Big Business Charter School Chains Seek Millions in Taxpayer Dollars With No Accountability

AlterNet.org - May 1, 2016 - 2:00pm
Charter schools pretend to be public and non-profit while pocketing big bucks and paying no taxes.

Charter schools are big business, even when they are run by "non-profits" that pay no taxes on the revenue they receive from public taxes or other sources.

Take KIPP, which describes itself as a "national network of public schools."

KIPP (an acronym for the phrase "knowledge is power program") operates like a franchise with the KIPP Foundation as the franchisor and the individual charters as franchisees that are all separate non-profits that describe themselves as "public schools."

But how public are KIPP public schools?

Not as public as real or traditional public schools.

New documents discovered on the U.S. Department of Education's website reveal that KIPP has claimed that information about its revenues and other significant matters is "proprietary" and should be redacted from materials it provides to that agency to justify the expenditure of federal tax dollars, before its application is made publicly available.

So what does a so-called public school like KIPP want to keep the public from knowing?

1. Graduation and College Matriculation Rates

KIPP touts itself as particularly successful at preparing students to succeed in school and college.

Yet, it insisted that the U.S. Department of Education keep secret from the public the statistics about the percentage of its eighth graders who completed high school, entered college, and/or who completed a two-year or four-year degree.

A few years ago, professor Gary Miron and his colleagues Jessica Urschel and Nicholas Saxton, found that "KIPP charter middle schools enroll a significantly higher proportion of African-American students than the local school districts they draw from but 40 percent of the black males they enroll leave between grades 6 and 8," as reported by Mary Ann Zehr in Ed Week.

Zehr noted: "'The dropout rate for African-American males is really shocking,' said Gary J. Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement, and research" at Western Michigan University, who conducted the national study.

Miron's analysis was attacked by KIPP and its allies, who said KIPP's success was not due to the attrition of lower performing students who leave the school or move to other districts. One of its defenders was Mathematica Policy Research, whose subsequent study was used to try to rebut Miron's analysis. (That name will be important momentarily.)

The Department of Education has been provided with the data about what percentage of KIPP students graduate from high school and go on to college, but it is helping KIPP keep that secret—despite the public tax dollars going to these schools and despite KIPP's claim to be operating what are public schools.

Real public schools would never be allowed to claim that high school graduation rates or college matriculation rates are "proprietary" or "privileged" or "confidential."

Why does the Education Department's Charter School Program "Office of Innovation and Improvement" defer to KIPP's demand to keep that information secret from the public?

Meanwhile, the KIPP Foundation regularly spends nearly a half million dollars a year ($467,594 at last count) on advertising to convince the public how great its public charters are using figures it selects to promote. No public school district in the nation has that kind of money to drop on ads promoting its successes.

2. Projected Uses of Federal Taxpayer Dollars (and Disney World?)

Even as KIPP was seeking more than $22 million from the federal government to expand its charter school network, it insisted that the U.S. Department of Education redact from its application a chart about how much money would be spent on personnel, facilities, transportation, and "other uses" under the proposed grant. KIPP also sought to redact the amount of private funding it was projecting.

The agency's compliant Office of Innovation and Improvement obliged KIPP.

However, after the grant was approved, KIPP did have to comply with IRS regulations to file a report on its revenues and expenditures, as all entities given the privilege of having their revenue tax-exempt or tax-deductible do. (Those filings usually are made available a year after the revenue and expenditures accrue.)

That is, the federal government's Office of Innovation and Improvement redacted information about KIPP's revenue and expenditures on the basis of an unsupportable assertion that such information was exempt under the Freedom of Information Act as proprietary, confidential, or privileged even though it is not.

Here are some of the key details from KIPP's 2013 tax filings (uploaded below):

  • KIPP received more than $18 million in grants from American tax dollars and more than $43 million from other sources, primarily other foundations;
  • KIPP spent nearly $14 million on compensation, including more than $1.2 million on nine executives who received six-figure salaries, and nearly $2 million more on retirement and other benefits;
  • KIPP also spent over $416,000 on advertising and a whopping $4.8 million on travel; it paid more than $1.2 to the Walt Disney World Swan and Resort;
  • It also paid $1.2 million to Mathematica for its data analysis; that's the firm that was used to try to rebut concerns about KIPP's performance and attrition rates.

KIPP's revenue and spending in 2014 were similar, but there are some additional interesting details (uploaded below):

  • KIPP received more than $21 million in grants from American tax dollars and more than $38 million from other sources, primarily other foundations;
  • KIPP spent nearly $18 million on compensation and nearly $2 million more on retirement and other benefits;
  • KIPP paid its co-founder, David Levin, more than $450,000 in total compensation, and its CEO, Richard Barth, more than $425,000 in total compensation, in addition to six-figure salaries for eight other executives;
  • KIPP also spent over $467,000 on advertising and more than $5 million on travel;
  • It also paid nearly $1 million to Mathematica for its data analysis.

In that tax year, which covers the 2013-2014 school year, as traditional public schools faced budget cuts across the country, KIPP spent more than $3.5 million on "lodging and hospitality," including more than $1.8 million alone at the posh Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Since its revenue from taxpayers is commingled with its revenues from wealthy charter school advocates and the foundations they control, there is no way to sort out how much of taxpayer money has directly gone into luxurious trips for KIPP employees versus how much having revenue from taxes helps subsidize such largesse.

But, there is no public school district in the country that would be allowed such travel or advertising expenditures for its executives or teachers if the voters knew about it or had a say in it.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that KIPP would want the grant-makers at the U.S. Department of Education to redact the amount of its expenditures for personnel, facilities, transportation, and "other uses"—especially with extravagant expenditures like its transportation and lodging at fabulous resorts, as opposed to transportation for kids to school—but why would the federal agency charged with oversight go along with redacting information about how much KIPP was projecting to spend in those categories?

KIPP did request that budget information about how much it or its affiliates paid the executive directors for individual charters, principals, accountants, grant managers, community coordinators, and IT teams be kept from the public, under a claim that such information is proprietary.

But the Office of Innovation and Improvement did not accommodate that request.

Notably, KIPP's grant application sets forth "regional leadership" expenses that total nearly $5 million of the projected budget for the grant. There is no indication how much taxpayers are directly or indirectly subsidizing the six-figure salaries of its executive suite including the nearly half-million in total compensation for each of KIPP's two highest paid employees. (This grant application only pertains to one source of federal and state grants that annually provide revenue to KIPP.)

3. Full Disclosure of Attrition and Performance Results

Not only did KIPP seek to keep the public in the dark about how it spends tax-exempt funding and how many KIPP students make it to high school graduation or college, it also sought to redact information "KIPP Student Attrition" by region and "by subgroup" and "KIPP Student Performance" on state exams on "Math and Reading."

The Office of Innovation and Improvement did as KIPP requested.

But why would KIPP, which advertises its claimed superiority, and the Department of Education, which uses KIPP as an example of the success of charters, keep information about attrition and performance secret, especially when that subject is one of great public interest as noted by the Economic Policy Institute?

Page after page after page in KIPP's application that shows the percentage of school students who leave KIPP blacked out along with information about student test results by school for the three years prior to the grant application.

How can the Department of Education acquiesce in a request by a charter it cheerleads for to keep data about that charter's retention or dropout rate secret?

If both sets of redacted figures were truly excellent, why wouldn't both KIPP and the Department of Education release those results? After all, KIPP included glossy PR documents on some of its schools in its application materials touting select data about test results.

Why should unelected bureaucrats at the federal agency get to see the data about attrition and performance in awarding millions in taxpayer dollars to KIPP but go along with KIPP in keeping those specific statistics from the public?

In short, what are KIPP and the Department of Education hiding from the American people?

4. The CEO Foundations Pushing School "Choice" and Subsidizing KIPP

KIPP also asked the Office of Innovation and Improvement to redact the amounts of funding provided to KIPP by foundations that wrote letters of support for KIPP to receive federal taxpayer money under the grant.

The grant documents the Center for Media and Democracy has examined reveal that these are the names and amounts that KIPP sought to keep the public from knowing and that the Department of Education blacked out at KIPP's request:

  • Robertson Foundation: $20M
  • Atlantic Trust/ Kendeda Fund: $15 million
  • Marcus Foundation: $4.5M
  • Zeist: $1.7M
  • Lowe Foundation: $357,000
  • Webber Family Foundation: $351,780
  • Sooch Foundation: $675,000
  • Tipping Point Community: $2M
  • Schwab Foundation: $2.5M
  • Koret Foundation: $2,135,000
  • SAP: $297,389
  • Kobacker: $100,000
  • Todd Wagner Foundation: $1,000,000
  • El Paso, $1,000,000
  • Charles T. Bauer Foundation: $1,242,000
  • Karsh: $8M
  • Charter Schools Growth Fund: $2 million
  • Formanek: $526,000
  • Goldring Family Foundation: $1,000,000
  • Charles Hayden Foundation: $1.393 million
  • Victoria Foundation: $626,000
  • CityBridge Foundation: $2.9M"

Almost all of these donors are foundations that have to annually disclose to the IRS and make available to the public the names of their grantees and the amounts granted. So this information is not privileged, confidential or proprietary.

Why would the Office of Innovation and Improvement go along with a request to keep secret from the public information that is subsequently required to be made public?

While many of the foundations listed above are led by corporate CEOs or their families, only a few are corporations whose donations might not be routinely disclosed.

SAP, for example, is the name of a German corporation that made headlines 18 months ago for dumping the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after Google dumped ALEC for its climate change denial and obstruction. Should Americans be concerned that a foreign multinational corporation is influencing American "public charters" through KIPP? The truth is foreign multinationals are exercising increasing influence over American charter schools and testing. Just look at the growth in U.S. business of the British firm, Pearson.

At the same time, the volume of such private philanthropic support begs the question of why the American taxpayer ought to be subsidizing schools that are touted as public but act like private ones when it comes to executive compensation and roadblocks to transparency, especially at a time when traditional public schools are facing such budgetary pressures?

KIPP is a taxpayer-subsidized school franchise that pays no taxes on its revenue and provides a tax-deductible vehicle for uber-wealthy families to promote the school "choice" agenda.

And, the fact that taxpayer money is going to a group spending millions on luxury trips to resorts in Las Vegas is mind-boggling in an age of austerity when many public schools are going without basic necessities.

With each new fact that comes out, the charter school industry is looking more like the military defense industry with the scandals of the 1980s with the infamous $600 toilet seat. There's no indication of fraud by KIPP.

But from an optics standpoint some might consider a $600 plastic seat small change, compared with a "public school" spending more than a million to go to Disney World in one year, even if only one-third of KIPP's funding comes from taxpayers directly and the remainder comes at taxpayer expense due to CEOs writing off donations to foundations that help underwrite KIPP.

Plus, separate from the grant application discussed here, KIPP has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education to conduct leadership training summits for KIPP principals and other personnel. That application also includes significant redactions, including about key components of the budget for what it calls KIPP "summits" or annual meetings and other gatherings (as well as a total redaction of the Mathematica analysis commissioned by KIPP).

Meanwhile, KIPP told the Education Department that in its first 10 years it had raised more than $150 million from private philanthropic sources, which underscores the question of why taxpayers are subsidizing an operation that already has ample support from the corporate community when those taxpayer dollars could be going to strengthen traditional public schools that are truly public and that are not subsidized by tax write-offs for the one percent through their foundations.

Indeed, those tax write-offs serve to diminish the base of revenue available for tax revenue to fund public schools and other genuinely public goods in the first place.

A Closer Look at KIPP

It appears that all the redactions were in response to "proprietary" instructions KIPP dictated to DOE through a four-page document titled, "Proprietary Information."

The Education Department complied with almost all of KIPP's instructions, despite how contrary they are to public policy and even to publicly available information.

These black marks come at a time when cracks are starting to show in KIPP's once beyond-reproach veneer.

KIPP is the largest and most lauded charter school chain in the United States and the recipient of many millions of dollars in taxpayer grants, foundation gifts and handouts from billionaire charter school enthusiasts.

A new book by Jim Horn, Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through ‘No Excuses' Teaching, focuses on the experiences and perspectives of dozens of former KIPP teachers who have become critics of the chain and many of the principles it is based on, including the Teach for America program that supplies KIPP with many of its teachers.

The book's title is a reference to "Work Hard. Be Nice" the book-length puff piece authored by Washington Post education reporter Jay Matthews about KIPP's founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levine.

In a review of Work Hard, Be Hard that is excerpted on Diane Ravitch's blog, education professor Julian Vasquez Heilig writes that screaming at students is accepted teaching practice in KIPP schools:

Why does KIPP encourage and/or allow these practices? Horn writes, school leaders relayed that ‘because of cultural differences, black students are accustomed to being screamed at…because that's how their parents speak to them.' A KIPP teacher characterized the worst offender at her school as a ‘screamer, swearer and humiliator.'

"KIPP might also argue that they are the beneficiaries of widespread support in communities across the nation. It is very clear that KIPP benefits from powerful influential and wealthy supporters in government, the media, and foundations. Their no excuses approach to educating poor children has resonated with the elites in society and they have showered the corporate charter chain with resources for decades. So it may be surprising to some to read the counternarrative from KIPP teachers that is quite different than what you typically read in the newspapers, see in documentaries like Waiting for Superman, and generally experience in the public discourse. I proffer that the KIPP teachers' counternarratives in Journeys should be required reading for all of KIPPs influential supporters."

So what is the disgruntled KIPP teachers' counter-narrative? For one, the model seems to create lousy working conditions for the purpose of encouraging high teacher turnover. One former teacher says, "I wouldn't wish it on anyone who wanted to be a teacher for the long-term…It's exhausting. It's demoralizing."

And this is where Teach for America comes in. "Without a constant infusion of new teachers to replace all those who burn out," Horn writes, "KIPP would have to shut its doors… The role of Teach For America and programs based on Teach For America's hyper-abbreviated preparation are crucial, then, for the continued survival of… KIPP."

In short, the new book offers a devastating critique of the KIPP business model at a time when KIPP and the Department of Education appear to be aiding each other in trying to keep critical information out of the public debate through redaction.

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Assassinated Activist Berta Caceres Took on the Entire Oligarchy in Her Home Country

AlterNet.org - May 1, 2016 - 1:06pm
Her assassination in Honduras had, as her family contends, been long overdue.

On March 3, assassins entered the home of Berta Caceres, leader of Honduras’ environmental and indigenous movement. They shot her friend Gustavo Castro Soto, the director of Friends of the Earth Mexico. He pretended to be dead, and so is the only witness of what came next. The assassins found Berta Caceres in another room and shot her in the chest, the stomach and the arms. When the assassins left the house, Castro went to Berta Caceres, who died in his arms.

Investigation into the death of Berta Caceres is unlikely to be conducted with seriousness. The Honduran government suggested swiftly that it was likely that Castro had killed Berta Caceres and made false statements about assassins. That he had no motive to kill his friend and political ally seemed irrelevant. Castro has taken refuge in the Mexican embassy in Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa. He continues to fear for his life.

Berta Caceres led the Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), one of the most important critics of government and corporate power in her country. Most recently, she and COPINH had taken a strong stand against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on a river sacred to the indigenous Lenca community. This dam had occupied her work. It was not merely a fight against an energy company, it was a fight against the entire Honduran elite.

Desarrollos Energeticos, SA (DESA) is owned by the Atala family, whose most famous member is Camilo Atala, who heads Honduras’ largest bank, Banco Ficohsa. By all indications, the Atala family is very close to the government. When the military moved against the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya Rosales in 2009, the Atala family, among others, supported the coup with their means. The Honduran sociologist Leticia Salomon listed this family among others as the enablers of the coup. They backed the conservative National Party, which now holds the reins of power alongside the military. Berta Caceres’ fight against the Agua Zarca dam, then, was not merely a fight against one dam. It was a battle against the entire Honduran oligarchy. Her assassination had, as her family contends, been long overdue.

