org - October 22, 2016 - 11:23am
Click here for reuse options! For the first time, Fox News is no longer a top-20 most trusted brand with conservatives.

Since January, Fox News has seen a precipitous drop in its reputation amongst its mostly conservative viewership — falling to 50th place on a list of brands most trusted by Republicans over the past two years.

In 2014, the most dominant cable news channel was the 10th best-perceived brand by Republicans, according to AdAge. But in a YouGov Brand Index survey released at the end of February 2016, the perception of Fox News among Republicans had “declined by approximately 50 percent since January of this year” — to a three-year low.

And in a just-released 2016 YouGov BrandIndex ranking, Fox News’ positionplummeted to outside of the top-20 for the first time.  

YouGov BrandIndex interviews 4,300 people each weekday from a representative U.S. population sample. Respondents are drawn from an online panel of more than 2 million individuals and survey results are sorted by respondents’ self-reported political affiliation: Republican, Democrat or Independent.

While Fox News’ ratings have remained high throughout the entire campaign season, its brand began to drop during the feud with Donald Trump.

Following the first GOP primary debate hosted by Fox News, the GOP nominee was set off by a question from moderator Megyn Kelly and went on to attack the network that had hosted him for weekly appearances.

Trump’s feud with Kelly tarnished the networks’ perception amongst viewers who suspected an anti-Trump bias. And while Trump still found safe refuge at “Fox & Friends” and even had Fox News host Sean Hannity appear in a campaign ad on his behalf, the blatant boosting alienated supporters of other Republican candidates.

Then one of the network’s most veteran female anchors accused former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment.

After Gretchen Carlson filed a blockbuster lawsuit against the Fox News boss, the network saw its biggest shake-up with the retirement of longtime host Greta Van Susteren and the ousting of Ailes — who went on to join the Trump campaign as an adviser.

So, just as a Fox News host was selected as a presidential debate moderator for the first time ever, its former head was prepping Trump for the debate.

“I’m disappointed in Roger going to work for the Trump campaign,” third debate moderator and “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Thursday. “We have had to fight back for a lot of years against claims that we’re an arm of the Republican Party. We aren’t.”

Enter Trump.TV. As Salon’s Matthew Sheffield’s explained, Trump will be ideally situated to benefit from the demise of the Fox News brand among Republicans. Reports since Ailes’ ousting indicate that Rupert Murdoch and sons Lachlan and James, who help run parent company 21st Century Fox, plan to begin shedding the network’s image as a right-wing media outfit in favor of a more serious journalistic effort.

Host Shepard Smith recently told the Huffington Post that Murdoch indicated after the Ailes scandal that he planned to make Fox News “the best news organization in the America.”

But a more mainstream news source is not what Republican viewers want. While Fox News’ reputational ranking went down, Republicans still despise both CNN and MSNBC much more. CNN and MSNBC were ranked 1,470 and 1,471, respectively.

“If you’re tired of biased, mainstream media reporting (otherwise known as Crooked Hillary’s super PAC), tune into my Facebook Live broadcast,” Trump told his supporters ahead of the third presidential debate Wednesday. According to the Financial Times, the nearly four hours of coverage had 8.9 million views by Thursday afternoon.


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Trump’s Rhetoric Excites ‘Christian Soldier’ for Civil War: ‘Your Skin Color Will Be Your Uniform’

AlterNet.org - October 22, 2016 - 11:17am
Click here for reuse options! Right-wing militias are using he prospect of a Clinton election win to recruit new members.

Donald Trump’s recent rhetoric about rigged elections and a constitutional crisis would fulfill the fantasies of some supporters, who’ve been stockpiling weapons and food as they look forward to what most people would consider a worst-case scenario.

Jim Moseley, a self-described “Christian soldier” from Greenville, South Carolina, is buying extra ammunition and canned goods to prepare for what he believes will be a second civil war, reported The (Toronto) Star.

“Once the trucks stop rolling, the grocery shelves will go empty and gasoline rationing will go into effect,” Moseley wrote in a Facebook message early this week.

The newspaper caught up with Moseley, a 59-year-old retired salesman, earlier this week to discuss Trump’s darkening campaign rhetoric.

It’s clear that, whatever words Trump is using to question the integrity of the election, Moseley and at least some other supporters are interpreting his message as thedeclaration of a war they’ve been itching to fight.

“Liberals will have targets on their backs, as their behaviors are pretty much evident,” Moseley posted. “Race wars will begin as well, as your skin color will be your uniform!”

It’s not clear, of course, whether any of these “lone-wolf patriots” will act out their violent fantasies — but election officials in some states aren’t taking any chances.

Denver is requiring its 350 election judges to complete active shooter training ahead of the Nov. 8 election, just in case.

A Republican campaign office in North Carolina was firebombed over the weekend in a still-unsolved attack, and a Democratic campaign office in the same county was targeted by vandals on the same day.

Right-wing militias, which have grown dramatically during the presidency of Barack Obama and the concurrent popularity of social media, are using the prospect of a Clinton election win to recruit new members.

Three militia members in Kansas were arrested last week in a plot to bomb an apartment building where Muslim refugees — including dozens of children — live on Nov. 9, both the anniversary of Kristallnacht and the day after Election Day.

The would-be bombers planned their plot for that day, investigators said, because they didn’t want their violent action to interfere with the election.

Investigators said they weren’t sure which candidates the suspects backed, but one of them suggested on social media that anyone who voted for Clinton should be tried for treason.


The DOJ said they weren't sure which candidate they were protecting by timing the terrorism post-election, but it's pretty obvious. pic.twitter.com/JXTMtfbCjU

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What's New: Portuguese budget restores the meaning of ‘left’ in Europe

Socialist Project - October 22, 2016 - 2:00am
The government led by socialist António Costa and supported in parliament by the radical Left Bloco de Esquerda (BE) and Partido Comunista Português (PCP) presented the 2017 budget law Friday night. We are only at the beginning of an obstacle-strewn path, and yet, in spite of everything and contrary to all predictions, the majority continues to hold. Portugal’s government is now probably one of the few in Europe to give a practical meaning to the concept of the left.
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Lab-Grown Meat Is the Future of Food: Are You Ready to Take a Bite? (Video)

AlterNet.org - October 22, 2016 - 2:00am
Click here for reuse options! It's better for animals, it's better for people, and it may even taste better than the real thing.

Soon, your burger may come out of a test tube. Cultured meat—meat developed in a scientific lab rather than from slaughtered animals—is rapidly becoming the future of food, or protein, at least.

SuperMeat, a new independent company determined to create meat without killing animals, raised more than twice its desired IndieGoGo funds this past September, which will help develop this meat created from animal cells. With over $200,000 in funding from internet donors, SuperMeat is an exciting prospect for people trying to be more environmentally and ethically conscious.

In 2006, the Vegetarian Resource Group reported that about 2.3 percent of American adults were vegetarian, while 1.4 percent were vegan. Ten years later, the same group found that about 3.3 percent of Americans were vegetarian or vegan in 2016. Rates of vegetarianism appear to remain steady, despite greater knowledge of the animal suffering involved in factory farming and the detrimental environmental effects of meat eating (meat eaters are proven to have the largest carbon footprint).

So if they’re not going to quit their meat-eating habits, Americans need a new sustainable source of meat.

“Knowing the damage caused by the meat industry, made us determined to create cultured meat,” Ronen Bar, vice president of SuperMeat said. “The enormous suffering of hundreds of billions of sentient beings that are slaughtered every year. The destructive effect on the planet and our atmosphere. The pandemics that are caused as a result of intensive animal feeding operations, and antibiotic resistant bacteria that grow and flourish in factory farms. All this made us realize that humanity cannot go on with the current way of producing meat.”

SuperMeat’s mission is simple: clean, healthy, environmentally friendly meat, or as Bar said, “Real meat, without all the bad stuff." The company aims to create a cell-based, non-meat meat—the first of its kind—that will sell in grocery store kiosks and be affordable for consumers.  

SuperMeat is not the only project to attempt creating non-meat meat. The world’s first test-tube-cultivated burger, with a $325,000 pricetag, debuted in 2013 and several other companies are racing to develop the first commercially available cultured meat, yet the product has yet to be commercially available at reasonable costs.

Though factory farm-produced meat may cost as low as cents per pound, the animal suffering is enormous. In the United States alone, approximately 4.6 billion animals—including cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys and ducks—are slaughtered every year for their flesh.

In addition to the misery these animals endure over their short lives, the environmental cost of factory farming is massive. As Salon recently reported, industrial agriculture is responsible for 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of those deriving from livestock, and a week without Americans eating cheese or meat could have the environmental equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the roads.

Yaakov Nahmias, director of  the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Grass Center for Bioengineering, partnered with SuperMeat to help develop the biotechnology that will make the product possible. “With the global population hurtling towards 10 billion individuals, we are running out of water and land to feed the growing population,” Nahimias said, citing his three children and the future of food security as an inspiration for getting involved in the project.

“Factory farms use low doses of antibiotics and arsenic-based compounds to speed up animal growth leading to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and unsafe levels of arsenic and salmonella in most, if not all chicken meat on the market," he said. "This means that eating uncooked chicken meat has become a dangerous health hazard responsible for the hospitalization of thousands each year. This wasn't the case a few decades ago.”  

The meat industry is riddled with problems. Factory farms are known for their secrecy, with investigative videos depicting horrendous violations of animal welfare standards being leaked on a fairly regular basis. Meanwhile, SuperMeat is racing to become consumer-ready and even rival the type of meat currently sold in supermarkets.

But how does this sci-fi-esque food technology work?

“The idea behind cultured meat is relatively simple. We take muscle cells from an animal and get them to proliferate, expand, in large vats,” explained Nahmias. “Then we put them together and ‘assemble’ a meat patty that is biologically identical to animal meat.”

SuperMeat's competitors use cow serum to grow the cultured meat cells, “essentially killing 100 calves to make a single hamburger,” at this phase, Nahmias said. The process is hugely expensive, and Nahmias doesn’t believe those using this method can get the price below $100 per kilogram—far more expensive than traditional meat.

With SuperMeat, cells proliferate and expand without the serum, meaning the cultured meat produced in their lab is created without animal products. “Our cells expand quickly and our technology allows them to assemble into growing pieces of muscle,” Nahmias explained. “We can send these pieces and allow them to grow locally at the consumer location.” This saves enormous costs on shipping. Nahmias predicts the product will cost around $1-5 per kilogram.

Impossible Burger, a company known for creating a veggie burger that “bleeds,” debuted its first consumer-ready meat-free burger in New York City this past July. Made with root hemoglobin to simulate the actual bleeding of animal flesh (an element that might help lure carnivores) and a concoction of secret vegetable-based proteins, raw Impossible Burger has a texture similar to ground beef and sizzles once it hits the grill, like a meat-based burger patty. The product is not currently available outside of David Chang’s Nishi restaurant, where an Impossible Burger retails for $12—a fantastic detail considering the $180 million in research that has funded for the project.

Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in the U.S., recently invested in a startup called Beyond Meat which has created a lab-produced vegetarian meat that sizzles and tastes like actual animal flesh. When the meat industry is getting involved in projects that can potentially threaten its business model, you know that change is really happening.