Zelaya’s Honduras

Dario Euraque had been the Director of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History from June 2006 to the coup of September 2009. President Zelaya appointed Euraque with a clear mandate to change the culture of Honduras. He wanted to widen the cultural boundaries of the country to put the indigenous people at its centre and address their needs and ambitions. Euraque, a historian of Honduras, had already immersed himself in the world of the indigenous people. In his 2010 memoir of the coup, titled El golpe de Estado del 28 junio de 2009, Euraque explains that with encouragement from Zelaya he “advanced a more novel and democratic cultural policy” which “explicitly linked cultural heritage with strengthening the national identity of our country”.

“I met Berta [Caceres] in 1995 in La Esperanza, the city where she was murdered,” Euraque told this writer recently. “I interviewed her and her then husband, Salvador Zuniga, for a book about the ethnohistory of Honduras.” When Euraque took over the Honduran Institute, he “promoted cultural policies and projects that empowered Lenca people in the region where COPINH worked”.

Euraque and his team as well as Berta Caceres and COPINH faced harassment from the local opposition. “Our progressive policies of fomenting culture as social and political power,” said Euraque, “was part of a general commitment of President Zelaya to empower [the] Honduran people in ways that would transform the corrupt political culture and political system that [has] made Honduras one of the poorest countries in the Americas.”

As part of his commitment to the indigenous legacy of Honduras, Zelaya had halted most hydroelectric projects. This was one of the reasons why the Honduran business elite despised him. But it was not the only reason. Zelaya began his political career as a liberal, but as president he drifted closer and closer to the world view of leaders such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Raul Castro of Cuba and Evo Morales of Bolivia. Association with this Leftist movement in the Americas drove a humane agenda for Honduras. Zelaya’s government offered free education and school meals to children, provided subsidies to small farmers and free electricity to the poor, reduced interest rates and increased the minimum wage. This was a broad democratic process that earned Zelaya the love of his people, but the hatred of the elite and, consequently, the United States government.

Coup by Oligarchy

The Business Council of Latin America and the Association of Honduran Manufacturers began an all-out war against Zelaya, who faced a hostile media as well as a hostile opposition in the Congress. Zelaya’s attempt to revise the conservative 1982 Constitution provided his enemies with an opportunity. On the pretext of legal irregularities, the military moved against Zelaya, arresting him on June 28, 2009. He was exiled to Costa Rica. His allies did not get the same courtesy. The military and the opposition went on a rampage against Zelaya’s base, hitting them hard with violence and prison.

The deaths came one after another: Vicky Herhandez Castillo, a transgender activist in San Pedro Sula; Mario Contreras, director of the Instituto Abelardo Fortin in Tegucigalpa; Antonio Levia, a Lenca leader of the National Front of Resistance in Santa Barbara; and a youth leader of the Resistance, Pedro Magdiel Munoz in Tegucigalpa. Euraque and his family fled to the U.S. Repressive laws came from above as the coup government provided amnesty for its forces. The coup government did what the Business Council and the Association of Honduran Manufacturers wanted. It removed Zelaya, repressed the popular movements, and handed Honduras over to the propertied elite.

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens wrote a cable shortly after the coup, in which he wrote that “there is no doubt” that Zelaya’s removal “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup”. He was ignored. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s long-time friend and ally Lanny Davis had been the Washington lobbyist of the Honduran business community. Through Davis, Hillary Clinton made contact with one of the conspirators of the coup, Roberto Micheletti. She would later write in her book, Hard Choices, that her government helped push the Honduran elite to give legitimacy to the new government through elections, “which would render the question of Zelaya moot”. The U.S., the main patron of the Honduran elite, backed the coup and increased military aid to the new government.

The historian Dana Frank has been a long-time critic of U.S. intervention in Honduras. She told this writer that the U.S. not only actively ensured that “the coup succeeded and stabilised” but that it continues to legitimise, “celebrate and shore up the post-coup regime devastating Honduras”. Dana Frank has hard words not only for Washington but also for Tegucigalpa. She said: “The U.S. bears direct responsibility for the terrifying crisis in Honduras today, in which Juan Orlando Hernandez’s U.S.-supported dictatorship runs roughshod over the rule of law, robs the public coffers blind, and allows security forces and death squads to kill human rights defenders and social justice activists with near-complete impunity.”

Berta Caceres’ mother, Austra Bertha Flores Lopez, released a public letter a month after her assassination. “I ask you to keep strongly supporting me to achieve justice,” she wrote, “and stop the impunity in a country so hard hit by oppressive political violence against people who work to construct a more just and humane society.”

COPINH members said that they had been under threat of violence and persecution for their work. The Honduran army, they said, had a hit list of critics of the regime. Berta Caceres had been on that list, as had many others killed over the past seven years. “Every human rights defender in Honduras knows he or she can be killed at any moment,” Dana Frank said.

What this culture of impunity has produced, according to Euraque, “is the complete destruction of the country’s social and cultural fabric, contributing to never-before-recorded deterioration of mental health problems, intra-family violence, all with the collusion of a corrupt judiciary and state.” It is not easy for Euraque to say these things. He is a patriot of his country, which is being murdered before his very eyes.

 

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What's New: The Incomplete and Wonderful History of May Day

Socialist Project - May 1, 2016 - 1:00pm
Author and professor Peter Linebaugh discusses his new book, "The Incomplete, True, Authentic, and Wonderful History of May Day." Then filmmaker Avi Lewis discusses worker-owned factories in Argentina, and Laura focuses on the intersectional feminism of 19th Century anarchist Lucy Parsons.
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Former Scientologist Forced to Have Abortion Wins Major Legal Victory Against Church

AlterNet.org - May 1, 2016 - 11:25am
According to DeCrescenzo, she was kept a virtual prisoner by the church for years.

It took seven years, but a former Scientologist will see her lawsuit against the church — which she says kept her captive and forced her to have an abortion — go to trial, KABC reports.

Laura Ann DeCrescenzo, who began doing volunteer work for the Church of Scientology at the age of six, received good news this week when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Doyle denied a motion by lawyers for the Church of Scientology International to dismiss her case.

DeCrescenzo is suing the church for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practices and wage-and-hour violations, as well as claiming that the church coerced into having an abortion at the age of 17.

According to DeCrescenzo, she was kept a virtual prisoner by the church for years.

“I wasn’t allowed to speak with my family. You’re not allowed to have more than twenty dollars on you at any given time,” explained DeCrescenzo. “You’re not allowed to go anywhere without another person. You’re watched 24/7.”

DeCrescenzo says she remained a member of the church for years after the abortion, stating that church officials psychologically abused her after she became pregnant, telling her that she would be left homeless and unable to find a job and denied the ability to ever see her husband again.

According to the woman, she finally escaped the church in 2004 when she pretended to attempt suicide by swallowing a cup of bleach.

She abandoned the church for good four years later.

Watch the video below via KABC:

 

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Bernie Is the Hero of 2016: Just Because He’s Losing the Nomination Doesn’t Mean He’s Failed

AlterNet.org - May 1, 2016 - 11:20am
Sanders should continue his fight to represent the interests of American workers. There's too much at stake.

Since Hillary Clinton’s triumphant Tuesday, in which she won four out of the five state primaries and padded her delegate lead—almost ensuring her the Democratic nomination for president—the Bernie Sanders campaign has noticeably adjusted its tone, hinting, as the New York Times reports, that “the senator is looking past the nominating fight and toward a future role in shaping the [Democratic] party.” On Thursday, it was announced that the campaign was downsizing its staff by more than 200, while Sanders has begun to focus increasingly on the Democratic Party itself, rather than his primary opponent.

“The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion,” said the senator at an Oregon rally on Thursday. “Are we on the side of working people or big-money interests?”

While Sanders may not end up becoming the Democratic nominee, he has already accomplished more than anyone could have predicted just six months ago, and is now a powerful force in the Democratic Party and American politics. Since announcing his candidacy a year ago, winning the nomination has always been somewhat subordinate to creating a popular progressive movement, or what he has termed a “political revolution.” As he explained in a speech back in October:

We need millions of people—people who have given up on the political process, people who are demoralized, people who don’t believe that government listens to them. We need to bring those people together to stand up loudly and clearly and to say “Enough is enough.” This country belongs to all of us, not just wealthy campaign donors.

Sanders has run on a bold (but by no means “radical”) platform that directly challenges America’s plutocracy. And the one underlying message of the Sanders campaign has been straightforward and simple: The economy is about power, and over the past 40 years, as unions have weakened and monied interests have united to drive policy and political debate in Washington, economic gains have gone to the wealthiest, while wages have stagnated for the vast majority. Contrary to the mainstream notion that America’s economic winners and losers are determined entirely by merit and the invisible hand of the market, those who win tend to be those who already have enough economic (and therefore political) power to rig the game in their favor.

In his latest book, Saving Capitalism, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich refutes this myth of the free market:

Few ideas have more profoundly poisoned the minds of more people than the notion of a “free market” existing somewhere in the universe, into which government intrudes. But the prevailing view, as well as the debate it has spawned, is utterly false. There can be no “free market” without government… Competition in the wild is a contest for survival in which the largest and strongest typically win. Civilization, by contrast, is defined by rules; rules create markets, and governments generate the rules.

In an ideal democracy, the power to determine these rules of the market would rest in the hands of the people. Of course, the United States is not an ideal democracy, and the founding fathers—many of whom were extremely cynical about the masses (perhaps justifiably so for the time)—designed the Constitution to ensure that the economic and social elites retained control.

But throughout the country’s history, the people—workers, farmers, suffrage activists, civil rights activists, abolitionists, populists, socialists, etc.—fought to create a more inclusive and democratic society. When people united to form popular movements, they generated a collective strength that the economic and political elites could no longer afford to ignore (or could no longer suppress). Eventually, popular movements led to the progressive and New Deal eras, and as the political apparatus became increasingly democratic, the rules of the economy were leveled to ensure working people were treated and paid fairly.

But the people became complacent—worse, they were divided by race, gender, religion, culture, and so on. Starting in the ’70s, corporate America came to realize the importance of taking back political power, which had become more evenly distributed throughout the 20th century. To quote Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s 1971 memo, a sort of capitalist manifesto:

Business must learn the lesson… that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination—without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.

Private industry took Powell’s advice. Since the ’70s, corporate lobbyists have infested Washington, thousands of political action committees have formed, right-wing think tanks like Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation have become major influencers of public policy, and political campaign spending has gone through the roof—especially after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling of 2010.

“It is not a coincidence that as more and more money has infected the two parties, their concern for the well-being of the vast majority of the American people has declined,” writes Mike Lofgren, a former Republican who worked in Washington for nearly 30 years, in his outstanding book, The Party is Over. “The extensive political ads that pollute television after Labor Day during an election year may ooze with empathy for Joe Average, but actions speak louder than words.”

Indeed, according to an oft-cited Princeton University study that analyzed 20 years of public opinion polling data, compared to legislation passed in Washington during the same time period, American politicians are influenced very little by the needs of Joe and Jane Average. The report found that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

In other words, America is a plutocracy (or, if you prefer, an oligarchy).

And the only way to challenge this “government by the wealthy” is for the people to rise up and demand a fair and just economy, as they have in the past. This has been Bernie Sanders’ message throughout 2016—that only the power of the collective can stand up to the power of monied interests.

Whether the Bernie campaign can broaden into a larger popular movement that exists beyond electoral politics will be determined in the months and years to come. But as longtime Democratic strategist Robert Shrum recently put it to The Hill, Sanders has “ignited a new powerful and enduring grassroots movement inside the Democratic Party” and “brought a new generation of people into politics.” He has also reminded us that real change can only transpire when people come together and demand it, and that there is true power in collective action.

 

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5 Right-Wing Absurdities This Week: Fiorina Terrifies Children Nationwide

AlterNet.org - May 1, 2016 - 11:11am
Glenn Beck's Cheeto faceplant was not to be missed.

The week was overflowing with right-wing assholery mixed with a generous dollop of buffoonery. As Trump’s inevitability grew stronger, he launched his sexist Hillary-bashing campaign in earnest. He also very presidentially described John Kasich’s eating habits as “disgusting,” one of his favorite adjectives, and one we can expect him to employ frequently about Clinton if, say, she has the audacity to eat or have a body.

Then there was Carly Fiorina’s bizarre musical press conference, an attempt to soften both her and Ted Cruz’s image that only managed to confirm how truly creepy both of them are.

Here are the lowlights from the week that was.

1. Trump pointed out the “only” thing Clinton has over him. (The answer is not a brain, or actual knowledge.)

Being a woman, as we all know, involves having a card that you can play. Anytime you try to do something, while simultaneously being a woman, you are playing that card. Cooking, cleaning and applying makeup do not involve playing that card, but speaking, having opinions or being ambitious definitely do.

Hillary Clinton, we now know, is in possession of this super powerful card. Donald is not. And that makes him mad. He does not appreciate other people having things he does not have. It’s not fair.

Trump had scarcely finished trouncing his Republican opponents on Tuesday when he denounced his Democratic rival for "playing the woman’s card.” Clinton wouldn’t, he said, “get 5 percent of the vote” if she were a man.

Interesting math. Wonder how he figured. The universe rolled its eyes. Chris Christie’s wife appeared to roll her eyes, although Christie later denied this, saying he should know how his wife looks when she rolls her eyes. Hillary Clinton laughed and continued to survey her cards.

So much to look forward to in the coming months.

2. Donald Trump’s sexism unleashes even worse GOP haters, like this guy.

As if to immediately prove the fact that Donald Trump’s rhetoric does indeed bring out the absolute worst in people, meet Bob Sutton, chairman of the Broward County GOP Executive Committee, and all-around lovely man. Mr. Sutton found himself discussing the likely prospect of a Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton debate with the Washington Post this week, and he did so in the most dignified way possible.

“I think when Donald Trump debates Hillary Clinton she’s going to go down like Monica Lewinsky,” he told that reporter.

Nice. Think how pleased he must have been with himself when he came up with that metaphor. It’s a kneeslapper, all right.

With Trump emerging as the leader of the Republican Party, and continuing to bring out the very best in all who encounter him, we can only assume there will be much, much more of this to come. Woo hoo.

3. Carly Fiorina makes all children run and hide in terror at a press conference.

In an effort to bump up his likability and steal Trump’s thunder after Tuesday’s spanking, Ted Cruz had a very important announcement. Even though he will never be the president or even his party’s nominee, this very strange, immensely creepy lady who no one ever wanted to see again will be his fictional vice president.

Yay.

We’re going to have to score this bid to make him seem like a less icky human being a complete and total fail. In fact, it is even possible that Carly Fiorina supplanted Cruz in children’s nightmares that day, when she cheerfully accepted Cruz’s offer, professed to love his whole family and began bizarrely singing something resembling a song to his young daughters. Hoo boy. We defy you to find someone whose skin did not crawl. We’re shuddering all over right now at the memory.

“How hard is it to be a normal human being?” late-night comedy host Larry Wilmore asked Fiorina rhetorically.

For Fiorina and Cruz? Very hard.

Nay, impossible.

4. Glenn Beck reacted entirely reasonably to John Boehner’s criticism of Ted Cruz.

Oh, hahahahaha. No he didn’t. He covered his face in Cheeto dust.

It was a hard week for Beck. First, his “divinely inspired” boy Ted Cruz lost all five states to Donald Trump on Tuesday, giving Cruz no realistic shot whatsoever at the nomination. Then Cruz named his vice presidential running mate anyway, the immensely likable Carly Fiorina, who sang a song that reminded everyone of an evil witch in a fairy tale. Then Cruz stunned everyone in Indiana with his stupidity about basketball. Then John Boehner made a rare appearance and told his truth about Ted, which is that he is “Lucifer in the flesh” and a “miserable son of a bitch.”

In a dazzling act of protest against the conspiracy of the orange men, Trump and Boehner, and to simulate their hue, a begoggled Beck performed a faceplant in a bowl of Cheeto dust.

Wanna see? Here’s video that will not scare the children, although it may make you lose your lunch.

5. The other idiot Palin woman spoke out in support of a terrible person.

Bristol Palin does not waste her precious blog posts on just any old thing. She wields that computer to go to bat against grave injustices. To right wrongs committed against the downtrodden, the innocents, the terribly picked-on politically incorrect. So when ESPN finally let atrocious bigot Curt Schilling go last week after he shared a wildly offensive transphobic meme, she took up his noble cause and called what he said and did “common sense.”

“Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that Target now welcomes men into their ladies’ rooms and ESPN fired Curt Schilling for saying that ‘men are men,’" Bristol began. “Yes. That’s the kind of world we live in now.”

Her pal Curt was just speaking an “obvious truth,” she said. He was standing up “for the culture that the left tries to flush down the toilet.”

Wait, what? What culture? The culture of transphobia? The culture of bathrooms?

Who knows what thoughts are blowing around in that vacuous head of hers?

Palin went on to talk about how the network was a big old hypocrite because it had tolerated nasty comments about her beloved Tea Party—and her beloved tea partying mother—over the years.

Bristol Palin is out there defending “the culture,” whatever the hell that means to her.

A brief and painful endnote: The horror. The horror.

There’s a talking Ann Coulter doll. It’s a thing that people can purchase for their kids, or, we suppose, for voodoo rituals.

Chuckie, move over.

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How Donald Trump Became the Dictator of Social Media

AlterNet.org - May 1, 2016 - 11:10am
As FDR mastered radio and JFK conquered TV, Donald Trump rules the Internet like no other candidate.

By now I must be at least the millionth commentator to observe that Donald Trump is the candidate for whom social media have longed. What FDR was to radio and JFK to television, Trump is to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, et al.

This is usually taken to mean that Trump, like some political McLuhan, is a mastermind who understands social media the way his forebears understood their media. But I suspect that with him, it may be less a matter of his brilliance or even his intuition than of the accidental match of personality with medium. He is a man of his technological moment.

The standard take on that mutuality is that social media prioritize constant churn, and Trump is a non-stop, one-man political tornado, roaring through this campaign and sucking up every news cycle in his vortex. That certainly describes what Trump has done, but it isn’t exclusive to social media. In fact, he seems to have grabbed more attention on traditional news sites, especially cable TV, than on social media.

Trump is the decontextualizer-in-chief.

Where Trump and social media do conjoin, promoting his candidacy and changing our whole political environment, isn’t in the generation of noise. It is in something even more fundamental to each: Trump is the “decontexualizer-in-chief” operating in a medium that likewise is about cutting the world into bits that don’t necessarily accrete into anything sensical.

Books have been written about the impact of social media on our electoral process, and decontextualization usually isn’t high on the list of transformations, in part because fragmentation isn’t usually high on the list of properties that inhere to social media. Those properties, as I see them, are instantaneity, anonymity, democratization, authenticity and yes, fragmentation, and they lead, in their various ways, to a variety of consequences.

Studies have shown, not surprisingly, that social media contribute to increased polarization of our politics, since social media allow like-minded people to find one another who might otherwise be atomized—sometimes to public advantage, and sometimes not.

You might think of social media as a mechanism of social aggregation that can lead to positive social activism. Then again you might think of it as a virtual Munich beer hall. In any case, I don’t think there is any doubt that social media have begun to edge out more traditional forms of collective action—for example, party apparatuses. And I also don’t think there is any doubt that Trump benefited from this erosion, the darling of social media vanquishing Jeb Bush, the darling of the GOP establishment, or Marco Rubio, the darling of the MSM.

Thanks in part to the anonymity in which folks can use social media, those media have also been accused of coarsening our politics, evicting the politesse, and Trump has clearly benefited from that, too. It is much easier to bloviate, as Trump’s supporters do, in the blogosphere where you can’t be found than on the page or the TV screen where you can. There are no trolls in the MSM because there are no bridges for them to hide under. (OK, I take that back. There is Fox News.) We all know that social media can facilitate bullies and fortify the weak and cowardly, which can be mistaken for the authenticity of speaking your mind. Again, enter Donald Trump.

When you think of democratization on social media, you think of that collective action I referenced above. But social media—in fact, the Internet generally—have also recalibrated our focus by democratizing information; not the access to it, but the lack of discrimination among bits of information. The Internet is a great disinformation machine where anyone can say anything. It is also a kind of magnifying glass enlarging the most minute and trivial things—things, frankly, that very few people seemed to care about before the advent of the Internet. I don’t recall us ever having recaps of every episode of every television program, complete with critical annotation. Well, now we do.

Similarly, though live tweeting might be perceived as a form of increased immediacy, it might also be perceived as a form of disproportion. By magnifying the small and putting everything on the same valence, the trivial and the significant together, it fogs our ability to discern the big from the small. And, God knows, this has helped Trump, too. If he is the most bullying of candidates, he is also the most trivializing. His idea of a policy pronouncement is “build a wall.”

When it comes to democratization, though, perhaps more important as a practical matter is how social media can allow a candidate to circumvent the MSM and seize the narrative: the democracy of challenging the gatekeepers. This has certainly been one of Trump’s achievements as well. Every time the MSM begin one of their Trump rants—the sort of rants that in the past have forged iron narratives candidates cannot break—Trump rants right back over Twitter, leaving the MSM no choice but to cover the rant and, in the process, subvert themselves.

I said in an earlier column that in Iowa, Trump stole the narrative away from the MSM. He has been running with it ever since, and it has been this collaboration between Trump and social media that, I think, may be the second most important way he and they have transformed our political process. By the lights of the MSM, Trump should have been buried long ago under the weight of his effrontery. With the help of social media, he hasn’t been.

I say “second most” because the most important, I believe, is the way Trump, with the accommodation of social media, has used its affinity for decontextualization to decontextualize our politics. Social media are the champions of the nugget—the minute-or-less Instagram film, the 140-character tweet, the instantaneous Snapchat, the six-second (yes, six seconds!) Vine. Because nothing in social media is sustained, people may connect, but ideas rarely do. By the time you have finished slicing and dicing everything into those nuggets, you have pried them out of any larger context, any skein of meaning, any argument, any vision. In a way, social media take the Memento approach to life and apply it to everything.

Politically, this fragmentation has major ramifications. Context is reason. Context is what enables us to weigh and judge. Context removes impulse. And this is really why you cannot conduct a serious campaign on social media. Context disappears. Of course, radio lends itself to emotion and unreason and even soundbites. So obviously does television. Both can substitute the momentary for the considered.

This is one of the things the great media analyst Neil Postman decried in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He fretted over the way an increasingly visceral culture had given rise to an increasingly unserious culture, with the obvious political implications. Above all else, Donald Trump is the candidate of impulse running against candidates of calculation. He is the king of the one-liner, the insult, the proudly politically incorrect slur. And that is a central reason why disaffected Republicans have rallied to him. He is nothing but bites.

All of which makes Trump not just a more outrageous and blustering candidate than the ones to whom we are accustomed. It makes him an epistemologically different kind of candidate—one who challenges the very basis of our politics. He doesn’t have to make sense. He doesn’t have to provide a program or a vision. All he needs are his zingers, so long as they are no more than 140-characters. Twitter can do that to you. And now we are getting a taste of what it can do to our political discourse.

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What's New: May Day: Workers' Struggles, International Solidarity, Political Aspirations

Socialist Project - May 1, 2016 - 2:00am
For more than 100 years, May Day has symbolized the common struggles of workers around the globe. Why is it largely ignored in North America? The answer lies in part in American labour's long repression of its own radical past, out of which international May Day was actually born a century ago.
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Obama Roasts Presidential Candidates at His Final White House Correspondents' Dinner

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 10:40pm
Obama knocked it out of the park with comedic gold at "Nerd Prom" Saturday night.

It's been a long eight years for President Obama, and the "end of the republic" is looking great, as he said. But tonight was all about the next president. And no candidate was spared from Obama's scathing roast. 

"Sorry I was late. I was running on CPT, which stands for jokes white people should not make," Obama told the crowd, referencing Hillary Clinton and Bill de Blasio's awkward skit at NYC's Inner Circle Dinner earlier this month. "If this material works well, I’m going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year... earn me some serious Tubmans." Because, as he puts it, "Next year, this time, someone else will be standing in this spot and it’s anyone's guess who she will be."

Obama was also reminiscent of campaigning with Clinton. "Hillary once questioned if I’d be ready for a 3am phone call. Now, I’m awake anyway. I gotta go to the bathroom."

The president also pointed out several members of the audience, including GOP Chair Reince Priebus. “Congratulations on all your success. The Republican Party, the nomination process, it’s all going great," he announced.  

Obama then addressed the "sting" of being Michael Bloomberg, who also attended the dinner. "A ... controversial New York billionaire is leading the GOP primary, and it is not you!" Obama exclaimed.

But perhaps his most touching shout-out was to Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, "the bright new face of the Democratic party," Obama joked. 

"Bernie, you look like a million bucks," the president told Sanders, "or 37,000 donations of $27 each."

Obama isn't "surprised by the Bernie phenomenon" and even commended Sanders on his marketing efforts.

"Feel the Bern, it’s a good slogan!" Obama cheered. He then turned to focus again on Hillary.

"I’ve said how much I admire Hillary’s toughness, her smarts and policy chops, her experience. You've got to admit it, though. Hillary trying to appeal to young voters is a little bit like your relative who just signed up for Facebook. 'Dear America: Did you get my poke?'" said Obama. Bern.

But of course, as everyone who followed the debates knows, "Meanwhile, on the Republican side, things are a little more loose," as Obama puts it. And Republicans are caught between one candidate with a "basketball ring" fascination (Cruz, trying to say "basketball hoop") and another "not polling high enough to get a joke" (Kasich) and of course, the Donald.

“You know I’ve got to talk about Trump," Obama said, remembering when Trump attended last in 2011. "Is this dinner too tacky for the Donald?" Obama asked. "Is he at home eating a Trump steak tweeting out insults to Angela Merkel?"

Despite Trump's lack of foreign policy experience, he has met with world leaders (Miss America contestants) and "knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground," as Obama puts it. Which could be perfect for closing Guantanamo—who knows?!

"From the start he’s gotten the appropriate amount of coverage," Obama remarked to the reporters. "The guy wanted to give his hotel business a boost and now we’re praying that Cleveland makes it through July!"

So maybe we won't like our choices this November, but we've only really got two.

"Guests were asked to check whether they wanted steak or fish [for dinner] but instead, a whole bunch of you wrote in Paul Ryan," Obama joked. "That’s not an option, people!"

Watch Obama's hilarious speech starting at 28:40:

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Trump's Toxic Culture: How His Mix of Threats and Fear Is Closing People's Minds From Reality

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 6:09pm
Trump’s popularity reflects a broader cultural phenomenon.

For the past 10 months, Donald Trump has been a political enigma. Against the predictions of journalists, policy wonks and odds makers, a tabloid darling with no political experience and few coherent policies is now poised to be the Republican nominee for president.

Hundreds of journalists and political scientists have tried to explain Trump’s appeal, suggesting reasons that range from the decline of White America to the rise of authoritarianism. Yet even with these insights, the current dialogue around Trump’s ascendancy seems to have hit a “wall.” Every article describes a single piece of the Trump puzzle, but none seems to capture the bigger picture: the cultural movement that has fueled Trump’s success.

What is “Trump culture,” and where is it coming from?

As it turns out, our group at the University of Maryland has been studying the basis for Trump culture for the last 10 years, something that we call “cultural tightness-looseness.”

How Threat Tightens Culture

To understand tightness-looseness, we need to step away from the current election cycle and consider the history of human culture, particularly its relationship with warfare, famine and natural disasters.

Our theory—which has been supported by computer modelsinternational surveys and archival data—is that communities are more likely to survive these threats when they set clear rules for behavior, put strong leaders who can regulate those rules in charge and punish those who deviate from the norm.

We found that across 33 nations, the countries with the strongest laws and strictest punishments were those that had a history of famine, warfare and natural disasters. Countries like India, where natural disasters cost an average of almost US$10 billion per year, and Germany, the center of two world wars in the last century, were some of the tightest. Countries with a history of relative stability like New Zealand and Brazil were the loosest.

As with nations, American states with the strictest laws and strongest rules have histories punctuated by high rates of natural disaster and disease stress. For example, Mississippi and Alabama have the country’s highest death rates due to storms and floods, as well as some of the highest rates of infectious disease. By contrast, looser states like New Hampshire and Washington have fewer natural disasters and lower incidence of infectious disease. Tighter states were also more likely than looser states to show support for the Republican Party, an effect so strong that the Washington Post suggested our research was a new way to explain the American political map.

We have also found that people in tighter societies tend to prefer autonomous leaders. Such leaders have extreme confidence in their own abilities and make independent decisions without the input of others. These leaders can be successful in high threat environments because of their quick and unambiguous decision-making, which often comes at the cost of more democratic dialogue.

Capitalizing on Fear

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has effectively and ruthlessly used threatening language to monopolize fearful voters and pit them against other cultural groups.

Trump has paired a penchant for inspiring fear with threatening rhetoric, fervent nationalism and outward hostility toward those he considers different. These “deviants” were initially Mexican immigrants, then Syrian refugees, Muslims and the disabled, and have recently grown to include women who receive abortions. According to tightness-looseness theory, it is Trump’s ability to invoke threat that turns his supporters against these groups.

To better understand the dynamics of threat, tightness and Trump, we surveyed more than 550 Americans who were representative in terms of gender, region, political affiliation and race/ethnicity.

The survey included questions about how threatened Americans felt, followed by 10 statements that gauged participants’ desired cultural tightness. In one such statement, survey-takers rated whether they felt the United States is too permissive versus too restrictive. In another, they rated whether American norms were either enforced too strictly or not enforced strictly enough. The survey also features questions about authoritarianism, attitudes about hot topics like surveillance and mass deportation, and support for different political candidates, including Trump.

The survey results found that tightness predicted voting for Donald Trump beyond .001 percent of statistical doubt, with 44 times better power than Feldman’s measure of authoritarianism (which did not sufficiently predict Trump support beyond the margin of statistical error).

On the other hand, desire for looseness was related to support for Bernie Sanders. The relationship between tightness-looseness and support for Clinton was within the margin of statistical error.

Americans’ concern about threats—especially attacks from countries like North Korea or terrorist groups like ISIS—was associated with both desired tightness and Trump support. It also predicted support for many of the issues that Trump has championed, such as monitoring mosques, creating a registry of Muslim Americans and deporting all undocumented immigrants. Those with a high level of threat concern also supported policies even more radical than what Trump has endorsed—like ending affirmative action, changing the constitution to make Christianity the national religion and installing more monitoring devices on American streets.

In another insightful finding, neither concern over threats nor desire for tightness predicted support for Trump’s GOP competitors, John Kasich or Ted Cruz. Correlations between territorial threat concern and support for these candidates was practically 0, a powerful demonstration of Trump’s hold on fearful Americans.

Our survey yielded many other results which confirmed a powerful truth: Donald Trump has built a monopoly on threat, and has used it to steel his coalition against anyone who might look different or hold different views. This monopolization of threat has produced leaders like Mussolini and Hitler, and it is a devastating and dangerous political tool.

The Future of Trump Culture

To Trump supporters, America feels like a nation on the brink of disaster. But how threatened are Americans really? Who is in a position to gauge threat? And can we ever escape threat and fear when every catastrophe and attack is immediately broadcast around the country and on our Twitter feeds?

These questions should be at the heart of serious dialogue about our nation’s political future. Here, simply, we suggest that Trump’s appeal is a broader cultural phenomenon. Take, for instance, the growing populism and Islamophobia of right wing parties steadily gaining traction across Europe. Trump is just one symptom of a larger principle that echoes across human history: perceptions of threat tighten societies, leading to social coordination at best, and intolerance at worst.

Donald Trump may not win this November, but as long as Americans feel afraid, Trump culture is here to stay.

This article was published in collaboration with Scientific American Mind.

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Stop Calling Them Conservatives! The New GOP of Trump & Cruz Is the Party of Nihilism

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 6:01pm
Even as unattractive a label as "conservative" is too good for the extremism of today's leading Republicans.

In a candid and often funny interview currently making the rounds, the recently retired Speaker of the House John Boehner let’s everyone know how he truly feels about the state of his own party, and what he thinks about some of the more extreme characters that exist within it. Not surprisingly, Boehner’s amusing assessment of Ted Cruz, whom he called a “miserable son of a bitch” and “Lucifer in the flesh,” made all of the media headlines.