In contrast to Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, SuperMeat is not made of vegetables disguised to look like meat. So will SuperMeat’s product actually satiate cravings for cooked animal flesh?

“It will taste like regular meat, but the whole process is much more controllable, so people will be able to personally adjust their meat, its ingredients and flavors, creating new exciting tastes,” Bar explained. For example, consumers can combine meat from cells of a chicken and a rabbit for an entirely new FrankenProtein. 

SuperMeat’s crowdfunded campaign is not nearly enough, however, to bring this non-meat meat to fruition. SuperMeat estimates that it still needs $500,000 to afford a meat-making machine, $1 million to create a cost-efficient method of producing chicken tissue and $2.5 million for a prototype, consumer-ready machine. The monetary and scientific challenges are plentiful, but the team believes the non-meat meat can truly be achieved.

“We would never have walked down this path if we didn't think that a commercial, competitive and healthy product is achievable,” Bar said. “Of course, much research is needed.”

As the research and next steps continue, Nahmias said that cultured meat is indeed the future of meat, whether or not we like it. “As long as the global population continues to grow, there is really no other way.”

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Evidence Is Mounting That a Koch Brothers-Owned Paper Plant Is Poisoning People in Arkansas (Video)

AlterNet.org - October 22, 2016 - 2:00am
Click here for reuse options! Residents who say they've been sickened by wastewater discharge are demanding Georgia-Pacific take responsibility.

The economic pulse of Crossett, a small town of some 5,500 people in west Arkansas, has long been measured through the paper and pulp processing plant owned by the Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific. A subsidiary of Koch Industries, Georgia-Pacific is one of the world's largest manufacturers of pulp and paper products, including paper towels (like Brawny) and toilet paper (like Angel Soft).

A bulwark of the blue-collar community, Georgia-Pacific has provided generations of families with a steady stream of well-paid jobs replete with health packages and retirement plans. The plant in Crossett employs around 1,200 people, over three-quarters of whom are from the town or surrounding Ashley County. Many speculate that without the plant, Crossett would simply wither and die. But others fear that the plant has already been slowly poisoning those who live there for decades.

“People are afraid—afraid and scared to say something,” said David Bouie, who worked at the plant for about 10 years, his wife for over 25 years. They live in Crossett, and suffer respiratory and sinus problems, sore throats, nausea and allergies—symptoms, he says, that are shared among many of his neighbors.

“They don’t want to be part of something that could see the mill go away,” Bouie, 69, said. “But we don’t want the mill to go away, we just want it to be fixed and to operate within compliance of the law.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory, Georgia Pacific emits approximately 1.5 million pounds of pollutants every year, including highly toxic chemicals like dioxins, formaldehyde and naphthalene. Then there’s the 45 million gallons of wastewater Georgia-Pacific is permitted to release every day.

At the crux of the wastewater issue is Coffee Creek, a waterway that meanders along the edge of Crossett into Mossy Lake, some 15 miles from town, before joining the Ouachita River. Large portions of Coffee Creek are on Georgia-Pacific land, behind fences, hidden from prying eyes. The creek is at the center of disagreements as to the exact route of Georgia-Pacific’s wastewater discharge.

The aeration pond in Coffee Creek that makes up part of Georgia-Pacific's wastewater treatment system. The company is permitted to discharge 45 million gallons of wastewater daily. (credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki)

Barry Sulkin, an environmental scientist with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, believes Georgia-Pacific’s wastewater system is in Coffee Creek, where the effluent is only partially treated, turning the water in the creek black and contaminating it with an array of dangerous pollutants like dioxins and furans, chromium and sulfates. U.S. Geological Survey maps support his claims of the wastewater discharge, as does a 1984 Use Attainability Analysis stating how effluent from an aeration lagoon flows “via Coffee Creek to Mossy Lake.”

The wastewater route is important: Coffee Creek, say critics of the plant, emits a potent hydrogen sulfide stench like rotten eggs that, at its worst, leaves nearby residents like the Bouies struggling for breath. Higher instances of illnesses, cancers and deaths are reported along streets closest to the creek. A civil rights petition filed in April argues that emissions from the plant and its wastewater discharges disproportionately impacts African-American neighborhoods in the area.

A spokesperson for Georgia-Pacific said Coffee Creek is a separate stream from the wastewater treatment process all the way until Mossy Lake. Georgia-Pacific’s own video from March, however, appears to show the wastewater following a series of pipes and above-ground water treatment systems along the route of Coffee Creek, before discharging into Coffee Creek as it flows toward Mossy Lake.

Earlier this year, Georgia Pacific wrote a letter to USGS asking that the name of Coffee Creek be assigned to a different waterway.

Tensions are high as Georgia-Pacific seeks to renew its wastewater disposal permit. For decades, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has permitted Georgia-Pacific to discharge waste into Coffee Creek and Mossy Lake, determining that neither were suitable for domestic water supplies nor living aquatic life. But a 2007 EPA study found that without the discharge from Georgia-Pacific, Coffee Creek and Mossy Lake have the potential to sustain a diverse living aquatic community “indicative of streams in the ecoregion.”

This means that the creek and Mossy Lake should be protected by the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the release of harmful amounts of pollutants into the nation’s waterways, said Sulkin. “I’ve seen things this bad some 20 to 30 years ago, but I didn’t know this kind of thing was still going on in the United States,” he says.

David Bouie (foreground) and his wife worked at the G-P plant for many years. Now they suffer from a range of health issues. Cheryl Slavant (background) of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network has been trying to hold G-P accountable. (credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki)

Air emissions from the plant are another area of scrutiny. Under fire, last year Georgia Pacific installed an air monitor roughly 500 yards from David Bouie’s home. But is a single air monitor enough to accurately map the extent of the air pollution around Crossett Environmental scientist Wilma Subra doesn’t think so. She spent a week in Crossett conducting her own air quality tests, and detected two hydrogen sulfide “plumes” around the plant and the wastewater operations.

“As the different weather conditions occurred, there were different parts of the community being exposed,” she said. “You clearly saw where the entire community was exposed to the emissions.”

From the start of this year through the end of June, the air monitor near Bouie’s home recorded readings of hydrogen sulfide above a threshold of 70 parts per billion (ppb) six times. The highest reading was 215 ppb, taken in February.

“Hydrogen sulfide is very nauseating at 50 ppb. It makes you want to have to leave the area,” Subra said. Acute symptoms like headaches and nausea are found at exposure to hydrogen sulfide in the ambient air at levels of around 30 ppb. At around 500 ppb, exposure to hydrogen sulfide can cause pulmonary edema, hemorrhagic bronchitis, and asphyxiation. Hydrogen sulfide exposure has also been linked to strokes.

Between 1999-2010, the stroke death rate for Ashley County was 106.4 per 100,000 people, significantly higher than for Arkansas as a whole: 65.3 per 100,000 people. And Arkansas is ranked first in the nation for stroke mortality.

Pushback by proponents of Georgia-Pacific has been strong; understandably so, given its standing in the town. Some point to how the cancer rate for Ashley County is slightly lower than for the whole of Arkansas. The Arkansas Department of Health released a report in June that found no problems with Crossett’s drinking water. “Community members in Crossett who have a serious medical condition deserve sympathy, and our thoughts and prayers are with them,” wrote Georgia-Pacific spokesperson, Kelly Ferguson, in an email to AlterNet. “However, any suggestion that cancers or other serious medical conditions are linked to GP’s Crossett operations is not based on facts.”

Critics of the plant say that these studies are misleading. No official health surveys have been done solely in Crossett. Meanwhile, Anthony Samsel, an expert in hazardous chemical materials, independently tested samples from municipal and private water supplies in Crossett. He found an array of toxic chemicals like benzene, acetone and methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive, in the municipal drinking water. He also found methylene chloride, a volatile solvent, in private wells. The levels, though comparatively low, were high enough to cause serious molecular harm, he said, adding that these chemicals “simply should not be there."

Other evidence stacks up, too. Dickie Guice, a former employee of Georgia-Pacific, is a whistleblower featured in a documentary called Company Town, which was released this summer, directed by Natalie Kottke-Masocco and co-directed by Erica Sardarian, who both spoke with AlterNet on background for this story. The film chronicles four years of efforts by concerned residents and environmentalists to bring attention to the problems at Crossett.

Guice recently went on record in the New Yorker to explain how his supervisors told him to illegally dump waste from the plant, sometimes in pits 40 feet deep which he would then cover with six inches of dirt.

Back in the 1990s, when residents began to complain about the foul odors in Crossett, Georgia-Pacific went door to door offering money in exchange for signed waivers essentially absolving them of any past, present and future personal or property damage.

Last year, an EPA inspection of the plant found multiple areas of non-compliance and concern. The EPA paid another visit to the plant at the end of last month. But according to Cheryl Slavant of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, the EPA’s response is too little too late—a result of the agency for too long bending under political pressure. “The way I see it, the EPA is as guilty as Georgia-Pacific is.” An EPA spokesperson said that the agency will not comment on ongoing enforcement cases until they are concluded.

Meanwhile, as residents are left to suffer, Slavant can only come to one conclusion. The EPA and the Arkansas DEQ “allow Georgia-Pacific to break the law," she said.

Watch the trailer for Company Town:

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What Do Penis Pumps Actually Do?

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 8:03pm
Click here for reuse options! Some men believe pumps can permanently increase the size of their penis, but experts disagree.

On July 1, 2015, Medicare made an announcement that made some men sigh and others go limp. After dropping more than a quarter billion in taxpayer dollars, the program was pulling its coverage of vacuum constriction devices, otherwise known as penis pumps.

The pump, which was reportedly invented back in 1874 by a doctor named John King, is designed to draw blood into the shaft to the penis to help secure an erection. Traditionally, the device was marketed as a way to combat erectile dysfunction. While it still serves that purpose today, there’s a growing sector of men using them for enlargement purposes. But does that actually work? 

"The size change is temporary,” writes Carol Queen in The Sex & Pleasure Book. She explains that while using a pump on any part of the body will cause the area to swell, the member will return to its normal state once the device is removed. “Though some believe pumps will permanently increase penis size, research has shown that they offer minor effects at best.” She adds, “If you are unhappy with your size, a pump is not the way to go.”

But powerlessness is not a particularly pleasant feeling to experience, especially in relation to penis size. A sprawling community of men championing the use of pumps as a means to enlarge their members exists, and many find themselves in one particular corner of the web. The Penis Enlargement Gym (PEGym) is an online male improvement community with upwards of 70,000 members. Under the “penis pumps” tab, it reads, “It’s likely you want what other men want—a bigger, harder, better performing penis.”

The group goes on to claim that penis pumps can in fact result in permanent growth, especially in the way of girth. “A major growth indicator for penis pumpers is moving up in cylinder size. When you fill the tube, it’s time to get a larger penis pump. This means your routine is working, and your increases are becoming permanent,” they write.

Like other enlargement claims, this one centers on the over-expansion of the penile tissue. The more you “stretch” it, the more micro-tears you cause to your member. The body repairs itself by growing new cells, which some believe results in penis growth. Products like the HydroMax and the BathPump promise permanent results after just two weeks of use.

The only problem is that the experts aren’t buying it.