But the former Speaker’s opinion of Cruz wasn’t even the most telling. That came when he mocked his party’s almost religious worship of former president Ronald Reagan, especially by the more radical members: “I love these knuckleheads talking about the party of Reagan. He would be the most moderate Republican elected today.”

Indeed he would be.

Of course, Reagan was by no means a moderate. He was a staunch conservative who led the way in union busting, weakening the safety net, slashing taxes for the very rich, and deregulating various industries. But he was not an extremist—or, perhaps a better word for today’s Republicans, a nihilist. Reagan did not view compromise as sinful or treasonous, as many of the so-called “conservatives” of today do. He did not believe in destructive scorched earth tactics, like shutting down the federal government or refusing to even consider judicial nominees for a sitting president. And he was not so extreme in his views that he couldn’t change his mind on important issues when confronted with new evidence. Just consider his shift on gun control.

Mike Lofgren, a Republican who worked in Washington for thirty years as a congressional aide, notably under current presidential candidate John Kasich, recounts in his book “The Party is Over” how the GOP went from being a traditionally conservative party to a radical right party:

By the 2000 election, and certainly after 9/11, the Republican party was no longer a conservative party in the traditional sense, as that word has been understood in Western political culture. Its belief in polarizing language and tactics, a militant and militarized foreign policy, and a constant search for moral enemies, foreign and domestic alike, qualifies the current GOP as a radical right-wing party, not a conservative one. In his flawed but occasionally insightful book Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred, historian John Lukacs reminds us that “right wing” is not a synonym for conservative, and is not even a true variant of conservatism, although the right wing will opportunistically borrow conservative themes as the need arises. Hence, red is an appropriate color for a radical party like the present-day GOP.

The GOP’s degeneration into a party of extreme nihilists and egotistical showmen can be traced back to the ’90s, when Newt Gingrich virtually led the party as Speaker of the House. The former speaker was Ted Cruz’s spiritual predecessor, a loud, hypocritical, destructive, egomaniacal demagogue who relentlessly attacked President Clinton—who ended up signing some of Newt’s most reactionary legislation into law—over petty matters, including his sexual life. (Of course, Newt was a serial adulterer himself.)

“Newt would make a lousy George Washington, but he was one hell of a Robespierre,” quipped Lofgren in his aforementioned book.

The ’90s were just an appetizer for Republican nihilism. The GOP truly jumped the shark and embraced Bolshevism of the right, so to speak, after the election of Barack Obama. The Tea Party movement, funded by billionaire ideologues like the Koch brothers, emerged in protest of the black Muslim socialist with an American-hating pastor who also happened to be an Ivy League elitist under the thumb of Wall Street. (President Obama is a true Renaissance man.)

From day one, everything Obama touched or supported was considered treasonous, regardless of what it was. The stimulus package—which even the right-wing business advocating Chamber of Commerce endorsed—was universally opposed by Republicans out of spite. (It was also a matter of Public Relations; they knew it would pass, but didn’t want to give it any kind of bi-partisan legitimacy.) The Affordable Care Act, which was directly modeled after Mitt Romney’s “Romneycare”—a plan that had been praised by the right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation as a “patient-centered market” a few years earlier—was universally scorned by Republicans as socialism. Currently, dozens of the president’s judicial appointments, including his Supreme Court nominee, are being obstinately blocked by Republicans, even though many, like Merrick Garland, are moderate in their political and judicial outlook. One could go on and on about GOP obstructionism, but it quickly becomes tedious.

Now, the George Will’s and David Brooks’ of the Republican party have widely condemned Donald Trump as a fake conservative, and they’re not wrong. Trump is clearly not conservative—but neither is the Republican Party. And as troubling as this may be for Charles Koch and the scribblers at National Review, Trumpism is the future of the party. (Koch, of course, helped fuel the radical right that has taken over Republicanism, and now claims to be disgusted by Trump’s rhetoric.) Over the past several decades, the party has become an increasingly friendly place for the Trumps and Cruzes and Carsons of the world—the kind of characters who used to make up the John Birch Society. But no longer are these outlandish characters considered fringe. And for the sake of John Boehner’s mental well-being, he is lucky he got out when he did.

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John Kasich Gets Defensive When Asked If People Are Born Gay: 'I Don't Know How It All Works'

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 5:39pm
“Probably?" the hapless candidate fired back.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) was put on the defensive on Friday when asked if he believed gay people were born that way, Towleroad reported.

“I’m not going to get into all the analysis of this or that,” Kasich said during his exchange with 62-year-old Kelly Bryan at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

“It’s not analysis,” Bryan shot back. “Are people born gay?”

“Probably? I don’t know how it all works,” the GOP presidential candidate responded. “Are they? In all probability, they are.”

“Don’t we deserve free, regular rights like everyone else—” Bryan interjected.

“You have free regular rights. We’re not denying you any rights,” Kasich said. “I’m not, in Ohio. I’m not out to discriminate against you... I think you ought to have as good a life as anybody else.”

However, Towleroad noted that state hate crime laws do not apply to LGBT residents, nor do workplace anti-discrimination laws covering non-state employees. The American Civil Liberties Union also pointed out on Thursday that a newly proposed bill against housing discrimination does not cover trans residents.

Without mentioning it by name, Kasich did suggest a lack of support for anti-trans legislation like North Carolina’s HB2.

“I think we should just try to, like, take a chill pill, relax, and try to get along with one another a little bit better instead of trying to write some law to solve a problem that doesn’t frankly exist in big enough numbers to justify more lawmaking,” the governor said.

“Republicans don’t believe in marriage equality,” Bryan responded. “It’s your platform.”

“Is it? I haven’t read that thing lately,” Kasich said, before arguing that the party is “my vehicle [and] not my master.”

Watch the discussion, as posted online by the Commonwealth Club, below.

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Can Porn Be Feminist? A Conversation With Swedish Erotic Filmmaker Erika Lust

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 4:29pm
Feminist porn is sex on film showing women and men as sexual equals.

Erika Lust believes that porn can change. The Swedish erotic filmmaker with a degree in political sciences has won numerous awards for her work, including the Feminist Porn Award Movie of the Year in 2012, Cinekink Audience Choice Award for Best Narrative Feature, and the Feminist Porn Award for Hottest Straight Vignette two years in a row. Lust is a self-identified feminist and perhaps one of the most important alternative voices in pornography, due to her treatment of the medium as a legitimate art form that deserves time, care, and budget, and in which her actors are treated with consideration and respect. 

Porn has long been a thorny topic within feminism, from the second-wave anti-pornography movement and subsequent ‘sex wars’ to the increasingly popular style of ‘Cool Girl’ feminism that posits all porn as empowering and positive. However, approaching the subject with nuance is key. 

It’s simply untrue to state that all porn or porn as a concept is harmful to those who consume it or to those who work within the industry, and it’s equally disingenuous to argue that there are no issues with some of the most commonly viewed porn available online. Porn is an industry, but it’s also a product and it responds to the needs and desires and behavior of consumers. If we are to alter the product that mainstream sites are offering, then an alternative must be presented.

Can porn be feminist? Pornography is explicit material designed to sexually arouse the viewer and by definition, there is nothing inherently anti-feminist about porn, because there is nothing anti-feminist about wanting to be aroused or wanting to look at arousing images. Give me porn that shows women and men and non-gender-conforming folks enjoying themselves. I’ll download that. Hell, I’ll even pay for it. Porn can be feminist, but much of the content accessed by millions of viewers on the ‘porn giant’ websites like PornHub and RedTube is problematic.

The impression of variety and choice is belied by the fact that the majority of porn caters to the presumed desires of a male viewer. Mainstream porn makes weird, retrograde and highly racist categorizations of performers based on skin colour, and titles videos with the kind of misogynistic language you’d expect on a 4chan thread or scrawled on a school desk by a fourteen-year-old boy who thinks he’s ‘well hard.. Depictions of violent or degrading acts (slapping, choking, spitting, punching, biting, verbal abuse) towards women are now commonplace in mainstream pornography, and although these acts can be mutually pleasurable in a healthy BDSM context, they are not presented in a setting of trust and consent, leaving them open to interpretation by young people who assume that ‘this is what you to do girls when you have sex.’

The extensive research presented in the 2015 Girl Guiding ‘Girls’ Attitudes Survey’ is stark and damning, with 87 percent of the young women aged 17 to 21 surveyed believing that porn creates unrealistic expectations of female bodies, 71 percent saying that porn gives out confusing messages about sexual consent and makes aggressive or violent behavior towards women seem normal, and 65 percent agreeing that porn increases hateful language used to or about women.

Within porn, there are issues of consent (as in the case of James Deen, who has been accused of sexual assault on and off set by fellow performers, including the writer and porn star Stoya) of sexual health, of the kind of bodies that are represented, and of royalties (or lack thereof) and the ownership and dissemination of erotic material. There are also problems for performers who have left the industry and find themselves shunned, as former adult star Bree Olsen pens in her essay for the Daily Dot. She writes “people look at me as if I am the same as a sex offender. They look at me as though I am less than [them] in every way… I could never go back and be a nurse or a teacher, or work for any company really that can fire me under morality clauses for making customers feel "uncomfortable" because of who I am”. Shaming women for participating in porn, painting them as ignorant dupes, surmising that as long as they were paid everything is A-OK, or arguing that those who work in porn can’t be assaulted or raped—these positions are reductive, unhelpful, and often downright misogynistic.

Erika Lust agrees that porn has problems, but she’s committed to changing the industry, one porno at a time. I decided to sit down with her and talk about the kind of films she makes, her politics, and her crowdfunded XConfessions series.

Harriet Williamson: Erika, tell me a little bit about the kind of movies you make. What can a viewer expect to see and experience if they watch an Erika Lust film?

Erika Lust: Through my films I want to show that sex as the beautiful, healthy, exciting, intimate, wonderful and positive experience that it can be. I think we get so used to seeing sex presented only as violent, traumatic or overly commercialized that I think healthy depictions of sex are very much needed today! That's what I aim for, to show the exciting adventure of passion and intimacy. 

I want to show that women are not just sex objects, but that they are sexual complex human beings with their own thoughts, ideas, interests and passions, and that they have the right to pleasure. Also I don't want to show men as sex robots without feelings, but sex as something you do together. That people can meet, communicate and develop through sex.  I like to make the films as cinematic as possible. There's no reason sex on film has to be presented as cheap or dirty. I think it's worthy of artistic framing as any other grand human experiences. 

HW: Would you describe your films as ‘erotic art’ or pornography? Do you make a distinction between these two terms?

EL: I see them as erotic art yes. I think the word porn carries so many bad connotations with it, so it's hard to "reclaim" it. And the vast majority of what gets called porn is so different from what I do, it's not so strange that I don't feel like my films are not part of that world.  Yes, I depict explicit sex on film. But does that really put me in the same genre as someone who records a sex scene on a porn set, with no consideration for cinematography or artistic direction?

We could get really academic about the word and look at the modern definition which is basically just visual material intended to arouse the viewer. And sure, that is definitely part of the intention of my films. But if you go even further back to the origin of the word, it's from the Greek ‘pornographos,’ meaning "writing about prostitutes" and I think a lot of the old ideas about the Madonna/whore views on women are still true today, and still true for anyone working in porn. So it's a complicated word, one that I don't have an easy relationship with, like many other words really. Like many other words, it has far worse implications and social consequences for women than for men. Part of me thinks semantic reclamation is the answer, another part of me wants to move on, create something new. 

HW: Why did you decide to crowdsource for the XConfessions series? What has the response been like from those who’ve pledged and from viewers?

EL: I started it because I wanted to make films based on the actual fantasies and memories of people from all over the world. It had felt so great for me to get to bring my own ideas to the screen and I wanted to see if I could make that happen for other people too. And also, I was just very curious to see what people would come up with. Luckily people really connected with the idea and started confessing these amazing stories. Definitely some things I could never think of, and lots of funny and sexy memories from real life mixed with all things ranging from poetry to IKEA-fetishes. The XConfessions entries make up a huge library of human sexual imagination. 

People submit stories on the site, and I handpick two each month and turn them into short films. It's given me the opportunity to turn fantasies into reality, which is a fantasy come true for me as a director. Because after all, that's what I want from my films—to show a true and fair representation of human sexuality. It can still be full of fantasy and imagination, but it's based on something way more real and exciting than what you'd see in mainstream porn. It's coming from the inner working of the people's brains and I wouldn't have been able to do it without the help from the public, who keep bringing in all these amazing stories.  

HW: How important is it to you to make porn that’s ethical? How would you define ethical porn?

EL: It's very important. It's quite simple. It's about treating everyone involved like human beings, being attentive to their needs, requests and emotions, compensating them fairly and providing a good working environment with good working conditions. I also think it's important to be ethical in the signals you're sending out with your stories—that you make consent come through, not showing irresponsible scenes or anything to do with coercion etc. 

HW: I want to believe that we can have feminist porn that doesn’t just cater to men and their desires. Is your porn feminist? What makes it so? Is it intersectional?

EL: This might be a good time to talk about what feminist porn is! So, feminist porn is explicit films made by people who have a problem with how the mainstream porn industry makes films. I'm one of those people. One common complaint about mainstream pornography is that it shows women as mere objects without any feelings or any power to say yes or no—it mostly shows women as catering to the whims of men, with no attention given to her desire and needs at all. A lot of porn is misogynistic—and proud of it. 

There is so much porn where women are insulted and humiliated and it’s just presented as “normal”, and it’s expected to be this that appeals to the male audience, which is just crazy! Because most porn is made by men for men, the films embody the male gaze, and it results in women being presented only as objects of desire, never as subjects of pleasure. Men are strangely missing from much of straight porn, only appearing as disembodied penises—also is a form of strange objectification. God forbid that the male viewer might have any homoerotic feelings! 

But it’s fully possible for films to be both sexually explicit and still show women as human beings who deserve respect, even when they're naked, and that they have an equal right to sexual satisfaction, pleasure and desire. We can definitely create films that show women as sexual collaborators with men—rather than sexual conquests of men.

So the idea of feminist porn is simple: sex on film made in a non-sexist way. It shows women and men as sexual equals, that sex is something you do together, not just something that a man does to a woman. It has nothing to do with what kind of sex is shown—it's all about how the films are made, and that consent really comes through in the story. For example, Tristan Taormino's Rough Sex series is a great example that you can shoot and show any kind of sex in a non-degrading way. 

HW: Do you think that porn has a problem with perpetuating racist stereotypes and categorizations?

EL: Oh yes, definitely. Viewing someone as a fetish because of their race is... well, duh, racist—exoticism is racism too. Sometimes defenders of mainstream porn say it's actually "really diverse" because it caters to "every desire and fetish you could have". But that's not diversity. That's just different body parts, separated from the person and served up to the viewer to consume, all presented in the same old repetitive way. And some people try to tell me that's diversity. It's not. It has nothing to do with real sex. 

HW: Can porn be used as an educational tool?

EL: Yes! In an ideal world, everybody gets to have proper sex education in school that allows people to ask questions and get information that allows them to make informed decisions about their bodies and health. Great sex education also includes critical discussions about pornography. But this is something that is not available, or even a priority in many countries. 

No one can deny that porn is a huge cultural genre and that many people, especially young people, watch it to learn about sex. So it's important that we can talk about it like adults, but also that there are all sorts of voices in porn—not just one type of film that teaches guys to disrespect women and treat them as objects, and teaches girls to be passive objects without any needs of their own. We have to have films that also show sex as a healthy, positive thing that people do together, not as something you do to someone.

HW: Do you agree that it’s problematic to see acts usually associated with BDSM presented as ‘the norm’ within mainstream porn, particularly because they lack a context of trust?

EL: Yes, I absolutely agree. That's not saying that people are not allowed to engage in certain sexual acts like you say BDSM, but the way many of these films show violence and humiliation is in a way that shows no consent coming through at all! It shows sex as something aggressive that men do to women, and as something that women do for men. It’s not just misogynistic porn that's guilty of that, it's also things like Fifty Shades of Grey, that again, shows the woman as a passive, naive virgin who just gets right into BDSM with an emotionally abusive man, before she's even masturbated. Come on! It's ok to have kinks, it's ok to like BDSM, but for god's sake, let's not forget about the importance of consent and communication. 

When I directed my first BDSM-scene in An Appointment With My Master, I made sure communication was essential to the whole story, showing the performers Mickey Mod and Amarna Miller, both experienced BDSM-practitioners, talking about boundaries and what they were going to do. And the tenderness and trust that comes through in that scene is just stunning. It made it so sexy. It was important for me to show that side of consent, enthusiasm and communication.

HW: How should we go about changing mainstream porn?

EL: My stance is that there has to be MORE voices in pornography, more people that get to share their ideas about sex. That could eventually change the mainstream by making it more equal. But I don't expect to come in to the mainstream producer's sets and change what they do. I create the change I want to see myself—I can't expect people who are, for example, proudly misogynistic film makers to suddenly go "hey, maybe these films are not so great for humanity."

What I want to see is more women behind the camera, and more people in general who think differently than the average white, male heterosexual pornographer. Many women are tired of being presented with tired old sex-clichés everywhere they turn. They want to make their own narratives. And many women are tired of being told that all porn is bad and that watching porn makes you a bad woman or a bad feminist or whatever. Wanting to see sex on film doesn't make you brainwashed, dirty or bad. But it's great to see there's such a healthy and powerful movement working on the opposite side of mainstream industry, making the kind of films they want to see themselves.

HW: What does being a sex positive feminist mean to you?

EL: I'm a sex positive feminist and film maker and I firmly believe that sex is a healthy and natural part of life. I think that those who want to should be free to create erotic material that reflects that. I wanted to start making adult cinema to add my voice, to show women as sexual equals who also have the right to pleasure, who are complex human beings with their own ideas about sex. 

I think that adult films can be used as a tool for liberation and education. I want my films to make people feel liberated and happy, not oppressed and sad. Feminist porn has the power to influence. If you show the performers talking to each other, you show them both being excited about the sex, if you show sex with a context, you show embraces, kisses, consent, passion, enthusiasm, pleasure and orgasms—then I think that is a great thing to share with the world. There are too many depictions of sex out there that are traumatic, aggressive and violent—it's almost made people believe that sex is always traumatic and violent. And if people hold the idea that sex on camera is always inherently sexist... well, I don't think women will get anywhere if we're not allowed to create our own stories about sex. I think there should be female voices within all cultural genres, including pornography. Just because some porn is very sexist doesn't mean that all porn is harmful, harmful and exploitative.

After my conversation with Erika, I’m even more convinced that porn can be feminist, that it can include women as equal consumers, and it can treat performers fairly and ethically. Why shouldn’t we remake porn into something that’s wonderful?

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New Poll Shows a Majority of Young Americans Oppose Capitalism

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 3:35pm
Growing numbers believe our economic system is "no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing."

Let’s face it, young Americans are fed up with the economic status quo. If this fact is not evident enough from the groundswell of millennial support for Bernie Sanders, perhaps a Harvard University poll released Monday will do the trick.

According to the results, 51 percent of young adults aged 18-29 oppose capitalism in its current form. By contrast, only 42 percent of people drawn from a pool of 3,183 individuals—selected by KnowledgePanel, a probability-based database designed to be representative of the U.S. population—opted in favor of the global economic order.

Unfortunately however, like a broken-down car without an auto repair shop in sight, the results showed no consensus regarding an alternative solution. As George Monbiot pointed out recently in his attack on neoliberalism, neither do any of the world’s economists.

“Neoliberalism’s triumph reflects ... the failure of the left,” Monbiot wrote, explaining how the current system was already set in place when the previous Keynesian economic model collapsed in the 1970s. By contrast Monbiot pointed out, “when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was nothing … The left and center have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years.”

In light of this, it makes sense that the only candidate with a vision that holds a remote bit of optimism for the majority of American youth would be Bernie Sanders (Sanders being the most favorable candidate with a rating of 54 percent). But even in that case, as the Harvard poll showed, not everyone is in agreement. With only 33 percent of young respondents saying they supported socialism, the poll’s most evident result was that young people remain undecided when it comes to an optimal path forward.

On the issue of increasing government intervention to regulate the economy, roughly one in three respondents said this would be effective. A mere 26 percent also believed government spending would increase economic growth. In contrast, almost half of the respondents were in agreement that “basic health insurance is a right for all people” and that “basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that the government should provide to those unable to afford them."

"The word 'capitalism' doesn't mean what it used to," said Zach Lustbader a 22-year-old Harvard student who helped conduct the poll, in an interview with the Washington Post.

This stands to reason in light of the poll’s results, which showed that the majority of respondents over the age of 50 still remained in support of capitalism. Lustbader noted how even Republicans, previously known for supporting the ideals of free enterprise inherent in capitalism, have begun adopting a more traditional left-leaning rhetoric. "You don't hear people on the right defending their economic policies using that word anymore," said Lustbader.

Arguably the single most dire reflection from the poll was what it revealed about young people’s general thoughts on the state of the nation today. By a margin of more than three to one, respondents from this category believe that America is currently “off on the wrong track.” By extension, almost half of the young Americans polled agreed with the statement that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing.”

As this slide from the poll shows, these numbers know no party lines.

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Larry Wilmore's Big Night: Late Night's Elder Statesman Steps up in Tonight's Career-Defining Role

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 3:31pm
President Obama's last White House Correspondents' Dinner is the comedian's time to shine.

This evening, comedian and late-night host Larry Wilmore will be delivering the featured remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. It’s an event marked by uncomfortable professional encounters and awkward journalists in formalwear; the schmoozing is secondary to the drinking, and the drinking is secondary to what has become the dinner’s primary purpose: a good old-fashioned comedy roast. Tonight, Wilmore is leading the charge, at what is also President Barack Obama’s last White House Correspondents’ Dinner in his presidency.

For the event not-so-affectionately called “nerd prom,” in this year, and during this election cycle, Wilmore is the perfect choice for the Correspondents’ Dinner main event. The comedian is no less than the elder statesman of late-night comedy, not because of age, but because of style.

To be sure, age has a little bit to do with it. At 54, Wilmore’s not significantly older than his colleagues across the field of late-night comedy. Jon Stewart, former host of “The Daily Show,” is just a year younger; Bill Maher, of HBO’s “Real Time,” is a few years older. But while Stewart is already semi-retired, and Maher is deep in the second stage of his career, Wilmore’s 15-month-old hosting gig on “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore” is his first time anchoring his own show. He came onto the scene already in middle age, and that does make a difference.

But mostly, Wilmore’s distinctly refined, diplomatic air comes from his style and delivery. Wilmore is almost professorial, when he sits down behind the desk of “The Nightly Show,” in the sort of office-hours intime that liberal arts undergraduates fantasize over. He’s distinctly softspoken, with a drawling, inflected delivery that is hard to translate to print. He radiates dignity. And his low-key demeanor both masks and cleverly deploys one of the sharpest and most self-aware voices in comedy today—one that is both very funny and unmistakably, unapologetically, and irrevocably black. Sitting next to our first unmistakably, unapologetically, and irrevocably black president tonight—who is also both very dignified and very funny—the two will be a perfect match.

Wilmore, when he stepped up to the chair of “The Nightly Show,” was the only black late-night host entering a pantheon of white men. With Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee, that pantheon has slightly diversified—and there too, only at the margins, in the distinctly less venerable format of half-hour cable shows. As I’ve written before, late-night television, especially on the major broadcast networks, is a special sort of viewing experience—a format that you invite not just into your home, but quite possibly into your bed, if you’re the type to fall asleep to the television. There’s a couch, tepid hijinks, and a band; it’s like going out while staying in.

As a result, late-night hosts become beloved to the audience at home because they become trusted, household figures; not just walking joke machines, but a frequent friend over for a drink after dinner. But trust and safety and, more saliently, respectability—especially in the context of culture being transmitted from a box in your house—are incredibly politicized concepts, steeped in their own sad history of alienation and marginalization. American race and gender relations being what they are, it has been difficult for any host that isn’t a white man to fit into the vaunted role of late-night host.

And yet, in that span of just over a year, Wilmore has made himself an indispensable part of the late-night television landscape. He was already a behind-the-scenes veteran, writing for shows like “In Living Color” and “Sister, Sister” before showrunning “The Bernie Mac Show,” for which he won a writing Emmy. He was with the writers of “Black-ish,” on ABC, for the first half of the first season before decamping to “The Nightly Show.” And for years, he was an intermittent guest on Stewart’s “Daily Show,” with the title “Senior Black Correspondent.” When he came onto the scene as “The Nightly Show”’s founding host, he was an already polished comedic personality—and far more Jon Stewart’s heir than any of “The Daily Show”’s other brilliant offspring, whether that’s Samantha Bee on TBS’ “Full Frontal” or John Oliver on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.” Bee and Oliver come to their posts via the sharp and angled hectoring of the correspondent; Wilmore, like Stewart, is the professorial voice of reason at the center of a maelstrom.

The difference is, of course, that he’s black—and that he talks about it with fascinating, playful rigor. Wilmore’s ongoing coverage of President Obama’s last term in office is “Blacklash 2016: The Unblackening,” an ongoing series examining (and usually eviscerating) the presidential candidates’ attempts to run against Obama’s policies. In segments like this one, Wilmore winds through the sludge, breaking apart exactly why it’s extremely problematic that Governor Jeb Bush would keep assuming that black people want “free stuff.” He is patient, even-tempered, and jovial. He ends on a note of solemn disappointment—not without frustration or irritation, but markedly restrained, especially for the subject at hand.

And this is, to my mind, emblematic of Wilmore’s strategy. It is really hard to talk about racism without becoming angry. Racism is responsible for unjust incarceration and murder, at the barest minimum; it has been, throughout history, responsible for much more. It is even more difficult to experience racism without being subject to a whole host of emotional traumas. It’s a minefield of a topic, both politically and interpersonally. And as we have experienced time and time again, through any number of comedic vehicles, it is particularly fraught when comedy seeks to make light of something that is not light at all for some audience members.

Furthermore, as a black man, Wilmore has to contend with not just difficult subject matter but also the historically fraught role of black men in American public perception—whether that is as “unnamed perp #2” on a cop show, Mike Brown standing in the middle of the street, or even our own current president showing rare moments of frustration or anger. A black man talking about racism is not a popular figure in this country’s history. Neither is a black man that doesn’t fit the model we’ve come to expect of “niche” performers. Wilmore told Stephen Colbert a few months ago that he wasn’t “urban” or “ghetto” enough to make it as a stand-up comedian when he first started his career.

Wilmore’s comedic persona is both carefully calibrated to survive this minefield and subversive enough to comment upon it; he is the image of respectability, but nowhere near compliant. He’s code-switching, but for what feels like his own intriguing purposes. Wilmore’s generally unassuming personality is belied by an ease for moving between different, fluidly defined personas. An aside of his during a segment might invoke a belligerent porch-sitting commentator; another might call back to his self-proclaimed “blerd” identity. A gesture could either call to a feminine expression of disdain or a macho attempt to posture. Wilmore is intrigued by identity, and knows how to play different types. On his show, he lets other actors and performers add to that array of identities, too—notably Grace Parra, Ricky Velez, and Robin Thede. “The Nightly Show” ends each episode with a panel, and the inclusive cacophony of voices is fitting for the show, even if it doesn’t always get enough time to really take off.

The effect is to make race in America—and most brilliantly, the black experience—more than just the frequent media or political narrative of bloc voting and subcultural stereotypes. Just in Wilmore’s delivery, blackness has many guises and types; across the show, the black American experience is nuanced, historic, intelligent, and rich—as well as being puerile, crass, and full-throated, when necessary. In the midst of a conversation that can (and often should be!) weighty, heavy, and consequential, “The Nightly Show” is playful, leavening force.

The result, for the viewer, are opportunities that could not arise with most other comedian-journalists today. For example, this diner interview in Baltimore is a kind of masterpiece; the on-location segment is between Wilmore and a half-dozen gang members who declared a truce in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody. It showcases Wilmore at his poised finest, but like so much of his work, it’s breathtaking for how it showcases a multiplicity of typically silent black voices. It’s not just that Wilmore is a good black comedian, per se. It’s that his work makes the term “black” feel both broader and not encompassing enough; that his comedy adds dimension and pluralism to a hierarchy that in its simplest form has been nothing but a tool of oppression.

And that work will continue tonight. Because in addition to his own softspoken, devastating humor and his broader sense of mission, Larry Wilmore will be another black man up on that dais, adding another black experience to those already showcased at the high table. It seems very fitting to me that Wilmore is speaking at Obama’s last Correspondents’ Dinner; even though the future is a bit uncertain, for both the presidency and “The Nightly Show,” that idea of bringing complexity to an experience defined by discrimination will live on for one night more.

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5 Government-Sanctioned Ways America Still Honors the Confederacy

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 3:07pm
Many places around the nation still have public monuments commemorating the days of slavery.

A new survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center catalogs more than 1,500 public monuments, statues, schools, cities and military bases in southern communities and across the United States that continue to honor the Confederacy.

Tensions between those who support symbols of the Confederacy as heritage and those who view them as emblematic of racism and oppression is nothing new, but the battle has become more mainstream in recent years. While some protesters have successfully rallied to remove pro-Confederacy monuments from public spaces, one need only visit a Trump rally to find T-shirts, hats and other collectibles brandishing vestigial tokens of the racist South.

Many brand attempts at removing these representations as examples of political correctness, arguing we are trying to rewrite history. But as the SPLC points out, “this is not an attempt to erase history. It is an effort to end the government’s endorsement of a symbol that has always represented the oppression of an entire race.”

Here are five government-endorsed ways the Confederacy is still being honored.

1. Public Schools

The SPLC identified at least 109 public schools named after Confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

Robert E. Lee High School, Jacksonville, Florida (image: Subwayatrain/Wikipedia)

“Of the 109 schools, 27 have student populations that are majority African American, and 10 have African American populations of over 90 percent,” the SPLC writes. The center notes many of these schools were built during the modern civil rights movement.

2. Monuments and Statues

Of the 718 monuments on public spaces throughout the Unites States,  the majority were dedicated prior to 1950, though at least 32 were dedicated or rededicated after 2000. The majority of the monuments are in Southern states, with Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina laying claim to most Confederate symbols.

General P.G.T. Beauregard Equestrian Statue in New Orleans by sculptor Alexander Doyle (image: Infrogmation/Wikipedia)

The survey notes that while most memorials “honor the heroism and valor,” some “glorify the Confederacy’s cause.” One South Carolina monument, erected in 1902, reads, “The world shall yet decide, in truth’s clear, far-off light, that the soldiers who wore the gray, and died with Lee, were in the right.”

3. Military Bases

Ten U.S. military bases in six states honor Confederate leaders, including General P.G.T. Beauregard, General Edmund Rucker and General Braxton Bragg.

Barracks of the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg (image: Jonas N. Jordan, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library/Wikipedia)

4. Official Holidays or Observances

Six southern states observe holidays or observances that honor the Confederacy, the SPLC reports. In Alabama and Mississippi, state employees take off work for two Confederacy-related holidays.

5. The Confederate Flag

While South Carolina and Alabama passed laws to remove the Confederate flag in the wake of last year’s mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, SPLC found six former Confederate states that still fly or represent the Confederate flag.

The survey notes that Mississippi “conspicuously incorporates the Confederate battle sign into its design.” And despite joining South Carolina in removing the Confederate flag from its capitol grounds, Alabama still adorns the uniforms of its state troopers with “a likeness of the flag.”

Alabama Highway Patrol logo (image: Wikipedia)

Honoring the Confederacy under the guise of celebrating American heritage is an unconvincing argument. As historian Juan Cole wrote days after the 2015 massacre in Charleston:

Those who fought beneath the Confederate flag were fighting to retain slavery. They wanted an economic system in which they could kidnap people from Africa and coerce them into working for no salary. Any individual found kidnapping people today and coercing their labor for no remuneration would go straight to jail. So why should the flag symbolizing these activities be retained?  Related Stories
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Cruz Super PAC Head Promotes 'Biblical' Slavery for Non-Christians

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 3:03pm
Does Ted Cruz yearn to reign over America like a God-anointed king from Old Testament scripture?

Since 2013 (and with growing interest, especially since Ted Cruz mounted his bid for the presidency), various authors have sought to address Cruz' ties to the diffuse but widespread movement known as dominionism. 