Robert Valenzuela, a urologist at NY-Presbyterian Hospital, told AlterNet, “The idea that causing micro fractures in the body of the penis can lead to lengthening is completely unfounded.” He notes the claim that penile stretching devices could cause micro fractures would be “worrisome,” because it could lead to Peyronie’s disease, a condition marked by development of scar tissue inside the penis causing “curved and painful erections.” 

Others in the field say that any kind of “tearing” of the penis can actually impair the body’s ability to maintain an erection, meaning those who try might end up worse off than before the journey began. The sex shop Good Vibrations recommends penis pumps be used as “masturbation enhancers only.”

As noted by the Daily Dot, penis pumps have become increasingly popular devices within the trans community, though trans men have been typically stuck with a limited selection. Most traditional penis pumps are too large to fit comfortably on their anatomy. While pumps designed for women tend to be a better fit, most are marketed in ways that don't exactly comes across as female-to-male friendly. One Amazon review reads, “The box… is all pink and its written ‘clitoris’ all over the thing.” Back in June, trans activist and performer Buck Angel introduced the world’s first sex toy designed specifically for trans men. One of the central properties to its function? Suction. (Check out an NSFW video demonstrating how it works.)

The good news is that most guys looking to increase the size of their penis do so unnecessarily. According to research published in the Journal of Sex Medicine, the average erect penis measures 5.6 inches, a sizeable fit for most women. In an interview with Men’s Health, Larry Lipshultz, who is chief of male reproductive medicine and surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine, confirmed, “The majority of men who come in seeking penile enlargement are average.” We may not all be happy with our bodies, but we might take comfort in knowing that things aren’t always as small as they seem. 

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In Some Tight Battleground States, Civil Rights Attorneys See Voting Barriers That Could Help Trump

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 6:42pm
Click here for reuse options! There are major concerns about who gets to vote.

Despite polls showing Hillary Clinton with many Electoral College paths to the presidency and a growing likelihood of Democrats recapturing the Senate, voting rights groups in battleground states say GOP-led partisan voter suppression efforts may block tens of thousands of people from voting this fall, which would cut into what’s being described as a rising Democratic tide.

“At this point in the election cycle, it is too late for states to engage in voter suppression efforts, at least in terms of (new) laws. But we do know that if experience tells us anything, that state-sanctioned voter suppression still happens, both at the state among local level through the actions of elections officials,” said Judith Brown Dianis, a civil rights attorney and executive director of Advancement Project, one of the nation’s foremost voting rights defenders.

“The other concern that we have for this election cycle is we may see anti-democracy vigilantes being engaged and erecting barriers to the ballot. We know there have been fake calls around voter fraud, and calls for vigilantes to be at the polls,” Dianis said. “The Trump campaign, and other lawmakers at state and local levels, have repeatedly lodged false claims about voter fraud that they say is widespread, and the Trump campaign has gone even further calling for aggressive poll watching and to police voters.”

Dianis notes Trump's "continuing narrative of conjuring up the boogie man who is going to steal an election while he’s trying to undermine the integrity of our election through these false claims.”              

Dianis spoke at a briefing with leading voting rights activists from a half-dozen swing states where each described differing obstacles and barriers to voting. In Ohio, Florida and Georgia, there was a strong likelihood, for varying reasons, that tens of thousands of people who expect to vote might not be on the official voter rolls by November 8. In other states, like North Carolina, it was still unclear if traditional options, like early voting, would be curtailed.

That picture is at odds with the latest presidential campaign polling such as Tuesday’s survey of 15 battleground states by the Washington Post which found Clinton ahead in nine states (New Hampshire, Virginia, Michigan, New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia) and on track, Post analysts said, to win more than 300 Electoral College votes (270 are needed for the presidency).

For example, in Georgia and North Carolina, two states where WaPo’s survey put Clinton ahead of Donald Trump by 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively, voting rights activists said there are barriers taking shape that could end up cutting into her lead.

In Georgia, Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project, said more than 550,000 people have registered as new voters since the March primaries. But the process of validating those applications by election officials in 159 counties has been delayed, she said, in part by a lawsuit contesting a verification process that disqualified voters over easily resolved typos. That suit was settled a few weeks ago, Ufot said, but a backlog remains. “We find they [county election offices] are all along the ideological spectrum and the competence spectrum, if you will… what voter suppression looks like in Georgia is death by 1,000 cuts.”

In 2012, the New Georgia Project submitted 86,000 registrations, but only 40,000 people ended up on voter rolls on Election Day. What’s unclear is to what extent that history of constitutional voter suppression may repeat itself in 2016. Looking past registration issues, Ufot said that many counties moved or consolidated polling places in communities of color last spring to cuts costs, which caused confusion and raises questions about what’s planned for November 8.

North Carolina is facing different would-be barriers. After the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the enforcement provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, that state’s Republican-led government quickly passed a package of laws designed to discourage likely Democrats from voting. While many of those laws have been overturned by federal courts, Sabrina Khan, an attorney with the Advancement Project, said early voting options are still not clear in several counties with large communities of color. In 2012, 70 percent of the state’s blacks voted early, she said.

Ohio and Florida are considered toss-up states, meaning the race is too close to predict. In each, different categories of voters face sizable administrative hurdles. In Ohio, after a federal court sided with voting rights activists, the secretary of state was told to put 70,000 people back on voter rolls—he had removed them because they had not voted since 2012, which clashed with the voter purge timetable in the National Voter Registration Act. However, it's unclear what their status will be on November 8, said Donita Judge, Advancement Project attorney, because the state has not yet said how it will proceed. In 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry by 118,000 votes in Ohio, underscoring how throwing 70,000 votes into limbo could have major implications. The WaPo poll said Trump was leading by 3 percent.

Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said grassroots groups had registered 330,000 new voters in communities of color. But 66,000 Floridians who filed the paperwork with federal officials to become U.S. citizens with the hope of voting this fall have not had that paperwork processed in time, she said. Meanwhile, in Virginia, where there is an ongoing battle between the state’s Democratic governor and its Republican legislature over restoring voting rights to ex-felons, about 13,000 people have been taken off that state’s voter rolls.

These accounts from the front lines of swing states suggest that if the race for the White House or control of the Senate tightens, then voter suppression tactics may come into play deciding outcomes.

Consider Georgia. In 2012, 3.85 million people voted, with Mitt Romney beating Barack Obama by 300,000 votes. Right now, according to the Post's survey, Clinton leads Trump by 4 percent. If the 2016 turnout is on par with 2012, that’s slightly more than 150,000 votes. Thus, how Georgia county election officials process more than half-a-million registrations could be decisive.

That’s why progressive voting rights lawyers are not taking comfort in the latest polls forecasting a blue wave, or put at ease by the unprecedented online tools available to help people register, check their required voter ID and find their precinct. Instead, the lawyers are focused on nuts-and-bolts barriers to voting.

“We continue to see these kinds of [suppressive] actions all over the country as our protection under the [federal] Voting Rights Act has been weakened,” said Judith Brown Dianis. “We are continuing to towns with voter registration groups to get people on the rolls. We want to make sure that they get on the rolls, that they stay on the rolls, and that we also eliminate barriers to voting.”

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Bernie Sanders Makes a Powerful Case for Continuing the Revolution—Under a Clinton Administration

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 6:17pm
Click here for reuse options! It's not about resting on your laurels; it's about fighting the good fight.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders offered a compelling argument this week to those of his supporters still hesitant about a Hillary Clinton presidency. He explained that the success of the revolution relies not on who is president, but on the people continuing to fight for progressive ideals.

Armand Aviram—who said his personal rise from unemployed Sanders campaign volunteer to NowThis election producer is a “direct result” of the Vermont senator’s political revolution—asked the former Democratic candidate to explain “how your political revolution continues under a Hillary Clinton administration.”

“It’s not my political revolution; it’s your political revolution,” Sanders began, calling his supporters’ efforts during the Democratic primary “perhaps the most consequential campaign in the modern history of America.”

“Ideas that at one point were thought to be crazy and fringe are now incorporated in the Democratic National Platform,” Sanders said. “You did that.”

Holding up a copy of the Democratic National Platform, Sanders noted that at least 80 percent of the policies are “what we believe in.”

“Where do we go from here?” he asked. “We implement this.”

Sanders’ historic run as a registered Independent vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination rallied progressive voters, particularly millennials, who overwhelmingly supported the Vermont senator over Clinton. After conceding the primary, Sanders worked to ensure the Democratic platform would include many of his progressive policy proposals, withholding his endorsement of Clinton for almost a month.

"There was a significant coming together between the two campaigns and we produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party,” Sanders said at the Democratic National Convention in July. “Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency. And I am going to do everything I can to make that happen.”

Asked what he would say to voters who plan on casting their ballots for a third-party candidate in order to "send a message" to the Democratic Party, Sanders, the longest serving Independent in the history of Congress, told Aviram, “people have to vote their conscience.” But he added that he hopes his supporters “understand Donald Trump would be a real, real disaster for this country. He stands in opposition to everything that we believe in.”

Sanders urged his supporters not to see a Clinton presidency as an end to the political revolution. “The day after the election, we don’t sit back and say, well, Clinton is president," Sanders said. He insisted the next step is to "mobilize our people” and make sure the government “moves forward with an agenda that helps transform this country.”

“I want to see Clinton become president,” Sanders continued. “And the day after that, I and the progressive members of Congress, and hopefully millions of other people will say, President-elect Clinton, here is the Democratic National platform, it is a progressive document. We are going to be introducing legislation piece by piece by piece—on trade, on raising the minimum wage, on making public colleges and universities tuition-free, on a Medicare-for-all single-payer program, on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.”

Sanders said those who still don’t believe Clinton will follow through with the progressive party platform are “going to have to work with [him] to make sure that it happens.”

“This is not trust,” Sanders argued. “We’re not here to trust. It is the very opposite of what I am saying: To say, oh sit back, elect Clinton and then trust.”

“No,” he continued. “Mobilize. Educate. Fight.”

And if (worst case scenario) our elected leaders don’t follow through? 

“Let them know how you feel about it,” Sanders said.

Watch the interview below, via NowThis.

BernieSanders answers the most important question: Why should his supporters vote for Hillary Clinton? https://t.co/mous0dK8in

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How Donald Trump Gave ‘Nasty’ Women Their Voices

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 3:44pm
Click here for reuse options! Do we have a misogynist to thank for forcing us to confront our prejudices?

When I was younger, and New York City’s 42nd Street a seedier version, I used to contort my face as I moved through the crowds trying to make myself as unattractive as possible. That way, I wouldn’t be groped. Or have some weirdo begging to have sex with me.

Since the lewd Donald Trump sex-talk tape dropped earlier this month, I’ve learned just how much company I have. I’ve heard countless stories in person and online from women about men grabbing their butts, or about men slipping a hand up a skirt, about feeling a stranger press against them or about putting up with lewd comments – none of it wanted and certainly none of it welcomed.

Thank you, Mr. Trump. Of all the national conversations spawned by his ungoverned mouth — whether about relations with our neighbors to the South or Americans whose parents were born south of the border, about the role of religious freedom and tolerance in our society or the need to respect the dignity of everyone, including people with disabilities — none has had quite the overwhelmingly unexpected consequence as the torrent of sexual assault allegations unleashed by the release of the Access Hollywood outtakes.

While the hot mic recording highlights the Republican presidential nominee’s sexual insensitivity, it also has opened the door to a frank, national conversation about unwanted sexual advances and harassment.

Women are finally getting a forum to declare that they are officially tired of tolerating the status quo Trump dismisses as “locker room” banter.

Trump has tried to deflect the controversy by shaming women who have come forward, saying they are too unattractive to bother groping. Rather than asking for forgiveness, he insults.

Jessica Leeds, 74, who told of a Trump grope 35 years ago on airplane, “would not be my first choice.” Former People magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff wasn’t pretty enough: “You look at her, look at her words, you tell me what you think. I don’t think so.”

That’s one of the tactics that makes women reluctant to report sexual violence. Either they won’t be believed or they’ll be ridiculed. People’s Stoynoff is case in point about why going public is so hard. After her People story detailing a Trump grope, she chose to stay quiet.

But she couldn’t. A week later, she broke her silence, sharing the criticism.

“Women are talking about this, and they need to,” said Stoynoff. “We cannot be silent anymore. I didn’t tell my story for politics, I told it for women.”

As it turns out, Trump’s trash talk, by exposing his predatory methods for the whole word to dissect, backfired. It’s making women more comfortable sharing their stories about sexually aggressive men and speaking out without fear of being punished.

Some of them appear on a Facebook video featuring some big-name celebrities on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Kelly Oxford opened a floodgate on Twitter with #NotOkay hashtag, asking women to tweet their tales of violation. With 764,000 followers, a million women shared their stories, each one more painful than the next.

Betsy Schindler, a Baltimore social worker, tweeted about her first sexual assault. Millions read it. Then she wrote more for The Baltimore Sun. It first happened when she was 5 and a step-grandfather thought it was okay to touch her. “It’s hard to just mention one instance, the first one, without thinking of the many that came after, ranging from assault to harassment,” she wrote.

Tracy Everbach, a Texas journalism professor, was moved to start a forum — Women Strike Back — to share stories. She begins with her own. What is sickening, disheartening and downright frustrating is many unwanted sexual advances first occurred when women were 12, 13, 14 or younger — and least able to defend themselves physically or emotionally.

“I am 14,” a woman writes anonymously. “A male friend continues to grab my butt, and I tell him to stop or I’ll hit him. He does it again and I punch him, giving him a bloody nose. Everyone thinks I overreacted.”

As you get older, it’s easier to push someone away, laugh at them or challenge: “Did you really say that?” Or ask, “Would you speak about your daughter like that?” (Trump did.) But not as an adolescent or young woman in the workplace.

It’s sad that it takes volume (16 Trump accusers to date) and celebrity to bring this front and center. But it does. Look at Bill Cosby.

“Basically, I think it’s good any time women learn they’re not alone, and space is made to hear and validate women’s stories of violence,” said Jaclyn Friedman, who advocates publicly on “yes means yes” for sexual consent. “But also we’ve seen this cycle happen before, many times, and it creates only the most incremental of change.”

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe it will be Trump’s legacy. Who could have imagined that a classic male chauvinist’s unapologetically bad behavior could lead to electing the first female president of the United States?

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Looking Into the Cannabis Crystal Ball: The Important Issues to Watch as Cannabis Becomes Legal

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 3:42pm
Click here for reuse options! The choices the federal government must and will make will have far-reaching consequences.

The following is an excerpt from the new book Marijuana: A Short History by John Hudak (Brookings Institution Press, 2016): 

As marijuana legalization proceeds, new issues will arise and the pressure to deal with existing issues will increase. How local, state, and federal governments as well as international bodies deal with these challenges and questions will determine the future success of marijuana legalization policy.

By the beginning of 2016 in the United States, four states legalized marijuana and for the first time, two states that share a border legalized— Washington and Oregon. Studying how that border influences the market and consumer behavior will be an interesting challenge. Of course it is against federal law to transport marijuana bought in one state to the other (in fact, it is still against federal law to possess that marijuana in the first place). But the reality on the ground is that the state border will be porous and product will move across it. Competition between bordering states will influence public policy and will have an impact on the likelihood of marijuana crossing state lines.

One can imagine states quietly but purposefully engaging in pricing wars in an effort to entice additional consumers, even if those consumers are not supposed to “purchase here and go there.” As more states legalize, the challenge of controlling (or deciding not to control) crossborder transport will become greater. As the 2016 elections proceed, Nevada, California, and Arizona all have robust drives to put legalization initiatives on their ballots. If all pass it will create a substantial western bloc of marijuana-legal states. Such a dynamic will almost certainly induce such price wars, and states as well as the federal government will need to think about how best to respond, either to prevent such behaviors or accept that such behaviors result from market forces that are here to stay.

The spread of marijuana legalization is not a strictly American phenomenon. For some time, the Netherlands was the world’s most progressive pot paradise. Since the mid-1970s the Netherlands has had an odd system that provides marijuana to customers at specific cafes, under an agreement that functions as a type of storefront decriminalization. However, the production and processing of marijuana remain illegal, meaning the legal café market must still rely on an illegal grow market. Such a system involves layers of tolerance from government institutions in allowing the market to exist.

In 2013, Uruguay became the world’s first nation to fully legalize marijuana. The government authorized commercial growers to supply marijuana to pharmacies, and they could dispense marijuana to (nonmedical) customers. The program also authorized homegrows and cooperatives. In a cooperative, people come together and pool resources to grow a larger supply of marijuana, but each member of the co-op is entitled only to a maximum amount of marijuana monthly. Under the Uruguayan model, consumers must register with the government and can only access marijuana through one of those avenues. Despite the 2013 reform, by the beginning of 2016, the Uruguayan system had not yet gotten off the ground owing to delays in implementation.

In Canada, parliamentary elections in 2015 made Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the nation’s twenty-third prime minister. Shortly after his win, Trudeau instructed the Canadian bureaucracy to prepare to legalize, regulate, and provide access to marijuana, a policy his administration would pursue actively. Canada legalized medical marijuana through a series of court decisions in the early 2000s, and Trudeau made it his mission to move Canada toward wider reforms.

How other nations and international organizations respond to marijuana reform will have a tremendous impact on the future of such policy. As leading global nations like Canada or the United States take more reform-oriented approaches to marijuana, it will surely push the international community toward acceptance or at least tolerance. Also, depending on their responses, international organizations could also push other, more reform-oriented nations toward legalization. In much the same way that efforts in Colorado and Washington spurred greater reform in other American states, national-level legalization may well spur such contagious reforms across the globe.

The one key institution to watch in this process is the United Nations. The UN currently maintains the international standard on drug prohibition via the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The Single Convention remained in place even as nations and American states began to reform their laws. The UN response to this situation could affect nations’ future legalization decisions, particularly those of smaller, less-powerful nations. It could also affect the UN’s own legitimacy. If the response is one of strong and vocal opposition to legalization, and nations continue to legalize despite it, it will put into stark contrast the limited enforcement power the international organization has over policy across the world.

In a similar fashion, the authority of the U.S. government is challenged as more states opt to pursue recreational legalization. As the number of legal states grows, it becomes harder for the federal government to enforce the Controlled Substances Act. At the same time, the shared legal authority of federal and state governments continues to hamper the cannabis industry’s efficient functioning.

The resulting situation in the United States may be worse than either national legalization or national prohibition. Legal realities are loosely defined by executive branch guidance and suggestions from the administration. That guidance fails to answer important questions and oftentimes creates new ones. States are constantly asking the federal government how to deal with many of the problems they face; the answers are almost always insufficient. Members of Congress have proposed solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing states, industry actors, and customers, but that legislation is not acted on.

The reality is that the state of American law at the start of 2016 is absolutely untenable and is inconsistent with American principles of fairness and equal treatment. Federal officials must commit themselves to coherent, comprehensive, and sensible marijuana policy. Until they do, the system will be arbitrary and unjust, and policy will be ineffective.

This incoherent state of affairs influences many topics that demand a decisive federal policy response. One of the most troubling of these issues for the cannabis industry is banking. Under federal law, marijuana enterprises are engaging in an illegal trade, which makes them ineligible to access standard financial products that banks offer: checking accounts, savings accounts, lines of credit, business loans, and so forth. Consequently, most marijuana businesses are forced to resort to a cash-only operation. Cash-only businesses create tremendous security risks for firms, their employees, and their customers and make regulatory auditing of firms more difficult. A cash-only system creates a seriously risky business environment and offers bad actors opportunities for money laundering. Those risks are held in place by a government that refuses to implement a policy fix.

One effort to solve the banking problem came on Valentine’s Day, 2014, in the form of a “guidance” from the Department of Treasury conveying to financial institutions the manner in which they could interact with marijuana businesses. But a love letter it was not. The guidance was vague and did not offer financial institutions sufficient protection against federal action under the Banking Secrecy Act. The industry felt the guidance was not enough to let banks engage with these businesses, so this action by the Treasury did nothing to solve the problem.

For businesses, the tax problem can be just as troubling. Under U.S. tax law, specifically Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code, any company that traffics in a Schedule I or Schedule II substance is not entitled to business tax deductions. However, the tax code requires all businesses, even illegal ones, to file business tax returns. In order to comply with existing state and federal laws, marijuana enterprises file tax returns annually. Under an agreement with the federal government, firms who fi le taxes—and thus notify the federal government they exist as a business in violation of federal law— will not be targeted for prosecution, unless they commit tax fraud or evasion. The paradox is that marijuana businesses are responsible for all of the standard business taxes, but are ineligible for the same deductions that other American businesses are entitled to. The result is a revenue problem for these firms, as tax burdens can be tremendous. Some young firms report having tax burdens in excess of 100 percent of revenue—an unsustainable operating environment. Legislators, advocates, and state officials have pleaded with the federal government to reform tax laws. These groups argue that if the federal government is tacitly allowing marijuana enterprises to exist, they should also treat them like other businesses for the purposes of taxation. Until the federal government provides a solution, federal tax policy will unnecessarily burden the entire marijuana industry.

Another aspect of the industry that will be important to watch involves growth and consolidation, and how government responds to it. As the marijuana industry matures and as more states, and nations, reform their laws to permit recreational marijuana, market dynamics can change. One worry in advocacy communities is the possible advent of Big Marijuana— the rise of national and perhaps eventually multinational corporations, as occurred in the tobacco industry. Marijuana is a capital-intensive agricultural product that is produced, processed, and sold in similar ways to tobacco products, so concerns about market structure are not unfounded. Could a Philip Morris of marijuana dominate the industry and engage in bad practices and regulatory capture? In the case of Big Tobacco, for de cades the industry’s political power combined with widespread consumer addiction and use allowed corporations to manipulate and hide scientific evidence about the addictive properties and health effects of and carcinogenic compounds in and added to tobacco.

Similar worries concerning marijuana are thus justified, yet, after the Big Tobacco lesson, many people are sensitive to that dynamic in advance. What is more likely is that if a large corporation emerges from the pack, it would face unprecedented scrutiny from both government regulators and industry competitors. That scrutiny could help blunt the type of formal and informal market power that Philip Morris enjoyed. Moreover, aware of the potential for a marijuana power house to dominate the industry, state regulators have armed themselves with a variety of tools to limit the power of such a firm.