But most of these various treatments seem to share common flaws—they typically focus on a few details but miss the extensive range of evidence tying Ted Cruz and his campaign to dominionism and its advocates. They also typically neglect to answer an obvious question—why is dominionism a bad thing? Isn't it just a healthy expression of Christian engagement in the democratic process?

In the piece below, I've tried to address those shortcomings and also contextualize dominionism a bit.

Introduction

"I believe God has raised him up for a time like this," declares Cruz' campaign surrogate and father Rafael Cruz, who predicts that god-anointed kings, blessed by priests, will bring about a future, great transfer of wealth, from the godless to the godly—a theme apparently lifted from the dominionist movement known as the NAR.

"Ted Cruz's campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America," charged a recent Washington Post op-ed. "Stop Calling Ted Cruz a Dominionist," petulantly complained a subsequent Christianity Today article. 

Does Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz yearn to rule and reign over America like a God-anointed king from Old Testament scripture? Short of Cruz himself shouting it from the rooftops, who can say for sure? Still, nothing says "dominionism" quite as forcefully as "biblical" slavery. 

Back in 2011, an open letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger (concerning her radio show statement that, per Leviticus 18:22, homosexuality was an "abomination") began, "Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law," then popped the question,

Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

For David Barton, Cruz' super PAC head (and the top evangelical power broker behind Cruz by one media account), this is no joke. It's a serious question for which Barton's website offers a serious, bible-based answer—an American may enslave both Mexicans and Canadians, but only if they're pagans. 

So, David Barton is probably a dominionist. But is Ted Cruz? Who knows. What we can say for certain includes the following:

First, various dominionists including David Barton, Rafael Cruz, evangelical organizer David Lane and televangelist Kenneth Copeland have blessed and anointed Ted Cruz (see 12) in public ceremonies that look suspiciously like an evangelical answer to the sort of ceremonies held when state churches officially consecrate kings

Next, at least five members of Ted Cruz "Religious Liberty Advisory Council" have in various ways promoted "Seven Mountains" dominionism, which encourages believers to use sneaky and covert methods take control of key sectors of society; and three are in a global dominionist movement which teaches that believers are to "invade," "infiltrate," and "subdue" secular society and "rule like kings."

And Cruz hasn't shied away from dominionist venues. 

In early 2016, Ted Cruz made two high-profile appearances (12) at one of the most significant dominionist churches in America, whose pastor has repeatedly over the years emphasized that a small minority of Christians as dedicated as Lenin's revolutionary Bolsheviks could take the nation, and who prophesies a coming Christian government that may at first "seem like totalitarianism"—until Americans have been forcibly re-educated and trained to properly behave (after which things will loosen up a bit).

As if all that wasn't enough, for several years Cruz' own father Rafael has been on an almost perpetual speaking tour, promoting to church audiences a range of Christian nationalist history myths that motivate the dominionist movement, which itself represents something very different from honest evangelical participation in the democratic process.

"Jehovah-sneaky"—Dominion by Stealth

How is dominionism different from legitimate Christian democratic engagement? Critics often fail to address this key question.

The answer is that—while the Citizens United Supreme Court decision has allowed a flood of secret campaign money to subvert the electoral process—dominionism also subverts democracy by teaching conservative evangelicals to participate in the electoral and political process in a manner that's fundamentally dishonest, by using stealth and deception to "infiltrate" America's political system. 

This isn't a new thing; during the 1980s the Christian Coalition distributed the following Pat Robertson memo: 

How to Participate in a Political Party

  • Rule the world for God.
  • Give the impression that you are there to work for the party, not push an ideology.
  • Hide your strength.
  • Don't flaunt your Christianity.
  • Christians need to take leadership positions. Party officers control political parties and so it is  very important that mature Christians have a majority of leadership positions, God willing.

Now, three decades later, you can spit in the general direction of the Cruz for President effort and hit a dominionist. 

Dominionism teaches that believers are not only to engage in the democratic process—they are to use it, and game the process, to acquire political power by which dominionists can rule ("like kings," according to dominionist guru C. Peter Wagner) over all other groups in society.

The characteristic tactic is stealth. Promoters of the so-called "Seven Mountains" mandate (or "Seven Mountains dominionism") often use words, to describe the project, such as "sneaky," "covert," and infiltrate." 

(In this 2008 video, top 7M promoter Lance Wallnau explains the Seven Mountains mandate, including the idea that the project can be either overt or covert, with the latter approach patterned after an aspect of God that Wallnau calls "Jehovah-sneaky.")

Lance Wallnau serves on the leadership team of a new NAR apostolic network—the U.S. Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, along with Dr. Jim Garlow, a 7M promoter who serves on Ted Cruz' Religious liberty Advisory Council.    

And, taking the Seven Mountains is a decidedly hostile venture. Believers are to "invade" and "occupy" like an army. One of the NAR's newest dominionist books, co-authored by Wallnau, is Invading Babylon—The Seven Mountain Mandate. On page 97, the book devotes an entire page to the following, in large print:

We need divine strategies to infiltrate the systems of the world and to effectively work within them. Once the spiritual gates have opened to us, we need great wisdom to steward and distribute the resources God funnels our way.

Where did Rafael Cruz get his idea on the coming "great transfer" of wealth, to be brought about by God-anointed kings? The main promoters of the idea have been the NAR's apostles and prophets, and top NAR organizer and theorist C. Peter Wagner even devoted an entire 2015 book to the "great transfer of wealth" idea.

Transforming Michigan—state-level dominion

Dominionists aren't only targeting the U.S. presidency. Much of the movement is devoted to state-level politics. In Kansas, the dominionist governor Sam Brownback (who has close ties both to the NAR and The Fellowship, the dominionist group which hosts the National Prayer Breakfast) has slashed individual and buiness taxes, slashed government spending and "tightened welfare requirements, privatized the delivery of Medicaid, cut $200 million from the education budget, eliminated four state agencies" and fired 2,000 government employees. The result?—lackluster job growth and a devastated public sector (Louisiana, under the dominionist governor Bobby Jindal, followed a similar program, to similar results). 

In Michigan, In 2014 prior to his reelection effort, governor Rick Snyder gave a speech at a key fundraising event of Michigan's dominionist (or "pro-theocracy") Christian right that provides Snyder crucial electoral support. Joining Snyder at the event was former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who has advocated amending the U.S. Constitution in accord with the Bible and would like to forcibly indoctrinate Americans with the pseudo-history lessons of David Barton.

In the introduction to a 2012 NAR book, one of Lance Wallnau's NAR Michigan colleagues writes, 

Out governor has attended a session on the Seven Mountains led by Lance Wallnau. Our lieutenant governor is a Spirit-filled believer... Our governor has stated that he has heard what God has said about Michigan and it will be the "turnaround state" that creates a new paradigm for the nation. He acknowledges the place of God in the transformation of the state.

In Michigan, with backing from both the Koch brothers and and the Christian right, the Snyder-led "transformation" of the state has featured union-busting, the de-funding of public schools, and reckless cost-saving measures that have afflicted an entire city population (Flint, Michigan) with lead poisoning. 

David Barton—Dominionism on Steroids

Ted Cruz' presidential campaign boasts a number of unabashed "Seven Mountains" dominionists (see 1,2including David Barton, a key player in the dominionist movement whose work Ted Cruz has enthusiastically endorsed, who heads Cruz' most important super PAC, and who has for over a decade promoted the maximally dominionist idea of "biblical" slavery (which I'll get to a bit later in this story).

If ever the case were to be argued, in court, that Ted Cruz is truly a dominionist, "exhibit A" would be his endorsement of Barton, whose work has helped Americans "rediscover the founding principles of our nation" according to the Texas senator.

Barton's brand of Christian nationalist pseudo-history has for decades helped inspire America's religious right political cadres who, aided by Koch money, have helped paralyze the national legislative agenda and, at the state level, propelled efforts to gut the social safety net, de-fund public education, deregulate industry, slash taxes on business and the rich, and force a supremacist version Christianity into the public square.

By endorsing Barton (and, Barton has strongly endorsed Cruz), Senator Ted Cruz has in effect endorsed the use of lies towards the acquisition of political power. As a secular tactic that's as old as the hills, and the process is typically facilitated by lots of cash, passed from hand to hand in back rooms.

But as a specifically evangelical Christian project aimed at gaining political power with which to dominate all other factions and groups in society, and impose upon them a coercive and anti-democratic agenda, it's known by another name: dominionism

Dominionism differs from garden-variety political corruption in at least one significant way—it consecrates, claims divine sanction for, the project of putting entire populations under dominionism's boot. And I'm not using that imagery at random. "We put our foot on Hawa'ii!" shouted one NAR dominionist at a 2009 rally aimed at the (unsuccessful) political conquest of the state in the 2010 election.

For years, David Barton has toiled to create a major body of pseudo-history designed to politically mobilize the evangelical right (and its dominionists) by informing them that America's rightful heritage, as a "Christian nation," has been stolen by scheming secularists and whitewashed by a huge conspiracy of American history scholars.

Along the way, Barton has also promoted something called "biblical" slavery—very distinct from historic Southern Slavery, but slavery nonetheless. By endorsing Barton, Ted Cruz has endorsed "biblical" slavery too.

The quintessence of dominionism is theocracy. And nothing says "theocracy" better than the enslavement of unbelievers, a practice carried out in an especially brutal manner by the revolutionary Islamic organization ISIS.

But America has its own, would-be theocrats who yearn for "biblical" slavery—and Barton might just be one. 

Now, theocracy isn't just about slavery and witches. It has a secular economic agenda too. Did Jesus oppose the minimum wage? Yes, says David Barton.

In addition, Barton teaches that the United States Constitution was based on ideas that the authors derived from the Old Testament, from the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Exodus, and so on.

Why push the Constitution/Bible claim? Well, if the founders got Constitutional ideas from Leviticus, it stands to reason that we might want to look to the Old Testament for our legal codes too, which is precisely what the pro-theocracy movement known as Christian Reconstructionism advocates.

It's a line of reasoning that would have seemed eminently reasonable to the Puritans at the time of the Salem Witch Trials, and it slopes towards the community-based stoning of witches and adulterers and to biblical slavery.

In 2013, Ted Cruz enthused to Politico reporter Stephanie Simon that "David Barton is a good man, a courageous leader and a friend." Cruz continued,

David's historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation...

Underscoring the point was a December 2015 appearance by Rafael Cruz and Ted Cruz on the Christian Broadcasting Network during which Rafael Cruz cited David's Barton's myth of Peter Muhlenberg and the "Black Robe Regiment"—with Ted Cruz nodding his head in enthusiastic agreement.

In Barton's Revolutionary War myth, pastor Muhlenberg, in the middle of a fiery sermon, throws off his black clerical robe to reveal underneath an officer's uniform—and the men of his congregation march out from church with him to fight the British. 

Barton, Kingmaker

Back in 2011, presidential contender Mike Huckabee "joked" that all Americans should be "forced, at gunpoint no less, to listen to every David Barton message, and I think our country would be better for it." In 2012, Barton was described in an NPR story as "The Most Influential Evangelist You've Never Heard Of."

Now, Barton's guiding, inspirational light shines upon the presidential hopes of Ted. In early 2016, a Daily Beast journalist called David Barton "The Evangelical Power Broker Behind Ted Cruz."

Both NPR and the Daily Beast were on target—Barton does have clout. For an entire decade, David Barton was vice chair of the Texas GOP and served in 2000 as an adviser to the George W. Bush for President campaign. Barton was hired in 2004 as part of Bush's get-out-the-vote reelection effort.

"When David Barton talks, conservatives listen," explained the New York Times in a 2011 story that probed Barton's influence within the evangelical right that comprises the biggest single voter block in the GOP's base;  Barton's 2011 backing for Ted Cruz' successful bid for a U.S. Senate seat representing Texas was doubtless very important, maybe even essential, in getting Cruz to where he is now—his steely eyes trained on the White House.

Ted Cruz has long moved in the sort of elite conservative evangelical circles Barton circulates in—in 1999, an astonishingly precocious twenty-nine year old Cruz, then a Bush campaign aid, brokered a key lunch meeting between leading co-architect of the modern religious right and new right Paul Weyrich (who co-founded the Moral Majority, the Heritage Foundation, and ALEC) and top Bush for President campaign leader Timothy Goeglein.

Cruz and Goeglein won Weyrich's support for Bush (they talked for hours, recalled Goeglein in his mémoire) and so helped the Bush campaign lock down support of the religious right in advance of the 2000 election. Joining the Bush for President effort, as a campaign adviser, was David Barton.

Like father, like son—leading up to the 1980 election, Ted Cruz' father Rafael served on the Religious Roundtable—a precursor to the Moral Majority that Rafael has described as a Christian version of the Tea Party, which mobilized religious right voters and helped loft Ronald Reagan into the White House.

AnoinTed!

David Barton's central claim is that America was founded as an expressly Christian nation based on a "biblical worldview." And what does that "worldview" entail according to Barton?

One interesting aspect is that, since 2003, Barton's Wallbuilders website has featured an article, written by a board member of one of Barton's Wallbuilders organizations, that claims the Bible justifies "biblical" slavery including the right of believers to enslave non-Christians (this isn't simply my own take—as I'll describe shortly, one of America's leading relevant academics concurs). 

The Wallbuilders article cites the founding manifesto of the overtly theocratic (or "theonomic") Christian Reconstructionism movement—which fuses a Koch-brothers style radically libertarian economic agenda with a plan to impose Old Testament civil law—for example, by instituting the death penalty (perhaps by stoning) for adulterers, homosexuals, blasphemers, un-chaste women, and witches.

And, some movement leaders also hope to one day institute certain forms of "biblical" slavery. It's in the Bible.

It's not just that Barton has endorsed Ted Cruz and Cruz publicly endorsed Barton, nor is it just that David Barton is heading the most important 2016 election pro-Cruz super PAC.

And it's not merely that Barton can be seen, at a 2013 pastors gathering in Iowa, along with Rafael Cruz, laying hands on Ted Cruz—presumably to designate the junior Texas U.S. senator as one of God's anointed who will, Rafael Cruz has suggested, facilitate a great wealth transfer from the godless to the godly.

The Once and Future Christian Nation

The most important thing is that Ted directly endorses David Barton's discredited history work, and that Cruz' top campaign surrogate Rafael Cruz has for several years been on an ongoing national speaking tour during which he frequently promotes American history fabrications lifted directly from Barton.

Examples abound: Rafael Cruz declaiming Barton history lies at billionaire televangelist Kenneth Copeland's church, or spouting them at Christian Zionist John Hagee's Cornerstone Church, and so on.

Rafael Cruz does this so prolifically that one critical liberal interest group has dubbed him the "poor man's David Barton."

Few historians would dispute that Christianity, and Christian values, were woven into the fabric of American culture, including its political culture, since the nation's founding. But Barton goes much further.  

David Barton has made a career of rewriting American history with such extreme "creative" license that one persistent, thorough critic has openly identified Barton as a "liar for Jesus" (Barton seems to have chosen not to contest the characterization) and devoted several entire books to debunking Barton's pseudo-historical accounts, which assert that America was founded as an expressly Christian nation.

The Jefferson LiesLies

Dramatically underlining that point, in 2012 Barton's most recent book, The Jefferson Lies, was pulled from book stores by Thomas Nelson ("basic truths just were not there," said the publisher) due to criticism over the book's numerous historical inaccuracies. Barton's book depicted Jefferson as an orthodox, pious Christian.

While Jefferson did approve of Jesus' moral message contained in the New Testament, so adamantly did he reject the Bible's numerous accounts of miracles that Jefferson created his own 84-page version of the Bible (the Jefferson Bible) which omitted the Old Testament altogether as well as all the miraculous events mentioned in the New Testament.

Jefferson constructed his cliff-notes bible, quite literally, as a cut-and-paste operation—by slicing out selected scripture, from the Bible, with a sharp implement (perhaps a pen-knife).

The most damaging criticism of Barton's The Jefferson Lies probably came from an evangelical coalition which arranged a boycott of the book because of its alleged whitewashing of Thomas Jefferson's views on race and his record as a slave owner.