As those new, large firms emerge in the marijuana industry, it will be important to see whether those firms have higher rates of regulatory compliance than smaller firms. Those firms may also drive efficiencies and scale and improve market conditions and stability. It will be important to see how large firms behave and participate in the economic arena and whether large marijuana enterprises are known more for the benefits or the risks that corporate consolidation can offer.

The final item to watch in the future is research. Research is essential to the formulation of responsible marijuana policy, including studies of medical marijuana’s efficacy and safety and of the social, public health, and public safety implications of recreational marijuana. There is not a single corner of the marijuana policy world that cannot be aided by additional analysis. There are two things we should consider.

First, will state, federal, and international governments expand their support of medical marijuana research?

Prohibition has rested on what I have called medical marijuana’s trifecta of prohibition in the CSA: the three assertions that marijuana has no medicinal value, is not safe for medical treatment, and has a high risk for abuse. Research must continue to put those claims to the test, and if they are effectively refuted— which many would argue has already happened— government institutions must revise their designation of marijuana.

Second, how will the public respond to new findings on the social impacts of marijuana? U.S. jurisdictions that have legalized recreational marijuana have funded studies or committed to supporting work on a variety of questions about the impact of the substance on their communities. As data and findings pour in from this work, it will be important to understand both the positive and negative impacts and, further, to study public opinion and communities’ responses. Results are unlikely to be black and white—neither everything right nor everything wrong. This research will most likely generate policy recommendations about how to tighten regulations, improve systems, and protect public interests. The willingness of states to adopt such recommendations will be critical to anchoring the legitimacy and effectiveness of marijuana programs and to ensuring sustained public support for legalized marijuana.

A federal policy response is inevitable. It may come in the form of discrete reforms that ultimately mold a broader system, or it may be sweeping in nature. The choices the federal government must and will make will have far-reaching consequences. Will the government proceed with incremental medical marijuana reform or will it accept medical and recreational systems in one fell swoop? The former is probably more likely, given the positions of many members of Congress and a history of presidents hesitant to be aggressive reformers.

What might federal marijuana reforms look like? Will they involve significant federal power? Will the federal government take a largely hands-off, states’ rights approach, or will reform resemble alcohol regulation: broad federal standards supplemented by state power to regulate many aspects of the industry? Such a reform plan would have hugely disruptive effects in existing marijuana-legal states. Currently a state’s medical and recreational marijuana systems tend to look quite similar, but systems across states vary dramatically. Federal intervention and reform could cause upheaval in states forced to implement dramatic regulatory, administrative, budgetary, and market changes to comply with federal laws. Consistent federal marijuana reform will provide numerous benefits, but there will be a lengthy adaptation period in which state systems and the doctors, patients, consumers, growers, business owners, regulators, and others will face significant challenges.

Future marijuana policy is the object of cautious hope. It will almost certainly involve more jurisdictions embracing legal marijuana for a variety of reasons. At the same time, such policy reforms will also come with risks and challenges. The response of governments, industry actors, consumers, and the public will determine the outlines of both the success and expansion of such reforms. Most Americans and many outside the country look at marijuana prohibition and see it as failed public policy. At the same time, many observers are skeptical that full-scale legalization is the right response. The United States and other countries are taking slow steps to figure out how to recover from the consequences of a failed drug war. The spread of full-scale legalization to more American states may be the best precondition for creating the laboratories of democracy where workable marijuana policies will be tested.

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Billionaire Richard Branson: Trump Once Invited Me to Lunch to Share His ‘Bizarre’ Revenge Fantasies

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 3:35pm
Click here for reuse options! Trump’s lust for vengeance against his detractors is the single most disturbing aspect of his presidential candidacy.

British billionaire Richard Branson says that his first encounter with Donald Trump was a memorable one — and not in a good way.

In a blog post on Virgin’s website, Branson recalls being invited by Trump to have lunch with him at his Manhattan apartment, where he mostly skipped over pleasantries and instead launched into a tirade about a topic near and dear to his heart: Exacting revenge on his foes.

“Even before the starters arrived he began telling me about how he had asked a number of people for help after his latest bankruptcy and how five of them were unwilling to help,” Branson writes. “He told me he was going to spend the rest of his life destroying these five people. He didn’t speak about anything else and I found it very bizarre.”

Branson then says that Trump’s lust for vengeance against his detractors is the single most disturbing aspect of his presidential candidacy.

“I left the lunch feeling disturbed and saddened by what I’d heard,” he said. “What concerns me most, based upon my personal experiences with Donald Trump, is his vindictive streak, which could be so dangerous if he got into the White House. For somebody who is running to be the leader of the free world to be so wrapped up in himself, rather than concerned with global issues, is very worrying.”

Read the whole post at this link.

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Has Donald Trump Destroyed His Brand and His Business? The GOP Nominee Stands to Lose More Than the Election

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 3:21pm
Click here for reuse options! Trump's D.C. hotel is a flop, his New York condos are declining in value and celebrities have turned against him.

If the polls hold up and Republican nominee Donald Trump loses the election next month, America will have dodged many bullets. One of them will be the prospect of having a president who thinks he can avoid conflict of interest by turning his privately owned international brand and real estate business over to his children while he’s in office.

With the exception of one big story in Newsweek that issue has not been seriously pursued by the news media, even though it would have literally been impossible for Trump to properly carry out the duties of the office had he won, given the nature of his business and the legal problems that would have ensued if he tried to extricate himself from it. Trump would have had to unwind his businesses years before running for president to avoid being paralyzed by conflicts.

He may come to regret not having done so, even though he’s probably going to be back to full-time “dealmaking” in about three weeks. We don’t know how much he was worth when he started this campaign but reports are suggesting that it’s a lot less today. The Trump brand has a problem and it’s spreading beyond his consumer goods to his real estate holdings.

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that regular customers for his consumer goods are throwing out their Trump merchandise in small acts of rebellion against his baleful candidacy. And some of Trump’s well-heeled customers are now boycotting his hotels and golf courses and refusing to dine in restaurants on his properties. One retired doctor interviewed for that story canceled an $18,000 vacation at Trump’s Doral golf club with 11 of his buddies, saying, “For me, it’s an ethical statement.”

Ivanka Trump’s clothing line has been similarly affected. Her customers are young working women — few of whom are voting for her father. And she is obviously concerned, although in typical Trump fashion the woman everyone sees as the classy face of the Trump empire reacted very much like her father earlier this week, when quizzed about his “rigged election” talk at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Conference in California. She said this:

I will tell you that the media has been vicious and, look, there’s a lot of businesspeople in the room. We’ve all had articles written about us by the business press that we say, “Hmm, you know, that wasn’t exactly fair,” or, you know, the fact-check — there’s a few things off. But you know, this has been, this has been a different level. And look, we take it personally. Obviously, there are some things said that are deeply personal, but just on a less emotional example this week or in the last couple of days, I saw on the front cover of The New York Times a story talking about how the Trump brand was being decimated due to the campaign.

She further complained that the Trump Organization had provided all kinds of statistics challenging the Times’ conclusions, but the paper refused to listen. She said, “I think that the bias is very, very real. And I don’t think I would have said this to you even a year ago. I don’t. But I’ve just — I’ve seen it too many times. It’s tremendous.” Since the question was about the campaign and she immediately launched into a diatribe about the media being unfair to the business, it’s logical to assume that she is feeling the pressure in that regard.

According to various other reports, Ivanka and her family have good reason to worry. The Los Angeles Times has reported that some of Trump’s wealthy tenants are embarrassed to live in properties with his name on them and would like it to be removed. The paper quoted one saying, “I used to tell people I lived in Trump Place. Now I say I live at 66th and Riverside Boulevard. He has a mouth like a sewer.” These are mostly licensing deals, so it may not be possible to change the names until the contracts expire, but it doesn’t bode well for new ventures.

As hard as it is to believe considering New York’s overheated real estate market, properties with the Trump name are losing value, including those he owns. Broadcaster Keith Olbermann sold his Trump condo last summer. tweeting, “I got out with 90% of my money and 100% of my soul,” and told the Los Angeles Times that his neighbors also wanted to sell but couldn’t afford to lose the money.

Trump’s hotels are suffering, too. Los Angeles Dodgers star Adrian Gonzalez famously refused to stay with the team at the Trump hotel in Chicago during the National League playoffs, in protest against Trump’s bigotry. According to New York magazine, the new Trump hotel in Washington, which the candidate has often used his abundant free TV time to advertise, is not doing well. It’s had to reduce rates during peak season, and is facing protests and boycotts, along with lawsuits stemming from broken contracts with restaurateurs who want nothing to do with Trump’s name. (According to the article, many people predicted that the D.C. hotel would be another Trump failure, so this may be less about his toxic campaign than his usual terrible business sense.)

The folks who go to Trump rallies and buy red Make America Great Again hats and “Monica sucks but not like Hillary” T-shirts may buy a Trump tie for dad’s birthday or pick up a pair of Ivanka high heels for their cousin’s wedding. But most of Trump’s fortune is tied up in luxury properties and licensing deals for people who play golf at his golf clubs, stay in his expensive hotels and buy multimillion-dollar condos in buildings with his name on them. They live in big cities and wealthy suburbs, and many of them are appalled by Trump’s crude campaign. They can vote with their pocketbooks, too.

It certainly sounds as if Keith Olbermann could be right when he said, “In Russia, there was quite a spree of pulling down statues of Stalin and erasing his likeness from buildings. That’s how the real estate market will treat Trump.” When your name is your brand and your brand is your business, people running away from it is a problem. Donald stands to lose a lot more than the election.

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We Are Ignoring the Worst Dangers of Trumpism at Our Own Peril

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 2:31pm
Click here for reuse options! The election may be over soon, but Trump's far-right supporters are here to stay.

As the mainstream media keep up their relentless barrage of criticism of Donald Trump’s personal foibles, and as Hillary Clinton’s campaign takes advantage of it in a manner that seems clearly coordinated, the genuine concerns of nearly half of all Americans Donald Trump has tapped into are being ignored and sidelined by the intellectual elite. But Trumpism is a new constitution of populist authoritarianism in America, a permanent ideological tendency that will not fade away, regardless of the outcome of this election.

In one sense—having been up against the entire political and intellectual establishment—Trump has already come out the winner, because he has put into radical doubt (as did Bernie Sanders on the other side) the neoliberal consensus around which both major parties and their institutional supporters cohere in Washington. His is a renegade candidacy that will have a lasting impact on world politics, though it is easy to overlook this amid the din of moral righteousness currently trumped up by the establishment.

Whether or not Trump is a neo-fascist is less interesting than tracing his similarities to European right-wing populists like Jean-Marie Le Pen, Jörg Haider, Umberto Bossi, Gianfranco Fini, and others. It can’t be denied that every extreme right-wing movement has a tendency to slip into overt fascism at times, as when entire populations are targeted for exclusion and punishment. But to understand Trumpism we are better off searching for familiar strains in American populism, from Father Coughlin to George Wallace, from Huey Long to Pat Buchanan. I mention Long, the populist governor of Louisiana during the Great Depression, because there are elements of Trump’s critique that have something of the redistributive element as well, though Coughlin’s charismatic media presence, Wallace’s appeal to white supremacy and Buchanan’s America First xenophobia and protectionism are clearer markers of Trumpism’s homegrown origins.

Because Trump has taken his blunt critique of elite politics further than any of his recent predecessors in the major parties, sometimes it appears he is manifesting Mussolini-like fascist tendencies, but to think like this would be to stretch fascism’s definition beyond meaningfulness. Fascism is the close alliance of corporations and government in a movement of national regeneration, mobilizing the resentful parts of the population toward racist and militarist aims. Though Trump likes to say that he’s fond of the military, I do not see war as being a priority for him; nor do I see the integral corporate-government merger that is a sine qua non of fascism; and nor do Trumpists seem to have any enthusiasm to dissolve their personal identities in the cause of the state, as is true of fascism.

The closest we came to fascism was in the 2001-2003 Bush period, but at that point hardly anyone in the commentariat was interested in picking up that frame of reference; now they throw the term around whenever someone utters anything the least bit racist or xenophobic. The deployment of the epithet becomes hollow and dismissive. Indeed, it was said about Italian fascism that it had no ideological content, which excused European liberals in the 1920s and 1930s from addressing the root causes of the movement and allowed them the kind of moral distancing we see again in the American intellectual reaction toward Trumpism.

Trump does, however, have the charisma that Bush the younger lacked, which among other reasons makes me convinced that November 8 will not be the end of his movement. I have believed for many years that about a third of the population is primed to a message of his kind at any given time, but this proportion can go up to 50 percent or more during crises. There is no way that the Republican Party will be able to reassemble the coalition that has defined it since the Reagan years. Trump has questioned the fetish for “small government” in substantive ways, sidelined evangelical Christians for the first time in 35 years (though he makes a feint at acceding to their sensitivities), and blown the cover on the bipartisan neoliberal consensus around trade, taxes, immigration, and other economic issues. Whatever happens on election day, there will be a new reckoning for Republicans—and for Democrats as well.

It is helpful to look at the precedents of the various right-wing populist movements in Europe over the last four decades to understand Trumpism. Every major European country has had its parallel movement, which arose in reaction to a new form of globalization (or postindustrial modernization) that began eroding the security of middle-class constituencies, and which targeted some typical scapegoats to alleviate their anxieties: foreign workers, refugees and asylum seekers, and Muslims above all.

The Front National (FN) in France, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) in Austria, the Lega Nord and Alleanza Nationale (AN) in Italy, the Vlaams Block (VB) in Belgium, the Progress parties in Denmark and Norway and the New Democracy party in Sweden, the NPD, DVU, and REP in Germany, the Center Party and Center Democrats in the Netherlands, the Democratic Union of the Center (DUC) in Switzerland, the British National Party (BNP) in Britain, and the Reform Party in Canada, to mention some of the prominent examples, are all direct precursors of Trumpism, bearing strong similarities across time and space, patterns of resentment and mobilization that Trump is faithfully replicating in his movement.

All of these parties are populist in the sense that they refuse the elite consensus around the contours of governance amidst postindustrial transformation, and they refuse, as well, the accompanying and essential cultural consensus, namely multiculturalism, that all Western democracies have adopted in some form or another to go along with the neoliberal economic creed. One does not find, in any of these parties, a purely economic critique centered around trade and protectionism, or welfare and taxes; rather there is always a corresponding cultural counterinsurgency as well, namely around breaking the various taboos and silences that have been imposed by the neoliberal elite on what is or is not acceptable social behavior in the new economic milieu.

So contemporary neo-populism is better understood not in terms of the earlier fascist model, but as a productivist impulse that identifies collectivist groups supposedly benefiting from multiculturalism as standing in the way of entrepreneurial individualism. To some extent, indeed, there is truth to the alleged chain of causation, since it is the offshoring of manufacturing to cheaper Asian locations that has caused the erosion of the manufacturing base in the Western democracies, and likewise it is the exploitative importation of cheap labor that helps create a downward push on wages for native white populations.

Of course, to stop at this point in the analysis—as unfortunately neo-populists do—is to grievously abridge the logic of economic inequality, which, if it is to be complete, must take in the overall composition of neoliberal economic philosophy. In fact, to a large extent, the productivist mentality enshrined in Trumpism and European populist authoritarianism is as much a reflection of neoliberalist individualism as it is a yearning for the principles of 19th-century laissez-faire economics.

Trumpism and allied movements cannot take on globalization without also taking on multiculturalism. The neo-populists see no way around neoliberal globalization except through overcoming multiculturalism. They see those unfairly benefiting from the multicultural model as being the cause of their misery, their perpetual uncertainty in the new economy, because there is no telling when their jobs might be permanently lost due to lower wages in other countries or because of unfair competition from immigrants who ought to have less of a rightful claim than natives. Whether it’s called France for the French, Germany for the Germans, or Make America Great Again, the idea is the same.

The Brexiteers knew well that they wanted to blow up the system which wasn’t working for them; every charge by the American media that Trump wants to do the same only makes him more popular among his supporters, since that is exactly what they want. That’s the level of deprivation a quarter-century of unresponsiveness by the governing elites has brought them to.

The language of multiculturalism that comes so smoothly to elites on either side of the Atlantic is precisely the problem for neo-populists. End the reproduction of this language and you end the transmission of new mechanisms of globalized production and exchange, they tend to believe. Trump, in this country, has made this connection more explicit, more robust, and more durable than anyone in the past. He speaks a constantly irritating politically incorrect speech because it is central to his critique that the decks are stacked against hardworking Americans—real Americans, white Americans—who cannot get ahead despite their best efforts because there is a conspiracy of intolerance against their individualist mores (here, guns and the Second Amendment come in as crucial elements of the mythology of victimhood, as well as explicit refutation of the politically correct language that has developed around race, religion, and gender).

There has been much speculation about the class basis of Trump’s support, as the elite media, often without much data, concludes that the average Trump supporter tends to be better off than the average Clinton or Sanders supporter. This conveniently ignores the vast numbers of unemployed or underemployed Americans, those on the economic margins who do not see a way back in, who manifestly appear at Trump rallies around the country. This also allows the establishment media to dismiss Trumpism as a hissy fit, a momentary aberration amongst relatively advantaged people (for one thing because they are white!) that will be over just as soon as the election is done.

The key point that is missed is that Trumpists view themselves as beset by anxieties, whether or not their actual economic standing reflects the heightened state of their worry and resentment. Some of them may be definitionally middle-class, but they do not see themselves as functionally middle-class, and certainly not emotionally middle-class. As Trump resonantly declared, addressing these people in the most rhetorically persuasive convention speech I have witnessed, “I am your voice.”

I have always viewed multiculturalism as neoliberalism’s ideological arm, a methodology for neoliberalism, for the last 25 years, to divorce culture from economics, movements of individual liberation from class consciousness, offering a form of recognition that rests on isolation, fragmentation, and segregation, rather than universal human values. Thankfully, Trumpists also see multiculturalism the same way, a technique the neoliberal elites have adopted to present themselves as self-righteous moralists while doing nothing about the economic causes of their misery. They have seen through the act.

History shows that the support base for right-wing extremist movements tends to be primarily the petty bourgeoisie—small businesspeople, professionals at the lower levels—but populism never gets far without the support of large numbers of the permanently unemployed. The official economic statistics would have us believe—and Trump vigorously contests this—that we are at or near full employment. In fact, this is a gross deception, because there are tens of millions of Americans who have given up looking for employment, who for various reasons are not employable in any meaningful sense of the word. Trump claims it is 30 percent of the population, but whatever number it really is, experience shows that it is pervasive, outside a few humming urban centers that give the illusion of high employment. As a matter of policy, the U.S. has not been committed to full employment since the 1970s, as part of the anti-inflationary monetary policy inaugurated by Paul Volcker and carried on by other committed neoliberals.

It is interesting to read bemused articles by correspondents at elite magazines like the Atlantic and the New Yorker, wondering who the Trump supporters really are (as they do after every populist upsurge), acting as though they were writing about aliens from another planet (which they are in a sense, since the elite commentators cannot understand why the Trumpists take such a dire view of the economy, since everything, from their point of view, seems pretty decent, with a 5% unemployment rate, the stock market doing well, and the evidence of their own booming urban areas).

Trump is not incorrect when he paints his picture of hell in American cities. I am fortunate to live in Montrose, the bohemian but rapidly gentrifying part of Houston, Texas, and while the small cultural district is livable, even pleasant, enormous swaths of the larger Houston metropolitan area seem to have been abandoned to primal wilderness, lacking basic infrastructure, decent schools, safety and recreation, even access to good food and clean air and water. Directly east of downtown lies the Fifth Ward, as close a realization of Trump’s apocalyptic vision as I have ever seen. But it is not just the Fifth Ward, it is vast territories that have been left to wither and die, as neoliberal municipal governments commit their resources to recreating central city zones as arenas for spectacular multiculturalism (which translates into gigantic bounties for real estate developers), while withdrawing financial support for neighborhoods outside the elite zones. 

In the absence of any effort by the neoliberal elites to provide an explanation for historically high levels of permanent unemployment, both in Western Europe and the United States, right-wing populism leeches on to the idea of unfair labor market penetration into heritage occupations, unfair trade agreements benefiting countries on the economic periphery, and unfair racial policies and preference quotas advantaging those without qualifications. This is not a rational way of thinking, but it is a self-consistent logic, which becomes all the more hardened the more the elite neoliberals deny the very existence of such concerns. It is in the latter’s interest to promote trade and immigration along strictly neoliberal lines, benefiting the capitalist class at the very top and leaving everyone else worse off.

Some seem to look at the 40 percent support Trump always seems to settle around as his ceiling, but I choose to look at it as his floor, a level of adherence that isn’t likely to go away in the new Republican Party we are going to see constituted in the wake of the election. The degree of support for Trumpism has become constant because the Democratic Party has forced down our throats not the clear popular choice for the nominee, i.e., Bernie Sanders, but the candidate that was at the absolute forefront of the accelerated second phase of neoliberalism during the Bill Clinton presidency (after the relatively tentative and half-successful stabs at it in the Reagan era). 

We could have had a clear choice, dictated by democratic forces, between democratic socialism (Bernie Sanders) and populist authoritarianism (Donald Trump), a contest that would have been bracingly clarifying, a turning point that would have brought into being new alignments, new political realities. What we got instead—because of Democratic Party shenanigans, the entire party establishment conspiring with Hillary Clinton and her brand of neoliberalism, from Jerry Brown in California to Sherrod Brown in Ohio, buttressed by the liberal apparatus from the media to the academy—is a contest between the old neoliberalism and an amped-up right-wing populism, except that in this case, because of media demonization of Trump, neoliberalism has received a free pass during this election cycle from explaining any policy outcomes.

We might even say that what we’re actually getting now is not a contest between neoliberalism and Trumpism, but that because the media has written Trump out of the equation altogether in the latter stages of this campaign, we are now hearing neoliberalism fight it out with its supercharged ideal, which would be Hillary if she were a perfect multiculturalist, without any of her baggage.

But I am certain that the inevitable reckoning has only been deferred. The neoliberal elite, soon after the electoral rituals are over, will desperately try to change the subject with the instigation of crisis, mostly likely war (as they did in the wake of the antiglobalization protests of the late 1990s). But Trump has consolidated right-wing populism to a more defined extent than anything in modern American politics, he has solidified a base which is not going to relinquish prominence under any circumstances, and which, in fact, should propel the corresponding rise of a democratic socialist movement on the left, whether or not it is under Sanders’ direction.