Secular liberals were scathing too. "In a sane era, Barton would be peddling hand-typed manifestos on a street corner in his hometown of Aledo, Texas," quipped a writer for The Atlantic during the controversy.

One of Barton's early books claimed that the current constitutional understanding of church/state separation was exactly the opposite of what the founders intended, but that's hardly the most outlandish of his positions.

Then, there's the slavery article.

Joy of "Biblical" Slavery

I first covered the Wallbuilders pro-slavery article in July 2010 and revisited the subject in 2011. And I've been mentioning this in stories up into 2015.

Meanwhile, David Barton's star has risen high indeed. He's now close to a sitting U.S. senator who might just become the next president of the United States.

The Wallbuilders article in question is written by Stephen K. McDowell, one of the current board members (as of 2014, according to its 990 IRS tax form) of the nonprofit 501(c)(3) wing of Barton's organization (Wallbuilders Presentations). In turn, Barton serves on the board of McDowell's Providence Foundation. Barton and McDowell heartily co-endorse each other's books.

The first 6 footnotes of McDowell's article (which appears to have been excerpted from McDowell's blatantly dominionist 2004 book Building Godly Nations) cite theologian R.J. Rushdoony's monumental work The Institutes of Biblical Law in which Rushdoony spelled out, in extreme detail, how biblical law could be applied in all spheres of modern society.

The McDowell article explicitly spells out the four "Types of Slavery Permitted by the Bible." Number four?—"pagans could be permanent slaves." As justification, McDowell cites Leviticus 25:44-46:

As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you... You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves.

Though the permanent enslavement of unbelievers might seem a bit harsh, McDowell's theological argument goes like this—slavery was not in God's original plan but entered into the world with sin, which was born from the rebellion of Adam and Eve. Accordingly, God provided some slavery guidelines, lest things get out of hand. Writes McDowell,

laws concerning slavery provided parameters for treatment of slaves, which were for the benefit of all involved... The Biblical slave laws reflect God's redemptive desire, for men and nations.

McDowell's argument tracks, quite precisely, those of leading Christian Reconstructionists such as R. J. Rushdoony.

Rushdoony is widely considered the father of the Christian Reconstructionism movement, which promotes radically laissez-faire economics, hopes to abolish most functions of the federal government, and aims to establish the death penalty for myriad infractions of biblical law including adultery, homosexuality, idolatry, blasphemy, witchcraft, un-chastity (female intercourse before marriage), and "incorrigible" teen rebelliousness.

Stephen K. McDowell appears, along with Rushdoony and other top Christian Reconstructionists, in the several hour 1999 CR video series "God's Law and Society"—which provides "a comprehensive look at how biblical law can be applied to bettering American society" (the entire series is now on Youtube). 

David Barton's own Wallbuilders website article on the issue of slavery directly links to McDowell's article, referring readers to it "For more information on this issue" (slavery). Barton also heartily endorses McDowell's new book The Bible: America's Source of Law and Liberty.

In writing this story, I was gratified to discover that one of the leading secular scholars of the Christian Reconstructionism movement, University of North Florida professor Julie J. Ingersoll, included, in her 2015 book on the movement, a take on McDowell's Wallbuilders article that's nearly identical to the one I'd articulated in 2011 but with somewhat more nuance. Writes Ingersoll,

"By promoting McDowell, and by extension Rushdoony, Barton promotes a biblical worldview in which slavery is in some circumstances acceptable. This worldview downplays the dehumanization of slavery by explicitly arguing that God condones it in certain circumstances"—page 205, Building God's Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, by Julie J. Ingersoll, Oxford University Press, 2015.

Ingersoll is clear: "Barton promotes a biblical worldview in which slavery is in some circumstances acceptable." One of the permissible forms of slavery, per Ingersoll's reading of the article?—"non-Christians can be held in non-voluntary perpetual slavery." (page 205)

But Ingersoll isn't alone. From an almost diametrically opposing viewpoint, a 2008 undergraduate Regent University thesis that seems to favor Christian theocracy, titled "GOD IS JUST: A DEFENSE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT CIVIL LAWS," favorably cited Stephen McDowell's interpretation "biblical" slavery too.

It's important to recognize that McDowell and the Christian Reconstructionists aren't just writing pointless academic commentaries on biblical scripture. They're writing scripturally-derived guidelines for the radical reconstruction of society, along "biblical" lines.

Weaponized history

But why is this so important? 

Well, Barton's lifetime endeavor has been the wholesale fabrication of American history—a decades-long propaganda effort to convince evangelicals that scheming secularists and non-Christians have "stolen" America's rightful heritage and birthright and hounded God from the public square.

It's the key narrative that has motivated America's politicized religious right—the movement which now dominates numerous state legislators, that propelled the Newt Gingrich-led takeover of congress in 1994 and the Tea Party-driven takeover of congress and the senate in 2010, that has blocked proactive national legislation to address a wide range of pressing issues, from campaign finance reform to climate change. 

In short, David Barton's pseudo-history has helped to politically paralyze the most richest and  powerful nation on Earth. 

Barton's books, videos, presentations, and "walking tours" of the capital undergird and support a right wing narrative of cultural complaint (a modern-day American analog of the post-WW1 German Dolchstoßlegende) which motivates a range of constituencies on the Christian right inclined to back Ted Cruz.

One is the Christian Reconstructionism movement, another is the closely related Christian homeschooling movement. The first is tiny, the second considerably bigger.

Then, there's the charismatic movement, which is huge. Barton has close ties to perhaps the most aggressive and ideologically extreme current in the charismatic movement, the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation movement.

NAR leaders are the most active promoters of the dominionist "Seven Mountains" mandate, which calls upon believers to "invade," "infiltrate," and develop influence and control in seven key sectors of society: government, business and finance, media, education, arts and entertainment, religion, and the family. 

Longtime top NAR theorist and organizer C. Peter Wagner has called upon believers to "take dominion over everything" and describes establishing "dominion" as a process of "subduing" in which his movement becomes "the head not the tail" and NAR members rule "like kings."

In 2005, shortly before her successful bid to become governor of Alaska, the future 2008 GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin was blessed and anointed by a Kenyan NAR apostle (and friend to Peter Wagner) named Thomas Muthee, whose church planting empire in sub-Saharan Africa had been financed by the Wasilla, Alaska church where Muthee blessed Sarah.

Shortly before blessing Palin, Muthee made a short speech in which he called upon believers to "invade... infiltrate" the "Seven Mountains."

The Cruz campaign includes (on its Religious Liberty Advisory Council) at least two New Apostolic Reformation apostles (Samuel Rodriguez and Jim Garlow) and one NAR prophet (Bishop Harry Jackson). All three have either directly promoted the "Seven Mountains" dominionist idea (JacksonGarlow) or (Rodriguez) have helped lead an organization which pursues the 7M agenda (the evangelical Benham brothers, also on Ted Cruz religious liberty council, have also promoted the 7M mandate). 

David Barton exists and operates amidst the confluence of these three movements—Christian Reconstructionism, the Christian homeschooling movement, and the NAR, and his work appeals to all three.

Barton is far from the only one writing falsified Christian nationalist pseudo-history, but he is by far the most important out of such authors because he's so prominent and prolific, and now because... Ted Cruz.

In 2007, journalist and author Frederick Clarkson summed up the importance of what Barton does in his trenchant essay History is Powerful—Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters:

The notion that America was founded as a Christian nation is a central animating element of the ideology of the Christian Right. It touches every aspect of life and culture in this, one of the most successful and powerful political movements in American history. The idea that America's supposed Christian identity has somehow been wrongly taken, and must somehow be restored, permeates the psychology and vision of the entire movement. No understanding of the Christian Right is remotely adequate without this foundational concept.

Target: Global Dominion

The dominionist movement is hardly restricted to the domestic U.S. At their conferences, representatives of the biggest evangelical U.S.-based aid and relief agencies boast of carrying out large scale ground-level indoctrination programs to teach the "Biblical worldview" to the populations of entire African nations—a "worldview" which comes heavily freighted with the ideological preoccupations of the American religious right.

While sub-Saharan Africa is an area of especial strength for the dominionist movement, dominionists also claim to be spreading their teachings through China's state-endorsed Christian church, the "Three Self" movement. They're on the move in India—and in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Hong Kong as well. They're consolidating their influence in Brazil. Russia was targeted decades ago, when the Soviet Union collapsed (see 12).

Back in 2011, when Rick Perry launched his 2012 presidential bid with a prayer rally dominated by C. Peter Wagner's dominionist NAR apostles and prophets, apologists from the Washington Post (Michael Gerson) and the New York Times (Ross Douthat) scurried to downplay gathering media concern about the issue, which kicked off with a scandalous Texas Observer story on Rick perry's NAR ties and culminated in dual full-length interviews (12), concerning the New Apostolic Reformation, on Terry Gross' WHYY public radio show Fresh Air.

A movement that could fit in a phone booth?—Pooh-Poohing dominionism

In his Washington Post column, George W. Bush administration speechwriter Michael Gerson—whose career (like that of Michael Cromartie, mentioned below) began with the ministry of "born again" former Nixon Administration lawyer and hatchet man Charles Colson (who had been mentored in his faith by Doug Coe, longtime head of the dominionist Washington, D.C. network known as The Fellowship)—minimized dominionism by suggesting it was restricted to the tiny (but widely influential) Christian Reconstructionism movement. 

So puny was dominionism, claimed Gerson, that despite its "cosmic ambitions" it "is a movement that could fit in a phone booth."

Joining Douthat and Gerson in the pooh-poohing (12) of dominionism was Washington Post op-ed writer Lisa Miller, whose column "'Dominionism' beliefs among conservative Christians overblown" called Peter Wagner's New Apostolic Reformation movement a "previously unknown group," in apparent ignorance of the slew of popular books NAR movement leaders had been churning out over the past decade, or the fact that in 2008 she'd written an enthusiastic tribute to one of Wagner's dominionist African NAR colleagues.

As it happens, both Michael Gerson and Ross Douthat, together with the NYT's David Brooks, serve on the advisory council of the Faith Angle Forum— an effort to educate elite journalists about religion and politics that is headed by a man, Michael Cromartie, who is closely associated with the anti-environmentalist wing of the dominionist movement, has participated in a wildly successful effort to export the dominionist "biblical worldview" to the developing world, and who for years has been an advisor to the leading dominionist (and fossil fuel industry funded) coalition for global warming/climate change denial, the Cornwall Alliance—which in 2010 launched a major initiative aimed at convincing evangelicals that that environmental concerns were being stoked by a vast, shadowy satanic conspiracy, which aims to rule the world, called the "Green dragon."

The Cornwall Alliance is headed by a man named E. Calvin Beisner, with whom Cromartie co-authored the influential anti-environmentalist tract "A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Stewardship."

The "Resisting the Green Dragon" initiative was fronted by a pseudo-academic book and a several hour video series featuring David Barton and three members of Ted Cruz' Religious Liberty Advisory Council—Tony Perkins, pastor Jack Hibbs, and Bishop Harry Jackson. 

In the 1980s, Calvin Beisner served as general secretary to the Coalition on Revival, an ecumenical Protestant neo-fundamentalist front group, dominated by Christian Reconstructionist leaders (according to one top COR participant), that mapped out how biblical law could be applied in 17 different spheres of society. Later, with the PR savvy of Campus Crusade for Christ head (and Fellowship leader) Bill Bright, those 17 spheres were pared down to the "Seven Mountains." 

The Fellowship, and The Gathering

Ross Douthat, who in 2014 (amidst criticism) publicly apologized for speaking at a fundraiser for a major dominionist legal group, and Michael Gerson have also been, along with David Brooks, repeat speakers at the elite, invitation only yearly event known as The Gathering.

The Gathering represents the bulk of private philanthropic funding for the dominionist movement and was launched, as a community and an event, from a 1985 meeting of "friends" at the Arlington, VA mansion known as "The Cedars" that's owned and operated by The Fellowship, headed by Doug Coe.

The Fellowship, which hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast, was the subject of two consecutive books, in 2008 and 2010, by journalist Jeff Sharlet (see this Fresh Air NPR interview concerning Sharlet's first book on The Fellowship).

Top leaders in The Fellowship such as Doug Coe and Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren (a frequent The Gathering speaker in the 2000s) have publicly urged Christians to follow Jesus with the level of dedication shown by the followers of Hitler, Lenin, and Mao. 

In repeated appearances at The Gathering in 2008 and 2009, to solicit funding for his Faith Angle Forum program, Michael Cromartie boasted of having hand-picked journalists for top reporting slots at venues such as the Washington Post and described his project as the evangelical "infiltration" of the media. 

At one of Cromartie's The Gathering talks, during the question and answer period, religious right consigliere and publicist Peb Jackson, whose many dominionist hats have included working closely with Rick Warren, and serving on the boards of the Family Research Council and the far-right Council for National Policy, declared (audio), about Cromartie's Faith Angle Forum, 

It's great to see these consequential opportunities here, and for a few bucks—this guy is one of the most effective returns on investment. I think it's, probably it's like $150,000 bucks, and he needs 70 or 80 [more]. He doesn't even have a secretary and he's making these big changes...

The biggest philanthropy at the yearly The Gathering event is the National Christian Foundation, which now dispenses upwards of $1 billion a year in grant money and is also probably the biggest anti-LGBTQ rights funder in America.   

The matter with Kansas, revisited

In his widely influential 2004 book "What's The Matter With Kansas?" writer Thomas Frank correctly assailed the baleful influence of plutocratic elites such as the Koch brothers in the Sunflower State (and, by extension, nationally) but trivialized at least one-half of the equation, the existence of a major movement of politicized and radicalized evangelicals which by 2000 had according to a national survey built "strong" or "moderate" influence in the majority of state GOP party structures. 

While the small government, pro-business libertarian ideology promoted by the Koch brothers has achieved deep traction among American conservatives (and among more than a few liberals as well) in the decades since the Kochs launched their grand social engineering project to remake the American political and ideological landscape, the abiding influence of the politicized Christian can't be so easily discounted.

In 2011 a former Republican career congressional staffer declared that the GOP is now "full of lunatics" and posited that "the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party." 

These sort of complaints have been coming from conservative apostates fleeing the radicalizing Republican Party since the late 1980s. In 1992 Barry Goldwater, the original libertarian, warned that the religious right threatened to take over the (formerly secular) GOP and warned "If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye."

Despite Goldwater's warning, and the still-growing dominance of the religious right in the Republican Party, politics continues—just a very different sort of politics. 

That Ted Cruz is now being billed as an acceptable (just barely) "establishment" candidate in opposition to Donald Trump in the battle for the 2016 Republican Party presidential nomination is manifest evidence of how very far things have gone. 

While great pains were taken to obscure Sarah Palin's extensive ties to the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation movement during the 2008 election, Ted Cruz' tie to dominionism and its varying manifestations (the NAR and Christian Reconstructionism) are very publicly on display for anyone who bothers to look.

Cruz' candidacy is being powered by the same sort of Christian right political activists who drove Pat Robertson's quixotic 1980s bid for the White House. Back in the 1980s, the theocratic undercurrents to Robertson's campaign were seen as disturbing and scary. Now, similar—but overt—currents in the Cruz campaign are fodder for Washington Postop-eds but don't seem to promote a similar level of dread. They should.

On the Trump side of the equation we have raw, xenophobic populist nativism (some say fascism even) that offends liberal and elite sensibilities most common in urban areas and on America's coasts. 

On the Cruz side, we have a candidate whose father predicts the coming of sanctified "kings" who will facilitate a great wealth transfer, to the godly—and a man, himself, who is at ease with courting dominionist pastors who teach that Christians should be as dedicated towards seizing power as Lenin's Bolsheviks and dream of a coming Christian regime "like totalitarianism."

While Trump seems to favor a scaling back of American interventionism, Ted Cruz appears to yearn for a civilizational and religious war against Islam—a proposition sure to interest weapons manufacturers but which offers little hope for the prospect of addressing top global threats such as nuclear proliferation and climate change.

To overcome Donald Trump's current delegate lead, the Ted Cruz for president campaign is now scheming and maneuvering, through skillful manipulation of the complex GOP delegate system, to best Donald Trump at the upcoming Republican National Convention. 