Imagine if Trump had faced off Clinton in the primaries. Think of how easily he disposed of “low-energy” Jeb Bush (the Republican version of Hillary) by assailing his brother for letting 9/11 happen on his watch and for his failed Iraq war, breaking sacrosanct Republican taboos. Whenever in this campaign the media has taken a break from scandals, and Trump has been allowed to focus on ideas, he has made gains in electoral standing. This was true during August above all as he focused on his signature economic ideas, and this would have been very true after the second debate, when he finally took on Clinton’s corruption head-on and stayed on his economic message, had it not been for the media’s self-righteous focus on his politically incorrect persona, the one surefire way to bypass and invalidate any underlying causes of the malaise his supporters (the “basket of deplorables”) feel. Once Donald Trump has been made to morph into Bill Cosby, we need not take him seriously; he is dehumanized, as are his supporters.

After all, Hillary Clinton cannot possibly engage in a substantive discussion with Trump. It’s unfortunate that he lacks the intellectual acumen to probe each problem to its origin, and he is also restrained from pursuing obvious lines of inquiry because of his own right-wing ideology, but how could the politician who, during the 1990s, most typified everything that is essential of neoliberalism, who threw her weight behind every important move in that direction, possibly defend the outcomes? She supported NAFTA and other trade agreements, welfare reform, crime and terrorism initiatives, punitive measures against immigrants that halted the liberalization in place since the 1965 immigration act, the downsizing of government, the inflation of housing and other bubbles, and the deregulation of banking, telecommunications, and other industries with dire consequences in the following decade.

I thought Trump was right during both debates when he pointed out her legacy of inaction toward causes she now wants to champion, and I thought he was right to mock her for directing people to the policies inscribed on her website. I have visited there too, and I fail to see the slew of statements as anything other than campaign fodder, rhetorical devices that do not exist at any realistic level, since nothing there has any chance of coming to fruition in the absence of control of both houses of congress. Even if the House were to be captured by some miracle, there would not be a move to realize anything like the true progressive policies—free college, universal healthcare, a just wage, and an end to wars—that constituted Sanders’ agenda.

What you see on Hillary’s website are theoretical insinuations to recoup some minute incrementals of the New Deal consensus that she herself was instrumental, above anyone else besides her husband, in shattering during the 1990s. So the very person who brought about the neoliberal corporate state—a fundamental shift that occurred in the early 1990s, making the U.S. a different kind of country than even what we had known in the Reagan years—now promises to regain a tiny fraction of it, not by pursuing the universal welfare policies of the New Deal, but what we might call fatalist incrementalism or pessimistic consensualism. And that’s at the rhetorical level, before any negotiations take place with a hard-boiled anti-welfare ideologue like Paul Ryan.

While Democrats act self-righteously about Trump’s rhetoric toward immigrants, let us note that immigration as a contemporary problem first truly manifested itself during the Clinton administration, with the onset of NAFTA, the immiseration of parts of Mexico which led to a surge of new forms of migration, the technical barriers that were erected to make legalization less possible than in earlier years, the huge backlogs that emerged in the process of resistance to administrative discretion that used to be the norm, and the onset of demonization of immigrants (as potential terrorists, criminals and abusers of the welfare system) that had not been seen since the Great Depression. Reagan and the elder Bush were the last two presidents to hold a humanitarian immigration outlook.

Trump may talk of a Muslim ban, but Clintonian neoliberalism created a vast immigration problem, preventing normal legalization, a legacy that Bush and Obama confronted with unprecedented levels of deportation. Immigrants have became a tool that the neoliberal elite continues to exploit to the full in their transformation of the American economy, depriving them of their legitimate rights as a way to drive down wages for all and to mount a broad-based assault on civil liberties for all. We are bearing the fruits of those years now. Not once have I heard the Clintons or Obama make a comprehensive moral or even economic case for immigration; when you are enforcement-only and not idealists or humanitarians, then soon an even greater enforcer will come and take your place.

Likewise, when it comes to Trump’s issues with women, let us note the transcendent dimension of it, of which Hillary Clinton is a major culprit, along with academics and politicians who, during the 1990s, created structures of mental classification and separation that remain divisive to this day. Just as an example, to engineer “welfare reform,” retreating from a core moral commitment of the New Deal, the black woman of political mythology who was the prime recipient of such aid had to be demonized as a nonproductive citizen, her body and environment and heritage had to be problematized as worthy of correction by managerial means, in order that she might overcome “dependency” and derive the moral benefits of employment.

That experiment has been a failure, as entire populations have been abandoned to poverty, or at best low-wage employment that interferes with the care of children and families. This is not to mention incalculable numbers of other peoples affected by the neoliberal policies of systematic exploitation and cultural and aesthetic genocide. There are levels of exploitation and degradation; Trump’s has been distinctly minor league, he has hardly had recourse to the flourishing arsenals of power a politician like Hillary Clinton has thrived on. The underlying case for welfare reform was built on depicting welfare-receiving women as fat, lazy, sleazy, and promiscuous, an actionable universal category, compared to the contemporary phenomenon of body-shaming by Trump as a purely personal construct in an entertainment context. 

We have to go back to the problem of insecurity created among the tentative middle-class, Trump’s base of supporters, a direct result of the revolutionary reengineering of American governance during the Clinton era. The compact between government and citizens was broken in those years, and was replaced by nothing new, a vacuum that Trumpism is stepping into now, especially because the corrupt Democratic party ensured that Sanders’ left populism wasn’t legitimized.

To further shift the focus from Trump’s alleged immoral supporters to the systematic immorality that is neoliberalism, I would like to offer these speculations:

1. Trumpism is creating a new form of cultural capital, distorted and perverted though it may be, as is true of all right-wing populism or neo-fascism. The academic left has held a monopoly for a long time on self-righteousness, which has lately, in the present form of political correctness, burst forth in a relentless pseudo-self-criticism amongst intellectuals, aiming to purge the protagonists of their own white guilt. Trumpism forms a counter to this elite self-flagellation by offering an empowered version of popular white supremacy, to not only oppose the imposition of guilt but reorient the polity toward productivist rather than nonproductivist explanations of economic decline.

In other words, shame has been lent an economic, not a cultural, veneer, in the new movement. This is a massive breakthrough, something to be grateful for to Trump, just as Ralph Nader, and then Bernie Sanders, also sought to disconnect cultural rhetoric from economic causes. Trumpism may, quite possibly, emerge in the long run as a bridge—an unsteady one, for the moment, no doubt—to a postcapitalist libertarianism, even a left anarchism, which seems inevitable as the 21st century goes along.

2. Sanders’ message was so popular among millennials because he identified a few core solutions to economic inequality, relentlessly hammered at them (just as Trump does in a distorted manner from the other side of the political spectrum), rather than rehearse multicultural pieties. I believe that the collective Trumpian cultural capital is now stabilized, regardless of the outcome of the election, and ready to emerge from the fringes of the media spectrum.

Can we also say that Sanders’ movement was a left-libertarianism that dared to exclude the moral impositions of academic multiculturalism? And if that’s the case, then can Trumpism, in future iterations, also move in a parallel libertarian direction? It seems to me that neither Trump nor Sanders’ nascent movements can be absorbed and assimilated in either major party as presently constituted, so we must look to some fundamental change as neoliberalism encounters further domestic and foreign failures (probably in the Middle East).

3. Trumpism turns the logic of multiculturalism, i.e., difference, to a new form of segregation. The European neo-populist parties all exploit the fear of the immigrant in three different dimensions—economic, cultural, and moral—amounting to defense of the race, purification of the body politic, and expulsion of the polluting and criminal and irredeemably alien. Extremist populism is inherent in multiculturalism’s ultimate logic, because Trumpism is simply “diversity” carried to the national level; as with the Brexiteers, Trumpists posit the right of America to be different, morally eccentric and ornery and noncompliant, rather than accept the loss of national identity amidst the cold conquest of markets and territories.

It is a turning inward that can have rich psychological rewards for protagonists overcome by economic anxiety. Trumpism has created the equation, economic protectionism = cultural protectionism, in common with its European forerunners. We may say that in its extreme form, Trumpism is an attempted return to precapitalism, moving back toward uncertainties in trade and rejecting the compulsions of empire that yield certainties (hence the skepticism toward NATO and nuclear non-proliferation regimes and other establishment verities).

It is also possible to read Trumpism in an entirely different way, which would still be self-consistent: as a pure form of neoliberalism, supplemented by a racist or differential veneer, or we might say minus the multicultural distraction that interferes with social darwinist logic proceeding to its final conclusion, exterminating the weak other, the vulnerable environment, all species and beings not conducive to financial success.

We might then interpret the 2000s as a passing phase of neoliberalism, when it was militarist and outwardly directed, not at all given to rumination, but now entering a premodern xenophobic phase, all the easier to blanket the planet with a commercializing logic that will withstand no criticism. In this perspective, Hillary’s incremental fatalism (or what passes as such for popular consumption), her commitment to neoliberal identity claims (one group after another marginally recognized at a time), is perhaps one of the final manifestations of a failed sociability.

Though Bernie’s articulation was the right one for this time and place, there is a lot that Trump, in a distorted, weird way, got right about our situation:

* Both parties are corrupt and beholden to the same oligarchic interests, and Trump had the audacity to point it out, eliciting, I’m sure, exclamations of relief and pleasure at the piercing of the protective veneer neoliberal chieftains like Hillary Clinton have constructed around themselves. He asked for her to be put in jail for the wrong reasons at the second debate, but the neoliberal gerarchy’s innumerable crimes against humanity, from illegal wars to the mistreatment of prisoners, deserve nothing less.

* By focusing on a stark financial calculus (we will all be “winners” in the Trumpian economy, or at least white Americans, the right Americans, will be), he has blown up the dominance of evangelical Christianity on the right side of the spectrum, as far as I can tell.

* He has exposed, by inscribing it in action and speech, the hypocrisies of the academic multiculturalists, who to the Trumpists, not to mention libertarians, embody a self-censoring authoritarian language that does not allow rational thinking to take place.

* He has pointed out the true extent of unemployment (it is said of the European neo-populists that they arose in the face of permanent unemployment, a phenomenon French and German thinkers call “civilisation du chômage,” or civilization of unemployment), which mars, above all, the African-American and Hispanic zones of habitation in America’s cities, landscapes of apocalyptic misery that have received no recognition from the neoliberal masters; he’s right when he asks African Americans, “What have you got to lose?”

* He is a crude simplifier, but he has described, from the other side of the political spectrum than Sanders, intractable problems with the neoliberal conceptions of trade, modernity and empire. He seems far less interested than Hillary Clinton, for example, in starting a confrontation with Russia in the Middle East. 

Once upon a time the Clintons took over a Democratic Party, insecure about its electoral prospects at the national level, and converted it from the inside into something it never was before: a party of neoliberal elitists, beholden to a new moral righteousness among a rising professional class, uninterested in the problems of poverty, no longer recognizing the working class let alone doing anything to help it. This time Trump has started taking over a Republican Party that was working smoothly with Clintonian Democrats for a quarter century, managing to steer its supporters toward a path not questioning the hollowness of multiculturalism but heading them off in a parallel universe of Christian righteousness.

All that is over now. Electoral firewalls seem like firewalls only until their last manifestation, and in retrospect seem like flammable tinder; had Trump been allowed to talk about the issues, and nothing but, even if in his authoritarian way, and had he had the discipline to pivot quickly to his message despite being baited, the Democratic midwestern firewall, for example, might have crumbled. In any event, Trumpism is here to stay; what will the neoliberal elites do next?

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Brilliant New Aimee Mann Song on the Surprising Reason Trump May Have Started His Campaign

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 2:31pm
Click here for reuse options! The singer-songwriter displays an impressive range of empathy while simultaneously bashing Trump.

Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann debuted a new song called "Can't You Tell?" to protest Donald Trump on the second day of the "30 Days, 30 Songs" campaign last Tuesday. The song is a first-person reflection on what Mann suspects Trump may be thinking during his campaign, and it's both scathing and empathetic.

There is an understanding that, if Trump's campaign began as a farce, he didn't expect to be so successful, and he's sure in a bind this far down the line. Lyrics point to this: "Isn't anybody going to stop me?/I don't want this job.../Can't you tell/I'm unwell."

The song's motivation, according to Mann's statement of intent, stems from an interesting theory as to why Trump began his campaign:

"I had heard a theory that Trump’s interest in running for president was really kicked off at the 2011 White House Correspondent’s dinner when President Obama basically roasted him, so that’s where I started. And my own feeling was that it wasn’t really the job itself he wanted, but the thrill of running and winning, and that maybe it had all gotten out of hand and was a runaway train that he couldn’t stop."

The lyrics also coyly place blame on the enablers of Trump's racist, xenophobic, sexist campaign—but vaguely enough that we can fill in the blanks with media or the Republican establishment and beyond: "You ask about my plan but baby my plan is to win/I wind up all the tops and watch the others keep the spin/You handing me grenades is just compelling me/To pull the pin."

And, of course, there is some fair ball-busting of Trump himself with that line, "I'm unwell."


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54 Years Ago: When the U.S. Nearly Started a Nuclear War

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 2:23pm
Click here for reuse options! Trump is awfully cavalier about a historically delicate relationship.

As this week's final presidential debate revealed once again, U.S. conflict with Vladimir Putin and the Soviets seems to be heightening nearly every day. Soon it might be dubbed "Cold War II" or "Superpower Showdown, the Sequel." While the global stakes may seem smaller than in the original confrontation, it's worth remembering that both sides retain thousands of nuclear warheads, and they are still targeted on the other side.

Fifty-four years ago this week, the closest the two countries came to engaging in a wide-scale nuclear war emerged during what soon became known as the Cuban missile crisis. President John F. Kennedy acted patiently and wisely in making the Soviets stop their missile shipments to Castro and Cuba, via a quarantine at sea, and then remove their nuclear warheads from the island. Of course, we did not know at the time that he had basically traded U.S. missiles in Turkey for the Soviet reversal.

Never a down-the-line Kennedy fan, I was surprised how much my respect for him grew, at least in this matter, in researching my new book, The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill. The missile crisis plays a key role in my book as it intersects with and heavily influences my main narrative. To many readers, Kennedy may come off in a negative role, for his actions in bullying CBS into canceling a Daniel Schorr special on one Berlin tunnel, and nearly doing the same with a landmark NBC program. But his behavior behind the scenes as what I call "the coolest man in the room" during the crucial meetings at the White House during the famous 13 days of the missile crisis—all captured by the secret taping system he had installed—was even more extraordinary than it is cracked up to be. 

Excerpted from The Tunnels: 'You Mean a Nuclear Exchange'

The next major meeting on Cuba was convened on the morning of October 18, day three of the crisis. While President Kennedy was away on a campaign trip the day before, aides and military leaders had discussed options, as air strikes—with or without a warning to Soviet leader Khrushchev, and with or without an invasion—gained wide favor. (The military projected 18,500 U.S. casualties in a conventional invasion, but if nuclear weapons were used, General Maxwell Taylor dryly advised, “there is no experience factor upon which to base an estimate of casualties.”) Undersecretary of State George Ball responded with a strongly dissenting memo, arguing that air strikes would smack of Pearl Harbor—echoing Attorney General Robert Kennedy on this—and turn much of the “civilized world” against America. But some felt that a strong U.S. action on Cuba, rather than jeopardizing our standing in Berlin, would boost our credibility in dealing with the Soviets down the road.

As the October 18 meeting on the crisis proceeded, JFK returned to an argument he had made before: that the Soviets, in response to any military attack on Cuba, would likely “just grab Berlin.” Sacrificing a few Cuban missiles for control of all of Berlin would not “bother” the Soviets at all. And once they took the city, “everybody would feel we lost Berlin, because of these missiles.” His adviser McGeorge Bundy cracked a small joke: “If we could trade off Berlin—and not have it our fault....”

Then came a grim exchange after JFK again said that the Soviets, if attacked in Cuba, would probably cross the Berlin border with ground troops.

Secretary of Defense McNamara: We have U.S. troops there. What do they do?

Gen. Taylor: They fight.

McNamara: They fight. I think that’s perfectly clear.

President Kennedy: And they get overrun.

Robert Kennedy: Then what do we do?

Gen. Taylor: Go to general war, if it’s in the interest of ours.

President Kennedy: You mean nuclear exchange. (Brief pause.)

Gen. Taylor: Guess you have to.

The president, however, again kept his cool, and insisted on considering “what action we take which lessens the chances of a nuclear exchange, which obviously is the final failure.” Apocalypse had reared its ugly head, just in time. Henceforth the discussion—led by Rusk, McNamara and Robert Kennedy—shifted in a more dovish direction, toward trying a blockade. The Joint Chiefs opposed this, still favoring a pre-emptive attack, but within minutes a consensus began to coalesce among the non-military aides in the room. A blockade was best, along with a potential concession to scrap our outmoded nuclear missiles in Turkey. In a revealing moment, McNamara virtually pleaded, “I really think we’ve got to think these problems through more than we have.”

After the meeting broke up, JFK met with Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet foreign minister. Gromyko lied to Kennedy’s face, denying the presence of offensive missiles in Cuba as the president tapped his desk, exercising supreme self-control, knowing that he had photos that proved otherwise in a top drawer.

Near midnight, after everyone had left the Oval Office, the president turned on his taping system to record his summary of this day. Though the crisis revolved around Cuba, much of JFK’s musings still concerned Berlin. He noted Bundy’s warning of “a Soviet reprisal against Berlin” after any U.S. military action. Others felt that failing to take strong action on Cuba would undermine our promises to the West Germans, “divide our allies and our country.” Kennedy concluded: “The consensus was that we should go ahead with the blockade beginning on Sunday night.” If the Soviets did move on Berlin—well, we faced “a crunch” there in a few months, anyway. And a blockade would be a lot less likely to inspire that Soviet reaction than a military assault on Cuba.

Then he went upstairs to sleep on that decision, if he could.

Perhaps his sleep was troubled because he imagined a scenario that, in fact, played out a few days later: A Soviet submarine off Cuba, cut off from communicating with Moscow, nearly fired a nuclear-tipped torpedo after mistaking depth charges dropped by a U.S. ship, meant to force the sub to the surface, for the start of an American attack. Two officers approved the firing of the torpedo. A third did not, and after a heated argument he prevailed, possibly preventing a nuclear holocaust and World War III.

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Bruce Springsteen's Trump Warning: Nominee's Narcissism Threatens Democracy

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 11:16am
Click here for reuse options! "[Donald Trump]'s going to lose... And he’s such a flagrant, toxic narcissist that he wants to take down the entire democratic system with him."

In an interview with Channel 4 in Britain, the legendary musician Bruce Springsteen shared his thoughts on the race. "[Donald Trump]'s going to lose, and he knows that. He knows he's going to lose. And he’s such a flagrant, toxic narcissist that he wants to take down the entire democratic system with him if he goes," Springsteen said. "And the words that he’s been using over the past several weeks really are an attack on the entire democratic process."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you might have heard Professor Glaude reference "The Boss." Let’s turn to Bruce Springsteen in his own words, speaking to Channel 4 in Britain.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I mean, I know some Trump voters, you know. But I think that he’s really—he’s really preyed upon that part of the country, because he gives these very glib and superficial answers to very, very entrenched and very difficult problems, but they’re answers that sound pretty good if you’ve struggled for the past 20 or 30 years. So—

MATT FREI: You can understand his appeal?

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, yeah, I can understand that there’s somebody with simple answers to very complicated questions, who sound like they’re listening to you for the first time.

MATT FREI: Do you think the people who like him are racists?

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: No, no, I don’t believe that—you can’t generalize like that. You know, I think—I think there’s all kinds of people that are interested in him for a variety of different reasons.

MATT FREI: Do you think that rage will go away after this election?

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: No, no. I don’t know how it’s going to manifest itself, but it will manifest itself somehow, you know?

MATT FREI: Do you think there might be some trouble? I mean, you know, we’ve already seen some strife on the streets and—

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Well, the trouble at the moment is, is you have Donald Trump who is talking about rigged elections. And he’s not—he has a feeling he’s going to lose now, which he—of course, he is going to lose.

MATT FREI: You’re confident?

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. He’s going to lose. And he knows that. He knows he’s going to lose. And he’s such a flagrant, toxic narcissist that he wants to take down the entire democratic system with him if he goes. If he could reflect on these things, maybe he’d have—but he’s such an unreflective person. And he doesn’t—he simply has no sense of decency and no sense of responsibility about him. And the words that he’s been using over the past several weeks really are an attack on the entire democratic process.

MATT FREI: And is that dangerous?

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, it is. I think it’s very dangerous. He does have a lot of people’s ears. And I don’t think he’s going to go quietly into the—you know, gently into the good night. I think he’s going to make a big a mess as he can. And I don’t know what that’s going to mean, but we’ll find out shortly.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bruce Springsteen, speaking to Channel 4 in Britain. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute. [break]

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New Study Confirms Our Worst Fears About Work

AlterNet.org - October 21, 2016 - 11:15am
Click here for reuse options! If you have no control over it, it can kill you.

We all know how exhausting a stressful day at work can be, but now a new study confirms the less control you feel you have at your job, the more likely you are to drop dead. Studying over 2,000 Wisconsin residents over the course of seven years, researchers found “those in high-stress jobs with little control over their workflow die younger or are less healthy than those who have more flexibility and discretion in their jobs and are able to set their own goals as part of their employment.”

The study also found those with little control over their work timeline on a day-to-day-basis are 15.4 percent more likely to die than those who are given the opportunity to craft their own daytime schedule. People who are able to choose when to take a break or grab a cup of coffee actually live longer than their more regimented peers. Another recommendation of the study is for companies to engage in and encourage "job crafting," a process whereby employees help craft a meaningful and productive job for themselves where they can set goals.

This news seems to suggest that a more hands-off approach to managing employees not only helps foster goodwill, but actually provides health benefits—no matter the person’s industry or position. 

The takeaway—that companies are better off insuring their employees have a proper work-life balance—falls in line with current conventional wisdom that companies with pro-employee policies function more efficiently.

Still, considering a May study revealed that Americans work more than anyone in the industrial world, it seems American employers may want to consider giving their employees the flexibility to control their workflow. Otherwise, it could be worst-case scenario.

h/t: The Guardian

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