Ted Cruz may not prevail, but he's not going away. Nor are the dominionists. Dominionism is cunning, and subtle. It infiltrates. It's global, and spreading.

Jehovah-sneaky.

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A Simple Solution to Boost Workers Across the Planet

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 2:35pm
There's a progressive way to approach global trade that can help workers abroad and at home at the same time.

In the competition for jobs between U.S. workers and developing world workers, American workers are losing, and the TPP, which the Obama administration touts as being pro-labor, is, like NAFTA, anything but. Under the TPP, signatories will be required “to have laws governing minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health,” but the level of the minimum wage and any other standard is left entirely to each country to determine on its own.

This is perhaps why Hillary Clinton now says TPP will not help American workers. But this raises the question of what can be done. Trump would slap a 35 percent tariff on goods imported from Mexico, while Bernie Sanders would “develop trade policies which demand that American corporations create jobs here, and not abroad.”

But the reason Third World workers get such a large share of jobs is because their wages are low. Third World countries export so much of what they produce because their workers cannot afford to buy these goods themselves. Handicapping them will only drive their wages lower, making them even more attractive to foreign corporations.

Is which group of workers to hurt, the only choice? Is there no trade policy that can help all workers at the same time? There is.

Wages in the Third World are low because production requires technology, which Third World countries do not possess. Why are Third World countries so technology poor? In Why Nations Fail economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson attribute this backwardness to the existence of powerful elites who grab for themselves the fruits of any advances that innovative and entrepreneurial individuals would make. This situation changed dramatically in China after Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978 and it also changed in India after the economic liberalization of 1991.

But catching up with the technological capabilities of the developed world in countries with very large and very poor populations takes time. Lacking the technology to keep many of their workers employed in home-grown industries, these countries submit them to exploitation by the foreign corporations who do own the necessary technologies. These terms of trade are precisely what should be changed.

Patents should be sold in Third World counties at prices that local entrepreneurs can afford, and the duration of these patents should be significantly shortened. In return, Third World countries should be required to pass and enforce high minimum wage laws and labor-friendly collective bargaining mandates (aka “co-determination”). This would make almost all production local: Apple phones for Third World countries would be produced in those same countries, and for the U.S. market they would be produced in the U.S. Instead of fighting one another for jobs, workers would be able to unite in fighting for better working conditions everywhere.

To the general public, the enforcement of patents is presented as being in the U.S. national interest, because the patents are owned by U.S. corporations. But the U.S. public and U.S. corporations are of course not one and the same. It is the American people who, through their government, grant patents; the American people therefore ought to have the right to determine the conditions under which these grants occur. Patent laws should be used in order to enhance their well-being instead of lining the pockets of a few.

To get a sense of the importance of technology transfers to production, consider the fate of the Swedish automaker Saab. In 2010 General Motors, which had owned Saab since 2000, sold it to a Dutch company, Spyker, but General Motors retained veto power over the resale of the Saab patents. Spyker then purchased Saab in the midst of the Great Recession, a time when the banks were not making any loans. As a result, Spyker, which needed loans to operate, was never able to take control of the company. A Chinese auto manufacturer wanted to buy Saab both in order to continue production in Sweden, but also in order to start production in China. General Motors did not want to face an additional competitor in China, and refused to let Spyker transfer the patents. Of course, had the Chinese buyer paid General Motors for its consent the deal would have gone through, but the price was apparently too high. The upshot? Saab closed its doors and thousands of jobs were immediately lost in Sweden, and at the same time potential jobs were lost in China.

Low prices for patents would benefit U.S. workers because they would mean that many entrepreneurs would be able to enter each and every industry in the Third World, and all of these entrepreneurs would be competing for employees. The prohibitively high prices for patents that exist today turn corporations into oligopolists in the product market, and powerful employers (monopsonists) in the labor market.

Of course there are those who would argue that without very high profits, there would be fewer inventions. But this argument is simply not true. Economists Michele Boldrin and David Levine have done research that shows major inventions occur—and their use spreads—long before there is even the possibility of granting them patents, because in the early stages it is usually not known how to patent them. In fact, economists George Haley and Usha Haley discovered that patent laws actually curtail further developments because owners of existing patents stand in the way.

Trump has focused our attention on a yet non-existing wall along our southern border. But far more problematic are the walls that exist around technology, because they transfer income from workers around the world to corporations and are one of the main reasons for the unprecendented economic polarization around the world. What we need are agreements that swap access to technology for laws that would guarantee high wages everywhere.

 

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Nestlé Is Trying to Break Us: A Pennsylvania Town Fights Predatory Water Extraction

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 2:24pm
Big corporations privatizing clean water to make a profit are stealing a human right.

Donna Diehl, a 55-year-old school bus driver from Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, a small historic town located on the edge of the Poconos, wanted to do three things this year: drive the bus, paint her bathroom and learn to crochet. Instead, Diehl, along with dozens of her neighbors, is spending her time trying to stop the largest food and beverage corporation in the world from taking her community’s water, putting it in bottles and selling it for a massive profit.

Nestlé Waters, the North American subsidiary of the Swiss-owned Nestlé Corporation, had been active in Kunkletown for years, conducting well testing on a privately owned property adjacent to Diehl’s home. Last summer, residents noticed Nestlé had rented an office in the local community center. Word spread, and with some investigation, Diehl and her neighbors found out that the transnational corporation had been active in the community as early as 2012, testing water quality and quantity with the ultimate goal of constructing and operating a bulk water extraction facility.

In the permit application that Nestlé Waters filed with the Township, it states the company is proposing to drill two large wells, pump 200,000 gallons of water per day from the aquifer, put it in trucks and transfer it to an existing bottling facility near Allentown, about 20 miles away. It expects 60 truck trips through the town per day. And Nestlé isn’t going away any time soon: It plans to pump for 10 years with an option to continue pumping for an additional 15 years, leading to the removal of 73 million gallons of water from the aquifer over the life of the wells.

Concerned residents dove into their local township files and found out that in May 2014, an ordinance was surreptitiously changed in the Eldred Township zoning rules to allow bulk water extraction to occur in a commercial zone. That small, but important rule change opened the gate for Nestlé to submit a permit application for bulk water extraction, which, before May 2014, was explicitly illegal in places zoned for commercial use.

Don Moore, an engineer who maintains a blog where he documents, in great detail, the fight to keep Nestlé out of Kunkletown, couldn’t believe what he was reading.

“One of the things that opened my eyes was the amount of profit for Nestlé. To take all this water at hardly any cost. It’s unreal,” he said.

Diehl organized a community meeting, which took place in her backyard, with about 25 people.

“We knew we had to stop it, but at the time, we didn’t know how,” Diehl told Truthout.

Global Water Scarcity on the Rise

Kunkletown residents’ effort to keep Nestlé out of their community is not an isolated or parochial fight. Nestlé, which has the largest share of the bottled water market in the United States, is looking to secure and privatize water resources in the U.S. and around the world.

According to data from the United Nations, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical water scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation. Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one-quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortages.

Exacerbating this scarcity are the real and devastating impacts of climate change. The number and severity of droughts caused by climate change are intensifying across the globe and the United States. As of April 7, 37 percent of the United States was experiencing at least moderate drought. These droughts are causing people to draw more and more from groundwater, which the U.S. Geological Survey has found to be declining nationwide.

To make matters worse, governments are not investing enough in public water infrastructure. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the nation’sdrinking water utilities need $384.2 billion in infrastructure investments over the next 20 years for thousands of miles of pipe as well as thousands of treatment plants and storage tanks to ensure the public health. Consequences of this inadequate investment have been seen in recent high-profile public health crises in Flint, Michigan, and the New Jersey public schools. Internationally, the UN finds that investment in public water systems and infrastructure is at an all-time low.

John Stewart, deputy campaigns director for Corporate Accountability International, sees the intersection of water scarcity, climate change and decreased investment in public water infrastructure as a perfect storm for corporations to move in, privatize the water and profit from a shared resource.

“Companies like Nestlé don’t see this situation as a public health crisis. They see it as a business opportunity,” Stewart told Truthout.

Bottled Water Is Big and Getting Bigger

Bottled water is big business. According to the International Bottled Water Association, the leading industry lobbying group, in 2013, Americans drank over 10 billion gallons of bottled water, generating $12.3 billion in revenue for beverage companies. This amount was more than double the revenue recorded in 2000. Americans spent $18.82 billion in 2014 purchasing what comes, basically free, out of the tap.

Internationally, bottled water consumption is estimated to have neared 70.4 billion gallons in 2013, according to data from the latest edition of Beverage Marketing’s report “The Global Bottled Water Market.” Consumption increased six percent in one year and is projected to grow. In fact, the International Bottled Water Association predicts the largest growth in bottled water to be in poor countries, where access to safe and clean water is not necessarily a given, and public water infrastructure is severely underfunded.

Environmental impacts of bottled water are well documented. Millions of barrels of oil are used each year to produce the plastic containers, and Americans alone throw away over 60 million plastic bottles, which end up in landfills, each day. In addition, for every liter of bottled water produced, it takes three liters of water to produce it.

Among the companies that sell bottled water, Nestlé is the biggest, owning 52 different brands of bottled water internationally and controlling 40 water extraction sources in North America alone. The company, which owns brands such as Arrowhead, Deer Park, Poland Springs and Ice Mountain, pumps billions of gallons of water out of the ground each year, and pays very little for actual water besides its leases to private landowners. Then it charges up to 2,000 times more for that water than it would cost just to turn on the tap. The company couples its low overhead with highly sophisticated marketing and public relations campaigns to convince people that bottled water is safer and better tasting than tap water. Meanwhile, the company uses names and images that suggest the water is from a pure, untouched mountain spring, when in many cases it comes directly from a municipal water source, and its sales and profits keep going up.

Stewart, who monitors Nestlé’s activities nationwide, finds that its playbook is the same in every community they target for industrial water extraction.

“They identify small, rural communities, many times economically depressed, that they think they can roll over and who they think might be susceptible to promises of jobs and tax revenue,” he said.

Communities Are Fighting Back and Winning

However, in many parts of the country, targeted communities are resisting domination by Nestlé. In McCloud, California, town leaders signed a 50-year agreement in which Nestlé would pay one sixty-fourth of a cent for a gallon of water and then turn around and sell it for more than $1 per gallon. Residents fought a six-year battle to have that agreement thrown out and eventually won in 2009.

Residents of Wacissa, Florida, have also successfully fended off the company with a sustained grassroots organizing effort, along with passing a local ordinance that would require any bottling operation to be approved by four out of the five county commissioners.

In California, which is experiencing severe drought, an investigation by The Desert Sun found that Nestlé has been drawing water from the San Bernardino National Forest—36 million gallons last year alone—using a permit that expired in 1988. The Sun also found that the company was only charged an annual permit fee of $524.

The Story of Stuff and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Forest Service in October 2015, making the argument that the agency has violated the law by allowing Nestlé to take water without a valid permit and that their water removal threatens sensitive habitat. In response to the lawsuit, San Bernardino National Forest is proposing to issue Nestlé a five-year permit after conducting an environmental analysis of the operations and its effects on the forest. Nestlé is allowed to keep operating during the study, which could take up to two years to complete. The groups are moving forward with the litigation.

Meanwhile, 1,000 miles north of San Bernardino National Forest, the residents of Cascade Locks, Oregon, are trying to stop Nestlé from opening its first bottling plant in the Northwest. They have organized a ballot measure to put in front of voters this May, which, if it passes, will prohibit bottled water operations in Hood River County.

Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns from The Story of Stuff—a nonprofit organization that coalesced around a 20-minute movie about the way we produce and throw away all of the material objects in our lives—is working to help Cascade Locks activists and communities all over connect the dots and build solidarity.

“No community needs to start at square one,” Wilson said. “We know how to fight back and we know how Nestlé works.”

The communities who are in Nestlé’s sights are not only working to protect their local watersheds, but also are on the front lines of the ideological battle of what water is. Is it a commodity to be sold on the global marketplace or a public good that all humans have a right to?

“Privatizing and bottling water isn’t a solution for securing access to clean water,” Wilson said. “Clean water is a human right.”

Wilson finds that Nestlé understands what governments seem not to—that clean and accessible water is the most important resource in the world. They are trying to secure the rights to it, one small, rural community at a time.

The Water Wars in Kunkletown

Back in Kunkletown, residents have organized and fought back hard against Nestlé’s attempts to move in. And, from all accounts, they are winning.

Once they realized what was happening, the residents formed an informal community group to fight Nestlé, and five of those residents retained a lawyer. On December 17, 2015, Diehl and four others filed a lawsuit against the Eldred Township Board of Supervisors alleging the area’s zoning rules were surreptitiously and unlawfully changed. In January 2016, 120 residents and one business submitted a petition to intervene on behalf of the five plaintiffs, solidifying community support of their actions.

On February 18, 2016, the Eldred Township Planning Commission, which serves in an advisory role to the zoning board, held a public meeting, with Nestlé representatives and attorneys in attendance to present on the project and answer questions. During the four-hour, often contentious meeting, people stood up and directly challenged Nestlé and their actions leading up to that moment.

“I go door-to-door in this community, 98 percent of the people are against it. Most of the people in this community are dead set against it,” Desiree Jaeckle said. “Why didn’t you find that out before you decided to extract your water?”

In March 2016, the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Eldred Township zoning board outright deny Nestlé’s application. In a 24-page letter to the zoning board, the commission stated:

The eleventh hour amendment to the 2014 Eldred Township Zoning Ordinance that changed water extraction from an industry use to a manufacturing, light use was not the result of proper planning, but instead the efforts of a few, limited interested parties.

Among the litany of reasons for which the commission recommended denial, it cited the fact that Nestlé’s test wells diminished the flow of a nearby stream by 12 percent and resulted in a drop of two wells on adjacent properties. It also emphasized the impact of the public opposition to the project. The commission’s document stated:

It should be initially noted that public comment at the planning commission’s public meetings on Nestlé’s application was unanimously, and vociferously, in opposition to the Project, and its expected negative impact on current and future uses in the Township and the desirability of residing and doing business in the Township. The planning commission places great weight [on] the public comment that was received, and believes it is representative of general public sentiment in the Township on the Project.

The zoning board has yet to make a decision on whether to grant Nestlé a permit and is going through the process of interviewing experts but locals are hopeful that it will make the right decision, and if it doesn’t, they are certain their legal challenge will succeed.

“We have wonderful water here and we will protect it. Nestlé is trying to break us,” Diehl told Truthout. “But I’m absolutely optimistic that we’ll win.”

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Bill Moyers: America's Unfinished Business—Confronting Our Vast Racial Inequality

AlterNet.org - April 30, 2016 - 2:07pm
An interview with Eddie Glaude Jr. on America’s racial "value gap."

I’m holding in my hand what has been called “one of the most daring books of the 21st century,” a “book for the ages,” “bracing,” “unrelenting.” The title is Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, and it breathes with prophetic fire.

Its power comes because the author does not begin with “pristine principles or with assumptions about our inherent goodness.” Rather, its view of democracy, as he writes, “emerges out of an unflinching encounter with lynching trees, prison cells, foreclosed homes, young men and women gunned down by police and places where ‘hope, unborn, had died.’”

Democracy in Black is rich in history and bold in opinion, and inconvenient truths leap from every page. For example, and I’m quoting the book again, “black people must lose their blackness if America is to be transformed. But of course, white people get to stay white.”

The book opens in Ferguson, Missouri, with the author talking to three, dynamic young black women, newly born to activism, and it closes in the intimacy of the reader’s heart, where each of us wrestles with the question of whether we can indeed change the habits of racism and create together a new politics based on a revolution in values.

The author is Eddie Glaude Jr. Glaude was raised in the Deep South, in Moss Point, Mississippi, and still remembers the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross at the fairground. He’s now a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University, where he also chairs the Center for African-American Studies. This is his third book, and he’s a member in good standing of the black establishment, which he rigorously calls to account in Democracy in Black.

Listen to our conversation by clicking on the stream below. You can also download it and take it with you, or click to read the full transcriptSign up for our audio podcast feed to get new conversations as soon as we record them.

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